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Author Topic: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)  (Read 282 times)

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jotheonah

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How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« on: May 29, 2019, 09:46:56 am »

UPDATE: Google Form to weigh in on the relative strength of roles: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScknY2r6gx28HdUNGt0VoH9D39He8fhu4M9H6UPk3fXQK8gGQ/viewform?usp=sf_link

I have been looking around the interwebz and I can't really find a checklist or guide for balancing a game, so I thought that might be a fun thing to community-source. If we come up with something we like, we could even make a pinned post in the Mafia Games Thread.

To me, the most useful format would be a checklist: What are the questions you ask when trying to break (or to balance) a setup? This is what I have so far:

  • Does the game contain both a Cop role and a Doctor? If so, can the town win with "Follow the Cop"?
  • What happens if town agrees to a Day 1 mass claim? Does scum have viable fake claims?
  • Do the flips of certain roles create untintentional ICs? Are there roles that have hidden additional value because of this, and does that value unbalance the game?
  • Does a role in the game totally invalidate another role in the game? For instance, if scum has a strongman and no incentive to have anyone else do the kill, it greatly weakens a town doctor.
  • For each role in the game, consider:
    - If this role is lynched day one, is the rest of the game balanced?
    - If this role survives to LyLo, is it overpowered?

This is just a starting point. I'm sure there are a lot more. I also think there's something to be written before you get to the checklist that includes some basic heuristics -- what's an ideal scum-to-town ratio? How do third parties affect this? What are the relative strengths of various common roles? What are the broken combos besides Doctor/Cop?

Ultimately, I think more people brewing and people brewing better could both really liven up this community, and we have a ton of knowledge here. I'd love to condense it into a resource that would make setup design less daunting and more accessible, and maybe make all games here more fun.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2019, 10:38:29 am by jotheonah »
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sudgy

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2019, 11:24:50 am »

Just FYI, each number is listed twice.  Do you also do the same mistake here?
more people brewing and more people brewing

I feel like it's weird to have follow the cop listed first.  I would say all of the generic things first, then maybe have a separate section for broken combos.  There should also be something about the general power level of each faction, and the size of each faction.
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faust

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2019, 12:04:01 pm »

I don't think balance is the right term exactly. A game with Follow the Cop can be "balanced" in the sense that for some ratio of town to scum, it's going to have the right win rations for the factions, but it still is not going to be fun and something you should not do. I have started writing a sort of setup creation guide, which is still work in progress, but I could share what I have so far.
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jotheonah

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2019, 12:28:15 pm »

I don't think balance is the right term exactly. A game with Follow the Cop can be "balanced" in the sense that for some ratio of town to scum, it's going to have the right win rations for the factions, but it still is not going to be fun and something you should not do. I have started writing a sort of setup creation guide, which is still work in progress, but I could share what I have so far.

True. There's actually several things to worry about:

1. Balance
2. Fun (including solvability)
3. Swinginess

Where swinginess is "do a small number of decisions/deaths have an outsized affect on the game?"
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jotheonah

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2019, 12:29:08 pm »

Just FYI, each number is listed twice.  Do you also do the same mistake here?
more people brewing and more people brewing

Very confusing wording but I meant (A) more people brewing and (B) more of the people who are brewing it doing it well. I reworded to hopefully be clearer.
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jotheonah

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2019, 12:34:59 pm »

Also, before someone tells me, it looks like we've had something like this already!

http://forum.dominionstrategy.com/index.php?topic=16397.0

Idk how I missed it before. I'm a dope. I still like the idea of a checklist and some heuristics, but there's no reason to reinvent the wheel if a lot of work has been done.

I'mma dig into that older pinned post a bit and see what's missing there, if anything. Otherwise I might just delete this thread in shame :P
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jotheonah

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2019, 12:43:21 pm »

Yeah that is all good stuff. I think what could still be added is:

-A checklist that people can go through before launching a game
-A specific list of broken combos, and maybe how to unbreak them (JK instead of doctor, as an obvious example to fix doctor/cop)
-A power ranking for individual roles to help in creating a balanced setup in the first place

The latter would be incredibly contentious and subjective, of course.
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Glooble

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2019, 12:51:34 pm »

I think some discussion on the merits of open/closed/ semi-open would be helpful as well.
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silverspawn

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2019, 02:16:27 pm »

I would proceed as follows

1. A game with 9 town (8 VT + 1 cop) and 3 scum is arguably perfectly balanced. If your game has a similar number of players, compare your balance with that game. don't rely on intuition, make up numbers with intuition and then look at what the numbers say. (For example, if you give cop 4 utility points, you could give doctor 1)

2. In the above, be aware that whether the setup is closed or open makes large difference. If it's open, then a doctor would basically be an IC. It would then not be a 1 but at least a 2.

3. Ask yourself how good play would look like from both sides, and if it's boring, change the setup. This catches things like follow-the-cop but it's a more general trick than memorizing a bunch of combos.
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Glooble

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #9 on: May 29, 2019, 03:35:18 pm »

I would proceed as follows

1. A game with 9 town (8 VT + 1 cop) and 3 scum is arguably perfectly balanced. If your game has a similar number of players, compare your balance with that game. don't rely on intuition, make up numbers with intuition and then look at what the numbers say. (For example, if you give cop 4 utility points, you could give doctor 1)


Scum have some inherent powers - a nightkill and night chat. Town has numbers. These things seem obvious, but if one is going to try and assign point values to every advantage, it makes sense to keep this in mind.
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faust

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #10 on: May 29, 2019, 04:26:05 pm »

With all the talk about Cops and Doctors it should be pointed out that Cop is a pretty lame role anyway and should be avoided/modified whenever possible.
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silverspawn

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #11 on: May 29, 2019, 06:28:14 pm »

I would proceed as follows

1. A game with 9 town (8 VT + 1 cop) and 3 scum is arguably perfectly balanced. If your game has a similar number of players, compare your balance with that game. don't rely on intuition, make up numbers with intuition and then look at what the numbers say. (For example, if you give cop 4 utility points, you could give doctor 1)


Scum have some inherent powers - a nightkill and night chat. Town has numbers. These things seem obvious, but if one is going to try and assign point values to every advantage, it makes sense to keep this in mind.

My point was that we have a setup which we can reasonably establish at a baseline and that setup has these hard-to-quantify factors which are usually the same in every game, so we do -not- need to quantify them. We only need to quantify town PRs and mafia PRs.

For example, say you have an open setup with 13 players, 10 town and a town doctor and a town commuter vs 3 goons. Is that balanced? Kind of not clear. But now compare it to the 9-3 setup with one cop. If cop is a 4 and doctor is a 2.5 and commuter also a 2.5 (open setup, so all PRs are good because they're semi-ICs) and the setup has one more town player, then we actually get a clear answer which is probably correct: no, this setup isn't balanced, it's town favored. That works without modeling the NK.
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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #12 on: May 29, 2019, 10:00:34 pm »

I'll tag to follow, but I don't have any thoughts yet
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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #13 on: May 29, 2019, 11:10:42 pm »

How important is striving for equal win rates?
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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #14 on: May 29, 2019, 11:42:04 pm »

I'd argue you don't need equal winrates to have a fun time, but that closer to even winrates is better and erring on the side of frequent scum wins is better. .

Doc + Doc is actually similarly broken to Follow the Cop so Follow the Cop doesn't deserve a unique name.

It's important to consider how hypoclaiming and breadcrumbing impact a setup.  Hypoclaiming is a method of breaking open setups where every single player indicates what action he would take if he did have a power role, without claiming or disclaiming the power role.  I played a mafia setup full of hiders that was too broken due to this, but you could make a setup that's balanced and worth playing even with hypoclaiming happening.  The important thing is to at least consider it.

Cop is kind of a terrible role yet people stills seem to want to put cops into setups.  I don't know why.  People don't seem to suggest adding items to shooters that grant an aimbot effect for the rest of the game and they don't seem to suggest that the next mario game should have an item that causes all inputs to move him directly towards the nearest start yet people really want to play with a mafia role that plays mafia for you so you don't have to play mafia.
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jotheonah

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #15 on: May 30, 2019, 10:26:17 am »

I'd argue you don't need equal winrates to have a fun time, but that closer to even winrates is better and erring on the side of frequent scum wins is better. .

Doc + Doc is actually similarly broken to Follow the Cop so Follow the Cop doesn't deserve a unique name.

It's important to consider how hypoclaiming and breadcrumbing impact a setup.  Hypoclaiming is a method of breaking open setups where every single player indicates what action he would take if he did have a power role, without claiming or disclaiming the power role.  I played a mafia setup full of hiders that was too broken due to this, but you could make a setup that's balanced and worth playing even with hypoclaiming happening.  The important thing is to at least consider it.

Cop is kind of a terrible role yet people stills seem to want to put cops into setups.  I don't know why.  People don't seem to suggest adding items to shooters that grant an aimbot effect for the rest of the game and they don't seem to suggest that the next mario game should have an item that causes all inputs to move him directly towards the nearest start yet people really want to play with a mafia role that plays mafia for you so you don't have to play mafia.

pops! good to see you. you should play with us again.

Do you think cop variants like Tracker or Watcher are better? What about rolecops? Is it only alignment cops you have an issue with?

I sort of agree with you. I like cops but I like them to be limited and fallible.
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jotheonah

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #16 on: May 30, 2019, 10:38:02 am »

In terms of weighting the individual roles, I made a Google Form. Might be interesting to see where the consensuses and differences of opinion are:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScknY2r6gx28HdUNGt0VoH9D39He8fhu4M9H6UPk3fXQK8gGQ/viewform?usp=sf_link
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Glooble

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #17 on: May 30, 2019, 11:33:18 am »

In terms of weighting the individual roles, I made a Google Form. Might be interesting to see where the consensuses and differences of opinion are:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScknY2r6gx28HdUNGt0VoH9D39He8fhu4M9H6UPk3fXQK8gGQ/viewform?usp=sf_link

Is there a way to evaluate the strength of the role as scum vs. its strength as town? Because that can very wildly. It's hard to assign a number to "rolecop" for example- much more useful for scum than for town.
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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #18 on: May 30, 2019, 11:34:42 am »

In terms of weighting the individual roles, I made a Google Form. Might be interesting to see where the consensuses and differences of opinion are:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScknY2r6gx28HdUNGt0VoH9D39He8fhu4M9H6UPk3fXQK8gGQ/viewform?usp=sf_link
I think 1 - 5 is a too small range to accurately depict my feelings, especially when you include actively anti-town roles like Lynchproof who need to be in their own category, leaving only 4 for the rest. Also you might need some clarifications... Rolestopper has a vastly different power level based on whether they can prevent kills.

PPE: It says for town on the first page.
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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #19 on: May 30, 2019, 11:36:21 am »

In terms of weighting the individual roles, I made a Google Form. Might be interesting to see where the consensuses and differences of opinion are:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScknY2r6gx28HdUNGt0VoH9D39He8fhu4M9H6UPk3fXQK8gGQ/viewform?usp=sf_link
I think 1 - 5 is a too small range to accurately depict my feelings, especially when you include actively anti-town roles like Lynchproof who need to be in their own category, leaving only 4 for the rest. Also you might need some clarifications... Rolestopper has a vastly different power level based on whether they can prevent kills.

PPE: It says for town on the first page.


Doh! Missed that.
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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #20 on: May 30, 2019, 11:37:55 am »

Also, I assume Bulletproof and Lynchproof are supposed to be 1-shot? Otherwise a Lynchproof scum is basically instant win.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2019, 12:35:18 pm by jotheonah »
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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #21 on: May 30, 2019, 11:42:32 am »

Some of the writing up I have done (work in progress, but feel free to comment):

1. General

(1) The main objective of game design is to create a game that is fun. That means it should be fun to the people playing the game, and not primarily to you, the mod. The best way to ensure that players have fun is to give them agency, i.e. to give the players the feeling that their actions really influence the way the game is going. This is a key ingredient and it will be referenced throughout this guide. There are other parts to a fun game - creative roles, interesting interactions, good flavor - but agency is the most important.

2. Conception

(1) Have a core idea. It is hard to get going on the design process without an idea of what to put in. Having an idea of what to do keeps you focused early on. The core idea can be many things - a unique mechanic, a theme, showing off an unusual role - just make sure it helps you come of with the first couple of roles. It is not a problem if at a later stage in the design process you realize that your idea won't work out as intended - by that time you have already built some of the setup and hopefully can take it from there.

(2) Don't give players bad roles. You may think that a VT without a vote would be an interesting challenge, but it is not motivating. The problem is you take away agency from the player. Try to avoid this in role design. If you need a nerf or an anti-town role, there are other options that do not reduce agency (like Macho or Hated). A plain Traitor without any knowledge or powers is a bad idea for similar reasons. You can still take agency away, but give your players something to make up for it.

(3) Opt for player choice whenever possible. A JOAT that can pick a power every Night is more fun than one that can only use a specific power in a specific Night. This is again because player choice increases agency. Therefore, an Innocent Child that can pick when to be revealed is better then one that is simply revealed when the game starts. Of course adding more choice makes the role more powerful, and sometimes you will still need to go with the weaker and less interactive version for balance reasons.

(4) Avoid random events. Leaving anything up to RNG removes agency. Consider a role that is Doctor 50% or the time and Vigilante 50% of the time and doesn't know which. That poses an interesting challenge, you may think, but it carries the risk of being frustrating. Roles that only work a fraction of the time based on a coin lip are similarly problematic; a player not knowing whether their power worked hinders their ability to figure out what is going on and thus reduces agency.

(5) Think about the rules of your game. Determining length of days, plurality lynch, whether mafia has daychat and what happens in stalemate situations often come as an afterthought. I would encourage you to consider these things early on. Some roles are going to be more or less powerful depending on those parameters, and considering them a part of your setup concept helps bring your setup together.

(6) It should not be possible to completely out scum. Even if some investigative role has an incriminating result on scum, they should have some way to credibly argue their innocence. If they don't, they have nothing to do and the rest of town just follows the Cop, removing agency for everyone but the Cop.

(7) Map your interactions. A good game has interesting interactions between different roles. You can draw a dot for each role you have and a line for each interaction. The resulting graph should ideally be highly connected. It is still fine if it splits into multiple clusters. A shape you should avoid is the star, where there is one special role that everything else interacts with, because if that role dies early, it will leave your setup sort of bland.

2.1 Closed setups

(8) Have a way to get started. Closed setups are hard, and it's hard to find things to talk about D1. In order to get the first day running more smoothly, give your players something to talk about. That could be some public information, a unique mechanic or a role that wants to claim early on. Providing an easy entry point goes a long way to keep your players engaged.

(9) Avoid red herrings. It may sound interesting to put a Ninja role into a setup that does not have any tracking roles. Usually, it is a bad idea. A Ninja role means players reasonably assume that some form of Tracker is in the setup, and when this assumption decides the game it's not going to be fun for anyone. That doesn't mean you shouldn't surprise players, but don't lead them on.

(10) Make sure that scum can fakeclaim. At some point, there is going to be claiming in your game, and then scum should not lose because you created a bunch of highly complex roles for town that they had no chance of coming up with. Either make it clear that roles are going to be relatively simple, or give scum some way to learn about the setup, or provide sample fakeclaims. This is especially important in Role Madness games.

2.2 Semi-open setups

(11) Limit the number of possible setups. It sounds cool if you might roll a million different setups, but how often is you game going to be played anyway, realistically? Usually a two-digit number is enough, and since every setup has to be checked for balance, a lot less work.

(12) Consider the solvability of your setup. How many flips/claims does it take to determine the exact setup that is played? Does scum have sufficient knowledge to make fakeclaims that cannot immediately be countered, and how quickly will they be found out? Generally, you'd want to aim for situations where "of those 3 players, at least one must be lying" rather than 1v1 situations.

2.3 Open setups

(13) Unique roles are powerful. Everyone with  unique role can claim and confirm their townieness. Keep this in mind. You can break this by putting in more than one of the same role, but consider that oftentimes, copies of the same role can be broken for other reasons.

(14) Look at possible plans. If there is coordination to be done that clearly benefits town, then this is bad. If no planning improves town's chances, that is good. The game is arguably at its most interesting if there are mutually exclusive plans and it is not clear which is the best, but that is a difficult balance to achieve. Note that the more complex your game is, the more time you should spend thinking about this. Also consider  what happens if people decide to claim "with role X, I would do Y".

3. Theme

(1) Randomize fakeclaims. If you first think about which characters to include and then give fakeclaims to scum, it will most often result in them getting only minor characters, so that their pool of possible claims is limited. A way to avoid this is to start designing by making a list of characters, one per player, and then determine randomly which of those are scum. You can then go on from there.

(2) For open or semi-open games, a different way to avoid flavor outing is to give publicly known flavors to the possible power roles.

(3) Do not get carried away with theme. Your roles should focus one one or two characteristics and turn them into powers that fit together. It is more important to have roles that are interesting to play than to have roles that perfectly fit the flavor. RMMs give a bit more leeway in this, but you should still make sure that the roles you designed fit not only the flavor, but also each other.

(4) Give informative role flips. This is mostly relevant for closed games. Maybe you want to describe the ability of your character in flavor, not with the standard mafia names. Consider that this makes it harder for your players to figure out what is going on. A flip should provide some information on what that player's powers were. You might give a standard name to the power, or reveal parts of the role PM on flip, but in general it's bad to just flip "Tyrion Lannister, the Hand of the King".
« Last Edit: May 30, 2019, 11:44:05 am by faust »
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silverspawn

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #22 on: May 30, 2019, 11:42:36 am »

I think 1 - 5 is a too small range

I think restricting yourself to a fixed set of numbers is usually a terrible idea. There's just no real disadvantage to using more granularity. But the scale doesn't matter; if you can just write 2,3 if you want, then having 5 max is fine

In terms of weighting the individual roles, I made a Google Form. Might be interesting to see where the consensuses and differences of opinion are:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScknY2r6gx28HdUNGt0VoH9D39He8fhu4M9H6UPk3fXQK8gGQ/viewform?usp=sf_link

Is there a way to evaluate the strength of the role as scum vs. its strength as town? Because that can very wildly. It's hard to assign a number to "rolecop" for example- much more useful for scum than for town.

Numbers should be relative to the game. Look at the setup, evaluate how strong the role is there, and then give the number.
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faust

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #23 on: May 30, 2019, 11:45:23 am »

I think 1 - 5 is a too small range

I think restricting yourself to a fixed set of numbers is usually a terrible idea. There's just no real disadvantage to using more granularity. But the scale doesn't matter; if you can just write 2,3 if you want, then having 5 max is fine
Yeah but you can only select integers in the survey.
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Since the number of points is within a constant factor of the number of city quarters, in the long run we can get (4 - ε) ↑↑ n points in n turns for any ε > 0.

silverspawn

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Re: How to Balance a Mafia Game (A Community Project I Hope!)
« Reply #24 on: May 30, 2019, 11:54:24 am »

Right, yes.

The survey is still a cool idea btw. it's problematic but if people's answers differ too much, that could be interesting anyway.
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