How to Build a Game #65 Numbers and Balancing

One of the most important goals of playtesting is to make sure your game is balanced. A well balanced game starts with the numbers you use to construct your game. If you use a good range of numbers early, balancing the game will be easier later on down the development road.

When we are early in development we like to star with numbers in the 1-4 range. There are times when going up to 5 is ok, but when you start a game like that, there is a good chance the game length will be long. Also, for testing purposes, you don’t been to go up to 5.

“What do you mean by this 1-4 and 5 business? 1-4 what?”

Here is the beauty in this system. It could be 1-4 anything. How much does this unit/item/thing cost? How many points is this thing worth? How many cards should we start the game with? How many players is this game? How many resources should we start with? How many resources should we collect on a turn? How many actions should we take per turn?

The list goes on and on. What I would like you to take away from the list of questions is this, throw out the concerns about the math and use numbers in the 1-4 range and start testing your game concept. Don’t let math be a hold up, it is not a good use of time and when you get to the testing phase, the problems with any math will be solved. Playtesters will say things like, I feel like stone was too difficult to get, I feel like I needed one more action per turn. I feel like the starting player has one too many cards head start.

There will be times when larger numbers are required, but I think those times are rare. Also, look at published games a guidepost for what kind of numbers you should be using. As an example, Star Realms gives the starting player only 3 cards in their opening hand. I was not part of testing, but I am sure part of the testing was to figure out what the best number was to provide a reasonably fair start for both players.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

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