The best way to normalize chances in a two-player game?

We face the following problem in our now-in-development game Battle of the Pucks. Its idea came from a Russian board game Chapayev. It’s a 2-person (or a person vs. computer) game where the first player has a noticeable advantage. The classic rules call for the first player to continue making moves until he/she makes a mistake, then the turn goes to the second one. In some cases, this results in the first player winning a round (or even a few rounds in a row) without letting the other person to make a move at all. We keep arguing between ourselves on what should be the best approach to equalize the chances:

  • Keep the classic rules intact: the first player continues playing until a mistake is made
  • Limit the total amount of moves a person can make in a row
  • Always change turns after each move
  • Always change turns at the beginning of each new level
  • Make two rounds for each level, to give each player an opportunity to move first

What would be your thoughts on this?

I like these two ideas, because to me they seem the most fair:

  1. Always change turns after each move
  2. Always change turns at the beginning of each new level

I’m leaning more towards #2 so it won’t really break momentum of a single player’s turn.

First, looks well done so far.

If you want to keep it true to the original game, but keep a balance…

Because of the distinct advantage the first player gets, maybe have like a coin toss, or a “who can get closer to the edge without going over” takes the first move… maybe just for the first round.

Then, have the players swap first play each round.

That’s what I’d be thinking at least.

IMO the large 1st-player advantage given by the rules necessitates multiple games for each level, with serve alternating between players.
Victory would then require a 2 game lead (break their serve & hold yours).
Basically Tennis tie breaker.

1st serve wouldn’t matter, so decide it with a hidden coin toss.

It’d elongate each level, but it seems to me all the other alternatives are radical departures from the classic game.

I’m not sure of the direction you would like to take the game, but…

Another option would be to add dynamics to the game that give you more of an advantage the less pieces you have left on the board. (such as more moves for less pieces or some kind of power-up, etc.)
An alternative to this would be to make things more difficult for the player for each turn they take (in a row).

From the options that you have listed, however…

Limiting the moves will reduce the “skill” factor of the game.
Keeping the classic rules would hit home with some people, but most might find it obnoxious (depending on how easy it is to clear the board on your first turn)
Each of the others would keep the game fairly balanced.



At the end, we decided to implement the following approach:

  1. Each player continues to shot until a mistake is made.

  2. After a level is finished:

  • In a game against the computer, the human always moves first, giving him/her an advantage (as you are willing to win when you play alone, right?). The most difficult part is to adjust the smartness of the computer accordingly, to match your level and give you a feeling of an honestly earned victory. Personally, I like to finish with a score such as 11:9 or 12:8. Losing is not nice, and winning with a big difference like 16:4 feels not interesting enough.

  • In a two-person game, we give two rounds for each level, so that each player would have an opportunity to move first. In this case, you might have a minuscule advantage it you are the second player to start a round (as you could see whether the initial moves of your opponent were good or bad and change your strategy accordingly). But it will disappear after both of you played the whole game a few times and already know how to better deal with each level.