Designing Difficulty in TBTSGs

Reading thread after thread on this forum and skimming through other sources of game feedback I came to a conclusion that it is really hard in today’s market to design a Turn Based Tactics/Strategy Games. I am talking about Jagged Alliances and X-Coms. Game like Phoenix Point is bound to attract an oldCom player base.

All the (probably) 30+ year old people who ate their teeth on blasting overwhelming alien menace without anything to help them in the process. We find solutions and tactics that makes Legendary feels like cakewalk, and because we are so passionate about this we are also very vocal. We want more and more challenge. We want Dark Souls of tactical battles. We want systems that allows us to find different and fun solutions for impossible odds, without feeling that we abuse and exploit game mechanics. Even more so if it’s mister Gollop himself involved. If Devs listen to us it may make them feel that there is a need to nerf and stretch and change the numbers to accommodate our need of difficulty.

But we are minority of players these days. We are not numerous enough to fund such an ambitious project. I was baffled on how many players complained on some things being too difficult, when I and some other people here after some trial and error found solutions that allowed us to plow through said difficulty like 18-wheeler on steroids. Finally it clicked (this rusty brain of mine) that there are so many players that are interested in TBTactics who didn’t spent 20+ years figuring out every angle that bullet can land on Sectoids face. They may find formula very fun, they may love the setting. They may enjoy pacing of those games. And they are very much deserving to be able to enjoy this game.

This lead me to wonder. How can you design a difficulty levels in game so it would be enjoyable for various groups of people, from newcomers and casual players to hardcore masochistic veterans. How much change there should be between Rookie and Veteran in numbers and maybe even in some mechanics. I believe all those discussions we have on forums and other places should try to accommodate for that, so Devs can design proper balance that wont affect all players in a same way. Right now there is very little difference between Easy and Legendary after some time so changes either makes Easy too hard or Legendary too easy depending who you ask.

Problem is that it would quadruple amount of work balancing team already have. Can we as players help with that? Can we make Devs work easier and not harder when dealing with that issue?


Nothing new here, it’s old problems.

I already have an answer for the Dark Soul TB combat, RNG, nothing else will match with players that have lost all common difficulty feeling. They use a very complex series of 20 actions that should be in a very precise order and not a constant copy/paste and they brag it’s too easy because they beat it. There’s no solution for this minority but a high RNG.

EDIT: Well in this minority for which any game is too easy there’s also the duration that can work with them, if a combat takes 5H then ok it’s difficult, sigh no it’s boredom, but it works too with that category of players.

For difficulty levels it’s basic game design, nothing new and yes it costs a lot.

Edit: I eat a lion this morning and nope I won’t apologize on any tone aspect. :slight_smile:

I don’t believe that’s the case. RNG is the easiest solution but definitely not the best or only one.

It’s a good solution (just not for me), ok if you want argue (thanks to have endure my raging lol) let argue about what make it difficult for you?

For having started with a “rookie” game, I agree that it was brutal and got hit by the difficulty spike in the face. Then spent the rest of the game ragebursting Sirens, Chirons & Scyllas.
But I was rushing maps like in FiraXCOM because of the timers. In PP, no need to rush, you can take more time taking out Pandas one by one when possible if you avoid alerting them too early.

What this game needs is a real “rookie” mode, where you don’t get slapped in the face for being rookie. Have Arthrons use “grenade” or “poison spit” only if the soldier was already in range and do it only once. 50% worst enemy aim, no bombard Chiron, Sirens only scream or mind-control as their first action, … add latency to the enemies giving more time to deal with them …

Background: I never went further than Veteran in FiraXCOM and I needed some savescumming to do it. And I never played any original XCOMs.

So pointless and hard because of movements, you like harder paths or what?

Mmm so you never reach max difficulty cap? With tiny maps packed of enemies? That said this looks like a wrong design choice.

Otherwise not quoted, yes there’s a problem in difficulty management, fix it first before to nerf this and that, those nerf will change nothing to the core problems with the auto scaling.

Once you know their animation it’s easy to take it into account.

Still pointless pain and Sirens don’t worth that much bulltet, weak general tactic for them, sorry but you abused RB and even for wrong reasons.

And it seems you didn’t read I agree RB was needing a nerf with SR.

When you see enemies everywhere, killing a Siren in one action doesn’t seem that pointless. And that was my first playthrough. I haven’t used SR RB since. Updating my tactics have enabled me to not have to rely on it.

I don’t think you can design such a game if you are following in the footsteps of another franchise. For a brand new title/genre you can build your game mechanics in such a way that both dedicated and casual gamers will start from ground 0 in their understanding of the game mechanics. But for something that is build on already well know concepts and ideas… There are two paths - make it accessible to more players, meaning less complicated mechanics, simpler user interface, simpler rules. Or improve what wasn’t working well in past by adding more mechanics, add some fresh paint on top, use more modern UX methods. The later is difficult as you have to re-create the base mechanics first, to a level that would satisfy fans. The former is just easier.
Don’t forget that many gamedevelopers are not in their 50s. Many designers never played games from 80s, 90s or even 2000. Some next guy working on XCom 4 will have Firaxis XCom EU as his first turn-based game which he played at the age of 10. The legacy of giants like JA2 1.13 will be forgotten in the noise of the next big title that costs 300mil to develop and 50mil to market. Like I can’t stand Stellaris after playing Aurora4x but in 20 years, it would probably become only a museum mention while Stellaris will span out shooters, card games and maybe even alien dating simulator.
What I’m saying is that industry is not interested in creating complex and difficult games. Only some small studious and individuals still care about these, the people who make games that they themselves what to play.
This is the issue with pretty much whole gaming culture, not only TBTactics. The older I get the less and less unique approaches in games I see. Partially because devs just copy solutions from other games for various reasons, partially because exposure to more of the media makes things less and less unique as your own templates of perception become more generalized, the other reason is new devs who simply start from a very different point in gaming history.

Back to PP. In order to figure out how it can be made to scale better for various difficulty levels, it first have to function coherently on just one of them. Currently it doesn’t - it gets more/less difficult to play not because the “challenge” is raised but because the systems of the game are too easy to “abuse” from one side and too obscure to figure out from the other side. To handle this part you first need to have some clear gameloop and only from there you can decide how the rest of the game should go. Half of the forum discussions are about small details of particular weapon/class, solving which won’t have any fundamental effect on the gameplay as those stats are not the problem - the larger design is the problem. Right now it’s like a soups of various game design ideas thrown together - a meta sandbox where sandbox part is not what you can do in game but how the game itself works.


In tactical games I love when I have to think hard to find a solution to a multi-layered problem. When I am in a situation that can go bad in many different ways, and I have to figure out some solution to prevent the worst outcome. And I have multiple different tools to find this solution. If the tools are to powerful it makes it less enjoyable to solve problem. If the problem have to few layers it makes it simple and solvable in only one or two possible ways. I don’t like it when there is only one good way in a tactical game. It works in puzzle games but not in game like PP.

1 Like

I am completely with you on that. But we got PP and were promised a challenging and interesting game. The basis for this is here but I feel like it lacks thought put into it’s design. Thought and proper design balance that you mentioned. I would hate to see potential PP have go to waste. Hence I ask what can we do to actually help in more constructive way?

Ok nice definition, either you get spared with the auto scaling, either you abused of few tools, Priest, 100% Stealth, Rapid Clearance and Adrenalin Rush, and perhaps SR Burst (less sure it allow repeat again and again apply some easy tools without any thinking).

If not what made it so simple? I wonder.

EDIT: On start automatic play is turn based killer, much less for real time. If you wasn’t bored by combats on start I’m saying it’s because they wasn’t automatic so easy.

I think the problem is is that people expect to get everything right on the first try. It’s not even that the game is “too difficult” … it is not. Not even after the patch. It’s about the learning curve that many find too steep. Once you have learned the basics - including the fact that it is OKAY to abandon missions - you’ll do just fine.

Bad design made it so simple. On my first playthrough on Veteran I had Pandorans buffed to oblivion (300+hp 40 defense crabs) and still finished my final mission by abusing tactics like Stealth/Rapid Clearance/Dash. That’s why I opted to fix them. On my second playthrough on Legendary I deliberately avoid RB/Sniper combos, Stealth, and limited Dash to 2 uses per turn. Still managed to kill Scyllas in Citadels in 2nd or 3rd turn. With Synedrion pistols, ARs and one Sniper on level 7 using only PP sniper rifle. This means there are multiple ways/tools, not just cheese combos, to ease through game even on hardest difficulty. But I understand that not everyone want to spend their time finding out those solutions. That’s why I started this thread. I don’t think game should be harder all across the board, rather it should give players challenge on multiple difficulty levels.

Judging by how in last patch devs nerfed some ARs, because “statistics”, I don’t think we can do much. They made some other changes like increasing WP cost for some abilities, which again, doesn’t change a thing in a long run. It’s probably just too much work to fix anything more fundamental, like main game loop. For example, some players found that not doing any scavenging missions makes the whole game easier and much faster to finish, which I find to be just hilarious. Don’t want to be pessimistic but this might be as far as it will ever go - some bugs fixes, some rebalancing of stats and that’s it.

I don’t see anything hinting it was too easy for you, nothing at all or it’s related to the screwed up auto scaling.

That’s big you worry for other players and for stuff you never tested but just build dreams on it. You are making a pair with another player posting a lot and doing right the same.

You should reconsider your critics on the game, based on what you really tested.

You are projecting a lot in here. I base my criticism only based on my own experiences. I come to forums, read complains, compare numbers and draw conclusions.

And if killing Scylla in 2nd turn, with basic weapons and NO broken combos, is not too easy for you then what is?

Well I am not as pessimistic and believe that at least “wait for Steam” players will get a much better game. And I would love to contribute to that.