It’s just that its impact is much greater in developed resource games, and that impact is often felt at much lower levels of play. So, let’s assume we are making a developed resource game. What should we do to minimize first move advantage? Well, the first thing you need to do as a designer is make sure that you build into your game the tools that will allow you to fine-tune how you create the starting player handicap. Using our Go example, we see that their points system allows them a lot of flexibility and granularity when addressing first-move advantage. Whereas games like Hearthstone and Magic struggle because the only levers the designers have to work with can have enormous effects on the game with even the tiniest of adjustments. The difference between getting a whole extra card and not getting it in one of these games is a HUGE shift in player power, and the designers really don’t have a smaller increment to work with. Second, you should make sure to build in metrics to your game to observe first move advantage.
As a designer, you NEED to know how significant the advantage is and just how effective your attempts at mitigating it are. if you’re thinking about building a PvP turn-based game, these metrics are essential. Next, you should be aware that first move advantage naturally grows over time. This… may sound like an odd statement at first (I mean, how could the advantage grow without you changing the game at all), but it stems from the fact that your player base will get better at this game over time. The more people play your game, think about your game, and spend a time with it at a professional level, the better the average player will be, and the higher the skill level of the very best players will be. You see this in all professional sports, in long standing games like chess and Go, even in our major eSports! I mean, just look at a professional Starcraft match from the 90s, or a League game from as little as three years ago and compare them with today, and you’ll see the difference. And what this means for us is that, as players get better and better at the game, they’ll also get better and better at exploiting that little edge that going first gives them.
Which means that you have to watch your win percentages carefully and be prepared to adjust how you deal with first player advantage over time Lastly, as designers we have to be aware of first move advantage, not only in turn-based games, but in any PvP game that has turn-based elements. Look at League of Legends, for example: the ‘pick and ban’ phase of the game is, essentially, a turn-based element of play. The designers of that game have clearly used the way that pick order rolls out and tried to compensate for first move advantage, but imagine if they overlooked that. Imagine if they didn’t address first move advantage there: it would completely unbalance the game. So, whenever you’re including turn-based aspect into your game, even if the core game is real-time and heavily action-oriented, you should be thinking about potential first move advantage anyway.