After doing that episode on randomness in e-sports, we realized that there is a particular aspect of game design that we really should talk about. First Move Advantage. And to help us do that is out new artists friend here: Addy. First move advantage is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s one of the trickiest design problems for anyone making turn-based games. You see, in most turn-based games, being one turn up on your opponent is a significant advantage. Therefore, as a designer, you have to build in mechanics to compensate for it: in Magic, the second player gets to draw an extra card; in Go, the player playing white gets 7.5 free points; in Hearthstone, the second player gets to draw an extra card, gets to mulligan an extra card, AND gets a special card that lets them get one free mana. The list goes on and on, but the key thing here to note is how difficult it is to create a balanced handicap for the starting player, to counter the benefits of first move advantage. If you know anything about the history of professional Go, it’s pretty much a catalog of the best players in the world realizing how good going first was. Over the last 150 years, they’ve continuously raised the number of points the second player gets simply for going second.
Because no matter how high they raise it, it’s never been quite enough to make do. On the flip side, many professional Hearthstone players want to go second, because the benefits of going second may be a bit OVER-balanced especially for all the decks that benefit from the fact that ‘The Coin’ is technically a spell. (Hearthstone players know what I’m talking about.) Okay, so; as designers, how do we address this problem? Well, first, we have to identify what type of turn-based game our game is. For our purposes, there are two different types of turn-based games: Static-Resourced Games, and Developed-Resource Games. Static-resourced games are games where players have access to all the pieces from the outset of the game, and they don’t build up the board over time. These would be games like chess, or Final Fantasy Tactics. Developed Resource Games, on the other hand, are simply games where the players build up resources over time.
Games like Magic: The Gathering, or Go. The problem of first move advantage has much more of an impact in developed-resource games, and so if we find we’re working on a developed resource game we have to be VERY mindful of this problem from early development. But this isn’t to say that first move advantage is a negligible problem in static resource games, either. In fact, they’re a great deal of debate around it for chess, as last I heard, at a professional level, white is roughly 5 percent more likely to win than black. And in the entire history of professional chess, no matter when you run the numbers, when you compile the games, white always has wins over 50 percent of the time. So, in turn-based games of any kind you should always consider first move advantage.