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The Free Drones and Multi-Player Game Balance

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  • The Free Drones and Multi-Player Game Balance

    I don't know about other people, but the faction which I find most unbalanced in MP is the Free Drones. It took me a while to figure out why I feel this way, but here it is: they can get +2 (actually +3) economy and +3 industry at the same time. Other factions can get +2 or +3 industry, but they can't get the magic +2 economy at the same time (and the other faction that can get +3 industry can never get +2 economy), and other factions can get +2 economy, but never with better than +1 industry. As a bonus, they get one less drone (particularly useful when running Free Market at Transcend difficulty), and their disadvantage, -2 research, while really nasty in the early game becomes quite minor relatively quickly (consider that not only can they build research facilities and probe teams fast, but they can run FM/Knowledge for +2 economy/average research and still have +2 industry!)

    So do other people find them overpowered, or am I nuts? And if fans of them think they're overpowered, do you have any solutions? I thought of two: the obvious fix is to reduce their industry bonus to +1; a more interesting but less effective fix is to give them a -1 to economy (excuse: massive union featherbedding hurts entrepreneurship). A final possible fix would be replacing their -2 research with a -2 economy, which would be a disadvantage throughout the game, balancing their advantages which last throughout the game, without the crippling effect of -2 research in the opening game.

    I'll clarify that I don't find them overpowered when people run them only in Planned, the problem is when they are run in FM.

  • #2
    I tend to agree that they are real strong and they are my favorite faction to play. The combination of industry and economy can be a great combination. But most people should not consider them overbalanced since a thread on the most important SE factors showed efficiency and research as most important.

    The Drones start slow and if others get going quickly, the Drones will miss out on most of the early Special projects and the pod popping as well. Without a way to get the techs early, they can have a very tough early game. Those first 10 turns with no research really hurt since other factions may have a former and a rec tank in their bases before the Drones discover their first tech.

    I really really like the Drones but they have a tough time getting to higher efficiency rates that could make greater Labs allocation worthwhile and the research minus means that they need a huge infrastructure to keep up in the mid game. As well, many players downplay industry in favor of more and more cash. After all, if a base produces 10 minerals, a very rich faction is rushing everything anyway-- all greater industry does is reduce the cost a bit.

    Don't get me wrong-- I think of the Drones as my "strongest" faction but I hesitate to call them overbalanced. That research minus is very significant


    • #3
      Giving them a -2 economy would make the Drones too much like Yang (good industry, no money), and force them to play an aggressive style.

      The combination of -2 Econ and -2 Research would really stagnate their early game. Once the bases got larger that -1 energy wouldn't seem so bad but the size one or two bases would hardly be pulling in any energy, creating little research.

      Providing a -1 Econ wouldn't solve your main beef with them, as FM/ Wealth still gives them +2 Econ and +3 Industry. They'd suffer some from not running Knowledge but would have the industrial capacity to build plenty of labs facilities to make up for it.

      Why not restrict them from FM economics instead of Green? You could view it as a resistance to an economic model which exploits the working class. That way, no +2 Econ until Eudaimonea is available.


      • #4
        Basil, You failed to mention Domai's -2 Research. Isn't that handicap enough? Compare AKI, who with +2 eff., can run Demo, Planned, Wealth + GA that permits her +2 industry, +2 econ, +7 growth for the permanent pop boom, together with +2 research. In this setting there are no negative police, so this is a war setting, which FM (you Domai example) is not. It is better than anything that Domai can put together. Ned arch+from+The+Empire+Strikes+Back.ogg&wiki=en


        • #5
          Thank-you for the replies... it's nice to see that I'm not completely crazy .

          The way I'm seeing it now is this: The +2 industry/ -2 research combination works nicely in solo play, because it makes their solo play style unique. It's also reasonably balanced for SP. Whereas if Firaxis had given them something like +2 industry/ -2 economy, they would have been just another Hive. That wouldn't have been much fun solo.

          BUUUTTTT, this isn't good game balance in multi-player. What it boils down to is that they start from a smaller base than the other factions, because the research penalty hurts most at the start of the game, then grow at a faster % rate than the other factions. Which means strategy for the other players is simple: take out the Drones early (when they're so weak that no Drone player will have a chance). That doesn't make for a particularly fun or interesting game.

          Another way to put it: suppose the Drones grow at 8%/turn once they get started, and other factions grow at 6%/turn. Then the Drones double in size every 9 turns and the others every 12 turns. Suppose (for the sake of a convenient example) the Drones are half the size of the others when they get started. After 36 turns they'll be the same size, and after 72 turns double the size. (Those numbers bear no relation to reality - I picked them for arithmetic convenience. The important claim is that the Drones systematically grow slightly faster %-wise than the other factions; if that's true this illustration is relevant; if it's not true it's not.)

          It's not so much that the research penalty is the wrong size of penalty, as that it's the wrong kind of penalty for MP.

          To show what I think are good ways to do balance factions, look at some of the original 7 factions. The four builder/hybrid factions start from (very) roughly the same economic size and (more importantly) grow at roughly the same percentage rate. So if we're each playing one of these I'm ahead of you in 2150, I know that I'll be ahead of you by roughly the same margin in 2200, barring differences in play. So there's no systematic incentive to exterminate now. Whereas with the Drones, sure I'm ahead in 2150, but I know he'll be ahead in 2250 unless he really screws up somehow. As another contrast, consider the Believers. Like the Drones they have a -2 research, but their bonuses are to support and probe. The bonus to support helps most in the early game, which balances the penalty to research which hurts worst in the early game. The probe bonus helps them catch up if they're behind in tech, but the research penalty cuts in if they're ahead in tech. Negative feedback loops like this help make the game more interesting by keeping the factions competitive longer. But there are no negative feedback loops with the Drones.

          cbn, that's about how I figured the Drones' played . I just about always play against them, of course! My only objection: greater industry reduces the cost of rushing a "lot", not a "little". (Both these terms are of course relative.) Which means you can rush more stuff, sooner, which is where my 8% vs. 6% example comes from.

          Earwicker, you're right about -2 economy making them too Hivelike. And -2 economy & -2 research would be crazy: I was thinking of the economy penalty replacing the research penalty. The trouble with blocking them from using Free Market is that it makes them too weak IMO, and again they're getting Hivelike. I like the -1 economy in that it makes them distinct from all the other factions: they can get +2 economy through FM/GA or FM/W, but not through FM alone. But you're again right that it doesn't stop my complaints about them in MP.

          Ned, I never thought of that setting for the Cyborgs before - it's a nice one. But you're much mistaken if you think FM is not a war setting: if I am playing a FM faction I will fight wars, including aggressive wars and air wars, in FM. By the end of tech level 4 there are a number of ways around the drone problem. Whereas Wealth is problematic as a war setting - there's nothing you can do about that morale penalty.

          My guess is that that Cyborg setting would not be competitive with the Drones in Demo/FM/Wealth when you take into account such considerations as how long it takes to set things up. But I haven't analyzed it in any detail and could be wrong.

          It occurs to me (as a purely off-the-cuff thing) that the Drones really should have a -1 or -2 penalty to Planet, given the way they're portrayed, purely for roleplaying reasons. Could give them -1 economy and -1 planet but reduce the research penalty to -1. That would I think be a balanced/interesting variant for SP. Don't know if it would work better in MP though.


          • #6

            The industry bonus will reduce rushing costs by precisely 20% as compared to another faction running the same SE settings. Consider a facility that is 30 mins for a vanilla faction (24 for the Drones)-- so it will cost 12 ec -- 200 mins becomes 160 saves 80 so I guess it can be a lot or a little as you say . But a player that can generate 20% more cash than the Drones can rush just as much stuff just as fast.

            Also I am not quite understanding how its inevitable that the Drones will outgrow other factions. My thought has always been that other factions will get both rec tanks and formers earlier and those early extra resources more than balance the +2 industry. While the drones are getting those items, other factions are on to other stuff. The Drones can almost never get the Weather Paradigm against human opposition that really values it and in theory should be much slower off the mark in developing infrastructure.

            Consider two instances

            1. Drones meet other factions early

            They will have problems since they will likely have to beeline to weapons tech, worry about opposing probes and possibly totally abandon "building" for fear of attack. Other factions are headed for their 4th tech before the Drones start researching their first. The only saving grace is their inherent tech which gives the 2 value armour. The drones have a tough time stealing tech early (2120s for probes even if you beeline and ignore other considerations) and any advantage in early meeting is offset by the fear that impact attackers will soon be on their way

            2. No early contact ( alone)

            This sounds like the perfect builder game right ?-- But for 15 turns or so you can practically build nothing but units. If you find yourself alone on a mid sized island what do you do? You have key tech decisions to make right from the start. I go for centauri ecology so I might get a former built but just consider at 2115 how far behind you are. Other factions should have terraforming and facilities that more than balances the +2 industry. Its only when they get out there and can trade/steal some tech that the Drones can do anything. There is a good long while when the ability to build quickly is hampered by the inability to build anything useful.

            I really like playing the drones since I see the benefit of the industry bonus and enjoy the very real challenge of getting around their research penalty. There is no way to eliminate the effect of this penalty and it means there are very real tactical and strategic decisions to make in the early game. Do I go builder/isolationist or do I beeline to Doc: Flex to try to discover the world and pod lotto ? Will I be builder or just pump out more and more units? etc etc

            In your 2150 example-- the other faction that is ahead of the Drones should wonder why it is inevitable that they will lose their lead. Shouldn't they get the restriction lifting techs first-- what about hab complexes-- shouldn't they have some better infrastructure or terraforming? You see I look at the Drones slow start as something that another builder can exploit so that by 2150 not only do thay have a tech lead and an inherently faster research ability but on top of that they should have developed more terraforming or net nodes or research hospitals or SOMETHING. If this advantage does not exist . . . . well then that says something about the playstyle/ skill/ luck/circumstances of the other faction since SOME advantage should continue. And remember the Drones have a tougher time getting to higher efficiency levels so it is less practical to go all out for Labs tocatch up.

            I really like the Drones but I am struggling far too hard against their weaknesses to consider them unbalanced. I love that they can be a late game juggernaught but there is a whole lot of catching up to do from the slow start and I do not find their supremacy to be inevitable.

            Note that I only have limited PBEM experience- In Axt 041 they were eradicated by the Cult(me) and Pirates while in AXT042 I am the Drones in a very very interesting game where I have the population lead but remain behind on tech -- its this game that has highlighted the Drones failings for me when I see the way that the Gaians for example can go all out on Labs with no inefficiency losses-- Its a constant battle to keep up in tech.


            • #7
              OK, If Domai is not suppose to like knowledge, then give him aversions to Knowledge and Cybernetic as well as to his aversion to Green. He will have two major problems. Permanent very slow research, and also low efficiency. The latter will not only cut his income and therefor, labs, but it also will increase his bureacracy drones beyond the level experienced by factions running at higher efficiency levels.

              However, this brings up another subtle advantage for Domai. He has one more content worker than everyone else. This is equivalent to +4 efficiency from a b-drone point of view. This permits Domai to expand rapidly without having to switch to higher-efficiency settings. In other words, for the same efficiency settings, Domai can have twice the number of bases before b-drone problems are equal. This is a significant, but subtle, growth advantage.



              • #8
                Well, I hate to see Basil go this one alone as I too feel the Drones are a bit overpowered when played correctly. In fact there was a chap by the name of Adam Smith around these boards a while ago that claimed he was undefeated with the Drones, but that's a story for another day.

                CBN -- I see you two examples as win-win situations. Should the Drones run into a faction rather early then they have a partner to trade/extort techs from. Failing those options the Drones could research applied physics or the impact weapon tech along with Doctrine: Mobility (2 to 4 techs) and they've got an excellent chance to run that faction over with the +2 industry.

                Alone you say. Even better. Just build units you say. Yes, not just units, but colony pods. Given that the Drones have a +2 industry and an extra qulled Drone they could effectively build 12 size three bases, given that each base has a scout to act as police to quell yet another drone, without riots or that addition of a bueracracy drone. And how many techs do you need to build scouts and colony pods? Zero. Now if the Drones have 100% more bases than the next faction, given that they can double their bueracracy warning without the addition of more drones as long as the base size remains three (which coincidently is easy to do) how much does a -2 (or -20%)research really hurt them? Oh, my guess is they'll have a research rate about 80% better than the next faction. Throw in a few rec. tanks that are 20% cheaper, and then by the time the Drones can build crawlers they can throw in Planned and Wealth and they're building projects and crawlers at 40% off. Not to mentioin they can pop boom with relative ease -- creche, demo, planned. It's hard for me to imagine steeper growth.


                • #9
                  Ah, Basil...why are you running them in Wealth, and not Knol? That would still give 'em +2Econ and +2Industry, but it would also take off their research -2.

                  I still am of the opinion that a heavy tech faction, like UoP, Cyborgs, or Morgan, can beat them.
                  It hurts to be on the cutting edge!


                  • #10

                    The early overrun/ extortion of other factions is not easy considering that they will in all likelihood have higher weapons and probe teams before you. Also support costs mean that it is difficult to swarm an opponent, in particular if your bases are behind in infrastructure and terraforming.

                    As the Drones I see my chances as being better in a more peaceful environment and with a lot of tech trades. But I cannot imagine that the Drones have twice the bases of another faction unless thay got very lucky. Expansion depends on growth more than industry and the Free Drones starting in an arid/moist region is not fun. No tanks or formers early to speed the race to size 2 when another colony can spawn.

                    Also whenever I consider the overbalanced argument I always compare the faction in question to another-- say the university. The uni can research their way to Planned/wealth and crawlers while the drones are still figuring out which end is up. Throw in demo and you have a booming faction with +2 industry long before the Drones can accomplish a boom. They get to crawlers insanely fast which means that they can Virtual World the drone problems away.

                    In AXT042 I tried to get tech by beelining to Doc Flex (believe it or not). Then I started sending out ships and by meeting more factions earlier, I managed to become a tech broker (ie I got a tech from 3 different factions for Doc: Flex)-- The problem with this approach is that ANY other faction can get to Doc: Flex earlier than the Drones and usurp that plan.


                    Maybe I am crazy here but the mere fact that I have had disputes with ardent supporters who claim

                    1. The Drones are overpowered
                    2. The University is overpowered
                    3. The Spartans are overpowered
                    4 the Conciousness is overpowered

                    etc etc is proof that perhaps none of them are that overpowered. There is no clear consensus on the strongest faction question. Are they perfectly balanced ?-- perhaps not. But there are advocates for almost any faction you care to name.. Drago Sinio and I are playing a 3 PBEM match to test his ideas that the Spartans are unbeatable played a certain way. I never thought of the Spartans as that strong in other than momentum settings but heck I might learn a whole new appreciation for them. So I picked a faction I felt was best suited to the map setting in the particular game and away we went ( 2169 and going strong).

                    My claim is that the fact that these disputes rage is "proof" that there is at least a reasonable balance between the factions. Do I claim thay are all equally good ? Never !!( I could never play the believers effectively).

                    The only test for the overbalanced assertion, IMHO, is for an advocate or advocates to play a series of 2 player games (to avoid the influence of human politics) with similarly skilled advocates of other factions. If the assertion is correct, the "overbalanced" faction should win a convincing majority of such games. Maybe a few people should try this-- heck in a few months when my current PBEMs clear up, I might want to try this !


                    • #11
                      Okay, I hearby claim that the Progenitors are overpowered.

                      Care to challange that? Anyone?

                      Joking aside, I must agree with cbn on this one. Certainly, for some people's personal play styles, some factions are better than others, for exaple; I've never done well with factions with poor research.

                      However, it all depends on playstyle. (Look at my BHM, we'll try and see which playstyle comes on top).
                      It hurts to be on the cutting edge!


                      • #12
                        CBN -- I would only expect the average faction to be a tech or two ahead upon "early" contact. The reason I say this is that in the early game the amount of tech points generated is relatively small. Brining in 10 tech points at -2 research for an actual total of 8 tech points. So your losing 2 a turn, which only adds about two or three turns to your tech/turn average. Now unless the faction you bump into is also researching along the momentum line you'll probably have better weapons and armor or at least be at par with one another assuming you research along the momentum line yourself. And even if they have a higher tech than you they still have to build units/facilities/projects. They could have every tech in the game and still be at a loss to build any of it.

                        I think your example of an arid/moist world without terraformers or rec. tanks is a strech of the imagination. Who doesn't pick centauri ecology as their first tech?

                        I also disagree with your comparison of Uni to the Drones. In my opinion your comparing two factions of the nearly opposite spectrum considering your basing it on tech accumulation alone. While your at it why not compare the energy output of Morgan to Yang? Not to mention I feel the University is the most powerful faction of the first seven, but that strays from the topic.

                        As for your approach to the game in AXT042, in my opinion it is flawed from the begining. Of all techs you aimed toward Doctrine Flex? Why not Industrial Automation first? Why not Bio Engineering for the rec tanks? Granted I feel Doctrine Flex is important, but is hardly the tech I shoot for form the get go. Stop sniffing the flowers and start expanding. That's what your faction is best at. The more bases you have producing things the greater the advantage of haveing +2 industry and -1 drones becomes. Instead your having tea with Morgan discussing which techs you can leech off him and trade to someone else which more or less is settling for tech parity as eventually there will be nothing more to trade and you'll still have a slower tech rate than everyone else. What will you trade when they already have everything you've got? I'll give you the fact that it's a way to catch up, but it still doesn't solve your slow tech accumulation the way more bases would. On top of that you'll have to trade for less than savory techs like optical computers, progenator psych? (the aquafarm tech), and the artillery tech, the skunkworks tech, all of which hinder your own research rates.

                        Play to a factions strength not its weakness. In this case if you'd play to the Drones expansion strength you'd utimately solve their problem with tech.


                        • #13
                          WE: to be Devil's Advocate, in one of my current games I am beelining towards Doc Flex as the Gaians. This isn't usually my priority as the Gaians, but I feel that the specific circumstances of that game warrant it.

                          Also remember that the Drones can't research anything at all for the first 10 years, so starting on an arid/moist area is a real scenario for them.

                          Ned, AFAIK one can't give a faction more than one aversion?

                          Cbn: Here is a thread in which Adam_Smith said he'd been undefeated in 20 games with the Drones. So I figure the two-player tests are done...

                          Commodore: Actually I do challenge that the Usurpers are overpowered. I'm 2-1 in 2-player games against them. To me, they're the mirror image of the Drones: the Drones start off too weak and are too strong later in the game, while the Usurpers start off too strong and are too weak later in the game. Ah well.

                          Having said all that, the true test of whether a faction is a "good" faction or not is whether people have fun playing them. By that test, it's clear that the Drones are a good faction. *I* personally strongly dislike the technical aspects of the faction, so I'll just figure out a variant I do like, and not play against the "official" version. But that's more a topic for the Creation forum...


                          • #14

                            you are aware that the Drones accumulate NO research points for 10 years right ? Thats my point-- They can't build a former until about 2113-5 and no rec tanks until maybe 2118 -2120. Your answers seem to ignore this fact since you seem to assume that the Drones can outgrow factions in the early years that, by definition, will have a production advantage on them. Equivalent terrain means that other factions will get to size 2 faster since they can terraform and rec tanks earlier. The Drones starting in an arid or fungus filled region have a painful time growing to size 2 or have to waste turns moving the initial pods again delaying size 2.

                            Oh and I should have been clear on my beeline-- I ALMOST always get centauri ecology first with biogenetics next-- I think of my "beeline" as what I do after that. Was a beeline to Doc flex the best? -- well you tell me-- I was alone on an island that could hold only about 6-8 bases . I had three techs at a time when everyone else should have 5-7 as a result of better research and also the better production that comes from rec tanks and terraforming. My decision was to go naval to pop pods and meet people. I needed to get off the island if I wanted to grow. I got lucky and found and then cashed 2 AAs to get the Weather Paradigm and try to catch up in teraforming.

                            And you are wrong on one point regarding the tech broker thing. I would not accept trades for things like optical computers (what a useless tech IMHO). I was the 4th faction to Ind Auto but was first to ecological enginering and environmental economics precisely because I would not accept extraneous techs. I know how to beeline and the trading method means you can get the tech above the one you do not want. I now have significant holes in my tech tree as there are techs at level 1 and 2 that I do not have. I am still probably 3rd in the number of techs researched but am ok on the important ones.

                            On the UNi versus Drones thing I still think it is a good comparison. People say that the Drones are overpowered since they can build stuff so fast. Well in 2130 the UNiversity wil be well terraformed (rushed formers in 2103) and will likely be able to run Planned Wealth for a +2 Industry while cranking out crawlers. You can't ignore their tech in considering their industrial capacity. AND if you said Yang was overpowered it would be entirely appropriate to point out the energy production of Morgan


                            Thats one player who might have just been more skilled than his opponents. I understand that Adam Smith was quite a strong player. The fact that one player makes that assertion does not rule the day for me. Why is it that other very strong players choose other factions? Why is it that many assert the supremacy of other factions?

                            The claim was that they are overpowered which to me means that they will win a disproportionate number of games among equally skilled competitors-- I am unconvinced that this would be the case. It takes a lot to convince me of things-- I routinely defend the Cult LOL.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by cbn
                              On the UNi versus Drones thing I still think it is a good comparison. People say that the Drones are overpowered since they can build stuff so fast. Well in 2130 the UNiversity wil be well terraformed (rushed formers in 2103) and will likely be able to run Planned Wealth for a +2 Industry while cranking out crawlers. You can't ignore their tech in considering their industrial capacity. AND if you said Yang was overpowered it would be entirely appropriate to point out the energy production of Morgan
                              Problems with the University include that everything they get from their advantages can be taken away from them with probes, and that others can cooperate to match them in research if it's more than a two-player game. Whereas nothing can take the industry away from the Drones, and the Drones tend to benefit from technology gifts in games over 2 players.

                              Originally posted by cbn
                              Thats one player who might have just been more skilled than his opponents. I understand that Adam Smith was quite a strong player. The fact that one player makes that assertion does not rule the day for me. Why is it that other very strong players choose other factions? Why is it that many assert the supremacy of other factions?

                              The claim was that they are overpowered which to me means that they will win a disproportionate number of games among equally skilled competitors-- I am unconvinced that this would be the case. It takes a lot to convince me of things-- I routinely defend the Cult LOL.
                              Adam Smith specifically said that he beat people with the Drones whom he lost to when playing other factions, and that he won a disproportionate number of games with the Drones compared to the number he won with other factions. Your other points are fair, but attributing Adam's success with the Drones to his personal skill is not, since he specifically said it was not.