One Coin to Rule Them All: Balancing Single-Currency Game Mechanics

Here's what I love about Lords of Waterdeep: After a few plays, I saw through the "Matrix" of the quests. You're spending cubes and coins, which have their own flat universal point value, in order to buy quests which typically have a far greater point value. The challenge was acquiring the right combination of cubes and coins. What I love is that the conversion rates are idiosyncratic enough to be interesting without being unpredictable.

That said, I'm curious if such a game would work as well if there was only one resource: Points. Place an agent on a space: Gain x points. Completing quests then becomes a cold exchange of one small quantity of points for another larger quantity of points.

Domesticate Owlbears
Spend 3p.
Reward: Gain 10p.

Even if the game did work that way, it would be so dry. The different cubes and coins in Waterdeep are great because they're liquid and thematic. They can be spent and invested, while straight VPs cannot. They reflect the nature of the quests, and what they give you in return. Though cubes and coins inherently have some VP value, they're more useful being spent.

VP-as-resources would simply allow the rich to get richer. Runaway leaders would be rampant. In that case, perhaps it's best to think of VPs as money, and one game in particular has some useful lessons for managing money-as-VPs.

Single Currency in Small World

Small World might be considered a worker placement game with a single resource: VP. After all, you place a token on a space, according to certain restrictions, and those tokens earn you VPs, based on certain conditions. Strip away the conceit of warfare, and that sounds like a worker placement game to me.

Small World deals with runaway leaders by making investments finite. Your supply of tokens/workers is limited, as is their lifespan, so you must periodically dip into your purse to buy a new supply of workers as needed. Furthermore, you can only own one active supply of worker/tokens at a time.

It should be noted that even with these limiting factors, some edge-case factions do tend to result in runaway leaders. The game is still fun, though!

Throttling Currency
It seems TIME and ACCESS are the central mechanisms for throttling a runaway leader.

  • TIME lets you pace how long an investment takes to mature,how long it will be fruitful, and even how long it will be available to buy in the first place.
  • ACCESS keeps some of your resources liquid and available to invest in further acquisitions, while keeping the bulk of your assets locked up in ongoing projects.

So let's say you still had the Domesticate Owlbears quest described above. How can we use Time and Access to control its pace?

In terms of Access, Waterdeep already has a central mechanism for accessing a quest. You must place a worker on a space in order to acquire the quest in the first place. Once you've done that, you can then spend your requisite resources to get the reward.

However, Time is crucial in controlling that reward. Let's say you have the Domesticate Owlbears "quest" and you spend your $3 to "complete" it. I use those terms in quotes, because now we're really talking about investments and rates of return from those investments.

The next step is to add $10 (in cubes, or chips, whatever) to that quest. Thereafter, at the start of your turn, you earn $1 from that quest and add it to your purse. So you have to wait three whole turns before this quest even makes a return on its investment. In that time, other players could be making their own, faster investments.

That's the baseline system. You could design special abilities that allow you to speed up the rate of return on "quests" of a particular category; gaining $2 per turn from Piety quests, for example. You could even sell ongoing quests (and any remaining points) to other players for quick cash. Now this becomes a real game about stock trading and brokerage.

Is that fun? I don't know, but it's an interesting space to explore.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.