Guidelines for Strategy Game Design

A functional and lightweight game design manual by Level 99's D. Brad Talton Jr,
on how to create tense, dynamic, decision-driven games.

§ 3.2 - The decision funnel expands.

§ 3.2 - The decision funnel expands.

§ 3.2 - The decision funnel expands.

A game’s decisions and mechanics should naturally lead to an increase in potential choices and strategies as the game goes on. At the start of the game, there are a few decisions to make and a few strategies open to players.

As the game progresses, more and more space for decisions should open up in front of the players.

This can be a challenge. As the endgame emerges, players’ strategies get more involved. Players can see their outcomes more clearly, and so “right” and “wrong” choices tend to become apparent, cutting down the potential for meaningful endgame decisions.

One way to offset this is to open up the potential for sub-strategies or strategic diversification at a lower-than-usual risk. When a game makes high-power options cheaper and cheaper as time goes on, this is one way to open up the decision funnel and make those strategies viable in the late game.

For example, a powerful card might be available early for $10, and late for $2. The player who bought the card for $10 on the first turn is getting a whole game’s worth of returns on that opportunity-cost. In the late game, the $2 card is effectively identical, but it’s only going to provide its value a few more times, so the opportunity cost vs. rate of return proposition needs to be much better. The player who bought in early doesn’t really need that powerful card again—it’s designed for the player who wants to diversify closer to the endgame.

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