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Rock Paper Scissors

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I had a few minutes, so I decided to get my thoughts down on paper to make my presentation for the RPS paradigm of the game. Instead, I got involved and decided to just type it all up right now :P

Here are the links of a few of the main sites I used for reference:






Here is the primary dilemma we as designers are posed with in relation to unit interaction. How do we give players an assortment of units that are unique in their own right but at the same time do not overpower one another? We need to maintain balance to make the game not just fair… but the more variety you have, the more strategies and tactics you have. You empower the players with different offensive options, and in turn more options to respond defensively.

Here are the basics of how the system works:


Rock beats Scissors, Scissors beats Paper, and Paper beats Rock. This next image is an example of how the cycle works in AoK:


It’s a pretty simple concept. Mounted units beat Ranged units, Ranged beat Foot units, Foot units beat Mounted units. Nothing to hard to grasp. AoK also shook things a up a bit because there were different ‘types’ within these 3. You had your skirmishers that were a cross between melee and ranged. Your pikemen that were great vs. cavalry and cheaper than swordsmen. And we know the rest… because we have all played AoK. This leads us to AoM:


Basically the same thing at the ‘core’. But, this isn’t the only level. We give the player more stages:


Notice how the human units are a subset of the greater collection of AoM units. This category in itself is a just a part in a great RPS dynamic. But, wait! That’s not all, it continues!


All these choices here are now overshadowed by a greater RPS choice of which god you choose. This isn’t as pure of a RPS dynamic is the others… but, I don’t think it was dumb luck that the ES designers set it up this way. And finally:


This is the weakest in the ‘RPS’ concept… but they made a graphic for it, so I thought it was worth showing :P

Why do we use Rock – Paper – Scissor?

RPS is used to ‘even the playing field’ of strategies that could be dominantly used multiple times because it proved effective in the past. Instead every action causes a reaction and the response to that action has another possible actions.

If we had for example… one uber unit that was good for everything – then why would we use any other unit? The uber unit will be the unit of choice, if you don’t use it… you’ll loose.

Another thing I noticed while trying to refine the interactions in warfare is that we have a few units that are not inherently different. The spearman and the swordsman? What makes them different? The archer and the slinger? Any unit that is the same as another should be cut. We don’t want to cut units because they were historically used… So, our only option is to make units unique in a way that might be a stretch in realism. Example, Why do we need to have a slinger? We already have 2 ranged units (arrows/javelin) – one long range and one short – one is more armoured and one is weaker. Where does a slinger fit in? How can he be different?

I also noticed we have a few other things going on here. With the unit experience system, the computer is managing the evolution of these units on a unique unit to unit level. We can’t just magically wave a wand and instantly make all our swordsman super strong. We have to use military experience and ‘toughen’ up our units one by one, battle hardening them. Technologies are also unique because you can adjust your path of the game by the choices you choose while your advancing through your tech tree. I think both of those things fit very nicely with what I have here now:

Here is how I have the interactions set up. Now, I think it’s important that all unit types from all civs start out with the same traits. If we decide to make greater distinctions, we can do it in their rankings (post basic). To explain the idea a bit: each CS unit is ‘good’ vs. 2 different types of units. It is also week vs. two different units (except the rare cavalry archer). This is important because it gives the player to different options to respond to an army. Also, not every civ has ever unit and this gives us a little compensation in that too.

Also the slinger is a bit unique in his own right as he is ‘out of the loop’ with really only one main purpose (basically a mini-onager). I don’t think the bonuses should be vastly different. I do think the distinctions between units to widen as they do gain experience. Much of the greater effect the units will have on other units is compounded by the attack and armour types – these are affected largely be techs and unit experience.

What this does do is that it singles out what unit they would choose to attack under the control of the AI. I imagine the attack priority would be something like this:

1] Attack units you were commanded to attack by the human player

2] Attack units that are attacking you

3] Attack units that you are bonused to attack

3] Attack any enemy in LOS

So this chart would also play a role in that area. Without further adeu… I present to you the first draft of my RPS chart:


I also made up a chart to explain some of the basic distinctions between units that make them unique. Why would I use unit A over B. Well, this is why.


As always, I'm open to suggestions on how to improve the interactions and distinctions. I tried to follow history and common sense as much as possible, to there were a few things I had to fudge a bit to maintain a symetry.

And that concludes my RPS presentation… Thank you all for attending, I’ll take questions in the back of the room, after we break for refreshments :)

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Very intriguing, and a most interesting and well-written seminar.

I like it (especially the stat distinctions; very helpful). However, what bothers me is the complexity of your table.

"Complexity? Hah! That's *depth*, that is!" I hear you cry. "That's strategy!" True, but surely it would take a long time to pick up the mechanics of that?

Infantry-Cavalry-Archer has the advantage that it's simple and flexible. Once you learn the mantra, it doesn't take long to get used to using it. I can see quite a learning curve on this, because you're having to memorise the interrelations for each unit without any underlying logic (that I know of) to tie it together.

I can see players pausing in the middle of play to pull out that table and think frantically "now what can I use to counter Infantry Archers"? :)

Also, are Super Units and Heroes going to be factored in here, or are they simply going to be assumed to be great against everything, and balanced purely by their limits in numbers?


I just had a crazy idea. Please pull it apart, as I'm sure it's flawed or it would have been used by now, but here goes. How about basing your RPS exclusively on the unit's weapon, and have units with that weapon have a bonus against a category of classes? For example:

Sword - Ranged Infantry

Spear - Melee Cavalry

Javelin - Ranged Cavalry

Bow - Melee Infantry

Sling - Structures

You'll probably need to adjust that to history's needs, but I think it mostly makes sense (cavalry that can only attack at close-range get massacred by spears, infantry that can't defend at close-range get massacred by swords, etc).

Now just ponder that for a little while, and let the logic in those 5 lines settle in your mind. Everything that derives from that hinges on this 5-point system. Ready? Okay, let's move on.

So in effect (just focusing on the CSes; assume that the rest are identical to above):

Sword - Infantry Javelinist, Infantry Archer, Infantry Slinger

Spear - Cavalry Swordsman, Cavalry Spearman

Javelin - Cavalry Javelinist, Cavalry Archer

Bow - Infantry Swordsman, Infantry Spearman

Sling - Structures

And to further extrapolate (from the attacker's perspective):

Infantry Swordsman & Cavalry Swordsman: bonused against Infantry Javelinist, Infantry Archer & Infantry Slinger.

Infantry Spearman & Cavalry Spearman: bonused against Cavalry Swordsman & Cavalry Spearman.

Infantry Javelinist & Cavalry Javelinist: bonused against Cavalry Javelinist & Cavalry Archer.

Infantry Archer & Cavalry Archer: bonused against Infantry Swordsman, Infantry Spearman.

Infantry Slinger: bonused against Structures.

And from the attackee's perspective, as far as I can tell there is no overlap. Every CS has two counter-units, other than the Slinger.

+ Underlying logic (5 weapon vs category sets) makes it easier to remember.

+ Vaguely historical. (?)

+ "Backup plan" if your civ doesn't have some units. Each unit has two counter-units.

- No unique counters.

- Slightly dilutes the distinction between units (Infantry Swordsman and Cavalry Swordsman are used much the same way because they have the same bonus).

+ Although their counter-units, personal stats, infantry and cavalry's innate special abilities, and the player's civ choice and tech choices will make a big difference.

- Still not as simple as Infantry-Cavalry-Archer.

- Swordsmen get three bonuses, could be unbalancing.

- Slinger is still a "mini-onager" as I couldn't make it fit otherwise. :P

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I'm in here for just a sec becuz I am still on LOA, but couldn't pass on looking at this... another hurculean effort by the boss to resolve a dillemna that I boggled down in.

I can see players pausing in the middle of play to pull out that table and think frantically "now what can I use to counter Infantry Archers"?

OK. That's what I did a lot of when learning to play AoK.... and despite my fat-fingering, etc., I did learn to play the game. I must admit that I rather like the depth.... though I haven't had time to really study the proposal, nor will I have soon... I think it is 'impressive'. And that's not meaning to take anything away from Stu's counter-proprosal (which ya'll can work on).

Oh, Stu, you've got Cavalry Spearman having a countering bonus against Cavalry Spearman 'up there'. That sorta looks like one of my miscabobbles.

Out here..... lookin' a lot better than it was. :P

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Thanks, Jason. I had a crack at trying to do one this morning, but I think I'll leave it to the professionals. :P As Ken pointed out, it does indeed have some fatal flaws (Cavalry Javelinists are also bonused against themselves).

It was more intended as demonstration of a principle that anything that could be deemed watertight.

Anyway, the main point is that I'd like it if there was some primary logic to the associations (a categorisation, such as that above), so it's easier to remember and extrapolate the counters. Otherwise I'm very happy with the concept.

A couple of other ideas for alternatives are weapon-to-weapon counters (bow beats sword, etc), and pure class group to class group counters (melee infantry beats ranged infantry, etc), but I haven't had a chance to experiment with those yet.

It'd be a lot easier figuring this out if I knew the historical use of these lines, though. I mean, if you were historically faced with a horde of Cavalry Spearman, what line would be your best defense? What are our options for counters?

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I forgot I had visio now... so I redid what I had before here:


Ok, this is Stuart's idea he explained to me today via email:


And, this is the one where I tried to do a graph from above:


Here is the visio files Stuart if you want to play around with them:


I like it (especially the stat distinctions; very helpful). However, what bothers me is the complexity of your table.

Complexity? Hah! That's *depth*, that is! That's strategy!

Er... wait.... how did you.... how did you know I would say that!

Also, are Super Units and Heroes going to be factored in here, or are they simply going to be assumed to be great against everything, and balanced purely by their limits in numbers?

I veiw super units as uniquely adapted to fit the civ. But, I imagine they generally would be based on the 'normal' CS units.

I think I'll adress your concerns in the next reply when I'll type up some history background for you that I'm basing my system on.

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Thanks, Jason. Really excellent charts. I'll try to say more later, gotta get to work now.

Also thanks for charting my off-the-cuff idea; it's a lot closer to traditional Age RPS (falling somewhere between AoK and AoM, I think), although as you can see, it doesn't have anything like the depth and distinctions of your proposal.

One thing with the new ones, though: I notice that previously the Onager was bonused against mechanical units (with the Ballista bonused against organic units), while now the Onager seems to have the same function as the Land Ram (bonused against structures). Was that intentional? I kind of preferred the uniqueness to each siege weapon.

As always, remember my suggestions are only that, the choice is yours. And I'm not trying to dilute the strategy of it, just trying to find intuitive logic to bridge the gap between traditional AoK/AoM category RPS and your proposed single-unit-bonus RPS (a way to categorise the bonuses to make them easier to learn).

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Quick reply before I go to bed.

I'm looking at the 3 sieges as (non of these rank):

Ballista - specifically used vs. nonmech units. Its that one unit on the map with super high attack, long reloading time, very weak HPs, small splash damage, expensive, automatic unpack and pack time is required as soon as it stops moving, longer range, with moderate speed.

Ram - specifically for buildings. this packs the bigest punch with crush damage. Its slow, highest attack vs. structures, high resitance to pierce damage, week vs melee damage and crush damage, espensive.

Onager - basically a cross between the ballista and the ram. Its used vs. anything on the map. Slower as a, shorter range than the ballista, can fire as soon as it stops moving, little faster reloading times than a balista, weak against melee attack, more HP than the ballista, attack is evenly split vs buildings and units so the overal effect against either is less.

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I still like Jason's rendition of the RPS model best.

While at first it looks like Stu's rendition is 'simpler', once graphed-out it looks quite a bit more complex than first meets the eye.

Also, I find better 'rationale' in Jason's. For example, I can find weapons-handling 'justification' for each bonus-countering in all but one juxtaposition. Frex, why would, for one pairing, the Infantry Javelinist accrue a bonus against the Cavalry Javelinist? Well, first we can presume that each unit has basically pretty much the same range in throwing... there is only so much strength imparted by the arm, and the speed of the horse is not going to add appreciably to that (if any)... so while the movement of the horse itself presents a bit more difficult of a target the mere fact that the infantryman has an opportunity to 'plant his feet' upon throwing makes him a more stable launch platform that I think gives him a bit of an advantage against the cavalry unit... once either are in range of the other. So, that 'makes battlefield sense'... and I can 'find that' type of rationale for all but one. I cannot make all those same 'connections' based upon Stuart's version.

The ONE that is giving me a bit of difficulty in 'appreciating' is the Infantry Swordsman in opposition to the Cavalry Javelinist. I'm not to sure about what to do with that one; maybe it is OK... as long as we all recognise that the ground-pounder swordsman must close quarters with the horsed javelinist in order to reap the benefits of his bonus... and that under normal circumstance, I would think, could be rare.

Without meaning to belabour the issue, what Jas has come up with is darned near 'perfect' in concept, methinks. It's true that it departs from the typical AoK/AoM 'model' by some stretch, but it does make more 'sense'... and it is something that I struggled 'mightily' with for a long time trying to get that *depth*... and then had to personally settle for the more simplified version that I'd submitted--not having been able to 'put it all together'. :P

Hey, Stu! Ya think we oughta promote him to Co-Lead Designer, too? :P I mean like first the Tech Tree deal and now this? :)

Well, outa here again.

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Ok, I got one more revision trying to clean up the things Ken pointed out.


I'm trying to get it so that it makes logical sense, and each unit has 2 things its better against and two things its weaker against. Thats the goal :P

See if you like it better :) Glad we might be finding something that would be tollerable from all 3 of us.

Here is the history behind the units as I understand it. Ken, Paul, and Bobby – you’ll have to correct me if you see any problems.

Infantry Spearman – probably one of the most primitive units in the game. Fighting with a shart object at the end of the pole didn’t require a lot of technology to develop. It also allowed the human to distance themselves from their attacker. As time pasted the spears got longer and longer. Started with a fighting style similar to a quarterstaff, then to using them in numbers as a ‘pin cushion’ vs. humans (sarrisa in a phalanx). Later it was developed to combat cavalry. During mid-evil time it evolved to the pike. These units tended to be armored heavily as possible.

Clearly a solid advantage vs. all forms of cavalry.

Infantry Sword – basically a developed sickle. Probably from the club, to the axe, to the sickle to the sword. It was the Romans who used them to combat the long range of the sarrisa. Simply knock the shield aside and walk your way up the shaft of the spear and thrust the sword into the ribs. The spears were so long they had to use two hand to wield them and that meant no shields, so it was a pretty easy kill.once you got past the point of the spear. Generally these were armored well, had shields, and tended to be the nobles. A good sword was an expensive weapon.

Clearly a solid advantage vs. spearman – and pretty much any other units on foot that wasn’t well armoured.

Infantry Javelinst – these were the skirmishers. These lightly armored units would advance quickly, throw a hail of javelin and then retreat back to their ranks. Grab another spear and repeat. They would do well against any unit that wasn’t wearing proper armor, but do more poorly if they fought hand to hand vs a well armored unit. They didn’t always have to thow their spears either. They used these light small spears in hand to hand similar to quarterstaff. Also note that the development of the pilum was a key transition. This pilum was a weapon with a long steal shaft that would sink into a shield, but be nearly impossible to remove. This rendered the shield useless. They also wighted and balanced them to make them accurately hit with a punch.

These guys were great for unshielded units and units that were not armored well.

Infantry Archers – they tended to be lightly armored. They usually only took part of first part of the battle which involved sending a volley of raining down the enemy. Of course they would have to stop shooting once the melee units closed in. This means their job was largely over once the ‘true battle’ was underway. They spent hours of training with a bow. If you were hit by an arrow it was more likely an act of random chance than being specifically targeted by an archer.

Also worked will vs. any unit that was not properly shielded or armoured.

Slingers – they were amazing shots with their slings. They used choice rocks, and often specifically created ‘shot’ made from lead. They could pierce amour in close distances. They were lightly armored because they needed the mobility in their arm regions.

Effective vs. armoured units, but if they were effective vs. armored units, then they were especially effective vs. non armored units.

Cavalry Spearman – this was the weapon of choice from horseback. This was the unit that would eventually evolve to the medieval knight (after heavy influence by the Sarmartians and their lances). Infantry were an easy kill, just ride them down and squewer them with your stick and its point on the end. As with all cavalry – it was only the rich and the nobles who were able to fight from horseback due to the cost of owning such a beast.

These guys have a strong advantage vs. any infantry unit except those spear infantry.

Cavlary Swordsman – fighting from horseback with a sword is a tricky thing to do. This required usage of a sword that was longer than the typical infantry sword. One needed a good reach to attack from the height of a horse. If you were without spear (the ideal weapon of choice) it was probably because you needed your hands free to do other tasks such as riding hard and fast. It wasn’t uncommon for the men to dismount and attack from foot if they were armed with only a sword.

Used as a quick strike force united to run down the weak units and put a sword in their back.

Cavalry Javelins – the javelins thrown from a horse’s back were probably 3 at most. The idea was to quickly advance with 3 in hand, then throw them all. After you had done that it was time to switch to your secondary weapon which was usually a spear or a sword.

Fairly vs. any foot unit. Probably pretty good vs some cavalry too if they weren't moving.

Cavalry Acher – a very rare unit. It was used by the Persians, but it didn’t gain much traction until the parthians, huns, mongols, and other people of the nomadic steeps introduced them to western Europe. This was the most effective unit on the battlefield for several hundred years till the well armoured knight game allong.

Good vs. any foot unit that wasn't heavily armoured.

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Don't you be "crawling back to PD"

Sorry, I shoulda smilied that. I was trying for irony. :P

each unit has 2 things its better against and two things its weaker against

You probably already know it and are just looking for solutions, but for the sake of summary, here are the remaining circled ones that don't match that 2-type paradigm that I see in the latest diagram:

* Support Units: Only one unit has a bonus against them. There could be another, if you need to allocate more bonuses. (It might seem like a waste of a bonus to be good against things that can't fight, but when you consider Healers, Traders and possibly Standard Bearers when morale gets introduced in an expansion, quickly taking down support units can make a big difference).

* Cavalry Javelinist: Currently only countered by Cavalry Archer.

* Cavalry Archer: Currently only effective against Cavalry Javelinist. Only countered by Infantry Javelinist.

* Infantry Slinger: Has no counter. But, they won't be able to take much of any damage anyway due to their light armour.

So, maybe those could be factored against each other in some way to make up the outstanding bonuses?

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I think there is a little confusion on what exactly this RPS stuff does. I don't view RPS as the greatest deciding factor of combat in the game. The RPS stuff is mainly to give the game symetry. It gives a function and pupose to every unit.

As far as one unit being 'effective' vs. another unit... I think there are two other MAJOR factors that really outweigh or be a counter balance to RPS dynamics. That would be the techs researched and the ranking of the units.

Example... say you have an infantry swordsman and you you know that your bonused vs. infantry spearman. Your both at the basic level with no techs researched. Chances are you'll win. Say you take that same basic swordsman and attack an advanced spearman, there is no way you'll win - he'll kick your butt. The only chance you got is to research a few more millitary techs and after you do that you have a chance at evening the playing field so you with your teched up basic swordsman could make a fighting chance vs a relitively unteched advanced unit.

RPS doesn't mean your invicible vs. certain units and it doesn't mean you have the silver bullet. It does mean you have an upper hand on an even playing field and you the AI will used that knowledge to attack in a more efficient manner that will gain you as the human player the most 'bang for your buck' when your not their to watch and command every move.

So take the slinger for example... these guys are pretty weeny anyway. Relitively little to no armour and as they gain rank, it will probably only effect their attack strength and accuracy. Pretty fragile dudes. The support units and siege weapons are the same way (except the ram has impervious pierce armour).

The Cavalry Archer and Cavalry javelinist will probably be weakened generally by the overall armount of armour that they will have (definatly less than a cavalry spearman - also probably less than a cavalry swordsman). Cavalry archers in part I of the game might as well be a SU because they are so rare (I think only the Persians have them?) And the cavalry javelinist will be probably be one of the lowest hit point units of all the cavlary units.

Another thing to point out is that we are only going to give slight bonuses... example say a 5% attack bonus vs. that classification at the basic and say a 15% bonus at the advanced and maybe a 25% bonus at the elite. Looking at number examples... it would be something like:

sword_infantry_b attack: 5.00

sword_infantry_a attack: 8.00

sword_infantyr_u attack: 12.00

Thats the attack it would have vs. any unit on the map except for the the infantry spearman and infantry javelinist. When in combate with its RPS partner the stats change. In those cases it would be (using the percentages above):

sword_infantry_b attack: 5.25

sword_infantry_a attack: 9.2

sword_infantyr_u attack: 15

Note that the bonus increase in strength as the unit advances, but also see that the unit is still going to cause damage on other units that aren't its RPS partner.

I hope that explains things a little better that I should have explained in the first post.

Does that help things sit better?

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Agreed and understood.

In fact, the only thing in the above description that I didn't know about was that the guys actually get a *greater* attack bonus against higher ranked units. That's mightily cool, IMO. It means that during a late game, using your counter-units becomes a much more necessary foil than when you're on a more even playing field in the early game.

All I was saying was that you had stated that you intended for each unit to have two bonuses against two other units. I brought this up for cases where that rule wasn't applied, in case there was a discrepancy.

If you've got that covered in other areas and were only intending to use that "rule" as a guideline, then never mind.

I should stop meddling so you can finally submit this thing. :P You obviously know what you're doing.

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I think thatyouguys have pretty well covered the 'discusion' of the RPS paradigm and I still like it in its last version... so I don't really have anything to add.

Well, one minor point:

So take the slinger for example... these guys are pretty weeny anyway. Relitively little to no armour and as they gain rank, it will probably only effect their attack strength and accuracy. Pretty fragile dudes.

Yes, the Slinger is pretty weenie in that he is nearly naked and rather unencumbered... but remember that what he lacks for in armour may be made up for in speed.

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