Asymmetric Resource Distribution

Asymmetric Resource Distribution

The resources are distributed asymmetrically among the players, that is, the players have different access and ownership rights to different kinds of resources during the game.

The resource distribution can be asymmetric both at the start of the game and during the gameplay in resource generation phases or locations. It is also possible to have Asymmetric Resource Distribution in a single-player game. In this case the distribution is usually asymmetric in relation to the time the game has been played and often involves luck.

Example: in Settlers of Catan the basic resource generation is asymmetric as there is luck involved in who will get resources during the resource generation phase and also what kind of resources. This asymmetry leads to the need of trading between the players in a specific trading phase.

Example: the business model of Magic: The Gathering is based on the Asymmetric Resource Distribution of the cards found in booster packs. This has created a strong community of players who collect and trade these cards.

Example: Pokémon has at least two layers of Asymmetric Resource Distribution: within the single player game there are "rare" Pokémons that are difficult to find, and the game itself has several variants where the initial Pokémon selections are different. As with Magic: The Gathering these factors create stronger incentives for playing the game itself for a longer time and also to get in contact with other players who might have different experiences and different Pokémons available.

Using the pattern

One of the simplest cases of using Asymmetric Resource Distribution is to use Randomness to determine the starting resources available to the players. Even in this case the Player Balance has to be taken into account and the distribution function has to be properly balanced. Otherwise some of the players might lose their Perceived Chance to Succeed. Some games also use predefined Asymmetric Resource Distributions for the starting resources to create some Varied Gameplay and to use it as a Balancing Effect. The resources produced during the gameplay also have to be also balanced while maintaining the asymmetry of the distribution.

One common way to create Varied Gameplay and a stronger commitment to play the game is to introduce Partial Reinforcement together with Asymmetric Resource Distribution. This is used in games where the items and resources are generated somewhat randomly but where different kinds of resources have different rarity levels. The possibility of getting a rare card in the next booster pack of Magic: The Gathering is a strong incentive for getting that next booster pack and the possibility of finding that rare Pokémon during the next exploration round of the nearby forests keeps the players playing the game.


Asymmetric Resource Distribution introduces inequalities between players and thereby ruins the Symmetry in games. Using Asymmetric Resource Distribution in a game may hurt Player Balance both in Multiplayer Games and Single-Player Games as some of the players might, in the worst case scenario, end up having all the wrong resources. However, players and Dedicated Game Facilitators may use self-imposed Asymmetric Resource Distribution at the beginning of a game session to provide Handicaps. In games with Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties the outcome is likely to be an Asymmetric Resource Distribution whenever players are unequal in powers, and can thereby increase the already existing imbalances in power between players.

Asymmetric Resource Distribution among the players can be used to create a need for Social Interaction, especially in a form of Trading. The players, of course, should have the possibility for doing Trading, for example by introducing a specific trading phase in the game. There also has to be a game state related need for doing the Trading.

Asymmetric Resource Distribution can be used to create Varied Gameplay even in Single-player Games as both the initial Resources and those created during the game can, for example, be generated using Randomness with different weights for more rare items and resources. For example, in Nethack the starting items of the characters are created through Randomness to some extent and the items and treasures, as well as the dungeons themselves, can vary immensely from one game to another.


Instantiates: Handicaps, Varied Gameplay

Modulates: Trading, Multiplayer Games, Resources, Mutual Goals, Ownership, Social Interaction, Renewable Resources, Perceived Chance to Succeed, Single-Player Games

Instantiated by: Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties

Modulated by: Randomness

Potentially conflicting with: Symmetry, Player Balance, Symmetric Resource Distribution