In some games, players may be aware of differences in their playing skills. In order to make the outcome as uncertain as possible within the game rules and thereby more interesting, players may decide on Handicaps. These either make some actions easier for some players or allow those players other advantages so that the greater skills of other players are balanced and all players have equal chance of succeeding in the game.
Example: Fighting games such as the Tekken or those of the Dead or Alive series allow players to choose starting health by percentage, for example 80% or 140%. This allows one player to have a handicap against another player.
Example: Go uses a Handicap system of allowing the weaker player to place a certain number of stones in the handicap points before the actual game begins in such a way that both players are challenged while playing.
Providing Handicaps for players can either be done by making it possible to set individual Right Levels of Difficulty (possibly by changing the skills of Agents), giving certain players more Resources or abilities (where differences in Non-Renewable Resources give greater Handicaps that other Resources), or limiting or ignoring negative consequences for certain players. Being able to change the Resources in a game with a Game World makes the game one with a Reconfigurable Game World, although the differences in configurations may not be that large from a structural point.
Individual levels of difficulty can be set by having different thresholds for evaluations functions, providing various bonuses to Score values, giving a head start in Races, or giving Skill advantages. The use of Asymmetric Resource Distribution, Asymmetric Abilities, or Privileged Abilities can have Balancing Effects, as players may not have to be as efficient or may have a larger Freedom of Choice than other players. In Self-Facilitated Games, the use of Handicaps is usually the result of Negotiation before gameplay begins, and a special form of Handicap in these games is to allow novice players Reversability by taking back their actions and performing other actions.
Handicaps can be used to give individual players the Right Level of Difficulty in Multiplayer Games and at the same time provide Player Balance or Team Balance. The presence of Handicap systems in games provides a form of Trans-Game Information, which can be a form of Score in a Meta Game. Handicaps are incompatible with Symmetry but are often used for the same reason: to achieve Player Balance.
As Handicaps are a form of Balancing Effect, they give all players a Perceived Chance to Succeed. If the levels of Handicap are gradually lowered as players become more skillful, their use provides a Smooth Learning Curve for players to achieve Game Mastery.
Potentially conflicting with: Symmetry
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