Game Design Lessons is an irregular series of little things I’ve noticed in games, which I think are worth sharing.
For this first article, let’s talk about limits in Paradox Development Studio’s grand strategy games. A lot of games treats limits as solid barriers. For example, you might have a cap on the number of units you can have – perhaps with ways to raise the cap, but you are unable to ever exceed it. In Paradox’s strategy games though, this isn’t the case, and I think it makes things a lot more interesting.
For example, in Europa Universalis IV, there are a whole host of limitations: you can only have strong relations with so many nations at once, you can only have so many units of soldiers, you can only declare war if you have good reason and without a truce. Except… all of these limits can be broken! Breaking each of these limits has negative consequences: each diplomatic relation you have over your limit costs you one diplomatic point per month, which could otherwise be spent on improving your technology or on a variety of other things; having too many soldiers costs you far more money to maintain them; declaring war without a reason, or during a truce, will destabilise your nation, opening you up for rebellions and a variety of other troubles.
Each one of these trade-offs (and there are many others) is useful in some circumstances. They give the player more interesting choices to make, and more options when things are tough. Whereas with a hard unit cap the best option is always to have the maximum number of units, with a soft cap the player has to weigh-up the benefits of exceeding it versus the penalties of doing so.