Gamasutra published an article: Rock Paper Scissors – A Method for Competitive Game Play Design and I remembered that I wrote about the same issue in the past. My article is called: Rock, Paper, Scissors versus Rock, Bigger Rock, Biggest Rock.
The Gamasutra article makes some good points, the very first paragraph being one of my favourites:
Multiplayer games can be the most enjoyable games to play because the challenge comes from human intelligence as opposed to the often-predictable AI present in competitive single player games. It’s this element that keep some of the best video games alive well after their technological novelty has worn off.
The article points out some of the problems with Rock Paper Scissors style of mechanism for gameplay. For example, in a fast paced game the rock paper scissors style requires random & fast strategy in order to beat the opponent. I believe this is one of the key problems in some games, and better approach would be to make units totally different and balance the game by modifying the system.
That was just one example, and the article goes deeper than that into design theory, and gives some good hints about how to use the recommendations in practice. Here’s one example:
Make the RPS System Obvious
Players should quickly realize the presence of an RPS system in your game. The game doesn’t have to be presented as an RPS system, but the players should be able to quickly learn the counter attack or defense for every attack. To return to the soccer example from earlier, it is instinctive that one must move with the attacker to stop the ball. Players may not make this connection as quickly in a video game. If a player does not know how to react to a particular attack he will never have the “Next time I’ll try this” experience. If a player is not given a clear opportunity to learn he may settle with a button-mashing strategy. Once a player begins button mashing, he has less of a chance to learn and is more likely to become frustrated or bored.
There’s more hints in the end of article. Check it out in case you are into game design.