My kids have these frozen juice bars that are pretty delicious. Whenever we all have one, Dad gets stuck with orange because no one else will eat it. When I'm sharing Starburst with my wife, I have to distract her in order to grab a red or pink one out of the pile, because I'm the only one who will eat orange or yellow. At this point I've consigned myself to always taking the flavors that no one wants, because someone has to eat them.

As a kid, it always perplexed me that companies would make the flavors no one really wants to eat. Wouldn't a bag of red and pink Starburst sell better than a bag where you only get half the pieces that you like? Apparently not as much, because Starburst has done just that, yet I rarely see their Fave Reds at a store. And while I've thought about trying them, the idea of not having those "blah" flavors somehow lessened my excitement for eating a fistful of the good stuff.

I couldn't find anything on the psychology behind including those flavors, but I'm sure there's a marketing brilliance behind giving consumers less of what they want by sticking them with stuff they don't. Whether it makes it more savory to eat the gross stuff and finally enjoy the good pieces, or it somehow leaves us wanting more because we don't feel like we get everything we want, there's something to be said for the effectiveness of not giving in to the demands of everyone wanting nothing but the best.

I think this applies to games as well. In any game, having choices will inevitably have at least one option significantly disadvantaged compared to the rest. Whether it's a character-driven game like Warcraft or Leage of Legends, or something with several units like Age of Empires or Warmachine, there is rarely balance between every single option. Of course it's entirely possibly that perfect balance is an impossibility without seriously diluting everything, but I would argue that even if it were possible, it would be a bad idea.

In addition to making a choice based on what looks "fun," I think many players choose their character or army based on the power level assigned to it by the community. My inescapable teacher mentality will always have me hanging around newbie areas for games I love, and there's a flavor of question that will always come up. "What's the top-tier option right now?" Games are competitive, and people like to play the best, especially in the beginning, in order to do well and soften the learning curve.

Of course it's not always someone looking to play the best. Sometimes someone wants to avoid the top-tier option due to a sense of pride, wanting to avoid seeing the exact same army against them, or just because they know that the best option now will usually get hindered in the future in order to keep the game evolving. Communities will always have a list of choices in order from best to worst, and people will always be looking to those lists to find a choice that lines up with where on the scale they want to be.

Sometimes people don't care what the most powerful army is. Many times people are interested in investigating the least-represented options. I think these people are the most interesting, because they're willing to start the game with an understood handicap, and from day one they will fight an uphill battle in order to even contend with the other armies. The reasons behind this mentality are numerous - they enjoy hard-fought wins, they're gaming hipsters, they want to prove that an army isn't that bad, they want to stand out.... or like me they've consigned themselves to eating the orange Starburst.

The reason I think this imbalance is key to a good game is that it appeals to people who don't choose solely based on gameplay mechanics. In 40k there's a noticeable difference between Necrons and Sisters of Battle. In Warmachine, it's Cryx and Minions (two armies my buddy Josh places, incidentally). In Malifaux, I'm lead to believe it's Neverborn and Gremlins.

Yet despite the chasm separating good from bad, each side has huge supporters. I have a secret crush on the Gators half of Minions in Warmachine. There is a phenomenal blog called Rot N Roll that is dedicated to tactics, lists, battle reports, and anything else related to Gators. Although the author doesn't have the win ratio of a Cryx or Legion player of equal skill level, he is no less passionate about playing and teaching about the faction he loves, despite people claiming that it isn't even a real faction!

No matter what game you play, the oranges will have a small-but-dedicated following. There will be tactics articles, passionate posts, angry rants, and everything else that proves people don't look at their favorite faction and say it can only be good when it's as good as the rest. There may be suggestions on improving it, but Minions players don't want an easy option like a Haley + Stormwall combo, they just want to be able to have a chance, no matter how hard they'll have to fight to win. It's not just because they like the feel of it - deep down, some people like their bottom-tier choices because they're considered bad.

And of course, there's the obligatory "you can't appreciate the good without seeing the bad."

That's why I think balance, while necessary to a degree, shouldn't be an absolute goal. Players want options in terms of looks and flavor, but also in terms of overall power level. Someone winning with the best is hardly surprising. When someone wins a tournament with the supreme underdog, you know they're a good player. We like our options, especially when all options aren't created equal.

See you tomorrow!

Remember to follow me on Facebook! I'm doing a blog post every single day for 2013, and Facebook is a great way to stay up-to-date as well as take part in my monthly giveaways. This is my last month of guaranteed giveaways, so don't miss out on a free copy of Super Dungeon Explore, a painting project, and more! Click here for details!