So, I've been brainstorming for Champions of Vargacet off and on for a couple months now and have a lot of good stuff planned out. But there's still one thing that bothers me.
For the uninitiated, Champions is a turn-based strategy battle game. You assemble a party of 4 characters using various combinations of classes, skills, and equipment, then issue challenges and go to town on each other. Given the fantasy theme you might expect that you get "XPs" for winning fights and get more and more powerful, except you don't, because really putting that sort of thing into a competitive strategy game is all sorts of retarded. What's the point of introducing strategic choices if battles are going to be largely decided by who's been playing longer and has more powerful, higher-level characters?
Still, the game was never wholly without a small element of stat-building. See, there's one thing that bothers me about simply giving players unfettered freedom to choose from anything, anytime, and change it all on a whim. Some strategies/combos tend to "beat" other strategies, natch. If you can rearrange your party whenever you like, it becomes tempting to custom-tailor your party to meet each encounter; you know (or at least can guess) what a familiar opponent is going to throw at you, so you can select all the appropriate countermeasures. They know what countermeasures they're likely to face, so they select counter-countermeasures, and so on. Eventually everything devolves into a big Rock-Paper-Scissors game: guess what your opponent is going to bring out, and bring out the appropriate specialized beat squad.
This may be all well and good for some people, but it's not really what I consider ideal. The whole idea behind the party building system is to be an exercise in inventory management (where the "inventory" extends to class and skill choices)--you have a limited number of skills and items your party can carry, and you have to try to pack enough into those limited slots to take on a wide variety of possible challenges. It's like The Oregon Trail, except you don't randomly die of dysentery (which is to say, it's not anything like The Oregon Trail).
My original solution to this problem was a gold-based shop system; you got so much gold for winning a fight (and about half as much for playing a fight through and losing), and you had to pay for each piece of equipment you bought. If you wanted to change from, say, an all-wizard party to an all-knight party (woo!) you would have to shell out for four full sets of wizard gear. This put a practical limit on your ability to make changes on the fly, since radical changes in your party roster would cost 5-6 fights' worth of winnings to reequip; it was more optimal to settle on a fairly steady configuration with all the "best" equipment and possibly make minor tweaks from battle to battle than to try to rearrange your entire party to match each opponent, since drastic changes would blow through your savings and leave you stuck with underequipped characters.
The system worked after a fashion, but unfortunately it proved to be annoyingly restrictive if you were just experimenting with different setups--a huge problem for new teams, which was a big part of why I didn't want to just have a leveling-up system in the first place. Also, although I had hoped it would be a sop to the inevitable "Why can't I just level up my guys so I can win more often without having to figure out how to play better?" crowd (I may be editorializing slightly here), I think mostly it just whet their appetites. (Looking back, it is somewhat embarassing how frequently I've made this exact mistake.)
So... the quandary. I want to implement some sort of system that would encourage players to try to stick with a broad-based team concept and refine it bit by bit rather than building teams for one specific battle at a time. At the same time I don't want to penalize new players or limit experimentation.
Any ideas on how this might be accomplished?