Frequently misunderstood "luck" games with lots of strategy/tactics
Joe Golton
United States
East Bay
California
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Though new to BGG I'm picking up on an interesting trend. There are people who routinely assume games with luck elements to them involve little skill (Backgammon, Settlers of Catan, Stone Age, etc.) after just a few tries, especially if that luck involves dice. Yet many of these very same people play other games with luck elements to them - and in fact some of them realize years later that there's a tremendous amount of skill to a game they previously rejected - and they actually come to like it.

Why does this happen? I'm guessing the 2 3 main reasons are:

1) Did not play against good players in the first few games, so did not see how the most skilled player usually wins (unless others gang up).

2) Played in a group that was only using a very limited set of strategies so was not exposed to the full richness of the game.

3) As milomilo122 says (paraphrased)

Quote:
Many in the BGG community underestimate the amount of strategy to be found in most games, because it's standard to buy a lot of games and never ever commit ourselves to seeing how far we can go with any given game.

This list is for games which are often misunderstood after the first few plays as being mostly luck when they are in fact mostly skill. And I'd like at least a brief explanation of why this happens for the game.

I'm seeding the list with the 3 games I mentioned above but I'd love to see more misunderstood games added and comments/debate on each game.

NOTE: The exact opposite list was posted 2.5 years ago (it's a spoof interspersed with occasional serious discussion):

Games that you hate because they claim to have Strategy, but they're basically Pure Luck.
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1. Board Game: Stone Age [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:48]
Joe Golton
United States
East Bay
California
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If you read through the Stone Age forums, there is no end of comments about this game being a luck fest where most decisions are obvious. My guess is these comments come from people who have not played against really good players. A good player playing against beginners will win every time, no matter how unlucky with the die rolls. How can this be?

1) Worker placement matters far more than die rolls.

2) Evaluating worker placement choices can be tricky, especially with civ cards, which are routinely mis-valued by beginners.

3) Players gaining an early lead due to lucky die rolls or lucky access to great civ cards can be easily countered by other players denying them access to what is needed to pursue their strategy.

4) There are two ways to reduce and/or control luck in the game: tools, and stocking up in advance with resources, especially wood.

5) If you rely on purely tactical decisions impacting your current turn, you will lose out to the more skilled player who plans for the following turn by observing what's in the 3 and 4 slots for civ cards, what the player order will be next turn, etc. and therefore makes better decisions about whether to stock pile wood for the next turn.

6) There is no dominant strategy. The ordering of the civ cards and huts means that optimal play will be different for each game. The best players will adapt their tactics and strategy to this ordering of civ cards and huts, as well as to the moves other players are making.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but one thing is clear: the only chance less skilled Stone Age players have against a highly skilled Stone Age player is to gang up to deny what they think that player most needs each turn.



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2. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:151]
Joe Golton
United States
East Bay
California
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I always smile when I read a comment about Settlers of Catan being mostly luck. Whoever wrote that comment hasn't played in our group, or against my friend Jonathan, a high ranking online Settlers player. Die rolls do matter in this game, most especially at the end if there's several people who all have a shot at winning at the same time. At that point it will often happen that the winner is the one who gets the next good roll.

But good players try hard to avoid getting into this luck showdown. More generally, good players insulate themselves from bad luck as much as possible. How?

Most critical is the initial settlement placement (which is too complex a topic to discuss here).

Then, if you find yourself having a very unlucky start to the game, there are many ways to recover, as I wrote about in answer to the following question:

http://boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/7779/what-can-...

If you read through that thread carefully, you'll note my implicit opinion that the greatest skill in this game involves negotiating/trading, though of course it's also important to evaluate board positions, make good tactical decisions, etc. The further behind you are in the game (due to bad luck or any other reason), the stronger your negotiating position, which allows you to get back into the game.

So to those who say Settlers is mostly luck, I say learn to trade better and find some really good players to play against. You may change your mind.

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3. Board Game: Backgammon [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:891]
Joe Golton
United States
East Bay
California
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Assuming use of the doubling dice, and that one is playing a number of games in a row, the skilled player will almost always win the largest number of game points (regular game = 1, doubled game = 2, gammon = 2, etc.). Why?

Probability assessment will obviously get better with practice, but there is also a number of opening, mid game, and end game strategies like in chess and a number of important tactics to master. Perhaps most importantly there is the static board evaluation skill which is critical to making good use of the doubling dice.

The fact that the best computer programs can win against world class backgammon players suggests to me that this game has less skill than Chess or Go, but there's far more skill involved than one would expect given the dice rolling focus.
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4. Board Game: Thebes [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:254]
Kevin B. Smith
United States
Walnut Creek
California
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When I first saw this geeklist title, I assumed it had been created to spotlight Thebes. The much-maligned chit draws from the evil bag are the primary source of complaints. When and where the cards show up is the other one I hear a lot.

I think of it like poker, where good luck and bad luck will happen, but generally whoever plays their luck the best will win. Except that Thebes has less luck.

With Thebes, you have some strategic decisions, such as whether you will focus on knowledge bonuses, conventions, or artifacts. And you have tactical choices, including what cards to take, and in planning your digs (when, where, how long). There are also some interesting decisions specifically related to the time track mechanism.

Randomness? Yes. Luckfest? No.
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5. Board Game: For the People [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:496]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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This game has a ton of luck, but somehow James Pei wins the tournament almost every year at the World Boardgaming Championships. Skillful play must (mostly) outweigh luck.
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6. Board Game: Blood Bowl (Third Edition) [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:162]
Evil Bob
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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Sure there's a TON of luck. If Nuffle (the Great Dice God of Blood Bowl) is particularly malicious, you may end up without a single successful play.

However, this is as much a game about risk management as it is a tactical fantasy combat sport. Assume that the dice will kick you in the nads, and plan for it.

"Hope for the best, but expect the worst"
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7. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:22]
Nathan Woll
United States
Warsaw
Virginia
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After 4 or 5 plays I was convinced this game was all luck. Then I was introduced to kelden's AI client. After losing over 75% of my games at the beginning to the AI it was clear that luck was not as big of an issue as I had imagined. Now after over 1000 games I can win against the AI in a 4-player game over 75% of the time.

Once you have all the cards memorized and you can plan for them the skill level increases. With each new expansion there's been a learning curve but I've always been able to bring my win% up to 75%. (I only add the cards for expansions not any new rules like goals or takeovers)
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8. Board Game: Monopoly [Average Rating:4.46 Overall Rank:10778]
Chris Broggi
United States
Southwick
Massachusetts
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Yes, there is a lot of luck in the game, but a good player will be able to mitigate that luck and will win a large percentage of times over a poor player.
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9. Board Game: Urban Sprawl [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:784]
oystein eker
Norway
Unspecified
sola
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Surprised this is not mentioned yet.

First play is just chaos. Later you start to know the deck, and can start to plan....
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10. Board Game: Kingsburg [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:196]
United States
New York
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It has dice. Some choices are clearly better than others (I'd jump on the Queen every chance I got; I'd also do it in-game!)

However, a skilled player will beat an unskilled player every time, regardless of dice rolls -- though the Soldier expansion from Kingsburg: To Forge a Realm must be used. I win with poor dice rolls all of the time, and 6-sided dice (which loved me when I played "Shadowrun") loathe me.

The trick is to pick 2 rows to optimize and compesate for what they do not provide.
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11. Board Game: Commands & Colors: Ancients [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:45]
Kyle Smith
United States
Herndon
Virginia
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The first time people play this game, overwhelming they tell me it's all luck. They may even persist in that view for a few more games. It doesn't help that some of the scenarios are so lop sided it's hard for the advantaged side to lose even if they are trying. I probably don't help my own cause by taking it easy on them so as to not scare them off of one of my favorite games.

But I must say, the intense battle of whits that this game turns into when I play with my regular gaming buddy is intense. Luck is clearly a factor, the game has dice and cards. But picking your battles and going for easy targets is far and away the more important factor. Not to mention hand management and keeping your units within your ability to command them as best as possible.
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12. Board Game: Chaos in the Old World [Average Rating:7.70 Overall Rank:55]
Jack Stalica
Canada
Ottawa
Ontario
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Sure there's lots of Chaos...but it can(?)be mitigated with good play...

And then things can still go belly up!

Did I mention there's lots of Chaos?

Regardless, wonderfully fun every time I've played...
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13. Board Game: Acquire [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:142]
T.L.W.
United States
Frederick
Maryland
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To me, this game seems to draw people into two camps: those who think there is too much luck involved in the drawing of the tiles and those, like me, who think that a good player who uses strategy can be very competitive (and win...) even when they have drawn "poor" tiles. My experience in playing with a wide range of players is that the more a person plays and understands the strategy, the less likely they think that drawing tiles plays a significant role in the winner.
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14. Board Game: Kingdom Builder [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:329]
Bruce Tanchel
United Kingdom
Solihull
West Midlands
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Another one that the detractors say is luck driven. Sure there is some luck, but the more skilfully player will win many more than he will lose. Be prepared and make the right choice that gives you flexibility.
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15. Board Game: Cosmic Encounter [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:66]
chris
United States
Minnesota
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I've found that most people give CE a bad rap until they have completed at least 3-4 games, then they realize it is a very deep game.

CE is very much about the metagame, and many strategic aspects (who to ally with, when to ally, when to negotiate or fight it out, when to use techs, when you need to shut someone down, and the spread of cards in the deck) are not apparent at first glance.
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16. Board Game: Deadwood Studios USA [Average Rating:5.88 Overall Rank:3762]
Jim Tarsi
United States
Round Rock
Texas
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These comments apply to the revamped version, available for a free download at www.cheapass.com.

Many people assume that lots of dice rolling means too much luck. This is true if the number of rolls is small. When there are a lot of dice rolls, though, probability takes control and the person who takes the action that will succeed more often than not will win more often. You might not realize it until you play several games, but you will notice that players that know what they're doing will win more than those who don't.

This game has a defined beginning, middle, and end. An important decision is when to go to upgrade and how to upgrade. Also, the new rules give an option when working on a role: the option to "rehearse." Instead of rolling to complete a shot, the player does nothing in exchange for a +1 to die rolls for the rest of the scene. This adds a level of control over the dice rolling and adds another important decision.

Plus, it's a heck of a lot of fun, especially if you "act out" your roles. (Your role is "cowboy falling off roof. Your line is "Aaaaahhhh!!!")
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17. Board Game: Airships [Average Rating:6.45 Overall Rank:1157]
Chris Funk
United States
Springfield
Ohio
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Yes, dice fest.

But.

You have to figure your odds with the dice you have and look for as many + modifiers you can to give yourself the best chance of succeeding.

A friend of mine was getting so ticked because he was going after a card using 2 white dice to get a 7 (which is impossible without something giving you a bonus.) He would fail it four times before just saying he hated the game. If you look at the dice you have and the cards you need to get that roll, you plan your upgrades first and then take the chance at the card that is much more difficult. There actually is a lot of strategy involved to using risk management with the dice.
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18. Board Game: Fluxx [Average Rating:5.73 Overall Rank:4487]
Play Games - Interact - Have Fun!
United States
California
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This is the most obvious one in my mind.

Fluxx is often bashed as being a total luck fest that requires no skill and that assessment couldn't be farther from the truth. It's true that the majority of your initial plays of Fluxx will be luck based, but once the players start to know the cards in the deck, the strategies and tactics will begin to emerge.

After 50 plays or so, you will find that Fluxx is much deeper than your initial opinion may have suggested. A player who knows the Keepers and how many times each appears on a Goal has a huge advantage over someone simply playing whatever is in their hand. Playing your cards in the right order can also have a big impact on the game - it's possible to play 10 or more cards in a row and then change the rules to empty your opponents hand just prior to his turn.

If any of this sounds impossible to you - then you simply have not played the game enough.

Don't believe that there is strategy in Fluxx?
Looney Labs Fluxx Strategies

And for a real mind blower...

Dominion is FLUXX with Control

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19. Board Game: Magic: The Gathering [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:119]
Jason Waeber
United States
Batavia
Ohio
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Casual players I know always gripe about this being a luck-fest, especially in limited. While there certainly is a great deal of luck at play, with card draws as well as what you open (if you're playing limited) or match-ups, the game is so decision intensive that a good player will make more right decisions than a bad player and have a decisive edge.

Especially in limited (I'm primarily thinking draft), you have a colossal amount of information that you have to evaluate each time you pick up a pack. What are the best cards? What cards support the cards I've picked? What signals am I being sent? What are the dominant decks in this format? What signals am I sending down the line? Do the people around me have strong color preferences? Honestly, answering any one of these wrong can completely tank your draft.

As far as the play goes, just watch a really solid player at work and you'll realize how much game there is beyond just drawing your good cards. Heck, sometimes you can even watch a really good jedi mind trick. They definitely happen, and good players know that manipulating your opponent's perception is almost as important as actually playing little pieces of cardboard.
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20. Board Game: Yahtzee [Average Rating:5.22 Overall Rank:10692]
Bill Gallagher
United States
Torrance
California
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Aye, this dice fest has at least a little strategy - for instance:

1. Do I throw away that pat Full House in an attempt to get Yahtzee in the next two rolls (keeping three of a kind)?

2. How much do I stress getting the top half Bonus? Am I over conservative by putting a big 4 of a Kind up top, risking a zero on 4 of a Kind later?

3. Do I wait for 2-3-4-5 to even attempt trying for the Large Straight, or do I gamble with 1-2-3-4 or 3-4-5-6?

4. Do I score Chance when I get 1-1-2-2-3 (total 9), or do I take 2 in Ones and hope to make up for it with 4 of a bigger number?

And so on...
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21. Board Game: Titan [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:505]
Bill Gallagher
United States
Torrance
California
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Yeah, I curse my luck at this. Yeah, the dice do balance out for me... I get all the 5s and 6s for movement, and all the 1s and 2s on the battle board.

Needless to say, I consider myself a below-average Titan player.
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22. Board Game: Up Front [Average Rating:7.85 Overall Rank:186]
Cosmic Charlie
United States
Silver Spring
Maryland
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Technically, there is no luck at all, given all "random" events are determined by 162 cards which are unchanging in their data.
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23. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:108] [Average Rating:7.44 Unranked]
Donald Dimitroff
United States
Beltsville
Maryland
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Right now I am feeling very: turbed, pirited, heveled, combobulated, and not tinguished, so don't you dare "dis" me!
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One member of my games group hates this game.
His claim is that the game is entirely dependent upon luck.
His view is: "If you pick the correct tile at the correct time, you win."
He always loses.

I just think he does not see the overall strategy/tactics of the game.
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24. Board Game: Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:191] [Average Rating:7.41 Unranked]
Josiah Fiscus
United States
Pittsburgh (Monroeville)
Pennsylvania
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Look no further than the last 5 years of Gen Con tournament results. Only two different people have won the main event in those years (out of a field of 80 players). Way more here than most people give it credit for, and the skill goes way beyond army composition.
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25. Board Game: Warriors of God [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:665]
Edward Jamer
Canada
Fredericton
NB
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Plenty of cries that "it's all luck" after losing, and yet...

Strategy exists because you know exactly when every leader will arrive, and what possible locations he can land at. Planning and preparing the board for future leaders certainly does matter.

Tactics are also important because there are plenty of little tricks to put your leaders in a good position to fight, flee, or attempt to take control of unaligned provinces.

(However, maybe this game doesn't really belong here. Dice are important and even though there are many rolls that take place they aren't all of equal importance. Leader death can quickly throw your strategy in the drink and force some quick tactical adjustments to recover for future turns. It's easy to understand how people get upset when their "perfect plans" are thrown desperately off the rails and players are forced to scramble to adjust. The better player will win more often than not - just maybe not often enough for this list. Trolling? You decide!)
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