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Subject: Should there be no luck in board games? rss

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Steve Hanson
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Lately I’ve been discussing the games development situation with a couple of my friends. One argued that good old luck seems to be game over in board games. Especially within the German board games. (Why) is that so? I ask. Another friend argued that the use of dice in a board game gives everybody, even the rookie, a chance of winning over the more experienced player which, he argued, is negative since experience and better knowledge of the strategies and diplomacy implied in the game should give you an advantage.
I argued that experience always gives you an advantage, but luck is the edge that gives you sweaty palms and a beating heart, because no matter how well you plan your strategies the unforeseen that lies within the chance of a die roll is what gaming is about.

We never really reached an agreement, but this discussion left me wondering if I’m sacking hopelessly behind when it comes to game trends.
Are dice board games too much luck and not enough brains?
Should there rather be no luck in board games at all?



 
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Mark Mahaffey
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I think a a good blend is obviously best. Otherwise everyone would only play chess and WAR 100% of the time.
 
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Matthew M
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Randomness is often effectively used, even in euro games, to increase replayability and provide a sense of uncertainty. The majority of eurogames, in fact, have at least one if not more random elements.

I don't think there is a right or wrong amount of randomness independent of a game design. Some games work well because of all the random elements it features, while others work well because they have none at all. How much randomness one likes is, of course, a matter of taste.

-MMM
 
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Till Bockemühl
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I think, there is a distinction to be made between "luck" and "uncertainty".

For me, uncertainty is often quite desirable. It can be very rewarding to formulate a plan that takes into account a certain degree of uncertainty and still achieves the desired goal.

Luck (as in pure chance), on the other hand, is something I don't like in games. If the outcome of an action is completely random and has nothing to do with a player's ability to play the game, then I am with your friends.

Of course, there is a continuum between deterministic and (theoretically) solvable games and games that entirely rely on dice or other forms of randomness to determine the winner.
 
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Rick Holzgrafe
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Random factors (dice, shuffled cards and tiles, and so on) are a tool in the game designer's toolbox. They are useful for the following:

* Reducing analysis paralysis
* Adding push-your-luck tension
* Adding variety
* Leveling the playing field
* Inhibiting a runaway leader

Randomness means you can't predict the future perfectly, so you spend less time in prolonged if-he-does-this-then-I'll-do-that calculations. It's a cheap way to prevent "solving" a game -- figuring out a formulaic killer strategy. It makes every game different. As your friend mentions, it gives newbies a better chance against experienced players. And similarly, it can put obstacles in the way of the current winner, so that the actual winner isn't certain until the end, or at least near the end, of the game.

Are these good things in a game? That's a matter of taste. Many people do prefer to win or lose solely on the quality of their play, but not everyone feels that way. Some people enjoy gambling, some do not. Some people like the challenge of handling an unexpected setback or seizing an unexpected opportunity; others like more control.

Random factors, if applied well, do help the social aspects of play. If you prefer a party to a chess match (broadly speaking), then reduced AP, keeping everybody in the game, and not crushing the newbies are good things. But again, some people prefer the chess match.

But I don't see any trends developing. Some German-style games have a lot of randomness (Tigris and Euphrates, Carcassonne), some a little (Puerto Rico), some only in the setup (Caylus, Through the Desert), and some have none (Yinsh, Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation).
 
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Jim Marshall
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I don't thonk it's an either or choice. My recent purchases include on one side Antike, Through the Desert and Hey! That's My Fish, and on the other Samurai, Friedrich, San Juan, China, Inkognito and Mission: Red Planet.

The first group are luck-free (beyond first player pick, but you get that in chess too), the second group all contain elements of luck to a greater or lesser extent. Both groups contain quick playing, light games, and longer more strategic titles. Common factor: they're all great games!

OK, I'm sure someone will find fault with that claim and challenge greatness for one or more of these games, but my point is that the hobby is now big enough to support a wide variety of game styles, and for that I am truly thankful. I played far too much Risk as a kid because of a lack of alternatives....
 
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Justin
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Personally, I like a bit of luck in board games. It doesnt feel so scripted and obeying as a game that has some dice rolling or card dealing in it. I love to just roll the dice, and be winning when out of no where my opponent strikes me with a 6.

Exilirating my dear watson, just exilirating.
 
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Luck and uncertainty apply to real life so why shouldn't they apply to board games?

We all live our lives with gambles. You drive your car to work but you have no way of predicting or knowing if you'll get into an accident. Or you trust the pop you're drinking doesn't have a nail in it (I sure don't bother inspecting it).

Is anything completely predictable in life? I think luck is a natural element in things. The degree that luck should be introduced is the debatable part. I don't like when luck overwhelms strategy.

Fluxx is a good example of that.
 
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Brent Mair
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Yes.

No.
 
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Brian Cherry
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I think that luck is great for a game to be played casually. Playing games at dinner partys and with children often require some luck. Luck allows someone who doesn't know the deeper strategy of the game, to sometimes win. This is important when introducing people to a new game. I think most people would soon become tired of a game if they were beaten every time by the same person using a superior strategy. Now, many of us would see this as a challenge to overcome. But casual gamers would most likely take out Monopoly and play that instead.
 
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Martin Stever
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Tough question.

I'd roll for an answer.
 
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Matthew Watson
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GlennG wrote:

Luck and uncertainty apply to real life so why shouldn't they apply to board games?


That makes no sense at all. You are arguing that all board games should be simulations. Why on earth would you want that?
 
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Greg Jones
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Somebody made a post recently that finally clicked for me. It explained the concept of an "analytical" game. It refers to a game where you can profit greatly by a lot of "if this then that" kind of thinking. Games without luck don't have to consist totally of this. Even in Chess, which involves a lot of analysis, there is some non-analytical play. The best players have an understanding of what are good positions, even if they don't know the exact "then that" of what they will do with that position in the future. Go also is also a perfect information game, but it's too complex to fully analyze very far. Many other perfect information games can be this way, especially when there are multiple players so its harder to predict the way they will all interact.

But luck is a pretty surefire way to keep a game from being analytical, and I prefer that.

Also, it's good for learning to "play the hand that's dealt you". Even if you're the best player, sometimes you have to dig yourself out of a hole. That can provide a different challenge than holding the lead. What if there were no luck in F1 racing, and the best driver with the best car won the pole position and stayed in the lead the whole race? Well he's a good driver, to be sure, but is he any good at passing? If instead sometimes the best driver hits an oil slick and spins out, and has to climb back up the ranks, it's more interesting.
 
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M. Shanmugasundaram
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IMO, the purpose of luck is two-fold

1) it keeps a game from stagnating through predictability over repeat plays
2) it gives newbies a fighting chance against experienced players

Obviously, luck can be overdone, leading to poor designs in which skill and experience have no value.

I find that many games are "over-designed" to avoid using luck. That is, in their quest to avoid stagnation, they include so many rules minutiae and exceptions that they are a chore to play.

There are also those games which provide the illusion of skill through excessive probabilities. I.e., there are so many random influences on the game to manage that many people are fooled into thinking that there is skill involved in deciding between them.
 
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Alex Rockwell
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There should be a spectrum of amount of luck in games, as people like different amounts of luck in their games (and depending on their mood, and the game theme, and etc...)


Even in a game with no 'luck', there should still be some randomness, to enhance replayability. Luck is randomness whose outcome effects the players' chances of winning. (Most random events involve luck).


But not all randomness effects a players chance of winning. For example: Fischer random chess. If all of the randomness is involved in the setup of the game (so that it always starts differently, and thus is always different), but does not effect the relative strength of the starting conditions, then there can be randomness but no luck.



Chess has luck. When you determine who goes first, a random event is giving about a 55% win chance to the players who goes first and a 45% chance to the second player, out of games that are not a draw (if the players skill levels are equal). A chess match where both players play an equal amount of games as each color does not have luck.
 
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Alex Rockwell
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In a skill-heavy game, especially in a long skill-heavy game, random factors should have as little an effect on the chances of the players winning as possible. (Otherwise it isnt really skill heavy anymore).

But it is important that there is randomness so the game isnt always the same, and its not about memorization (like chess openings are...because there is no random factors in the setup, other than who goes first)

In Puerto Rico, the tiledraw has a fairly small effect on the chance of players winning (though once you get really good, the first couple tiledraws effect seems fairly large...if you are in second seat and cant get corn in the first settler for example, it definitely hurts your chances).


So anyway, randomness is needed so that the game isnt always the same. Randomness can either not change the chance of a player winning (fischer random chess), or it can effect it to varying degrees. The heavier a game is, the less the randomness should effect players' chances of winning, and the lighter it is, the more it is ok that it does so.
 
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jbrier
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I partially agree. EDIT: I'm referring to the original post.

I think there are Euro games that have this element of uncertainty, risk-taking, adrenaline, whatever, that you mention. They just tend to be shorter games because one of the principal tenets of Euro game design is that there should continually be decisions to make. In a more luck dependent game there is only so long (temporally) that decisions can matter- this is because luck has a levelling effect on decision-making.

Most older games bore me because their ratio of decision-making to actual time spent playing the game is so low compared to "Euro" games. People who criticise "Euro-snoots" tend to accuse them of believing that "Euro" games are more "intellectual" or "deep", but they are missing the point (at least if I was the subject of discussion- I can't represent the whole lot of us)

It is not that what is being enjoyed is necessarily its "depth", but rather simply that it offers decisions to make more often, even if they are not the most sophisticated decisions. In fact, I tend to play intuitively rather than sit down to be overly analytical when I play Euro games.

For example, For Sale is one of my favorite games, and it has a high dependence on luck. Since it continually has decisions though, I enjoy it, even if any individual decision is not "intellectual" or whatever.

Puerto Rico is my favorite game, because it continually offers decisions, but they are usually decisions between 2 or 3 things at most (which role to choose), and this decision is suspenseful, engaging, without lending itself to overanalysis because of the precise lack of control or if you want to call it "luck" that ultimately exists by the means of the variable turn order determined by players. So in a manner of speaking PR has a nice balance between analysis and luck- I think at heart the Euro gamer likes niether of these in high doses.
 
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Blue Jackal
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A little luck is great, and as others have said, adds replayability and uncertainty. I prefer a little luck to no luck, and no luck to a lot of luck.

Luck should not be a replacement for decision making though, as another has noted.
 
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Richard Irving
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Can there be no luck in a game, and it is still a good game? Yes.

Can there be luck in a game, and it still be a good game? Yes.

Must a game have (or not have) luck to be a good game? No.


The key question is whether the game has enough skill to be interesting--and skill is the presence of substantive choice (i.e. A player's decisions in the game determine whether they win or not.)
 
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J. Green
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If you look back in history to the earliest boardgames, you find the forerunner of all Western boardgames in India: Chaturanga.

Quote:
"The oldest known form of chess, Chaturanga is a lively game in which moves are determined, as in backgammon, by a combination of dice rolls and player judgment."--BGG page on Chaturanga


So apparently it was some European who decided to remove the random element from Chaturanga and transform it into the game we know as Chess. That means if you reject luck in strategy boardgames as a member of Western Civilization, you're following a 1,500 year old tradition.

I find it interesting that we move historically from Go, the earliest boardgame, which has no luck and is simpler yet cannot be solved or played well by a computer, to Chaturanga, which has luck and strategy, and cannot be solved by a computer, to Chess, which has no luck and all strategy, and which computers can be programmed to beat human beings at it.

 
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Scott Alden
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Some non-targeted luck is fine. Unless the game is so damn fun I don't cared if I got hose in the last turn of the game by blind luck.
 
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Vinay Chandrasekhar
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Quote:
I think people forget that we are talking about games.
Games. That are meant to be fun.
That's all that's important.


Well said.
 
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Hayden Scott
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MrSkeletor wrote:
I think people forget that we are talking about games.
Games. That are meant to be fun.
That's all that's important.


What a load of crap!
 
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jbrier
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Hayden wrote:
MrSkeletor wrote:
I think people forget that we are talking about games.
Games. That are meant to be fun.
That's all that's important.


What a load of crap!


laugh
 
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Michelle Zentis
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I generally prefer games on the low end of the luck spectrum. This means that most of my favorite games are called dry by the dice-rolling thrill-seekers among us. However, that doesn't mean that I automatically dislike games with luck -- even my third-favorite game (Paths of Glory) uses die rolls to resolve combat.

I've pondered this a bit lately and here's what I've realized:

1. I can enjoy games that are almost entirely luck-based as long as they're short, silly, and have at least a few meaningful decisions to make. I have a great time with Diamant, the 10 Days... series, and other luck-heavy fillers.

2. I can enjoy long, heavy games with an element of luck as long as the luck factor is manageable. To use PoG as an example, to resolve combat each player rolls one die and compares it to a table to determine damage. The range of the damage is known; the die only determines the exact number within that range.

3. I have serious problems with non-filler games in which I feel luck can outweigh meaningful decisions. I know that luck tends to even out over the course of a game, but in games like Settlers or Memoir '44 if there is a significant luck discrepancy early on the unlucky player will be so far behind that there's no chance to catch up when the die rolls start going the other way. That doesn't mean that I won't play these games, but it does mean that I usually enjoy them less (win or lose), and the longer they are the more I try to avoid them.

Before the legions of Settlers and Memoir fans get all worked up, I recognize that both games reward skill and that part of the challenge is to overcome whatever bad luck comes your way. It's just not a challenge I relish!
 
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