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Subject: Getting Lucky: the role of randomness in games rss

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Brian & Cara Conry
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The November 2006 issue of "Game Developer" magazine (www.gdmag.com) featured an articly by Richard Garfield (of "Magic: The Gathering" fame) on the role of randomness in games. The article is targeted towards the use of randomness in computer games that typically don't have much, such as FPS (first-person shooters), but he references board games extensively in his opening arguments. Many of his comments and insights are directly related to the "Ameritrash" vs. "Eurosnoot" debate.

I won't repeat the whole article here, but I do want to summarize part it and see what discussion it generates.

He starts the article with a (potentially) controversial statement:
Richard Garfield wrote:
Historically, games usually evolved in such a way as to reduce the amount of luck in them. Even chess at one time had dice. The people who are in a position to modify a game are likely to be very good at it, and the sort of modifications they will be drawn toward are the ones that showcase their talents and their friends' talents--although they, of course, are all top players.

This is quite a statement, and I have already sent an email asking for references to back it up. It's not that I doubt the statement, but it would be nice to see some documentation of it. Even without evidence, I am inclined to agree with this statement as that seems to be the trend of human nature.

Richard defines luck as "uncertainty in outcome" and includes everything that contributes to that uncertainty: dice, weather, muscle fatigue (in most physical sports and some dexterity games), and (perhaps most importantly) the decisions of other players. Using this definition of luck, every multi-player game has a degree of luck; even chess.

He explains that the amount of luck in a game isn't any indication of how much skill there is. In order to illustrate this point, he invents a game called "randochess", where the players roll a die (six-sided, I assume) and the high roll wins, with ties broken by a game of chess. So then every book on chess strategy applies to randochess, even if it is only one time in 6, making it both a high-luck and a high-skill game.

He also gives three benefits to using luck in game design:
Richard Garfield wrote:
First, high-luck games broaden the range of competition. Second, luck removes players' ego crutches. And third, luck increases the variety of the gameplay.

The first benefit he listed is why games like "Chutes and Ladders" are so frequently chosen for a child's first game; the child is on completely equal footing with everyone else playing the game no matter how smart, wise, or devious they may be (as long as they don't cheat). Clearly that level of randomness isn't desireable most of the time, but it does have its place.

The second benefit is an interesting one, in that it lets a player protect their pride by blaming "bad luck" for their failure. I'm sure that some will think that is a bad idea, but I would point out that most players will tend to avoid games that crush their egos and that protecting the ego of the player will tend to get your game played more. Too much randomness (think "Chutes and Ladders") can completely eliminate the satisfaction in winning, though. I think the sweet spot would be like this: the winners think that they won because of skill (and feel good), the losers think that they lost due to bad luck (and don't feel so bad about loosing) but that if they were to apply more skill next time that they could overcome the bad luck. This protects the egos of all involved and keeps them motivated to continue playing the game.

The third benefit has a couple of parts to it. First, there is the obvious changes in the game conditions due to chance. More importantly, though, it acts as an agent to free players to try different strategies by dampening the effect of a poor strategy. He goes so far as to assert that, in a game with little chance, "The only ones who would typically stray [from the generally accepted best strategy] would be the beginners who didn't know any better or the elite who were secure enough in their stature to experiment." Keep in mind that, by his definition, chess actually involves a fair amount of luck (uncertainty) due to the uncertainty introduced by the sheer number of possible moves and game states. He also references the computer game "Archon" and asserts that since the arcade portion of the game had little luck it overwhelmed the chess portion of the game to the point of making it irrelevant if there was a large gap between the arcade skill of the two players. Meaning that adding luck to one portion of the game would increas the amount of skill necessary in another portion of the game and allow more players to play competitively against each other.

That's all I'm going to summarize from the article. There is a lot more to it, but it is focused very much on computer games, and therefore off-topic on this website.

Now for my own comments.

I think that randomness (as in dice) is almost essential to properly add elements to a game that are typically outside of someone's direct control, such as the weather or the way that a ball bounces in a football (American) game. While it might be interesting to have the players negotiate with each other to determine the weather, it doesn't seem very satisfying to me unless the theme of the game allows it using something like magic or technology.

I've observed that sometimes the same mechanic can provide either skill or luck, depending on the scale. Imagine a two-player game where players determine some outcome jointly be each secretly choosing the position on one axis of a grid. In this game there isn't anything necessarily better about any specific position on an axis, they can all win or lose depending on the choice of the other player. If the grid is small (5x5) then it is mainly a matter of skill (psychology and min-maxing). With a larger grid (10x10) the amount of uncertainty rises, but skill is still a factor. If you use a huge grid (100,000x100,000) then there is almost no skill and you'd probably be better off rolling dice.

I also think that randomness can make things easier for the designer. Imagine the time and analysis required to have a fair and balanced Catan-style game with a single fixed map. For some games it might not be possible to have a game that remains fresh and interesting without the variation provided by a random setup. Yes, that does mean that some games may be clearly unbalanced, but it also reduces the chances that someone will come up with an unbeatable strategy. It doesn't excuse the designer from all responsibility regarding game balance, either. The game designer should strive to design the game such that most, if not all, of the possible game setups will be fair.

As some who have talked with me at BGG.con or read my one geeklist may know. I'm a sucker for games with modular boards. I find uncertain board setup (whether it is completely random or only subject to the combined whims and strategies of the players) is a much more natural and satisfying method of introducing randomness than rolling dice for the movement of pieces.

And that leads me to my final point when using randomness in a game: it works best when applied to those things that the player wouldn't normally expect to have absolute control over, such as the weather, the lay of the land, the combined performance of the individual soldiers that make up the army being commanded, or the treasure found in a dragon's hoard. Things that the player would normally expect to have absolute control over should have little, if any, artificial randomness, such as how far a piece must move on a turn.

To boil it all down, uncertainty comes in many forms (both "natural" (e.g. from the players) and "artificial" (e.g. from dice)). Uncertainty is just one tool in the game designers tool chest and, like all tools, it needs to be used appropriately and carefully. A game designer needs to evaluate the uncertainty in the game, where it comes from, and how it contributes to making the game as much fun for as many players in the target audience as possible.
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J C Lawrence
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bncconry wrote:
Richard defines luck as "uncertainty in outcome" and includes everything that contributes to that uncertainty: dice, weather, muscle fatigue (in most physical sports and some dexterity games), and (perhaps most importantly) the decisions of other players.

Other player actions need not be uncertain. Among players of known skill the specific upcoming actions and decisions of another player at a given time can be known exactly as they are visibly constrained (at that particular time) to a single optimal course of action or are otherwise dictated by the game (Zertz and checkers come to mind for this latter case). Of course such constraints typically do not last long.

Quote:
Using this definition of luck, every multi-player game has a degree of luck; even chess.

Using this definition every game with more than one player, and even many games with one player, contain luck. This seems a pointless definition as it draws no boundaries and does not identify any notably common traits.

Quote:
I think the sweet spot would be like this: the winners think that they won because of skill (and feel good), the losers think that they lost due to bad luck (and don't feel so bad about loosing) but that if they were to apply more skill next time that they could overcome the bad luck.

The games I like best fit the following simple pattern:

Win or lose I know why I won or lost, and I know how to play better next time.

By fitting this pattern a game provides a continual grokable learning curve. Luck simply isn't part of the criteria either way, just continual learning opportunity. It isn't the winning or the losing that's important, it is the opportunity and possibility for conciously doing (enough) better next time.

Quote:
This protects the egos of all involved and keeps them motivated to continue playing the game.

Frankly egos are more problem than they are worth at this level and any ego bruising usually has more to do with the other players and their inter-relations than with the game itself. A tough game at which all players do horribly and pathetically badly is not ego-bruising unless those same players do not see a clear and accomplishable path for improvement (or otherwise beat on each other).

Quote:
More importantly, though, it acts as an agent to free players to try different strategies by dampening the effect of a poor strategy.

Bollocks. Their are two assumptions underlieing this model and neither is a given:

1) That the poor strategy player is not only better positioned to take advantage of lucky outcomes, but is also less likely to make further comparatively sub-optimal choices

2) That the game design encourages lucky elements of the game to disproportionately help the poor player versus the skilled player (eg the poor/trailing player is more likely to receive random boosts that put them back in contention while the skilled/lead player, due to their history/position, will not receive such chaotic advantages)

Not given the above, in a game with assumably high luck factors, the skilled player will position themselves so as to be most likely to profit from the random aspects of the game. Conversely the unskilled player will play in a manner which does not maximise their opportunities, and will also react to lucky outcomes in sub-optimal ways. This is why skilled backgammon players almost invariably slaughter novices. Novices don't know how to use the lucky factors to their advantage.

Quote:
He goes so far as to assert that, in a game with little chance, "The only ones who would typically stray [from the generally accepted best strategy] would be the beginners who didn't know any better or the elite who were secure enough in their stature to experiment."

This assumes that there is a generally accepted best strategy, and that the game/position definition does not contain any soft/human elements (eg negotiation, control or influence of perception, etc). Neither point is a given. A classic counter case would be the game of Diplomacy.

Quote:
I think that randomness (as in dice) is almost essential to properly add elements to a game that are typically outside of someone's direct control, such as the weather or the way that a ball bounces in a football (American) game. While it might be interesting to have the players negotiate with each other to determine the weather, it doesn't seem very satisfying to me unless the theme of the game allows it using something like magic or technology.

You define the game elements as necessarily descended from the game's theme. ...outside of someone's direct control, such as the weather... Instead I define games in the abstract, athematically. The theme at this level is a mere presentation layer, and the use of random factors in a mechanism which has been labled "weather" is merely signal of a good/reasonable choice of noun for that mechanism. The same game with all the thematic nouns and verbs removed, remains the same game, its just that weather is not called: a D6 probability mechanism used to determine when token X can do action Y.

Quote:
I've observed that sometimes the same mechanic can provide either skill or luck, depending on the scale.

The game of Xe Queio is both an excellent case and counter-case here.

Quote:
I also think that randomness can make things easier for the designer.

It can also make things a LOT harder. Randomness introduces variance and distributions must account for those cases which are far further out from the norm than a few standard deviations.

Yeah, he rolled 100D6 and got one hundred 6s, right across the board!

My own modelling for my Age of Steam maps has shown what excessively weird goods cube distributions can do to a game. Consider the case in which all the cubes which (randomly) start in each city, or in that cities' goods chart are the same colour as the city! Bloody unlikely of course...but will the map still work? More tightly specifying the goods cube distribution away from the more unlikely cases, reducing possible randomness, makes the analysis and design problem MUCH simpler. It is specifically for this reason that one of the maps I'm currently working on contains a setup qualifier of Ensure that no goods cubes are placed in cities of their own colour. Without constraining that random factor the probability of game-breaking cube distributions was too high for comfort.

Quote:
For some games it might not be possible to have a game that remains fresh and interesting without the variation provided by a random setup.

I would instead consider that games with a random setup are in fact not a single game. Instead they are a family of closely related games, one each for each permutation of the setup. Each member of that set, all different games, may be variously (un)balanced or (un)viable as games.

Quote:
As some who have talked with me at BGG.con or read my one geeklist may know. I'm a sucker for games with modular boards. I find uncertain board setup (whether it is completely random or only subject to the combined whims and strategies of the players) is a much more natural and satisfying method of introducing randomness than rolling dice for the movement of pieces.

Yup, I like modular randomly setup boards too, especially if all those random factors are in the setup, not in the game play. As such Ricochet Robots' random setup is great.

Quote:
And that leads me to my final point when using randomness in a game: it works best when applied to those things that the player wouldn't normally expect to have absolute control over, such as the weather, the lay of the land, the combined performance of the individual soldiers that make up the army being commanded, or the treasure found in a dragon's hoard.

There's a significant difference between prediction and control. I may have no control over the contents of the dragon's hoard, but it is quite possible that I may know the contents of the dragon's hoard very precisely. Control and prediction are different things.

Quote:
To boil it all down, uncertainty comes in many forms (both "natural" (e.g. from the players) and "artificial" (e.g. from dice)).

My favourite forms of uncertainty are human and my least liked mechanical.

Quote:
Uncertainty is just one tool in the game designers tool chest and, like all tools, it needs to be used appropriately and carefully.

Yep.

Quote:
A game designer needs to evaluate the uncertainty in the game, where it comes from, and how it contributes to making the game as much fun for as many players in the target audience as possible.

I sometimes suspect that designers more commonly design a game and then figure out what demographic it will appeal to afterward. Of course that pattern will be affected by their own demographic preferences, but the determination can still be post-facto.
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Very interesting discussion already. And since we're talking about luck in games (yet again), I see Clearclaw has already made it here as expected. Good to see you again.

Anyway,

I think luck can be used to excellent effect in many games to diminish the skill related outcome range of the game. Ok, that sounded really complex and wordy, so to clarify, luck can be to diminish the difference between a skilled players "total number of points" or whatever the victory condition happens to be, and that of the less skilled player.

This I think can be excellent for getting new people into a game and keeping them interested. Throughly trouncing someone in their first game is a bad way to get them to like a game.

In this copacity, if used properly, the more skilled player should always win, but luck should diminish the margin by which he wins. On average anyway.

Another good use of it, is as the OP was mentioning, in adding game effects that, given the theme of the game or the thing it's trying to simulate, should not be within the player's control. In some cases, many actually, this can be a very gray area, and this is where the designer's discretion is needed.

In the end, I believe luck should be managable. If it's in the game, I should be able to somehow predict or plan for the possibilities it may produce. Good wargames work this way. Although there's luck, the player can plan for it and can tilt those odds in his favor. Just like in real war, where the outcome is never certain, but you sure as hell try to make it as uncertain as you can. And you try and plan for all outcomes as much as you can.

Luck should also NEVER be both highly influencial and highly random at the same time. Basically, if there's not going to be much randomness in the game, don't make it too powerful. So basically, if there's only going to be one dice roll in the entire game, don't make it decide the game.

Unlike what many people seem to think, more dice being rolled makes it LESS random, since as you roll more and more, you come closer to approaching the average expected value. This is why wargames work. Even though the dice are infuencial, your rolling so many so often, that no one dice roll will decide the game (unless you've planned badly, and in that case, it's your strategies fault for relying on that one dice roll). So although luck is highly influential, randomness is in their so often that it averages out, making it esier to work with.

On the oppostite sides, for games with little to no luck, the luck must not be too influential. Think alot of Euros. Caylus has only one bit of randomness in it (the initial setup), but this is fine since it's not going to decide the game or anything.

As to the original article, I agree with Clearclaw, the author's definition of luck is far too broad. It makes no distinction between what is unknown and what is uncontrollable. These are both totally different and should be designed and handled differently.

Other players are a combination of both of these, in a mild form. Other players are, technically, completely uncontrollable and unpredictable. BUT, through interactions on and off the board, one can both predict and influence their behavior. You can't do that with a dice.
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Rik Van Horn
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Considering that our ability to play something well, coupled with our ability to learn from mistakes is sheer luck of birth and or experience, it's all damned luck anyway.

Not everyone is born with the same potential for every ability I suspect.
If you're tone deaf, no matter how long or hard you practice, you're never likely to be a good piano player.
Hard work and perserverance will only take you so far. To get the farthest you need some innate abilities and having those is sheer luck.

So ends my socialistic lecture.
 
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Brian & Cara Conry
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clearclaw made some excellent points, and I'll address them in two phases. First, I'll defend the article and what I believe to be Richard Garfield's intent because, AFAIK, I'm the only one who can right now. Then I'll discuss the more general issues.

clearclaw wrote:
Using this definition every game with more than one player, and even many games with one player, contain luck. This seems a pointless definition as it draws no boundaries and does not identify any notably common traits.
I agree with that sentiment, which is why I made the distinction later between "natural" and "artificial" uncertainty. I think that Richard deliberately defined luck that way because most of his arguments apply no matter what the source of the uncertaintity is. It probably also had something to do with his article being a persuasive piece intended to influence the reader to consider adding more "artificial" uncertaintity in order to increase the number of players that will be playing the game.

clearclaw wrote:
Frankly egos are more problem than they are worth at this level and any ego bruising usually has more to do with the other players and their inter-relations than with the game itself. A tough game at which all players do horribly and pathetically badly is not ego-bruising unless those same players do not see a clear and accomplishable path for improvement (or otherwise beat on each other).
Hmmm... I'd be interested to hear what "level" you're referring to. I see several different possibilities. Regardless, egos do tend to cause many problems everywhere. And yet they are so popular.

To step back into computer games for a bit, there have been many online games that have been ruined because a significant minority chooses to put their egos ahead of all other considerations and are willing to do *anything* to see their name at the top. While I believe (and hope) that attitude is less prevalant among board gamers, it is still present and has to be accounted for.

clearclaw wrote:
Not given the above, in a game with assumably high luck factors, the skilled player will position themselves so as to be most likely to profit from the random aspects of the game. Conversely the unskilled player will play in a manner which does not maximise their opportunities, and will also react to lucky outcomes in sub-optimal ways. This is why skilled backgammon players almost invariably slaughter novices. Novices don't know how to use the lucky factors to their advantage.
And the key phrase there is "almost invariably", as opposed to Chinese Checkers (to avoid picking on chess for a moment) where a skilled player will always slaughter an unskilled novice unless the novice is exceptionally gifted. I know that's how I felt the few times I played Chinese Checkers with my grandmother. Many times that I made a move that I thought put me into a good position I was dismayed to find that it put her into an even better one. On the other hand, I've decided that I will play Chinese Checkers with her when I visit next (in about a week) and see if I've improved any in the fifteen or so years that it's been since I played last. And with that I illustrate the point that people tend to avoid playing games that they feel they have very little chance of winning. No one wants to play Chinese Checkers with my grandmother, so we play other games instead.

clearclaw wrote:
This assumes that there is a generally accepted best strategy, and that the game/position definition does not contain any soft/human elements (eg negotiation, control or influence of perception, etc). Neither point is a given. A classic counter case would be the game of Diplomacy.
To be fair to Richard, he did make the first point in the article. I... umm... left that out when I summarized it. blush
I think that he would also point out that, by his definition, the "soft/human elements" could be the "luck" necessary to free up a player to try new things.

One last thing to keep in mind while reading my representation of Richard's article. It was written as a persuasive piece to influence game designers to add more "luck" into games, with no distinction made between "natural" and "artifical" uncertaintity, in order to increase the number of players that can and will play the games. Why should I want to do this? Because he, and most of his target audience (commercial video game developers), believe that maximizing the number of people playing their game is a "good thing". That is what drives sales, and through sales, salaries and prestige within the community. You could say that he is talking about a strategy for "winning" the meta-game of working in the computer game industry. Of course, in this meta-game, everyone is working towards their own "victory conditions", which may or may not include maximizing their market-share (but probably does).

clearclaw wrote:
Win or lose I know why I won or lost, and I know how to play better next time.

By fitting this pattern a game provides a continual grokable learning curve. Luck simply isn't part of the criteria either way, just continual learning opportunity. It isn't the winning or the losing that's important, it is the opportunity and possibility for conciously doing (enough) better next time.
Some people play games solely for the mental challange. Some people play games solely to be entertained (note that the use of passive voice here is deliberate). There are many other reasons that people play games, but I think that these two probably have the most direct effect on whether someone will share your attitude. Someone who is looking to be entertained probably doesn't want to have to improve their skills because that would be active and they are desiring to be passive. There are times that I feel that way, and I am glad that there are games that suit that mood.

clearclaw wrote:
The game of Xe Queio is both an excellent case and counter-case here.
I'm not familiar with that game, but I looked it up on the geek (Xe Queo!) and it looks interesting. Based on the rules summary posted on the geek, it looks like it is possible to have multiple people win a round (everyone who chose that token). Is that correct?

I'd also like clarification on how you think it is both case and counter-case for my observation. It seems to me (having never played it) that the level of uncertaintity will vary proportionally to the level of skill that the players try to put into it. I.e. if no one tries to do in-depth analysis of what the other players are thinking then they will tend to make decisions that are easily predicted (needing low skill), but if they spend a lot of time trying to outthink their opponent ("So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me."), then the decisions of each player are much less certain (needing high skill). I wonder how the game would play between a master and a novice. I would imagine that it would play out quite differently depending on how the master views the novice (i.e. a master playing a novice that is believed to be a master will get a different result than a master playing a known novice or a master playing someone with no idea what their skill level is).

clearclaw wrote:
It can also make things a LOT harder. Randomness introduces variance and distributions must account for those cases which are far further out from the norm than a few standard deviations.
Very true. Maybe it would be better to say that it moves the difficulty in balancing the game, and that some designers (depending on skill and temperment) will have an easier time with one method over another.

clearclaw wrote:
I would instead consider that games with a random setup are in fact not a single game. Instead they are a family of closely related games, one each for each permutation of the setup. Each member of that set, all different games, may be variously (un)balanced or (un)viable as games.
That makes Klondike Solitaire a family of 52! (that is 52 factorial, or approximately 80,658,175,170,944,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 different games that all use the exact same mechanic. Fortunately they can all be grouped under the same gameid or we would run out of numbers pretty quickly.
That is a statement that, on the surface, sounds ridiculous and yet is completely true.

On the other hand, one could consider that the internal state of the players are also part of the starting conditions in many games and can also lead to "variously (un)balanced or (un)viable" game conditions. If one of the players is in a really bad mood and doesn't work to contain it, that can make every outcome of the game unpleasant for everyone.

The problem with that line of thinking is that you have moved from enumerating the sets of game mechanics to enumerating the set of possible game plays. And that, I think, calls into question the general usefulness of considering each of the possible random setups to be a different, albiet related, game. There are situations where that distinction makes sense, but IMO most people don't think that way.

clearclaw wrote:
The theme at this level is a mere presentation layer, and the use of random factors in a mechanism which has been labled "weather" is merely signal of a good/reasonable choice of noun for that mechanism. The same game with all the thematic nouns and verbs removed, remains the same game, its just that weather is not called: a D6 probability mechanism used to determine when token X can do action Y.
From the POV of a computer scientist, I couldn't agree with you more. That is exactly how the most reliable, maintainable, and robust computer systems are designed; with the presentation completely separated from the rules.

From the POV of a game player, I disagree with you. Most people (including myself) do not separate theme and mechanics to the extent that you do. Some people may even be incapable of doing so. It is possible to apply a theme to a game in such a way that the life-experience of the player will be in direct conflict with the way that the themed mechanics of the game interact.
As an example, take a game where the object of the game is to accumulate the fewest points and strip it of its theme. Now apply a political theme and call the points "votes" in an election. That would be a "broken" game because that isn't the way that the world works. It isn't that the mechanic is bad, or that the theme is bad, it means that the designer did a poor job applying theme to the mechanic. You could "fix" the political version of the game by simply changing the context of the votes to be in an impeachment instead of in an election.

I suspect that many times when a criticism of "broken" is applied to a portion of a game it is because the theme and the mechanic are creating dissonance in the mind of the player instead of reinforcing each other.

clearclaw wrote:
It is specifically for this reason that one of the maps I'm currently working on contains a setup qualifier of Ensure that no goods cubes are placed in cities of their own colour. Without constraining that random factor the probability of game-breaking cube distributions was too high for comfort.
That sounds like a wise decision being made by an experienced game designer, and something that other game designers (and game designer wannabe's likme) should take heed of.

clearclaw wrote:
There's a significant difference between prediction and control. I may have no control over the contents of the dragon's hoard, but it is quite possible that I may know the contents of the dragon's hoard very precisely. Control and prediction are different things.
Absolutely. If a game featuring a dragon's hoard (among other treasure locations) had as its victory condition obtaining a special widget (say The Holy Grail), the game would play out very differently if all of the players knew in advance that the Grail either was, or was not, in the hoard of the dragon (the toughest bestie on the board). And it would play out still differently if no one knew whether the Grail was in the hoard or not.

clearclaw wrote:
My favourite forms of uncertainty are human and my least liked mechanical.
Which is a preference that I share at least part of the time. The thing with human uncertaintity is that it is far more uncertain than almost any mechanical uncertaintity, at least from the perspective of a game designer. Provided you know enough information in advance, both specific individuals and society as a whole are more predictable than dice. But if you're talking about a random individual that you know nothing about, the dice will be more predictable. The game designer is interacting (though the game) with all three situations: specific people he knows that playtest the game, society as a whole once the game is relesed (or at least the board gamer subset), and the eclectic individuals that make up this community.

Which brings me to the final point of discussion:
clearclaw wrote:
I sometimes suspect that designers more commonly design a game and then figure out what demographic it will appeal to afterward. Of course that pattern will be affected by their own demographic preferences, but the determination can still be post-facto.
I think that depends on which game designers you're talking about. Those designers who design for the love of games will probably work out the mechanics first, but those who design for a "goal" may have very different motivations and therefore take very different approaches. This goes back to the meta-game I mentioned earlier of selling more games to get paid more money and gain more prestige. I think what has happend more in America than in Europe is that game designers have opted for mass-market appeal instead of intellectual purity and innovative design. Of course, that didn't happen overnight or in a vacume. Someone at some point felt that it was better to have more people playing his/her games above everything else. This, in turn, forces more principled designers to make a choice: do they continue designing games that don't sell as well (and therefore risk losing their job and have to find another livelihood) or do they "water-down" their games to give them more marketability? And then there's the whole coroporate angle, where what the public believes may not matter as much as what the marketing department believes that the public belives. I wonder how many corporate game designers have been forced to alter the mechanics and/or theme of their game just to get it past marketing in any form, rather than choose to let the game die as an unfinished prototype. Would the American public (the only public I have direct knowledge of) learn to appreciate "Eurogames" if they were on the shelves of every mass-market retailer? Not right away, certainly, because the preferences of multitudes of people are notoriously slow to change, but would the change come fast enough that it would pay off for the retailers? That's hard to say, although it looks like at least the retailers seem to think not. On the other hand, it could be that the American retailers are mostly ignorant of "Eurogames" and their potential because those who publish "Eurogames" don't belive that it would be successful. Have any such publishers even tried to get their games onto the shelves of an American mass-market retailer? If not, then why not?

If the majority of the American public has no knowledge of games besides the ones they see in the mass-market retailers, then can we blame them for not playing the kind of games that never show up there? Right now in the U.S.A. it can be hard to find the kind of shop that carries "hard-core Eurogames" even if you know what to look for.

So as a board game fan, how do I help spread the word and the love of the hobby? By introducing people gently to a type of board game that they never even considered could exist, and from there watching as their eyes are opened and the love of games begins. But that gentleness doesn't usually come from games that are completely different than the type of games that are already familiar, it usually comes from games that include a blend the familiar and the unknown, presented with a theme that makes the new player feel comfortable, like they can know what to expect even though they've never played the game before.

And maybe, just maybe, one day we'll see the descendant of Caylus sitting on a mass-market retailer's shelves right next to "Candy Land: the latest kids movie edition".
 
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Clearclaw, I think anyone who has been around the geek for a month knows what kind of game you like (and how it diverges from even typical Eurogamer distaste for randomizers). You don't care for theme, you don't care for games that fail to be nearly perfectly analyzable once underway. By the way, good job eviscerating *Richard Garfield's* definition there, because he knows, um, nothing about making games and is a total hack compared the typical BBG poster.

Anyway, the tautological debate over whether or not a mental misstep by an opponent is luck or not has been done already. Personally, if I'm playing a "perfect information game" and my supposed peer makes a really astoundingly dumb play, I chalk it up to "luck". Maybe he was distracted, maybe he simply "missed" a key sequence. It doesn't really matter: there was no way for me to predict that move was going to happen. I got lucky by the traditional meaning of the word. Whether or not I will *enjoy* my victory that I obtain unearned due to my opponents error is a matter of personality.

So I'm not going to dismiss out of hand the definition given for "luck", even if it easier to apply in the sports/dexterity side. The state your opponents focus is a point of uncertainty. For example: any time your opponent responds to his own move by slapping his head and groaning (presumably because it just dawned on him what he did)... that was bad luck on his part: he saw the error only moments after making it, so clearly he was able to understand the ramifications of the move after he took his hand away from the piece. Just a few more moments of thought would have avoided the problem. (And thus analysis paralysis is born!)

It would appear that perhaps a better term, such as randomization/randomizer, would be appropriate to avoid mixing the two ideas. A randomizer is a mechanism within the game system itself that induces "luck" and thus we can avoid conflating the quantum universe of the mind (or physical skill) with that of the game.

As far as randomizers making the design process easier: yes really weird outlier random events can give really weird outcomes, but in the large such things are *unlikely*, which means that the designer for the most part ignores them. Did the Age of Steam designer care that you could get the specified stupid setups? No, because the chances of them happening are low enough that if they did happen the most likely result would be bemusement by the players and a "mulligan" being declared. It did make a lot of exciting board configurations possible for almost no effort on the designers part.

I don't *really* think many designers are making the randomness decisions to make design easier. I believe they are doing so to expand the experiences that emerge from the game. However, randomization also can help ensure that the game is at least *harder* to "solve" (i.e., develop a unbeatable algorithm for).

The outright rejection of the idea that randomization is an equalizer is a bit problematic however. Yes, backgammon will punish the new player despite every move being driven by luck. However, a new player *can* win a lucky game (especially if a few double sixes pop up only on his side of the dice). It is only over a series of games (the traditional way to play the game) does skill triumph over a lucky break consistently. (As an aside: the doubling cube is probably one of the most fascinating aspects of the game: "here, either forfeit the game or we are playing for double stakes" adds a meta game that I just love.)

The same thing happens in Magic the Gathering: a player who just can't seem to pull any manna cards will probably lose, even to an inferior player. Yes, this same situation can happen to the new player as well. That's why I proposed the "Luck Quotient" (LQ) as a measure of "true" luck in a game. If a grandmaster can win the game every time against a new player, there is absolutely no luck to the game, even if there are randomization. We can assign the "LQ" a value of 0%. High LQ games will be won by the inferior player more often, period, which effectively means that high LQ games use randomization to level the playing field. Yes, the experienced player can exploit lucky breaks *more often*, but that isn't important: it is how often will the game end one way or another that drives the LQ rating. Acquire has a *lot* of randomization, yet has a fairly low LQ: new players will be destroyed handily.

Backgammon fails to be a 0% LQ game because a new player can simply get a statistically unlikely set of rolls that make his job so easy that he wins despite experience. What is Backgammon's LQ? I have no idea, but I would put it at maybe 20%: an experienced player will lose one out of five games to the new player. Not enough for them to escape with their money, I might add.

On the other hand, LCR is clearly 100% luck and randomization because there are no decisions made. Everything else is somewhere in between. Clearclaw clearly enjoys low LQ games, while I have argued elsewhere that the teeming unwashed masses actually *prefer* high LQ games.

Note that I have ignored negotiations and alliances from this discussion: I believe that the traditional definition of luck covers a botched negotiation (because again, I can't predict what the player will eventually do) and alliance (because people can defect at a seemingly random times). Both can clearly substitute for randomization. I have noticed that here on the geek that there are players who can tolerate high LQ games but hate high collusion games... and there are those (let's call them Diplomacy players) who hate a high LQ but *love* high collusion games. (Take a look a the "Pure Diplomacy" game variant if you want to see Evil Collusion incarnate: you will know who your friends *really* are in about ten minutes).

Again, it comes down to what will sell copies to the most people. Games with near 0% LQ but high *or* low collusion tend to sell *poorly* to the mass market, so collusion clearly isn't a perfect subsitute, but for games in the middle range it may work better.

If I was designing a game, and actually wanted to make money doing so... I'm pretty much going to go after the mass market. I think Richard Garfield's point was that adding randomizers helps vary the experience and allow new players an easier on-ramp to the game, both of which expand the audience. Clearly Clearclaw won't be buying, but then again I think it is very clearly established that Clearclaws preferences are a niche (analysis paralysis land) of a niche (eurogames) of a niche (board gaming). While there are designs published to scratch that sub-sub niche's itch, I'm not sure they are a way to the kinds of piles of money that Garfield created via Magic the Gathering.
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Shryke wrote:
Very interesting discussion already. And since we're talking about luck in games (yet again), I see Clearclaw has already made it here as expected. Good to see you again.

Actually, I was requested to post to this thread. I hadn't noticed it until then.

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Throughly trouncing someone in their first game is a bad way to get them to like a game.

While I don't disagree, I tend to like games I lose the on the first few plays quite a bit more than the games I win on the first plays. Winning on a first play is so demoralising. The game has to give me something that can clearly see a way to improve, and I must want to improve that.
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bncconry wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
Frankly egos are more problem than they are worth at this level and any ego bruising usually has more to do with the other players and their inter-relations than with the game itself.
Hmmm... I'd be interested to hear what "level" you're referring to.

Basically the level at which egos become a functional item within the game definition.

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Regardless, egos do tend to cause many problems everywhere. And yet they are so popular.

Yeah they're very popular, but to my not-so-very solipsistic mind they are given too much room in games.

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To step back into computer games for a bit, there have been many online games that have been ruined because a significant minority chooses to put their egos ahead of all other considerations and are willing to do *anything* to see their name at the top.

FWIW Bruno Faidutti's game Terra was something of a motion against this.

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While I believe (and hope) that attitude is less prevalant among board gamers, it is still present and has to be accounted for.

Terra certainly didn't light the 'geek crowd on fire (tho it had other large problems).

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No one wants to play Chinese Checkers with my grandmother, so we play other games instead.

I've been in that position many times. For me, every time it came done to a simple question: Could I see an accomplishable way to substantively improve my play? If I could see that, then I'd be back. If I could not, if progress seemed too hopeless or the potential value of what I'd learned seemed too small to be substantive for the next game, then I didn't come back. Losing, while the most salient point and the point most culturally credited, wasn't the critical point. The critical point was hope. Did I have reasonable hope for the future (improvement) or not?

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I think that he would also point out that, by his definition, the "soft/human elements" could be the "luck" necessary to free up a player to try new things.

Yeah. Please don't think that I'm discarding his entire argument. Random factors can add an aspect of softness to a game that encourages exploration. This is an astute observation on his part.

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Why should I want to do this? Because he, and most of his target audience (commercial video game developers), believe that maximizing the number of people playing their game is a "good thing".

Yeah, 'tis true. I've been fairly closely connected to the video game development industry for some years. Game development and management of careers in the game development field is a very interesting thing. I've many friends there.

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Some people play games solely for the mental challange. Some people play games solely to be entertained (note that the use of passive voice here is deliberate).
...
There are many other reasons that people play games, but I think that these two probably have the most direct effect on whether someone will share your attitude. Someone who is looking to be entertained probably doesn't want to have to improve their skills because that would be active and they are desiring to be passive.

True, but I've found that this is really just a scalar rather than discrete elements. It isn't that the wish or interest in improvement has been removed, it is that the threshold for perceived valuable improvement versus the effort of attaining that improvement has precipitously dropped. They're interested in playing, they're actually still interested in getting better, but they want to put very minimal effort into that. An example might be the great many silly Flash games which involve shooting some bouncing thing (penguin, cat, baby whatever) over a field of mines, trampolines and spikes to see how far you can get it to go. People seem to play those things very lackadaisically, carelessly, casually, with no stated goal or interest in achievement, and yet they quickly evolve their play patterns toward the shooting angles and velocities that get the longer distances. The barrier to entry for improvement and cost of retry just has to be low enough, almost indistinguishable from zero.

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I'm not familiar with that game, but I looked it up on the geek (Xe Queo!) and it looks interesting. Based on the rules summary posted on the geek, it looks like it is possible to have multiple people win a round (everyone who chose that token). Is that correct?

It is a two player game. In each round (competition for a single ring), one of the players will win. There are no multiples or ties.

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I'd also like clarification on how you think it is both case and counter-case for my observation. It seems to me (having never played it) that the level of uncertaintity will vary proportionally to the level of skill that the players try to put into it.

It is a classic game of almost pure double think, approaching the level of RPS while seeming to give more hinting information. Because the barrier between information and simple guessing is so very low, most especially because it is to the other player's advantage to double-treble-quadruple-etc guess your estimation, there is considerable room for (seeming) skill in correct estimations that's almost indistinguishable from luck (without an immense number of samples).

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I wonder how the game would play between a master and a novice.

I've found that the game is extremely random for the first half-dozen plays. It is after that the players will have formed cogent patterns and estimations that the game really starts. I've also found that the patterns of who beats whom are frequently cyclic. A consistently beats B who consistently beats C who consitently beats A (well, consistently with a fairly large variance). The human/chaotic element is very large.

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clearclaw wrote:
I would instead consider that games with a random setup are in fact not a single game. Instead they are a family of closely related games, one each for each permutation of the setup. Each member of that set, all different games, may be variously (un)balanced or (un)viable as games.
That makes Klondike Solitaire a family of 52!

Yup.

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That is a statement that, on the surface, sounds ridiculous and yet is completely true.

And sadly, almost as useless.

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On the other hand, one could consider that the internal state of the players are also part of the starting conditions in many games and can also lead to "variously (un)balanced or (un)viable" game conditions.

Most especially in any game with more than two players.

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The problem with that line of thinking is that you have moved from enumerating the sets of game mechanics to enumerating the set of possible game plays.

Quite, except that covert manipulation of the other players is an (assumed and usually undefined) game mechanism.

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From the POV of a computer scientist...

FWVLIW I make my living as a software engineer/architect.

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From the POV of a game player, I disagree with you.

There is a fuzzy line here as regards the subjective experience. If game play encludes manipulation of the other player's perceptions, then subjective perception and context are part of the game definition. Ergo, anything within the bounds of the game which can either set or affect that perception is part of the game. The problem is that this is an infinitely unbounded set. I find the mathematical/logical definition more useful. The same perception influence aspects still apply, but I segregate them out as the application of people to the game, not the definition of the game the people are being applied to.

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I suspect that many times when a criticism of "broken" is applied to a portion of a game it is because the theme and the mechanic are creating dissonance in the mind of the player instead of reinforcing each other.

Certainly. I've seen this more than once. Tom Lehmann dislikes Age of Steam simply because he cannot internally accept the dissonance he sees in longer routes being more profitable. There are any of several models which provide a consistent view for the longer delivery model (eg more passengers or ad-hoc contracts along the way), but they have no representation in the game mechanisms and so don't work for him.

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If a game featuring a dragon's hoard (among other treasure locations) had as its victory condition obtaining a special widget (say The Holy Grail), the game would play out very differently if all of the players knew in advance that the Grail either was, or was not, in the hoard of the dragon (the toughest bestie on the board). And it would play out still differently if no one knew whether the Grail was in the hoard or not.

True, enough to be a different game. An interesting counter is the game of Land Unter. It is a simple enough trick taking game with a side mechanism making each trick worth a variable number of points. The kicker is that all players know exactly what cards all other players have in their hands at all times. Amusingly, this perfect knowledge actually creates more of a problem and hinderance than ignorance would... (cf Xe Queo)

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This goes back to the meta-game I mentioned earlier of selling more games to get paid more money and gain more prestige. I think what has happend more in America than in Europe is that game designers have opted for mass-market appeal instead of intellectual purity and innovative design.

I wonder if you have the cart before the horse and whether this is something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. The American market, games and otherwise, has heavily optimised for volume. This in turn has habituated buyers into expecting products that are optimised for volume to the point of often being a product requirement for even minimal sales. This in turn forces producers to volume optimise etc. What is lost in this process is the perception of value of niche products and of niche values both by producers and consumers.

I was recently at a business meeting in which a presenter said that while his product was largely general purpose, he was deliberately keeping its presentation specialised as a boutique product and thus his potential audience small (and his markups higher). The very short version was that he had a fairly comfortable $1.5million business in a field where if he played his cards right he could quite reasonably have much more mass market $250million business. In brief, he knew this but didn't want to do that. He liked his smaller space, liked his product, liked his customers, liked that the added personal (if more expensive) value he offered his clients, and appreciated the fact that his dominance of the entrance niche effectively prevented competition from new vendors aiming at the larger market. It was enough. Suffice to say that this crazy frenchman did not go over well in a conference full of Americans raised on the venture capital model.

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That's hard to say, although it looks like at least the retailers seem to think not. On the other hand, it could be that the American retailers are mostly ignorant of "Eurogames" and their potential because those who publish "Eurogames" don't belive that it would be successful. Have any such publishers even tried to get their games onto the shelves of an American mass-market retailer? If not, then why not?

More self-fulfilling prophecies?

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If the majority of the American public has no knowledge of games besides the ones they see in the mass-market retailers, then can we blame them for not playing the kind of games that never show up there?

The most common pushback I've seen against TGOO games by potential American players is an uncomfortable sense of differentiation. They really don't like the subjective sense that this game may lead them away from a mainstream consumer life...in a way that isn't recognised and admired by that same hoi polloi.

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So as a board game fan, how do I help spread the word and the love of the hobby?

I'm not sure. I suspect that there isn't a single answer, and that the answer depends heavily on both yourself, the people you know and the ways in which you know them. However i've found it less useful to use games I like that are similar to games they know, than to use games I like that engage patterns they can understand and enjoy. I try and look at the person and determine what sorts of pattern activities they like, social and otherwise, and then pick a game which matches those patterns.
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Godeke wrote:
By the way, good job eviscerating *Richard Garfield's* definition there, because he knows, um, nothing about making games and is a total hack compared the typical BBG poster.

You underestimate my familiarity or respect for Richard. While perhaps not a friend, I've known him for many years now.

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While there are designs published to scratch that sub-sub niche's itch, I'm not sure they are a way to the kinds of piles of money that Garfield created via Magic the Gathering.

Certainly. My general refusal to equate popularity or market size with quality or desireability doesn't help here.
 
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clearclaw wrote:
Actually, I was requested to post to this thread. I hadn't noticed it until then.

I invited him to look at the thread right after I posted it. I didn't want to leave that to random chance.

I was, of course, uncertain how he would react, but I was not dissapointed.

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clearclaw wrote:

Certainly. My general refusal to equate popularity or market size with quality or desirability doesn't help here.

I guess it is the fact I'm a business owner (and thus playing one of the biggest "games" of them all every day) that was raised in the venture capital culture (although I have never accepted venture capital, self funding leaves more control) keeps me sensitive to what works in the market.

Your businessman who rejected a larger market for a narrower one, on the other hand, is actually wise if circumstances warrant his view (and it sounds like he was succeeding quite well). The same thing can be said for those who play in the "hard core" gaming space v.s. mega retail, if done right. But it is a hard angle to pitch in a board room.

The article in question seems to be looking at the problem of accessibility and enjoyment from a mass market perspective. In that regard, I would agree that randomness can be a tool for commercial success when wielded correctly. I don't think it was addressing the independent film maker culture's more ethereal "quality". For what it is worth, I'm all over the board, with Gipf Project games (including potentials) and Munchkin both reaching the table here.

 
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OK, I found the article (my issue was under the crippling stack of other unread magazines) and it is looking at the "widen the audience" and "increase the number of experiences" modalities of randomization. I *love* this one:

"Shortcuts that are dangerous but are also navigable by all players could be implemented to increase luck. Many games have shortcuts, but they typically only favor expert players; less advanced player[sic] can't navigate the shortcuts or don't know they exist. To increase the luck, you need something more like a chasm that saves you some time but destroys the car 20 percent of the time regardless of expertise."

Um, so I might even *not enjoy* that idea in a racing game.
 
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Godeke wrote:
I guess it is the fact I'm a business owner (and thus playing one of the biggest "games" of them all every day) that was raised in the venture capital culture (although I have never accepted venture capital, self funding leaves more control) keeps me sensitive to what works in the market.

I've worked in Silicon Valley for quite a few years now, have had my share of early (angel) and late stage startups in and out of the boom years, and am currently running an Engineering group for the merchant services division of a payments company. Suffice to say that market constaints, acquisition costs, funding mixes, enterprise services etc dominate near all my waking days. Bah and ptui!

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Your businessman who rejected a larger market for a narrower one, on the other hand, is actually wise if circumstances warrant his view (and it sounds like he was succeeding quite well).

Simply it came down to the service definition that he personally wanted to offer. He knew there was more money there, could have run for it, probably would have gotten it, but simply that wasn't what he was interested in doing. He liked his deliberately constrained and niched product.

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The same thing can be said for those who play in the "hard core" gaming space v.s. mega retail, if done right. But it is a hard angle to pitch in a board room.

Yup.

Quote:
The article in question seems to be looking at the problem of accessibility and enjoyment from a mass market perspective. In that regard, I would agree that randomness can be a tool for commercial success when wielded correctly.

Yup. A point that may be being missed is that I'm not particularly arguing with Richard's core arguments, but rather with the gross generalisations that are often wrapped around considerations of luck, casual-player friendliness, and mass market suitability. The pattern is just not as simple and monochromatic as it is commonly portrayed.

Quote:
I don't think it was addressing the independent film maker culture's more ethereal "quality". For what it is worth, I'm all over the board, with Gipf Project games (including potentials) and Munchkin both reaching the table here.

My GamesPlayed list pretty well documents what I play and how frequently. A few things get missed, but not enough to be significant.

FWIW my primary interest here is in the language and logic that can be used to accurately describe and discuss the larger field, the games I like, and the Munchkins, Monsters Menace Americas, Unos, Trivial Pursuits, Die Machers, and Europe Engulfeds of the world.
 
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clearclaw wrote:
Basically the level at which egos become a functional item within the game definition.
Well, that wasn't quite what I expected, but it does make the most sense. It's one of those things you have to consider if you're designing a game for the mass-market but can ignore if you're not.

clearclaw wrote:
bncconry wrote:
To step back into computer games for a bit, there have been many online games that have been ruined because a significant minority chooses to put their egos ahead of all other considerations and are willing to do *anything* to see their name at the top.

FWIW Bruno Faidutti's game Terra was something of a motion against this.
I could see that game getting quite cut-throat.

Would your response have changed any if I had been clearer in my original and said something like "... willing to do *anything* (up to, and including, cheating) to see their name at the top." ?

clearclaw wrote:
Losing, while the most salient point and the point most culturally credited, wasn't the critical point. The critical point was hope. Did I have reasonable hope for the future (improvement) or not?
In retrospect, you're absolutely right. I quit playing Chinese Checkers when I lost hope of beating my grandmother, not just because I kept losing games.

clearclaw wrote:
True, but I've found that this is really just a scalar rather than discrete elements. It isn't that the wish or interest in improvement has been removed, it is that the threshold for perceived valuable improvement versus the effort of attaining that improvement has precipitously dropped.
Excellent observation, and much more useful than my grand generalization.

clearclaw wrote:
There is a fuzzy line here as regards the subjective experience. If game play encludes manipulation of the other player's perceptions, then subjective perception and context are part of the game definition. Ergo, anything within the bounds of the game which can either set or affect that perception is part of the game. The problem is that this is an infinitely unbounded set. I find the mathematical/logical definition more useful. The same perception influence aspects still apply, but I segregate them out as the application of people to the game, not the definition of the game the people are being applied to.
That is totally different from where I was going, but is a wonderful topic. One that I don't think I'm ready or qualified to comment on.

bncconry wrote:
I think that depends on which game designers...
...
And maybe, just maybe, one day we'll see the descendant of Caylus sitting on a mass-market retailer's shelves right next to "Candy Land: the latest kids movie edition".
That whole section came of a lot more ranty than I had originally intended.

clearclaw wrote:
I wonder if you have the cart before the horse and whether this is something of a self-fulfilling prophesy.
I'm not going to speculate on whether this is a self-fulfilling prophesy or not, but I will agree that there is a positive feedback loop going on.

clearclaw wrote:
The American market, games and otherwise, has heavily optimised for volume.
A very astute observation, and one that I am intimitely familiar with because of the company I work for. That volume optimization is also a large driving force behind some other things that I've seen you talk about, like plastic pieces instead of wood.

clearclaw wrote:
The most common pushback I've seen against TGOO games by potential American players is an uncomfortable sense of differentiation. They really don't like the subjective sense that this game may lead them away from a mainstream consumer life...in a way that isn't recognised and admired by that same hoi polloi.
Wow. I hadn't even considered that angle. That's a hard one to overcome, too.

clearclaw wrote:
I try and look at the person and determine what sorts of pattern activities they like, social and otherwise, and then pick a game which matches those patterns.
Much more personal and involved than my method. With proportionally better results too, I would guess.
 
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Godeke wrote:
"Shortcuts that are dangerous but are also navigable by all players could be implemented to increase luck. Many games have shortcuts, but they typically only favor expert players; less advanced player[sic] can't navigate the shortcuts or don't know they exist. To increase the luck, you need something more like a chasm that saves you some time but destroys the car 20 percent of the time regardless of expertise."

Um, so I might even *not enjoy* that idea in a racing game.
I'd forgotten that part of the article. You wouldn't want to have it just naked randomness that determines if the car gets destroyed or not; you would want to make sure that the player knew in advance that it was risky (signs like "Danger! Blasting Area!") and then use the environment to "naturally" explain the arbitrary 20% mortality rate. If done right, most players may not realize that it is completely random instead of just an obscure combination of timing and skill.

Which brings me to one "advantage" that computer games have over board games in regards to the application of randomness. In a computer game you can design the game such that none of the players can tell whether the event was due to a pseudo-random number generator or subtle variations of skill and environmental conditions.

In an FPS, for example, you could call that random fudge-factor "wind" and the player might never realize that you aren't actually modeling every gust and swirl.

Board games don't have that luxury.
 
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bncconry wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
bncconry wrote:
To step back into computer games for a bit, there have been many online games that have been ruined because a significant minority chooses to put their egos ahead of all other considerations and are willing to do *anything* to see their name at the top.

FWIW Bruno Faidutti's game Terra was something of a motion against this.
I could see that game getting quite cut-throat.

In practice it doesn't as from a simple victory perspective the most efficient course is to hoard high value cards for more victory points. If all players do this, this player with the luckiest card draws will win. This puts the players with the unlucky card draws into the position of having to spend their most expensive cards to prevent disasters and so extend the game in order to give them an additional chance at lucky cards. But to do so they have to (usually) spend their most valuable cards and the already luck players also get additional chances to get good cards...

Yeah, there's a problem there. The game does not work if played simply as a charge for victory. If instead you specify that no players win if the world ends, even by default, then the game becomes slightly more interesting, but other architectural problems come to the fore. The game does well to emphasise the various Tragedy of the Commons etc problems of International Cooperation, but it doesn't do so well as a zero sum game.

Quote:
Would your response have changed any if I had been clearer in my original and said something like "... willing to do *anything* (up to, and including, cheating) to see their name at the top." ?

Not really. That's a standard if extreme trait of min-maxers in online games. At this point in any game which allows even a moderate level of anonymity for its players, a designer must assume that players will use every mechanism to win which is physically possible for them, even if those methods are not provided within the game definition. Auto-aim bots, transparency hacks, packet sniff mappers, object farming, currency and object markets, etc. Standard stuff.

clearclaw wrote:
I wonder if you have the cart before the horse and whether this is something of a self-fulfilling prophesy.
I'm not going to speculate on whether this is a self-fulfilling prophesy or not, but I will agree that there is a positive feedback loop going on.

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clearclaw wrote:
The American market, games and otherwise, has heavily optimised for volume.
A very astute observation, and one that I am intimitely familiar with because of the company I work for. That volume optimization is also a large driving force behind some other things that I've seen you talk about, like plastic pieces instead of wood.

Yeah. To me the most interesting aspect is the degree to which the consumer audience has been very efficiently trained to seek out and prefer such volume optimised products, and to select against and dislike niche specialised products.

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clearclaw wrote:
I try and look at the person and determine what sorts of pattern activities they like, social and otherwise, and then pick a game which matches those patterns.
Much more personal and involved than my method. With proportionally better results too, I would guess.

Ehh. I'm not *that* successful. Too often I let myself be side-tracked or blinded by what I like so much rather than playing purely into what I perceive.
 
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bncconry wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
The American market, games and otherwise, has heavily optimised for volume.
A very astute observation, and one that I am intimitely familiar with because of the company I work for. That volume optimization is also a large driving force behind some other things that I've seen you talk about, like plastic pieces instead of wood.

A friend argued this afternoon that one of the reason's for molded plastic's popularity as game pieces is that it reeks of volume mass production whereas coloured wooden cubes, despite functionally being far more optimised for mass production (and shared across a multitude of games), present such an organic/"cultured" feel as to seem more personal, more niche and so more unparticipatory and discriminatory. (Of course that's also some of why I like geometric wood bits, so go figure)
 
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clearclaw wrote:

A friend argued this afternoon that one of the reason's for molded plastic's popularity as game pieces is that it reeks of volume mass production whereas coloured wooden cubes, despite functionally being far more optimised for mass production (and shared across a multitude of games), present such an organic/"cultured" feel as to seem more personal, more niche and so more unparticipatory and discriminatory. (Of course that's also some of why I like geometric wood bits, so go figure)
Well, one thing about molded plastics is that most of them aren't painted, while nearly all wood pieces have some sort of finish on them. I'm far from a production expert, but I would think that the wooden cubes would be more intensive to post-process than the molded plastic.

From a production standpoint, once the molds are made (which is definitely more expensive) it's just a matter of switching them out when you do a different game. That moves most of that cost into fixed-cost land instead of variable-cost. And when you're mass producing the games, the fixed costs aren't nearly as significant as the variable costs.

And then there's the culture we live in that says "higher resolution is better". There's at least one generation playing games now that never saw the blocks of the 8bit video games of the '80s, when your in-game representation was a 5x5 2 color bitmap.

As for the sharing of pieces, that's a tough sell. I agree that it is a lot more efficient, but it is logistically more difficult when you're selling things and when you're buying things for other people. As a seller, I know that I won't do nearly as much volume in the colored cubes, but I have to keep stocking them as long as I continue to sell the games that use them. And you'll have several different packages with different numbers of cubes and different number of colors of cubes, either that or you have the cost of maintaining bins for bulk sales of colored cubes. As a buyer, does the person you're buying for already have enough cubes of enough different colors to play the game you're buying them? I don't know if it would be more expensive in the long run, but it's definitely more uncertain in the near term. It would also require educating the consumer, which can be tough.

Then there's the movie/t.v. tie-in angle that you lose. Not that the kind of games that typically use wooden cubes generally get that type of media attention. Anyone up for "Caylus: Build the Death Star edition", "the Settelers of Numenor (starring Sauron as the bandit)", or "Ticket To Ride: Starfleet Galactic"? Yes, I know that TTR doesn't have any wooden pieces, but that title was too good to pass up. I can hear the wailing already.

It would make things a lot easier when you lose pieces, though. You just run down to the store and buy another handful of red.

I have to agree with you on the feel of wood vs. plastic though. It just feels "warmer".
 
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River Otter wrote:
From the great wisdom of the ages we read (i.e. everything hereafter is an opinion, and to be taken with much salt)
This will take some time to digest. I'll get back to you.
 
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bncconry wrote:
Well, one thing about molded plastics is that most of them aren't painted, while nearly all wood pieces have some sort of finish on them. I'm far from a production expert, but I would think that the wooden cubes would be more intensive to post-process than the molded plastic.

I would be unsurprised if the production process for coloured wood cubes was nearly automated from end-to-end. Feed bass wood blanks in at one end, guillotine into strips then cubes, then dump into vats of die/paint, dump onto screens, tumble for separation, blow dry.

Quote:
From a production standpoint, once the molds are made (which is definitely more expensive) it's just a matter of switching them out when you do a different game. That moves most of that cost into fixed-cost land instead of variable-cost. And when you're mass producing the games, the fixed costs aren't nearly as significant as the variable costs.

True. Cubes however have no fixed costs and their variable costs are decided low as you're sharing the cost of them with every other publisher of cube-using games.

Quote:
And then there's the culture we live in that says "higher resolution is better". There's at least one generation playing games now that never saw the blocks of the 8bit video games of the '80s, when your in-game representation was a 5x5 2 color bitmap.

A friend of mine recently installed HDTV in his house with a big screen LCD etc. His wife and kids largely can't tell the difference compared to the older big screen he had. He says, "But look at the leaves in this tree, the stones in this path, the wind moving across this field!, and they go "Meh". He recently also bought them a PS3 and is impressed with the graphics quality. His kid's favourite game is an old Nintendo64 (whose graphics are quite poor).

My kids have a Gamecube. They like it. Recently we debated what our next console platform should be: PS3, PS2, Wii, XBox? Their vote? They really didn't like any of them. They like and want the cartoonish graphics of the GameCube and they very much like and want the sort of simultaneous multiplayer games that are common on the Gamecube. The PS2/3 graphics didn't impress them at all. They just don't care one bit about photo-realism or verisimilitude. They also didn't like how the PS2 and PS3 seem geared for solo play, two players max. They particularly want a gaming platform in which the family can play the same game together at the same time. The Wii was attractive since it can play Gamecube games, but we already have a Gamecube to play those games on and they didn't like how expensive the Wii games are compared to their allowances. The multiplayer and social gaming concentration of the Wii however was very attractive.

Quote:
As for the sharing of pieces, that's a tough sell. I agree that it is a lot more efficient, but it is logistically more difficult when you're selling things and when you're buying things for other people. As a seller, I know that I won't do nearly as much volume in the colored cubes, but I have to keep stocking them as long as I continue to sell the games that use them. And you'll have several different packages with different numbers of cubes and different number of colors of cubes, either that or you have the cost of maintaining bins for bulk sales of colored cubes.

I'm not sure I see how this applies. AFAICT there are three producers of cubic wooden goodness for the German market which as a set monopolise that aspect of the market. AFAICT all the German publishers buy from them and so do most of the Italians, French etc. HiG, Alea, Ravensburger, Kosmos, Tilsit, etc. This suggests that those producers maintain the stock and do the primary inventory control for the base components, not the publishers.

Quote:
As a buyer, does the person you're buying for already have enough cubes of enough different colors to play the game you're buying them?

Ahh, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the wooden cubes in Age of Steam being effectively identical to the wooden cubes in San Marco, El Grande, Mykerinos, Logistico, Attila, City&Guilds, etc etc etc. As such a single highly optimised mass manufacturing process can cover a great many publishers and games year after year.

Quote:
Then there's the movie/t.v. tie-in angle that you lose.

Spongebob Squarepants: The Influence Auction!

Quote:
I have to agree with you on the feel of wood vs. plastic though. It just feels "warmer".

Aye. Quite a bit warmer. It is part of the German deforestation project and thus part of their contribution to Global Warming.
 
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clearclaw wrote:
The Wii was attractive ... they didn't like how expensive the Wii games are compared to their allowances. The multiplayer and social gaming concentration of the Wii however was very attractive.

Price is a bit of a concern, but it would surprise me if we don't see value priced Wii games in six to nine months. As for the multiplayer and social aspects of the Wii, I can tell you that it is great even with just the game that comes with the system. Playing doubles tennis is a lot of fun, and some exercise too. Boxing is more of a workout, but is only for two players. We took our Wii to my wife's team's Christmas party and it was a big hit; they (the adults, most of whom don't play video games much) were still talking about it over a week later.

clearclaw wrote:
Ahh, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the wooden cubes in Age of Steam being effectively identical to the wooden cubes in San Marco, El Grande, Mykerinos, Logistico, Attila, City&Guilds, etc etc etc. As such a single highly optimised mass manufacturing process can cover a great many publishers and games year after year.
Right. That makes much more sense than what I was thinking.
 
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I agree with Richard. Luck is:

1) good for children,
2) good when you don't want skill to determine the winner,
3) good to blame rather than the self when you are not skilled,
4) can be used, with great care, to actually add variety/skill to a game.

That is about it!

For my tastes, there is only one really good use of luck: simulation. There really is no way to determine if an 88 shell is going to pierce the armor on the front of a T34 without some kind of randomnesss.

Similarly, there is no way to determine if the sword that I'm swinging at that annoying goblin in an RPG hits or not, without dice. This doesn't mean that everything should be random, and it doesn't mean the designer shouldn't try to avoid "luck bottlenecks" where certain few rolls actually determine the game more than any other factor: still, there is a place for luck here in my eyes.

So, when theme is the thing, and it is all about flavor, dice are great.

However, when the point of the game is playing well, and a person wants to REALLY test their skill vs. another player, luck doesn't have much of a role. Anyone who has played games like Chess, Go, or Duplicate Bridge seriously, will know exactly what I mean here: once you have tasted what skill really is, you'll never be able to fool yourself again when luck is mostly what made you win.
 
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diamondspider wrote:
I agree with Richard. Luck is:

1) good for children,
2) good when you don't want skill to determine the winner,
3) good to blame rather than the self when you are not skilled,
4) can be used, with great care, to actually add variety/skill to a game.

That is about it!

All true.

diamondspider wrote:

For my tastes, there is only one really good use of luck: simulation. There really is no way to determine if an 88 shell is going to pierce the armor on the front of a T34 without some kind of randomnesss.

Similarly, there is no way to determine if the sword that I'm swinging at that annoying goblin in an RPG hits or not, without dice. This doesn't mean that everything should be random, and it doesn't mean the designer shouldn't try to avoid "luck bottlenecks" where certain few rolls actually determine the game more than any other factor: still, there is a place for luck here in my eyes.

So, when theme is the thing, and it is all about flavor, dice are great.

Interesting: there *are* ways to resolve RPG combat without dice (the Lost Worlds game books as probably the finest example). Simultaneous selection of course mimics some of the aspects of a randomizer, but leaves it to the Iocane Powder decision process.

Likewise, there is nothing about a shell impacting a T34 that can't be resolved with a physics engine on a computer, and thus on paper in theory. Not that I would want to *run* that algorithm by hand...

diamondspider wrote:

However, when the point of the game is playing well, and a person wants to REALLY test their skill vs. another player, luck doesn't have much of a role. Anyone who has played games like Chess, Go, or Duplicate Bridge seriously, will know exactly what I mean here: once you have tasted what skill really is, you'll never be able to fool yourself again when luck is mostly what made you win.

Which is all true, except that those who want such a perfect intellectual challenge are the decided minority of the set of all game players. All the arguments about the purity, quality and all around excellence of such games falls on the deaf ears of all those who have not yet drank the perfect information gaming kool-aid because they don't REALLY want a test of skills. They want to play a *game*. For the vast majority, playing a game is a social exercise and the test of skill aspect is a fun, but at the end of the day, not central aspect of the experience.

If the test of skills *was* the central aspect, BGG wouldn't need to exist. Those who truly care about the skill vs skill aspect spend their lives studying one game or a small number of games. Games like Chess (including Shogi, Xiang Qi and similar), GO and Duplicate Bridge have large followings and thus attract that level of study.

Yet, these large followings are microscopic when you compare them to the casual game market. Richard Garfield's argument seems to be that (based on the piece I quoted above) randomness can level the playing field so lower skill players can enjoy the game and higher skilled players will encounter more "experiences". The underlying idea seems to be that this "improves" a game. From the point of view of selling units of computer or board games, I would have to agree.

I believe that this is why BGG has so many computer programmers and other analytical types: the Eurogames that started this site appeal of that kind of mindset the same way that perfect information games do. Far less random and clumsy than the blaster, um, traditional American fair, these games still retain enough randomization that they can be shared with the less OCD game players with success.
 
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diamondspider wrote:
For my tastes, there is only one really good use of luck: simulation. There really is no way to determine if an 88 shell is going to pierce the armor on the front of a T34 without some kind of randomnesss.

A solution:

-- Determine up front that the 88 shell will pierce the T34's armour. Always.

-- Give each player N tokens.

-- On any turn in which an 88 shell hits a T34 the player may discard a token to have it instead ricochet/miss.

-- Ditto for other "luck" aspects.

-- There is a limited supply of tokens.

-- Potentially the other player could have a similar (more?) limited supply of tokens which they could use to "force" the 88 to piece the armour in spite of the defender's discarded token.

-- Call the tokens "focus", "discipline", "desperation" or whatever to retain thematic consistency.

-- Limit the number of tokens supplied so as to accomplish the same gross hit/miss rates as real life probability suggests.
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That's...actually...very nice, JC. It won't satisfy hardcore grogs...the exact angle, wind, what-have-you, that go into this kind of decision are actually (in aggregate) pretty random from the battlefield perspective("half an inch to the left and I would have been killed"). That is to say, you don't generally get to pick which of your units will survive via hand management. But, as an interesting PLAY mechanism, it certainly succeeds.
 
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