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Subject: Getting the design benefits of luck without luck rss

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Garo Brik
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So I absolutely hate luck in board games, but it brings undeniable benefits to the table. Please use this thread to list some non-luck based mechanics which provide one or more of the benefits that luck can bring. I'll start off with some thoughts I've been having about a game I'm working on.

Blind Auctions

There's a few variations on this.

One is all players commit some amount of resources and whoever committed the most gets a thing. Make people lose some amount of the resources they committed otherwise the correct decision to make is trivial.

Alternate, more interesting version:
there are several choices in play which will affect everyone. Everyone commits a certain amount of resources in secret to one or more of the options, and the option which received the most resources gets chosen.
In my case, these were large tiles with significant effects for playing on them that wouldn't come into play until later in the game at which point they mix the board up. I'm also considering making players resources secret, in which case no one would know who contributed what and how much money anyone had, although this constrains the rest of the design considerably.

These mechanics emulate the suspense of (say) an important late game draw.

Hidden Information

Hidden information can be driven entirely by player decisions, and obviously can create a huge amount of suspense. One mechanic in my game is that there are ability cards similar to those of Helpers of Catan, but the card pool is secret, and can only be seen when exchanging ones card. Thus discovering what card someone has, or finding out the card you needed was snatched can become a suspenseful moment.

Achievements?

I'm kind of sketchy on how this would play out, but one of the effects (I won't say advantage because not everyone will agree...) of luck is typically that the better player will not win as often. This is an advantage for someone like me who plays with players of highly varied gaming backgrounds. Having this goal for a 0-luck game almost seems like a contradiction, but hear me out.

As I understand it (haven't had a chance to try it yet), Scythe has these different "achievements" you can go for. I can easily envision this as giving the opportunity for a more skilled player to go for a harder goal while playing, bringing the win rate closer to 50% even if there's still no luck involved.

I guess you could see this as a handicap which is an incentive instead of a restriction.



Anyone else have any examples of creative non-luck based mechanics that overcome the usual disadvantages that excluding luck brings?
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Jeremy Lennert
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Question: do you consider the game of rock-paper-scissors to be "random"?

If so, I would argue that blind auctions and hidden information are also "random" mechanisms. (Like rock-paper-scissors, they result in a Nash equilibrium strategy that involves players randomizing their own behavior, even though they act deterministically on a given set of player inputs.)

If not, then I think it's pretty clear you can simulate most dice, spinners, or similar randomizers using variations on rock-paper-scissors. (Simulating a shuffled deck would be harder, though.)


Perhaps you should instead ask what specific disadvantages of randomness you hate, and then ask if there are ways of incorporating randomness into your games that avoid those specific disadvantages.
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Garo Brik
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I would say that the randomness you're describing derives from the player's choices. Rock-paper-scissors is as random as a coin flip because there's nothing for the player to base their choice on, so it's sort of a degenerate case. But all games have this sort of uncertainty: I'd argue that chess is "random" in the same sense as RPS because your opponent may or may not notice some good move, and this is an uncertain element out of your control. But because you can assume that they are playing to win, you can make very accurate predictions about what they're going to do.

So I would say that for me, bad randomness is any element of the game that is not dictated by any of the player's choices and produces an imbalance, where the greater the potential imbalance the worse the randomness. It is also player choices where the player has no basis on which to make a decision. An ideal game to me would have all randomness restricted to the initial board state, and would have mechanisms for players to balance out any problems that this random board state creates.

"Player based" randomness can be frustrating for similar reasons, but I would greatly prefer to lose a game because my opponent did not make what I saw as the rational choice instead of an unlucky die roll.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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If your opponent's decision caused you to lose, then it's tough to argue it was irrational.


I think there's a fundamental difference between chess and rock-paper-scissors, though (and not for reasons of complexity). Rock-paper-scissors forces you to play randomly, by its nature (any non-random strategy loses in the equilibrium).

That's not true of chess. We haven't solved chess, but whatever your theoretical best strategy is, it works even if your opponent sees it coming. You might have trouble behaving non-randomly because of reasons having to do with you, but the game works fine with non-random strategy. There's a Nash equilibrium with no randomness.

You can make a complex version of rock-paper-scissors with unequal payouts and cascading effects from multiple rounds and so forth, and it might end up being more interesting to play, but it's still going to be inherently random in the way that rock-paper-scissors is random and chess is not.
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Dan
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Some of the biggest drawbacks of no luck games are:

1. Experienced players have a huge advantage (think Chess, Go)
2. The game may have low re-playability value.
3. Too deterministic.

How can we overcome these issues?

I think a big way to overcome these issues in a "no luck" game are:

1. Variable initial setup. If the board, victory conditions, special abilities, etc. are different each game, that can greatly aid replayability and put players on a more level playing field. A great example of this is Kingdom Builder. Every game, the scoring objectives and initial setup are different. (Except it is a "luck" game, because it has card draw).

2. Player-induced variability. Power Grid has no luck (except for the draw of which power plant will come onto the market next). This game also includes a catch up mechanism, a turn order mechanism, auctions, and a dynamic supply-and-demand market.

3. Catch up mechanism. Power Grid and Suburbia both have built in mechanisms to penalise player progress. For example, you have the most cities, so you go last in turn order. Your population crossed a red line, so you lose some popularity points.

Just a few thoughts for you...

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Garo Brik
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Antistone wrote:
If your opponent's decision caused you to lose, then it's tough to argue it was irrational.

Would you characterize making a gut decision as rational, irrational, or somewhere in between? Because in my mind deciding whether to make or call a bluff is typically a pure gut decision.

Also, making an opponent making play that gives you a 20% chance of losing and an 80% chance of winning will cause you to lose 20% of the time but even when it does cause you to lose it was still irrational.
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I think there's a fundamental difference between chess and rock-paper-scissors, though (and not for reasons of complexity). Rock-paper-scissors forces you to play randomly, by its nature (any non-random strategy loses in the equilibrium).

That's not true of chess. We haven't solved chess, but whatever your theoretical best strategy is, it works even if your opponent sees it coming. You might have trouble behaving non-randomly because of reasons having to do with you, but the game works fine with non-random strategy. There's a Nash equilibrium with no randomness.

You can make a complex version of rock-paper-scissors with unequal payouts and cascading effects from multiple rounds and so forth, and it might end up being more interesting to play, but it's still going to be inherently random in the way that rock-paper-scissors is random and chess is not.


Hmm, I think the only fundamental difference between chess and rock-paper-scissors is lack of turn order and/or perfect information (which is quite important, and definitely introduces some type of luck, but could be completely player driven).

And it's true that chess the game is non-random, but we don't play it perfectly and if we did it would be boring. The interesting part comes from the fact that we can only evaluate moves so well. The rules of the game don't involve any luck but I would still say there's some luck involved in winning because humans don't perform perfectly.

I do agree though that the type of randomness in chess and RPS is different. But I don't mind the type of randomness in either, I don't think RPS is bad because of the type of randomness in it, it's just bad because it's simple.
 
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Garo Brik
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djn1981 wrote:

1. Variable initial setup. If the board, victory conditions, special abilities, etc. are different each game, that can greatly aid replayability and put players on a more level playing field. A great example of this is Kingdom Builder. Every game, the scoring objectives and initial setup are different. (Except it is a "luck" game, because it has card draw).

Yes! I'm definitely planning on including this
djn1981 wrote:

2. Player-induced variability. Power Grid has no luck (except for the draw of which power plant will come onto the market next). This game also includes a catch up mechanism, a turn order mechanism, auctions, and a dynamic supply-and-demand market.

I'm not sure that "too deterministic" is a huge problem for no luck games, one just needs to ensure the game space is large enough and the types of decisions you can make are balanced. ie generally good game design will ensure this, no specific mechanic is particularly good at it.
djn1981 wrote:

3. Catch up mechanism. Power Grid and Suburbia both have built in mechanisms to penalise player progress. For example, you have the most cities, so you go last in turn order. Your population crossed a red line, so you lose some popularity points.
My biggest problem with catch up mechanisms is that they can make the initial rounds seem inconsequential. Do you feel like that when you play these games?
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Sight Reader
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igorbark wrote:
Anyone else have any examples of creative non-luck based mechanics that overcome the usual disadvantages that excluding luck brings?

I do prefer luck that doesn't restrict your chances of winning but rather changes the nature of it. Thus, no matter how "bad" your card, you get sufficient advance warning to plan a way to turn it to your advantage.

I think conditional triggers tend to do this.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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Luck that specifically does affect your chances of winning actually has some pretty interesting uses in game design. For instance, it can be used for dithering.

I talked about this some in this post (mostly in the second half).
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Nemo Outis
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I know that Bobby Fisher was a proponent of varying the initial set up of chess boards. He felt the same setup just encouraged memorization of increasingly long openings rather than actually testing how well you understood the game. So liking varying the initial setup puts you in good company I'd say.

This is tangential to the thread subject but is related to the discussion. Randomness and its relationship with Skill is something I don't have a good opinion on yet. It tends to be game theorists who talk about this, but when the skill levels are equal (or close to equal)the outcome is not distinguishable from randomness. Or, put another way, other variables (mood, sleep the night before, personal relationship issues etc) have more of an influence on the outcome than skill even in a skill based arena. So if the match comes down to who was cut off in traffic that day, do you say that outcome is random? Or not?

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Tim Earl
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igorbark wrote:
My biggest problem with catch up mechanisms is that they can make the initial rounds seem inconsequential. Do you feel like that when you play these games?


Not at all. You need to plan for it. For instance, in Power Grid, we sometimes see players try to "wall off" a section of the map for themselves but not build there until later in the game, to avoid the first player penalty until they're ready for it. Note that this doesn't always work, of course. Among other things, people can build through if they've got the cash.

But far from being inconsequential, understanding the catch up mechanism and incorporating it into your strategy is essential.
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Carel Teijgeler
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cheng wrote:
Not at all. You need to plan for it. For instance, in Power Grid, we sometimes see players try to "wall off" a section of the map for themselves but not build there until later in the game, to avoid the first player penalty until they're ready for it. Note that this doesn't always work, of course. Among other things, people can build through if they've got the cash.

But far from being inconsequential, understanding the catch up mechanism and incorporating it into your strategy is essential.
IMHO that is not a catch up mechanism. It is pure an element of their strategy.
 
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Tim Earl
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anijunk wrote:
IMHO that is not a catch up mechanism. It is pure an element of their strategy.


What I described was a strategy to deal with the catch up mechanism, so you're correct. Or are you saying that you don't think the Power Grid mechanics constitute a catch up mechanism?
 
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Carel Teijgeler
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cheng wrote:
anijunk wrote:
IMHO that is not a catch up mechanism. It is pure an element of their strategy.


What I described was a strategy to deal with the catch up mechanism, so you're correct. Or are you saying that you don't think the Power Grid mechanics constitute a catch up mechanism?

Don't know Power Grid, never played it.

But you responded to a reply by the OP and left (at least for me) the impression that you were describing the catch up mechanism in that game.

[EDIT] tenses.
 
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Tim Earl
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anijunk wrote:
Don't know Power Grid, never played it.


Ah, OK.

In Power Grid, there are some disadvantages to being in the lead. (You have to choose a power plant to auction first, and if nothing good is available, you may get stuck with something less than ideal or skip buying that round, only to see better plants come out after you bought one. Also, you buy resources last, meaning you'll pay more or maybe not even get what you want, and you build last, so people can take the spots you wanted).

All of this leads players to be cautious about jumping ahead to an early lead. In my opinion (and I think it's a pretty common opinion), this is one of the core strengths of the game. So my first post was meant as a counter point to the OP's statement that catch up mechanisms make the early game inconsequential. While this may sometimes be true, in Power Grid it's something that has a profound effect on the strategies people employ.
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Antistone wrote:
Luck that specifically does affect your chances of winning actually has some pretty interesting uses in game design. For instance, it can be used for dithering.

I only skimmed the post, so I don't think I understood it fully. I guess what I was trying to say was that I like luck that forces you to be flexible without deciding the outcome for you.

I also tend to prefer luck that you can prepare for: maybe a card that you have set up good conditions to use, therefore giving your opponent a chance to notice what you're up to. The opposite would be a catastrophic event that changes everything abruptly with no decisions possible before it's applied.

As far as being able to distinguish the long term payoff between the "90 and 95 percent winner" strategies, I'm not sure that's as important to me, although I would expect subtleties in your past choices to affect your position and thus your chances of winning.
 
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Garo Brik
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Antistone wrote:
Luck that specifically does affect your chances of winning actually has some pretty interesting uses in game design. For instance, it can be used for dithering.

I talked about this some in this post (mostly in the second half).
Hmm, I really disagree with your premise. You assume that players are going to figure out strategies which will always win the game, and so there will be no more incentive to continue exploring possible strategies. Essentially, you're saying that if the game is solved then there's no reason to play it any more. But I think anyone would agree that a deterministic strategy game that can be solved is garbage to begin with. The size of the game space needs to be increased, the question is whether or not to do it with randomness.

I do agree in general though that randomness can be put to good use to force people to adapt, and will probably be less harsh about trying to keep it out of my designs. I would probably aim for luck more along the lines of what Sight Reader is talking about. Thanks for your thoughts!

cheng wrote:

In Power Grid, there are some disadvantages to being in the lead. (You have to choose a power plant to auction first, and if nothing good is available, you may get stuck with something less than ideal or skip buying that round, only to see better plants come out after you bought one. Also, you buy resources last, meaning you'll pay more or maybe not even get what you want, and you build last, so people can take the spots you wanted).

All of this leads players to be cautious about jumping ahead to an early lead. In my opinion (and I think it's a pretty common opinion), this is one of the core strengths of the game. So my first post was meant as a counter point to the OP's statement that catch up mechanisms make the early game inconsequential. While this may sometimes be true, in Power Grid it's something that has a profound effect on the strategies people employ.
So I guess the key takeaway here is that the catch up mechanism has enough depth that it can be strategized around. Thank you, I'll definitely think hard about using a mechanic like this.
 
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igorbark wrote:
You assume that players are going to figure out strategies which will always win the game, and so there will be no more incentive to continue exploring possible strategies. Essentially, you're saying that if the game is solved then there's no reason to play it any more.

In this case, I'm using "strategy" in a less formal sense to mean an approach to playing the game, not necessarily a complete specification of every move and counter-move.

Try thinking of it in terms of different player skill levels. Suppose player A can beat you 70% of the time, and player B can beat you 90% of the time. Both of those players are better than you, but player B has demonstrated greater mastery than player A by attaining a higher win rate.

You might say that the better player doesn't win chess 100% of the time, despite the absence of luck in the game rules. And I would say, yes, chess played by human beings still involves luck, so we don't have any true control group.

I am not claiming that games with no luck in the rules are bad--since you're realistically going to get some indirect luck whether the rules ask for it or not.

What I am saying is that luck has some beneficial effects, and therefore minimizing it is not necessarily the best approach (even when the minimum is still above zero).
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Antistone wrote:
Luck that specifically does affect your chances of winning actually has some pretty interesting uses in game design. For instance, it can be used for dithering.

I talked about this some in this post (mostly in the second half).


I think this is a very interesting point, so I'm going to try to reword it in another way.

It seems you're saying that luck in games can help distinguish better between small differences in strategic effectiveness by blowing up the results of those strategies into a stochastic distribution across a large number of games, where the variations in the games contributed by randomness are a foil against which those small differences can be revealed in the distribution function.

I think this is a very good observation, but I think we have to be careful about how we apply this to a specific game design. Let's say we have a game design where we want to observe the difference between a 90% effective strategy and a 91% effective strategy. We try to add some randomness in order to either point-point, expand, or otherwise mutate this difference in a way that allows us to better understand why one strategy is "better" than the other (or make it more rewarding to the better strategy, or some oher similar goal). Don't we run the risk that the new randomization mechanism itself mutates the game in such a way that the relationship between the original strategies is clouded, eliminated, or even reversed?

If we say then that we must introduce some notion that the randomness injection that mutates the game design for this goal has to somehow be strategy-invariant, then I think this might reveal that this concept becomes complicated enough that one might have to consider that the randomness has to be "baked in" to the original concept, in the sense that what it means to play the game "well" is likely to be changed in a non-trivial way.

Essentially, I'm saying that I think the function that describes the family of "working game designs" as a subset of "all the ways we can dump a pile of gizmos on a table" is restrictive and sensitive enough that it's going to be difficult to use this concept as a tool the way you would apply dithering as a tool in signal processing, because it will be hard to make a working functional definition of "randomness that is strategically invariant".

To make an abusively over-generalized anecdote, that wikipedia article about dithering talks about tapping a meter with your finger to dither the results of the needle in case it's "stuck". I think we can all chuckle and agree that dithering sensitive measurement equipment with a sledgehammer is not an effective use of the application of dithering. We all instinctively know from our day-to-day experience with basic physics why this is true. However, is our understanding of board game design theory sufficiently advanced enough to say randomness injection mechanism A corresponds to a finger tap and randomness injection mechanism B is a sledgehammer, with regards to whether or not it disturbs the original distinctions between strategies in the untransformed game?
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Jeremy Lennert
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I don't think we know a general way to add randomness to a game without changing the strategy.

I don't think we know a general way to remove randomness from a game without changing the strategy, either. However much randomness you think you want, you're going to have to come up with a one-off solution for your particular game.
 
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As others have pointed out, there are different magnitudes to true randomness, and it's a continuum. You could create a game where skill plays zero role (coin flipping), and one where that's all there is (Go), or something in between. You will need to determine just how much luck you want in the game based on target audience, theme, your own preferences, etc.

Therefore perhaps a better question to ask is how much luck is appropriate for a game. A game which is meant to be played by families spanning generations will likely require a high component of luck so that the geekdad doesn't steamroll the kids, whereas when geekdad plays games against other geeks luck should probably play a smaller role.

igorbark wrote:
Blind Auctions

There's a few variations on this.

One is all players commit some amount of resources and whoever committed the most gets a thing. Make people lose some amount of the resources they committed otherwise the correct decision to make is trivial.


[emphasis mine]

Perhaps tangential to the topic, but I don't see why paying fraction of committed resources when losing a blind auction is a helpful mechanic? It introduces a mechanic which has not been researched by economists as that's not how auctions work in real life, thus the impact of said rule is difficult to gauge.

If you're doing auctions, second price Vickrey auctions (highest bidder pays second highest bid) offer valuations which are more accurate representations of the item's value in the eyes of the bidders than first price auctions (highest bidder pays highest bid).
 
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Jaffeli wrote:
Perhaps tangential to the topic, but I don't see why paying fraction of committed resources when losing a blind auction is a helpful mechanic? It introduces a mechanic which has not been researched by economists as that's not how auctions work in real life, thus the impact of said rule is difficult to gauge.

But the traits that make for a good real-life system are often not what you want for a game. As I argued in another post...
Antistone wrote:
In general, I would not expect good voting systems to make good game mechanics.

Some of the things that make a voting system good are: when you have an incentive to vote your true preference regardless of the circumstances; when the outcome is difficult for any individual or small group to manipulate; and when they treat everyone equally regardless of circumstances.

Some of the things that make game mechanics interesting are: when your optimal move changes depending on the circumstances; when a clever player can manipulate the system to his advantage; and when different mechanics are coupled together so they can interact in interesting ways.

He said he didn't want the bidding process to be "trivial", by which I assume he means that he is specifically avoiding a "truthful" system where the optimal strategy is simply to bid your honest valuation of the item.
 
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