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Subject: Don't be afraid of dice - why you should not fall for the "luck-dependency' trap rss

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Adelin Dumitru
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There seem to be several recurring adjectives when detractors criticize Eldritch Horror: "luck-dependent", "too random", "dice-fest". Lacking strategy is purportedly a fatal flaw of this game's design, although even some of the starkest critics of the game concede that "well, at least it is not as random as Arkham Horror". Having not played Arkham, I cannot comment on the latter statement. What I can do, however, is to alleviate some of the concerns pertaining to the supposed luck-dependency of Eldritch Horror.

At first sight, most of the mechanics of the game rely on some sort of dice-rolling. Want to pass a test? Roll dice. Want to survive an other-world encounter? Roll dice. Want to gain an asset from the reserve? Roll dice. Want to beat that nasty monster whose presence guarantees, let's say, that Shub-Niggurath will cause a mess at the end of the Mythos phase? Roll dice. Well, you get the idea - you roll lots of dice.

Nonetheless, notice that I've specifically added "at first sight" prior to this expose of the prevalent mechanic in Eldritch Horror. Upon perusing the rulebook and upon playing the game, you begin to notice that there is something more hidden within all that dice-rolling. In just 2 games, I have discovered that there are several ways you can mitigate luck-dependency. Most of the times, you won't lose/win because of bad/good brute luck. In fact, to borrow a term from political philosophy, the luck elements of Eldritch Horror belong more to the realm of option luck. In the words of Ronald Dworkin, option luck is "a matter of how deliberate and calculated gambles turn out - whether someone gains or loses through accepting an isolated risk he or she should have anticipated and might have declined..If I buy a stock on the exchange that rises, then my option luck is good. If I am hit by a falling meteorite whose course could not have been predicted, then my bad luck is brute" (2002, p. 73). Furthermore, brute luck can be partially turned into option luck by insurance. However, that is out of the scope of this quasi-review. Let's focus on why we should rather talk of option luck in Eldritch Horror.

First of all, most encounters are deliberate and calculated gambles - you choose wheter to close now a gate, whether to have a research encounter, and so on. Heck, even combat encounters are deliberate gambles - you can move to the middle of nowhere (though this won't do much to stop the Ancient Ones) and simply avoid fighting monsters. Second of all, you can improve your skills. Even if you pass a test, you can always take a debt - which, after all, is a risk you consciously take. By the end of the game, you will usually be pretty safe when it comes to combat encounters, if you carefully purchase assets or gain artifacts. If you add the Focus action, you can easily re-roll dice. The supposed luck-dependency turns out to be more a matter of how you can mitigate said luck and how you decide to face the risks in front of you.

There is plenty of strategy in Eldritch Horror. Bottom line is, do not be afraid of the dice. Luck can be mitigated, you can take gambles if you want, and the scary brute luck turns out to be in fact option luck. Add to this components of the highest quality, an immersive experience (irrespective of whether you are familiar or not with the Lovecraftian lore!) and you have plenty of hours of fun in front of you.

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soak man
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There are also "hidden" assumptions you learn to make about the types of rolls you will be asked to make. Most of them are common sense once you think about them. Examples:

Otherworld Encounters: Will/Lore
Research: Observation
City Encounters: Influence
Wilderness Encounters: Strength/Will
Sea Encounters: Observation
Expedition: Strength/Willpower/Observation

By examining the nature of the types or test the game asks you to perform, you can even further mitigate your failing rolls and enhance your strategy.
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Paul T
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I find exactly the same for Arkham Horror.

The trick is managing your risk in both games. Occasionally no matter what you do you are going to get hosed (Ever rolled 10 or more dice and not got a single success... I have. Three times. ) But you know horrible luck like that happens. I have rolled a few 6's with a single die when cursed too so I can be fairly chilled about it.

I spend most of my time in EH and AH weighing up different strategies trying to maximise my chances. Weighing up risk versus reward options is all part of the fun for me. Trading items, moving focus, selecting investigators to do certain jobs, choosing location encounters to better my chances of improving skills or killing monsters and so on and so on. Now I play almost exclusively solo and I have lots of time and I love this sort of tactical management. In a multiplayer game this would probably send other players crazy.

That said occasionally I just get a rush of blood, say to hell with it and go for it - that is tremendously exciting too!

As mentioned these games are just going to corner you on occasion and leave you with a sub optimal play where you are going to be rolling one die (in EH) or even none (AH!). Them's the breaks. But as you say if you mitigate the situation where you can, manage the risks and try to use circumstances... well you may last several turns before the world ends and everyone and everything ends up getting devoured. goo

Edit: typos
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Bruce Nettleton
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Yeah, I sometimes grow weary of the false dichotomy many bgg users draw between "luck" and "strategy."

If we measure the strategic depth of a game by its decision tree, a game that requires risk management can actually ADD strategic depth to a game by challenging a player to consider two or more possible outcomes to each decision and the possible decisions contingent on each of those outcomes.

To me, risk management IS a form of strategy. I don't think the risk management in EH is particularly deep, but it is there and mechanically keeps the game interesting enough to allow the evolving narrative to take center stage.


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Kirk Bauer
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I agree, this game is all about planning and preparing for the rolls which is strategy in my opinion. Can you guarantee success? Nope. But how would the game be fun if you could never fail?

Some players like to plan their entire game and execute it flawlessly. This game is not for them. I prefer games to be somewhat unpredictable like real life (but obviously not completely random either).

Remember:

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.
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Paul Sheppard
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kirkbauer wrote:
I agree, this game is all about planning and preparing for the rolls which is strategy in my opinion. Can you guarantee success? Nope. But how would the game be fun if you could never fail?

Some players like to plan their entire game and execute it flawlessly. This game is not for them. I prefer games to be somewhat unpredictable like real life (but obviously not completely random either).

Remember:

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.


You beat me to it.
I would have thought the whole point of having randomness entering a closed system was not to aggrieve players, but to replicate the possibility of success or failure in a given task.


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Wolfie
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While I agree completely that both AH and EH are risk management games, I think some reviewers have pointed out "brute luck" in the card draws are what have soured them. As in making the decision to try and close a gate and instead drawing a card that offers no path at all to closing a gate, even if you succeeded in every check. I have no problem with that myself -- it's just the brutal nature of the Mythos -- but we shouldn't kid ourselves that these are 100% "option luck" games.
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George Aristides
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Withywindle wrote:
I find exactly the same for Arkham Horror.

The trick is managing your risk in both games.


I agree mostly, but it's very frustrating when you play Arkham Horror and you move to a location to pick up a clue, only to draw "a gate and a monster appears".

I feel that at least in Eldritch Horror, I have a lot more capacity to optimise my strategy and build up my investigators.

The uncanny Catweazle luck notwithstanding, if you are consistently having to roll a single die for your encounters, you are probably doing something wrong... (i.e. not buying the right assets for the right investigators, not sending the right investigators to the right locations etc.)

 
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(ɹnʎʞ)
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I also like to describe Eldritch Horror as a game of risk management. You have different options, some are more risky than others.

soakman wrote:
Otherworld Encounters: Will/Lore
Research: Observation
City Encounters: Influence
Wilderness Encounters: Strength/Will
Sea Encounters: Observation
Expedition: Strength/Willpower/Observation


N This is for example crucial information.

Another strategic angle is the choice of investigators, meaning: some investigators can work some nice synergies as a team. Some investigators are also way more effective and powerful against certain Ancient Old Ones than others, as each Ancient Old One influences the game in a very different way, shifting the focus to something specific.

The other big thing concerning risk management in this game is time. Time is a precious resource and it's key to find the right moment and balance between preparing yourself (boosting skills, gaining equipment/spells, going on expeditions) and trying to actually solve the current mystery for winning the game. A dying investigator may not seem that bad at first glance, as the equipment can be recovered and the negative Doom effect can often be reversed -- but the time investment in boosted skills of the dead investigator is lost, plus someone also has to travel to the corpse, which again takes some time as travelling in this game is slow.

I guess we can all agree that it's not Chess, but after 2-3 game you will begin to see patterns, make better decisions ("I can get that really powerful item for just signing a Dark Pact ? Awesome, deal !") and get a bit more control over the chaos. The thing is that most people don't invest that much time into the game to come this far, as it is indeed a lengthy game.

@OP: I would maybe add the information that the number of dice you are rolling is dependent on your skill's rating.
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Adelin Dumitru
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@Kyur - Good point! But I missed it so it would not be fair to raise it now
 
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Paul T
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nobody82b wrote:
Withywindle wrote:
I find exactly the same for Arkham Horror.

The trick is managing your risk in both games.


I agree mostly, but it's very frustrating when you play Arkham Horror and you move to a location to pick up a clue, only to draw "a gate and a monster appears".

I feel that at least in Eldritch Horror, I have a lot more capacity to optimise my strategy and build up my investigators.

The uncanny Catweazle luck notwithstanding, if you are consistently having to roll a single die for your encounters, you are probably doing something wrong... (i.e. not buying the right assets for the right investigators, not sending the right investigators to the right locations etc.)



My uncanny luck notwithstanding I don't always roll one die - but it does happen. As mentioned... sometimes you get no choice and sometimes... I just cock it up!

Having stuff come 'out of the blue' with no warning is just part and parcel of these games in my opinion. That makes it more exciting for me. And is it really 'out of the blue'? Whilst it's frustrating if a gate opens on you - it is an unstable red diamond location. Gates open on unstable red diamond locations. That isn't hidden knowledge. You are taking a gamble going there just to pick up a clue surely?
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Paul Sheppard
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Withywindle wrote:


Having stuff come 'out of the blue' with no warning is just part and parcel of these games in my opinion.


Exactly
The nature of the theme is that one is dealing with powerful inhumane unnatural forces
It would be more peculiar if all the trains ran on time, so to speak.

The other thing that seems to be missed by the critics of chance in these games is the concept of game and play being synonymous with win or lose.

It's about playing. Whether you win or lose is entirely incidental.
Of course it is great if you save the world from being devoured and one tries one's best, but even getting beaten can be a great deal of fun.

But maybe that's just me. I have to think that way with my loss/win ratio laugh

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Bart Rachemoss
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You make some very good points. Thank you for this.

The difference between Ameri-themed games and Euro games has sometimes been oversimplified to: "in Euro games you roll the dice and then make a decision while in Ameri-themed games you make a decision and then roll the dice." While I think you make valid points, I don't think they will convince someone who prefers making decisions after rolling such as in dice placement games. I think both approaches are valid but neither approach is going to appeal to everyone. I got my hat kicked very badly in the first few turns of my last play of EH and I haven't been back since. I hope to return someday.

Wolfpack48 wrote:
I think some reviewers have pointed out "brute luck" in the card draws are what have soured them. As in making the decision to try and close a gate and instead drawing a card that offers no path at all to closing a gate.

IIRC, all of the gate closing cards have a path to closing a gate and the designers have committed to maintaining this policy in the future. If you had said "gain a clue" instead of "close a gate" then I would agree with you.
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BitJam wrote:
IIRC, all of the gate closing cards have a path to closing a gate and the designers have committed to maintaining this policy in the future. If you had said "gain a clue" instead of "close a gate" then I would agree with you.

Ah, you are right, I was misremembering the review. It's the Research Encounter cards that sometimes have no path to a clue. There is one gate card from Under the Pyramids (The Past) that has no gate close path, but that's pretty rare. Of course, there are plenty of "brute luck" cards that just come up in encounters and mythos (in both games), so the point still stands.
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Paul Sheppard
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BitJam wrote:
You make some very good points. I got my hat kicked very badly in the first few turns of my last play of EH and I haven't been back since. I hope to return someday.



In my (fairly limited) experience, it is crucial to get a good start.
That said the last time I played I had rotten luck with 2 Rumour cards very early on and still scraped out a win.

Best played with 2 or 4 investigators, and it might help to cherry pick them for your first few games. I would suggest including the politician Charlie Kane, the Politician.
His abilities to get assets and distribute them is really useful
 
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Xelto G
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chibipaul wrote:
In my (fairly limited) experience, it is crucial to get a good start.

Good start helps, but I've seen games go from smooth sailing to hell in a handbasket in two turns. I've also seen games get pulled back from the brink.

The biggest thing about luck in this game is that you can experience sharp changes with only a few rolls or card draws, with the most likely issue being mythos cards, followed by some of the extreme condition or task cards. You do have to be willing to deal with unexpected setbacks, and enjoy the occasional unexpected stroke of good fortune. If you can't deal with those, this game probably isn't for you. But then again, if that's a problem for you, what are you doing playing co-operative games in the first place? Most of them have unexpected fortune shifts as an integral part of the game.
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Bart Rachemoss
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chibipaul wrote:
In my (fairly limited) experience, it is crucial to get a good start.
That said the last time I played I had rotten luck with 2 Rumour cards very early on and still scraped out a win.

Best played with 2 or 4 investigators, and it might help to cherry pick them for your first few games. I would suggest including the politician Charlie Kane, the Politician.
His abilities to get assets and distribute them is really useful

Thanks. I wrote about that game I played here. It was followed by getting my hat handed to me twice ini a row by Pandemic. Then I gave up. It was a very inauspicious day. The EH game did include two early rumors (Wind Walker and Tik Tok men) but I think it was the constant cursing that was my downfall.
BitJam wrote:
[My investigators] were the walking wounded. I didn't have enough time to kill them off and replace them with fresh recruits before the Wind-Walker brought the game to an abrupt end.

By the time it was over there were seven gates and four Epic Monsters on the board. The end was nigh even if the Wind-Walker hadn't provided the coup de grâce. In the final tally we had closed zero gates, defeated zero monsters, and solved zero mysteries; we had gotten four curses and zero blessings. On the plus side, Skids was able to pick up two clues and we were able to discard a Warlock before he gave us yet another curse. This is not how it works out in the video playthroughs I've watched.

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AdelinDumitru wrote:
@Kyur - Good point! But I missed it so it would not be fair to raise it now

Hmm, I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean.
 
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Adelin Dumitru
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@Kyur

You said that I should add the information that the number of dice one's rolling is dependent on your skill's rating. I said that that's a good point, but it is your point,so i would not be comfortable to add that to the review.

 
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Erwin Anciano
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If you have to rationalize dice rolling, you're missing the point.

Ameritrash games aren't about "luck mitigation" or any of that crap. If you really understand or appreciate the genre, then you should already know that these games aren't about "winning" they're about "The Experience."

When you watched Train to Busan or some other monster flick, did it matter that ten of the main characters got brutally dismembered and savaged by zombies? No. It's about the journey and not so much the ending.

Thematic Ameritrash games are about the theme and the story and the experience of going through the game. It's nice to win, but it's not a requirement. Winning every dice roll... that's how a Eurogamer who is min-maxing his game thinks. Let go of that mentality when you play these games. If you can't, the genre is not for you.

How boring would it be if Akachi rolled all perfect 6's and closed every gate the moment they opened? Nobody wants a Mary Sue hero like that. We want to see our heroes suffer and claw their way to victory overcoming hideous conflict. We want to see them afflicted with madness, paranoia, a crippled leg and seal a dark pact and get devoured. It's what makes these games so tense and so fun.
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Erwin Anciano
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chibipaul wrote:
Withywindle wrote:


Having stuff come 'out of the blue' with no warning is just part and parcel of these games in my opinion.


Exactly
The nature of the theme is that one is dealing with powerful inhumane unnatural forces
It would be more peculiar if all the trains ran on time, so to speak.

The other thing that seems to be missed by the critics of chance in these games is the concept of game and play being synonymous with win or lose.

It's about playing. Whether you win or lose is entirely incidental.
Of course it is great if you save the world from being devoured and one tries one's best, but even getting beaten can be a great deal of fun.

But maybe that's just me. I have to think that way with my loss/win ratio laugh



Bravo. This guy gets it. This is exactly what these games are about. They're not for everyone, but these games are an evolution from the days when gamers were playing PnP RPGs on the table. Not everyone will "get it" but those of us that do, love them to death for putting us through hell and back, and even feeding us to a Star Spawn or two.
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Paul T
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Mochana wrote:


Ameritrash games aren't about "luck mitigation" or any of that crap.


You must have lots of very quick losses!

Or a more likely scenario is that you do mitigate your luck and risk manage your game by following strategies and tactics that allow you to stay in that game as long as possible. After all that makes it more enjoyable and exciting I would have thought? Or do you just give in to the inevitability of defeat before you have rolled a die? Especially if you just spent half an hour setting the game up!

That you don't mind losing is great. I don't myself... but implying you don't undertake any risk management or try to mitigate your luck is disingenuous.
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Withywindle wrote:
Mochana wrote:


Ameritrash games aren't about "luck mitigation" or any of that crap.


You must have lots of very quick losses!

Or a more likely scenario is that you do mitigate your luck and risk manage your game by following strategies and tactics that allow you to stay in that game as long as possible. After all that makes it more enjoyable and exciting I would have thought? Or do you just give in to the inevitability of defeat before you have rolled a die? Especially if you just spent half an hour setting the game up!

That you don't mind losing is great. I don't myself... but implying you don't undertake any risk management or try to mitigate your luck is disingenuous.


Agreed. EH isn't designed like a typical AT game because you will quickly start losing and your character will cease to make progress if you play that way. In short, the game becomes no fun.

In many ways the core game mechanism is quite Euro-style, in that it requires you to find an optimal strategy, and the fact that it has some randomness doesn't change that. You can see this from the way so many people on these forums talk about picking the most appropriate characters or playing style for each enemy. In a classic AT game you should have a decent chance to win - and the game remains fun - even if you just role-play your character, respond to events and don't think too much about strategy.
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The truth lies somewhere in-between with Eldritch Horror.

It's not as random as Tales of the Arabian Nights, but there is still always luck involved. Of course it's a game which in the end aims for delivering an "experience" (E focus on storytelling) and does not want to be a puzzle of perfect information. As someone mentioned before, the theme of facing and (maybe...) overcoming inhuman dangers and challenges is a quintessential part of Lovecraftian fiction and the game delivers exactly that. Fans of Lovecraft expect and want that: the fight against the inevitable and the "horror"/tension that comes with it.


One game aspect illustrates this better than any other: the fact that the Ancient Old Ones can awaken. At this point, the game does not simply end (unless you play against Azathoth), but the game instead delivers one last climactic segment of end game chaos, increasing the difficulty so much that the game is indeed pretty much lost, but the game gives the players one very last shot before they witness the fall of our planet inside the game while still playing, which is a brilliant concept and satisfying (bad) ending.

The game was in another thread criticised for having a slow travel action, that it takes many turns to travel around the world -- which is of course again part of the theme, since the game takes place in a different time period where things were overall slower, even parts of our planet were even still undiscovered and not mapped.
Players can again turn this handicap into something of their tactical and strategic planning, because it now matters way more where every player actually is. Should we meet and team up in Rome to overcome the local big challenge there as fast as possible or should the team spread out all over the world to be more flexible and have shorter reaction times to unpredictable events (opening portals, appearing rumours, spawning of clues ect.) ?
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Adelin Dumitru
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Eldritch Horror is fascinating in that it is both a very thematic game (Kyur's point about travelling more slowly due to the action taking place in the '20s is excellent) and one that also rewards strategy and long-term planning. Missing the strategic dimension of it means that you do not have a clear picture of the whole game, which is so much more than throwing some dice on the table and hoping to pass tests.
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