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Subject: Is being "good at board games", boiled down to nothing other than Math & luck? rss

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Michaelo Brazen
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With the exception of dexterity games (and even some of them use math most likely) are board games basically either arbitrary luck games (not real skill) or math wiz skills (with everything in between)?

I'm not even going to mention any game that uses dice. Roll = arbitrary (of course there's the games with 1-2 = this action, 3-4 = that action etc). Is still chance although admittedly cool.

-Any games where you win based on production = finding the best rate of goods/value. Math.

-Any games based on "hit points", "damage", requires calculating. Either you have the numbers or you don't. After seeing your possibilities, how you manage the remaining numbers = victory or not. So chance/doing math with the hand you're dealt.

-Even spy games using deduction... which is mathematical in nature. In video games, you can be a dead shot, a quick reaction survivor etc. In sports you can have more reach, faster speed, deceptive team tactics, sick range, and it comes down to technique.

I guess what I'm getting at is, in board games technique almost doesn't even matter, because you can't implement it. If you're good with numbers you're probably going to win unless somebody blocks you (if that is possible in the game). I guess that's why most games still retain an element of luck otherwise it's just people competing in math tests.

the only exception I can think of are games like dixit, where knowing the people around you seems to be a big factor in winning

(btw I'm not saying I'm right, I just want to hear the communities thoughts on this).

Part 2 is this, are there any combat systems where luck/math aren't the means of victory? If not, what is the "skill" the combat requires? I guess this is what inspired the thread to begin with.
 
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Emelie Rodin
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In my first year of Uni, we built a game using NerfGuns as a primary mechanic, and you weren't allowed to leave the table during duels. Which was a fun and Reaction based way to play. It was really intense during the duel stage.

But yes, It is really hard to design a game which doesn't use math and/or Luck as their primary victory conditions.

Games that present several "good" options are although less numbers, and more about reacting to the situation at hand. Example, if a player goes a really economic route, where they start to amass resources and you as a player has the choice to either try to race them with your economics or interrupt theirs, which is the best choice? Or maybe you're planned win gets stopped and you have to improvise.

But in the majority of cases, I would say that Math/Luck are the primary factors.
 
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Mangekyo wrote:

Part 2 is this, are there any combat systems where luck/math aren't the means of victory? If not, what is the "skill" the combat requires? I guess this is what inspired the thread to begin with.


I believe you're looking for chess boxing whistle
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess_boxing
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Pete Goch
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Games come down to look ahead analysis. You have a finite amount of time for consideration so you need to be good and whittling down the factors most important for consideration; then extrapolate forward as many game turns as you can. The better you are at anticipating your opponent's moves and responses the better chance you have of winning.

Math and odds calculations are only pieces of that puzzle.
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Michaelo Brazen
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Without them, what else remains? A ghost of what it is. A gazebo where a home once stood.

 
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David Bailey
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If your premise were true, people of relatively similar intelligence and math skills would evenly split their wins and losses. This is demonstrably untrue. The fact that better, more experienced players win well-designed games more often than new players of equal (or higher) intelligence shows that there are other skills in play.

What are they? I don't know. I'll have to ponder that.

And your comment of "roll=arbitrary" is ridiculous. In poorly designed games, yes. In well designed games, risk mitigation is a skill unto itself, and the person who is better at it will more consistently win.
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J C Lawrence
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Yes, players that reason more accurately will generally win. Some reasoning is mathematic, some logical, some otherwise, but it is the application of reasoning that makes the game.
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Bryan Thunkd
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Decisions are a defining feature of games. If you're not making decisions, then you're doing something else. Most decisions can probably evaluated mathematically, but some of those evaluations aren't necessarily straightforward.

I played the crayon rail game British Rails yesterday. In the early game it was important to build a rail network that would later allow me to make deliveries across the entire board. Additionally a win condition was linking the major cities. There is probably a way to mathematically value the decision to build rail, and allow you to weigh one route vs another, but I'm sure it would be very difficult to come to a final number. It would probably entail knowing the entire deck of possible deliveries, the values of delivering each good to each city, the frequency that a route would generate a needed delivery by being connected to cities that want something and the city that produces it, the ability to quickly reach nearby cities, etc. It would be a terribly difficult and detailed calculation that players have to approximate on the fly. I'm not sure if you would consider that this decision requires "math whiz skills" or not. I doubt many people actually math out the answer. But clearly having an idea of relative values helps inform the decision. I suspect that people who are good at analyzing things will be good at making this decision and at doing math calculations. Your "math whiz" will probably have an advantage even in games where the analysis isn't overtly mathematical.

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Pete Goch
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Just pretend you have some tool that does all the in game math for you. You have a limited amount of time to take your turn. You can plug in the parameters for all the equations you want and get the answers but you only have so much time.

In this scenario everyone is equally good at math. And yet, inevitably, someone will win. It can still easily be the case that someone will win consistently. Why? Because they were better at limiting the scope of their analysis and using it more effectively to anticipate their opponent's analysis and counter it.

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Chris Graves
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I don't know how you'd classify it, but some people "recover" better. What I mean is, many times you are playing a game, and you have your next moved planned out, but the person before you takes that spot, uses that action, etc., and now you are screwed. Some people are able to make the best of that situation while others get rattled and perhaps make a bad move. I find that quality pretty interesting.
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Greg
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I think there is a bit more to it than just being good at math. Unless the game is very simple, the math involved is usually far too complicated to gain a significant enough edge to make that the sole determining factor at determining skill.

When talking about skill, I always go back to Go, since skill differences are so obvious and it has zero luck. There are some players who are very good at calculating territory. Some players even gain nicknames like "The Computer" because they are so good at calculating every half point on the board. I'm sure being good at math helps there to some degree. I wouldn't say all players are that way though and I wouldn't say that defines their entire game.

To me, it boils down to a trained intuition. I think that intuition can be somewhat improved with learning math, especially for certain games. I think most of the time though, it is trained through lots of play, both in the game you are playing and in similar games. I think there are other activities that one does in their life that probably trains your intuition for that particular mindset, unbeknownst to us. And, there might be some genetics in there too. Some people are going to me more prone to seek out activities that train their analytical side.

I think a lot of those people tend to be interested in math too, but not always.
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J Devery
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voodoochyl wrote:
I don't know how you'd classify it, but some people "recover" better. What I mean is, many times you are playing a game, and you have your next moved planned out, but the person before you takes that spot, uses that action, etc., and now you are screwed. Some people are able to make the best of that situation while others get rattled and perhaps make a bad move. I find that quality pretty interesting.


I agree with this. The ability to adapt in games plays a big roll in your success. And that can apply to games without chance.

Even games that have 0% chance still have a chaos factor, or the random possibilities that are the result of your opponents decision.



You may calculate In you head the best choice based on your given position, or even better, based on what action you predict your opponent will take.

I think It comes down to adaptability, ability to plan and problem solve, and I guess your knowledge of the game and the opponent.

Math can come into the equation at times, but I think some people just have a good gut feeling about those things.

Is that gut feeling more common in those who are good at math? Maybe. Maybe it is linked to intelligence, or with some games, maybe it is more linked to experience in gameplay.
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M C
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Some of the best gamers I know aren't necessarily the most intelligent or mathiest people at the table. Some of them just seem to see 'The Matrix Code' of games more easily.

I agree with previous posters that reasoning, logic, and ability to deal with a changing game state are important in addition (heh heh) to math.

Some gamers see throught the theme of the game to the mechanics in a way that helps them to min/max.

I wind up choosing the Battleaxe of Awesomeness because it's awesome, while the rational gamer chooses the Earings of Victory Points.

I seldom win.
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Curt Carpenter
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There's a lot to "math", just like there's a lot to athleticism, as you pointed out. It's not like how fast can you run the 100 yard dash. When applying math to boardgames, the ability to quickly crunch numbers is different from the ability to estimate probabilistic functions that are too complex to fully compute, which is different from the ability to manage a multi-tiered decision tree. Etc.

There are certainly skills other than math in many games. Psychology, diplomacy, and the ability to read others come to mind. Both of which are used to not appear as the leader. It may be through verbal communication, or even through gameplay. An example of the latter might be making an internally sub-optimal move specifically because you know how it will be perceived by others, and can more accurately predict a response from them that works in your favor, even though against a computer that can crunch all moves, there might be a slightly better move.
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mfl134
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voodoochyl wrote:
I don't know how you'd classify it, but some people "recover" better. What I mean is, many times you are playing a game, and you have your next moved planned out, but the person before you takes that spot, uses that action, etc., and now you are screwed. Some people are able to make the best of that situation while others get rattled and perhaps make a bad move. I find that quality pretty interesting.


I equate this to the value of focus in sports. When you really are focused you can stay on your game and work to fix it when things aren't working. When you are unfocused you keep making the same errors and are just playing to be finished. Being mentally checked out really hurts in sports.

In board games, this can happen as well. Though in many board games, you might actually be so far behind that your actions don't matter. In some sports (or at least the good ones IMO) you can come back from any situation.

Most board games are tight enough that you can't really recover from mistakes.
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mfl134
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TheOneTrueZeke wrote:
Just pretend you have some tool that does all the in game math for you. You have a limited amount of time to take your turn. You can plug in the parameters for all the equations you want and get the answers but you only have so much time.

In this scenario everyone is equally good at math. And yet, inevitably, someone will win. It can still easily be the case that someone will win consistently. Why? Because they were better at limiting the scope of their analysis and using it more effectively to anticipate their opponent's analysis and counter it.



focusing on the correct things and limiting scope is definitely key to succeeding in most games.
 
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Pete
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If you're playing a computer, yes.

If you're playing humans, the answer depends on how much the game allows humans to interact. The more interactive a game, the less likely you can just math and luck your way through it.

Pete (finds math a lot less helpful when he's playing negotiation or bluffing games)
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J Devery
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But then again, probabilities do help in Texas Hold'em Poker...

If will affect when you may choose to bluff or fold. (Assuming you have no cards of consequence)
 
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Curt Carpenter
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jdevery wrote:
But then again, probabilities do help in Texas Hold'em Poker...

And in a huge number of boardgames. (Not sure why limiting to poker.)

jdevery wrote:
If will affect when you may choose to bluff or fold. (Assuming you have no cards of consequence)

It helps regardless of your cards.
 
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Donald Walsh
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This is more a problem of semantics than gameplay analysis.

Any situation in any possible framework can be boiled down to a spectrum of outcomes and probabilities attached to each potential outcome, so anything at all can be boiled down to math and luck.
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Russ Williams
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Mangekyo wrote:
I guess what I'm getting at is, in board games technique almost doesn't even matter, because you can't implement it. If you're good with numbers you're probably going to win unless somebody blocks you (if that is possible in the game). I guess that's why most games still retain an element of luck otherwise it's just people competing in math tests.

Are you defining "math" very broadly to be "reasoning and logic in general" or something?

I don't see any "math" (as most people use the term "math") in Chess or Hex, for example, yet clearly some people are much better than some other people in Chess or Hex, and it's not because of "luck".

But if you mean "reasoning and logic in general" when you say "math", then sure, that is crucial in strategy games if you want to play well. I'm not sure why that's a bad thing as you seem to be suggesting, though.
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Jim Fardette
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curtc wrote:


There are certainly skills other than math in many games. Psychology, diplomacy, and the ability to read others come to mind.


This, plus maybe communication skills and resiliency, situation analysis, attention to detail, etc. So much more than math, depending on the game of course.
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J Devery
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curtc wrote:
jdevery wrote:
But then again, probabilities do help in Texas Hold'em Poker...

And in a huge number of boardgames. (Not sure why limiting to poker.)

jdevery wrote:
If will affect when you may choose to bluff or fold. (Assuming you have no cards of consequence)

It helps regardless of your cards.


It was just my first pick when Pete mentioned math being less helpful in bluffing games. But yes I agree with you, I just said bluff or fold (if you had cards of consequence you wouldn't need to bluff, and you would probably call )
 
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Timothy Young
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Sometimes when you play a game you're playing the game. Other times you're playing the players.

It's already been mentioned before, but the ability to perceive what your opponents are thinking and how that will influence their choices is a very valuable skill in many games. Similarly, the ability to convince your opponents that you will behave in a manner contrary to what you ultimately end up doing is also a very valuable skill.

True, some games don't reward players who have these skills. But there are many that do. Of course, it goes without saying that in order to be able to put those skills to use effectively, all participants need to have a sound understanding of how the game works.
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mfl134
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plezercruz wrote:
If you're playing a computer, yes.

If you're playing humans, the answer depends on how much the game allows humans to interact. The more interactive a game, the less likely you can just math and luck your way through it.

Pete (finds math a lot less helpful when he's playing negotiation or bluffing games)


at some point it becomes about luck of opponents helping you.
 
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