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In discussing luck, it is argued that luck makes a good balancing mechanism, because it allows someone who is less skilled a chance to win. I would argue that luck has the distinct prospects of making a situation for a weaker player worse. What is meant by luck here is an element not controlled by the players that equally can target all players without any respect to their current condition. By this definition (feel free to adjust to word it better), luck has the same chance ofhelping the superior player and making their condition even harder for the inferior player to overcome, as the reverse.

This is my take. In light of this, shouldn't a handicapping system be used over luck as a balancing mechanism? Please feel free to comment. I would be interested in hearing from other people on this.
 
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Ken B.
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
It is but one aspect of luck to say that it is "balancing". A wild swing of luck can indeed help a weaker player stay in the mix of things. As you say, it is not guaranteed, but a player at least knows that he is not totally eliminated.


The best part of luck bar none is the variance of gameplay. How one game changes from session to session due to the vagaries of luck, and how a player adapts due to changes in luck.


Luckless games become stagnant and boring to some, and tend to reward those who study the game. As such, you have a schism of players who "know" the static game and can take advantage, and those who don't. Those who don't may be inspired to learn but more likely they're just going to gravitate to something else where the gameplay isn't quite so rote and static.


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John Patton
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
All I can say is this has been my experience.

Luck can hose the new player as well as help them. When it helps them, inexperience can still foul up their game, when it hoses them they're dead.

Newbies always claim to want to play the luck games, but I've lost more interest due to hopeless bad luck situations than gained by lucky draws/rolls.
 
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
In games with wider swings of luck somebody more desperate will take greater chances while somebody doing well will generally play it safer. This may not "balance" the game but it allows the player to feel like they're still in the game, which is a feeling you simply cannot get in games with less variance in luck. If I am down a queen in chess, for example, I have no chance of winning. If I am down 8 points in War of the Ring with an army heading to Lorien, it is time to make that mad dash to Mt Doom. In one case I am screwed, in the other I am still screwed but there's that sliver of hope that would be awesome if it payed off.
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
If, by luck, you mean a randomized element, then I agree with you wholly. The reason being that, in a board game, there are always a finite number of random outcomes. Stronger players realize this and prepare themselves for the worst possible outcome (or, even just the most common outcome). Meanwhile, weaker players generally do not consider the statistical outcomes when playing and are, thereby, less likely to prepare for negative outcomes or they over-prepare for unlikely outcomes. I think, in the end, it becomes a matter of risk management, which is really just another mechanism for gamers to learn how to utilize.

Edit2: However, there are some circumstances where your "luck" just screws you (or drives you to victory). I experienced this in a game of San Juan last night where card draw is the randomized element. I couldn't afford to build any of the cards I drew (despite using the councilor a few times) or build anything worthwhile in the first three turns. Meanwhile, my opponent built a tobacco storage on the first turn and a market hall shortly thereafter and rolled off to victory while I struggled to get anything meaningful into play. In that case, the random elements aligned in order to keep me from being able to develop an effective engine. You can read the session report here.
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David Bush
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
Even in a pure skill game, the result is not certain. Two player games are easier to talk about in this context. If the players have accurate ratings, then the difference between their ratings is used to calculate the probability that the stronger player will defeat the weaker. At the other extreme, a pure luck game gives all players approximately equal likelihoods of winning. Without knowing how random factors are applied to a game, the most reasonable conclusion is that the expected result should lie somewhere between that of a pure skill game and that of a pure luck game. So returning to a two-player example, with the "same rating difference" whatever that means, the probability that the stronger player will win should move closer to 0.5, as if the players were closer to equal strength. But it's debatable whether you can meaningfully compare player ratings in two entirely different games.

Of course this is just statistical prediction. Anything can happen in a single game.

Handicapping is not very popular. Players generally don't want to take a lesson, they want to play a game. Anyway, how would you replace one or more randomizing elements with a handicapping system? A specific example would be helpful.
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
As a skilled Lotto player, I never have to rely on luck. I have a system....
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
I think the initial premise that luck doesn't provide a balancing effect is flawed. Though the related "a handicapping system might be better" is a separate issue. Let's play the #s game.

Lets say we have two players of varying skill. Alice is better than Bob. I'm going to make up some numbers as I go.

Lets say their skill differential is such that Alice wins 75% of games, and bob 25% before any luck factors are taken into account.

Now lets say that the luck factor is perfectly fair. Let's make up some numbers. How about 50% of the time it's basically a wash, 25% of the time it helps Alice, and 25% of the time it helps bob.

Now we need to quantify the extent of lucks effect on the results when it does help one player or the other. How about saying that being lucky reduces your chance of losing by one half.

Let's sit down and run some #s then.
we'll play 400 games total. So in 200 of the games the luck balances out, and each player benefits in half of the remaining games (100 each).

First 200 (no luck games): Alice wins 150, Bob wins 50.
Alice's 100 lucky games: Alice wins 88, Bob wins 12
Bob's lucky games. Alice wins 38, Bob wins 62

All 400: Alice wins 276, Bob wins 124. Better than the 300/100 split that no luck at all would have provided.

So with no luck it's 150 for Alice vs 50 for Bob
With luck it's 126 for Alice 74 for Bob.

When the games where luck played a big roll are compared to those where it didn't, Bob wins ~50% more often than he did with no luck. And that's including the ones where Alice got lucky, and not bob.

Looks like the games where luck played a part were overall better for bob than the ones where it didn't. This doesn't mean that in a *single* game it worked out in his favor though.

Whether these particular #s are relevant would depend on the actual game, but changing them changes the magnitude of the impact, not it's existence.

You can tweak the #s to change the amount of the affect, but it's still there. A more involved rating system and having the luck interact directly with that (ie giving "apparent skill") would be a more thorough example, but the same thing happens.

You could also try the approach where the better player is better equipped to handle the luck, but as far as I'm concerned that just changes the initial ratings between the two to be more extreme.

The claim that because the luck can also help the better means it doesn't exert a balancing influence is pretty tough to support. This isn't to say an appropriate handicapping system couldn't do a better job of course. Or maybe some of both.

Man, Alice, Bob, and probabilities. I sound like a Crypto book.
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
I would have to agree that luck is balancing mechanism. But even so, I would argue that it is not a good one.

You could increase the amount of luck in your games to a degree, that the players may as well just flip a coin to find the outcome, and statistically speaking, that would "balance" the game to make the players split the victories 50-50 regardsless of skill. But then you've removed the idea of bothering playing the game, unless it's an AT type game, which may emphasizes the journey to the destination rather than the outcome.

Luck is a double-edged sword. It may help the less skilled player. It may also screw him over. It may give you a hope when behind. It may also destroy your victory when in the lead.

I like randomness to increase replayability. I dislike luck. But the two are tied together. Randomness "just" needs to be implemented, so the random factors are fairly balanced. This is done in several games, where some cards drawn may have more than one use. Example: Blue Moon City. You may draw a rather high percentage of cards with value 1. But then you may opt to use their special power instead, which is where the 1-cards are most powerful.

Luck can be acceptable though. I tend to accept the existance of luck in shorter games. Pickomino is one of my preferred filler games. And it's a push-your-luck game with dice. But for some three-six hour game, I find luck a huge turnoff. Why should I slug it out with my opponents for XX hours, to have the entire outcome decided by dice or a crucial draw of a card...?

All depending on the type of game you a trying to create, you should ask yourself. Do I want to introduce luck, or do I want to introduce randomness? Or maybe even both?
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
David and Ryan have it basically right. Just because luck doesn't always favor the lower-skilled player doesn't mean that it doesn't improve that player's chances overall.

The problem with a handicap is that one player has to openly acknowledge that he or she has less skill. That's not something that should always be required.
 
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
The problem with Ryan's example (and the reason I agree with the OP) is that for there to be a statistical probability of the lower-skilled player's chance to win being improved, an INSANE number of games must be played. Are we really going to sit down and play 400 games of Settlers? Am I going to play 400 games of Settlers in my life?

Luck's a poor balancing mechanism precisely because of the reason we use it as a balancing mechanism in the first place. It's incredibly undependable in the short-term.
 
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
Think of it across multiple games. If the best player won every game of Settlers of Catan, I'd always beat my immediate circle of friends. As a result, no one would want to play. But because luck is a factor, sometimes I have a harder game than I otherwise would. Sometimes I lose. This makes the game more enjoyable for all, and they play it more often.
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
docreason wrote:
In discussing luck, it is argued that luck makes a good balancing mechanism, because it allows someone who is less skilled a chance to win. I would argue that luck has the distinct prospects of making a situation for a weaker player worse. What is meant by luck here is an element not controlled by the players that equally can target all players without any respect to their current condition. By this definition (feel free to adjust to word it better), luck has the same chance ofhelping the superior player and making their condition even harder for the inferior player to overcome, as the reverse.

This is my take. In light of this, shouldn't a handicapping system be used over luck as a balancing mechanism? Please feel free to comment. I would be interested in hearing from other people on this.

I have never before heard reference to luck being a balancing mechanism. It serves to introduce uncertainty into a game and creates the opportunity for risk management.

It does create the possibility for a weaker player to beat a stronger player, but it also just as easily makes the stronger player even more unbeatable. While it makes a game less deterministic, it doesn't "balance" it.
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
docreason wrote:
In discussing luck, it is argued that luck makes a good balancing mechanism, because it allows someone who is less skilled a chance to win.


You're mixing two concepts here that don't go together. Yes, luck does allow a less skilled player a chance to win. No, that does not mean that it is a balancing mechanism.

docreason wrote:
In light of this, shouldn't a handicapping system be used over luck as a balancing mechanism?


There is nothing to argue here. If you're looking for a handicapping system, luck is not the answer. But luck remains a valuable game element that many enjoy.

If there is no luck, then there is an implicit acknowledgement of superiority for the winner. If you introduce a balancing mechanism, that acknowledgement comes before play even begins. It can be doubly demoralizing to take a handicap and still lose. There is a reason you don't see people laughing while they play chess.

People enjoy socializing, and a game with a mix of skill and luck promotes that. A player who wins can feel good about the good plays they made, and one who loses can write it off to bad luck. The better players still win more often, but there is less pressure involved.
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
docreason wrote:
In discussing luck, it is argued that luck makes a good balancing mechanism, because it allows someone who is less skilled a chance to win. I would argue that luck has the distinct prospects of making a situation for a weaker player worse.


Obviously.

But it doesn't make the endgame situation worse. The weaker player would have lost. With bad luck they still lost.

Take a no-luck game and a player sufficiently stronger than another player so that the stronger player will win 100% of games. Luck can't make the weaker player lose more games. But it can make him win more.

I think the luck factor helps the learning curve for games. If a learning player tries something new, that happens to be good, it may still not make them stronger than their opponent. With luck in the game, though, it should make them win with higher frequency. In a luckless game, if your opponent is still to strong, you can't tell if what you tried worked or not.
 
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
I, too, have never heard of luck being a "balancing mechanism". Introducing random elements into a game is a way of keeping the game from stagnating. A game without luck like Tic Tac Toe (for instance) is merely a collection of strategies that can always be followed to equal a tie. Of course, Tic Tac Toe is very very simple. But even a game like checkers, Connect Four, or (my personal favorite) Spider Wars, all pure skill games, can tend to fit into very obvious patterns. While these games can be fun, they also can get boring after a while.

Randomness is a way of mixing things up, of preventing players from always picking the best strategy. While there are certainly plenty of games that have "too much luck" for my tastes. Cosmic Encounters immediately springs to mind as a game where I don't feel as if any decision I make has any true effect on the outcome of the game.

I think one of the replies said it best. The amount of luck one wants in the game is a matter of personal tastes. It's like gambling. Some games, like craps and slot machines, are just pure luck. Some, like blackjack and poker, have an important skill element. And different players have their preferences.

I like luck in my games. Not because I feel it balances the game. It just prevents the entire game from feeling "scripted". Some players treat a game like a complete mental challenge. They want to master it, almost like someone wants to master a martial art. They want to feel when they win that they played better than their opponent and when they fail that they screwed up or were bested by a superior opponent.

I want a game of skill. But I also don't mind if a close game is decided by a bit of randomness. If an obvious winning position can be sabotaged completely by a bad roll of the dice, then I'll agree that there's too much luck. But if my opponent and I are playing a fierce game and he just happens to get that edge that assures his victory, it doesn't sour me.

But luck isn't there for balance. Except in bad game shows where the lightning round renders all previous rounds pointless. And that's not balance. That's just a broken game.
 
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
Cadfan wrote:
Think of it across multiple games. If the best player won every game of Settlers of Catan, I'd always beat my immediate circle of friends. As a result, no one would want to play. But because luck is a factor, sometimes I have a harder game than I otherwise would. Sometimes I lose. This makes the game more enjoyable for all, and they play it more often.

Isolated to two-player games, you may be correct. But for multi-player games, balance is usually - to some extent - governed by the players themselves. IF they are able to see who is in the lead, the other players can take actions accordingly (which in turn may turn into punish-the-leader-syndrome). But that is essentially balancing as I see it, and you would have to be very VERY much better than the others to counter it, as in a four player game, they will have three actions every time you have one.
So in a multiplayer game, the most skilled player does not always win. Regardless of luck.

morningstar wrote:
Luck can't make the weaker player lose more games. But it can make him win more.

Is that a good or a bad thing? It's all in the eye of the beholder. Undoubtedly the weaker player will feel good, but the stronger player may feel deprived of his victory. He may write it off to bad luck, but it may still be a demotivator for further games.
 
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
The whole reason people don't play me in Risk is because of the roll of the dice.

 
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
Sphere wrote:
Yes, luck does allow a less skilled player a chance to win. No, that does not mean that it is a balancing mechanism.


Lucky aspects in games frequently even more greatly reward skill. The skilled player will position themselves to profit efficiently from both good and back luck. The unskilled player will waffle and position themselves badly so that good and bad luck can't be exploited well. Further, the wild positive luck swings that do occur often encourage unskilled player toward further high-risk play, thus leading them away from the careful practice of choice and skill they need to improve their game.
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
docreason wrote:
In discussing luck, it is argued that luck makes a good balancing mechanism, because it allows someone who is less skilled a chance to win. I would argue that luck has the distinct prospects of making a situation for a weaker player worse.


Maybe you're looking at this wrong.
Luck MAY give the weaker player a random streak of good turns... but, likely luck has a greater NEGATIVE effect on the good player.

Case in point:
I have a friend who is a prob/stats geek. He is a calculating genius. I taught him Go once, after I had been playing it for years, and he beat me in his first game. He can dominate anything that doesn't require luck.
Throw in a bit of unknown though, and he falls apart. His cold-calculations just don't work for luck. The random generators we use in gaming just aren't all that random after all... even dice aren't perfect and are subject to rolling in an unpredictably predictable manner... in other words, he's not so good at planning for the unplannable because he tries too hard to calculate it out.

Which, in the end, means I beat him more frequently at games involving random elements and he beats me at abstract strategy.
 
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
clearclaw wrote:
Sphere wrote:
Yes, luck does allow a less skilled player a chance to win. No, that does not mean that it is a balancing mechanism.


Lucky aspects in games frequently even more greatly reward skill. The skilled player will position themselves to profit efficiently from both good and back luck. The unskilled player will waffle and position themselves badly so that good and bad luck can't be exploited well. Further, the wild positive luck swings that do occur often encourage unskilled player toward further high-risk play, thus leading them away from the careful practice of choice and skill they need to improve their game.


You're just breaking down skill into different skill types. Certainly a more skilled player can take better advantage of the luck than a less skilled player. But the less skilled player still is going to win some of the time, which is better than the near-zero chance of winning in a luck-free game.

You guys that hate luck can think of a thousand arguments why it is a bad thing, but there will always be people who prefer games with a luck element.
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
Sphere wrote:
You're just breaking down skill into different skill types.


How so?

Quote:
But the less skilled player still is going to win some of the time, which is better than the near-zero chance of winning in a luck-free game.


I don't consider this inherently better.

Quote:
You guys that hate luck can think of a thousand arguments why it is a bad thing, but there will always be people who prefer games with a luck element.


True.
 
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
clearclaw wrote:
Sphere wrote:
You're just breaking down skill into different skill types.


How so?


In a game with no luck, the sufficiently better player will win 100% of the time. How could luck reward greater skill more than a 100% winning percentage?

Quote:

Quote:
But the less skilled player still is going to win some of the time, which is better than the near-zero chance of winning in a luck-free game.


I don't consider this inherently better.

[/q]

"Better" - meaning "more than" - since this originated as a discussion about game "balancing". That is, "balancing" in the sense that a game is better balanced if players have a more equal chance of winning. That's not the usual definition of the word, but that is the definition that is being used in this discussion.
 
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
docreason wrote:
I would argue that luck has the distinct prospects of making a situation for a weaker player worse.


Um... yeah. Of course. So?

The point is that a weaker player might win with a little luck in their favor. But with no luck at all, that player will just lose. Often. Repeatedly. Decisively.

It is not fun to lose all the time. So, one way to give them a chance to win sometimes is... luck.

This isn't about balancing. It's about fun.
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Re: Why the argument that luck is a good balancing mechanism is flawed.
Some people seem to be suggesting luck can't be a balancing mechanism. That obviously isn't true, it can be (example follows). If on the other hand people are disagreeing that luck can be a good balancing mechanism, well, that's a subjective judgement. It's not a good one for me, but as snakes and ladders continues to sell for small children, there's a place for plain unadulterated luck, and probably every step from there to pure skill.

That example? Well, here's a crude one. Let's suppose we have a tough game of pure skill, but one that's tight. 60% of the time I win by one point, 30% of the time it's a draw, and 10% of the time you win by one point. But now give each of us at game end a token worth 1 or 2 points. But there are only two tokens, you get one, I get one. Now the chance of my winning is 45%, the chance of a draw is 35% and the chance of your winning is 20%. That's done some balancing, the luck has evened the odds some.

Now let's consider a more realistic example. One that (in some form) is common. During the game we compete for the N tokens in the game. The game ends when all are taken. The means by which we pick up tokens is something skill-based, to some degree or other. We could now simply give the win to the player with the most tokens at the end. But there are possible problems with that - everyone knows who is winning, and maybe that has kingmaking or other issues. So instead, secretly, each token is worth a variable number of points, maybe 1 to 3, maybe 2 to 4, maybe something else. Now the player with the most points at the end is the winner. This was done for secrecy reasons, but it will have the characteristics - if the game is otherwise unaffected, although the aim is to change that - of increasing the chances of a less skillful player winning, and reducing the chances of a more skillful player winning. (Proof? Well, I could pick an example, work the probabilities, and show it. But in general it's obvious from that the point value tokens increases the variance of scores.)

There are of course totally different ways to put luck into a game. One of those is that of creating a random situation and having players use it. Many of the recent crop of Euro dice games (some of which - not all published - I would rate quite highly, although I'm a player who likes control in my games) fall into that category. A classical example is backgammon. Skilled players (a mixture of knowing your odds, and knowing the game) will have good odds of winning. Has the luck element increased the chances of the weaker player winning? Tricky to say, because without the luck element there might not be a game to compare with.
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