Saturday, November 20, 2010


I accidently made this a comment rather than a Post, so I repeat it as the latter:

A matter that I pay much attention to in game design is what players often call Luck. Many - if not most - players treat Luck as A BadThing. Given that most of my games are historical "simulations", I view Luck as what it truly rewpresents; Chaos; the fact that you cannot predict everything that will happen, and, in any event or undertaking, things happen that are out of your control that often have major effect on what you are doing.

In addition, viewing dierolls as Luck is somewhat misinformed, as d=the range of numbers in any diceroll usually rewpfresent the range of possible outcomes in any confrontation (with a variety of "targets").

But there is actual "luck" in some mechanics, such as games that use cards randomly dealt out. The cards you do get are, in that sense, a matter of luck (although, in my mind as designer, it not only represents the randomness of Life, but also makes every game different . . . in that you do not deal with the same factors each time you play.)

Balancing all of this ideas is what makes game design a challenge . . .and fun.

However, it is often difficult to gauge how much "Chaos" and Randomness players like . . .and will accept.

Some gamers dislike ANY element of luck; if you want to get psychological, you might consider them Control Freaks. To look at it positively, these eople view gaming as a pleasant way of avoiding the inefficiency of Reality. 

I am interested to read/hear what some of you think about all of this . . .especially if you have examples of games/game mechanics that you feel go too far . .. 




  1. "Control freaks" kvetch about luck because it gets in the way of "strategy" or "planning". In real life, nothing goes according to plan. Your "strategy" may be a template for relating means to ends, the constancy you must maintain when luck trashes your plan and you have to come up with another one quickly.

  2. The Old English word for luck also has the connotation of happiness (as it still does in other related languages, Dutch for example). From the Icelandic sagas, luck was something you were born with. It generally appears that luck could be lost, but not gained back. As a made up example, a spear splits through one warriors shield, passes just between his arm and rib cage not leaving a scratch, and strikes the fellow behind right in the chest killing him instantly.

    The shield was “unlucky”, the first warrior was “lucky”, and the poor slob behind was “unlucky” – and I suppose the spear was “lucky” because it found its mark at the end. So here, luck has a meaning which combines elements of fate (in the sense of an inevitable but unknowable outcome), fortune or chance (our modern word luck in that sense), mixed with happiness (in the general sense of well being as well as demeanor or mood).

    To put these general remarks in context, most gamers would define chess as having no luck (random result generators, i.e. a die or spinner). However, in a broader sense, you could say you were lucky (or your opponent was unlucky) because your opponent had the flu and therefore could not concentrate and did not see the move which led to checkmate. Or there is some other kind of distraction (you didn’t get your first coffee yet, you had a hot date the night before, a loud noise etc.) What I mean by this, is that in any game, there will be an element of chaos that results because life is chaotic.

    In this discussion then, I believe we are looking at two elements (there could be more). The first is randomness, say by die or by card play, the second is by unknown information, let’s call it chaos (hidden movement, pre-recorder movement, dummy markers etc.) A game like Stratego has a high degree of chaos or the unknown. You think you are about to attack a sergeant, but BOOM it’s a bomb instead. The bomb always gets you, so no randomness. In the old AH Waterloo, there was little chaos, you knew the location and strength of every unit. You could usually be sure that that 4-4 infantry division would defeat the 2-6 cavalry division, but you could never entirely certain. Combat was random, but there were limits. A 7-4 infantry division would always defeat the 1-6 cavalry division.

    I’ll just finish here with a comment on the CRT vs “bucket o’ dice” combat, which seems to really bother some people. In the end there is little difference. In essence a CRT boils down the more variable results of dice rolling into a limited number of results. The “buket o’ dice” leaves more randomness. In the last example above, the Waterloo CRT at 6-1 odds and up always resulted in DE (defender eliminated), with no chance of harm to the attacker . If you used a common multiple-dice system, where a 6 is a hit, the 7-4 (say rolling 7 dice) has very little chance of missing, while the 1-6 rolling one die, has a small chance of getting a hit. Overall, both methods of determining the combat will have the same result – the 7-4 wins. But in the latter case, there is a small chance that the 7-4 could take some damage, and even a smaller chance that the 7-4 would lose the combat. In my view, that system gives a more realistic result, since sometimes in life that spear, unlikely though it may seem, passes right under your armpit, and you stay alive when you really shouldn’t be.

  3. Hi, Rich!

    Luck should be an element with any game, but not too much.

  4. Like many folks on ConsimWorld I was out of gaming for a number of years. The most pleasant surprise when I got back into it was the amount of chaos in the games and the many creative ways in which designers have built chaos into their systems. I like the element of surprise (and sometimes dismay) and I find that it enhances replayability, at least for me.

  5. I tend to deal with luck better than design elements that I find frustrating. You and I had this discussion regarding "Under the Lilly Banners" when I played the Battle of Rocroi. We had two high odds combats (two cavalry units in good order and with momentum attacking a cavalry unit with a leader in good order and a tercio attacking another that was in formation Shaken) and both attacks failed due to lousy dice rolls. I was okay with that. I wasn't okay with the need to run leaders around the battlefield to get troops back into good order. So, personally I'm okay with luck, friction, chaos but prefer it to be on my side. :)

  6. "attacks failed due to lousy dice rolls"

    As I noted, not so much lousy dicerolls but more in that you encountered one of the far end possibilities (as opposed to probabilities). I can hewar the Roman commander at Cannae (Vinius, or something), muttering :"lousy dieroll, meus amicus, as the Carthos packed his troops into disposal bags.

    What I try to do is to make the "random/chaos" part of the decision-making process.

    And these days - for most, but not all, designers - CERTs have progressed way past the 3-1 AE of Doom stuff. Way past.

  7. I think the most glaring example was the 2nd edition Storm Over Arnhem, it which one of the optional rules was a set of chits to choose for combat results, so you were assured the dice would be exactly fair. What sent it over the top was the other optional rule where each side could secretly PICK it's results.

  8. Exactly fair? What did that jmean . . .and fair to whom? Misguided would be a polite word.

  9. I have tried to explain this issue to gamers, who like "Napoleon's Triumph." First, the convoluted combat results procedure in a way emulates a dieroll when first playing, but after awhile a skilled player will know the results of combat before the actual combat. This makes the game even more predictable than a game of Jenga. Secondly, I believe that the controlling aspect is one of a designer wanting to control and dictate the couse of a game by strictly forcing the players to a script. Thirdly, chaos gets in the way winning. Finally, I am a horrible die roller. But this is only a perception of mine than reality. I imbue the die with a memory that the inaminate object does not have. Statisicts and odds and all the other schools of thought on gaming will tell you different. In the end each time you roll a die, you roll anew. The die does not remember it rolled a six, only the player. The chaos is indifferent. A player that constantly finds him or herself risking all for a risky throw of the dice is a problem of strategy and not luck.

    I think your post Richard is most cogent explanation of this issue I have read by anyone on this issue. Thank you.

  10. My taste for chaos/ luck in a game is, generally speaking, inversely proportional to the amount of effort and time required to play it.

  11. Chance can be used two ways in a game.
    1. It can resolve a situation. Any of the older AH titles have this; The player decides how to attack, the dice resolve the uncertain outcomes that would be out of the players control.
    2. The chance can set up a situation for the player to resolve. Backgammon, or any game where a player gets a hand of cards, for example. The player is given a random roll or hand, and has to figure out how to play it.

    The perception of the effects are different.

    --Allen Doum

  12. Had I still been writing reviews, my opinion of "Napphy's Triumph" (Bowen Simmons) would have beenfairly, um, harsh . . . mostly for the reasons listed above. I think it is a syste, that appeals to gamers who play solely to win; the result justifies and negates almost all of the means, as long as they can come up with a perfect plan.

    I play games mostly for the enjoyment in playing. Yes, I like to win, but it doesn;t bother me one way or the other, as long as the game is fun to play, especially the people I play with . . . It's the journey, not the destination . . .

    And what I enjoy is handling and using those bits of random chaos that, as with Life, pop up so frequently to provide those speed bumps that litter the roads of Reality.


  13. Luck is what the dice are for. Adding artificial elements is a simply a way to avoid having to think. If your not worried about winning or losing that the superior strategy of an opponent shout not be a problem. I have not been convinced that "luck" as it is today is nothing more then a governor on a game engine assuring that an experienced gamer and a first time player both if equal chances to win the game. Its been dressed up as realism, to prevent bruising of ego. Its application in wargames is rarely realistic.