Wednesday, June 7

Random Factors In Games

Modern Eurogames like Puerto Rico are tending to shy away from random factors within the game. Dice, in particular, are out of favour.

So I'm wondering why? I can understand that an unlucky run on the dice could spoil a game session for you, and that would put you off the game. I get that dice (and by association random factors in general) evoke memories of the old school roll-and-move games we used to play as kids such as Monopoly, Ludo and Snakes and Ladders, which are looked down upon for their lack of strategic options.

When you play a game without any random factors (such as Chess) you get a purely strategic workout, just you and your opponent(s) pitting yourselves against each other in a battle of minds, working within the confines of the rules and mechanics of the game. It's pure. It's refined.

So what happens when you introduce a random factor such as die rolls or card/tile drawing? Well, you're still competing against each other within the confines of the game but now there's a new element. Chance. Probability. There is now the chance that your luck will be terrible, you'll get completely shafted and lose the game through no fault of your own. In most of the games you play, you would expect that your luck will be average (providing there are enough random events during the game), and that of your opponent will also be average, but every now and again the game itself will screw you. Now there is another dynamic to take account of - probability. A basic knowledge of the mathematics of probability and some understanding of the possible outcomes of the random events (e.g. knowing the tile distribution in Carcassonne) allow you to plan for the probable outcomes of the random events in much the same way as you would plan for the probable outcomes of your opponent's move. It's a very similar experience, only now there is another opponent to analyse - probability. It will often do what you would expect (like a competent opponent), but sometimes it throws you a curveball (like an excellent or inexperienced opponent).

Life itself is full of seemingly random occurences (whether there are or not is a subject for a late night drunken conversation), so why should we try to remove them from our games?

Maybe it's my roleplaying past coming through, maybe not, but I like dice. There I've said it. I do. They bring another interesting element to the game, another opponent to pit yourself against and to analyse into submission.


Yehuda said...

There is a big difference between random factors that happen before the strategy, and ones that happen after the strategy.

It's like:

- open two random numbers, and then the first person to say their sum wins.

- each person says a sum, and then open two random numbers. The closest one wins.

See the difference? Plantations in Puerto Rico are like the former, whereas dice in Risk are like the latter.

Sure, any fool can play to basic probability, but some people don't like to. I don't like to play to any probability, because it is not fun for me when I lose against ridiculous odds, nor win against ridiculous odds.

I would rather play up to that point and then end the game - the results of the dice roll are boring to me. I know that other people feel differently - that's because people love gambling.

On the other hand, I love how random setups or very slight random available goods change the way the game progresses, forces me to think on my toes, and prevents having the game mapped out before the game begins.


Jack said...

I agree there's a difference between random setup and random events during the game. I also like random setup as I think it extends the re-playability of the game if the game is slightly different every time you play.

When it comes to random events during the game I'm very happy to play games with them as long as I have some influence over the outcome and/or timing. If the random event can be a game winner, and there's nothing anyone can to do improve their chances of it going their way then it's easy to see how that wouldn't be fun.

However, if there is a gambling mechanism or an ability to weight the roll in your favour (i.e. like choosing your settlement positions in Settlers to maximise the likelihood of you gaining resources) then I'm fine with it.

Yehuda said...

You asked why someone wouldn't like it. The fact that you like it doesn't seem too relevant to the original question. :-)

In my opinion, no matter what screwball move my opponent makes, he is not going to win if I have clearly played better and have forseen every possibility.

But after playing for two hours, setting up my position, and clearly outplaying my opponents, to lose just because I rolled a 1 on a d6, or to win just because I rolled 2-6 on a d6, is just stupid as far as I'm concerned.

There are two types of fun in games: strategy, and gambling. Gambling is about playing the odds, rolling the dice and cheering the outcome. I don't like gambling. That's why I don't like luck in my games.


Jack said...

I see what you mean.

I also like games with a random setup, as they allow each game to be slightly different, increasing the re-playability of a game.

However, if you're talking about a game you've been playing for two hours and you've been clearly outplaying your opponent being decided on a die roll then I think either the game is broken, or you've not outplayed your opponent as much as you thought you had.

At that stage in the game a die roll should at most delay your victory or give your beleagured opponent a slim chance of a comeback.

Yehuda said...

It's funny that when I say "lose if you roll 1 on a d6" that people understand that.

But when the same situation comes up in say, ASL, or Shogun, or Can't Stop, or some euqivalent, they don't get it, because there are so many dice being rolled, that people just assume that luck will even out.

But odds are odds, no matter how you slice them.

If I can only lose by rolling 25 1s or 2s on 55 d6, and that turns out to be (let's say) the equivalent of rolling 1 on a d6, somehow people don't think think of the former as a dumb resolution to a game, whereas they can understand that about the latter.

A plethora of dice rolls is just a thematic smokescreen for luck.

Give me the ever shifting randomness of drawn or flipped tiles any day, so long as the tactics begin after the random event occurs.