Randomness Does Not Imply Luck In Board Games

I often hear that randomness brings luck (therefore, unfair advantage for a weaker player) in a game. This idea is so strong and deep rooted in a general public that the words «luck», «randomness», «uncertainty» are often treated like interchangeable synonyms in discussions of game properties. Many people consider a game with a randomizer to be a low-grade push-your-luck childish trifle. I want to show you how wrong this judgment is.

Apparently, the majority of randomized games involve massive amounts of luck (pure push-your-luck games aside) there are, for example, strong and weak hands in almost any card game (even the most strategically deep card games are full of luck). But this is not an inescapable situation. There are plenty of roles a randomizer can play in a game, alas they are harder to see than the popular traditional roles, like roll a die to see if you win. I said «plenty», yes, and now I have to decide if I am going to give you a formal proof of my statement, or supply exactly «plenty» of individual examples…

Theoretically speaking you can randomize any aspect of a game mechanic, it is not bound to be a battle system, for example in COIN games you randomize a sequence of events that drive the game by motivating players to react to those events and deal with the outcome, this type of randomness creates very little luck and does not affect the results of players' actions. This example gives us a basic idea how to decouple randomness and luck: random results — bad, random premises — good. But we can go further than that, we can construct a formal experiment that reveals the role that luck plays in a given game.

We can demonstrate how much luck a particular randomizer brings into a given game.

All we need is to run the randomizer sufficiently many times beforehand and write down the produced sequence, display it to all players, then play the game using the sequence as a source of randomness when required by the rules. The severity of damage caused to the gameplay by this alteration of the rules reveals the relations between the randomizer and the luck. It allows us to assess all the aspects of the luck involvement in the game, where, when, and how much. This constitutes a very good point for those who like evaluating characteristics of board games.

On the «highly luck dependent» side of the spectrum situates, for example, "Civilization" — if you know your die rolls in advance and it predicts your loss in the next battle, you will not engage — the game effectively stops. Developing a strategy for «Civilization» with known die rolls is a good homework for the reader.

Our beloved "Siberian Dice" situates on the opposite side of the spectrum. Knowing all the dice rolls in advance gives you a different flavor of the game, but the core gameplay remains intact. Good strategic decisions remain good. Combinatorial purists would rather prefer this variant of the game.

"Morelli" takes decoupling of randomness and luck further still. It randomizes the initial setup, keeping it absolutely symmetrical relative to a colour swap. So that we can safely claim that the amount of luck is limited to the value of the first move advantage (it may happen that the first move advantage varies for different setups, and it is not known by now).

As you can see, randomness can be decoupled from luck, and even from uncertainty.

But it does not devaluate randomness. Randomness creates fun by making a game more variegated. Randomness forces players to explore rarely visited branches of the strategy tree. A randomized setup alone effectively creates a multitude of DIFFERENT GAMES. Given a sufficiently big random space, an old boring deterministic combinatorial game may present a brand new and unique challenge each time you play, thus forcing you to CREATE your strategy on the fly. A shuffled first row in chess could encourage creativity in those who rely on learning the winning openings by rote.

Flattr this


Only registered users can comment.