Jorge Zhang

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How much luck is good?

May 17, 2018

In some of our recent playtests of Dagers High, players have said that there is a lot of luck involved in the game. While some thought that this was at odds with the strategy element of the game, one person commented that it made the game more fun. This got me thinking about how much luck is healthy, and how much would hurt the game.

In my view, luck can make games more fun by introducing an element of unpredictability. Dominant strategies quickly get boring- and luck helps even the playing field. Without any luck involved, it is very difficult to create situations dependent on skill rather than on memorizing the best possible moves. While some games successfully do this, such as chess, they also are usually complicated to the point that finding the correct moves is difficult for even computers. This is definitely something we wanted to avoid to prevent players from being incentivized to take very long turns. On the other hand, some games arguably have too much luck, such as Monopoly or Candyland. While this does make it good for family gatherings where even a seven year old can win, it also results in an uninteresting game. Instead of these extremes, I think that a balance can be very effective in making a game fun to play. If luck alters the decisions that a player makes, but doesn’t control them, a game can be very interesting and still be heavily based on skill, favoring strategies that can adapt to many situations.

Another thing that luck can help with is preventing players who fall behind from feeling like they have no chance of winning. Part of the reason I have never finished a game of Monopoly is the fact that a winner is usually decided long before the end of the game. This can result in a slog, where people feel like their decisions do not matter- even the person in the lead is (usually) not having fun. I thought it was interesting how one game, Innovation, dealt with this problem. By separating the game into ten different “ages”, they were able to control the amount of luck at a given point in the game. As players began drawing from the later ages, the cards began becoming more powerful and luck driven. Because of this, even someone who was very far behind could draw into a game-changing card and swing the tides. This feature was ultimately loosely incorporated into our game with events getting more powerful as it got closer to Senior year.

Luck is definitely a difficult issue for game designers as both too much and too little luck can be very dangerous. What do you think? Leave any thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

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