Luck in Board Games: How Much Should There Be?

July 21, 2009 at 2:10 am 1 comment

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

–Seneca

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

–Thomas Jefferson

Most board games contain a combination of skill and luck, and this is no accident. Without some element of skill, some ability for players to influence the outcome of the game, there would be no need for players at all. The children’s game, Candyland, works exactly the same regardless of who is playing, because the players are irrelevant: They have absolutely no volition or ability to affect the game.

Without some luck, however, many games would lose a lot of their replayability. Even a small element of randomness can change a game from something where there is a single best strategy all the time, into a dynamic game where players must constantly adapt their strategies to the random circumstances of each particular play session.

Naturally, each person has their own sweet spot for combinations of luck and skill in a game. Some gamers dislike luck and randomness because they feel it dilutes the pure match of minds that a luckless strategy game offers. Other gamers don’t like thinking about infinite complex strategies, and enjoy games that offer something random and fun every time. Personally, I tend to feel that the longer a game is, the less randomness I want it to have.

There’s no right answer. The real question to ask is, how much luck do *you* want? Here are some games that span the full luck axis:

No Luck

Generally speaking, abstract strategy games have no luck. This makes them ideal for people who hate the idea of random chance affecting their game, and like to play the same game many times in order to master it. Chess is obviously the best example of this, and has players who have played literally thousands of games.

However, in any multi-player game, such as a four-player game of Blokus, there can be a sense of randomness based on what pieces your opponents place. There’s no real luck involved, since everything is pure strategic choice, but the seeming randomness can keep the game feeling new each time.

Slight Luck

Most eurogames have a slight degree of luck and randomness. Ideally, this should be an amount sufficient to force players to adapt their strategies to each instance of the game, but not so much luck that an obviously inferior strategy can result in victory. A great example of this is Puerto Rico, where the single random element is the stock of available plantations. This is only a tiny part of the game, but players must consider it carefully when planning their strategies.

Medium Luck

Medium luck games often seem to be high luck games, until you realize that the luck always seems to favor the same players. Re-read the quotes at the top of the article – they apply especially to medium-luck games. Kingsburg and BattleLore may both have you rolling dice every turn, but it’s the strategic use of these dice, and positioning before rolling these dice, that often carries the day. Yes, a long series of bad rolls can lose the game for even the best player, but more often than not, a superior strategy will lead to victory. In a medium-luck game, smart play often means setting yourself up so that most rolls would still benefit you.

High Luck

Generally speaking, high luck games tend to be fairly quick. Consequently, they make good fillers when people are too mentally tired to play a low-luck game that requires lots of strategic thinking. Fluxx is a good example of a high luck game, where the random draw of a new goal card can swiftly change which player is likely to win, regardless of strategic play up to that point.

Entirely Luck

No games worth playing are entirely luck. A few kids’ games like Life and Candyland fall in this category, but give your kids some credit and try a game that gives them some volition. They’ll learn more, and probably enjoy it more too.

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Entry filed under: Board Game Articles. Tags: , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Rising Pun by Seth Brown  |  July 28, 2009 at 3:29 am

    […] of board games, I have a new article up on the Best Dang Games Blog about Luck in Board Games. If that sort of thing interests you, or indeed if you play board games at all, it’s a very […]

    Reply

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