The element of chance has long been intertwined with the evolution of games. Many of our modern devices used for randomization had a long history behind them. For example, dice is believed to be invented around 24th century BC by the Mesopotamians. Playing cards originated 9th century China. The first deck of cards that resemble a modern poker deck was first seen in Egypt and was called naib. Even to this day, a deck of cards and a handful of dice are still the most common randomizing devices in board games.
In modern board games, there are two frequently voiced opinions about games:
1) There is too much left up to chance. “OMG! RNG hates me today!”
2) There is a complete lack of an element of chance. “What are we playing? Chess?”
It seems that there really is no pleasing people. If there is too much chance there will be complaints that all your toil throughout the game to execute a strategy has been destroyed by Lady Luck. If it is absent, some people will say the game is too… bland. But is there a middle ground?
Let’s take a look a some games involving dice. We will use Settlers of Catan as an example. I’ll be honest and say that while many of my close friends have very fond memories of this game, Settlers is one of those games where I will definitely complain too much is left to Fortune. Each turn, players roll two 6-sided dice and the sum of the dice total determines which buildings activate and produce resources for the respective players. Expansion happens by building roads to new locations for settlements which produce more resources. Simple enough. Looking at the numbers, one would expect 7 to be rolled most often, with 6 and 8 being second, followed by 5 and 9, and so on and so forth. Such is the nature of dice where there are games where I see people where they have not received a single resource in 10 turns or more and they placed their buildings to produce on 6 and 8. There was a fan made computer version of Settlers before its entry into the console arcade market that kept track of the roll distribution. In one instance, I’ve seen 6 roll less than 11. <insert favourite facepalm meme> Yes, it is true the law of large numbers should eventually take hold and the roll distribution should become more normalized. However, a typical game of Settlers less than 100 turns and freak dice scenarios are bound to happen. To the credit of the designers, they eventually released a deck that simulates a perfect dice roll distribution. This means eventually your 6 and 8 buildings will produce the number of times one would expect of them. Yet, for some reason I have yet to meet people who play Settlers with that deck. People still seem to favour their dice. What’s up with that?
From this example, we can draw some conclusions. Players like some chance elements because it makes for a more interesting game, but they also want to “control the chance” to some degree. People dislike the feeling of futility especially when playing games. We run into enough situations in real life that makes us feel that way, why bring this into our entertainment? Next post, we will explore more on the psychology of luck in games and how certain elements of game design can make chance entertaining instead of being frustrating.