Lady Luck, Part 2

Last post we discussed how the way luck is incorporated in a game can cause feelings of futility and even infuriate players. We play the game but we don’t feel like our strategies will bear fruit due to randomness.  Your best laid plans are ruined because the expected payout of your higher probability options is losing out to the lower probability options that happen to freakishly occur more often. This is the nature of probability.

There are some ways randomness can be incorporated in a more controlled manner. For example, Kingsburg does this very well. Players roll 4-5 dice each turn, combine the totals on any number of dice rolled, and then take turns allocating their dice combinations on an unclaimed space to gain resources. The board comes with spots from 1 to 18 giving various resources.

Taken from Kingsburg rules.

Taken from Kingsburg rules.

For example, if I rolled 3, 4, and 5. I can combine the 4 and 5 and place it on the 9 slot, leaving the 3 for my second placement assuming 3 has not been taken. This mechanic, while it has randomness, makes it manageable. The player can take what is rolled and try to optimize the payout to the their needs. The astute reader would realize that higher numbers on the board gives better rewards. As a result, the game designers based player turn order on the total of dice rolled and begins with the player with the lowest total. I find small rules like this very considerate because players with low rolls are “slightly” disadvantage. To compensate, they have been allowed to get first claims on resources. Kingsburg is a game with good randomization, yet I don’t get to play it as much as I would like. That’s because in my group of friends there is one particular person who rolls very high numbers EVERY SINGLE TIME. You know those people who roll double sixes in Risk several turns in a row. Yes, one of them. Call it devil’s luck, horseshoes, magical contracts or what have you. When one has above average rolls in a game like this, they will naturally take the lead.

Randomization is fun in games. People like the unexpected stroke of luck. The pleasant surprise when things went better than you thought or when Lady Luck noticed you. At the same time, we also want a certain degree of control over our maneuvers in games. The ability to allocate actions and resources after randomization gets rid of the frustration that comes from your turn being dictated by a single randomization device. We are used to dealing with things in life based by making do with the “hand” we’ve been dealt. It is only when there is nothing you can do about the surprises that we throw our hands in the air and begin cursing. The same applies in games – futility is a terrible feeling.

What are some of the best randomization mechanics you’ve seen in a game?

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