The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - July, 2001

Will M. Baker: I've just read your article Random Factors in Gaming from The Games Journal archives.

I resonate with your point that probability balances out luck as more games are played. In the long run, over multiple games, luck is insignificant. A marginal victory percentage can perhaps be attributable to random factors defying the laws of probability, but if one player is victorious 60% or more of the time, I think one can hardly scoff and say that luck, rather than the player, won the games.

Your article explored the gray area between a game being tolerably random and being too random. Perhaps the most simple game of luck, with almost equal odds on either side, and independent of strategy, is that of flipping a coin. Tails I win, heads you win. This game is entirely luck (ignoring that small discrepancy between the weight of the heads side versus the weight of the tails side, thus giving one a miniscule advantage for selecting a side wisely; this could be countered by alternating the side assigned to each player). Entirely luck, and very little fun. But is it the pure randomness that makes it boring? Who knows, with an incredible theme, perhaps this could be turned into an entertaining game.

Something your article did not touch on, however, was the idea that a game can have not enough randomness. "Too much" and "not enough" are relative terms, so I acknowledge that I only speak of my personal tastes.

The game of Chess, in my opinion, does not have enough luck involved. To throw in a random element, a chess-lover might respond, would be to alter the game to such a degree that we can no longer call it chess, but must recognize it as an entirely new game. I shall not dispute this. But what I find with a game like chess, and any game that has little to no luck involved, is that the game ceases to be a game, but rather becomes a battle between minds. The chess board is merely a physical representation of a game that two people could very well play entirely in their minds, merely announcing each move to update the other player's mental picture. The same could be said of Checkers, Pente, Go, Hex, Tic-Tac-Toe, Connections, etc. Naturally, this mental contest is what makes it so great to so many players. But I find it difficult to play chess without feeling that I'm actually taking an intelligence test; if I lose, I have demonstrated that I am less intelligent than my opponent. This is hardly my motivation in playing a game.

Random factors allow for an out, an excuse for losing that, rather than ruining the game, deflates the tension to a more enjoyable level. I do not wish to play a game of flipping coins, but neither do I wish to test my IQ. For this same reason I do not care for Trivia games, from which the winner may walk away with the statement "I am more knowledgeable than you," a statement more meaningful in regular life than to say, "I am better at Poker than you," or "I am better at Cosmic Encounter than you." The latter two pertain only to the game being won, whereas the former extends beyond the game. (One might argue that to triumph in Cosmic Encounter is to be able to say "I am better at negotiating than you," or to win at Poker is to be able to say "I am better at bluffing than you." At the moment, I have cannot refute this, and so will only restate that this is all a matter of my taste.)

But randomness also keeps a game fresh. I tire of beginning each chess game with the pieces in the same positions, and having to make several moves before the game becomes original. Devout Chess players perhaps delight in witnessing the personality of a particular game emerge. I do not share in this delight. In any number of games involving cards being dealt out, I draw my hand with anticipation, like opening a Christmas present, then examine my cards and try to solve the puzzle of how best to utilize those cards I've been dealt. The game is no longer about who is smarter, who is more knowledgeable, who is a better strategist, because we are each playing a different game, solving a different puzzle.

When I play a game with a human being, rather than with a computer, I am really just using the game as an instrument to facilitate socializing and better the enjoyment of the group. This becomes difficult when a game too easily allows one to declare the superiority of one player; it is hardly fun for a group to conclude that they are not as good as someone else.

Please forgive that I've used so much space in merely stating my own game tastes. I recognize that we all come to games searching for something different, and will thus select different games under different circumstances. I hope that you have found this even half as interesting as I found your article.

Jake Talley: Here's the reason for the change in numbers for Pico 2. Check out the win/loss distributions:

Pico:

Card Win vs. Lose vs. Record
2 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 16 3, 4 8-2
3 2, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 16 4, 5, 6 7-3
4 2, 3, 9, 10, 13, 16 5, 6, 7, 8 6-4
5 3, 4, 13, 16 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 4-6
6 2, 4, 5, 13, 16 2, 7, 8, 9, 10 5-5
7 4, 5, 6, 16 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 13 4-6
8 4, 5, 6, 7 2, 3, 9, 10, 13, 16 4-6
9 5, 6, 7, 8 2, 3, 4, 10, 13, 16 4-6
10 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 2, 3, 4, 13, 16 5-5
13 7, 8, 9, 10 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 16 4-6
16 8, 9, 10, 13 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 4-6

PICO 2:

Card Win vs. Lose vs. Record
4 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16 5, 6, 7, 8 6-4
5 4, 11, 12, 13, 16 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 5-5
6 4, 5, 13, 16 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 4-6
7 4, 5, 6, 16 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13  4-6
8 4, 5, 6, 7 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16 4-6
9 5, 6, 7, 8 4, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16 4-6
10 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 4, 11, 12, 13, 16 5-5
11 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 4, 5, 12, 13, 16 5-5
12 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 4, 5, 13, 16 6-4
13 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 4, 5, 6, 16 6-4
16 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 4, 5, 6, 7 6-4

So ... in Pico 2 all the win/loss distributions are at most 1 away from average, and they also go in a coherent order (best at bottom and top and decreasing towards the center). The 2 and 3 were originally much too powerful because they almost always won. In the second version decisions should be much more difficult because no card is obviously more powerful than the others. That's my take on it at least.

Kevin G. Nunn: I just read your review of Formula Motor Racing and wondered if you'd compared it to (or were familiar with) the Stock Car Championship Racing Card Game from McGartlin Motorsport Design?

It, too considers only relative positions in the race rather than the track itself, but does so in a much more fulfilling manner. Each player receives a deck for their car, there is a separate deck for the track, and the race is completed when enough laps have accumulated in the face-up cards from the track deck.

It seems to me that your description of Formula Motor Racing begged comparison to it.

GGA - I've not played Stock Car Championship Racing Card Game (what a name!). Anyone out there want to write a review?

Gilad Yarnitzky: I've just read in your archives the article on How to Repair Split Boxes.  The procedure you suggest there is very similar to what I do, but let me add a small suggestion that improves the process. On the inner side, after applying the glue, stick a layer of thin cardboard on the corner. The cardboard should be thin enough that it will not prevent you from closing the box, even piece of paper is better then nothing. You actually get a support for the corner from the inside, this helps preventing the splitting from reoccurring. One more advantage is that if you are not too lazy (which I am) you can do this process on all you boxes before the splitting and this help protect your box.

Pierre-Nicolas Lapointe: I read your (well written) Drakon review. Just to mention, I've made a French help card for this game. It's on my site: http://jesweb.free.fr

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