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Reducing chance in games that use single die rolls

My recently-published design Hastings 1066, which well-known game reviewer Marco Arnaudo calls a “lunchtime wargame”, and which I call a successor to old-time microgames, reflects the amount of chance that occurs in a real battle: a lot. As with any historical battle game, simulating the chaos and chances of war is more or less the opposite of what gamers want as they explore generalship.

(Commercial wargames are not representative of war, more of generalship). Gamers want to control the game, they want to feel that they succeed or fail by their own efforts; but war isn’t like that at all.

Some people won’t mind this, while others might hope there was less chance. Here I present a method of making sure that each player gets about the same number of good, bad, and middling die rolls during the play of the game. And it also might be faster than rolling dice.

To do this you need at least two decks of ordinary playing cards. Extract all the Ace through Six cards in a deck (24), shuffle them thoroughly, and draw from that deck when you need a D6 roll. Each player has his own draw deck, and each deck has an identical selection of cards. When you’ve exhausted your deck shuffle it and start over.

I think it’s more practical in some ways if you have two decks of cards per player, because it will be harder for players to memorize how many times a particular number has been drawn, and in the course of a seven turn game you’ll need more than 48 die rolls.

There’s still the chance that one player’s sixes will all be up front or all at the end of his deck, and one player might reshuffle well before the other; but in the long run this may be more satisfying than a lot of dice rolls. It’s up to you.

I make this suggestion because in one of my playtests I played someone who was not a wargamer and who was not a deep thinker, playing for the first time, but I couldn’t roll for shit and after a valiant fight I lost. It’s like the famous poker champion Doyle Brunson saying that if you consistently don’t get decent cards there’s not much you can do (when he went out of the World Series of Poker on the first day). Imagine how happy he might be if you could somehow be sure that the cards he was getting were about the same average value and frequency as the cards other players were getting, in the long run.

(Of course, dice rolling “evens out” in the long run; there is no such thing as a “bad roller”. What we’re doing here is trying to even it out in the shorter run.)

By the way, this method has flaws for rolling 2d6 or more. I wouldn’t use it for that.

(The game is available on Worthington Publishing’s website at $35. I haven’t looked for it on the usual online sellers.)

Addenda: I've used this method in more playtests, and in games with actual players, of Stalingrad Besieged 1942.

It is remarkable how much variation there is at any given time, even with the card decks. So players can still moan about the dice results, even though they know in the long run it "evens out". When you get three aces in a row (1's) you're likely to complain. I'd say players can still complain about WHEN the good or bad rolls come up, and blame the cards. But the overall effects of chance are still less than when using dice.


Progressive + Predictable

Ever since your previous post about this mechanic. I did some play tests myself to test things out. In my case, the game became very predictable in how players would take their actions. But, the game got more progressing force as well.

First burning cards by drive-by shooting.
Then depending on what cards remains; doing proper attacks OR a drive-by shooting instead of normal movement.

Drive-by shooting would often be answered by normal movement followed by a proper attack.
If the opponent would be doing proper attacks. The only way to counter this would be movement or a drive-by shooting.
But eventually, player where in need to attack when they just knew it would be good.

Less to think about; the game guides itself more.
Less risk to take too.
There is a grey area. But it is smaller now.
The luck of the "rolls" is still there; if burning fails, it continuous with burning until the deck is reshuffled.

For the very last reason. The mechanic fits, but doesn't suit with my game. I could keep it as an option for the players that don't own much dice.

Dice decks come up every now

Dice decks come up every now and then. I think it can be used well if the game is designed for it, like the decks in Ave Caesar (each player has a deck of 24 cards, 4 each of 1-6) that is designed around card counting and trying to make your deck last to the end, and having the right cards remaining for the end of the race.

Introducing card decks in a game that was not designed for it, or using them in a design without considering all the effects is not great really.

You introduce card counting as a strategy for winning the game, weather that makes sense or not.

And cards still are not automatically fair. If I draw a 6 when I make an irrelevant minor attack, then a 1 when I make the big important attack, that is just painful.

Like X3M pointed out, burning cards also becomes important. Maybe after drawing that 6 for a less important battle I ought to burn through the deck to reset it and increase my chances of winning the big battle... I mean if you design the game to make that THE interesting mechanic then sure go for it, but it sounds pretty boring to me compared to things the game could focus on instead.

Another problem is that if you make the deck too large, or shuffle it too often it will become more like dice. With a large enough deck it will become practically identical to dice for all purposes (or if you shuffle after each battle or almost that often). But if you make the deck too small, or/and do not shuffle very often, then card counting and the difference in probability will swing the game like crazy.

Plus cards are just a pain for designer and players to calculate probabilities on overall. If you can use dice you will make life so much easier for anyone trying to play well/strategic since they can realistically evaluate the expected value of different choices.

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blog | by Dr. Radut