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My thoughts on luck...

7 replies [Last post]
Joined: 12/31/1969

Hey all! I’m new to the Forum and this is my first post. So, here goes...

I have a love for wargames, but the luck factor involved has always been a subject of contention. RISK is the classic example (to my mind) of a game of luck that defies the most stalwart strategies. I rather like rolling dice and I’m not completely opposed to chance, but when a player loses too much control and must depend upon the dice rolls, I feel like the most important part of the game is left behind: strategy. Why does the attacking player roll only three dice for 37 attacking units? And why does defense only roll two? This has often been a subject of debate between me and my gaming buddies. Some try to justify that the attacking units are bottlenecked and therefore can only attack in small numbers at a time...but why is this true for every battle that takes place when more than three attacking units are present? (These are generally rhetorical questions, so don’t feel the need to answer them directly) I don’t want to get caught up in a debate over RISK. I just feel like the RISK combat system is not complex enough to even come close to accurately representing a strategy game, but then is risk.

My friends and I, in an effort to capture a game more based on strategy and less on luck, graduated to playing the newer more complex versions of RISK. i.e. RISK 2210, LOTR RISK, etc. But, the frustration continued and we were not satisfied.

When I encountered Axis & Allies I was relieved. The amount of dice rolled, one for each unit present in the battle seems to be a more sensible system. An upset can occur, but generally the superior strategy, if executed properly will prevail...

A fellow gamer of mine is vehemently opposed to the rolling of dice to determine the outcome of a battle. He feels that this undermines his strategy, even in the case of Axis & Allies where the sheer number of dice rolled bring the results ever closer to the bell-curve model we hope to find. So, he brought to us a game without dice: A Game of Thrones. He declared that it was far superior to the others because no dice-rolling was involved, and he somehow felt that that would eliminate the elements of chance involved. I think Thrones is an excellent game, but the element of chance remains and that’s not a bad thing. Instead of dice, there are cards to be played that add a certain number to the combat strength of units. The chance remains...

I’m not even really sure where I was going with this...I didn’t really have a destination in mind from the start. I suppose this is more of a stream of consciousness of mine when “luck” and “dice” are on the mind. I’ve gathered some useful information and justifications for the presence of luck in wargames, and board games of all types. I guess, my opinion on the matter is that as long as the players feel that they have more control than the dice, or cards, or whatever instrument(s) of luck involved, then it’s all good. 8) Oh yeah, and it should be fun too ;)

I would love to hear others’ opinions on the matter of luck, so feel free to drop a response.


Joined: 06/21/2010
My thoughts on luck...

Welcome to the forum! :)

There have been a couple of very active topics on the concept of luck; lots of great reading if you have the time to browse through the forum a bit (I think the threads were started last week).

My feelings on luck are this: as long as the player's strategy has some influence on the outcome of the 'dice' (or any 'luck' mechanism) I'm all for it. Axis & Allies is a great example where strategic decisions influence the quantity and quality of the dice you roll. Risk is a poor example, as you've noted, since no matter what your strategy, you always roll 3(or less) dice when attacking. Luck will always be a factor in gaming, it's what keeps the game fun for the players who aren't as skilled. And it also keeps the good players on their toes ;)

Joined: 12/31/1969
My thoughts on luck...

You should play Diplomacy.... no cards, no dice, all negotiation and strategy....

but be warned... it can turn friends against friends and isn't suited for everyone.

You randomize what player plays what country, but other than that it can be a popularity contest.... ideally it is played with 7 strangers.

Joined: 12/31/1969
Luck is all around us

I agree that luck is an important element to include in most games, with the reason being two-fold.

1. Luck exists in the real world all around us.
2. People want to be able to look to a mysterious element when they lose,
rather than critically evaluating their play.

Regarding the reality angle:

Take a look at a basketball game that ends at the buzzer with a last-second heave all the way down the length of the court that somehow goes in to win the game. A guy could spend every waking moment 'practicing' such a shot without ever developing his skill to make it. It's simply a matter of luck as to whether a shot like that goes in or not.

What about a battlefield? Suppose a pack of soldiers stumbles into an enemy booby trap and suffers losses when a mine or bomb goes off. There isn't any way to prevent something like this... That's the point of a booby trap - the victim doesn't see it beforehand.

The sayings 'right place at the right time' (or 'wrong place at the wrong time'), 'there are no guarantees in life', and 'life is like a box of chocolates...' (lol) all stem from the notion that luck is a factor in our lives. One more I almost forgot: 's**t happens'.

Therefore, luck has its place in virtually any game, as almost any game is designed to be a model of something in our real world, where luck is a known force.

Regarding the gameplayer's perspective:

There are VERY few games, proportionally, that successfully entertain large numbers of people and are purely strategic with absoluely no luck involved whatsoever. People want to be able to blame a loss on bad luck, pure and simple! Most people, when playing a game, do not want to have to reflect on their skill in playing it in order to get better. They want to understand the basics and then... well, you win some and you lose some.

Let's face it - the average boardgame player will not sit in front of a board for two hours mentally exhausting himself in the name of playing a game (I happen to like doing this, but I know I am an exception) - particularly when a loss comes as the result of a crucial mistake. In addition to having lost the game, some people will see the whole experience as a waste of two hours because perhaps they not only did not win but they also can't understand what went wrong. Others may see a strategic/intellectual pursuit as a mark of intelligence, with losing a game that is based on such abilities showing a lack of those abilities - ever hear the ridiculous stereotype that chess players are generally smarter than other people? Of course, putting extraordinary emphasis like this on the outcome of a board game is unhealthy, but I know people who do this - they're out there!

I happen to LOVE chess (a purely strategic game with no elements of luck or chance whatsoever) and I really enjoy spending hours in front of the board. I routinely play in tournaments. I am in the minority amongst the general public, however. Truth be told, chess requires no more intelligence than any other pursuit - it just takes a LOT of very specialized knowledge and pattern recognition. The knowledge and pattern recognition are built and cultivated through practice and study OF CHESS. Chess-specific creativity and intelligence are learned skills, and are remarkably different than general creativity and intelligence.

The fact is that most people do not want to invest a lot of time practicing and studying a game so they can play it better. This is why chess is not the game of choice amongst friends at a party. A friend who wants to play a boardgame (or card game) is thinking: "A simple to understand, easy to play game that has some elements of luck involved that won't take too long where I can lay the blame on being unlucky if I feel like I played well and still lost, please." There's nothing wrong with this - don't get me wrong... It's simply the reality of most game players. The general exception to this statement nowadays is the hold 'em poker wave that has swept the USA in recent years. However, many people are willing to study and practice hold 'em for weeks, months and years and then play for hours at a time because of the opportunity to win real money and because of the threat of losing it if one does not play well.

Of course I speak here in generalities. I am fortunate enough to know several people willing to sit with me at a chessboard for a few hours and battle it out, as I am sure many of you know friends/opponents that you can play lengthy strategy games with as well. Nowadays, though, give people a game that takes anything more than 25-35 minutes to complete... and in most cases you won't have very many people playing.

Look at the popularity these days of online videogames - most wargames feature deathmatch battles that last no more than 10 minutes each and sports games are all drastically shortened as well. The philosophy is: "If the game is fun, I'll want to play it a lot, so make sure I can play it again and again - more than once per gaming session." That means a quicker playing time per game in order to be more appealing to game players.

In boardgames, the inclusion of luck aids replayability because every new game is virtually guaranteed to always be different from any other game that has been played before. This way, people can play 4 or 5 times when they sit down together instead of playing one long game and feel like they have a chance to win a few and lose a few - a far more satisfying experience for most people, especially when playing a game with a friend. Be careful, however, to make sure that the entire result of a single game does not hinge on luck and luck alone. No matter what bad luck might occur for either player, there should always be some chance to recover, otherwise there is no reason to continue playing.

I guess I should have titled this post "The Psychology of Board Games!" (lol) Sorry to get so deep into human things, but we are discussing boardgames played by people who want to have fun doing so.

Exhausting post, I know - thanks for bearing with me the whole way! I just have a lot of ideas when it comes to boardgames. Very happy to have found this forum.

My feelings on luck: use luck sparingly, like sprinkling a spice on your favorite food.


Joined: 12/31/1969

Thanks all for sharing your thoughts on luck. I feel like a lot of good points were made and supported well. Your opinions have given me a fresher view of the pros and cons of luck.

I feel as though the general consensus, from reading your responses, as well as other posts on luck, is that if luck is not the controlling factor in a strategy game, then the players will feel as though their victories are more deserved, which results in happier strategy-game enthusiasts. The fact that luck does play into the game to some extent does leave room for those with less skill to get upset victories, which will keep them entertained as dsavillian pointed out.

Rob, I really enjoyed your post; it was very thorough and not exhausting at all! I think you made lots of good points there. I feel as though your justification for the presence of luck in board games - that "luck exists in the real world all around us" is right on. It seems only natural that because luck is so present in our everyday lives, it would be reflected in the games we played.

I really like that you pointed out that "People want to be able to look at a mysterious element when they lose, rather than critically evaluate their play." This statement is key. I feel like it would be easier to illustrate why I think this point is key with an example... Two large armies collide in Axis & Allies, a dice-based strategy game. The careful strategist runs the numbers ahead of time and establishes that, according to probability, the battle will be an even match. Throughout the battle, it remains even and it ends up coming down to a final die roll... This sort of luck gives the loser an easy out - "Unlucky". Now, if the loser is a decent strategist, this one loss won't dictate board game victory or defeat. Though in some cases, battles like this occur - where it comes down to a single roll and whoever wins the roll, wins the game. The scenario seems as though it could be very frustrating for some, but in my experience, if a game ends in such a manner, the losing players aren't crushed because the game was so close and it was luck that dictated the final result. All parties understand that it could have gone either way and (hopefully) people are playing because they enjoy the game, and being the winner is only second on the list of priorities.

Hope to hear from you all again soon.


bluesea's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
My thoughts on luck...

Confronting this issue of Luck ( or Chance as some prefer on this forum--rightfully so), I did some research into military analysis and found many, many sites about REAL warfare strategy and tactical decision making. Many of them talk about chance of victory, or chance of damage, or chance of losses...A basic web search can offer a plethora of information.

Also, as you have learned if you have read the other forums on luck, it seems there a good number of people on this forum who have been (thankfully) thinking about and implementing these issues about luck/chance in games for a long time. And these other forums have proven a great start for my research as well. The latest forums in that last week are a great resource

To start off, here are few quotes from some of the research I've done that may help (at least it helps me) to put your head around the nature of luck/chance in real warfare. This knowledge can then be applied to the modeling of a conflict situation.

Found this on a website about the "Art of War":


"Now, if the estimates made before a battle indicate victory, it is because careful calculations show that your conditions are more favorable than those of your enemy; if they indicate defeat, it is because careful calculations show that favorable conditions for a battle are fewer. With more careful calculations, one can win; with less, one cannot. How much less of CHANCE victory has one who makes no calculations at all!"

Some selected quotes by CLAUSEWITZ, (from ON WAR):


"War is also interrupted (or moderated), and thus made even more a gamble, by: the superiority of defense over offense; imperfect knowledge of the situation; and the element of chance."

"Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction. . . . This tremendous friction . . . is everywhere in contact with chance, and brings about effects that cannot be measured, just because they are largely due to chance. . . . Moreover, every war is rich in unique episodes."

"We come now to the region dominated by the powers of intellect. War is the realm of uncertainty . . . . War is the realm of chance. . . . Two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead. The first of these qualities is described by the French term, coup d'oeil; the second is determination."

War's climate of danger, exertion, uncertainty, and chance also demands other intellectual qualities.

another good quote:


The Clausewitzian Nature of War.
The most important aspect of Clausewitz’s concept of war is that war has a dual nature, not in the bi-polar sense where wars can be limited or unlimited, but in the sense that derives from German philosophical traditions in which phenomena are considered to have objective and subjective natures. The objective nature of war includes those
elements—such as violence, friction, chance, and uncertainty—that all wars have in common. Conflicts can range in kind from an all-out attack to a war of observation (peacekeeping), for instance, but each will have all of these elements present to one degree or another. By contrast, the subjective nature of war encompasses those elements— such as military forces, their doctrines, weapons, as well as the environments (land, sea, air, and danger) in which they fight—that make each war unique. Under Clausewitz’s concept, the objective and subjective natures of war interact continuously. As a result, the nature of war cannot be separated from the means and the actors involved in its conduct. In addition, war is shaped by three major forces (war’s trinity) that also contribute to its nature: a subordinating or guiding influence (policy), the play of chance and probability, and enmity or basic hostility. Each is present in the
current global war on terrorism.

Excerpted from
By LTC Antulio J. Echevarria II
March 2003
Published by The Strategic Studies Institute

But, in the end, I really think it can all be summed up with the words of Commander Adama:


"Sometimes you have to roll the hard six."

Hope that this helps.


bluesea's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
My thoughts on luck...
My thoughts on luck...

what a pleasure to come across clausewitz on this thread !

Luck or perhaps a better word Opportunity is always factor in the leaders capacity. For lack of a better system dice do an adequate job of this.

I always thought that the aspect of morale often a center piece of minature gaming is overlooked by their cardboard counterparts.

A dice "hit" would result in a morale check, not a casualty. Thus hoards of militia flee the battle much more frequently than say Alexander's vanguard.

quality versus quantity one of the age old factors in warfare. A factor sorely lacking from risk and to my mind axis and allies.

I second the suggestion about diplomacy. Its a fairly simple system and does make for an enjoying time more often than not. I also have enjoyed civilization with its city building, trading and occasional fighting.

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