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Luck in strategy games

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Joined: 07/28/2011

I am currently working on a CCG (non-collectable) and I am having some trouble in introducing the right amount of luck into this game. Please note that I want this game to be as skill intensive as possible.

Firstly, the argument against luck is that the luck of the draw will determine the strategy of the player and not his planning. Using MTG as an example, you might know that the answer to this threat is a warth of god. However, you do not have that card or even a card with similar effect in your hand. Therefore you lose. This is a classic example of not being able to control your options. This argument also bring up games like chess and go where no luck is present but are deep in strategy.

The argument for luck is that it keeps the game fresh everytime you play it. It also become more friendly to beginners. The luck of the draw also opens opportunity for other skills like adaptability, bluffing and mitigating risk.

One problem I am trying to avoid is the one strategy per deck situation where your deck is only build for a certain strategy. A rush deck can only rush and can't do anything else even though you know that the strategy won't work against certain deck type. I want my players to be able to create more versatile decks. I also want to avoid situations where control decks defeat aggro decks, aggro decks defeat combo decks and combo decks defeat control decks. This RPS style of metagame is not good for a strategy game because it makes matchups more important than actual play. Lets say you enter the tournament with a control deck, you will be able to win if you are paired with an aggro deck and will be screwed if you are paired with a combo deck. However, I do not mind RPS appearing DURING ACTUAL PLAY though.

So, in your opinion, how much luck is tolerable in a Strategy game?Should a strategy game have no luck at all or a little is fine?

pooryorickgames's picture
Joined: 12/19/2011
This is a really intriguing

This is a really intriguing topic to me, so thanks for bringing it up!

My opinion is that the element you're looking for that will grant your players the impetus to create more versatile decks is to either reduce randomness or to eliminate the freedom to mitigate randomness. Once you've made that decision, what you want in your game is multiple ways to counter different strategies.

If I'm a player who wants to be able to implement what I believe will be a winning strategy, randomness is like having another opponent with the power to control you. In a game where everyone draws from a communal deck, like five-card draw poker, randomness has already determined your chances of winning or losing--the only strategy left to you is social strategy.

In games where you can build your own deck, CCGs like MtG for example, you have to take randomness into account and plan for it. You mitigate its effects by creating highly focused decks. Players are motivated to counter randomness by eliminating it. If you try to have a versatile deck, you run a high risk of not having the right cards in your hand when you need them, therefore players with more focused decks will beat you every time. You quickly learn that to have any chance of success, you have to focus your decks to defeat randomness first so you can then focus on the other players.

So the point is, if you give your players a chance to eliminate as much of the randomness inherent in a strategy game as possible, they will take that chance and run with it. Therefore, you either eliminate randomness to allow your players the freedom to implement their strategies, or you reduce their freedom to mitigate for randomness. In either case, their reaction will actually be to explore the freedom they have to create versatile strategies.

Joined: 01/17/2011
Types of luck

I prefer some element of randomness/luck in most types of games. However, it depends on how randomness is implemented. For example:

Random Setup: This kind of randomness is good if it enhances replayability and encourages creative thinking to come up with a winning strategy on the fly. Take Bridge for example, wherein you shuffle the deck each hand and deal the cards, but from then on it is a game of pure skill (in fact, several different types of skill are required to play well). Random setup is bad if it puts one player in a terrible/great position at the expense of the others. This can be mitigated using a bidding for starting position or similar mechanic. Most CCGs suffer from random setup because the card draw does put one player in a great/terrible position and there is no mitigation.

Push Your Luck: This kind of randomness is good if it allows different players to pursue their preferred style. Risk-adverse players can accept the lower return, while risk-junkies can push for greater returns. This mechanic needs to be balanced in such a way that (without foreknowledge) there is no "best" option on any given turn.

Shifting Situations: This kind of randomness is good if random events during play forces you to adapt your strategy based on the current situation. This enhances replayability and encourages creativity. To work, the game needs to be designed in such a way that there is no "best" position, but each position has the potential to win if played well. It's essentially the same as Random Setup, but happens throughout the game.

As Poor Yorrick commented, deck construction games in the flavor of MTG generally force you to create a focused deck to mitigate randomness to ensure that your one-and-only strategy will be available at the right time. Building multiple strategies into a deck generally makes all of them weak and unreliable. I personally don't like this style of game because it reduces the opportunity for strategy DURING the game (the strategy happens BEFORE the game).

One option would be to have a large sideboard which you can swap out cards to adjust your deck on the fly. Or maybe each player brings multiple decks and can switch their entire deck at any time (like tag-team). Or maybe each player has 3 decks in front of them and each turn can pick which deck to draw from. That would let them specialize each deck and select the appropriate deck on the fly.

Just some thoughts,

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