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No luck = No fun?

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Fhizban's picture
Joined: 01/11/2009

One of my favorite pet projects is the so called "Archon Core System", that is based on both Chess and my favorite computer game from the C64 era.

But this topic is not about that game, it's more about the fact that the game is without any luck element.

This means it neither features dice nor counters drawn from a bag.

Now, over the years several people told me that a game like this is not appealing to the mass, it's less fun just because so much is missing. On the other hand, I received a lot of positive feedback as well, because the game is highly tactical and plays almost like a fantasy chess version.

I would like to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Is a game without luck automatically less fun? Is it no fun at all?

Or is it just a very special kind of "Thinkers game" that might not suit a large audience, but instead only a niche of chess-like-players?

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Funny, eh?

I too have a project called "Archon: Circlet of the Heavens". It was loosely "conceived" around an old PC game called "Archon: The Light and The Dark"... I was wanting to use an RPS-5 with Gemstones to indicate which Trios of colors were being used.

But the game never went any FURTHER. It's still stuck in the "Design Phase" with no real mechanics and method of play. I just liked the NAME and the Gemstone concept.

And to answer your question, if your game is 100% purely deterministic (which can be possible), you can INJECT luck in a different facet of the game. For example, "Crystal Heroes" (CH) is a Tile Laying game (like Carcassone) and the Area Control and Combat is 100% deterministic. If you have the right Tile and your opponent has poor defenses, you can conquer his Tile with no other form of defense.

However the Tactical Layer for collecting LOOT (the rewards after a conquest) is "Custom d6s"-reliant. That adds a lot of luck but with the custom dice, maybe less luck and more decision making too. The real issue is that the game is BALANCED with these two (2) separate layers.

So you CAN have 100% determinism and ADD LUCK for the FUN factor (or a little of unpredictability). When I say that the Tactical Layer adds a lot of luck, not so much TBH. Firstly when you conquer a opposing Tile, once the LOOT is randomly drawn from the pouch, the conquering players get the choice of choosing the first LOOT FREE (as the victor). Then rolling the dice on that same turn, he gets 1 to 2 OTHER chances to collect MORE LOOT on his turn. So being the player doing the conquering is favorable.

That took me a while to figure out... Because I did want to REWARD the conquering player and I didn't want the game to feel RANDOM! This solution gives priority to being on the winning side of a conquest.

And from the perspective of Archon, it wasn't 100% deterministic BECAUSE your pieces needed to Battle each other in a separate duel screen. The winner of the Battle would stay on the Table, the loser's piece gets removed. That whole Battle aspect had a lot of LUCK and you needed to be good at moving around, firing and managing to defeat your opposing piece.

But it was a GOOD game. Not the best, but I played it on a few occasions.

Fhizban's picture
Joined: 01/11/2009
That Archon theme is another

That Archon theme is another point:

People might expect the game to have dice heavy battles to resemble the action combat from the Archon computer game. Wonder if that would be a problem.

Still, i prefer the dice-less method. You can plan ahead just like with chess and predict your opponents moves as well.

Rick-Holzgrafe's picture
Joined: 07/22/2008
40 million chess players

A quick Google tells me that 40 million people play chess. And that's just in the United States, and doesn't include people who play Go and Checkers. One can quibble about the meaning of the word "fun" but you can hardly argue that luck-free games aren't popular.

Since nothing you can do will please everyone, I wouldn't necessarily worry about those people who equate "fun" with "throwing dice".

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011

I didn't even need to do any research to tell you:

Some people have a weird idea of what is fun.
(to quote lyrics from one of my favourite bands)

So in essence, I completely agree with Rick-Holzgrafe.

Joined: 02/11/2015
I think it's more of a personality and brain type

I think games that are strictly skill are more enjoyed by heavily analytical brain types. Whereas games with more luck are more on the emotional side. As a analytical leaning Architect personality type I prefer a mix with skill being the heavier aspect. I'm not a huge fan of strictly skill though, because newbies just get owned by experienced players. It can create burnout of new players before they really learn the intricacies of the game. If there is at least some luck, then new players will occasionally come out on top.

I think dominant personalities in general will lean toward skill and submissive personalities will lean toward luck.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Not sure I agree 100% :P

Rick-Holzgrafe wrote:
A quick Google tells me that 40 million people play chess. And that's just in the United States...

I think that Google and Facebook audiences are a bit SKEWED. OKAY LARGELY SKEWED! Why? Because I can say I play Chess. I play maybe once every 10 years and early on when I was a teenager back in High School.

If asked: "Do you play Chess?" I would probably respond YES. And there you go SKEWED results. My answer would be: "I play Chess once in a while, every Blue Moon...!"

So Googling for answers to these types of questions is VERY inaccurate. And provides a poor sample pool based on broad questioning/pooling.

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
No Fun

Well, the question really isn't about how many people play chess. Rather, it is whether something that has 0% luck is fun.

Today I learned that some people even find it fun to debate search engine results. ;)

But again: with something as subjective as the idea of "fun," I think the sky's the limit. Luck isn't a requirement. This goes for games as much as it goes for anything else.

Further: just because I find something fun today doesn't mean I will find it fun for the rest of my life. It might be fun today, boring tomorrow... And vice versa.

Personally, I feel that way about a lot of things I enjoyed when I was younger. And there are things I find fascinating and fun today that I never would have considered fun in my youth.

Juzek's picture
Joined: 06/19/2017

So, obviously, there are a lot of people who play complex strategy games with zero luck.

Fhizban specifically mentioned appealing to the masses. I think there are a lot of people who are turned off by heavy thinking in games in general because they feel it is a reflection of their intelligence. I think the luck helps the ego. If I win it was my good stratagey, if I loose it was due to bad luck. If an inexperienced person beats me, they have beginners luck.

Now. Why don't chess and go players branch out to a bunch of other luckless games? I think it is due to the investment to get good at them. In fact, the learning curve is so high that both games have ranking systems to identify where you are on the learning curve.

And now you have an entire community and culture to propagate these two games.

Because of all that, I think the market for new strategic thinking games is just a lot lower than any other type.

Rick-Holzgrafe's picture
Joined: 07/22/2008
questccg wrote:So Googling

questccg wrote:
So Googling for answers to these types of questions is VERY inaccurate.

I should have provided attribution, but I didn't think it would be a controversial point. Google was not the authority I used; Google was merely the search engine I used to find the authority.

Here's another: it was found (easily) by using Google, but it is from which says:

At the time of writing, has surpassed 20,000,000 members. ...Of these, well over a million are active on a daily basis.

And the FIDE (International Chess Federation) currently lists over 360,000 rated players. These are people who regularly play in official tournaments.

These numbers are smaller than the 40 million I quoted earlier. But you won't find me in either collection, and yet I do play chess, and I do enjoy it.

Millions of people play chess, and any claim that chess (or go, or checkers) is not a popular game seems ridiculous to me.

So (not to derail the OP's subject) I stand by my claim that games with no luck can be popular.

Rick-Holzgrafe's picture
Joined: 07/22/2008
More popular luck-free games

Here are a few modern, highly-rated luck-free games:

YINSH - One of the GIPF project games, currently ranked 183rd at BoardGameGeek, winner of a couple of awards and nominated for several more.

TZAAR, DVONN>, ZERTZ, and GIPF are more games from the GIPF project, all ranked in the top 1000 games on BoardGameGeek.

(Sorry about the caps-lock! I'm not shouting, those game names really are spelled in all caps.)

Hive - Currently ranked 237th at BGG. Winner of a couple of awards, and nominated for several more.

Patchwork and Caylus are games currently in the BGG top 100 which have no randomness during play, but that do have a randomized setup.

Anyone who wants to point out that these games are in a minority and that most games include luck factors is not wrong, of course. Just don't let anybody tell you that a luck-free game can't be popular. :-)

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Wow ... I'm surprised!

Thanks for the clarifications @Rick. 20,000,000 people is still a lot of registered users. And FIDE's 360,000 surpasses the number of designers on "The Game Crafter" (250,000+)... There are more PRO Chess Players than Game Designer using TGC. Why is this important??? Because I Googled some general terms about the FUTURE of Game Design and it said that 2021 the gross amount of market share will increase from $3.2 Billion to $8.12 Billion...

The is a bright future for NEW games, even though most of the market is consumed by the mainstream staples. I'm working HARD to break that fact. TradeWorlds is a very Tactical Deck-Builder where combat is even encouraged. So conflict is a key element in the game.

Where was I going with all this???

Oh yeah, I didn't mean to be "mean spirited" when I stated 40,000,000 chess players was a LOT and probably not 100% true. But even 20,000,000 registered users is really surprising. The main problem with determinism is that it is HARD to get a DEEP experience with a lot of choice and decisions. Like there is ALREADY Chess and Checkers. How is YOUR "Archon" game going to be different than the those two (2) games??? Will you have enough of an audience on crowdfunding? That's another point... People play chess but do they frequent Kickstarter...?

And just remember there is another purely DETERMINISTIC "competitive" game called... Trench...! They had a Kickstarter and made less than $20,000 USD. Maybe something like 500 or so Backers. Nothing to get too excited about ... But it's better than NOT funding. So that kinda answers the KS question (is there an audience). There is but limited and that's from a pool of a LARGER audience (the Publisher had over 1,500 backers in their original pool so that meant 1/3rd showing... Not too bad).

There is also a game called "The Duke". Here's the BGG URL/Link:

It's a bit CONVOLUTED ... But it works. Flipping is a weird mechanic for this type of game. IDK why they did this...? Anyone know why???

There is also a FANTASY Chess game called LOKA. Here's the BGG URL/Link:

This LAST game is probably closer than "The Duke". I just mentioned it because it too is a "sorta" Chess game too. LOKA was designed by Alessio Cavatore a semi-known designer ... Working on Warhammer and LOTR. I saw the Kickstarter for LOKA... And it was definitely INSPIRING. Why? Because it reminded me of Archon. And in my version, I wanted to use an RPS-5 given RPS-3 encounters. Still on the backburner ... But hey... I've got a lot to work on ATM.

Just figured I'd provide some CONSTRUCTIVE input (sorry about the Googling... I was being too "picky").

Cheers @Fhizban and sorry @Rick. Hope those Game URLs/Links make up with some constructive examples of DETERMINISM. Cheers!

Note #1: Here is the KS campaign for LOKA in case you want to watch the Video which explains LOKA...

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Also there is...

Sovereign Chess. Here's the URL/Link:

It's like Chess "on steroids". Same rules as traditional Chess BUT when a piece lands on a colored square on the board, you can control additional armies of different colors and composition.

Here's the KS campaign with the Video about the game:

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Also ...

I just wanted to talk about LUCK and Determinism as per @Fhizban's OP. In TradeWords (TW), the Attacking player decides what starships he will use to ATTACK his opponent, in addition they also choose which DEFENDING starship(s) will be attacked (Defending Player). If it was PURELY 100% "deterministic" this would me... the STRONGER player would ALWAYS win.

That is of course BORING. And not very realistic either.

In TW the solution I came up with is that each player rolls 1d6 to see which of the two combatants has the UPPER hand in combat. If the Attacker rolls HIGHER than his opponent, the attack is successful and the Defending player must DISCARD the starships lost in the battle.

However if the Defender rolls HIGHER, the Attack ENDS with no loses.

But there is ONE (1) CATCH: rolling a pair. When this happens the OPPONENT (or Defender) gets to go on the OFFENSIVE and a counter-attack occurs... So attacking or initiating an attack can be DANGEROUS too.

I feel like this DICE ROLLING adds a certain amount of REALITY instead of pure 100% determinism. Obviously there are all kinds of REAL-LIFE factors that can be taken into play when Battling. And the double-edge sword of pairs can make for MEMORABLE battles gone completely awry. And it's kind of what makes chatter around the table, memories of amazing victories and sometimes on the losing end, epic failures.

So it stands that you need to figure out what is BEST for your game. Do you need some Tactical Layer (like in "Crystal Heroes") that ADDS to the dimension of the game giving the opponents a CHANCE to earn loot from their own dead carcass (like a vulture circling way up high looking for food). Or does your game need some RANDOMNESS to add some realism or randomness that accounts for unforeseeable circumstances (and that could make your game more realistic).

I'll finish up this post with another EXAMPLE.

In TW there was a Tactic card called "Doomsday Device". Originally the card was supposed to allow a player to destroy any opposing starship IF they rolled a PAIR.

What was wrong with this card??? Let me explain and then you'll know how we REALLY IMPROVED the purpose of this card.

INSTEAD you have to FIRST choose the opposing target starship (for the bomb) and then the next factor was you needed to ROLL HIGHER than the Resistance of the starship.

Why is this IMPORTANT???

Well it adds a layer of STRATEGY and DECISION MAKING. How HIGH do you want to RISK trying to bomb an opposing starship. If it's a 1 Resistance, you need a roll of 2 or higher to DESTROY it.

But if it's a 5 ... ONLY a 6 will do...

All of a sudden a dumb pair rolling instant was TRANSFORMED into a VERY strategic instant card that allowed you to make a couple of decisions rather than rely STRICTLY on randomness (dice rolling).

This illustrates that DICE can be used to add LAYERS to a design and add to the overall complexity of the game. Much like CH and TW. Both use dice and cards... But are very two (2) different kinds of game (Tiles/Tactical Dice vs. Deck-Building/Role Selection)...

So DICE don't always need to be STUPID LUCK (which we all hate except the guy who gets a LUCKY roll... :)

Cheers folks.

ferventworkshop's picture
Joined: 07/22/2020
luck broadens the audience

IIRC, a game-design textbook argued that some luck does broaden the audience of games because it enables less experienced players to have a chance of winning against at least some players with some experience.

I think it was "Characteristics of Games" by George Skaff Elias et al

My own observation is that very experienced players tend to dislike luck. My opinion is that this is because it hurts their chance of winning against less skilled players! Not that I blame them in the slightest ;>

Fhizban's picture
Joined: 01/11/2009
Took me a bit to read through

Takes me a bit to read through all the answers you guys posted over-night (well overnight over here).

To second @Juzek, yes, the question was about how appealing such a game could be for the masses.

Think about the people who enjoy fantasy or sci-fi games for example. With colorful illustrations and lots of "fluff".

There are many abstract games (like @Rick-Holzgrafe pointed out) that are successful and luckless. but those games are also represented in a "abstract" form.


On the other hand: The very popular Magic: The Gathering is (besides the deck and card draws) also luck-less: The combat is deterministic as are the effects of spells etc.


Won't change my concept anyway, as I love it - just interested in what other people think.

Now, lets grab a coffee and read the rest (espec @Quest answers, tons of info in there)

lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009
Avoid the word fun

I do not use the word "fun" specifically because there are so many different ideas of fun. Not weird, just different. If you think your idea of fun is the only true way, you've already failed as a game designer.

I once asked one of my classes who played chess (maybe half out of about 50). And who thought chess was fun (about half of those who play). The rest of the players certainly found it enjoyable or interesting, or both, but not fun.

Something with no luck AND no uncertainty (such as chess, checkers, go) is clearly a puzzle, just as Tic-Tac-Toe is a puzzle. But chess and others are too complex to solve, though we can solve much-simpler "chess problems."

A game (as opposed to puzzle) needs some form of uncertainty, whether from dice or hidden identity/location or having more than two players. You can account for just one opponent (Game Theory), but if there is more than one opponent, uncertainty is strong.

I have talked about these topics in my book, and on my YouTube channel ( at length.

Joined: 07/23/2010
lewpuls wrote: A game (as

lewpuls wrote:

A game (as opposed to puzzle) needs some form of uncertainty, whether from dice or hidden identity/location or having more than two players.

Nah. Try telling Reiner Knizia that two player Through the Desert isn't a game, or all the BGG users that made Gaia Project number 8 on BGG (I can't imagine the game would drop out of the top 500 if it was just 2 player).

Games exist that are without randomness after the initial setup and are obviously very fun.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
I tend to agree but for different reason...

I think without the LUCK, you don't have as BIG Moments in a game. Okay maybe like in Chess capturing a Queen is a BIG Moment ... but other than that there are limited amount of "exciting" or "thrilling" small victory moments.

DICE add some randomness but as I illustrated it could be all driven by strategy and strategic choices (success or failures). It doesn't mean that all randomness is lucky rolling. There can also be ODDS and PREDICTABILITY or likelihood too.

Magic: the Gathering (Magic) is deterministic and it also CAN provide those break through moments ... Which make for exciting plays too. So it is not impossible for highly deterministic games to NOT have BIG Moments... I guess it really depends on the game itself (and how it is designed).

Magic LUCK has primarily to do with drawing cards and which cards you get at what time in the game. Like getting Mana screwed (for example). Or just not getting the right cards for combos and such.

I guess you need to design the game with those BIG Moments and then you will see if it is 100% Deterministic or requires some form of randomness to inject some excitement to the game.

That to me is the primary reason for randomness = Excitement. Not simply pure luck of the roll...

Rick-Holzgrafe's picture
Joined: 07/22/2008
After posting a heavy defense

After posting a heavy defense of luck-free games, I would still have to agree that most popular games include some form of random element. There are a few good reasons for this, among them:

- Many people do enjoy rolling dice (and other random mechanisms)
- It can help level the playing field between experts and kids/newbies (as has been mentioned)
- It can enhance replayability by making a design less likely to be "solved".

The last point is worth discussion. Randomness by itself doesn't make a game interesting. But a great danger for any game designer is not realizing that their design has a dominant strategy, a way for one player to always or nearly-always win. This can happen even to experts: Uwe Rosenberg published a game a few years ago (I forget which one) that had a way over-powered tile, and had to issue an update to fix that problem.

Games without randomness are more susceptible to this, and I think it's one reason that designers shy away from "deterministic" games. Game design is hard; designing a luck-free game that remains interesting and varied and balanced after thousands of plays is even harder. Even chess and go have evolved over the past thousand years or so: go started out on a much smaller board, and over time the board has gotten larger as each new board was eventually "solved" by expert players.

As a player, my personal preference is for strategy games with low luck factors. As a designer, I am very fond of shuffled card decks as my favorite randomizer: I think they give a lot of variety and replay value while keeping the luck factor to a reasonable minimum. (If done properly, of course. There are no magic solutions.)

And the standard disclaimer: these are my preferences, and yours may well vary.

P.S. @questccg: No worries, mate. :-) This is a very interesting discussion!

Fhizban's picture
Joined: 01/11/2009
Dice (or any other luck based

Dice (or any other luck based element) also make the game easier to play. The randomness gives a less experienced player a chance to win, while a 100% deterministic game is harder, it does not reward newbies.

The same is true for balancing: Dice (randomness) makes a game easier to balance and imbalance is harder to spot as the randomness obscures it.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Adding randomness can be a double edged sword

Some games need randomness to become balanced.
But if you add to much randomness, then it would be just a game of who rolls the highest.

In my experience, a game should have at least some factors that a player can CHOOSE from.

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