Jan 9, 2014

Posted by in Games | 0 Comments

The Ultimate Quest in Game Design

51oLNanfMnLLong ago, I came to a surprisingly shrewd revelation about game design, particularly when it comes to strategy board games and card games. It was probably during a session of Settlers of Catan or Yu-Gi-Oh after losing a game I am sure I felt I should have won at the time. And that revelation is simple: the less that luck is involved, the better the game.

 Now, I’m of course excluding family games (to a certain extent), but even those can infuriate a natural competitor. For instance, playing a game of monopoly can be fun. But it’s completely based on the luck of the dice. And I’m sure everyone has experienced the same agony of landing on Boardwalk with a hotel multiple times in a row. Or NOT having anyone land there when you’re the owner. And this is precisely what I’m talking about. Monopoly is, in no way, considered a strategy game, because there’s too much luck involved. And the games that do eliminate a sufficient amount of luck are favored, instinctively or not, by true gamers, as long as the design itself is entertaining and challenging.

I believe this is why Chess is considered the ultimate intellect’s game. Ignoring the statement of this otherwise great blog post on luck and skill, there is 0% luck in chess, and all pieces are transparent. It’s a battle of the brains and nothing more. I currently know of no other game that involves absolutely zero luck. So with that in mind, I started to realize that for any game designer, this should be the groundwork upon which all other concepts should be built. Well that and fun, of course. Call it a two-tiered foundation.

 I’ve started playing more and more Dominion, which is an amazing card game. The rules are fairly simple, and expansion packs are building on the fun and extending strategic possibilities to the stratosphere. But what I like about the game most is that it eliminates luck to a great degree. There’s still luck involved, the presence of which can sometimes be poignant when it directly causes you to lose, but often it’s the player’s strategy compared to his opponents’ that is the cause of either victory or defeat, and that’s what I really like most. As opposed to popular games like Settlers of Catan (which I love), there are no relevant dice rolls, and as opposed to card games like Magic and Yugi, decks are not individually built outside the box sets, so all decks are available and possible for all players.

 And so, in my quest for the latest, greatest game, this is the yardstick by which I measure both interest and quality. How much luck is involved? For the gamer reading this, try asking that question before venturing to learn a new game. You might just find a surprisingly easy answer, when before you were waffling.

 Here is a small list of what I consider the “haves” and “have nots” when it comes to the general elimination of luck in currently popular strategy games:


–         Chess

–         Dominion

–         Stratego

–         Puerto Rico

–         Yu-Gi-Oh

–         Magic: the Gathering

Have Nots

–         Risk

–         Carcassonne

–         Sequence

–         Settlers of Catan