Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Elements of Greatness: Skill versus Luck

Making a great game is difficult.  If it wasn't, we'd be flooded with great games and great would become average and we'd have to looking out for amazing games, because we'd be bored with great.  However, there are several factors that make an alright game good, a good game great and a great game amazing.  While I certainly won't be able to touch on each and every specific factor, most of these bits and pieces each fall into one of several categories.  So, in a piece I'm calling Elements of Greatness, today we go over Skill versus Luck.

Skill versus Luck
This one is a pretty debatable factor, so I figured I'd go over it first.  This one doesn't really have a right answer.  It's very dependent on your point of view.  There are people who think a game should be all skill and no luck.  Games like Puerto Rico are good examples of that, where there is very little chance involved.  Some people think luck should be everything and skill should take a backseat.  If you disagree, go down to Las Vegas and see what they think about the idea of luck based games.  However, with any divided opinion, most people fall into the moderates, some leaning toward one side or the other.

What's kinda funny about this factor of games is how hidden it can be.  Some games are far more luck dependent than they seem.  Munchkin, for example, is a great game.  It is a lot of fun and I really enjoy playing it.  However, as much fun as I have playing Munchkin, it is nearly completely dependent upon luck.  What cards you draw and what monsters you face are all based on random chance.  There's never really any time in the game where you have to sit and think about your turn.  The benefit of a luck based game is no game will ever really play out the same way.  Sure, the basics are the same, but when each player gets a new hand or depending upon the die rolls, when each game is different, it keeps the game fresh and exciting each time you play.  However, winning and losing a luck based game can be a meager victory at best.  You didn't really DO anything to win, the dice or cards simply landed in your favor.  On top of that, losing badly during a luck based game feels terrible.  While the other players flourish and cheer as they get what they need, it does not feel good sitting there and waiting while they each collect their rewards.

Puerto Rico is just the opposite.  It's a game that is almost totally reliant on skill.  There are hardly any times in the game where the players don't know exactly what will happen next (barring other player choices, of course).  The benefit of this sort of game is when you win, you know it was really because you were the best. No other players can whine and moan about poor rolls or poor draws.  They had the same opportunity as you, you were just better than them.  The downside of this type of game is they have much more potential to become stagnant in replay.  If you have a strategy that works most of the time, you can keep attempting that strategy and it can continue to win until your friends catch up and figure out how to beat it.  Perhaps I'm over simplifying, but the point remains that a game without chance has no random factor and that makes it possible to play the same game over and over.

Like most people, I'm in favor of games that have a touch of both.  Although, honestly, I favor a bit more skill than luck, for the most part.  It's not difficult to find a game that had both luck and skill, in fact, I'm going to venture a guess that 95% of all games have some elements of both.  So, the matter comes down to finding a good balance between the two.  It's easy to add skill to a luck based game.  Even something as simple as giving the players a choice of something constitutes as an element of skill.  Rather than having players draw from this deck, they can draw from this deck or that deck.  Rather than have them roll this die, give them the option to roll a standard dice or the dice that has 3 1s and a 5, 6, and 7.  I don't think that dice exists, but that'd be awesome.  Both dice have the same average, but the latter dice is more of a gamble.  Anyway, Catan is a great example of a game that has touches of both luck and skill.  The luck factor is obvious with the dice rolls each turn and even the random drawing with the robber.  However, the placement of your pieces and deciding where and what to build is a huge portion of the game.  However, ultimately, in Catan, luck has more strength than skill.

So, what's the point of all this?  In the entirety of this article, I barely said anything about which is the way to go.  Well, that was my point. There is no right answer here.  I was trying to show that different games can rely on skill more than luck or vice versa and still be equally as great.  Whichever you prefer is entirely up to you.  Like any other opinion, you can think however you want and you're not really right or wrong.  As I said previously, this is only one of many different parts of what make a game great.  I'll continue to post about the different elements of games and my views on them.

Next time on Elements of Greatness: Customizability


1 comment:

  1. Just played a game of Dungeon Quest. I didn't know anything about the game beforehand. It turns out it's 99+% luck based. There are a few decisions to be made, but none of them really made much of a difference. I hated it.

    Pure skill based games can be fun, but only when played with equally skilled players. Otherwise it's no contest.

    I like a mix of luck and skill. The skilled player has a better chance of winning, but the luck factor gives everyone a shot. And when everyone thinks they can win then they usually more engaged and have more fun.