Game Designer’s Notes #3: Types of luck

Courtesy of Amos Kwok

In the world of gaming, luck isn’t 100% random. Yes, there are some forms that are, like rolling dice, but in most types of gaming, luck actually has some regulation, and there are two I will highlight.

The first is drawing cards. Unlike dice, where every option is eternally available, drawing cards mean that the possibility of drawing the same card twice is limited to the number of copies of that card. So if there’s only one doomsday card in the deck, it will only come into effect once.

Now imagine if the deck was replaced with a die. Say every time a particular number was rolled, doomsday happened. Yes, the probability of it happening is still low, but dice being dice, it could happen every turn until everyone cries, right? And that would be a disaster. And that’s why designers use cards.

Anyone who’s ever played a game where each person has a special ability will know this: you know, where one player wins “just because” they have the most powerful character. This, of course, shouldn’t happen, because the point of special abilities is that they should be of equivalent power.

But say there are thirty characters and five players. This means that there are 142,506 possible setups in terms of characters. Of course, no one can play through every scenario, so a crazy match up that causes quite a bit of disorder to a rather stable game might be missed—and that’s where it relies a little on luck. Once in a while, the match up will suck, but forcing players to adapt their strategies is something game designers like to do: and it’s a legitimate design tool.

Aside from die rolling, those are the two types of luck I have seen in games. What types have you seen?

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