Musings On >> The Element of Chance in Board Game Design
[Here's my 2 cents on a recent running commentary regarding the presence of luck and randomness in games from Tom Vasel's excellent ongoing Musings On mailing list]
Regarding luck... In general, the longer the gameplay, the less luck I want determining the outcome. Luck/chance/randomness is still welcome, as it can throw unexpected curves into the game or help equalize things, but it all boils down to a few personal preferences:
1) In general, when I lose, I would prefer the loss be due to exceptional play by my opponents or poor play on my part.
2) In general, when I win, I would prefer the win be due to exceptional play on my part or poor play by my opponents.
3) The longer the game, the less I want the role of luck to determine the winner.
In a game of Memoir '44, with a single battle lasting 20-30 minutes, I really don't mind rolling horribly while my opponent rolls far above average, or getting nothing but Left Flank cards when I've got no troops in the Left Flank. Luck as an overriding factor in this case doesn't bother me. It's still a fast-paced, fun experience, regardless of the outcome of a single turn (even if it is pivotal to the game).
In a game of Hammer of the Scots, on the other hand, with a game taking 2-2.5 hours, I start to get irked when the turning point in the game is determined by luck.
For example, in my last game of HotS I played the English. I had two consecutive years where I drew four 1s and a single 2 for activation, while the Scottish player had all 3s and 2s. In a pivotal battle, I proceeded to roll 18-20 dice at B2 and missed with nearly all of the dice, while my opponent rolls 8 dice at B2 and hits with 6 or 7 of them. When my tactical decisions and plans are foiled simply by luck, rather than poor/exceptional planning by the players for a longer game, it bothers me.
In games that take longer than 3 hours, my tolerance for luck as an overriding factor diminishes quickly. There reaches a point where I'd rather concede a game to luck, then move on to something where all players start back on a level playing ground.
What do you think about luck and randomness? How much is too much? What influences your tolerance for luck the most: theme, game length, opponent?