games and luck

"I have plenty of clever generals but just give me a lucky one" – Napoleon

I've been somewhat addicted lately to the iPhone/iPad version of Carcassonne (the asynchronous internet implementation is extremely well done – if you want to play invite me in-game at cdixon at gmail).  Carcassonne is fascinating because it provides the perfect mixture of strategy, game theory and luck.  It is also well suited to asynchronous gaming because it is "state switching friendly" – you can step away for hours and then come back and focus on your next move without missing a beat.

One friend of mine who is a hardcore strategy gamer dismisses Carcassonne as involving too much luck. I'd argue that luck is both an important element to games and also often misunderstood. 

Luck is important because first because it allows less skilled gamers to win occasionally, keeping them involved as they improve. But, more importantly, luck adds a level of addictiveness even for experienced players because when you lose you feel like had you gotten a bit luckier you could have won, making you want to play again.  

Most importantly, a lot of what is called luck in games is really about creating optionality to position yourself to capitalize on luck when it comes along (what some people call maximizing serendipity). In this way, games with the right amount of luck are much more like real life (or business, or battle) than games that don't involved luck like chess (which I also love, but for different reasons).

5 thoughts on “games and luck

  1. Orestis F says:

    Indeed – in many board games “Luck” is in fact disguised risk management.

  2. mrcoles says:

    Carcassonne seems to do a pretty job of riding the edge between boredom (from no randomness) and frustration (from too much randomness). I’ve generally found myself closer to the frustration side, but I’ve been getting a little better at understanding the game and managing different probabilistic outcomes.Regardless it’s probably better for adoption, general playability, and addictiveness of a game to err on the random side of things. Also, it’s hard to play chess with a group of people over beers.

  3. Eric_WVGG says:

    reminds me of one of my favorite Iain Banks passages… a bit long so cross-posting:

  4. Pasha Bastov says:
  5. ferida20 says:

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