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Making Luck Episode 39: Dealing with Luck

In this episode, Adam and Jake discuss how to deal with luck in Dominion.

Kingdom at the end: Raze, Familiar, Oracle, Village, Diplomat, Counting House, Distant Lands, Outpost, Goons, Grand Market, Wedding, Conquest

I don't have a lot to say on this one. One minor disagreement with Adam, I think it's often good to know when analyzing a Kingdom, maybe not 100% where your points will come from, but where they can come from. I.E. if I am building a deck that's consistent draw, then it's going to suck at slogging. If I'm building to a mega-turn, I can get (whatever subset of green cards that does). Or in the case in question, there is Goons, and Goons mostly means that other forms of greening are mostly obsolete, which means that when you're building, making the draw very very pure is going to be more important, because "there will always be more points later". Having said that, all this is subtle, and unless e.g. there is a quite fast pileout, it is probably not making a big difference.



Only significant disagreement comes in the role of luck in games. I do not think that the benefits of randomness or luck or whatever you have actually provide what you are saying. And actually, this is one of my pet peeves a bit, when people say games aren't fun, or especially that they can't be broadly popular to the masses, without luck/randomness. Their reasoning is almost always that weak players need to be able to defeat strong players for something to be popular, which isn't exactly what you're saying here, but in my mind is at least adjacent. I don't buy this argument - I think it's empirically false. If you look at the most popular games in the world, they're all minimal-luck. Football, field hockey, basketball, baseball, cricket, tennis, table tennis... Okay, you want to exclude sports that are physical? Still, Chess is insanely popular, as are a number of other games like Go. I think the only broadly popular luck-significant multiplayer games really are Poker and Bridge.


Anyway, even in a game like chess, the game is really not the same all the time. Opening theory is not actually all that important, either - games are usually decided in the opening only by big blunders; the advantage of better opening prep is usually getting to a slightly better position, but in such a way that you still need a lot of skill to convert, or a lot of skill on the other side can overcome. Actually endgame theory is probably more important....

As for drawishness, I think that's more of an attribute of the game than of whether you have randomness or not. Chess is a pretty drawish game. Checkers is also drawish (in fact, with perfect play, it is drawn). But other Perfect Information games aren't - Connect Four is a win for the first player with optimal play, Go is never a draw, etc.



In general, I think that what you really want for all of the virtues you extol (and I think they are good), is complexity. All of these games are basically math problems, and in order to be good, it needs to be that the solution is not something that you can just compute so easily, such that you have to make decisions not so much by calculating everything (calculating some stuff is still ok), but more by having built up some heuristics and/or feeling of what is good or not. Basically you need to have your decisions to have enough complexity such that they aren't trivial, context-dependence so that everything is not repeatable, and a manner of being presented that gives some amount of interest, so that you're not staring at naked numbers. (Numbers can be a bit prudish.)


So anyway, adding the randomness can be one way of adding that complexity, if you do it right, like a lot of card games (Dominion included, but also e.g. Bridge) do. It has you balance risk vs reward, and the probabilities are not so easy to calculate, either because they're too complex and compounding, or because there is some amount of implied information (as in Poker, Bridge, Euchre, etc.). Randomness CAN be added in ways that are completely un-fun and don't really add complexity, too, though - after the game, roll a die; if the loser rolls over twice as high as the winner, reverse the result. Well that's random, but there's no strategic implication, so it's very boring. It does let the weaker player win sometimes, but not in a satisfying way at all. It's also not interesting if it's trivial - if you imagine a VP card worth a variable amount based on a die roll on-gain, then you can play around that, but it doesn't really give you much over and above just having the thing be either a fixed amount, or pegged to something else relevant to the gameplay.

But you can add other kinds of complexity that aren't random, too, and that can be just as interesting. Chess does this. Go does this. Prismata does this. There are a lot of games. And the thing is, they are complex enough that the better player overall still loses a pretty good chunk of the time anyway. It's actually probably not right to say that I would never beat Jack Rudd - he is enough better than me that it would be super rare, but if we played a million games, I am probably going to win at least one. And that's a pretty big skill gap - there are lots of levels in between.


Okay, back off the soap box - it took me longer to type this than to listen...