Anatomy of a Genre: Dice Games, Part Two — Just the Stats, Ma’am

It’s a Dice Fest!

That’s an oft-seen complaint on certain internet bulletin boards whose readers think that all games should be entirely strategic, with no chance for random elements to intrude upon carefully made plans.  If that’s really the sort of game that you like, then no problem. But, don’t buy blindly into the concept. I think dice games can provide a lot of benefits that you don’t find in a “less” random game, the greatest of which is the visceral and encompassing joy that can fill you when you receive an unlikely, but badly needed roll. Besides that, if you’re wanting to simulate reality in any form, then you need to accept that randomness happens. Just ask Hillary Clinton or Constable Charles d’Albret (of Agincourt).

This isn’t to say that a good dice game is totally random. Instead, it uses additional mechanics to turn that luck into another game element that can be controlled by a good player–which is the topic of this week’s article. Continue reading

Parlaying Success

A couple of months ago I played several hands of Parlay. This is a Poker/word-game that I reviewed last year. I thought it was excellent then, and even though I couldn’t put together a decent word to save my life in this recent game, I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

Parlay has a unique mechanism whereby you collect a hand of 7 cards from a normal 52-card deck, with each card also featuring a letter. Then you try and simultaneously put together a top-rate 5-card Poker hand and a good word of up to 7 letters.

After each player has assembled his final hand of cards, he then decides whether to stay (betting that he has a better total hand value than anyone else) or fold.

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The Problem with Blind Bidding

“1 …”

I had two, perhaps three seconds left to make a decision, and it would decide the entire game.

“2 …”

We’d tied at rock last time, and the average person shifts upward, which meant Eric was most likely to go to paper. But Eric was bright, and he probably knew that, which meant he’d stay at rock to crush my scissors when I displayed that to cut his paper if he did shift up as expected, but if …


My gyrating hand came to stuttering stop, stuck on rock because I was frozen in indecision.

And Eric had counted on my indecisiveness, as was evidenced by by his wide spread hand.

“Paper smothers rock!”

To be honest, I’ve never understood why paper beats rock in the first place.

Stupid game. Continue reading

The Problem with Luck II

Last year I wrote about luck in board games, with attention to the fact that most well-designed luck in games actually asks you to balance risk versus reward.

Last week I played two luck-filled board games, Parthenon and The Settlers of Zarahemla, and in each case I lost due to some “bad luck”. But, I was entirely happy with the results because the losses were ultimately the result of me risking and losing — and that’s exactly how I think it should be in a game with a random factor. Thus, I’d like to use these two game sessions as case studies, to show what good, controllable luck looks like, and how you can risk and lose.
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The Problem with Luck

I am sick to death of people complaining about luck in their board games.

OK, fine, if you can’t stand luck at all, and you spend your life playing Chess in a hermetically sealed bubble, I won’t complain. That’s your call.

But this article is for the rest of you, who happily draw cards, pick tiles, and maybe even (heaven forbid) roll dice in your favorite games — who do all these things, but then complain about the newest BeowulfSettlers, or Louis XIV, because it’s trendy to do so, and all the cool kids are. I’m sick to death of people complaining about luck in their board games because, simply enough, most people don’t understand how randomness actually works and don’t understand how moderating luck is an important game skill.

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