Chance and Randomness

I recall playing a game in grade school.  I must have been eight years old, give or take a year.  It was a project for a class- everyone had an airplane, and you were trying to get your airplane from one city to the next, and you would plot your course, height and speed, turn by turn.  A lesson in orienteering and maps, I guess.

To spice things up, there were random event cards- things like weather conditions and the like.  But one- I’m not sure if I drew this or if I saw it inflicted on someone else- was a hijacking, forcing someone to pilot to another city way across the other side of the map, before returning to their destination.

Even then, I thought, “this is dumb, with too much chance.”

Today, I’m a game-designer, and avid game-consumer.  And one thing I’ve learned is that you need chance and randomnesss- but the mix is hard to find.

For purposes of this discussion, I’m going to define Randomness as the total factor of random elements in the game- zero randomness is a game with no random element, in a fixed situation, like Chess.  Every game starts the same, and any difference between individual games is a result of the decisions of the participants.  A game with high randomness has frequent die rolls or other random elements.  Settlers of Catan has a die roll every turn that effects every player in the game, and the board set up is random, making sure that every game is different from the start, and it cannot be certain what path the game will take.

Chance is the tendency for Randomness to produce wildly divergent outcomes.  Settlers of Catan is a game with reasonably high randomness, but fairly low chance.  One can reasonably infer, that over the course of an entire game, 8s and 6s will be rolled more often than 9s and 5s, making 8s and 6s more valuable.  The exact distribution tends towards normal, with the random tension tending towards when the various tiles will pay out, not if they will pay out.  A game like Candyland has lots of randomness, and even more chance- the outcome of the game is entirely left up to luck.

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon in collectible card games- there’s a fairly constant element of randomness, with the shuffling of the decks and the random order of cards- and among players with limited card collection and skill, chance plays a fairly high role.  But as player skill increases, chance decreases- two inexperienced players are more prone to the vagaries of fate, whereas the knowledgeable and skilled tend to be better able to play around a bad draw, or build a deck that minimizes the possibility- and when both parties are playing within realms of standard deviation, skill is where it’s at.

I think for a successful game design, we can dial Randomness way up or dial it way down, but we should find a way to dial Chance down.  And check this out- that airplane game I played in like 3rd grade- it had low randomness (the card draws weren’t that often) but high chance (since they could have a devastating impact on the game.)


One thought on “Chance and Randomness

  1. Interesting.

    I have, in the past, preferred games with high Chance (using your terms), because they were the only ones I had any possibility of winning (I am not a skilled player… of anything). More recently in my life I find that I have more fun when I don’t try to win- it turns out I hate losing, and the only way to deal with that is simply not to care. It’s not as much fun as winning, naturally, but it’s more fun than wanting to win and being disappointed.

    So I’m curious, how does one go about reducing Chance in a game, in relation to various levels of Randomness?

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