When Is Randomness Good In Board Games?

Game Design

Are random elements or randomization good for board games? How does it work in Raiders of the North Sea? How do I even wait until Raiders of Scythia comes out!?

Article by B.A. Games

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Premium User15 months ago

I'd say randomness is great for variable set ups. It keeps games feeling fresh and up the replayability. On the other hand, games like Monopoly where your entire turn is dictated by the results of a dice roll have far too much randomness/luck for my liking.

Moderator Level 118 months ago

I think there is a big difference between input randomness and output randomness. 

Input randomness includes things like, game setup, deck/bag shuffle in a deckbuilder or bag builder, availability of cards in a market for games like #Power Grid, #Star Realms etc.... I really don't mind this sort randomness. In fact, most of the time, I want it. Most games that don't have any randomness feel to mathy for me. 

Output randomness is a different beast. This is characterized by mechanism like roll or draw a card for movement, draw a random card and play it, untraceable win conditions, roll for resources, etc.... I typically avoid game with to much output randomness. However, that being said, there are parts of games I believe shine with some output randomness. These include, but aren't limited to:

Combat, I prefer it to be mostly deterministic, but I really like it there is a random element in it. It could be the combat card you don't know your opponent has, in #Scythe or something like that. I think I'll really like the combat system in #Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain. Another good combat system that comes to mind is that used in #Root, mostly determined by numbers, but still some randomness. 

I like output randomness in exploration, it doesn't feel like exploring if it isn't mostly random. Sure, it can stink if you're opponent is flipping all the good tiles and you aren't, but I still think it is a essential part of exploring. 

There are also the inevitable exceptions to the rule. For instance, #Catan has a lot of output randomness, but I still like it. 

Premium User18 months ago

On randomness in combat - I think this is where #Dune shines. Yes, you may have a vastly superior force, but you just do not know what your opponent has up their sleeve. They may have your traitor, in which case you automatically lose (when this happens to you it's devastating and awesome at the same time). Maybe they are the Bene Gesserit, and they have the power of the Voice, but also have a lasgun. Dangerous combo.

Most battles in Dune are won by the stronger force (after accounting for the leaders), but sometimes they're not, and I love it.

18 months ago

Sounds like I might need to try #Dune.

Premium User18 months ago

If you can get 6 people together, and they're all invested, it's a great game.

15 months ago

Randomness is needed. Even the smalles amount is needed to call it a game.

As states input/output randomness is a big difference and if you are combining the two, one must be sure not to overuse.

I have no strong preference but it works bes that a big portion of one is countered with a small portion (or none) of the other.


18 months ago

I typically am ok with randomness in a game in a couple different scenarios.

1) when the game is all about luck/randomness. See #The Quacks of Quedlinburg

2) When fighting is involved. I have heard Heavy Cardboard say it makes sense in combat since there is no guarantee in war/battles.

3) In set up. Once you have completed the set up and know what your options are, then that information is steady. 

18 months ago

I agree that battles are a great place for some randomness, it means the player with the 'weaker' army still feels like they have a chance. That said I really enjoy games with non-random battles but where you have hidden information and multiple ways to 'win' (taking an area, scoring points, getting a certain advantage for later) like in #Rising Sun or #Cry Havoc. So although the is no dice rolling instead the uncertainty lies in trying to figure out what you opponent might want from a battle and trying to outmanoeuvre them.

18 months ago

I can see the benefit of that! I played Blood Rage a bit and it had that as well, the hard part is if you do not know what those cards are or the potential cards that the other player has, it can be very frustrating!

18 months ago

For some reason I still haven't played Blood Rage. I am not entirely sure why but it looks fantastic.

18 months ago

It is pretty good, it is a simpler game than it leads on to be honest and it does not reward combat alllll that much. It is a stat building and questing game from my experience. Every game I played the winner maximized their stats and quested a toooon

18 months ago

I think set-up is my favorite place to put randomness. It helps make the game fresh and replayable. I also like it in fighting scenarios, I'm glad I am not alone in that. I am a heavy miniature/war gamer and dealing with probability and mitigating the luck factor is part of the game.

I really need to play #The Quacks of Quedlinburg. I have heard it is quite good!

18 months ago

Ooooo What is your favorite war game?? That is an area of gaming I have not dug into much but I could see myself getting into it. 

It is a crowd pleaser for sure. Just go into knowing that it is random and you are along for the ride and that helps a lot with your enjoyment!

18 months ago

Well my current tabletop miniature/wargame is Conquest by Para Bellum. Pretty sweet ruleset and some good looking models. Been very pleased with it so far. Used to play Warhammer 40k, Guildball, Warmachine but not as much anymore. As for more serious wargames, haven't touched Flames of War in a looooong time. 

18 months ago

Interesting read, I rarely think of randomness/chance when I think about variable set-up for reasons I now realise are similar to those described in the article: I have the whole game to work around a 'random' set-up it's more a way of keep a game fresh than changing my odds too much. Obviously there are exceptions where set-up favours one player specifically.

I tend to enjoy a touch of chance or the ability to push my luck in a game, if everything is known then I feel it pushes player to AP (myself included).

18 months ago

Yes, just ask my brother. I definitely suffer from AP and when it comes to games with little chance, I tend to take them quite seriously. Now I think it is a mental thing for me, but if there is a bit of luck/randomness involved, it helps me to loosen up and not be so intense. Thanks for reading it! Much appreciated.

What did you think of the article overall?

18 months ago

I enjoyed it, I appreciated the two view points given separately (in this case somewhat similar, but I can imagine at other times differing) which is a good format in my view to allow the reader to really think about the topic and not just nod along with the article.

18 months ago

Thank you for the feedback! We have gotten some positive feedback in that regard so I think we will keep doing it. 

18 months ago

You're welcome, keep up the good work!

Premium User18 months ago

I think it's hard to give a blanket statement.  

I think for most games some random element is good whether it's just in setup or in play.  

The trick is to make sure the amount of randomness meets the players expectations for the game. 

Imagine a super tight strategic euro but there's a dice roll at the end that determines who wins?  On the other hand imagine a dice chucker but a strategic decision you made in round 1 determines the outcome?  They both seem wrong.

On the other hand I've had several hour dice chucker games come down to that last dice roll for all the marbles and it was SUPER exciting and win or lose we had fun.

And then you hear about games like Food Chain Magnate where decisions you make round 1 can lose the game for you.  (I've seen some 18xx games with similar things happening.)  And yet people love those games.  

And I think it's because they meet with expectations of the players for the game that they are.

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