Luck…Love it, Hate it or somewhere in between, I have never been a big fan of what I call direct contact luck. Mostly because I tend to not have any when it comes to games built around luck. When it comes to game design, I feel like there are better ways to have random/lucky forced affect players. Therefore, we try to introduce luck or randomness into our games in as many different ways as we can.
Die Face Modification
Perhaps the easiest way to mitigate luck is to allow players to change die faces. Depending on the theme and mechanics you have surrounding your die rolls, you can allow players to play cards, use abilities, spend actions points in order to alter their die rolls. What I like about this method that it is easy to incorporate the alteration methods into your game but you are still taking something away from your players in order to mitigate the luck of the die. The opportunity cost of taking away a card or action point so the player can alter their bad roll can frustrating, but it is not as frustrating as feeling helpless when you roll a 3 with 2d6 and all you needed was a 5 to do that cool thing you have been trying to set up for the last three turns.
Luck that Affects Everyone
The tool we used the most to apply luck or randomness to our games is to use event cards that effect everyone in the game. No one knows what the conditions of the next round could be because of the random event draw. However, since everyone has to deal with this random element at the same time (during the same round), there is little room for players to feel like they are being singled out by the random forces of the game. Not to mention, the designers can control the distribution of random in the deck of events. So if testing shows you that there are times when the randomness of events could tend towards hitting one player more often than others, you can make changes in order to fix this issue.
Ultimately, what I really don’t like about luck is that it can ruin a game for one person in a group. I won’t play the original version of Settlers of Catan because a long run of incredibly bad luck has left a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to SoC. One might like to point out that I am a huge fan of Star Realms, and I would counter with the fact that I can play a ton of games in a short amount of time and the social connectivity with the use of the Star Realms app gives Star Realms an extra tick of a box that SoC does not offer to me as a gamer.
My hope for designers out there is that they can avoid traps of design that might cause a player down the line to not want to play their game because one time several years ago, their player was mistreated by the random events of their game and they no longer want to play.
If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We are thinking about starting a regular Google hangout with other designers. We can try to design a game together, we can talk about designers we are working on, you can ask us questions. We can make it whatever we want. What we really want to do is get to know the people that are willing to read all the way to the bottom of our posts. Please contact Chris on Twitter or send him an email and if we are able to get a minimal amount of interest, we can work on putting something together.