Luck and Board Games

I used to fancy myself a pretty good Monopoly player. The reason I was good at that game had nothing to do with the rules. I was good because I was a good dealer. When it came to seeing the long-term value in a property, I was usually best at the table. At the end of the day, though, I could still lose. I would still land on Boardwalk through no fault of my own. I would still only land on two properties my first two trips around and have nothing to trade. Why? Bad luck.

My ability to be good at a game like Monopoly had nothing to do with my skill. It had to do with if the dice were in my favor. Then, it had to do with how well the dice rolled for my friends. I could always best the best decision and still lose. This is why I had to shelve Monopoly for the foreseeable future. In general, the more a game depends on luck, the more I will avoid it.

Does that mean that luck in board games is a bad thing? I don’t think it is as a rule. King of Tokyo is a great game that uses dice. What makes it different from Yahtzee? It’s the fact that there are interesting decisions for the player to make. Sid Meier, the creator of the “Civilization” series, says, “A game is a series of interesting decisions.” If there are no decisions for the player to make, there isn’t much of a game.

When choosing games to play with the family, there is a balance to be had. Random elements in a game create balance. A die roll has nothing to do with strategy. Kids and parents alike can roll a 6 on a die. To that point, some random gives the children in the family an equal footing. If there is too much random though, they may get frustrated. Too much random doesn’t give a feeling of satisfaction when making the correct decision. It’s this risk/reward balance that has to you need to watch in family games. A game like Terra Mystica is punishing to new players because of the lack of random. In contrast, a game like Settlers of Catan is friendly to beginners. The random (and social) elements of the game keep good players in check. That also allows the newer/younger players to keep up.

What games do you think do a good job at balancing random elements? Do random elements in games matter to you? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts


I'd love to hear your questions and comments!