Afternoon Edition! Randomness in Games Part 2

Last Sunday I talked broadly about the use of randomness in games and what sort of experience that brings to a player. In that Morning Table Talk I realized that there are many more things that should be talked about.

As I mentioned last week there are many ways to implement randomness in a game and while I mentioned decks of cards and dice, there are many more that can be used. In the game of Life for instance players use a spinner to determine how far they will move on the board. Another implementation that several games use is a bag full of tiles. There are even app assisted games that help with random events and all of this discussion doesn’t even get into the different types of dice.

So let us start today on familiar ground with decks. Decks are basically just stacks of something that are shuffled to make the order in which we draw things random. This can refer to sets of tiles as well or any game item that can be (and is stacked up) for randomness. As was mentioned last week, with a deck the probability of drawing any given card (or tile) changes with each item removed from the deck (obviously decreasing when the card is drawn and to zero when the last copy of a given card is drawn, and increases for every other card drawn). Decks are one of the most common if not the most common form of randomness in games and it is easy to see why. First after the deck is shuffled it does not require any more player interaction for randomness. Second it is quieter than some other methods. Third is only requires a small amount of space to have set up for play. With all of this there are also a few other things to think about, and the first that comes to my mind is that the order of cards is set once the deck has been shuffled. This makes for a predetermined game in some scenarios like the game of War unless the deck is constantly shuffled. Given the wide range of games played with cards it is hard to pin down to a single, or set of, game types. From what I have seen though, a lot of competitive games utilize decks of cards as well as more casual hobby games and classic bluffing and trick taking games.

Dice were pretty well covered last week but it is nice to note that there are many different types of dice used in games to help change the probabilities and options in a game. These can range from simple coin flips all the way to 100 sided dice and more. Games also use custom dice with non numerical faces to potentially represent different actions that can be taken in a game or to fit the mechanics better. Dice, like cards, are used innumerably in games but are noisy and require space and a level surface to play on.

Now let’s talk about some uses of randomness that had not previously been discussed. First that I thought about as I was looking at my collection of games is a bag of tiles. This is used in a few games but for me the biggest example is a chess-like game called The Duke. In The Duke players start with some basic pieces and can draw more pieces from a bag. With a bag of tiles the game designer can either have the randomness similar to a deck of cards if you do not replace the tiles or like dice if they put the tiles back in the bag. The only difficulty with a bag of tiles is that the tiles have to be hardy enough to handle being shaken about repeatedly. The benefits are the flexibility of adding tiles or removing them as the game needs to change the probabilities of the draws as necessary.  Spinners are similar to dice but have potentially more skill in them since the player and tailor how strong their spin is and it *can* take less space than rolling dice.

Randomness in games can be fun and it up to the designer to find the right kind or implementation to best suit the games. Hopefully this has given you some food for thought today and if there are other types of randomness you find in games, let me know and I hope you have a great day!