Thursday, April 19, 2007

The News in Views / Old Puzzler / New Biweekly Puzzler

More Luck?

I just can't get this out of my mind. I've been thinking about the luck issue for a few weeks now. I would like to change my earlier statements as to the amount of luck in chess and other games.

I recently posted a silly Geeklist on BGG called the Ladder of Luck in which I rated several games by the amount of luck found in them. With the exception of one, they were all highly personal opinions.

I made the list because of a terrible Settlers game I had played in, and in a teeth-grinding rage, I wrote a list of games in which Settlers ranked between Fluxx and Candyland. I guess the humor of it didn't come across too well, but the exercise got me thinking and questioning everything I believed on the luck issue.

For many years, it bothered me to win a game in which either my opponent blundered or in which I made a move that was better than I had previously thought. The first was out of my control; the second couldn't be counted on. So I refused to take credit for them. If I won a game due to the unforeseeable, I would question my skill or lack of skill. Somehow, the idea that a game was either full of skill or luck persisted in me until now.

No more! I no longer think the adjectives skillful and lucky can be applied to a game. Claims like "this game is all luck" or "this game is pure skill" are missing their targets. Games are just bits and pieces with a set of rules and are neither inherently skillful or lucky (they can be random though; more later). Players, however, can claim to be skillful or lucky or any combination thereof.

A player's skill/luck is applied across a game's topography. The topography of a game is its information, and this can be known (chess, go), partly known (cribbage, Settlers), or not known at all (Candyland). Nothing in the topography of a game is different from one player to the next. How well a person traverses this topography is a combination of skill and luck.

What about the randomness of dice and cards? Isn't that luck? Randomness is not luck. Randomness exists in games in the form of dice, cards and many other yet-to-be-disclosed information generators. You can't count on specific information or instructions, but you can still count on its coming your way.

Skill and luck still reside in the players. It's too easy to peg a game as lucky if the random info generators don't swing the "right" way. If it's random for both players, that's just a part of the game's topography and does not change the potential control or skill of a player.

What it comes down to is accountability. There is luck or skill in the playing of a game, not in the game itself. A player must learn to accept the topography of a game. If there's skill to be had, he or she must earn it within the confines of the game's topography. If there's luck to be found, he or she will find it in the imperfections of all the players' moves. In both cases, the player must learn to judge the merit of the players and pay especially close attention to his or herself.

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Old Puzzler Q & A

Last time was a dry time for puzzles. I apologize for the multi-answer puzzler. Here is what a few solvers sent in to me.

Q: Which of the following does not belong?

Balloon Cup, Coloretto, Scrabble, Shadows over Camelot

A: Scrabble doesn't belong because it is the only game listed without cards as a component. (J. Wandke, Dave "Daw65")

Scrabble doesn't belong because it's a word game. (Dave "Daw65")

Scrabble doesn't belong because it wasn't created in the 21st century. (J. Wandke)

Shadows over Camelot doesn't belong because it does not have double letters in its name. (J. Wandke)

Balloon Cup doesn't belong because it has an even number of words in its title. (J. Wandke)

Balloon Cup doesn't belong because it doesn't have an 'e' in its title. (Dave "Daw65")

Shadows over Camelot doesn't belong because it is collaborative, with multiple winners. (J. Wandke, Dave "Daw65")

Shadows over Camelot doesn't belong because it's the only game without a double letter in its title.

Balloon Cup doesn't fit because it is for exactly two players. The others all allow both flexible qty of players, and more than two. (J. Wandke)

Coloretto doesn't belong because there are two games named Coloretto. The others are unique. (J. Wandke)

The original answer I had in mind is laughable. This has been a good lesson for me. Thanks to those for writing in. Without further ado, the bogus answer!

Coloretto doesn't belong because it's the only game without an animal hidden in its title ("loon" in Balloon Cup, "crab" in Scrabble, and "camel" in Shadows over Camelot; if you read backwards, you can get "otter" from Coloretto, though).

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New Biweekly Puzzler

Being a simple puzzle, this one's based on speed. Time yourselves!

I'm thinking of a boardgame and a sitcom. One's a question, and the other's an answer to that question. What are they?

0-5 seconds = Mighty Mouse (intelligent, fast, flying, speaks)
6-15 seconds = Speedy Gonzales (intelligent, fast, speaks)
16-60 seconds = Roadrunner (intelligent, fast)
61-120 seconds = Yogi Bear (intelligent, fast in special instances)
121+ seconds = Eeyore (intelligent, slow)

*Thank you for not posting the answer. If you'd like to take a guess, write smattathias@gmail.com.

2 comments:

Chris Farrell said...

Alomst ...

If what you're saying is that we should try to achieve a Zen-like appreciation for each game for what it is and not for what we want or expect it to be, I can get behind that. I can also get behind the idea of playing the hand you're dealt and not whining about it.

But it's fairly obvious that luck is an element of a game's design, and we can say concrete things about it. Settlers has some significant luck, but good play will tend to dominate good luck and players who play skillfully can overcome bad luck to be competitive, although they may not win.

We can also say that you should not play Fluxxx if you don't enjoy games where the luck of the draw can't really be overcome by any amount of skill. And we can say that 7 Ages has way too much luck for a 12+ hour game, at least for the overwhelming majority of gamers.

It may be too nebulous to put a hard number to or to rank, but clearly some games are more skillful or less lucky than others.

smatt said...

Thank you for writing, Chris.

I question that luck equals randomness.

Randomness is built into many games. It is a harnessable and often used game element.

For much of my life, I've equated dice and cards with luck. I'm questioning that now. I think a lot of people will continue to believe the two are synonymous. That's okay. I'm not out to change anyone else. I'm just starting to believe that luck is its own thing, separate from randomness, that it's not a harnessable element.

More random or less random... those are terms I can agree with.

The split came when I thought about luck in chess. Chess has "perfect information" in regards to piece movement. Yet I have felt strongly that there was luck in it. How can that be? There are no random elements in the game, so how can luck exist in it?

Well, no randomness exists in the rules or pieces or board. But when two players sit down to the board, they bring with them some chance. Admittedly, this happens less and less the better you get (the closer you approach "perfect information"). But for the vast majority of people, our comprehension of the given information is limited in scope, so we invent the rest and make a move. An educated guess is what it amounts to. This in turn introduces luck.