The Heart of RandomnessOur conversation got started with one of players saying that Doppelkopf was too random.
The thing is, however, that almost any card game is random. It's a necessary and implicit part of the process. You take 52 cards (or whatever) and divide them up among the players. For a standard 4-player game that represents 635,013,559,600 different possibilities. In other words, sometimes you're going to get a really bad hand and sometimes you're going to get a really good one.
That's life. Or at least a card game.
I know of a couple of games that try and modify this. The classic is Duplicate Bridge where multiple people all play the same hands of cards, and then how well they did is compared. Personally, I find this entirely at odds with how cards work: they're a purposefully arbitrary mechanism meant to divide resources in a random method. To make sure everyone has the same hands is not only tedious, but also suggests you're not using the right component.
Trump, Tricks, Game is a rare game that I saw that had a method to redistribute cards that wasn't random but that I actually respected. After the first round of play you play additional rounds with the cards that you won previously, thus creating an additional level of decisions in the game, where you must not just collect valuable cards, but also cards that will let you do well in future round.
Offsetting RandomnessGiven that randomness is a core element of card games, the question then becomes how do you offset it to make the elements of skill more important than the randomness?
The best answer is time. A card game will best offset randomness through continued play of hand after hand. My general assessment is that games that allow for 10-15 hands of play are getting to point where the standard deviation is creeping down, and players have generally had the same amount of luck over a game.
(Though always there will be some games were someone's luck was just unbeatable.)
Regrettably, this is where a lot of Eurogames fall down. They've gotten so into the mindset of short, simple games that you have card games where you might only play one round, or at best a number of rounds equal to the number of players, and this just doesn't do it. If those games feel random, it's probably because they still are.
(And it should further be noted that a lot of Euro card games are light enough that they can't support more than that amount of play, meaning that the high randomness is unfortunately an implicit part of the game that can't be reasonably corrected.)
However the best classic card games have at least three other ways to offset randomness, and these are generally methods that Euro card games could learn from.
The first method is value assessment. This means looking at the hand of cards you were dealt and then determining how good it is. Most games like Bridge and Spades do this through bidding. Poker's betting accomplishes about the same purpose--at least absent bluffing, reading opponents, and other elements that confuse the core value assessment.
The second method is hand refinement. Games like Hearts and Tichu do this by passing and receiving cards from opponents. It's more meaningful in a game like Tichu where you're trying to create various card patterns then in a game like Hearts where you're mainly focusing on Hearts, Spades, and voids. The commercial game Havoc: The Hundred Year's War does it via card-drafting, as does the classic Coloretto.
The third method is card play. Or rather, good card play. If the way to play cards is obvious, you're not going to offset any randomness, but if a good card player can make much more clever use of his cards--even if it's just by quickly completing voids or learning to see how your cards can simultaneously match a few different patterns--then his skill will start to shine through, especially as more rounds of play occur.
ConclusionYes, card distribution is random, but good card games overcome that. You have to play more hands, and the game has to be deep enough to support it. However even beyond that I think you'll find that the very best card games offset randomness even more with card assessment, hand refinement, or some combination thereof.
Light Euro card games could learn well from these, and consider how these methods could be built into their own gameplay.