Goof’s Guide… As Luck Would Have It

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article on Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City. In writing for it I was considering the luck element of the dice. See, originally I wasn’t a fan. I felt the game was fun but I don’t like relying solely on luck. There’s a few games where I’ve felt this way initially, and it’s taken a few plays to work out where the luck mitigation in these games is – Ghost Stories, King of Tokyo… Stopping to analyse these further I noticed they all had dice.

Now look, I’m not down on dice. Quite the opposite. They’re one of the most tactile parts of tabletop gaming. The “G20” is an integral part of TGR branding. I reckon I’ll probably get it tattooed one day. I love nothing more than rolling those dice, the excitement as they inevitably end up screwing me over.

I’m not here to argue dice aren’t lucky. They are by their very nature. But I’m also not here to argue luck is a bad thing. It’s just taken me awhile to get my head around where luck belongs in our hobby. Turns out, luck is very much the centerpiece around all exciting games.

Luck can be a mitigating factor for new players, giving them a chance to level the playing field. Luck adds excitement. Some of my favourite moments are in games like Axis and Allies, Conquest of Nerath, Star Wars Rebellion, Twilight Imperium- those moments where one unit holds off against a formidable army who thought they were going to get away with an easy win. Even if this hero eventually falls, if they took a few with them you’ll see me with a satisfied smile on my face.

There’s a unit at the beginning of Conquest of Nerath in particular. A solider of the Iron Circle who starts smack bang in the middle of League of Nerath territory. I’ve almost never seen an opening move which does end up with this guy killed. But there have been times where he’s done statistically more damage than should be possible. And I find myself rooting for the guy. It’s always the most interesting part to me about how the first turn will go, how much is this unit taking down with him.


It actually might be why I really didn’t like Game of Thrones: The Board Game back when I gave the first edition a try in my University days. There was a lot there which was enjoyable. But the combat was very formulaic (from memory, we’re going back around five years ago now). Basically if you had the bigger force you instantly won. No Persians at the Gates moment for you!

Dungeons and Dragons – Dungeon Command had a similar issue for me. Damage done by units was consistent without really any variability. It fell flat. I was really bored. And I wanted to like it a lot. I was a big Dungeons and Dragons fan at the time (still rockin’ that d20 on a weekend occasionally) so I was invested in the world. But without much of a luck element, there was no real feedback for me to get excited by

With luck, you play the odds. And to this end, mitigation is vital. I’m not a fan of games where the outcome is solely based on the roll of a die (I’m talking the whole game, not those edge of your seat, clutch moments I was reminiscing about earlier). But I like being able to impact those odds. Whether it’s a resource I’m spending extra on to increase my chance of a roll like in Ars Alchimia, lowering my ability to do certain things in other areas like games such as Arkham Horror or Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn, or even the way I construct my deck in a constructed card game or deckbuilder – these decisions have a calculable impact on the outcome of the game.

One of the more interesting realisations I had (well interesting to me) was the fact people often consider dice more luck based than a deck of cards. But in a game where mitigation is well implemented, this really shouldn’t be the case. Where I think this perception comes from is the fact a die roll provides instant feedback. You roll a die and the result is right there. When you think about a constructed deck or a deckbuilder, the outcome may take several rounds (or even games) to reveal itself properly. I’ll concede card counting helps mitigate decks even more than dice, but standardised dice such as d6 (six sided) which are used in most games have by definition a more fixed outcome than a deck with 30-60 cards in it.

To me, luck is a crucial part of gaming. It’s where the fun comes from. I like testing my wits against other games sure, and I like to pull off an excellent play. But without luck I just don’t get excited. I don’t get fired up over a die roll. I don’t pray to the gaming gods for a crucial topdeck.

Not to mention – without luck, what do we blame when we lose?

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