Game Design Rules #6: Randomness is Good, and Also Bad (Part 1)

There was a point when testing “Industrial Revolution!” that I thought it was finished. Well, actually, that happened many times, and then on the next playtest, new changes were always needed. But at some point I did 2-3 games where everything was working exactly as intended, and I was very sure no changes were needed anymore.

And then, of course, I had to play it again. The game lasted almost 3 hours, as nobody was able to finish it. Everybody was lacking the same specific resource, which never appeared, and when it did, the fight over that resource was so fierce that it ended being destroyed (that’s what happens when you give players the option to use Flamethrowers).

Evil Randomness

As I explained when talking about conveyor belts, resources appear on the map each turn, after players roll a dice, and are placed in up to 4 specific squares (the Pickup Points). Some of those resources are the pieces needed to win the game, but there are also other resources that give many other benefits.

During most of the game’s development, those resources were taken from a shared pool, so picking one was completely random. And that’s a good thing, as being random makes sure that each game is different and exciting.
But considering how random works, it was understandable why I had that 3 hours game: there’s always the chance that the pieces you are looking for won’t appear till all the others are gone. And also, random being random, that would happen on almost every game.

I discovered a secondary problem when analyzing this, and it’s that again, because random is random, the required resources could always appear next to a certain player and too far from the others, which obviously, would whine about it.

I wanted shorter games, a more predictable game length and fair options for all players, so I came up with a solution.

Random, But Not Too Much

What I did was to separate the pieces needed to win from all the other resources, with 2 different colors. As each Pickup point had 2 numbers on the dice that could activate them, I also painted each of those numbers with the 2 colors, and made sure to alternate them on the board.

This way, if a 3 was rolled, I was sure 2 of the resources that would appear would be blue (pieces), and the other 2 would be red (any other resource). And also, the way colors were painted on the threes on the board, I made sure the 2 pieces would always appear on opposite sides of the map, making it more fair for all players.

These changes worked really well, and while there’s always a chance that a certain piece will take a lot to appear (random is always random), the chances are now really low, and the time it will take it to appear will be much, much lower. So this story also had a happy ending.

I’ll continue talking about randomness on my next post, as cards were also too random and needed sometaming.

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