Sam “King of the Hilltop”
My brother and I were discussing the mechanics based around randomness and the various methods of a Random Number Generator (RNG) in games. People most definitely have their preferences for various types of RNGs: dice, deck of cards, bag draw, etc. In the end, we decided that randomness needs a definitive purpose. It comes down to having the players make decisions based around that randomness which can make for some amazing games.
I recently played Raiders of the North Sea, which is a really fun game! While playing, I noticed there were quite a number of random elements but people I know who don’t particularly like random elements loved it. So, I am going to break down Raiders of the North Sea and go over the varying random elements in the game.
Quick overview of the game if needed:
Many of the starting elements of the game are random.
The types of resources that are placed in the various raiding areas help to create different scenarios where particular strategies may need to be fine tuned or even changed depending on what is available. An example is if there were a number of valkyries (which kill your crew) in many of the lower tier raiding areas. This makes it difficult to collect resources early on like livestock, gold, iron, etc. So you are going to have to pay more attention to your crew to maintain a good strength or just try and bypass it altogether. Maybe instead of trying to raid places for resources, you instead steal from the other players by playing crew cards from your hand.
Whether you draw from a deck directly or draft your hand at the beginning of the game, the randomness of the deck helps to throw wrinkles into your plan or may even provide some interesting opportunities.
The offering tiles to gain victory points are randomized from a deck. This can change the flow of the game like it did for ours. All the offerings required iron and the only way to get it was to attack the larger monasteries and fortresses. This led to iron being very rare and precious and larger crews were needed to even acquire the precious resource.
However, I think the key here is that this kind of randomness helps the replayability of the game by creating a variety of different scenario challenges for you to overcome. It also can be mitigated through play because the core mechanic of the game is to place a worker and take a worker. The actions and engine you help produce can mitigate or enhance the difficulties of the game. It’s your choice.
When you raid locations in the game, you need to equal or exceed a certain amount of power. This is a cumulative score of your crew power and your armor (which is a track that gives you X amount of power). At certain special locations, they also have the number of dice you roll to add to your power. This random element to me is pretty cool because it helps those people who may be behind a little bit to catch-up. If you roll well, you may get a few extra victory points to help close the gap between you and the leader.
Many times the randomness elements during a game can be very beneficial to those people who are losing. The winner tends to like the status quo, because it is helping them win. When things change or elements in the game change, a player in the lead may lose certain advantages or bring uncertainty to situations.
Many of the games I have been playing recently tend to avoid random elements in the end game. It has been done, here’s looking at you Killer Bunnies, but not many games go that far. Random elements in the endgame tend to only help the people who are losing. If a person wins more as compared to just a win, there really isn’t much difference. A win is a win. However, if someone in last place suddenly wins due to sheer luck, it upends the end game and severely punishes the people who were doing better the entire game. Why try and work hard or build something awesome if a mere dice roll or card draw makes it a moot point.
Even with that being said, there are times where elements like that can help a game, especially if it deals with younger audiences. That may be a topic for another time.
The random elements in Raiders of the North Sea help to shake up a game to create a variety of different scenarios, challenges, and strategies. They are also used to help out players who are lagging behind the leader as they use those elements in the game to gain advantages that normally wouldn’t be there.
Special shout-out to Shem Phillips of Garphill Games who designed this game. Awesome stuff!
Which also makes me excited for their upcoming release of Raiders of Scythia!
People in the Desert have Dry Humor
Ed “Duke of BAzlandia”
Randomness, how necessary? How much? Input or output?
One of the elements of a good board game is randomness. Now I am not advocating for complete chaos in a board game or for the outcome to be completely driven by the luck of the dice or cards. I do, however, advocate for some sort of randomness, unless you are developing a game that runs completely off of skill such as Chess, Go, Abalone, and other games that fall in that category. While I may enjoy these games occasionally, I am pretty sure I am not smart enough or enjoy them enough to design a game in that category. That being said, if you are designing such a game you probably aren’t reading my blog or if you are, you probably feel bad for me because you’re one of those people I refer to generically as “Big Brain” people.
Moving on from the “Big Brain” people, how much random should be in a game and how much will make it good? Talk about subjective. It really depends on what makes the game and the game mechanics enjoyable. I do have some personal preferences on where randomness is placed in the game. The beginning of the game is a good place to put randomness. This can range from board setup, player characters, special abilities for said player character, initial player setup, and various other options. This allows a player to digest the information presented to them and they can formulate strategies they would like to pursue from the onset of the game without surprises if this is the only part of the game that is random. These random startups inhibit players from feeling like they would have won except I got screwed by “insert random mechanic”.
Another place to put randomness is during a player’s turn or during a particular game phase. This potentially allows a player to react or prepare for the randomness. Some examples include resource generation, drawing cards from a deck, refreshing a row of cards, adding a card from a deck, drawing a hand of cards, etc. There are way too many to address them but the key note that you want to hit here in providing the right amount of randomness is that a player can actually react to the randomness or they can prepare for it.
Over the past several years I have talked to people who say they don’t like X type of games because they are too random, but I do like “insert small list of games” that fall in that genre. I then ask and they usually say something to the effect that it’s just a good game despite being random. I have found with the games they list there is some sort of mitigation factor mechanic that allows a player to take an unfavorable roll, or unfavorable event and either turn it into a benefit or provide some sort of catch up mechanic for players who have just been dealt a bad hand through no fault of their own.
I have read several articles and blogs about input and output randomness and how one is preferred over the other. I personally don’t see an outright advantage of one over the other but this is situational depending on what you are trying to achieve through your mechanic, except with it comes to end game mechanics. I don’t think randomness belongs anywhere near endgame mechanics. I also don’t think anyone would disagree with that. I also can’t think of a game I have played or that anyone would recommend where there is anything random about the endgame. But hey, maybe someone out there could prove me wrong. If so, drop me a line.
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