Which games are less about luck than it seems?

And obviously I want explanations on how the luck is mitigated in those games. Because I have had one too many people complain about “oh I just lost because I was so unlucky/you were so lucky” and that is a sore point with me. I could do with some help for the next time the argument comes up…

Oh and please also feel free to list counterexamples of games that have more of a luck component than it seems or in which the luck cannot be mitigated with skilled play?

Do you prefer games that have some randomization? Some luck? Under what circumstances?

Let’s just talk about luck.

I think if the randomisation/luck ties into the theme then I’m all in.

No issues with battles in game having an element of luck cos fighting can be messy. Or casino games (lords of Vegas) being largely luck based cos gambling obviously.

I feel like most of the time it’s levelled at luck of the draw. “Your cards were better than mine”, I think this is what gives draughting in games such popularity.

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Kingdom Builder!


Purely personal opinions.

Very low luck makes me think that the better player will always win, so you need a system for matching players or many games will be no fun. I have no real interest in boosting my rating at games or even knowing what it is, but if I challenge a random chess-player neither of us is likely to have a good time. (I find Onitama more fun even though all the luck has happened before anyone gets to make a decision, in part because the time between realising I’ve lost and the game being over tends to be quite short.)

Very high luck can mean few or no significant choices (e.g. Snakes/Chutes and Ladders which to me is a zombie, an activity clad in the form of a game; I’ve never seen Candy Land but I think it’s in a similar position).

I think I’m more tolerant of high luck in a more thematic game, particularly if there’s a choice between delaying to obtain bad-luck-mitigators or just going for the win and hoping for the best (Firefly does this, and I think A Touch of Evil too).

Rallyman GT: you can work out the probabilities, and in fact you don’t need to because someone’s already done it. (BGG file page, so you’ll need to log in there.) Playing completely safe would mean going flat out two spaces at a time to build up focus, and you will lose the race if you do that. But for example on BGA it’s vanishingly rare to see experienced players get a 00 crash (which is the one that can really take you out of the race), because generally they won’t flat-out except when there’s a way of preventing the 00, either using track limits or just rearranging the dice.


Absolutely. A race game with dice… groan… oh it is Rallyman. The luck in this game really is made by the player. Obviously, you want to take some risks but you can mostly eliminate the risk to completely crash and lose a turn.

I feel similar about Roll for the Galaxy. Yes, a lot of dice are rolled but if your opponent is consistently “luckier than you” maybe they are doing something different? At the beginning sure, you have few options but then you build some developments that allow you to reassign dice. These may not look as good as things that directly give you more money or points… but they make you flexible with the results you rolled. (Edit: also money gives you more dice, more dice give you more results and we’re back to less luck)

Even the die rolling for movement in Xia has some mitigating to it. If you think you want to run around a lot, then invest into a bigger engine ASAP. Get a ship that helps you move faster.

Even in Quacks of Quedlinburg you make some of your luck you own. I mean the one who consistently wins this, is the same person who wins all the other games in my local circle. Sure even he sometimes explodes the cauldron… but depending on how you combine your tokens it is totally possible to be consistently drawing more than your opponents.

Games in which top-decking or luck of the draw is an issue often provide some strategies to go through the deck faster so you get to those combos you want (at least the better ones do).


While I think the Rallyman series is primarily “the game JC Bouvier wanted to design” rather than “game X only better”, I imagine he has at least played Formula Dé, which I think may be the canonical “just as random as it looks” game.

I’ve played Roll ftG once, with two other beginners, and we all felt that it was very random, without many opportunities for significant choices – but that was a first game, and I’ve heard from more experienced players that this isn’t the case once you get the hang of it.

I’ve only played Xia once, and you were there, but it didn’t feel as though I was being constrained by the die-roll movement. Same with A Touch of Evil.

I think that’s a good metric: if some players are consistent winners, then there must be some significant degree of skill in there even if one can’t see it.


Specific to @yashima’s situation: show them Space Base. If you have folks complaining about luck in a game where skill is important, put an editable craps table in front of them.

I mean it. Tell them straight up: this is a gambling game. Show them the probabilities chart at the back of the manual, maybe even incorporate the quick start variant (everyone starts with 15 gold and has a selection of 3x lv.1 and 2x lv.2 ships they can potentially buy before the game begins) to avoid a crummy/boring start. Then, DESTROY them.

I can’t think of a better game to exemplify the divide. It’s a game that positively revels in its luck aspect, but gives you swathes of amazing choices to ensure luck finds you. I’ve played this game close to 50 times by now and the only times I can attribute a win or loss to luck is when one of us actively pursued the big long shots (usually me) and struck big.

My partner and I have a hot, long running rivalry bordering on feud at this point, something that just wouldn’t happen if we felt there wasn’t any agency in the proceedings. It’s also worth noting that I have a tendency to get pretty salty when I feel like a game is pushing against me to a degree that is disproportionate to the rest of the table. I’ve never once felt salty after a game of Space Base.

Anyway, just a thought. I feel like it’s a really good, experiential way to see skilled play emerge in the face of what is pretty obviously a luck-heavy game.

[EDIT] To add: mid-heavy Euros with top-decking absolutely murder my mood.


Another example, though it’s not a game I’d particularly recommend: original configuration Machi Koro. I’ve played a bit on yucata, and if I get to grab more of the “take 3 coins” cards than anyone else I only need a little luck to charge on ahead while never rolling a second die.


Machi Koro is, conversely, one of the most rage inducing games I have ever played! Similar games, dramatically different feels.

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This is weird, right? Machi Koro and Space Base have such a similar premise but I have the same type of rage when someone buys up all the take that cards in Machi Koro (I no longer have it and will avoid playing it)… Space Base is fine, no, it is FUN. We’ve both enjoyed this a lot. Everyone knows the probabilities of 2D6. It is not hard to see how to manipulate one’s tableau in a variety of ways to make luck come your way :smiley: So satisfying.

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I believe there’s an element of normal human psychology where humans tend to overstate their own skill in successes and emphasize the luck in their losses first link on my search so maybe playing robots would help?

This youtube of Richard Garfield talking about luck and skill is long but illuminating. His examples are really strong. Basically there’s not a line from random elements to skill but they’re maybe axes in different directions.

A slight counter is in an episode of Ludology when Mike Fitzgerald was cohost he made the point that simply moving from 2 player to multiplayer in any game the chaos renders even a game with no dice, cards, randomisers an exercise in luck to some extent.

Roughly I think the answer to your intent is about stepping up a level and looking at the players more than the game.

As to games with heavy luck elements but no lack of skill I immediately reach for miniatures wargames along the lines of Warhammer. I can’t speak to the current state of many, but Confrontation was a perfect example, it blended strategy and tactics seamlessly and used dice for uncertainty which actually rewarded player skill hugely.

Any Chudyk game in the Glory to Rome lineage could also be a seen as random and card draw but skill is a huge factor, same with Innovation and Impulse.


I think this is really important to highlight since it’s tied into the classic “problem” with player counts. This is something that affects most games (scaling is such a golden goose), and yet when it’s brought up, it’s always in the context of “chaos” rather than “luck”. While I don’t think they’re interchangeable concepts, I do think there’s often quite a bit of intersectionality there.

I also think that’s probably something of a semantic argument but particularly for players who “hate luck” in their games, worthy of consideration. At the very least it’s something to be wary of when the next big “no luck!” game is announced for 1-5 and it’s pretty clearly meant for exactly X players.


I would have said Machi Koro as well.

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To expand on @lalunaverde 's Kingdom Builder comment, the game gets a lot of chatter about how the cards can force you into a corner, and people come up with variants designed to enable players to mitigate luck more, but the key to winning is all about mitigating luck with the tools the game provides. Trying to ensure that as many terrain types as possible allow free placement, trying to grab and use the powers that allow the most flexibility, then late game switching to maximise scoring with all the opportunities our initial spread provides.

Twilight Struggle gets flack for how swingy the dice can be on coups and wars, and even the shared deck is criticised for providing uneven OP spreads or unbalanced neutral card draw. Obviously there’s deck knowledge to be acquired before there’s a level playing field, but even after that point there’s a significant skill spread that is amply demonstrated by tournament results.

In the end, games with a lot of random elements can only really be differentiated through high-level competitive play - if the same players keep on winning, it’s less about luck than it initially seems. I think that’s the only metric we can rely on, and the only one that can reasonably be used to convince a sceptic.

I prefer games with some randomisation, even if it’s only a tiny amount like in the average Splotter. Not so keen on games with a very high luck element, unless they are short, in which case it’s all good.


I had a really hard time getting folks to try out War Chest due to a little of both, actually. On the one hand it looks like a chess game, and so potential players were often apprehensive about getting just wrecked by the game owner (me, if that wasn’t obvious). Yet when I give an overview of the bag building element, I’d often get the literal reverse: oh, so it’s all luck!

Well, no, actually. What War Chest presents is, in fact, a careful balance of the two. With enough obfuscated information to avoid rote gameplay, yet ample control to ensure one can basically always achieve their strategy with careful planning.

Anyone I managed to sit down for a game loved it. But I let a whole lot of folks slip by without getting there.

[EDIT] not sure why it didn’t attach but that was a direct reply to @Benkyo .


Interestingly I saw that that time you killed me although dolled up with a nice theme and graphic design ultimately boils down to looking a lot like chess. Having only just heard about it’s announced release I can’t say if it is chess but I know if I sat it down in front of people it would be met with groans.

organism is a bit like chess but having played it (and enjoyed it) and seeing what they are doing graphically and with pieces. I think it could distract people long enough to get them into the game before the chess shows through.


I can confirm that this is the case. :slight_smile:

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This is key on whether you would like the game or not. Some players want to make up as they go along, and that is okay. But that style is how you lose in KB. If you’re praying for a specific terrain card, you are losing.

The first few turns are crucial. The placement of your first houses you paradrop. Which terrain you want to be adjacent or not. Which bonus you want to pick up. Even the size of the terrain type you paradrop on, too. Which scoring card you want to go for.

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