Variant: Uncertainty is a Good Thing in Gaming | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Variant: Uncertainty is a Good Thing in Gaming

Image via wikimedia commons

Image via wikimedia commons

One critical difference between games and puzzles is that a game is replayable. And, by that, I mean that it will produce different challenges from play to play. Unlike a puzzle which has just one solution, you can do very different things in a game and win. Similarly, you might do the same thing that won you the game last time and end up losing it.

There are a couple of great ways to make a game replayable. The best of which, is adding uncertainty into the mix. A simple way of doing that is introducing a random card draw or die roll that impact the game. In that way, you don’t know what to expect or whether your plans (or your opponent’s) will succeed.

But that isn’t the only – or even the best – method. Perfect information games, like Chicago Express, or abstracts like Yinsh, are also highly replayable even with no randomness. But they still have uncertainty. This comes from the fact that there are enough viable options that you aren’t sure what your opponent is going to do. Since you can’t predict their turn with reasonable certainty (at least, most of the time), you have to take actions that take all possibilities into considerations. And, some of these games have enough moving parts and factors to evaluate that it’s easy to overlook something and be surprised.

Indeed, it is the best games that have you using auctions or bluffing to directly interact with your opponents. Then, the game is just a medium for more visceral competition.

Some games, though, miss this delicate balance. Perfect information games without a full range of choices can start to feel like they are on rails. You aren’t playing the game so much as going through the motions of a movie you’ve already seen. And that’s because the options don’t leave enough uncertainty to the players. It’s that uncertainty that makes the game replayable.

Of course, some games can go too far the other way and feel totally random. That’s no good either.

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