A Luck Fest vs. Analysis Paralysis

Let’s play a game… you roll a die and I roll a die. Whoever rolls higher, wins the game. It’s not much of a game is it? Now, let’s play another game… choose any army at any point in time, I’ll choose another army at another point in time; we’ll feed our results into a supercomputer and it’ll crunch the results for us. Wait, you say you need more time? Hurry up… we’re playing a game here!

Every good game falls somewhere between these two extremes. Most games hew closer to one side or another; few games have a perfect balance. Finding the right point in the spectrum for Space Traders has been a big challenge. The die in Space Traders serves as both turn marker and core mechanic; you might be able to tell that luck serves a big part in the game. While this is somewhat appropriate for a family game (the luck of the die smooths out obvious differences in abilities between those with little game experience and those with an adult’s lifetime of experience), I want a skilful player to be able to win more often than not, and to have decision points in the game. In other words, I want the player to determine the best course of action for a turn, not the die.

The die in Space Traders is six-sided, with one each of the five resource colors, and the sixth side being gray. The meaning of the gray side has changed a lot throughout playtesting — a certain set of playtest rules was referred to as “generous raiding” as shorthand to explain the function of the gray side during a raid. In an attempt to generate consistency, I wanted gray to always mean “player’s choice.” Unfortunately, that also means a game can be won with a lucky die roll. As we lock in the rules, I’ve decided to change the meaning of the gray side during each of the possible times it can come up:

  • Mining your Home Planet, where it means you get your own resource color (makes sense, since it’s your planet you’re mining)
  • Trading with one of the Trade Planets, where it does mean Player’s choice (a particularly successful negotiation, in other words)
  • Raidng one of the Trade Planets, where it means no resource at all, making raiding a high risk tactic (since you get free resources in raids, this is appropriate)

I think that this controls the luck enough that a strategic effort by a player will often overcome random chance… remember we don’t want the strategic player dominating the game, since the ten-year-old needs to be able to win on occasion as well.

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Filed under Brick Games, Space Traders

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