Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Random Is Random

Has this ever happened to you? You are playing some game which requires every player to draw a card from a shuffled deck. You accidentally draw before your right-hand opponent, and they exclaim, "Hey! That's my card!" I only tolerate this sort of irrational behavior if the player is less than, say, 10 years old.

Let's ignore mathematical definitions of true randomness for this discussion and say that any reasonably-well-shuffled deck of cards/tiles, and any rolled dice are random enough for game purposes.

In college, I had a friend who claimed that if no one knew the order of cards in a shuffled deck, then all the cards changed when you touched them. In his facetious way, he quite nicely summed up the "quantum" nature of the unknown. It doesn't matter if you draw the top card, the bottom card, or any card in the middle.

In games like Die Macher, some cards are drawn and placed face-down to be revealed at some point in the future. Does this give players the false sense of some eventuality set in stone? It's no different from waiting to draw the cards until the point that they would be revealed. Unless this changes the distributions in the deck for intervening actions (I've only played once), but you get the point.

In Arkham Horror, there's a plethora of decks. Among these are the 9 decks of Location Cards, 7 per deck. When you need one, you draw the top card from the appropriate deck. When a card is "discarded", it is returned to the deck which is then shuffled. 9 decks take a lot of space! It's much easier to simply put all the Location Cards together in a single deck, and shuffle them all. When you need a card from a specific "deck", just fan the cards out and draw an appropriate card. When you return a card to the pile, slip it in the middle and give the whole stack a quick shuffle.

Some games require the rolling of varying numbers of dice. Some people are very sensitive to the "rules of conduct" when there are abnormalities (cocked dice, wrong number rolled, rolled off the table, etc), or when the intention of the roll was incorrect ("I wasn't rolling for attack! I get to re-roll!"). The bottom line is that it doesn't matter, as long as everyone agrees how to resolve all situations. My preferences:
  • If you roll too many dice, always re-roll all of them regardless of the outcome.
  • If you roll too few dice, only roll the extras needed.
  • Re-roll only cocked/off-table dice.
  • In all cases, previously-rolled dice may not be "bumped".
Many games "suggest" tiles should be shuffled and formed into a specific number of stacks. In most cases, this is only meant to facilitate laying them out in groups during play (eg Puerto Rico, Santiago, Alhambra). However, the tiles could be in a single stack, or even drawn from a bag as needed.


At 9:50 PM, Blogger Friendless said...

I'm so glad someone other than me realises this. Thank you.

At 8:26 PM, Anonymous ozjesting said...

As the radio cliche goes..."Long time listener, first time caller" ;)

I have long read your blog and enjoyed your podcasts but am not often prone to join in the discussion...but this entry has a few flaws in to my mind that I would like to comment on.

In general I agree with the ideas presented IF it were a simple discussion of "randomizing", but in the examples given there is more going on in terms of the game that need to be taken into account.
Your first example of a game where each player gets a card to start is acceptable if that is all there is to it. But likely any game that has this start up phase would indicate that each player IN ORDER takes his card. So by stepping in front of the right hand player you have broken the turn order. YES, the "random factor" is not affected in a math sense...but in game terms that player is indeed correct to hold you to the proper order. It is these details that can certainly affect a game later. BlackJack comes to mind ;) Another example might be Scrabble. I take my turn but fail to get my replacement tiles out. You go and refresh your rack. By drawing before me you have affected the tile draw. Maybe to no affect. But if you draw the Z it has an impact on what MAY have been my draw.

As to Arkham Horror...I would not like to play the way you describe. The real rules are actually opposite you description. On an encounter you take the 7 cards, give a quick shuffle and draw the card. The way you are playing I would argue affects randomness in that in a 63 card deck fan you would not actually expose all 7 possibilities for a given location. This could effectively "close" one or two cards from ever having a chance to play. Of course with expansions this becomes an even bigger problem. (Of course it also doesn't matter all THAT much in a game such as AH...but I like the giant play area and all attempts to shrink it go against the theme imo) ;)

Your dice rules are fairly straight but also have a couple of quirks that go against your argument. The biggest being "floor dice". No one counts floor dice, but why not??? The cube rolled...in fact it had more "random action" than a table toss, came to rest flush with its result...so why not accept it???
(devils advocate mind you...we never accept them either)

Also the "cocked issue" is always curious to me. Assuming we aren't taking about a 90degree cocked...it is showing a full face of the die and makes no difference. I see this a LOT in Blood Bowl where dice end up touching bases. But it is not that steep a cock...so why not count it???

The other one is the "out of hand" roll. Where in the act of shaking the dice one pops out. We always pick that one up and add it back in...no reason to from a random POV..so why do we do it?

I argue that ALL of these mechanics you have discussed have a "random decider" to them...but also they are all grounded in GAME.
You stick to your turn order...you have access to ALL the possibilities, and with the dice you want to FEEL that the roll was from YOU. Not in a "control the outcome" sense..but that you made the roll. (I also argue that this is why many people don't like dice towers)

Take away those feelings and the game suffers...not mathematically...but as a player. And at the end of the day THAT is why we play. For OUR feelings...not as a machine in the cog of probability ;)

At 8:29 PM, Anonymous ozjesting said...

That last sentence should have been "not as a cog in the machine of..."

My bad ;)

At 10:10 PM, Blogger ekted said...

"The way you are playing I would argue affects randomness in that in a 63 card deck fan you would not actually expose all 7 possibilities for a given location. This could effectively "close" one or two cards from ever having a chance to play."

If the deck is shuffled, then any exposed cards are just as likely to occur as any other. Hence random.

At 1:07 AM, Anonymous ozjesting said...

Roll this d6...but the 3 and 5 are out of play this turn.

Sure...still random...but not in the entirety of possibilities that should be available.

But regardless...you don't comment on the true entirety of my point. There is more at stake then just serving probability...that is why we roll out OWN dice...and not let just any player do it for us ;) By definition it should be acceptable to even assign ONE guy to be the dice roller for everyone...probability will be served...but gaming will not.

At 2:01 PM, Blogger Jeff-Jeff said...

This reminds me of a game-stopping argument that broke out during Carcasonne. We liked to dive the stack of tiles so every player has a roughly equal pile (this was prior to the expansion with the bag). One player refused to play this way since he reasoned that if he needed one particular tile that was in someone elses stack he had a zero percent chance of getting it. The other players argued that every tile had an equal chance of bing in the pile before the division so his chances of getting the tile hadn't changed. The dicussion lasted over an hour and neither side was satisfied with the other's explanation.


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