Why U No Random?

The title of this post is not entirely truthful, as it would be a lie to say that the games we design and/or publish are completely solvable. Randomness is there, but the way we implement it is an element of a specific design philosophy… and of our personal tastes.

If you played Mistfall, Heart of the Mists or Shadowscape (yes, the Kickstarter campaign for it is still in progress, but some of you already have the game – and anyone else can download a free Premium Print & Play), then you know, that key elements of those games are deterministic. If you can find a way to finish an Encounter in Mistfall in one turn, then nothing will stand in your way. If you have enough Attack in Shadowscape, you will eliminate the targeted enemy no matter what.

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Yet, randomness exists within Heart of the Mists and Shadowscape, and it is key to making those games replayable. The setup of the board in both is random or semi-random, and the cards you draw from different decks are also aften (but not always) shuffled beforehand. However, it’s also a fact that any decisions you make come after the random part.

As said, it’s a matter of personal preference, and a matter of design philosophy. As a player I personally like games which will always reward good thinking and meticulous planning. I also find it much more interesting to make decisions based on a random distribution of game elements, then to decide only the general course of action, and then hand the rest off to fate.

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I’ve recently got into Arkham Horror: The Card Game, and I saw my own enthusiasm die half way through the first quest, as I pulled an automatic failure chip from the randomizer bag not once, but twice in a row. All of my preparation for a key test was wasted, and not only that, some irreplaceable resources were also gone. Both my wife and I were sorely disappointed at the outcome, and we both somehow felt robbed.

Like I said, I understand different preferences very well, and I know that many of you have nothing against a mechanism that (in a twisted way) simulates real life which – admittedly – sometimes makes us fail no matter what. I myself am much more of a fan of agency, and that’s something I enjoy most in games I play.

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Consequently, the games I design also put agency above randomness, and it fits well with what NSKN stands for design and publishing-wise. For now, all I will tell you is that you can expect exactly that from our games, and when the Shadowscape Kickstarter dust settles, I will no doubt revisit Arkham Horror, and expand on the wider matter of randomness in different kinds of games.

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