Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

“Crap Happens” – Risk Management and Gaming

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 18, 2014

CivLogicWhen you play Chess, you never have to ask yourself, “If my Knight is unsuccessful in taking my opponent’s Bishop, what is my fallback plan?” Sure, you may have to come up with a plan B if your opponent chooses another (viable) move than the one you expect, but the outcome of a single move is never in doubt. There are no percentages, no tables, no dice rolls, no hit points, no chances.

For some players and game designers this represents a purity of gameplay – a perfection. I scratch my head at this view. I guess that’s why Chess isn’t my favorite game. Sure, it’s fine and enjoyable. I kinda prefer Go, myself, but that’s another game with no chance involved. It’s all move / countermove. Is this purity of gameplay – with perfect knowledge of the board and purely deterministic outcome for each move – an ideal? Sure. Is it *the* ideal for which all games should strive?

Not by a longshot.

I’m a simulationist at heart. While I’m cool with the occasional abstract game, I prefer games that represent something – a narrative, or a piece of reality. And one of the things about reality is that nothing ever goes as planned. Guns jam. Key players get injured. Matches get called on account of rain. Somebody forgets to carry the nine. Luke gets in a lucky shot that blows up the Death Star. An early snowfall causes ice to build up in the gaps between the tank treads, slowing the advance. Ewoks beat the Empire. The lead actor gets the flu. Brilliant tactics undermine a “perfect” strategy. A black swan event takes place. In short, crap happens.

For me, in strategy games (and RPGs), that’s part of the fun. No, I can’t say I enjoy it when I have a 90% head-shot chance and I miss. But that sort of thing is offset by the times I have only a 10% chance of a head-shot and I hit. Those are the moments I remember.

For me, I like the tough decisions when you can have a perfect understanding of the odds but still have a tough time making a choice. Do you take a guaranteed loss of 50% of your forces, or a 50% chance of a total victory with no losses but with failure meaning a total loss? While mathematically both options are equal (AFAIK, not being a mathematician), to me that’s an interesting decision. It’s the kind of thing riveting gameplay is made of.

Uncertain results means having to manage risk. It means contingencies. It means you may not want to expose your sniper for that “killer shot” because it might not pay off, and the enemy is going to be mighty pissed and see an easy target. It complicates things in a good way.  So while there’s always a place for “pure” strategy, I reject the notion that it’s somehow a superior game form. In the real world, crap happens.

But even in the game world, maybe what  a good strategy game needs to spice things up is a little bit of craps.

Filed Under: Strategy Games - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • Felix said,

    Ah, but risk management assumes you *can* manage risks. For example, in real life I can choose not to go for an action with only 10% chance of success, unless it’s my only shot at surviving some danger. But in a game, if the odds are bad my only choice is not to play. And all too often, the game offers absolutely no way to prepare better — you can get killed by one stroke of bad luck no matter what you do.

    I play games to have fun. A game that’s not fun is pointless — I can just stick to the unfairness of real life instead. At least nobody made life that way on purpose…

  • Cuthalion said,

    I like having a bit of randomness in my games. I just spent the last two days (almost literally all of my waking hours) playing the PSTV port of the PSP port of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. That game wouldn’t be nearly as fun if everything was deterministic.

    Could stand to explain how stuff like damage and healing are calculated though. It’s no fun comparing options when I can’t figure out what the numbers do and whether 2 piercing is better than 12 attack.