Last Saturday night, I was hanging out with a few of my friends when we decided to get out a board game. We settle on Risk: Godstorm, a version of Risk that I had not played up to this point. Being a long time fan of Risk, I agreed. For those who have not played Godstorm, this version takes place in ancient Europe, and players gain a resource called Faith in a similar fashion to gaining reinforcements at the beginning of your turn. This Faith can then be used to add gods to your forces.
Each of these four gods manipulated the RNG in battle to your favor in different ways. One god allows you to re-roll any 1 that you roll, and another mandates that you win all ties. After one of my friends lost 30 consecutive dice rolls in a row due to staring down the barrel of these two gods, we got into a discussion about the RNG aspect of Risk. After this combat, I pointed out just how much RNG manipulation can influence a game, especially a game as RNG heavy as Risk.
I believe every game has something to benefit from a non-zero amount of RNG. It is a crucial aspect of most games on the market today, allowing for the cool and crazy twists and turns of a game. It can allow players who fell behind in the first stages of the game to get their footing back, and it allows less experienced players to still have a chance when playing against someone more experienced than themselves. That’s not to say that I enjoy when games get decided by RNG, as it can hurt experienced players just as much as it can help the inexperienced. So, at what point does a game have too much RNG?
Strictly speaking, a game can be 100% RNG based, and people will still enjoy it. This is a big factor for me and why I don’t enjoy gambling. There are a lot of casino games out there that require a non-zero amount of skill, and can heavily reward those who have excellent skills in that game (or the mechanic the game is centralized around, ie. card counting) but a good amount of casino games are pure RNG. Slots are an excellent example of this, all you do is insert your money, spin the wheels, and wait to see if you win or lose. People have literally gone bankrupt from this game.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are games that are accounted as some of the greatest games of all time that have no RNG whatsoever. This includes Chess and Go, games that have been around for thousands of years. People can argue that there is RNG that is created by your opponent in these games, however I strongly disagree with this argument as attempting to pass a calculated play made by an opponent as random is laughable. Sure, you can make it random if you would like, but generally the game is not played as such.
People can and will enjoy games regardless of RNG potential, so does that mean that the RNG doesn’t matter? Your game can have as little or as much RNG as you would like, and it will be good no matter what, right? Well, from what I’m beginning to understand, RNG is not the problem, it’s how you can use and manipulate the RNG that will decide how balanced the game can be. For an example, I’m going to go back to Risk.
Risk is a game that many can enjoy because of the likelihood of winning. The game can go to absolutely anyone due to it being impossible to interact with another player without encountering at least five dice rolls of RNG. There is a basic strategy to the game and it can reward better educated players, but most, if not all games are decided by RNG. Now, I’m going to quickly break down every instance of RNG manipulation in classic Risk;
- Attackers can roll up to three dice, where as Defenders can only roll up to two.
- Defenders win on ties.
And that is it. This is where my unpopular opinion can begin starting fights at Thanksgiving dinner. I first learned how to play Risk when I was four years old and my dad and uncles taught me. It has been a staple game of every family reunion that I can remember, and it keeps allowing people to play with a low barrier for entry, because it is so RNG-centric. However, the classic rules employ absolutely no way to manipulate the RNG of a game in a positive or negative manner for any player.
Risk is a poorly designed game due to the mechanical focus on RNG, and the lack of manipulation available to the players.
Now, there is a large difference between a poorly designed game, and a bad game. I love and enjoy Risk, whereas a lot of games produced by top name companies these days are far under produced and lack either compelling game play mechanics, intriguing characters, or a coercive and interesting plot, with the public generally agreeing on what can be considered a bad game.
The amount of RNG and the amount (or lack of) manipulation does not make or break a game. It has been proven time and time again that people can generally enjoy games that are pure RNG, and games that have none whatsoever. What is important is that the game play is compelling and gives players the feeling that they are actually playing a game, rather than generating random numbers and waiting to see if they win or lose.