By "random event" I mean critical hits, misses, random variation in some kind of result etc. Examples of these include the accuracy mechanic in XCom; critical hits and accuracy chance in Darkest Dungeon; misses and fire/breech chance in FTL.

Something in common about these examples is that they are all games in which players have an indefinite amount of time to decide on actions. So, could it be that by adding random, RNG-based events, the game relieves the players' burden of feeling compelled to predict every possible outcome in the future? Could a game similar to the example do away with the randomness? If so, how could that change the experience?


4 Answers 4


As other users have pointed out, there's no requirement to include random elements in a strategy game, and indeed there are many classic well-loved games that have no randomness at all (eg. Chess, Go).

For considering the effect of randomness on the experience of play, I'd highly recommend checking out The Prototype that was Banned from Halfbrick, a GDC talk by Luke Muscat, that goes into depth on what a lack of randomness can do to PvP competitive strategy games. (Stick around to the end where I circle back to the single-player case)

Specifically, in the eponymous prototype, and in a similar strategy game he discusses called Neptune's Pride, the cocktail of competitive non-random strategic mechanics tend to foster an intensity of play that can be distressing to players.

(Some choice bits: Neptune's Pride has been called "the most effective tool for ruining friendships," "an exercise in social devastation," and players have asked the creator to ban them from the game so they won't play it anymore. The Halfbrick prototype was reported to be "damaging the relationships I have at work" and players reported feeling "paranoid" when playing)

Some of the factors at play:

  • the lack of random chance lets players develop elaborate schemes with guaranteed results - freeing them to trap and backstab fellow players as much as they want with no fear of repercussions, knowing they can eliminate the aggrieved parties with 100% success.

    • Randomness can encourage players to weigh odds and develop contingency plans or hedge their bets more often, playing with a range of more moderate strategies, according to their personal risk tolerance.
  • A player in a losing position can see it coming and can't do anything about it or hope for respite - they just get to watch as they're dragged through the grinder.

    • With the occasional lucky miss or miraculous critical, a player can cling to at least some ray of hope, and will occasionally be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a few good rolls at key moments, leading to dramatic reversals of fortune.
  • There's no "emotional safety valve" to blame the game rather than each other, the way we might laugh off a lucky Blue Shell in Mario Kart or Final Smash orb in Smash Bros.

  • Non-random mechanics put a great deal of emphasis on player skill and making optimal decisions. You can't muddle through and see what happens - if you end up on a losing path eventually, it's directly attributable to a mistake you must have made somewhere, so the pressure to analyze every move can be very high.

    • This can affect the game's accessibility to a wide audience and new players especially. In a game with significant randomness, players of different skill levels can play against each other and maybe both have a shot at winning, or at least feeling competitive with occasional successes along the way.

      In purely skill-based games, the more skilled player will almost always dominate, making it harder for new players to get onboard once a community of experienced players is established. (But, on the flipside, this can be very rewarding for those high-skill players, as match results are an honest signal of superior skill - great for leaderboard and tournament rankings)

Related to this, it's also worth noting a result from combinatorial game theory: if you have a game with sequential (non-simultaneous) turns, perfect information (no hidden board, hand of cards, or secret moves) and no randomness, then it's guaranteed to have a solution. That means that, at least in theory, you could write a game book of perfect moves "if your opponent does X, do Y" and if a player plays "by the book" then the outcome of the game is pre-ordained: either one player can always win no matter what their opponent does, or a player who can't win can force a stalemate.

Think of playing Tic-Tac-Toe, and how much less interesting it gets after you learn a few simple move-countermove patterns, leading to stalemates unless one player messes up.

Now, for any game of significant complexity, the "game book" often ends up being astronomically huge and impractical to compute, but even so competitive play tends to gravitate toward memorization of "good" moves (think of the books upon books of Chess openings and endgames or Go scenarios a player needs to study to be competitive at even a medium level). Having a large set of scenarios can dampen this temptation to memorize - see for example David Sirlin's Chess 2, which introduces multiple different armies, so memorizing moves for every possible match-up becomes less practical.

All of this is most pronounced in player-versus-player competitive play. But similar patterns will arise in single-player games as well, where a lack of randomness makes the game increasingly like a puzzle, where each level/challenge has a set of "correct" solutions (achieving the most points / least losses etc.), rather than a landscape of strategies with more nuanced risks & rewards.

Again, none of this says you must include randomness, they're just points to be aware of in how non-randomness vs randomness can influence the flavour and dynamics of the game.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ You could mention the board game Diplomacy. No random element. I know someone who owns a board game company who lost friends over it, and will never play again. \$\endgroup\$
    – Almo
    Mar 7, 2017 at 3:45
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Good point! That's another one that comes up in Muscat's talk, and I've heard similar stories from boardgaming friends. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Mar 7, 2017 at 3:46


Example: Lords of Conquest on the C64 had a mode with zero random events. It was a land-conquest/resource management game. It was quite intense with serious diplomacy going on because if you didn't have enough force to win on your own, it was 100% impossible and you needed help.

Having no random elements certainly presents design challenges, but it's definitely possible.


It honestly depends on the type of game you want to make.

If you're making a game like XCOM, where players are in control of small, tactical squad of soldiers, not having RNG involved can quickly turn the game into something that isn't quite what you expected.

Bad example: imagine if XCOM did not have an accuracy mechanic, and all attacks had a 100% chance to hit and a 0% chance to score a critical hit. The game would simply be a matter of which side of the opposing forces had better damage and higher health. There would still be tactical elements like avoiding line of sight, but the game would no longer be about tactical battlefield control.

Instead, it would focus more on how well the player can build their squad by balancing how much in terms of control skills (mind control and panic, in XCOM), damage output, and maximum health the squad will have. Most of the strategy will be back-end: how skilled the player is at making a good team composition, how good they build the skills of each individual soldier, how quickly they can research, build, and equip upgraded armor and weapons, ect.

Although there is still a great deal of strategy involved without RNG in a game like XCOM, the set of skills the player must master shift from balancing risk vs reward and clever positioning to more RPG-centric skills like character building.

Also, there are many strategy games that don't use RNG at all. Most notably the Civilization series (although I may be mistaken), and many real-time strategy games like Warcraft III and Halo Wars.


Could a game similar to the example do away with the randomness? If so, how could that change the experience?

The way I see it is that randomness is used for what the player cannot directly control. In an action platformer, you can control the player to a very fine degree: make him dodge things, jump over traps, etc using your reflexes and hand-eye coordination. In a turn-based game, the control is very coarse. No player is going to deliberately click on a trap to walk into. So what the player cannot control anymore in such a case is replaced with the analogical coin toss or dice roll, and I actually think that's perfectly fine and great.

Normally I don't think a game has to be realistic or resemble life at all to be fun, but here I think there's something interesting to note. Life is full of surprises. It's not entirely predictable, and it'd probably be boring if it was. We don't know if that girl we're going to ask out is going to agree. We don't know if we'll be hired for that job. We don't know if that programming idea that seems so promising is going to pan out. There's an element of chance in everything we do, and I think that's what makes things so fun, so dangerous, so surprising, and interesting. It seems to me like things would become incredibly dull if we took out that element of chance to the point where we could start predicting and perfectly calculating the outcome of everything we do while the world stops and waits for us to make a move.

I read a blog from a designer before who was determined to create a perfectly deterministic (as in lacking random events) turn-based game, and I couldn't help but disagree to a great extent with his thoughts for these reasons. That said, he made a very solid turn-based strategy game, but it felt to me more like a puzzle game where you're just kind of figuring out the optimal play against perfectly predictable and repeatable patterns. It changed the way the game felt considerably from other games like it which used random events and it wasn't quite my cup of tea even though I usually love those types of games. It starts to feel like playing chess, and not against a human player, but against a very predictable AI which always makes the exact same moves.

And that can still provide this kind of puzzle challenge to figure out those patterns and how to exploit and beat the AI after seeing it repeatedly do the same things over and over, but it feels very different, and it's not like learning enemy patterns in an action game. Action games which start revealing very predictable patterns are very interesting to me and I like determinism in action games, but there you never quite get the exact same result since it's too hard to repeat everything in perfect timing at the precise millisecond when you're controlling things in realtime, and it still feels like the game is taxing your reflexes and hand-eye coordination even when you know its patterns. With a turn-based game, you start seeing the exact same results repeating very quickly when it's perfectly deterministic while allowing you to do the exact same things every turn at your leisure, and that feels very different to the point where I'm wishing there's a fast forward button when I'm seeing the exact same things happen while repeating my previous moves up to a point.

But I could see where he was coming from. He wanted to avoid the analogical: 7 damage, 3 damage, miss, miss, miss, 1 damage, 3 damage, miss, miss... boring and frustrating! And in those cases when the RNG is just used to determine how much damage you do ranging from 0 (miss) to some other number, it can get quite boring and frustrating. In those cases I think just: 8 damage, 8 damage, 8 damage, enemy dies is already more fun.

Yet I actually think the problem there is that it's not random enough. It's boring. Imagine instead that snake eyes results in the player fumbling while the enemy gets a free counterattack, while boxcars causes an instant decapitation, and yo-leven causes you to stun the enemy, and there's always a chance that a clumsy player could trip and lose his turn just in the process of moving. I think that's considerably more interesting. It's not just outputting a number anymore. It's kind of like drawing a random card and reading what happens as a result.

I think this is what made games like Fallout really fun (or at least to me). A whole lot of different things could happen just by trying to shoot an enemy in the arm from glancing off and barely causing damage to making him drop his weapon to crippling him to the point where he can't use that arm or even blowing his entire arm off and killing him with a really lucky shot. That's interesting and really fun in ways that go beyond: miss, 2 damage, miss, miss, 7 damage, miss, 3 damage, miss, 1 damage...

So anyway, in my opinion turn-based games shouldn't be trying so hard to do away with randomness. I would prefer that more embrace and utilize it in more interesting ways than miss here and N damage there. If they do move away from randomness, then it does tend to change how the game feels considerably not that it's necessarily bad, but I would say it tends to push the game towards that kind of puzzle realm of gaming.


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