The Elder Scrolls

RNGesus’ attorney: the case for randomness in card games

TheElderScrolls7 - RNGesus' attorney: the case for randomness in card games

There is a strong sentiment among some vocal players in the community that randomness in card games is a bad thing and should be kept to a minimum. I think this comes from a wish to reduce variance, or in other words that the better player should win more often. I endorse this goal, but I believe that the proposed method (minimizing the number of random effects) is not only ineffective but actually has the opposite effect. The game would benefit from having more random effects, to lessen the impact of each one.

Sounds like a paradox? I'll try to clarify. Randomness and variance are related concepts, but the relation isn't as simple as it may seem. If there are only a few random variables in each match, it increases the likelihood that the match is decided by any one of them, compared to if there are several variables which each have some moderate impact. Artifact did this (and not much else) well. You start the game with heroes assigned to random lanes, and at the start of each turn you get creeps in random positions (within some constraints) in random lanes. The attack direction is also subject to randomness. Over the course of a match it tends to even out, and having to keep all possibilities in mind makes for a very skillful game where you need to constantly evaluate what risks you can afford to take. Poker is another example, as long as you look at a large enough set of hands to offset the variance. However, a single hand of poker is super high variance. The better player has an edge, but will still lose a very large portion of the time.

So, if we're looking to make the game less of a coin toss I can identify two options. We can either go the route of making sure we have a critical mass of random variables (where that is exactly is a matter of preference, there will always be some variance), or we can cut them entirely. Seeing how this is still a game in which we draw random cards from a shuffled deck, the latter is not going to happen within the scope of the genre. I believe we still have some distance to go with TESL until we're at critical mass, and so I'd like to see more random effects added to the game. The poker analogy would be to just play a lot more matches and have it even out over time that way, but we only get so many tournaments in a year. Especially with single elimination being the norm it's not possible to get anywhere close to the required amount, at least for competitive play. Assuming there are no dramatic changes there, more random variables within each given match seems to be the way to go to reduce variance over time.


This is not to say that every design involving randomness is good. Player agency is important, and reading your opponent is a skill that should matter. For example, I'm not a fan of Balmora Spymaster. The range is far too wide to play around and it generally doesn't encourage interesting choices. Mudcrab Merchant is great for player agency (it's not uncommon that "which card do i take from the mudcrab?" is the most difficult choice you get to make in a match) and is in my opinion a pretty good design in general, but I'd like it even more if the range was limited in some way. I could go on but you get the idea.

Overall I think the game is moving in the right direction with the kind of random effects that get released, even if they are fewer than I would like. Fun fact: did you know that Heroes of Skyrim had almost twice as many cards with the word "random" on them as Houses of Morrowind? 26 and 14, respectively. The amount in Alliance War? 5. Now this isn't very precise since it's often phrased without using that word, and some effects that aren't very random in practice do use it (Goblin Skulk and the likes), but it tells you something about the general trend. I hope I've been able to explain why my opinion is that this trend and the community sentiment that drives it make for a less skillful game.

Also, minor pet peeve: can we please stop saying "Random Number Generator" when we mean randomness or variance? It's silly. Yeah, I know I lost this battle already, but I had to get that off my chest.

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