Cards over Dice

29Dec05

Yeah, it’s been forever and a day since I updated this thing. Life happened. A lot. I could spend lots of time going into it, and maybe I will. But not now.

I think I figured out another reason why most of my game designs do not use dice. It comes back to the social context of my gaming: How my gaming fits into my life.

Here’s my dirty little secret: I do most of my gaming at conventions these days. I’ve never been a big fan of the “campaign-length” game. I’ve only ever been in 2 campaigns that lasted more than a year. I have a regular weekly game that goes off more like bi-weekly (life happening, again). But I go to conventions and game!

In the social context of a convention, Time is king. You’ve only got one shot to make a good game for these strangers at your table, and you’ve got to make it fun and fulfilling in four hours and then they’re gone to the four winds. There is a great deal of pressure to make every moment count.

When looking at this as a system designer, that means making every application of the resolution system count. Here’s where I think cards (at least the way I use them), or point-bidding like Discernment, have an edge over dice. They are not as subject to luck.

Probability tells us that luck runs in streaks. If you have a 75% chance of success on a die roll, that means that if you make a hundred rolls, probably between 70 and 80 will be successes. Rolling several failures in a row is not unlikely, but it will even itself out with lots of successes in a row later on.

That’s all great in a campaign where, over the life of the game, you’ll make a hundred rolls. But in a convention game, you’ll make maybe 3 to 6 rolls on a given stat. With the smaller sampling size, the vagaries of luck are more harshly felt. That streak of several failures in a row may encompass ALL the rolls you’re ever going to make for that character. So a character that’s supposed to be pretty good in some way ends up coming off as a schmuck. The character sheet and the player says that the guy’s supposed to be one way, but the dice and the system-in-action say he’s another.

Before you say it, I know failure can be fun. Really, I do. I write games about failure. But consistant failure and unlikely failure can be demoralizing.

Cards, as used in With Great Power…, sidestep this by emphasizing the play of the cards you’ve already got. There are usually multiple ways to respond to your opponent, so it’s very hard to draw consistently bad cards. If you don’t have high cards in the current suit, that means you likely have enough cards of another suit to change style and play in that suit instead.

Putting the choice in the center of resolution, rather than the appeal to Dame Fortune, increases the impact of each use of the resolution system. More impact per use in a short game format leads to better game.

At least for me.

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