Tag Archives: Games

Luck in Games – Part II

Thinking of games simply in terms of skill vs. luck is an oversimplification.  With the help of my kind commentors, I have made the chart below to illustrate some of the many components of games that belie the image of a monolithic component called “skill”.   Below the table I will describe each of the categories.

Game Complexity

Games differ in complexity due to the permutations of possible moves and outcomes.  In the left-hand orange column are two scales to mathematically rank a game’s complexity.  The purple numbers are the GameTree (GT) complexity – which I arbitrarily used to sort this list.  The yellow numbers are the State Space (SS) complexity — I barely understand the math, so read the wiki article if you are interested).  The numbers represent the log to base 10.

Luck – Skill Spectrum

The red-blue blurred spectrum bar is meant to imperfectly illustrate the fact that luck and skill blur.  Adjusting for luck in a game is a skill in itself.

Skill Sets

In the white columns are 7 components of the game which I feel illustrate the variety of skill involved in playing various games.  The sum of these components add up to 100%.  Only the first column would be considered “pure” luck, the rest I would consider skills of different types.  The numbers in these boxes is totally fabricated by me in an intuitive way — thus error laden.  But I hope they illustrate the theme of this post.  Here is a brief elaboration of the categories I invented:

  • Random Elements:  roll of the dice, deal of the cards and such
  • Hidden Information:  For instance, your opponent holds a set of card which you can not see.
  • Bluffing Skills:  Some games involve bluffing, face reading and such
  • Memorizing Skills:  During the game, how much use of memory is needed.
  • System Particulars:  The idiosyncrasies of the games rules will generate particulars that a player needs time and experience to understand and remember.  They are not apparent simply by understanding the rules.
  • Pattern Recognition:  This is looking at the big picture of the game and weighting your moves appropriately.  It can involve seeing familiar patterns that are difficult to calculate.
  • Calculations:  In Weiqi we call this “reading”.  It means playing out as many possible moves you can in the game tree to make the best calculated move.

After setting out this table, I see that I tend not to like games with random elements or memorizing (a weakness of mine).  Looking at the complex set of skills in games helps make it clear why different folks like different games.

Important Caveat: Any given player, will change the game to match their skill sets.  So, for example, in my WéiQí game I may only do 30% calculating and increase my pattern recognition to 50%.  However,  if I did more calculating, I would be better.  Nonetheless, but of “style” is how we all compensate our skill sets in response to our opponents.  Thus these percentages are artificial in yet this sense too.

Any corrections, additions, insights?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

Luck in Games

Luck plays prominently in human thinking and thus, in religion.  But before getting into that, I would like to ask readers to help me with something I have wondered about for ages:  Is it possible to order mind games in terms of the amount of luck vs. skill in the game?  We all have intuitive ideas about which games are luckier than others, but does anyone know of disciplined attempts to rank games by luck?

Below I have quickly and casually attempted to make an  ordered list of a few games — the most skilled are on top and the most lucky on the bottom.   Have I left out your favorite game–where should I put it? Are any games over/under-rated — why?  Do you think this a pointless venture?

  1. WéiQí
  2. Chess, XiangQi, Shogi
  3. Mahjong , Bridge
  4. Poker
  5. Reversi, Pente, Connect Four
  6. Checkers
  7. Backgammon
  8. Scrabble
  9. Solitaire
  10. Stratego
  11. Yatzee
  12. Monopoly
  13. Dominoes
  14. Tic-Tac-Toe
  15. Coin Flip

Challenges in the this ordering include:

  • Many different kinds of skills: spatial, memory, reasoning …
  • Effort vs. Natural skill: Some skills come natural to some people and take no effort.
  • Several sorts of luck (perhaps).

I think a one-dimensional spectrum is totally inadequate so I am looking for suggestions before going off on my own.  Any ideas, arguments, or questions?   For instance, though I made WéiQí as number one in skill, I sometime doubt this status.  But when I tell WéiQí enthusiasts that I suspect even WéiQí has luck, my skepticism is met with violent objections.

Anyway, let me know your thoughts about luck in games.

This post on wiki mentions the complexity of comparing abstract strategy games.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

Life is a Game

I actually like the expression “Life is a Game”.  However, many folks find this expression objectionable or even repugnant.  However, I find that most of their aversions  are simply due to one or more of these reasons:

  1. The Nature of Life: The person usually does not understand their own life. (ouch, sorry)
  2. The Wonder of Games: The person vastly underestimates the beauty, complexity, depth and awesome potential of games.
  3. The Spirit of Play: The person does not have enough “play” in their life. (ouch, sorry)

I will briefly elaborate these points below so that perhaps if you weren’t comfortable with thinking of life as a game before reading this post, you will after:

The Nature of Life

Games can be rich, unpredictable, complex and inspiring — much like the fun aspects of life.  They also can be horrible, of course — especially when you are loosing.  Here are two perspectives needed to see games-life metaphor:

Kitani Minoru vs Go Seigen

  • An Algorithmic Perspective:
    Simple algorithms can be deterministic but still unpredictable [see: cellular automatons]. These algorithms have been shown to create incredibly complex beautiful, inspiring patterns similar to those that evolve in the biological world, the quantum world and the cosmos.
    This determinism in games is the felt “fate” aspect of life — the understanding that much more is out of our control then we can even imagine.  Though we often feel in control, there are mechanisms that are predictive — often simpler mechanisms than we can imagine.
  • A Probability Perspective:
    If we understand all the contingencies of our immensely inter-connected world, the “luck” in life (as in a game) becomes apparent.  The world is not controlled by a great virtue-rewarding karma-machine, nor by our ancestors nor by any spirits or gods.

The Wonder of Games

When I say, “life is a game” most folks only imagine a few simple simple games like “Crazy Eights”, “Tic-Tac-Toe” , “Shoots and Ladders” and such.  But if a person has played several sophisticated games with mixtures of skill and strategy (and yes, luck), they may understand the analogy of Life-is-a-Game a little more easily.  And if someone has played the game of WeiQi for any length of time, they would certainly emphatically agree with the analogy. 🙂

Some see the expression “Life is a Game” as debasing life because life is not simple.  But sophisticated games help escape this complaint.

When playing WeiQi, one can see simple rules unfolding in unexpected beauty.  One can see complexity constrained with discipline and reflectiveness.  One can see luck where one expects skill.  One can feel wonder and awe.

The Spirit of Play: Joy and Horror

To a large extent, this is a temperament issue.  Humor, exploration, excitement and such are components of what helps someone enjoy play.  Animals do it too.  But not everyone feels this as deeply as others.  For those people,  discussion on this issue will make no sense.  It is funny how temperaments form our philosophies. For example some people, saying “Life is a Game” can be used negatively:  as summary of their depression, exacerbation, felt-meaninglessness and such — and indeed, a lost game captures this too.  For games can also be as horrifying as life.

Question for Readers:  What do you feel about the expression “Life is a Game“?  Have I altered your opinion?



Filed under Philosophy & Religion