Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

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Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby Dave » May 9th, 2008, 5:17 am

Since it's come up a great deal lately, I thought it would be nice to document the rationale for how luck works in Wesnoth. In particular I'm going to compare it to games like Fire Emblem which have luck as less of an influence. If people find this useful, it could go in a wiki page.

Different games have varying degrees of luck. Some games are completely deterministic, such as chess, go, and tic-tac-toe, and some trivial games such as snakes and ladders are governed entirely by luck. Most games fall between, such as Dungeons and Dragons, Settlers of Catan, Monopoly, Poker, Backgammon, Fire Emblem, and of course Wesnoth.

In Wesnoth, there is a substantial, but not huge amount of luck. The main luck limiting factor is the way in which units have multiple strikes in a battle. A unit with four attacks has four chances to hit, not just one, and so it is generally reasonably unlikely that they will either miss all four times, or hit all four times.

Of course, units have different numbers of strikes. This means different units are susceptible to luck to different degrees. This is one of the key gameplay facets of Wesnoth: managing luck. There are many opportunities to manage how much risk one exposes oneself to, and make backup plans if things go wrong.

This can be contrasted against a game like Fire Emblem. In Fire Emblem, a unit typically has one attack, though may have two in some situations, and four or more in very rare situations. Units also have a chance to hit, but it is dependent heavily on the attacker's skill, and in particular, it is common for an attacker to achieve a very high chance to hit, and a 100% chance to hit is common. (If a player wants, they can optimize to almost always have 100% chance to hit).

This approach is more satisfying for many gamers, because they feel in control of the game. They can normally achieve a 100% chance to hit, they can use units that have poor dodge abilities but high resistance to damage, and expect to usually be hit, but take relatively little damage. They can play Fire Emblem close to being a deterministic game.

This has a certain appeal to it, and is fun in its way. In particular, one can often in a turn in Fire Emblem carefully plan out one's moves, work out how many enemies one can definitively knock out, and can plan to avoid any chance of one's own characters dying.

However, in my opinion this kind of gameplay has only a limited amount of appeal. It is certainly not the kind of gameplay we want in Wesnoth. In Wesnoth we want a player to plan out a complex situation, to estimate carefully the possibilities. To have to work out a good strategy. If a player can simply rely on all sorts of assurances that their units will hit, they don't have to do any of this. Sure, there will be a certain amount of fun to planning out a situation where you can set up a cool 'domino effect' of enemy units going down as you attack them. But this is nothing to do with the skill of planning out a real strategy in a dynamic situation where you have to consider all kinds of contingencies.

Additionally, a big reason why the Fire Emblem approach works in Fire Emblem is that the Fire Emblem AI isn't...really even an AI. It is closer to being 'scripted'. The enemy doesn't move intelligently at all. Most enemy units just stand still until you move in range, then they charge forward and attack. This makes Fire Emblem closer to a puzzle game than a strategy game. If Wesnoth used a Fire Emblem-like system, there is no way you could keep all your units alive, because the AI simply wouldn't be that dumb. There would be situations that would be simply intractable for you to avoid losing units in.

Wesnoth's approach also requires a substantial amount of analytical ability from the player. In chess, and in Fire Emblem, one knows that if they lost, they made a mistake. In Wesnoth, one can occasionally play better, and still lose. Bad in many ways perhaps, but still it adds an interesting facet: it requires more analysis as a player. You have to be able to distinguish from situations where you played a good strategy but still lost, and situations where you lost because of your poor strategy. Certainly, in real games, a losing player will almost certainly have made mistakes, but working out what those mistakes were becomes difficult, and requires great analysis.

In my opinion, many people who struggle to improve at Wesnoth do so for this very reason. They fail to see strategic mistakes they make, resulting in them losing, as such, instead believing their loss was a result of luck. Other times they may blame the wrong things for their loss, and correct the wrong things. This analytical ability is a crucial skill required for Wesnoth play, and simply wouldn't be needed if luck wasn't such a big factor.

I also do not think that in fact, Wesnoth has a great deal of luck compared to many other games. Games such as backgammon, poker, bridge, and settlers of catan involve higher levels of luck. Most versions of Civilization have at least as much luck in their combat systems.

Trying to "slide down the scale" of luck would simply make Wesnoth less interesting, in my view. Suddenly the difference between a two attack unit and a four attack unit would be trifling instead of critical. Not near as much planning would be necessary. Simply, in my view, Wesnoth would become less fun.

Of course, the Wesnoth community should always be open to experimentation. Practice trumps theory. I myself have worked on an experimental change to allow an 'accuracy' feature. Other people have tried experiments too. However, so far I haven't seen any experimental evidence that points to anything but the above rationale being correct and accurate.

I think that one of the biggest problems people have with luck in Wesnoth is that it is computerized. People know how dice work. There is a certain aesthetic enjoyment to rolling dice, to feeling them in one's hand, to choosing how to roll them. One does not get this with a computer. One has to 'trust' in the fairness of the system. And heaven help us when people 'discover' that computers actually use pseudo random numbers. It doesn't matter that the 'pseudo' part is only really relevant in cryptographical applications and that for a game a pseudo random number generator is as good as a 'real' random number generator. People start to think they can see 'patterns' in the numbers. Numerous variations of the gambler's fallacy take effect. People remember times they were unlucky and ignore other times. And so on and so forth.

Time and time again people have insisted that they see all kinds of incredibly unlikely unlucky sequences, and claim to see such sequences on a regular basis. This is probably a natural human response, exaggeration of the effects of luck in one's mind. I have asked such people to send me replays of their unlucky games, and then I either never receive such replays, or when I do and I analyze them, I find that objective analysis shows that the person was not near as unlucky as they said they were, or were not unlucky at all.

In summary, luck is an important and crucial part of Wesnoth. It is certainly not some dial that can be scaled back a little without critically affecting gameplay. Players should remember something: Wesnoth is not a typical game for its genre, nor do we intend for it to become one.

David
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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby PingPangQui » May 9th, 2008, 6:58 am

Hi Dave,

having sth. like that in the wiki would definetly be cool. You mentionend the word risk(probability). Which is a much better expression than luck or at least a good analogy.

Seeing it pessimistic, everything you do is a risk - in wesnoth (e.g. attacking a unit / not attacking a unit) or in real life. Seeing it optimistic, everything you do is a chance. Wesnoth is all about risk assessment. The expected outcome of a battle is at the name already implies the outcome of a battle one would expect when everything goes according the known circumstances. However, one can't know all circumstances.

Maybe the elvish marksman just misses because the target moved right in the moment when he released the arrow. Maybe the thief got hit from a clumsy troll because he wasn't carefull enough for a second for some reason. ...
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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby Noy » May 9th, 2008, 8:43 am

I'm going to add my perspective on this, since I come towards this from a different perspective and have contributed to this argument in the past.

Wesnoth's main derivative is the Sega Genesis's Masters of Monsters. I'm not fully familiar with the history of MoM,, I suspect its makers drew from prior games, like Nobunaga's Ambition or Romance of the Three Kingdoms, large bestsellers in Japan. While my knowledge is not perfect on that game, I can say what Wesnoth is now and how does it play.

The game plays very similarly to hex based war games such as the Panzer General Series, Atomic's V for Victory series. These games have a much longer lineage, into tabletop wargaming, which has roots back into the turn of the 20th century and before. The basis of these games were to prepare leaders for battle. professionalization became a major part of Western Militaries in the latter half of the 19th century. However they couldn't rely on small wars and skirmishes to train leaders, so wargames were devised to train leaders. The first such game was Kreigspiel, which was created in 1824 by the Prussian Staff college. Some people credited it with having a great deal to do with the Prussia's surprising victory over Austria in 1856 and France in 1870. You can see one such system used by American NAval War College in 1916 in this New York Times article pdf

In the 1950s and 60s these games became widespread in the public sphere, by such makers as Avalon Hill. Avalon Hill's 1961 edition of Gettysburg was the first to use hex based maps.
Image
Games such as these laid down the much of the basis for modern strategy games. As computers games became increasingly common in the 1980s, many of first major game makers were these tabletop makers who ported over their games.

So why randomness? Essentially these games were designed to teach Majors, Lt. Colonels and Colonels how to maneuver large units across the board. Its not an easy thing to learn. Particularly after the First World War, and the mechanization of armies, maneuvering became an absolutely critical part of a military strategy.

However, as in the battlefield, there was no way to accurately simulate the outcome of small tactical unit battles that would help decide the outcome of a strategic battlefield. Thus, randomness was used as a way to simulate the outcome of these battles. The critical aspect of such exercises was not to make war a game of chance. Quite the opposite, it forced leaders to maneuver their forces in a way that maximize the likelihood of victory. That meant bringing overwhelming amounts of force on a certain point, that could ensure your aims are achieved.

Key to all of this is uncertainty, and how a commander dealt with it. There are two types; one is the uncertainty of your opponent's strategies, and the second is the uncertainty in your own abilities.This dual uncertainty has been recognized ever since people started thinking about strategy. Sun Tzu's The Art of War from 600BC states;

2.To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our
own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy
is provided by the enemy himself.


Its impossible to know how units will react. For example during the Battle of Gravelotte in 1870 a Prussian Division made a poorly planned assault against a French Unit. They were severely mauled. The French should have immediately counterattacked but none was ordered. The following was a letter made by a soldier;

Why did our captain not march at the head of the company? why did he turn command over to a wounded second-lieutenant, leaving us without a chef at a critical moment? (Wavro Franco-Prussian War Pg. 176)

Why in this case did the captain run, when someone else might have led a counterattack? There is no way you can accurately simulate this sort of event, so we use chance. Randomness is an integral part of simulating this uncertainty. It is an integral part of any serious wargame.

Finally, some people have argued that Wesnoth is not a wargame and we shouldn't have such a level of randomness. However uncertainty in attack and defence forces the player to play a better game. It forces players to think about probabilities and develop contingencies. This is what makes the game all the more compelling. In some way, you are not just playing against an opponent, but you are also playing against yourself. I think alot of this is what Dave talks about above, so I'll leave it at that.
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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby PingPangQui » May 9th, 2008, 11:55 am

Kreigspiel sounds a bit odd - as the Prussian language was generally German I guess it should be called Kriegsspiel (What just means "war-game").

Though there are lots of links to Kriegspiel and Kreigspiel around.

:eng: So why Kriegsspiel? Well, it is a combination of the two words "Krieg" and "Spiel". When combining two words in German than you have to put an "s" between those simply because it is easier to speak. However I'm not sure how people wrote around 1824, thus Kriegspiel might actually be correct as a name of the game. However I'm pretty sure that Kreigspiel is wrong.
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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby ADmiral-N » May 9th, 2008, 3:49 pm

This is a great informative thread.
Thanks! :D
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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby Dave » May 9th, 2008, 4:31 pm

PingPangQui wrote:Kreigspiel sounds a bit odd - as the Prussian language was generally German I guess it should be called Kriegsspiel (What just means "war-game").


I believe that Kriegsspiel refers to the historical war game used by the Prussian military: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kriegsspiel_%28wargame%29

Kriegspiel is used to refer to a chess variant that is based on the incomplete information factors found within Kriegsspiel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kriegspiel_%28chess%29

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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby Noy » May 9th, 2008, 4:50 pm

PingPangQui wrote:Kreigspiel sounds a bit odd - as the Prussian language was generally German I guess it should be called Kriegsspiel (What just means "war-game").

Though there are lots of links to Kriegspiel and Kreigspiel around.

:eng: So why Kriegsspiel? Well, it is a combination of the two words "Krieg" and "Spiel". When combining two words in German than you have to put an "s" between those simply because it is easier to speak. However I'm not sure how people wrote around 1824, thus Kriegspiel might actually be correct as a name of the game. However I'm pretty sure that Kreigspiel is wrong.


Yeah yeah. So I made a mistake. Not like you haven't done that in a game.
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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby Sangel » May 9th, 2008, 6:21 pm

Thank you for writing this up, Dave and Noy. As Wesnoth continues to grow in popularity, it'll be useful to have an "official position on luck in Wesnoth" that newcomers can be pointed to if they feel that luck plays too great a role in Wesnoth (or even too little).
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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby PingPangQui » May 9th, 2008, 7:48 pm

Noy wrote:Yeah yeah. So I made a mistake. Not like you haven't done that in a game.


Sorry Noy I didn't mean to step on your feet. I just thought it would be important to note (and probably a good idea to correct) since it is a very interesting post.
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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby anakayub » May 9th, 2008, 7:58 pm

When this thread has cooled down it should be stickied and locked after removing the not-so-important posts (including this one). PingPangQui's can stay for historical/linguistic reasons. :P
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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby Noy » May 9th, 2008, 9:09 pm

PingPangQui wrote:
Noy wrote:Yeah yeah. So I made a mistake. Not like you haven't done that in a game.


Sorry Noy I didn't mean to step on your feet. I just thought it would be important to note (and probably a good idea to correct) since it is a very interesting post.


Actually I've been informed that you aren't the person I thought you were... given that person uses a similar name. He would have gotten the in-joke. There was no intent to malign whatsoever on my part.
I suspect having one foot in the past is the best way to understand the present.

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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby Chris NS » May 9th, 2008, 9:25 pm

anakayub wrote:When this thread has cooled down it should be stickied and locked after removing the not-so-important posts (including this one). PingPangQui's can stay for historical/linguistic reasons. :P


No! Let's have a another flame war! Pleeeeease.
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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby Fosprey » May 10th, 2008, 2:15 pm

Since i'm one of the complainers i think i had to respond.
First i don't complain about rng not working well, i'm sure is pretty random.
I understand a lot of your points. Really , but i don't think you are on the spot on why peopel complain about luck.
I play poker professionaly, i live of people believeing they are losing money because of luck and not because they are horrible players.
But sometimes the better player will lose some money to the bad players, even if the odds where for the better player, but that's fine, because that means more money, because the bad players think they are better than he actually are.
now that's fine for winning money porpouses, but i don't like in games i play to have fun,
I clarify i'm a poker player becuse, i want to make it short that i understand perfectly how lucks works.
Now, it;s easy for me to undestand why you like luck in your game, the moment you also establish that you don't like competition.
You refuse to put a ladder, stats, etc, and stated that think competition hurt the community.
Luck is only a problem when you play to compete.
In competition, one looks fairnes, because we want the winner to be the one who actually played the best game, now, it wesnoth, that;s not always true.
Yes, of course, the best player has the better chances to win, and if you make it at best of X you increase the chances of having the right winner.
In fact, i would be told , like you somehow say. "the game is sometimes unfair because is designed to be so because it's not really relevant who the winner is" then i would't have a problem. But is the persistent people that states that the game is fair and the best player wins always or almost always (something like 95% or more) that i dislike, and the main reason i complain.
Do the luck makes the game more fun and intersting in some parts? maybe. But you are sacrifing competitive fairness.
If that's what you want, then fine.
It's a game design decision you made.
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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby Gallifax » May 10th, 2008, 3:06 pm

I have to disagree Fosprey , even with the randomness as it is you can play competition like ladder or TOC. There are allways a series of games played to ensure that the better player will in the end win. In TOC final it can be up to 7 games.

In a series of games the player being able to adapt most quickly to changing conditions will win. That has been so since I play bfw , which is abput 1.5 years.


I understand that you don't like the randomness as it is, but then bfw isnt your game. Simple as that.


The good players at bfw like it the way it is. It requires high skills to play on toplevel and be able to adapt to "bad luck". Imho:)


Your mod would have no appeal to me at all. It just wouldnt be bfw anymore. It woul be the game you want and thats fine for you:)

But again if you want to do that mod and be happy with it , totally fine. Tastes vary. Everyone to his likes I say.

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Re: Luck in Wesnoth: Rationale

Postby Fosprey » May 10th, 2008, 3:39 pm

if you could play 7 games in 1 hour, i would be happy with luck like it is.......
Maybe that's an interesting point that should be noted
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