Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Randomness in Hearthstone

Syncaine commented:
The '90% of outcomes are decided by dice' aspect makes [Hearthstone] a very poor game, which IMO is the bigger problem, and got MUCH worse with the last expansion. Does anyone, winner or loser, feel good about a game being decided by the dice behind Unstable Portal? And you can't build a deck with limited luck factors, as some of the best cards (such as unstable portal) are also the big dice roll cards.
It's true that Hearthstone has a lot of cards with random effects. However, I don't agree that this specific element makes Hearthstone more or less skillful than Magic.

First, randomness is just probability. Probability can be factored into your plans. You can mitigate the randomness with tactics. Yes, sometimes you'll get very unlucky. But over time, skillful play that accounts for probability will win.

You can see this because the same people tend to win, tend to put up consistent records. That is a sure sign of a game that requires skill.

It's like poker. Poker is very random. But it's still a skill-based game. Randomness in and of itself does not exclude skill.

Second, there is a huge source of randomness present in Magic that is missing from Hearthstone: resources. Magic requires land cards in your deck. Drawing the right amount of land is a huge factor in determining victory in Magic. In fact, a good deal of skill goes into constructing the mana base for a given deck. Almost every new player makes decks with 20 land, which is a mistake (unless running extreme aggro). They need to learn that the more correct number is 24 lands. A lot of the time, the endgame in Magic can come down to who draws a threat versus who draws an unneeded land.

That source of randomness is completely missing from Hearthstone. There is no mana-screw or mana-flood in Hearthstone. Resource gain is not random, but completely predictable.

From my perspective, Hearthstone and Magic have similar amounts of randomness. Hearthstone merely moves the randomness from resource generation to gameplay effects. You can still play skillfully with random effects. You just have to take probability into account, and have backup plans for being unlucky.


  1. Indeed, the designers of Hearthstone specifically stated that they created a number of cards with random effects in order to counterbalance the fact that they had removed the massive random effect of land draws.

    Basically, they said that they found that without those random cards, the game was too staid and predictable.

  2. Randomness always favors the weaker player.

  3. But over time, skillful play that accounts for probability will win.

    Yes, "over time", as in "if you play a lot of games". Except, guess what, I don't play a lot of games. I log in and play very few of them, so for me the result of a specific play session is *completely* random. I don't keep long-term statistics and the game doesn't keep them for me, so I have no way of seeing if I'm getting better, worse, same, anything. Is it such a surprise that I find that the game is random?

  4. The "Honest Trailer" about the game also points out this randomness aspect, and doesn't appear to be in favor of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMqBOmvba0g

  5. The poker comparison doesn't work IMO, because the randomness in poker is controlled. Everyone is playing with the same 'deck', with the same percentages, and the skill in poker is more about judging a situation correctly over and over than anything else. Bad beats are memorable because they don't happen every hand. A 'bad beat' is 90% of HS games.

    Saying "HS is 90% luck" isn't the same as saying HS is 100% random. That 10% allows those who grind out (or buy) an expensive deck and then play enough to get better-than-average will move up, yes. But that doesn't remove the massive design flaw that is randomness/luck in HS.

    How many MtG games are decided by a dice roll compared to how many in HS? Is the ratio even close?

    You bring up lands, but how many MtG games are truly decided by a land freeze? 1/10? 1/20? And is removed the 1/20 chance worth sacrificing all of the deck building that five colors allows compared to locked, static heroes?

    More to the point, how many player decisions are made in the average MtG game vs the average HS game? Is it even possible to have zero in MtG? Because zero or under 5 is damn common in HS. Zoo decks anyone?

    Like I originally wrote; does anyone find it fun when the dice behind a must-have card like Unstable Portal win or lose you a game? And I'd say Unstable Portal isn't the exception in HS, its the rule, with basically no MtG-equivilent.

    HS from just about any other publisher would be quickly forgotten as a highly flawed entry-level card collecting game. The crime is that such a poorly designed game not only came from Blizzard, but also uses/tarnishes the Warcraft IP, which is why we keep talking about it.

  6. It is interesting to note that the class with the most random cards (Shaman) is also considered one of the weaker classes on the ladder.

  7. Luck vs. Skill, they aren't a dichotomy: http://talarian.blogspot.com/2014/11/luck-versus-skill.html

    Largely, I agree with Rohan. Skill can be used in Bohr the meta game and game proper to reduce the effects of luck on your deck. Unstable Portal too random for you? Build your deck around a different concept.

    That's not to say I particularly like some of the super-random cards, but they're not really required for a consistently performing deck (though they're great for shenanigans).

  8. Hearthstone is definitely not 90% luck. If it was, I could beat Trump 45% of the time (he'd win by skill 10% of the time and we'd split the remaining 90% half and half).

    Is there randomness and luck? Sure. But it probably doesn't decide more than 20-30% of games overall.

    "I don't keep long-term statistics and the game doesn't keep them for me, so I have no way of seeing if I'm getting better, worse, same, anything."

    Your rank? If you're winning more than you're losing then you'll keep climbing the ladder.