The unhelpful hand of fate

In Wizard’s Academy I wrote a rule called the helpful hand of fate. It’s a simple rule: Whenever the rules are ambiguous the players may choose what happens. Rules like this are pretty common in cooperative games. The much lauded Gloomhaven will allow the players to choose where a monster goes when its AI generates ambiguity. This sort of rule allows the designer to cover a host of situations that emerge from more complex rule sets without needing a lot of edge case rules. They also give the players an extra decision point, which can come with the opportunity to demonstrate skill if which outcome will benefit the group is ambiguous enough.

I’ve never seen the alternative used. I cannot think of one game that uses the ‘unhelpful hand of fate’ which asks a group to pick whichever outcome will benefit the group the least.

I can imagine how a game might benefit from it. It could be used to establish an hostile atmosphere, which suits games like Dark Souls. It could narrow the difference between the high-skill and low-skill experience, as a more experienced group would more successfully identify the resolutions that would harm them the most.

I have ideas about where it might go wrong. I think players might attribute mistakes differently – in “pick the best” if someone winds up picking something that makes the game harder then at worst they’re bad at the game. Conversely in “pick the worst” if someone winds up picking something that makes the game better they might be cheating.

I suspect players judgements of themselves will be more relevant here than the judgements of others. Few players are willing to make an accusation of cheating, they are even reluctant if someone at the table flagrantly is. On the other hand relatively many players may punish themselves asking “Did I really resolve that in the manner that was worse for me or on some level did I make it move East because I knew it would work out?”

There may also be problems if it asymmetrically affects different players. If you’re picking the best then “A bad thing happens to me or to someone else” can be talked about. You can argue why it’s best for it not to hit you and how you will benefit the group. On the other hand trying to argue that you could easily deal with it and it’d be worse for it to hit the other person just seems…mean? It seems like something that might undermine the spirit of a cooperative game and group cohesion. In “pick best” confidence leads to sacrifice for the group, in “pick worst” confidence leads to saying you have to kick the less confident player when they’re down. And argue the case for that. That feels like it might be off.

That said, I have to say “I suspect” and “feels like” because I’ve never actually playtested an unhelpful hand of fate rule. Instinctively I feel like it wouldn’t work. More I feel like I’d find myself uncomfortable playing such a game, cursing the designer for not making a less ambiguous resolution method. On the other hand I’m perfectly happy playing games with the opposite rule and objectively I can’t think of a reason that picking the best should be any less difficult or ambiguous than picking the worst.

I’d be interested to know if anyone has ever heard of a game using such a rule or if anyone has ever had direct experience of playtesting one

Expressing Rules

There are some really awful rule books out there, many are mediocre and there are a few exceptional ones that clearly show how to play the game. Most gamers can agree with that sort of statement. What they can’t agree on is which of the rulebooks are the good ones – people seem to learn in very different ways which dramatically affects their enjoyment of games. Long time readers of this blog may remember this:


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Flexible Start and End Points

In most games the possibility space extends both before and after the actual start and end points of the game chosen by the designer. Take something like Settlers of Catan. You don’t have to stop at 10 victory points, you could ignore the rules and keep playing. You don’t have to start at the game start, with everyone having two villages and some resource cards, you could step backwards and start with just one and no resource cards.


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How should AI cheat?

Last week I was writing a cardboard AI for a game and reached the conclusion that in order to make the game fun and challenging it would have to be allowed to cheat. In this case by starting with more resources than the human player(s). An algorithm that could equal human play would be too complicated to execute and bog down the game, so a simpler one was required to make the game fun and it had to cheat to make the game interesting.


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UK Games Expo 2016

Hi everyone! After a relapse I am finally (mostly) recovered from spine things. I’m not allowed to fight anyone for a bit, but I’m up to walking and talking so I’m going to be bringing 3DTotal games to the UK Games Expo 2016

…so apparently now that I’m able to blog again something has broken the blog site so that image uploads don’t work. Alright, image free version of the post then…

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Playstyle Profiles

One of the least exciting parts of being a game designer is the initial tests, after a game has been developed into a prototype but before the prototype is ready to show to anyone. At that stage you put the game down, set out a bunch of places for your players around the table and hop from chair to chair playing the game with yourself. During the development of Wizard’s Academy I’m sure that I spent more than fifty hours playing with myself. While it’s more fun with company it’s useful to do this alone and it can be more fun with the right technique.



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