[The first part of this post was based on a post I made on the Wesnoth forums]
My two favorite games of skill (other than Wesnoth) are chess, and a card game named Accuracy Spades which my brother made up.
Chess, as you all know, is entirely deterministic. In addition, a chess game, if played well, can take hours.
Accuracy Spades is luck, in that the cards you get are random. But it takes a lot of skill to manipulate them correctly. And – this is important – if your hand is completely horrible (which is rare, because what matters in this game isn’t so much what specific cards you have, but what combinations of cards you have), you can try to make that round worth less so your opponent extracts as few points as possible from your bad hand. And the individual rounds only take a few minutes (probably around two or three). The whole game will take maybe half an hour.
So – my basic opinion is, if you’re not going to have luck in a game, you have no choice but to make it a long, somewhat complex, very deep (=can always improve your skill) game. For example – tic-tac-toe sucks.
If you’re going to have luck, you have to do a few more things. You need the luck to balance out (which means a LOT of luck-based events – a game in which every ten minutes you flip a coin and whoever wins the toss gains 100 life would be, though balanced, idiotic), and a way for the player to win or at least minimize his loss even if he gets bad luck. Lucks needs to be able to be both anticipated and reacted to in a skill-based manner.
In light of this view of the role of luck in games, I’d like to explain the rules of Accuracy Spades, as an example of a card game that has luck, and uses it in a fair way that retains the factor of skill.
How to Play Accuracy Spades
Materials: One deck of cards, plus paper&pen if you want to keep score (which isn’t strictly necessary)
The game proceeds in a series of rounds, in each of which one of the players is the defender and the other the declarer. These alternate every round.
It is a trick-taking card game, which means the basic structure of each round is similar to that of the games Spades, Hearts, and Bridge, among others, though there are only two players, not four. In this game, spades is always trump.
The game begins with each player receiving thirteen cards. The defender makes a bid, a number between 0 and 13, indicating the number of tricks he believes he can take. The declarer then makes a similar bid. At this point:
If defender bid + declarer bid = 13, the round ends, with no players scoring, and the declarer and defender switch positions (this is called the declarer folding).
If defender + declarer , the objective of the game becomes to take as FEW tricks as possible.
If defender + declarer > 13, the objective of the game becomes to take as MANY tricks as possible.
(Clearly the declarer has complete control over which of these three occurs, unless the first player bids 13. This is why he is the declarer, and the other player the defender.)
The trick-playing then begins. For the first trick, each player plays their lowest club. The winner of that trick then leads any card (there is no “breaking trumps”), and gameplay continues until thirteen tricks have been played (each player should be out of cards at this point).
Only one player gets points each round. The amount of points is given for each player by
– (player score – player bid)^2
There are two ways to score the game. Under the first variation, the player for whom the above formula yields a positive number gets that many points. For the second variation, this formula is calculated for the declarer, and he gets that many points, positive or negative.
Defender 7 9
Declarer 5 4
Declarer won the round. He gets (9-7)^2 – (4-5)^2 = 4 – 1 = 3 points.
Defender 6 6
Declarer 8 7
Under variation two, the declarer gets (6-6)^2 – (7-8)^2 = 0 – 1 = -1 point.
Gameplay continues until one of the players reaches a predetermined score, usually 21. This can take as many as 41 rounds (minus folds), since only one point is guaranteed per round, or as few as one, if one player makes a completely horrible bid and is off from it by over 5 tricks.