This post refers to the dice game Six Shooter. You can read the rules for free here.
Whew, been a while getting this one out. But rest assured, the free game blog and the designer diary blog are still kicking.
We’re going to do something a little different this time. Six Shooter is a “press your luck” game, so we thought it might be cool to discuss what makes “press your luck” games work. What the heck is a “press your luck game”? Basically, it’s a game in which the tension derives largely from the players’ greed. The player has something, but could risk it to get even more. It’s one of those tried and true dynamics that kind of always works if you do it right.
A press your luck game, then, has a few component parts:
You’ve Got to Have Something
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. You need to have something, so that you have a real decision between keeping it and pressing on. This is why in Six Shooter, you start off rolling two dice rather than one; we wanted you to start with a potentially decent score right away.
There Has to Be a Risk of Losing It
Usually, the risk of losing it should increase the higher you’re attempting to reach. In Six Shooter, this is why going over 21 busts you. (For that matter, it’s also why that’s true in Blackjack). Almost all press your luck games have a “bust” mechanic, though not all of them are scoring caps. For example, in Farkle, a classic of the genre, you can score as many points as you want, but if you ever fail to score anything, you bust. The risk of a bust should hang over players’ heads, constantly warning them about the dangers of greed.
You Must Always Have a Shot at Winning More
There would be no point risking losing what you have if you couldn’t win more by doing so. You have to tempt players to be greedy, or they’ll never feel that tension. This is trickier than it sounds, because it means you have to devise a system in which a player always has a shot at winning if they are still in the game.
In Six Shooter, you’ll notice that even if someone else has hit 21, you could still win by getting there by getting there with more dice. If we’d made it so that the player who’d rolled fewer dice won on a tie, there would be turns on which you were “mathed out,” technically still in the game but incapable of winning. You’ll also notice that, thanks to the “Six Chamber Charlie,” there’s always a chance you can pull out a win no matter how far behind you are.
Another way to accomplish this is with “exploding” mechanics, which is to say, randomization mechanics that give you theoretically unlimited scoring potential, generally thanks to unlikely occurrences. In its simplest form, this might involve saying that, for example, rolling a 6 allowed you to roll again, adding the new result to the six. That way, no matter how far behind you are, you could theoretically get there if you kept rolling 6s. Six-Shooter doesn’t have a mechanic like this, but the aforementioned Farkle hinges on an excellent version that always keeps players’ hope alive and greed engaged. Games that go this route usually feature unlimited scoring, as opposed to scoring caps like Six Shooter’s, so that exploding is always an exciting dream, not a potential deadly failure.
You Shouldn’t Know If What You’ve Got Is EnoughThis is really just the reverse of the last point. In a good press-your-luck game, being in the lead shouldn’t feel safe; otherwise, one player would simply press until they were safe, stop, and let the other guy try to catch up. In Six-Shooter, if whoever achieved their score with fewer dice won on a tie, it would incentivize sticking earlier. But since rolling more dice is better, and since someone can always, always catch up to you, there’s always at least a little urge to tempt fate to pad your lead.
Pressing On Should Involve Long-Term Risk
We just covered why someone who’s winning might want to press on. Now we need to cover why someone who’s losing might not want to press on. In Six Shooter, this is accomplished through the betting mechanism. If it didn’t cost a chip to buy another dice, you would always choose to roll one if you were behind. Why not? You were losing anyway. The betting element adds a long-term consequence, making unlikely gambits look a lot less appealing.
In games that don’t involve gambling mechanics, each hand is generally part of a larger whole. To return to Farkle as an example, you accumulate your score over multiple turns, so even if you didn’t score as much as an opponent this turn, you still don’t want to bust and lose all your points.
Why It Works
Put all those elements together, and you’ve got a tried-and-true game dynamic that has served many designers well. If you go back to our TEDx talk, you’ll remember that suspense and thrills are two of the things that engage people, and willingly, enthusiastically engaging with something is another word for “fun.” Press your luck games set up stakes for every roll of the dice or draw from the deck, and those stakes are what generate suspense. When that suspense works out, you get a rush of excitement, a big old hit to the reward center of the brain that keeps you coming back for more.
Pressed for Time
That’s all we’ve got for today! Join us next time, when we delve into the secrets of the universe.