After playing Winner's Circle, I admit that my basic conceptions about luck vs randomness are overly simplistic.
My current definitions are:
- Randomness: something random happens.
- Luck: your fate is determined without any control on your part.
When randomness happens before players take their actions, there is generally little or no luck as a result. When randomness happens after players take their actions, it is all luck. Of course, better strategic or tactical play before the random event occurs can swing the odds of the forthcoming event in your favor by a great margin. Nevertheless, once the actions are finished and the die rolls begin, it is senseless to lose because you rolled a 1 on a d100, just as it is senseless to win if you rolled 2-100.
I'm gradually coming to believe that there is something in between these two extremes.
I don't mean that "luck will always even out over time," if you play a thousand games or so, for instance. I don't have the patience to wait 1000 games for it to even out. Losing the first three games due to poor luck is enough to discourage me from continuing, even if this is not anomalous.
I also don't mean to consider a multitude of dice rolls as any different from a single die roll. Ten red dice versus three white dice is reducible to one die roll, however much you may lose the "excitement" and "theme" by doing so.
In Winner's Circle, there are seven horses that can be moved at the start of each turn. Each horse moves 4 different space amounts, depending on the results of the die. E.g. one horse will move 7 spaces on a 1-3, 2 spaces on a 4, 6 spaces on a 5, and 5 spaces on a 6, while another horse will move 2 spaces on a 1-3, 15 spaces on a 4, 1 space on a 5, and 5 spaces on a 6.
After you move a horse, it cannot be moved again until all horses have been moved this turn. At the beginning of the next turn, all horses are flipped back up and the next player to roll has a choice of all seven horses again.
Is this simply a luck game? After all, the results of the dice determine who will win quite often. Or is this a randomness game, where after the dice are rolled, the player's choose how to react to the rolls? Or something in between?
A purely strategic game would go as follows: the dice are rolled fifty times, and the results marked in order. Each player then chooses to bet on the horses. Then, the players begin to resolve the horses' movements one by one. Lots of randomness, no luck. Still challenging, because each player can choose horses in unexpected ways.
A purely lucky game would go as follows: the players choose which horses will be moved in which order, constantly rotating. Then the dice are rolled, applying to each horse in order. You can still mitigate your chances by calculating which horses are more likely to win, and which will pay off more. But after you are done, the dice take over.
So what is this space in the middle? At the end of the turn, when you have only one horse to move, the die roll is simply luck. At the beginning of the turn, after rolling the die, you have seven options from which to choose. You can choose to advance your own horse if the die is a good result for that horse. Or, you could choose to advance another horse that you don't want to see win if the die is a bad result for that horse, thus preventing another player from moving it more spaces later in the turn.
These choices only exist if the die result is not already the favorable one for your opponent's horse. In this situation, bad luck gives you no choice, and good luck gives you a choice; or good luck gives you the one result you need to move your horse a great distance before someone else can move it less. So there is certainly luck, enough to ruin the game if you run into a bad string of it. Hopefully, the possibility of this string of bad luck is low enough that it won't happen very often. If bad luck doesn't reign, then you are left with the usual strategy as a result of randomness.
This quasi-middle ground can make a light game still a tactical game without luck dominating overly much. In the case of Winner's Circle, my opinion is that it falls a bit over the wrong side of the line. As the number of horses you can move gets reduced, you're just rolling dice to see who wins, which is not that exciting for me. Still, enough of the game is interesting to warrant some replay. Of course, if you feel differently about this sort of luck in games, you will like it more.