So I play not only a lot of Hearthstone but also a lot of Magic the Gathering (two fantasy card games the first digital, the second physical.) While I’m not particularly active in the communities surrounding either game, I have some passing familiarity with them. One thing that I have noticed is that the communities have substantially differing opinions about the elements of randomness in their games. Hearthstone fans largely seem to hate randomness, while magic the gathering fans seem to hold, at least certain elements of randomness, in higher regard. I believe that there are two likely reasons for this difference of opinion.
Firstly there is a lot more cards with random effects in Hearthstone, as a percentage of total cards, than in Magic the Gathering. Subsequently this means that a greater potion of those cards with random elements can present an enticing enough offer that they see use in competitive settings. This leads to gameplay moments in which success hinges on something that the player has no direct control over, and when luck doesn’t favor the player they take to community forums and complain about it. In Magic the Gathering however, ‘random’ cards are much less frequent, only one hundred fifty-seven cards out of more than sixteen thousand. As such they see little, if any, competitive play, instead if they are more likely to see action in casual settings where wild swings of fortune generate a shared moment of fun between friends, this leads to my second point.
Magic is a game which is played face to face, often with friends, or at least people with whom you’re familiar. When an element of randomness is introduced, it creates a moment of tension, the players hold their breath to see who well benefit from this new mystery. It is in moments like this that elements of ‘Magic,’ as a social game, shine. You go through something together as people, with real time emotional feedback from the other people you are playing with. It provides an opportunity for one of the little moments that friendships, or rivalrys, or animosities, are built on to occur. Not so with randomness in Hearthstone. All there is there is the dull glow of a computer screen and maybe one of six emotes to let you know there’s someone else on the other side of the game.
All and all I enjoy both games quite a bit. I think Magic has a legacy which, while at times burdensome, comes with more than two decades of design refinement, and I think that Hearthstone has experimented with what it can do as a digital card game, in terms of card design, in a couple of interesting ways. I also think its important to mention that, these are card games, there will always be an element of randomness to them because the decks are shuffled. So if you don’t like any randomness, maybe don’t play these games.
It occurs to me that my original post didn’t really engage with randomness in a general sense but rather as it applied to two specific, and similar instances. I guess my general feelings are a bit more vague than what I wrote above. I think in general I’m pretty open to well or even just okay uses of randomness in games, but there are several case where I don’t like it.
One, I like the amount of damage I do with a given weapon to be a constant, known thing, I’m looking at you 'Knight of the Old Republic (don’t @ me).
Two if there is a mini-game, or a prize game one of the results shouldn’t be nothing. Even if i get a bad prize at least there’s a sense of resolution.