The Case Against “No RNG”

As you probably know, one of the top reasons we’re making Cosmic Brawl is to give you a card game that’s more about skill and less about RNG.

This leads to an obvious question:

Shouldn’t we eliminate all RNG? Then the game can be entirely about skill and not luck?

The short answer is “No!” 🙂 Read on for the long answer…

What We Said

Over the past few months, here are some things we’ve said about RNG (paraphrased).

We want to make a game that’s more about skill and less about RNG.
We want to use RNG like spices in a meal – a small amount makes the meal great, a large amount ruins it.
We want to eliminate “out of control RNG”, and only use RNG in small doses.
We want to use “Controlled RNG” so that the game is more about skill.

What We Didn’t Say

We’ve never said the following (correct me if I’m wrong, by providing a link):

  • We want to make a game that has “No RNG”.
  • We want to “eliminate all RNG”.

However a handful of players in our community – based on their comments to our gameplay video – thought we had said the above.

Even though we never said these, there’s some level of confusion – and we take 100% responsibility for not being more clear.

So I’m writing this blog post to address this.

What We Mean by “Out of Control” RNG

First things first. We need to define what we mean by “Out of Control” RNG.

Top CCGs in the market today (I’m not naming the games, because making negative comments about specific games is NOT my goal here) have cards that effectively do the following:

  • Cast 10 random spells (random cost) on random targets.
  • Summon a random unit (random cost) from your deck. Repeat every turn.
  • Summon a unit that has Attack/Health stats between 3/5 and 12/12 (randomly chosen).

This is what we refer to as “out of control” RNG. The results of these RNG events are wildly disproportionate to the cost. And a skilled player is unable to control the adverse impact of these RNG events.

Two Kinds of RNG in CCGs: Draw & Card

In most CCGs, there are two main sources of RNG.

Draw RNG

RNG in when a card is drawn

Draw RNG

RNG in when a card is drawn

Card RNG

RNG in card text

Card RNG

RNG in card text

Cosmic Brawl has a lot less Draw RNG – because of the following:

  • 5 cards in your starting hand.
  • Cards you mark for redraw are guaranteed NOT to be drawn into your starting hand.
  • Innovative resource mechanic.

Wouldn’t it be great if we removed ALL Card RNG on top of this?

Answer:

Nope, it would make for a boring game. Most players won’t play it after the first few weeks.

Why so?!

Benefits of Card RNG

1) Variety

Let’s consider a simplified scenario. You and I play 5 matches in Cosmic Brawl, using the same deck every match.

If there’s no Card RNG – combined with the fact that Cosmic Brawl has a lot less Draw RNG – here’s what will happen:

  • Most matches will play out in a similar way, turn for turn!

What’s the word for this?! … Wait I got it, BORING 🙂

In other words, Card RNG creates variety.

Just like you’ll get sick of pepperoni pizza if you had to eat it every day for every meal – you’ll get sick of Cosmic Brawl if every match played out in a similar way.

2) Fun

Card RNG also leads to more fun. How?

A big part of fun is surprise.

If there’s no Card RNG – there’s a lot less surprise (and anticipation, and elation, and frustration) lurking behind every action.

Lot less surprise, lot less fun.

3) Higher Skill Ceiling

Believe it or not, Card RNG (in controlled amounts) can lead to a more skill-based game with a higher skill ceiling.

Take the “Space Balls” card in our gameplay video. Knowing it has Card RNG forces you to manipulate the board state before playing it, to minimize the adverse impact of randomness.

This leads to a higher skill ceiling, even though such cards don’t always work in favor of the more skilled player.

Why “Controlled” RNG?

So if Card RNG has so many benefits, why not just add a ton of it?

Reason is quite simple:

Then the game becomes a slot machine, not a skill game.

If there’s incredible amounts of Card RNG (like the examples I mentioned above) – a skilled player loses his ability to react intelligently to minimize the adverse impact of these RNG events.

So even though the game will have variety and fun – it will lose the third benefit listed above, i.e. higher skill ceiling.

As our goal is to build a game that emphasizes skill more – we’ll use “Controlled RNG” in card effects.

“Controlled RNG” has at least one of these attributes (preferably both):

  1. Even the high roll is NOT wildly disproportionate to the cost.
  2. It’s possible for a skilled player to react and minimize the adverse impact of RNG.

Further Reading

Mark Rosewater (Magic the Gathering) wrote a great post on RNG nearly a decade ago, check it out.

tl;dr

Don’t have the time to read all that?! Here’s the tl;dr 🙂

Cosmic Brawl will have a lot less RNG than the top CCGs. But we won’t take the approach of “no RNG” – as that’ll lead to a boring, unfun game with a lower skill ceiling!

FAQs

1) Many cards have the word “random” in them. Doesn’t that make Cosmic Brawl about luck and not about skill?

When analyzing any reasonably complex topic, simple “word association” is not the smartest approach. Please read my post above, and post any Qs/comments so we can have an in-depth discussion.

2) You said “high roll” in your video. Doesn’t that make Cosmic Brawl about luck and not about skill?

Please see my answer to question #1 above! 🙂

Alright, I want to know what you think about my case against “no RNG”! Post a comment, it’s easy (no registration)…

About the Author:

I'm your Game Designer at Able Apes, I live in California. My favorite video games have been puzzles, RTS, and CCG. I love mobile games and SciFi. Thanks for stopping by!

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j craemer
Guest
j craemer

One of the best posts I’ve read on RNG in card games. This reflects my own thought process when I play some cards in Hearthstone. But not other cards though. That’s the main problem I have with HS. I don’t mind spending the money. All that being said I have to disagree with people who say Cosmic Brawl should have NO RNG in card text.

Malik
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Malik

I’ll say this. I never expected cosmic brawl to have “no RNG”. When I saw the gameplay video I was happy with the random elements that were available since they weren’t extremely high variance. All in all I’m glad you cleared up the details and I look forward to seeing the next big update. Good job guys.

Aaron
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Aaron

Can you do a post on your plans for long term support – content updates, balance changes, bug fixes, ‘spaghetti code’ etc? One of my concerns is that the monetary model won’t allow for the support and growth we would all like.

Ram
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Ram

Really good post👌. I like rng sometimes. I like hearthstone rng too. I hate that turn 6 summoner into a 12/12 tyrantus or Dragonlord though😡😡. I know you guys know what I’m talking about 😂
Looking forward to playing your game

Severalgeese
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Severalgeese

Well the summoner usually isn’t in your hand on 6, and you have to have a deck of mostly filler cards for the strategy to work, AND if you draw your big cards before summoner and turn 6 you pretty much lose. I think that these extremely hard to achieve highrolls should be in the game because of how great and funny it sometimes is when the inefficient strategy actually works out.

Mitch
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Mitch

I strongly disagree with your points. Spiteful Summoner Priest has been a T1-T2 deck with 50%+ winrate performance at high legend for months now. The points you brought up are theoretical or opinion, but they do not match the facts found in actual data. You can google Vicious Syndicate and read their Data Reaper Meta Reports and you’ll find data on 50,000+ recorded games every week that show the deck performing above average and even defining the meta at points. Statistically speaking, it is in fact the polar opposite of an “inefficient strategy.” Im not sharing this to be combative or anything, just to make sure that you and anyone reading this are educated on the subject.

tl;dr high variance “out of control” RNG has the potential to be OP / unfair, and the proof is in the data.

Michael K.
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Michael K.

I think you guys are right. The right amount of RNG makes the game fun and a slightly new experience every match

Aggs
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Aggs

You guys know exactly how to handle it. Zero RNG would be slightly boring, but controlled RNG or RNG that isn’t completely untamed is fun.

James Loftus
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James Loftus

I think this was just about the best response you could give. Well done!

Daniel Cabrera
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Daniel Cabrera

Just give me an early early access and we’re good. I like where this game is going

Marcas
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Marcas

I agree with everything, can’t wait for the game to be released!

Madra
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Madra

Personally I would like to see more cards with text like “Deal X damage to your opponent’s Y card.” Where Y are things such as: leftmost, lowest health, highest damage, etc. This favors board manipulation for skilled players much further than “random card” does.

Advent
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Advent

Whoever said take RNG out completely have not been playing card games for very long. It’s exactly what you said, it’s like a spice. A game I personally find that use RNG perfect is YuGiOh. Yes there are some cards that say Roll A Dice or Flip A Coin but those are honestly the trash cards no one use anymore cause nowadays you get to choose your targets or it’ll affect a group of cards. Wording is extremely important in these games and being in full control of your cards and their effect is nice when it comes to skill, but these people don’t understand draw is random. Unless there’s a card that manipulates your next draw to be a unit or spell of your choosing which can easily be a thing, it is still RNG.

Mad Wet Squirrel
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Mad Wet Squirrel
The “spice” analogy is a great way to put it, and based on your concerns so far, I trust you as chef. But lets not view the game as just one meal, served the same way. Why not a menu to select from? Instead of just one ladder or arena rank to climb, give players a menu of choices. This allows you to make the cards with a little extra RNG, and give them a tag like “Chaos” or some other story related keyword. Players can decide if they want to enter the Chaos ladder with extra RNG or not. But don’t stop there! Add a “Weenie” ladder for cards limited to a certain point cost. A Race/faction limited ladder… A ladder where players pick their starting hand. Or the one that excites me the most, a ladder that restricts random cards on a weekly basis, forcing players to constantly… Read more »
Severalgeese
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Severalgeese

The game won’t have enough players to split the playerbase in so many categories. If there are separate ladders then there will be many people that only play 1 and finding someone to play against will be harder and slower and worse matches will have to be made.

josewups
Guest
josewups
So, also completely agree with what is said above, but for those weird wild decks, could there possibly be a crazy, or RNG exclusive game mode, where cards like Yogg-Saron from hearthstone could come in, or Wheel of Fortune from MTG where it is a mild card draw RNG like explained above, but I was just wondering if maybe there would be some really crazy cards involving RNG, that would be “out of control” like Renounce Darkness from Hearthstone where the game lies in the heart of the cards, don’t get me wrong, I love playing token decks and some good old fashioned ritual, but there will always be a special place in my heart for the crazy, wacky cards that have game changing impacts. I understand that these cards would never see ranked play, but it would be nice to see a rotating game mode or maybe a way… Read more »
Brian
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Brian

Moderate RNG sounds good to me

Trevor
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Trevor
I agree completely with this explanation. I felt that the ranges in the gameplay video weren’t out of the “safe” range for RNG in a CCG, but was a little surprised at the number of cards in the video that had that RNG element on them. It may have just been chance that the ones in the video happened to be RNG-based more than other cards available, and while I understand card RNG is part of what makes CCGs fun and skill-based, I felt that the ratio of cards with RNG elements to those without was toeing the line of “uncontrolled card RNG” as you put it. Again, I would have to see more of the cards available before being able to say how I feel overall, but that was something that just stuck out to me a little in the gameplay video. You’ve obviously spent more time with the… Read more »
OldScience
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OldScience

I believe you’ve made some excellent points. What’s far more encouraging however is the way in which you presented them. I have much respect for the emotional maturity and consideration demonstrated by Ableapes in response to negative feedback.

You guys may be small, but you’re also professional. Community interaction can take a toll after a while, so I hope you never lose this quality.

Michael+Duncan
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Michael+Duncan

I will reserve judgement on specific cards like space balls until they can be viewed among all cards and decks as a whole, especially since they aren’t set in stone yet.

I suppose my baseline opinion would be as long as one class/archetype doesn’t have to rely too much on rng cards to work, I’m fine with small amounts here and there.

Mitch
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Mitch

I strongly agree. It’s best to only judge anything once all information is available. Right now we have about less than 1% of information on what actual cards will look like in this game, so it’s not entirely productive for us to get concerned at this stage. Let’s save it for beta!

Tripl
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Tripl

Ha, are people really whinging about RNG? Are there actually any fun games without RNG? Any kind of card game is going to inherently have RNG. As soon as you accept RNGesus as your Lord and Saviour, your CCG experience will become immediately much more enjoyable.

El\
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El\'Cheapo

Please consider being a bit more generous with the in-game rewards you can get on the daily,
Games like Hearthstone I feel could really benefit from small rewards at the end of each game on a roulette wheel type system that gave things from a small amount of dust up to a small amount of gold or even a random card.
Alternatively, more than 1 quest or higher quest rewards would be good.
Example: Pokemon TCGO has a roulette wheel after each game.

Nate
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Nate

When it comes to RNG there are definitely “good/respectable RNG” and “bad/nonsense RNG”. I don’t one could, would or even SHOULD do away with all RNG in a card game. It’s all about how it is implemented. Like everything else in a CCG RNG is about the elusive thing called BALANCE!

Logan Ross
Guest
Logan Ross
Hey, I was one of the people in the gameplay trailer who was complaining about rng and I just want to take some time to talk about my thoughts and potential solutions. I have never thought rng in games is bad, I have played many MANY TCGs and CCGs (literally dozens) and one thing I have always loved about the online CCGs over paper games like MTG is that they can incorporate cool new mechanics that aren’t otherwise possible. For me, a card like “piloted shredder” from HS or the echo mechanic in eternal are perfect examples of this. What I dislike about some of your cards aren’t just the random damage, but the random targets. I’m fine with random damage, as long as I can choose the target. That way you can still have some good rng without it being too extreme. Also I know this might not be… Read more »
DarkChiron
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DarkChiron

As long as you guys don’t reach Hearthstone levels of RNG, I’ll give it a chance.

Kevin
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Kevin

I understand your argument and I don’t want there to be no RNG at all, however I’m still not convinced about some of the cards. Yes you can control the RNG by say clearing specific minions before playing a card. However, I’m not convinced that the difference between the highrolls and lowroll of Spaceballs is very controlled.

I will say that it also depends on the power level of the card. I’m fine with having fun, meme-y cards with higher RNG that are only played in fun decks, it’s when high RNG cards are core to the powerful decks that it is a bigger issue.

So I’m still a bit hesitant (mostly about the cards with random targets and random damage) but I would be happy to be proven wrong once I start playing with the cards.

Rudy
Guest
Rudy

I’ve always thought some controlled RNG is incredibly important in the longevity of a card game. However, I still feel a little off about some of your cards that have random targets AND random damage. Of course there are plenty of ways to minimize the RNG before playing them (lowering the amount of potential targets for example), but I still have trouble getting behind these cards. The early game variance feels really high.

I don’t know much about card game design though. When I get my hands on it I’m sure my concerns will be put to rest. Just wanted to share my 2 cents. Very excited!

Rudy
Guest
Rudy

Really enjoyed the article you linked btw. Something I liked was the mention that randomness in the “journey” is much better than randomness in the “result”. The random damage AND random targets is all about the end result, which may be why it makes me and others feel uneasy.

Compare that to a card like “Tracking” from Hearthstone. “Look at the top 3 cards of your deck. Select one to put in your hand and discard the others.” The RNG is all in the JOURNEY (the top three cards of your deck) but ultimately the player decides which card to choose and which get discarded. Do you think implementing “journey” type RNG would be something you would consider for your game? Personally I really like the possibilities this type of RNG can bring to the table

Kenshin
Guest
Kenshin

please consider including good draw RNG with deck building mechanics where some cards modify the draw RNG

Kenshin
Guest
Kenshin

variance in kind, not variance in power

Ordulops007
Guest
Ordulops007

I didint find a better place to ask this if there is im sry. On that platfrom are you guys proframming the game. If u dont cancel the game i will play this game for sure becouse im free to play player that really wants to find a game that doesnt need to spend houers upon houers to get 1 card pack(hearthstone)

Drew Clark
Guest
Drew Clark

Hi, Michael!

I just re-watched the gameplay demo and, while I understand Kiss of Death doing 1-2 damage to a random target (since 2 damage would be too powerful and 1 damage would not be powerful enough), I’m less clear on the design choice behind Space Balls.

Each “ball” does an average of 2 damage to the unit it hits, so it seems like having them do a random amount of damage is just randomness for randomness’s sake (especially since the targets are already random). Any chance you could explain the theory behind this?

Caleb Parks
Guest
Caleb Parks

If the cards that were in the video represent the kind and amount of RNG that will be in the game, I won’t play it. I don’t mean to be harsh but I want to give honest feedback.

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