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Most of my favourite games, such as Diplomacy, have little or no element of luck - either via dice rolls, hands dealt, or other methods.

What other games can you recommend that rely on 'skill' alone?

One game per answer, game name formatted as header and link to more information. Vote for your favourite if it exits already.

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closed as not constructive by Pat Ludwig Jan 8 '12 at 6:33

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Of course, there are some positions in Diplomacy where there is some luck involved - e.g. where you are attacking an opponent and there are two possible sets of orders for each of you; you just have to guess what your opponent will choose. In those situations, it's random in the same way that rock-paper-scissors is random. This is, of course, true of any imperfect-information game. –  Richard Gadsden Nov 4 '10 at 11:54
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I came here to ask a similar question. Your question, however, is ambiguous: By "no element of luck" and "rely on skill alone", do you mean there is absolutely no chance involved at all? Or do you mean all players begin (or are affected by) equally random influences? To differentiate, Chess and Go are examples of the former, while Set is an example of the latter (all players access the same random board). To me, it would be helpful if the two were in separate questions. –  Mark C Nov 23 '10 at 0:49
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@RichardG The "luck" you are talking about is a matter of semantics. Guessing at another player's hidden information is not "chance" as long as the generating process does not bring in random chance (unlike card games). Stratego is a good example of educated guessing with no random generation. –  Mark C Nov 23 '10 at 0:52

41 Answers 41

Arimaa

I've never played it myself, but it's supposedly more complex than chess is, though it probably suffers from the first turn advantage issue.

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Genesis

A bit of randomness in the startup. Pieces are placed in the order of oldest first and he/she is the one who starts the game. After that you make your move in clockwise order. The first player marker moves every round creating a supprising new level of strategy where you also needs to consider at what point in the current and the next turn you will make your move.

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18xx

The only randomness is seating order. Utterly brilliant games.

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Easter Island

Two player abstract strategy game with no element of luck.

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Besides the ones already mentioned:

  • The rest of the Project Gipf Games: (besides Dvonn) Gipf, Tzaar, Zertz, Punct, and Yinsh (all awesome, by the way)
  • Hive
  • Abalone
  • Did someone say Mancala yet?
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Blam!

A fun little piece-placing, abstract, unit management game... No luck. No hidden knowledge.

You'll want one Icehouse stash per player. Two to four players.

Rules online: http://www.invisible-city.com/play/29/blam

Asynchronous, online, at SuperDuper Games: http://superdupergames.org/main.html?page=listgames#blam

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Mancala has no luck. Some might debate that if you are using irregular sized pieces and don't keep strict track of how many stones are in each space there is luck in picking the right space to "move". However I'm not sure that applies, as it is simply a matter of counting to keep track the quantities of stone and the entire game state...

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No Dice has no luck as one of it's selling points.

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There are many games that have just a tiny bit of luck, but zero-luck games are hard to come by (most are probably already listed here). I wouldn't be so quick to label games as no-luck just because they have no dice or cards though. If a game is more than 2 players, one player could wind up benefiting greatly if the actions of other players are not focused at them. For instance, if Players 1 & 2 wind up ganging up on Player 3, they could create a runaway leader in Player 4. Would you say Player 4 was the benefit of some luck, having not been chosen as the target of these attacks? Or would you say then simply made their obvious optimal moves in the face of unskilled play by Players 1 & 2? I view the actions of an unskilled player as an element of luck, since at times they could be making decisions seemingly on a random basis.

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That's probably true, but I think most folks here have interpreted no luck to mean games without stochastic, game-intrinsic random events that influence the outcome. The inpredictability of other players doesn't seem to be the intent of the question--even if that inpredictability is capricious rather than strategized. For example, if I manage to beat Gary Kasparov at a game of chess because last night he suffered a concussion after slipping in the shower then by all accounts I won because of luck, but the game--chess--is still considered a no luck game. –  Adam Wuerl Jan 5 '11 at 19:04

Martian Chess is another Icehouse game with no element of luck. It's not as deep as some of the other assorted games mentioned, but since I prefer light games that doesn't bother me. ;)

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DVONN

I haven't played the other Project GIPF games, but DVONN reminds me of a variation of chinese checkers -- but each time you move a piece, you affect how it can later move. You also sometimes sacrifice some of your pieces to take out the opponents pieces by disconnecting from the red DVONN pieces.

Um ... this explanation is probably more confusing than helping make the case, though.

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Axis and Allies Chess

Years ago there used to be whole websites devoted to describing the rules to Axis and Allies chess, which is a no-luck version of the popular board game, but Google seems unable to find the rule set I remember, which I think was originally developed by the A&A club at MIT.

The basic modification from the standard game is to replace rolling with a deterministic combat model. The standard model is to roll one die per unit and score hits against a unit specific threshold (i.e. an attacking tank hits on a 3+). In A&A Chess, the attacking or defending values are summed and divided by 6. Remainders of 4 or less are discarded and remainders of 5 or considered hits. For example, four attacking infantry can't do any damage, but two tanks result in one casualty.

Although theoretically this model would enable a player to work out a complex combat round in their head, this is impractical: first, it's too much math to keep in your head for multi-round combat; second, you don't know how the enemy will respond to taking casualties and/or if they will retreat (if attacking).

Anti-aircraft guns are resolved by the same rules: meaning an AA gun is ineffective against 4 or less aircraft attacking at once, but will automatically record (at least) one hit against 5 or more.

Typically chess does away with tech research, but it would be easy to set a price for each technology.

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Terrace

From the wikipedia write-up:

Terrace is an award-winning strategy game played by two, three, or four players on a multi-leveled 8×8 (or, more recently, 6×6) board. It is most widely known for also being a prop in the American television series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

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Puerto Rico

I can't say that there is no luck element at all in Puerto Rico, but it is definitely extremely low. The game involves selecting roles to perform actions. Each person will perform the chosen action, but the actual chooser gets a bonus for it. The main theme is developing plantations to grow crops, and then shipping these goods off for victory points. The only luck elements I can see in the game are the 5 random crops that are available to plant during a planting phase, and possibly the turn order. If you the skill level of the people playing is drastically different, then sometimes the person you are sitting next to and what role they choose can greatly affect your strategy.

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Mastermind

I suppose it could be argued that a first guess that is "right" would be lucky, but it should be a game of logic based upon guesses leading to a pattern match against the hidden sequence of pegs setup by the other player.

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Extra hardcore bonus to those players who allow the lack of a peg to be considered a valid possibility. –  Zoot Nov 22 '10 at 18:56

Reversi/Othello

The initial board position is fixed, pieces to be played are controlled, and the object is to have more of your color upright than the other player.

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Connect Four

The object is to get four of your color in a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. No luck - just pure skill against the other player.

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khet

fits the bill it is very chess like

I actually prefer it to chess because, although it is simpler in many ways, each player has the ability to move their opponents pieces making some interesting strategies possible.

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Wayfinder Movement mechanic similar to mancala. Up to 4 players with a simultaneous movement element.

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Antike

Another Civ-lite game. Battle is handled by removing troops one after another, and a lot of it is guessing what the other players are going for, and trying to beat them to the punch.

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Stratego

Stratego may seem like a slightly strange choice since each game involves a completely a hidden setup, but it's a setup entirely devised by the opponent with distinct strategies, counter-strategies and bluffs available. If there's an element of luck it's in trying to guess your opponent's approach to a setup, but there are no dice rolls for combat or drawing of positions involved. First-move advantage is also minimal, and certainly seems less important than in chess.

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That is not entirely true. The position could arise where a player has to make a choice to attack one of 2 or 3 different opponents pieces. Depending on the choice made can easily affect the outcome of the game for better or worse, with no possible way of making a better decision. There is an element of luck in any imperfect information game, although chance elements for the game force it to involve luck, not having chance does not stop it from involving luck. –  Nick Larsen Nov 1 '10 at 14:58
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That's where the lower ranked pieces come into play - to probe the opponent's position. Throwing valuable pieces onto unknown forces definitely comes under the heading of "sub-optimal play" and not "bad luck". To be ultra-contrarian, it's possible to say that in Diplomacy a player is often "guessing" whether an opponent will honour an agreement or not. –  Karl Bunyan Nov 1 '10 at 15:07
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Interesting point, although I actually think the opposite proof would be needed: is it impossible to derive sufficient knowledge of the opponent's position through tactical sacrifice of your own pieces? If it is impossible, then luck is needed to win. But more simply, I could see your contrarianism and re-raise you and posit that I'm unlucky because I was born bad at Diplomacy, and therefore Diplomacy involves luck. –  Karl Bunyan Nov 3 '10 at 15:35
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@Andrew: to take an extreme case, wouldn’t you agree that Paper Scissors Rock has an element of luck? It again has no “pure chance” — everything that happens is determined by players’ choices. The combination of imperfect information and symmetry among options is what makes it effectively a matter of luck. Few sophisticated games ever exhibit such perfect symmetry, but many come close at times. –  PLL Feb 7 '11 at 6:03
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Re: Paper Scissors Rock; If I play randomly I am introducing chance into the game. Likewise, if I randomly place my pieces in Stratego I am introducing chance into the game. Unlike in games with open information, my opponent is unable to account for this chance. The point: Stratego can have luck but it doesn't necessarily have luck. –  MrHen Mar 10 '11 at 18:53

Steam

The only luck element is the initial distribution of goods, but it's shared by everybody equally and I think it helps replayability. Also the initial turn order used to auction the real first turn order. After that it's all there on the table, no more luck!

Age of Steam has much more luck, with semi-random goods going to the cities during the game.

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Full Métal Planète

Wargame reimagined by boardgame designers! Combat involves absolutely no luck: Two attackers will clean out any enemy piece, no questions asked.

There is one small element of luck though: The tide, which impacts the board layout. However as long as you keep your weather-predicting piece, you know the tide for the next turn, so this mitigates luck down to almost nothing.

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Homeworlds

Homeworlds is an Icehouse game about space conquest. In the multi-player game, there is hidden information about who is good and who is evil, and thus there is a certain element of luck in your guess about who is who. In the two player game, however, there is no luck; it is a pure abstract strategy game.

To quote Andy Looney on Homeworlds:

I really like John Cooper's Icehouse game, Homeworlds. I think it's one of the very best Icehouse games we currently have. It's elegant and exciting, it looks great on the table, it's different every time, the theme rocks, and it makes excellent use of the pyramids. One of my criteria for a perfect Icehouse game is that it offer deep strategy while using little or no equipment other than the pyramids, especially including using the table itself as a featureless gameboard. Homeworlds is a perfect Icehouse game.

...

Where Chess is an abstract pure strategy game representing medieval warfare between kings, Homeworlds is an abstract pure strategy game representing interstellar warfare between planets. In both games, complicated forces have been reduced to elegant icons, but where Chess is played on a restrictive, 64-square grid, Homeworlds creates a free-form, dynamic space-map out of any plain surface.

Whereas Chess was a game played by Renaissance Kings, Homeworlds is a game for Starship Captains.

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Go

Go is an ancient game; at least 2500 years old, and possibly as old as 4500 or more. Originally from China, it is now most popular, and professionally played, in China, Japan, and Korea, though there are strong and growing amateur communities in Europe and the Americas.

Go is a simple, pure abstract strategy game, with no element of luck or hidden information. The rules are quire short and simple; the simplest expression of the basic rules is 10 sentences long, though rules that cover a few extra conventions for ending the game sooner and making scoring easier, and provide more detailed explanation, are a little longer.

Despite the simplicity of the rules, it is extremely strategically deep; while computers have beaten the top human players at chess over 10 years ago, computers cannot compete with even strong amateur or lower level professional players at the full game with no handicap (they have only recently become competitive with some professional players on a smaller 9x9 board or at a high handicap on the full board).

The starting player has a slight advantage in Go, which would give a slight luck-based advantage to who goes first, but because winning is based on total territory scored, you can even that advantage out by giving the second player a few extra points; generally somewhere between 5 and 8 extra points, with the number having drifted upwards a little in recent years as people have discovered that the original amount was still a bit too low.

One of the great features about Go is that it allows you to play handicapped games against strong or weaker players. By letting one player start with a few extra stones on the board, you can even out a difference in skill, and still have an interesting game even though one player is considerably stronger than the other. This is great for small clubs or tournaments, when you don't have enough players of roughly equal level to compete against each other; instead you can play handicap games, and everyone has a chance to win while playing at their own skill level.

Go is a beautiful game, with a great balance between whole board strategy and local tactical battles. It has been studied deeply for centuries, and new innovative ways of playing are always being discovered. In recent years, mathematical analysis of the endgame using the theory of surreal numbers has yielded insights that have helped even top professional players, who have devoted their life to learning the game, and have teacher lineages going back hundreds of years.

I could wax poetic about Go for hours, so I'll stop here, and invite you to check it out. The Wikipedia article gives a good overview, while Sensei's Library is a wiki devoted to Go. There are hundreds of books on Go, a manga and anime series about it, professional players and teachers, schools devoted to teaching young Go players, servers for online play, Go clubs all over the place, and more.

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Icehouse

Seeing as Brian added Go, I'll get ahead of him on Icehouse for once. A turnless game of pure skill and diplomacy. (Also consider IceTowers and Zendo, which use the same pieces.)

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