The Gyp Factor

The Gyp Factor (GyF) of a game is the degree to which it permits or prevents the expert (near-perfect) player from winning consistently against less than expert but at least average players. If the GyF is very low, the expert will beat the good player virtually every time--chess is an example. If the factor is very high, the expert wins no more often than the good player--in other words the expert is gypped because his additional ability cannot be exerted in the game.

To say that a game has a high Gyp Factor is not the same as saying it is all luck, however. A poor player can be beaten consistently by an expert in a game with a high GyP, but in a game that is virtually all luck, a poor player will win almost as often as the best. The GyF is not solely dependent on the number of dice rolls. The more rolls there are in the course of a game, the more "average" the rolls will be. But in some games, even when there are many dice rolls, the outcome may depend a high percentage of the time on a particular few roles which come up in most plays of the game. Increasing the number of dice rolls in a game may reduce the Gyp Factor, but will not necessarily accomplish this in every case.

The Gyp Factor also depends heavily on the number of plausible choices or options available to players. The difference between the expert player and one who is merely good becomes more apparent in a game when the number of choices is large. The more courses of action players may choose from, the more often the expert's skill can be manifested through identifying the better choice. For example, the GyF in many historical simulations is quite high not because of the dice/rolls involved but because there are so few choices players can make. There may be many decisions, but such decisions are usually so clear-cut that only an abysmal or novice player would fail to choose correctly. When there are few plausible courses of action available, there is no way for the expert to differentiate himself from the merely good or average player, and he will not win more often than they--he has been gypped by the game.

The GyF situation is complicated when multi-player games are considered. In such a game no player initially controls more than one third of the total force in the game, and often much less. Even an expert playing with only average players will often lose because he is heavily outnumbered, and is vulnerable to gang attacks and even to irrational plays by his neighbors in the game. The situation is further complicated when playing reputations are considered--if the expert is known to be an expert, it is more likely that the other players will join together to eliminate him. The GyF is inescapably higher than for some two player games such as chess. Nonetheless, there are multi-player games in which an expert tends to do well consistently when pitted against only average or good players, while in others the level of skill makes little difference. DIPLOMACY is one of the former, and RISK one of the latter. I should point out that the GyF in RISK is caused by trading in cards for huge numbers of armies, and not much by dice rolls. There are so many rolls in RISK that good or bad luck will not often in itself determine the outcome of a game, though anyone who has suffered through an entire RISK game while rolling only one six, as I have, knows what luck can do. If the number of armies given for cards in RISK is changed to a repeating 4-6-8-4-6-8 cycle, the GyF is considerably reduced.

Let*s consider the GyF in some other popular games. Poker and bridge include obvious chance factors in the deal of the cards, yet an expert player will usually prevail in the long run despite losing many individual plays. Dungeons and Dragons is another game in which chance is evident at all times, in the dice throws. Yet in a well-refereed game the more skillful players are usually more successful--the luck "evens out". Unlike most games, in which the gyp factor is determined solely by the rules, in D&D the referee unconsciously determines how large it will he. A button-pushing, lever-pulling, silly D&D game has a very high GyF.


Turning to boardgames, Monopoly has a fairly high GyF. Most adult players know enough to buy everything they land on and to prevent opponents from gaining monopolies. It is easy to be a good player. Among good players luck (or exhaustion) usually determines the outcome. Kingmaker has a fairly high GyF caused primarily by the events cards which unpredictably call nobles hither and yon. Yet the game would go on forever without this kind of shakeup for every player could hide in a nearly impregnable position with one of the heirs. 4000AD, with no luck any kind when two play, has a rock bottom GyF. Chess also has a very low GyF, but backgammon has a high one.

In fact, it seems that the "classic" games tend to have low Gyp Factors--hardly surprising. Those with a higher factor, such as Risk, Monopoly, and backgammon, compensate for it with simplicity or brief play.



There is one aspect of the GyF Factor which I have been unable to analyze, though I believe it is related to a large number of choices. Some games seem to puzzle a great number of people who play them often, but who never learn how to play expertly or even well. My only major war example is Avalon Hill*s Stalingrad. At any wargamer convention one can find people playing the game, but even in tournaments only one in five or ten players seems to really understand how to win. A few bad rolls in key situations can destroy a player*s position, yet an export can beat an experienced player every time if the latter has not solved the puzzle. The difference between a good game and a "classic" is often this puzzling quality. The good "serious gamerís game" usually has a low Gyp Factor, but it is the game which seems to be beyond the grasp of many experienced players altogether, though they still continue to play, that is the real classic. This is one reason why so few SPI games are considered classics--no one wants to play a serious game repeatedly that has a high Gyp factor, and no SPI game exhibits the puzzling quality I refer to. Of course, SPI games are most often aimed at history buffs. In order to have history come out "correctly", SPI must design games that any intelligent person can win often--games with a high Gyp Factor. If their games had a low GyF, an expert would win very often and, to the history buff, the game would seem to be a failure as a recreation of history.