Should run based games allow RNG to put you in a literally unwinnable position?

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bigsocrates

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#1  Edited By bigsocrates

Original

I've been chipping away at the challenges for Balatro and specifically been working on the ones that deal with 'eternal' jokers. Jokers are special modifier cards that change the rules of the game (such as by allowing you to make a straight with 4 cards or giving you big score bonuses under certain circumstances) and in Balatro if a joker is eternal that means you cannot sell it and it (usually) cannot be destroyed. This is generally a disadvantage because it means you are stuck with a particular joker when the game's strategy is often about knowing when to trade in good early game jokers for jokers that are stronger in late game, but it's a manageable challenge.

Except when it isn't.

The only winning move is not to play I guess.
The only winning move is not to play I guess.

Recently I was playing one of the challenges that makes ALL your jokers eternal, and then on the very last round of the game I ran into the 'boss' blind (special rounds with rules that increase difficulty) that debuffs all your cards until you sell a joker. This means that no cards count for scoring until you sell a joker, and if all your jokers are eternal it is impossible to sell them. It's a literally unwinnable position.

There are ways to reroll boss blinds but they are very limited and I didn't have access to any. I lost at the very last round purely because of RNG in a run I had otherwise managed quite well, and despite the fact that I had lost what should have been an eternal joker to Gros Michel's effect (it's a joker that self-destructs 1 out of 4 hands but I don't think it should be able to if all jokers are eternal; a side point.)

That got me thinking about whether games SHOULD allow this. Now in a game that's as complicated as Balatro and only made by one person it's understandable that they didn't think of every permutation and just like the game can break in your favor it can break against you. It fits the poker theme, where an unlucky bad beat can destroy you even if mathematically you've played perfectly and have a huge advantage. But it happens in other games, especially deck builds, too. You just don't get draws you need, or the enemy gets lucky or whatever. Another game where I think this can happen is Dicey Dungeon, though in less spectacular fashion. If you roll the dice badly and your opponent gets very lucky you can play optimally and still lose.

Should designers balance their games so that the player can always win if they play perfectly or should they allow scenarios where you just lose even without making any mistakes? Is it different for different types of games or different themes or difficulty levels? Have you ever been completely screwed by RNG?

I think Balatro is probably my GOTY so far and I'm not too angry about this, though I am frustrated because I was about to clear the challenge if not for this awful luck, but it does feel pretty cheap to just draw the "you lose" scenario and have no outs.

EDIT:

Okay, I will admit I was actually wrong about how Balatro works. I forgot that even debuffed cards can still form hands you just don't get the specific card effects from any of them. And my deck, that I thought was very strong, was in fact strong enough to win with all cards debuffed. Which I did, because I didn't actually quit out I just stopped and the game saved my progress.

But my original question still stands.

So this, uh, was a winnable situation after all.
So this, uh, was a winnable situation after all.

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laughingman

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There's nothing wrong with no-win situations. Star Trek taught us that decades ago. 😂

It sucks when that happens and I sympathize with you, but I think that's just the nature of the beast. RNG is a capricious and fickle god sometimes. In most cases I learn what I can from the failed run and keep it in mind for future runs.

Your situation is different, though. It's a challenge run. By its very nature there are going to be more fail states. I think it's perfectly fine for you to find them. I haven't played Balatro, but it seems like this scenario was intentionally designed for the situation you found yourself in. Is it possible that the last round will always have this blind? Finding and keeping the boss blind reroll item is the strategy, and now you know that going forward.

In any case, my condolences. I know this pain all too well.

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bigsocrates

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@laughingman: The challenge runs aren't meant to be the most difficult ways to play the game. They're more intended as interesting modifiers to get you to play differently and in some cases are easier than "vanilla" runs, especially at higher difficulties.

I definitely do not think that this is intentional because that's not really how Balatro works or is structured. And the reroll items are very rare so if it were intentional it would be extremely frustrating and unfair.

There are other games that definitely can put you in no win scenarios just from RNG but I think it's a situation where a little secret nudging behind the scenes to avoid strict no win scenarios would be good. Whether that's spawning a reroll item if this blind comes up on this challenge or taking it out of the rotation, I generally think where possible the outcome of the game should come down to skill.

On the other hand you can lose in Balatro, like in real poker or other deck builders, just from bad draws. Unless you've constructed your deck perfectly it's possible to just get screwed by RNG. But this is a situation where even if you have a perfect deck you can still lose. I don't think I even saw any reroll items during the run so it might have been doomed from the start (assuming the blinds are set ahead of time, which I think they are because it's a game that has seeds you can share) and I think starting a run that's totally impossible to win is less than ideal.