Luck in video games has always been that one element of game design that continually baffles both creator and player. It is hard to decide whether luck is a misinterpreted good or a necessary evil. Most critics agree that some factor of luck should be inherent in most video games. By using a random seed or some hidden arbitrary values, video games can promise a sense of natural variation that few analog games can attest. However, the general consensus is that too much luck is bad. Games where luck is the primary focus often deteriorate to dicefests where a single roll can decide the entire game. This often signals a heavy lack of skill required to play the game, prohibiting players from ever getting “good” at it. Even so, luck-heavy games can show thoughtful game design and proper application of the MDA approach. This is because luck itself is a huge topic, a broad spectrum of different kinds and applications of randomness. In order to get down to the meat (and the orange juice) of the discussion, luck must be first classified and clarified.
There are many types of luck, generally categorized into large groups as follows: Beginning/Ending Luck, Hidden Information, Pre-action Luck, and Post-action Luck. Beginning and Ending Luck occurs only once at either the very beginning or the very end of a game. This can involve randomizing starting positions, resources, objectives, etc (Karjalainen). Ending Luck is rarely discussed because of few useful applications, banking the results of a game too much on a random chance. Beginning Luck, on the other hand, is a welcome form of randomness that many developers turn to for a sense of freshness in every iteration; this is what roguelike games rely on for dungeon creation. Hidden Information is any information withheld from player knowledge that can affect the outcome of a game. While frowned upon, this is a surefire way to control or “rubberband” mechanics to guarantee smooth performance and feedback curves. Pre-action Luck randomizes events before players make a meaningful decision. This might include drawing a card from a deck or acquiring a random resource at the beginning of the turn. Since the player can act after the randomization has occurred, the player has full control over his decision and feels empowered with his choices, which is something games strive to deliver. As such, Pre-action Luck is favored critically over the brother, Post-action Luck. Post-action Luck can be seen as the problem child of the Luck family; the most overused and misused application of luck in games. Known also as Absolute Luck, Post-action Luck randomizes after players make their choices, usually in the form of a dice roll or coin flip. Players have little to no control over the actual outcome and the influence of skill is very small. “You have no way of reacting to what happens; you simply win, or lose” (Grant). This is the very luck that discourages skilled play, generates player frustration, and destroys any hope of a competitive base for a game. With all the downsides of implementing this kind of luck, it is no surprise that people will claim that a game based entirely on Absolute Luck would not be interesting or fun (Noel).
But I disagree.
It’s time to bring out the orange juice.
100% Orange Juice is a PC board game created by the Japanese studio Orange Juice and localized by Fruitbat Factory. Play-wise, it resembles Mario Party and similar games: run around a playing board, collect stars, and fight other players. 100% Orange Juice simplifies tiles and events, removes minigames, uses levels to determine victory, and adds a card system to move the game along. And then it adds a dice to everything. Everything. Movement is dictated by a dice roll. Bonus squares, which gives stars, and drop squares, which steals stars, have effects multiplied by a dice roll. In combat, both offense and defense are determined by dice roll – face value. When a player loses all hit points, the character gets knocked out with a chance to revive every turn by, of course, a dice roll. That means that the only factors in this game not directly tied to a dice roll are the starting positions, leveling up, and the card pool.
It gets better.
Starting positions are randomized beforehand; players can choose their character but cannot choose their play order, which determines starting location and home base. Speaking of home base, players level up when they stop on any home base with the right requirements, similar to the “passing GO!” mechanic of Monopoly. While a player can choose to force-stop themselves at their own home base, to path an entire loop around any given board is usually a great challenge, exacerbated by the numerous random warp panels in every map (oh look, more luck). And since movement is dictated directly by die, leveling up becomes severely influenced by these random elements as well. Finally, while players can choose a premade deck of ten “event” cards to bring into the game, the actual card pool is made up of a combination of all forty cards from every player in addition to player-exclusive Hyper cards. Also, the only way to draw cards outside of special effects or specific game settings is to land on a draw panel, the act of which is solely dictated on the rolling of a die. In short, 100% Orange Juice is simply a game where players roll die until one person gets enough sixes to win the game.
At first glance, this game seems horrendous. Since majority of the randomization is post-action, skill cannot factor into the equation. With only a single dice roll at any given time, the probability curve is unstable and prone to erratic variation even at high reiterations. As a final nail, 100% Orange Juice deals primarily in single digits, meaning dice rolls are not scaled or refactored in any way but taken at face value. Most game critics would deem this game a lost cause. Even now, modern game designers are trying to move away from too many random elements “because it often leaves players feeling frustrated and helpless when they become unlucky” (Grant). “No one likes being frustrated. That’s why game designers are getting rid of randomization as a core play mechanic” (Jim S.). However, as unlikely as it seems, 100% Orange Juice takes these pitfalls of traditional game design and turns them into its strengths. By loading the game with an absurd amount of random elements, the quirky board game draws out the positive effects of luck in video games.
The first stigma that 100% Orange Juice overcomes regarding luck is the notion that luck and skill exist on a dichotomy. For game designers, adding in more skill elements usually means taking out more luck elements and vice versa. But since “all dichotomies are false dichotomies”, there is more to the luck-skill relationship than what meets the eye. After all, there exist games like tic-tac-toe, which has been mathematically calculated to have almost no skill or luck whatsoever, and mahjong, which involves high amounts of both skill and luck.
Since 100% Orange Juice practically robs the player of almost all agency, players are encouraged to focus on the few parts of the game that they can influence the most: character selection, win selection, path selection, and combat selection. Character selection might seem like a joke, but it ties heavily with win selection and greatly affects the course of the game. In 100% Orange Juice, there are two ways to win the game, either collecting enough stars or winning enough battles. In order to progress down one path, a player must opt out of the other path until that level is cleared. This allows players to not only have a plan for the entire game but also for every level of their character. All characters have unique stats and traits, allowing some to peak earlier or later depending on their offensive or defensive capabilities. Choosing a character influences strategic choices made at every point of the game. Additionally, all cards have a level and a cost requirement to use, including the character Hyper cards. A properly built deck that works well with a character brings a fresh layer of strategy to the randomness, even if the card delivery system is inherently random. Path selection is map-specific, but every map includes at least one instance of branching routes that a player can select. While traditional board games and Mario Party treat this as a nice add-on, 100% Orange Juice reaffirms the importance of choosing a path with its unforgiving nature in regards to everything else.
Combat is an entire story by itself. Players can choose to challenge players whenever their characters cross, stopping both players at the same square. This is important for characters who want to control their movement or avoid a bad square in a risk-reward sacrifice. Once in battle, players each get a chance at offense and defense. The attacking player rolls for attack first. Once the result is displayed, the defending player has the option of either defending or evading. If a player defends, damage is reduced by the defense stat down to a guaranteed one damage. If a player evades, damage will either be completely nulled if the evasion stat is greater than the damage or taken in full. The attacking player’s Post-action Luck becomes the defending player’s Pre-action Luck, giving the defending player more power to dictate the result of the battle and retaliate, stabilizing the game. Combat really matters. When a player loses, half that player’s stars go to the player that wins in combat. This is true even for wild enemy squares and non-player bosses. This is 100% Orange Juice’s fabled catch-up mechanic, a special perk that luck can give games. Even for the player behind the entire game, all it takes is a single win against the leading opponent to turn the tables. On the other hand, this mechanic works poorly the other way around since losing players are likely to have fewer stars and give less benefit when killed.
The level system also promotes a fair progression gradient that allows slower players to fight their way back in. Level requirements are easy to accomplish early on and get exponentially harder as a character levels up. Bonus and drop panels grant or take stars proportionally to the player’s level, thereby increasing risk/reward as a player gets closer to winning. This also ensures that a player in the lead who was just KO’d still has a chance to regain stars and vengeance. Cards have level requirements, and powerful cards are often found at higher levels with substantially higher costs. However, basic game-changing effects and combat bonuses can be utilized at the earliest levels. These mechanics support the gameplay dynamic of competition in the fairest sense possible (Hunicke). They bypass the Monopoly and Risk trap of getting a single person or pair in the lead and losing the competition (Hoffstein). Realistically speaking, at any point in a 100% Orange Juice game, a player will always have the hope of getting back into the race for first place.
The ability to come back from behind is one of the selling points of 100% Orange Juice and what makes the game satisfying and rewarding. While some games favor skill and others intelligence, 100% Orange Juice rewards perseverance the most. Given the incredible number of turnaround mechanics and the well-balanced pacing of the insanity, players treat “bad luck” as normal and expected instead of game-breaking and discouraging. They are encouraged to pick themselves up and strive to fight to the finish. Despite having little agency in the actual rolling of the die, players still feel empowered knowing that they have just as much chance as winning as every other player, regardless of the current situation. They might curse the system at first, but luck can only be called unfair if it happens rarely and drastically. With the law of averages, the ceaseless rolling of the die, and 100% Orange Juice’s merciless system, luck is all that ever happens. That is the saving grace of this game: not by rejecting luck or applying it partially, but by embracing it and setting it as the foundation and status quo.
100% Orange Juice is a phenomenal game that challenges the modern perspective of randomization in video games. Not only does it apply the most heinous form of randomization, Absolute Luck, but it does so in a way that shows the true power of such a mechanic. That being said, 100% Orange Juice is truly a case in itself. Only a game solely dedicated on this concept could create such results; any half-hearted attempt would probably qualify as a proof for the opposition. The key to 100% Orange Juice’s viability is in the extreme: the excessiveness of the dice rolls. The dice controls everything, from movement to profit, from combat to revival. The other mechanics of the game, from the leveling system to the card effects, help provide the proper context in which the probability curve of a single six-sided die can create both balance and competition. When all is said and done, the end result speaks for itself: a four-person board game where players can give their all into rolling die, collecting stars, killing each other, getting beat into a pulp by the boss, failing to revive for the third turn in a row, and laughing in spite of it, all while being arbitrated by the fair designs of fate itself. Without there being any salt at all. 0% sodium.
100% Orange Juice.
Bibliography / Works Cited
Grant, Elyot. "The Role of Luck in Games: Why Luck Kills Strategy Games." Lunarch Studios. Lunarch Studios, 15 July 2014. Web. 09 Dec. 2014.
Hoffstein, Palle S. "Luck And Skill." Palle Steve Hoffstein. Palle Steve Hoffstein, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2014.
Hunicke, Robin, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek. "MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research." Cs.northwestern. Northwestern, n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2014.
Karjalainen, Antti. "What Are the Building Blocks of a Good Board Game?" 2. Types of Luck. BoardGameGeek, 28 Nov. 2012. Web. 09 Dec. 2014.
Noel. "Games from Within." Games from Within. Games from Within, 6 Aug. 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2014.
S, Jim. "Review: 100% Orange Juice (PC) - Digitally Downloaded." Review: 100% Orange Juice (PC). Digitally Downloaded, 10 June 2014. Web. 09 Dec. 2014.