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Do you feel lucky, punk?
Ted Kostek
United States
Camano Island
Washington
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I recently noticed an element I enjoy in games that cuts across many other categories: the idea of "push-your-luck."

Now I don't mean I enjoy luck per se, although I'm not averse to it. I mean I've found I like games that give you a choice of whether or not to take that extra gamble. I've come up with a tentative test to check if a game has this element. See if the following phrase, paraphrased from Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry, fits the game decision:

"Do you feel lucky, punk?"

If the phrase fits, you've got a game of push-your-luck.

From studying this list, it seems that for a game to have a fun element of push-your-luck, there has to be some danger, but not too much. Calibrating the upside and downside of the decision is a tricky thing. I admire game designers who can pull it off.

I hope folks will add other games. I love games with no luck, and also games with luck but no push-your-luck (many wargames). I've found, however, this push-your-luck thing is a blast, and I'd be happy to expand that portion of my collection
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1. Board Game: Blackjack [Average Rating:4.57 Overall Rank:13495]
Ted Kostek
United States
Camano Island
Washington
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Perhaps the quintessential game of push-your-luck. You get two cards, then you have the option to ask for more. If your hand equals 21, you win. If your hand ever exceeds 21, you lose. When you're done, the house tries to exceed your score subject to the 21 rule, and the house wins ties. Therefore you want the highest score w/o going bust.

Below 10 is a no-brainer: take the extra card. At 20, only a maniac would take an extra card. In between boils down to statistics and nerve.

Do you feel lucky, punk?
 
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2. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:384] [Average Rating:7.09 Unranked]
Ted Kostek
United States
Camano Island
Washington
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Chess is one of the great examples of a perfect information game, and there is no "luck" in chess. There is an unpredictable opponent, but each move results in a guaranteed outcome that is 100% knowable a priori.

No "luck," therefore no push-your-luck.
 
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3. Board Game: Battle Cry [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:530]
Ted Kostek
United States
Camano Island
Washington
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I enjoy light wargames like Battle Cry even though they feature quite a lot of luck. Maybe I like them *because* they have some luck. In fact the majority of wargames model the vicissitudes of real warfare via some kind of randomizing action aka luck. Usually the idea is that the luck balances out over the course of the game, and the better general wins.

But "luck" is not what I'm talking about here. On each turn you make your choice and move on. It's true you have the choice to put units in a danerous position hoping for good cards, but that's not what I'm after here.

Luck, but low amount of push-your-luck
 
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4. Board Game: Ra [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:121]
Ted Kostek
United States
Camano Island
Washington
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With some clarifying examles out of the way, we get to the essence of the list. The best game I know for the push-your-luck edge is Ra, one of my favorite games. It's got just the right amount of luck and gambling without being out-of-control and totally random.

On most turns your choice is to call an auction or go one more. Sure you want that flood and monument, but think how much better it'll be next time it's your turn with extra stuff. Of course, maybe someone else will call the auction first. Or maybe a famine will pop up. But probably not.

Then there's the times when you are last auctioner. You are racing against time and also hoping no famine etc come out. Each time you have to pick: buy it now, or risk one more draw. It could turn bad, but probably not.

Do you feel lucky, punk?
 
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5. Board Game: War of 1812 [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:1733]
Ted Kostek
United States
Camano Island
Washington
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Another of my favorites is War of 1812 by Columbia. It's a light wargame with solid history, tough decisions, and quick playtime.

The combat system also has a strong element of push-your-luck. Any given combat round causes only little damage, but if you do well twice in a row, that might push the battle decisively in your favor. Or you can retreat which is calibrated to have a high chance to cause a little damage. Combat can be frustratingly random, but there are two sources of comfort. First, real combat is like that, and second, there's a slot machine rush when you hit.

Control of the lakes is important for victory, and the naval maneuvering is a back-and-forth arms race that takes nerves as well as calculation. Each of the three lakes are separate, and often at least one comes down to a single battle where both sides go for broke: "Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes." It might be random, but it's as full of suspense as any game I've ever played.

On each battle turn you've got to ask yourself:

Do you feel lucky, punk?
 
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6. Board Game: Beowulf: The Legend [Average Rating:6.40 Overall Rank:1609]
Ted Kostek
United States
Camano Island
Washington
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Beowulf is another game with a strong theme of not just luck, but pushing your luck. The single most prominent feature in the game, loved by many and hated by others, is the risk. If you get lucky, and you should get lucky, you get one or sometimes two free cards. If your luck doesn't hold, not only do you not get the card, you also take a scratch and may get kicked out of an auction, too.

The auctions can be quite subtle, and I'm still learning to appreciate this portion of the game. The auctions are especially subtle with 5 items (5 players). There's sometimes a few items that are clearly better or worse than others, but most auctions have items that are quite tricky to value.

For purposes of this list, however, it's those risks I'm interested in. If you risk and your luck holds: honor and glory. If not: ignomious defeat.

Do you feel lucky, punk?
 
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7. Board Game: Can't Stop [Average Rating:6.86 Overall Rank:564]
Tom Rosen
United States
Arlington
Virginia
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"A classic must-own game by Sid Sackson." laugh

If you're looking for push-your-luck games then look no further! This ones for you. Can't Stop is the ultimate in push-your-luck games where it's all about managing risk as you try to roll the same numbers consecutively until you can't take the pressure any more and call it quits, saving your progress for a future turn, or until you bust and go home empty-handed. Great fun, and scales well to accomodate 2, 3, or 4 players.



 
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8. Board Game: Diamant [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:794]
Tom Rosen
United States
Arlington
Virginia
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This is another fantastic push-your-luck game! Like Can't Stop, this one is also available on BrettspeilWelt for those who want to give it a try. This one will take an even larger group than Can't Stop, and has you exploring mines for gems, and either calling it quits, or forging on ahead, running the risk of losing everything if you run into a disaster, like a cave-in, explosion, or of course the dreaded giant scorpion. This is definitely worth looking into for fans of the genre, and I believe has an upcoming reprint (as Incan Gold) to make it more available.
 
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9. Board Game: Coloretto [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:439]
Robert Ramirez
United States
San Antonio
Texas
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This game, like Ra above, defines my definition of what a good push-your-luck-heavy game should be. The game should be fun, interesting, but not too complex or too long. The push-your-luck element should be manifested in a simple action that once taken is either instantly rewarding or destructive .... like you see with the flip of a card, or a tile.

With Coloretto, on every round you are pushing your luck. Do I draw and play on the stacks in the center, or do I simply tap out by taking one of these stacks? If you are the last man standing, as in Ra, the push-your-luck element is even more key! Fun stuff.
 
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10. Board Game: Cosmic Wimpout [Average Rating:5.92 Overall Rank:4209]
Michael Barlow
Canada
Stratford
Ontario
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The first thing I thought of for your list is Cosmic Wimpout, one of a gigantic family of press your luck, all or nothing dice rolling games.
 
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11. Board Game: Pass the Pigs [Average Rating:5.28 Overall Rank:13401]
Jeff Wiles
United States
Macon
Georgia
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If this game had used dice with symbols, it would have been bland. The fact that you roll pigs is half the fun.

C'mon razorback!!
 
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12. Board Game: Blood Bowl: Living Rulebook [Average Rating:7.87 Overall Rank:153]
Dennis Ugolini
United States
San Antonio
Texas
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A dicefest in which the better player wins 90+% of the time, this game is all about managing risk. Your turn ends when one of your players fails an action (trips, drops the ball, etc), so you have to prioritize your moves. There's even an action called "Go For It" -- a player may move 1 or 2 extra spaces, but must roll a d6 for each. On a 1 he trips, falls, ends your turn, and possibly (hopefully) hurts himself.
 
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13. Board Game: Farkle [Average Rating:5.50 Overall Rank:12561]
John Shanahan
United States
Quincy
Massachusetts
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Should you roll that one last die, hoping for a 1? A workable B&P game with just the right amount of guts to it. Good filler.
 
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14. Board Game: Goldgeier [Average Rating:5.29 Unranked]
John Squires
United States
Brooklyn
New York
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A game that's probably best suited for the tween crowd. Players mine and can take their loot back up to camp or push-their-luck and hope they don't run into any dynamite.
 
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15. Board Game: No Thanks! [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:372]
John Squires
United States
Brooklyn
New York
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This is probably my favourite push-your-luck game. It's simple to teach (two rules) and the winner is usually the one who's luck holds out the best while s/he's extorting the others.
 
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16. Board Game: Magdar [Average Rating:5.28 Overall Rank:13088]
Dave Lartigue
United States
Springfield
Massachusetts
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The longer you mine a square, the more gems you can get out of it, but also the higher chance that Magdar will destroy the square. Do you take the measly 2 gems, work the mine again for 4, or keep going to 8, 16, or 32? (Also, the closer you are to Magdar, the more valuable the gems start.)
 
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17. Board Game: DungeonQuest [Average Rating:6.69 Overall Rank:1136]
Dave Lartigue
United States
Springfield
Massachusetts
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Just attempting to get to the dragon's chamber pushes your luck. This most lethal of dungeon crawls has a set number of turns, and it would be tough to make it to the center and back out in the allotted turns anyway. But even without that factor, once you're in the center, you snag two treasures and then check to see if the dragon woke up. If he didn't, feel free to snag two more treasures on the next turn, though now there's a better chance of him awakening. Sure, you'll probably win by grabbing some cheap trinket right inside the doorway and then heading back out, leaving the others to die inside, but where's the glory in that?
 
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