Settlers of Catan revolves around a pair of dice. Three or four players compete to build the best civilization by rolling dice that generate resource cards that plant settlements that sprout into cities that flourish into kingdoms. Roll, collect, grow. Turn after turn, everything depends on the dice. But sometimes the dice’s probability doesn’t matter. 11s get rolled again and again while 8s fail to appear, and as your game stalls, some schmuck who’s never played before builds city after city just because probability decided to skip town and make this game an outlier. This happens to everyone, sooner or later, and everyone hates it. After one frustrating evening, my friends and I cobbled two decks of cards into—not a replacement for chance, but a restraint on it. We whittled the decks down to thirty-six cards: one 2, two 3s, three 4s, and so on, with jacks and queens posing as 11s and 12s. If you took the long view, each number had the same likelihood of showing up as it had with dice. The same odds, but mandated.
If you take the long view, there wasn’t much difference between the dice and the cards we replaced them with. You had a one-in-thirty-six chance of rolling a twelve, and you had a one-in-thirty-six chance of drawing a queen. Potato, potato. But if you took the short view, the game flopped. We ruined Settlers of Catan that night, which isn’t all that different from how I’ve ruined everything else these past few years.