Over the festive break we’ll be running through our top 20 picks of the year’s best games, leading up to the reveal of Eurogamer’s game of the year on New Year’s Eve. You can find all the pieces published to date here – and thanks for joining us throughout the year!
What I think is most impressive about TeamFight Tactics – and to an extent the burgeoning auto chess genre as a whole – is how it somehow prevents RNG from ruining the party.
Each game of TFT starts with a carousel made up of random two cost champions each equipped with a random item. After the countdown, you must rush to touch the champion you want to start the game with, hoping you get there first. Everything about this first step is random, and it sets the tone.
Which units pop up at the bottom of the screen each turn, ready to be considered for purchase, is random. What items will the mob rounds spit out at you? There are some rules at play underneath the hood that affect the number and type of items you get at these stages, but, essentially, it’s all random.
All this RNG suggests TFT should be one of the most annoying video games around. Why would anyone fuss over ranked play in a game they have even less control over than it looks like from just watching? And yet, it can feel surprisingly rewarding. There are tactics involved. I know, right? Who knew? But there they are. Working out when to spend and when to save gold is tactics. Working out which champions to spend money on and which to leave is tactics. Working out where on the board to place your champions is tactics. It all affects your chances of victory, or, in my case, getting into the top four and thus preventing ranking point loss.
There are even advanced tactics. Scouting the compositions of other players in the brief moments you have spare between rounds in order to work out which composition to go for yourself, is advanced tactics. Knowing how and when to transition from one composition to another, stronger composition for the late game is advanced tactics. Knowing which items to put on which champions for which situations is advanced tactics.
So, TeamFight Tactics, despite all the RNG, is pretty tactical. And so it is that I get an enormous sense of satisfaction from seeing my tactics pay off. When I win – and it is a rare thing indeed – I leap out of my chair and do an Andy Murray fist pump. My tactics won it for me! When I lose, I curse the RNG gods and click play again, and again, and again until the wee hours of the morning and my superior tactics have won the day.
This is a game about the hunt for the dominant composition, a team of champions so deliciously aligned and so perfectly fuelled by powerful items it defeats all other teams. Sure, the hunt is influenced by luck, but it’s up to you to work out when to roll the dice. Nailing that dominant composition is an intoxicating thrill. Do it once and you immediately want to do it again. Fail and you immediately want to try again until you nail it.
Riot has said RNG is good for TeamFight Tactics and its explanation for that comment is fascinating, because it seems to go against everything strategy game fans hold dear: consistency. It is the idea that if I do X it will result in Y and the fun of the game comes from my mastery of the rules. Auto chess laughs at this, and Riot won’t budge.
“To be up front about this, we think RNG is good for Teamfight Tactics in the long term,” gameplay producer Richard Henkel said back in July.
“It prevents every game from feeling the same, and makes high moments and stories when you happen to get everything you want. We’ve already seen player stories of that one game where they managed to get three Force of Natures! This is a good thing.”
I agree. It is a good thing. The randomness adds an element of unpredictability the genre needs, but it never overpowers the value of tactics. The two combine beautifully to form an odd but deeply compelling experience – and I haven’t been able to put it down all year.