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I've been playing the original Tetris port for the original Game Boy, on the very same original Game Boy, on and off, for the last 30 years. Lately, I've been playing daily, in the bathroom, and have started to come to a disturbing realization:

The game, while insanely addictive and challenging from a "finger dexterity" and "fast thinking" point of view, is largely based on luck rather than skill after a certain point.

To make it clear, I play the "A MODE" game, starting on level 9 (the highest it will let you start on), and my goal is of course to get the highest score. My strategy is to always try to build as low as possible to, ideally, only get "four-rows", which apparently give the highest score.

I can pretty safely say that, at this point, I have "mastered" the basic game mechanics and I am extremely familiar with the game. I now routinely achieve over 100,000 points (which display the little rocket launch animation), but this still happens rarely if you count the many "tries" it takes me.

The highest I have achieved was about 250,000 points, which is far more than I could have ever dreamt of as a kid, but still lightyears from the elusive 999,999 maximum score. If I hadn't seen longplay videos of people doing that, I wouldn't even believe it is possible at all for a human...

Naturally, I'm not saying that those who can achieve a higher score than I just have "purely better luck" than I. I'm just saying that the game frequently gives random blocks which simply do not fit into your current "landscape", and therefore have to be awkwardly placed. And then another. And another. And it just keeps feeding you bad blocks.

That's my problem with the game: It's randomized. It would be different if you always knew you were going to get the same series of blocks, in the same order, but of course it would probably take away a lot of the game as people would come up with an optimal way to place those blocks and then that would be the only way to play for a high score...

Still, the fact that I can sometimes get like 150 points, and sometimes 150,000, without really making any "mistakes", but merely being handed unwanted blocks, tells me that the game, after a certain amount of skill, is all about "getting lucky". It does start to go extremely fast eventually, so I will give the game that; it starts taking far more "quick thinking" and "finger fiddling" late in a run compared to starting out on level 9, but still, if you'd get the blocks you need, it'd be relatively easy to place them where they belong.

Sometimes, the game simply decides to just never hand out a "long one", and the blocks just keep stacking up until you lose because there is just no way to place the given blocks.

Isn't Tetris basically just about luck?

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  • There is skill in being prepared to deal with any possibility – Caleth Jun 3 '20 at 9:38
  • Would you count RNG manipulation being possible, as still luck? – Malady Jun 4 '20 at 10:59
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Newer versions of Tetris use "bags" to ensure that you don't go too long without getting a particular piece again. However, many older versions of Tetris, such as the Gameboy version, produced pieces at random (With a bias against getting the same piece in a row,) so long droughts without a critical piece can occur.

An example can be seen in this video (This is the NES version, but I believe the Gameboy version works similarly):

In short, I think it's fair to say that the Gameboy version of Tetris has a significant luck component.

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