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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, 2020 at 9:38
  • Would you count RNG manipulation being possible, as still luck?
    – Malady
    Jun 4, 2020 at 10:59

2 Answers 2

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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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Well, this would seem like its the case, but I think its in most cases the opposite.

First, a disclamer : No Tetris game can be infinite becase you eventually will end up with a series of 150 S tetriminos that will 100% kill you, but this never happened and never will until the end of our universe, this is just from a mathematical perspective.

One of the best ways to realize how not luck based Tetris is in real life conditions is by watching how the very best players of the game are performing. And, spoiler, in the vast, vast majority of games played by top level players, what kills them is not luck, its levels over 19 for non hypertappers or rolltappers ? (idk how the new technique is named), or levels over 29 (which is supposed to be a death screen) for hypertappers.

But when you play the game casually, it appears sometimes the game just doesn't want to give you enough pieces, and even if you have all your time to think - because you are not like the competitive players able to know where to place your next piece before your current piece land at level 26 (which in itself is a stupidely high skill ceiling to reach) - you sometimes end up failing to clear up lines.

This is because the depth of strategy in the tetriminos placement is very high ! What I realised while watching a lot of competitive classic tetris is how they optimize the border of their playfield to eliminate one or two lines with the unwanted pieces, without breaking their overall setup (most often Z, S or T tetriminos). They know all patterns, all (statistically plausible) series of tetriminos and how to optimally place them not to die, not to go too high because at level 38 you need the playfield to be low, else you don't have the time to move the pieces, and how to maximise the tetris count, because these are worth much much more points.

I think the easiest consequence of this depth of anticipation we can see and understand as casual players is how conveniently they get rid of one or two of the top lines at a time when waiting for an I piece to remove the bottom lines.

Furthermore, they consistently reached >500k pts without hypertapping and starting at level 18, and the best hyppertappers where maxing out the score (>1,000,000 because there is only 6 score digits) every time, which is I think the case for most competitive players with the new tapping technique which allowed humans to go for insanely high levels.

tl;dr, if people are consistently reaching a million points and have been limited in highscore for 40 years by how fast they could move the tetriminos, it must not be so random.

I suggest you watch the last grand final of the CTWC, as a Classic Tetris enjoyer, this is peak entertainment :)

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    Your disclaimer regarding the 150 S tetriminos is wrong for modern tetris games following the Tetris Guideline since they use a 7-bag Random Generator, which means that there is a maximum 2 consecutive pieces that have exactly the same shape, and a maximum of 12 pieces between any piece with exactly the same shape. Feb 16, 2023 at 16:10
  • It is for modern tetris, but i'm specifically talking about classic tetris (NES and GB), which is a completely different game at high levels
    – Chambior
    Feb 17, 2023 at 17:08

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