Solution Uncertainty

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Uncertainty in a game which stems from not being aware of an existent solution to a challenge.

Players of games are often tasks with trying to reach a goal without knowing exactly how to reach that goal. A game has Solution Uncertainty when this challenge takes the form of mainly having to do with figuring out what actions to do, rather than doing them, although a solution might not actually exist.

Note: Uncertainty that comes from the possibility of players failing to perform an action or series of actions is covered by the pattern Performance Uncertainty.


Puzzles such as Jigsaw Puzzles, Solitaire, and Tangram all built upon Solution Uncertainty to provide gameplay for players without requiring other players to participate. Alchemists, Battleship, Cluedo, Mastermind, Mystery of the Abbey, and Ricochet Robots are examples of multiplayer games that build upon similar Solution Uncertainty.

Examples of computer-based Puzzle Games relying on Solution Uncertainty include Angry Birds, Continuity, Cursor*10, Drop 7, and the Portal series. Adventure Games such as King's Quest series, the Leisure Suit Larry series, Maniac Mansion, and the Myst series are similar but combine puzzle solving with exploration of an environment and the telling of a story.

Using the pattern

Solution Uncertainty is created by introducing Complex Gameplay, Imperfect Information, Uncertainty of Information, or a combination of these. It is however important to note that a solution must not necessarily exist, the important thing is that players experience that a solution might exist. Similarly, Solution Uncertainty can be constructed to allow for Trial and Error Solutions or Lucky Guess Solutions.

Strategic Knowledge can ruin games based on Solution Uncertainty if the solution can become apparent due to the knowledge players can bring over from other game instances. It can however also be a way of modifying Solution Uncertainty so that players may have an advantage in finding solutions if they have Strategic Knowledge.

The use of AI Players requires extra consideration when it comes to using Solution Uncertainty in a game since human players and AI Players most likely have very different cognitive abilities and what can be difficult for one category of players to find can be trivial for the other.


The most basic consequence of Solution Uncertainty is that it creates Uncertainty of Outcome in games. This often leads to Puzzle Solving or Tactical Planning, which in turn can make for Challenging Gameplay or lead to players suffering from Analysis Paralysis. A slightly more unintuitive effect of Solution Uncertainty is that is can lead to a player becoming the target of a Surprise Attacks due to an inability of foreseeing a potential attack. Solution Uncertainty can help make it impossible to know exactly who will win, and can thereby support Winner determined after Gameplay Ends.

While Solution Uncertainty does not automatically create No Direct Player Influence, it does provide a basis for making this type of gameplay in that it opens up for players considering how to manipulate a game state rather than simply manipulating it.

Games that rely heavily on Solution Uncertainty typically works badly with Further Player Improvement Potential. This since the former relies on being uncertain that there is a solution or how to reach it and having found one in no way guarantees that there exists a better solution or that players have any gameplay reason to try and find a better one even if one is possible.


Can Instantiate

Analysis Paralysis, Challenging Gameplay, No Direct Player Influence, Puzzle Solving, Surprise Attacks, Tactical Planning, Uncertainty of Outcome, Winner determined after Gameplay Ends

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Complex Gameplay, Imperfect Information, Uncertainty of Information

Can Be Modulated By

AI Players, Lucky Guess Solutions, Strategic Knowledge, Trial and Error Solutions

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Further Player Improvement Potential, Strategic Knowledge


New pattern created in this wiki. However, the pattern is based on the concept of solver's uncertainty described in Costikyan's book Uncertainty in Games[1].


  1. Costikyan, G. 2013. Uncertainty in Games. MIT Press. Official webpage for the book.