Uncertainty of Information

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The case when a player cannot be certain on the reliability of information he or she has.

Games provide different types of challenges to players. One of these can be that players do not have full certainty of what they know about the game state. Games that make use of this to challenge players make use of Uncertainty of Information to do so.


Battleship and Stratego both depend on a player not knowing the exact positions of the other players' piece. Diplomacy and So Long Sucker both depend on players not knowing how well they can trust other players since they most likely have hidden plans, in Poker and Texas Hold'em it is not knowing what cards the other players have which provides Uncertainty of Information regarding their bets.

Uncertainty of Information springs from not knowing where the other players are positioning their units in Defense of the Ancients series and the Command and Conquer series. This also occurs in the Europa Universalis series and Sid Meier's Civilization series but here players also need to explore and colonize the world.

Using the pattern

Uncertainty of Information is typically added to games to provide Player Unpredictability or Solution Uncertainty. It can also be used to make Interferable Goals more likely to be interfered with or make players worry more about this happening. Imperfect Information, Indirect Information, and Randomness are the generic methods to achieve Uncertainty of Information but many more specific ways exists.

Information Passing can create uncertainty in itself (see for example Chinese whispers) and players may engage in Bluffing while communicating. In addition, the Communication Channels in themselves can provide errors and uncertainty to the communication. Players and Non-Player Help can also create Uncertainty of Information through Ambiguous Responses.

Enforced Player Anonymity provides Uncertainty of Information regarding which player did what. What actions Enemies will do can also have a level of uncertainty when these are decided at least partly by Randomness. Fog of War applies Uncertainty of Information to what people know about of Game Worlds.

While Randomness in general can introduce Uncertainty of Information, Drawing Stacks is a specific case which both can have a guaranteed distribution over time and use Stack Seeding for more precise uncertainty. Feigned Die Rolls is an option for Dice where players cannot be certain that the results are based on Randomness.

While Outcome Indicators can work against Uncertainty of Information, they themselves can be modified to have Uncertainty of Information.

Narration Aspects

Detective Structures is a way of providing Uncertainty of Information in games since players know not more about the game state or World than what their Focus Loci provides.


Limited Planning Ability and Solution Uncertainty are two typically consequences of players having Uncertainty of Information since it adds uncertainty to things like Delayed Effects and lessens Predictable Consequences. This in turn can provide Gain Information goals, encourage Game World Exploration or Stimulated Planning, and generally increase Tension. Another effect of this is that it makes Kingmaker situation unlikely to be noticed. Uncertainty of the position of Enemies provides players with the goal of Reconnaissance.

Uncertainty of Information can provide the requirements for Anonymous Actions and Secret Resources. It can partly through this also support Player Unpredictability and patterns related to this such as Betrayal and Secret Alliances.

Several patterns work against Uncertainty of Information simply because they provide information to players. Direct Information and Perfect Information are the patterns which most strongly does this, but other that do this to a lesser degree include Game State Indicators, Goal Indicators, Outcome Indicators, Predictable Consequences, Progress Indicators, and Public Player Statistics.


Can Instantiate

Anonymous Actions, Betrayal, Gain Information, Game World Exploration, Limited Planning Ability, Player Unpredictability, Secret Alliances, Secret Resources, Solution Uncertainty, Tension

with Enemies


Can Modulate

Delayed Effects, Outcome Indicators, Interferable Goals, Predictable Consequences, Stimulated Planning

Can Be Instantiated By

Ambiguous Responses, Bluffing, Communication Channels, Detective Structures, Drawing Stacks, Enforced Player Anonymity, Feigned Die Rolls, Fog of War, Imperfect Information, Indirect Information, Information Passing, Non-Player Help, Randomness

Enemies together with Randomness

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Direct Information, Game State Indicators, Goal Indicators, Kingmaker, Outcome Indicators, Perfect Information, Predictable Consequences, Progress Indicators, Public Player Statistics


An updated version of the pattern Uncertainty of Information that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.