More than any other medium, games allow randomness. Dumb chance or unfulfilled omens in a film are labelled plot holes, but unpredictable consequences are natural to games. It’s perfectly acceptable for a video game hero to get by with the help of luck, as players we experienced it so we don’t need a strict explanation for every second of play.
There’s a story to Risk and Settlers of Catan and Monopoly but not in the games themselves. Sure, there’s an identifiable setting that makes them more than flat pieces of cardboard—the unconquered world, the geological absurdity that is Catan island, Britain street(?)—and the point of these games is to become emotionally engaged in the constantly shifting cooperation and competition alongside other players. There’s a story of the players meeting up to play the game as well, but that isn’t the story that makes up the games. The story that tabletop games tell can be found in the means of interacting with the game world: the dice.
Each dice roll unfolds a story of a vainglorious tyrant hoisted by his own petard or the scrappy underdog clawing his way from destitution to victory. Engagement with these games’ systems means also engaging with an unfolding, undetermined narrative. There is a sort of Schrodinger’s story in these games, in which that story is determined only after one of a finite set of possibilities is reached. When a dice needs to come up as a two, the roll creates a completely different set of emotions than when it needs to come up five. Likewise, rolling a three when a two is needed feels different than rolling a six. One success feels desperate, whereas the other feels absolute. Engaging with randomness creates a relatable narrative experience. There may be no quantifiable difference between a thee and a six—they’re equally probable successes—but they provoke different reactions. Strategizing around chance is the only method of playing dice games, but it also makes the lead up to every action tense and the resulting triumph or defeat meaningful. Every turn is significant.