I don’t think there will ever be a form of Gems of War (or any other match 3 game) where the answer is definitively “yes”.
There are many sources of variance in the game:
- The gems that fall from the sky.
- The gems that may be created by your troops.
- The gems your troops may randomly destroy.
- The gems your troops may randomly explode.
- Stats that may be increased or decreased randomly.
…and so on. Any time you see the word “randomly” in text there is a chance for the RNG to alter your fate no matter how sound your decisions may have been.
This can still be “a tactical decision”. When I think about activating Rock Worm, I have some choices to make. If the board only as a few brown gems, and they’re scattered, I’m not likely to get any matches at all or an extra turn. I might decide to hold the activation until more gems appear. On the other hand, what if the opponent’s last troop is very powerful? I might opt for the activation to achieve the goal “kill that as fast as possible”. What if there’s an obvious cascade on the board? It might suit my purposes better to gather that mana and hope for a free turn.
This comes up in Magic: the Gathering a lot. A popular podcast introduced the notion of “thinking RoTty”, where “RoT” stands for “Results-Oriented Thinking”. This is a trap for critical thought, where you decide if something in the past was a good decision not by the information you had at the time but instead by what happened.
Would you wrestle a cheetah? Probably not. They are dangerous animals and you’re likely to die. There are people who have wrestled cheetahs and survived. Does that change your decision? If not, congratulations! You understand that whether a few people have survived doesn’t change whether wrestling a cheetah is a safe or profitable proposition.
That’s how you have to consider randomness tactically. Think about Rock Worm again. Let’s say there’s 20+ brown gems on the board. Is it a good idea to activate Rock Worm? Heck yeah! Now let’s say you activate it and don’t get an extra turn. Was it a bad idea to activate it? Heck no! It feels bad because you are in the unlikely “bad” case. But if you played 1,000 games and activated Rock Worm in that scenario 1,000 times, you would get an extra turn more often than you would not. That means it’s the right move in that situation, even if sometimes it doesn’t work.
Good players think about randomness that way and try to figure out when the odds are in their favor. They also intuitively understand sometimes the odds swing the “uncommon” way and a good decision yields bad results. They do not let those experiences change their opinion. Sometimes they hit a bad luck streak: that’s a good time to set up the scenario on the forums, explain what you think is the best move, and see if other people agree. Maybe you calculated the odds wrong.
You can’t have a game with so many random traits that is “pure tactics”. You can still make “good” decisions in a game with randomness, but it comes with the understanding that sometimes the person who made the best decisions will still lose.
That’s not to say all is right in Gems of War. I think the playerbase is indicating it believes looping teams are too swingy, and difficult to overcome in too high a percentage of cases. I’ve already discussed some solutions that seem smarter than mucking with mana surge in other threads. It follows directly from, “The highest defense win rate comes from running this team” combined with, “There are rewards for having a very high defense win rate.” You can’t blame players for making the choice that is most tactically sound, so the solution will involve making other decisions more tactically sound.