Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Random Game Length in a Tournament - My Argument Against It

OK, so our next Tourney subject is at hand - Random Game Length.

Most of your regular thought processors in Warhammer 40k now know the meaning of the phrase "Alpha Strike." Most people will use it to refer to armies that gain an enormous advantage if they go first, due to the intense firepower they possess. Imperial Guard "Leafblower" variants and Space Wolf / Marine "Overdrive" variants come to mind. Some people will use it to reference reserving your army so that each of your units can pull off an "alpha strike" when it arrives from reserve (shoot before being shot at), but I'm going to avoid this usage here for the sake of getting the point across.

At the NOVA Open, games will end at the bottom of Turn 6 (or, at the bottom of a Turn the players both are aware of going in, should time remaining dictate a regrettable sooner-than-6 finish ... this happens often in a tournament setting).

Or will they? As always, I am persuadable :)

Nevertheless, allow me to present my why. It should be fairly fundamental.

The counter-balance, in 4th edition, to the very notion of an Alpha Strike (not that there were as many armies who could pull it off back then) was the Omega Strike. You *knew* with every shred of conviction you had exactly when the game was going to end. There wasn't a 33% chance it would end on you "early" or a subsequent 50/50 roll that it would go "late." As such, the person who went 2nd had an antithetical advantage to the alpha strike. For every action, there is an equal and opposite ... you get it.

To demonstrate, with fixed game length during a CLOSE game for objectives or victory points or whatever, the person that goes first as a general rule will receive less return fire throughout the game, b/c they begin to apply the negative modifiers to their opponent's force from the get go. Nevertheless, the person who goes 2nd gets the "omega strike," that bottom of the last turn affords the opportunity to make a last ditch stab at your opponent ... this requires the person who goes first to play with the integrity of not ever leaving themselves completely exposed - objectives need to be "truly" secured, and the power of the alpha strike needs to be properly taken advantage of, b/c the 2nd player is going to get to go all out at you on the bottom of the last turn (if he has anything left!) ... make a stab at an objective, and/or extend out to score some vital final points.

It could be argued ad infinitum that this is unfair to the person who goes first! Well ... let's table such an opinionated pursuit - there's no proof in that one. Suffice to say that there is a clear, reliable advantage to going first (alpha strike), and a clear, reliable advantage to going second (omega strike). Whether one is better than the other largely depends on the match-up ... is your opponent Eldar to make last ditch cross-board objective grabs? YES? OMG Omega Strike is too good now, right? Well, not if his opponent is guard, and got to shoot everything at the Eldar on Turn 1 before he could put up Fortune to protect those fragile and expensive transports and jetseers (even if he reserves, the Eldar doesn't get to fortune himself the turn his farseer arrives on the board). In fact, not being guaranteed of going first is the major downfall of Jetseer at a tournament level - any good army doesn't struggle to kill 10 3+ 1 wound cover saves a turn ... it's the 3+ re-rollable.

So let's leave the "omega vs. alpha" power curve out of it ... the point is, that with fixed game length, he who goes first has a reliable advantage, and he who goes second has one also. Whether one is better than the other is tied to match-up, and so is everything else in 40k ... so that's a moot point.

What now? Well, of course to prove an advantage I have to show that the status quo (random game length) LACKS that advantage.

In random game length, the person who goes first has a guaranteed alpha strike, and the person also has a 67% chance of getting to REACT to the 2nd player's Omega Strike. You see, when a single dice roll of 1-2 may end the game, the 2nd player can't just sit in his transports and rely on the strategy of Hope at the Bottom of Turn 5. Hope is not a strategy. He has to go for VP to counter the Alpha Strike, or he has to go for clearing the Alpha's top 5 objective grabs. Well, this requires just as much extension as any other "bottom of last turn," but it might just go to the next turn anyway. The greater risk is with the Omega now ... and it's a 67% chance of not being great for him.

Lots of situations arise where the extra turn doesn't matter ... or where it doesn't arise. The feeling we've seen in a lot of tourney and practice play is that a) lots of games end on 5 anyway, with the opponents agreeing before they start that turn that it will be the last due to time remaining, and b) guaranteeing an advantage to the person who goes first and the person who goes second accomplishes the removal of TWO "single dice rolls" from the game's major determining events. The roll to go first, and the roll to end the game. This shunts more of the game to player skill and maneuver, and less of the game to "lol my leafblower gets to go first."

- Mike

PS - as usual, your $.02 please! My opinion is ever swayable :)


  1. I can dig that argument. Less random, more skill.

    I guess my major problem with the concept of the omega strike as it existed in 4th was that it encouraged players to stay off the board as long as possible and really only play a 1-2 turn game. It's not as big a deal in 5th with the many ways to counter such a strat, it's just a frustrating experience. It doesn't feel really decisive to have a Speeder zooming 24" to contest a single objective.

    I know that's not really anything that can be fixed and games aren't decided by 1 turn, they are the sum of every turn, but that's just how I see it.

  2. With the advent of Guard, Wolves, and BA ... Eldar aren't pulling that shit off as easy. Also, with the promulgation of mech, it's not hard to put armored hulks in the way of zooming speeders trying to get to your objective.

    "Tricky" Eldar struggled to work in 4th, but was helped by "you only can glance me + I have holo fields" nonsense. In 5th it's not a big deal.

    Good thing to talk about, though, as it's the sole "argument" against fixed game length.

  3. Mike, if you just want to play 4th edition with the 5th Ed codexes, save yourself some time and just say so. VPs, non-random game length games, these are all 4th ed things.

    By not allowing for random game length, what you are doing is allowing players to game the game. Players can hold their models off the table as long as possible, hide, and run away avoiding combat all game only to strike without fear of appraisal on the last turn winning the game.

    If you want to counter alpha strike, just put everything in cover or in reserves. In Dawn of War missions have things roll on at the start of your turn 1 after the alpha strike are has already wasted turn one shooting at some gone to ground scouts with camo cloaks deep in cover or whatever.

    Not everyone plays alpha or Omega strike armies and people enjoy random game length games where those turn 5 objective capturing moves might work but there is some risk involved with making them. By removing random game length all you are doing removing the risk of playing the game and returning the game to 4th ed style play of the list and who goes first matters and not who is the best general.

  4. I think Mike's point is that with a fixed game length, it gives both players a different advantage over each other, making it, in theory, so neither player has an advantage (one gets alpha, one gets omega). With random game length, the guy with the alpha strike assuredly get an advantage while the guy who goes second MIGHT get an omega strike. If he goes for it on turn 5 and the game doesn't end, he's probably boned. If he waits and decides he'll go for it on turn 6, it might end on turn 5 and it might go to turn 7. There's no guarantee. Meanwhile, the guy who goes first gets to capitalize on every gamble the second guy takes when it doesn't work out. Yes VP and fixed game length are 4th ed rules. So are infantry moving 6" in the movement phase and charging 6" in the assault phase. And yes, having a random game length makes for some interesting finishes. But the Nova Open is about making the player the only variable in each game in order to decide who is the best of the day, not who ended up going first in all their games.

    In response to you saying that not every army is an alpha strike army: that's true, but every army gets an advantage to going first. It might be destroying half the opposing army, or it might be getting 12" closer before they take any loses. Either way, they're in a better position than the person going second.

  5. I gotta agree with Huron. Random game length imo makes the game more tactical. You need to be prepared for the game to end on turn 5 while also making sure you don't over commit yourself and lose if it goes to turn 6.

    It is a very delicate balance. One that I think should be encouraged. Going 2nd still has its advantages in objective missions. And heck, 33% (I believe) still give the long game and you know its going to end after turn 7.

    Ending on turn 6 just takes so many tactics out of the game. Because there is no counter for the omega strike. Its difficult to prepare for and impossible to really counter, since you don't get another turn. The alpha strike OTOH is definitely counter-able.

    I think random game length was added because it was considered more tactical. When I play fantasy and I know when the game is going to end, well it just feels like so many game decisions are taken away from me. It just makes the game feel a lot less tactical and promotes "playing conservatively". Much like playing at 1500 points does.

  6. Omega strike is and always has been counterable, just as Alpha strike is. The big question becomes, what are the counters? Well, the counter to Alpha strike is to - for example - reserve your entire army.

    I don't think that's much of a counter ... putting the arrival time of every one of your units on single dice roll odds? Quite the sudden advantage for the alpha striker.

    The same can be said for the omega - playing in such a way that your army isn't overextended and at the utter mercy of a "final" strike from the opponent - b/c you know it's coming.

    Mark Ferek makes a few of the points I'm going for as well.

    That said, Timmah/Huron have some good ones too ... love to hear more.

  7. Removing random game length definatly changes the game. I don't think it's any better or worse, just different. Consider:

    1. Like everyone else I've drawn and even lost games where the game ended on turn 5 but I would have tabled them turn 6. I would say that can be even more annoying than any "omega strike" army.

    2. Fixed game lengths means you want your opponents reserves front loaded, where as random game lengths mean you want the reserves back loaded. For some armies it actually is a disadvantage to have +1 to your reserve rolls, and making your opponent -1 to their reserve rolls can also be a disadantage.

    3. You run the risk of reducing the game to two turns, the first turn and the last turn. Makes for an un-fun experience.

    4. Unless you change how objectives are captured it's not hard for Omega strike armies to capture and contest every objective bottom of turn 6. Remember Skimmers can fly over any vehicle you put in the way and unless you surround the objective with 4 vehicles it's not hard to get the tip of a vehicle within 3 inches of an objective to contest it.

    5. From a tactical "war game" standpoint omega strike makes no since. It changes the game from a "war game" to a "sport".

    6. Fixed game lengths removes another random element for determining who the best player is. Problem is the game is built on random elements so I'm not really sure if this will the outcome. Bad dice will make you lose a game, random game length or no.

  8. One big problem with fixed game length.

    It lets you over extend yourself. You can continually try for the table and then turn 5-6, switch focus and in 1 turn meet any objective requirements. Objects really lose a lot of importance in fixed game length.

    In random game length, you actually need to play tactically. Defending objectives, preparing to capture objects, holding objects. You can't just shoot your opponents biggest threat each turn and hope to win. You actually need to kill the correct units. Target priority (for good players who play towards mission objectives) will change based on whether it is a fixed game length or random one.

    Turn 5 comes, your opponent has 1 guy on an object.

    Fixed: Well I can wait til next turn to deal with him cause he is no longer a thread.

    Random: He needs to be dealt with now. Sure its a waste of firepower since he won't be putting out any damage. But if the game ends next turn, it will be bad.

    Fixed game length takes a lot away from certain units or units in certain situations. It changes target priority and makes the game a whole lot less tactical than you would assume. I know it seems like a small change, but I think it is a huge mistake.

    I can't stress how much I think you should drop this. (Especially since I think you are holding one of the first competitive events in a while. Don't ruin it with something like this.)

  9. Good points, but you'll have to sell me more. Why? All of these comments were used by people in 4th edition, and back then (just as now) most of them were "wrong" for most games.

    That is to say, that it was always about the full game, not about the Turn 6 "omega" grab. Eldar are the least of the worries - they can't pull it off against a sound opponent.

    That said ... perception matters. If enough people are convinced of that going in, it can have a negative impact :)

    The other side is that - as mentioned - in actual tournament play there is rarely random game length - most people look at the clock at the start of turn 5 and go "not enough time for 6, agreed before we start?" especially at the top tables. What happens when some tables get a random turn length game, and some don't b/c of time ... do you achieve more balance across the tournament by fixing game length to prevent such variation?

    As Mark Ferek stated earlier on, the intent is to remove as much single dice / whacky randomness from the game as possible, so that player skill is coming to the fore. Bears solid critical thinking and analysis ... but I like it from both sides right now. Keep it up!

  10. Dang you blogger making me lose my post. Short version.

    4th ed weakened squads
    Can't score
    Keep special gear to remain a threat

    5th ed
    Can lose special/heavy weapons and upgrades
    Can score
    Soak up firepower earlier

    Your rules
    Can lose special/heavy weapons and upgrades
    Can't score because your opponent knows when to deal with them

    They get doubly screwed in your system.

    They are needed to attract up all the extra firepower armies are bringing.

    Changes target priority.

    By setting a turn limit you are basically removing a ton of unseen tactical elements from the game.

  11. I can dig it. I always considered random game length to e quite annoying. Not because it ever boned me. But it makes me make decisions that I would normally not want to make, and that is not the result of my opponents good play.

    Ending on 6 . . . good with me.

  12. Bad idea MVB. This is essentially a comp system of a different color, and fails for all the reasons that comp always fails. You are changing the official rules of the game, to make things "fairer".

    I won't bother going into detail about why comp always fails, because you know the reasons as well as I do. ;)

  13. I have to agree with spy-smasher here, you seem to doing a lot to change the way the rules are setup for 5th Ed, making it a completely different game. That means that those few that show up prepared to play you version of 40K will do well while those that show up prepared to play 5th Ed 40k as written won't, which doesn't seem right to me.

    Whatever you end up deciding, please post your full rules soon so that all the players have time to digest and make the significant changes that will be need to make their armies work under your system as for example I will have to figure out how to play an alpha or omega strike army, as that seems to be the only way I will do well in the tournament. Whatever happened to making good solid lists that work well for all comers in most if not all situations?

    Can't we just stick to the rules as written and play some 40K?

  14. The issue is, the player who goes second already has a reliable advantage, as he can deploy his whole army in response to his opponent's strategy (and even a mere refused flank can be a game winner). Note that such a counter-balance did not exist in 4th Edition.

    Don't dismiss those whacky dice so lightly. The ability to anticipate and mitigate risk is part of being a good player after all.

  15. @Huron
    Having a fixed game length isn't breaking 5th ed. Plenty of tournaments have it as time constraints are an issue. And like Mike said, a lot of people agree going into a turn that it will be their last because they won't have time for another. Alpha and Omega strike armies aren't the only ones that will do well when there's a fixed game length so you don't have to tailor your list specifically to that. You really don't have to change your list at all. Will it really be that much different from a "normal" list? You will still want units that can make late game objective grabs whether you know it's the last turn or not.

    In my opinion, both random game length and fixed game length have varying advantages for both players. Random game length affects the player that went first too. He has to think about blocking his opponent's objective grabbing efforts by placing tanks on the objectives or by some other method. It's also in his best interests to know when the end of the game will come around. In a tournament setting, I think fixed game length makes the most sense because there are time constraints and it helps to level the playing field.

  16. Bah...lost my post. Oh well here is the short of it.

    Thought about it a lot today and think that it really won't have any bearing on the final outcomes. Neither random nor fixed game length are inherently more competitive than the other. Good players can adapt and the final impact will be null.

    However, drama related to "changing the game" would probably not make it worth while to persue.

    So personal opinion is don't care, but since this is your first time out on the big circut mark me down in the "Random Game Length" just to avoid potential drama.

  17. No comp (that I've ever heard of) is "game breaking" -- but it's also NEVER "game improving."

    This system that MVB has devised has nothing to do with saving time, he's trying to tweak the game balance. If you're worried about time, you set a time limit (either per round or per game) not a round limit, where the rounds are of indeterminate length.

  18. I want to acknowledge that I read this, and appreciate it - it's making me think about an issue I'd never considered much, and so I'm loathe to post a hasty opinion. My instinct is that it's bad - but that may just well be my RoWard struggling against Tzeentch's influence...

  19. I have to disagree with you about fixed game length benefiting the person who goes second, i feel it further benefits the person who goes first.

    In a random length game, the first player has to deal with uncertainty, because they don't know when the game will end. This can force them to allocate forces different than they otherwise would if the game had a specific end time. For example, in a random length game i prioritize fast moving units as higher threats than i do in fixed length games, because of their ability to contest. In a fixed length game i can just deal with them on turn 5 or 6, but in a random length game i need to think about dealing with them from turn 4. The possibility of the game ending on turn 5 adds a lot of depth to the game, and forces you to make multi layered plans that take into account the possibility of the game ending on 3 different turns, and modify their plans as things change.

    Also, i would argue that as a tourney organizer, you should try to modify the rules as little as possible. People come to a 40k tournament expecting to play 40k, and many might be upset to find out that the rules have been changed in such a way as to undermine the tactics they planned to use with their army.

  20. As much as random game length can be annoying or swing the results one way or another from a single dice roll, I think you need to keep it.

    Random game length is part of the game of 40K, and any attempts to change the rules in favor of "evening" things out is bad. You are no longer playing in a 40K tournament you are playing in Mike's version of a 40K tournament. Yes the arguement can be made that often in tournaments random game lenght is moot because of time constraints or players agreeing to end it early for whatever reason, but that's part of the game just like random game length.

    Random game length encourages better play. It adds a dynamic to the game that requires players to make sometimes difficult decisions. How players respond to those difficult decisions shows thier true tactical/strategic skill. Granted you can argue that fixed game lenght can do the same thing, but I go back to my first point about the rules of 40K as a whole.

    I though most people played for a turn 3 victory in tournaments. I'm pretty sure I've read that time and again. If players aim for that objective then random game length or fixed game length doesn't really matter.

    Whatever you decide be sure to post it with plenty of time for people to prepare. I guess ultimately as long as everyone knows what to expect walking into the tournament then no one can really complain. If they don't like the format, don't come.

  21. As a tournament organizer I can tell you one good thing about random game length -- you get a good chunk of results turned in before the end of the round. Since you are trying to cram in 4 rounds into a day, you may want to keep that in mind.

    Personally I don't mind a bit of variety in missions -- perhaps have some random game length games and some fixed game length.