Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thoughts on "Randomness" re: 6th Rumors / Game Design, and a Silly Grey Knight List

Good Afternoon All,

I'm posting from Fort Worth, TX, where I'm at for the week working through a pre-proposal process (for those that don't know, I'm a proposal manager in my day job, for a large DC-based gov't contractor).

A couple of thoughts on rumors of more randomness in 6th Edition, and how this applies to Fantasy 8th Edition randomness as well.

More random effects are perceived by game designers and armchair hobbyists as creating a more laid back, unpredictable, beer and pretzels feel to a game.

I strongly disagree.

Random effects in terms of baseline activities, like what Terrain actually is when you go into it or not ... and how far you can move ... and how far you can charge ... these things are completely unknown factors. "Competitive" players spend a lot of time factoring in the odds of what they're doing, and the best ones put themselves in situations throughout games where the 'bad luck roll' is far less impactful. SURE rolling snake eyes over and over again is bad for anyone, but there's a reason the more competitive list-builders and gamers master the movement phase, and build highly redundant and durable lists, and win a lot of games ... even the random factors that are prevalent through 5th edition at present are managed ahead of time in the list-building phase, and during the moments of the game preceding the moment where you "need" the dice to not be bad.

NOT SO for more casual and laid back gamers.

More importantly, as a GENERAL rule the more competitive gamers ... game more often. If someone plays 15 practice games, and gets that 'awful dice game' during Games 1 and 3, he still has 13/15 games played where everything goes more or less according to how he played. These games probably occurred over a relatively short period of time, more important, and so they haven't really wasted a whole lot of their allocated gaming time.

What about the beer and pretzels gaming father, who gets one night a week to hang out with the guys and roll some dice. He's probably spent all week pondering how things will go at work ... thinking about what list he wants to play, scribbling list ideas cryptically in the margins of his notebook ... even if he doesn't, most gamers in general look forward to their game time. He gets his ONE night off family duties for the week, gets over to his buddy's house for his one game with the guys ... and that week happens to be his crappy dice week. Between the day after game night the week before, and the next game night, his ONLY chance to game is ruined by random bad dice. That's a 14 day period in which he gets one game, and his memory of it is: "My dice screwed me over."

The less a game is dependent on dice, the more a game will go about how you expect it to go, with regard to the lists brought to bear and the play of the opponents. The more a game is dependent on dice, the less a game will go about how you expect it to. The more experience you get with "Bad dice" games, the more your playstyle and list-building style will adjust to insulate you from it ... the less you play, the less your style will adjust.

The long and short here is if some of the rumors about a more random 6th edition come true, you're going to see I think 3 things happen ...

1) People are going to get a feel for the game, and make the general choice (internally) of moving toward quitting, or sticking with the game, based on how it feels.  Then, simultaneously ...

2a) Competitive and/or more regular gamers are going to over time adjust their lists and gaming styles to match the new rules, randomness, etc.
2b) Casual and/or less regular gamers are going to be increasingly frustrated as an increasingly random game screws over their "feel" for how things used to be.

This is especially true with regard to new and improved codices, the 'meta,' etc. The more the game changes, the less the casual players are able to comfortably stay up with it ... the more frustrated they become when they 'waste' their playtime feeling like they have no chance against those with more time, and/or feel like how they play or what they purchase has no real impact on the result, due to how random the game is.

YES, competitive gamers won't enjoy going to a tournament, and losing a game b/c of a more random situation, but tournament play as a whole will adjust to that ... if it's REALLY bad, something ETC-style will come up, and the game will develop a modified tournament system that's generally agreed upon, and that eliminates more random components. That's just how things work ... tournament players of 40k will adjust, because they *always have.* Warhammer 40,000 is not a tournament game. Organizers work hard to MAKE it one ... even in the simple ways of creating points or conditions assigned to the basic book missions.

The real issue is not how 6th edition will impact Tournament 40k, because it won't really. The real issue is how 6th edition will impact the fun of the game at the casual and beginner level. If the game becomes more 'who cares, it's random,' or less fun in general for those who don't constantly keep up with it (aka, NOT tournament players), you'll see a lot less people taking the game as a serious hobby, or keeping up with it. Sales will go down (as they apparently have with Fantasy), and you'll at THAT point start to see an impact on Conventions, Tournaments, and presence at game stores ... because as with any hobby, the advancement of 'new' or 'casual' gamers into tournament/traveling players inherently replaces the attrition due to life of those who preceded them.

Ramble ramble :)

SO, my buddy James and I were talking about 40k lists that are wonkier. He's adopted the style of Ork list I've always personally run/advocated, that focuses on 9 Kanz, 9 buggies, 2 battlewagons purchased as rides for 3-man suicide Nob squads, and 6 troop units with Trukks. It's a bit abysmal in Kill Points, but is entirely overwhelming and hard to deal with in objectives-based missions. Fun fun fun to play, and very competitive / effective. He was pondering a list that was similarly 'Weird' in some ways, but still competitive and fun and goofy for Grey Knights, and he wanted to have a Vindicare in it. So, with no revision at this point, I popped this one out there ...

Inquisitor Coteaz - 100
Psycannon Inquisitor - 80

10 Paladins w/ 4 Psycannons, Assorted CCW - 630
Vindicare Assassin - 145

5 Acolytes w/ Storm Bolters, 3 Meltaguns, 2 Death Cults, Dozer Heavy Flamer Chimera - 155
5 Acolytes w/ Storm Bolters, 3 Meltaguns, 2 Death Cults, Dozer Heavy Flamer Chimera - 155
3 Acolytes w/ Storm Bolters, Dozer Heavy Flamer Chimera - 81
3 Acolytes w/ Storm Bolters, Dozer Heavy Flamer Chimera - 81
3 Acolytes w/ Storm Bolters, Dozer Psybolt Rhino w/ Searchlight - 72
3 Acolytes w/ Storm Bolters - 21

Dreadknight w/ Heavy Incinerator - 160
Dreadknight w/ Heavy Incinerator - 160
Dreadknight w/ Heavy Incinerator - 160

2,000 points
Paladins Combat Squad, Hiijack the Chimeras (I guess they don't have to combat squad, if you want to make a deathstar and lower your KP by reserving things, etc. etc., which is why they aren't combat squadded)

Inquisitors split to small 7-man squads in Chimeras ... 2 death cults stubborn backed by inquisitor and hidden within 5 acos, who do have meltaguns. These are your versatility troops, keep 'em in-tact.

Dreadknights follow the action, are generally great when they can't be easily focus fired, and late-game. This list is designed to impact the late-game, while acknowledging it's not 'idealized.'

3-Man acolyte squads have storm bolters so they can actually do something from the backboard when they arrive from reserves, in some games. Worth the investment. People may shoot them, but in most situations you're fine with that, or can hide them if you're not.

Dozer Rhino is to searchlight things if you really feel a need, to bring psycannons to bear early on key targets. More importantly, it's a free ride for the Vindicare, if you want to make him a bigger pain in the ass to actually kill. Sacrificing a turn of fire to hop into a covered, fortitude-capable firepoint is never a terrible idea. Plus, all his rules work with his pistol ... keep that in mind in games where you'd rather keep him with the crew and mobile, instead of sitting somewhere with a marine equivalent save (cover) asking to get dakka'ed down.

Wee, non-NOVA post for ya'll :)


  1. I agree that competitive players understand how to manage the odds in the game, and that casual players are going to be left out in the cold wondering why they bothered to break out all the models.

    Given the historical aversion of Warhammer fans to 'randomness' (Orks, Chaos Dreadnoughts, Possessed, etc), it's increasingly mysterious to my why the Design Studio went with the version of 8th edition WFB that they did. I mean, back in 4th edition all you ever heard was "There's no tactics in 40k, it's just rolling dice" when the squad-level tactics were arguable sharper than in 5th edition.

    On the bright side, 5th edition works really well, and it might actually be an edition that is stable enough that people can keep playing it if official support is discontinued.

    1. Historical aversion of some, vocal Warhammer fans. Some folks love(d) their Madboyz, animosity, possessed, etc.

    2. I'm one of them. I think Beer4TheBeerGod put it well below explaining the difference between random and probability-based play. I used to spend lots of time trying to explain why the Possessed Daemonkin rule wasn't random: You always got 1/6 results.

  2. Speaking as a gaming father who gets one night a week or less to play games, randomness not something that ruins my experience. I've gotten into Infinity and there is some serious randomness built into that game. Its not the same as fantasy but there are a lot of moments that you can do nothing but roll dice and hope for the best. It takes away control from the gamer and I'd argue that it is a good thing to do.

    It detracts from the focus on the outcome, and brings to a focus back the process of playing. You're more interested in seeing how things will play out, and less interested on the game result. I think this is what beer-and-pretzel gamers are looking for---a fun night without a focus on winning and losing ---so they don't give a damn about randomness.

    Beer-and-pretzel gamers want to get a table going, with painted figs, great terrain and the armies that both players love. They play it for the spectacle, the process, the unfolding story and randomness helps generate that unpredictability that creates a good story.

    1. Is a good post but i disagree with it. As organizer of events for my gaming group of 30 odd people i can say that for regular games where people play to win the game and drink a beer i gather 16-20 people and for the Apocalipse or story mode games i get 4-6 people. Psyhologically the human beeing is a competitive one. Each of us want that our miniatures to win that assault, our awesome plastic hero beat the crap of the other guy plastic soldiers and sit on their melted corpses and yell "all hail Mighty General". It makes us feel good, get`s our ego bigger. You know that`s why always games have a winner

    2. I Agree with Tim. For the truly casual gamers the game is less about winning and losing and more about getting the time to just hang out. Please don't misunderstand me, people still like to win, but that guy that really only gets one game a week does not get too terribly upset when a random event ruins his games. For the ones I know the opposite is quite true and they tell good heartened stories for months and weeks about how that happened.

  3. Completely agree re randomness and impact on game. Nice post.

  4. Interesting article. As I understand it your argument boils down to the fact that increased randomness requires a corresponding increase in sample size to get a proper feel for how the game is played. A player who is intent on winning will have that sample size, whereas a casual player won't and runs the risk of having his perception of the game affected by experiencing "bad games" where the dice lost it for him. For the most part I agree, although I feel Tim is right in that most beer & pretzels players are using 40K more as a social experience and are less interested in how the game plays out. I could see an argument for increased randomness causing competitive players to get discouraged and quit if their first few games with the new system are hampered by crappy dice rolls.

    If you follow board games there's been a huge trend over the last decade or so away from purely random games. I'm not exactly an expert on the subject, but as I understand it there are "European" and "Western" style games that have dramatically different approaches towards game play. Traditional Western games like The Game of Life are purely random; you're not so much playing a game as rolling dice and experiencing the consequences. Monopoly is another example. In contrast there are modern European games like Power Grid where randomness is heavily mitigated in favor of player skill. A lot of the more popular board games being played these days are starting to incorporate that European style of play because it rewards strategy over a die roll.

    I see wargaming heading in that direction as well. Although probability is still a major part of the game, the ability to affect chance and the extent to which a single die roll determines the game are being mitigated. Back in 2nd edition 40K a single virus bomb could wipe out an entire IG army before the first shot was fired. One of the major criticisms of 8th edition Fantasy, which I will admit to not being incredibly familiar with, is how much more random certain aspects of the game like magic and some pieces of terrain can be.

    As I see it there's a difference between randomness and probability-based game play. Randomness is when the player has no control over the outcome, and is at the whim of fate. For example many aspects of 5th edition movement are random; you have no idea if your guy will be running one inch or six. The Ork codex, as Nurglitch mentioned, also has numerous elements of randomness. The Shokk Attack Gun, zzap gun strength, ork psyker powers, looted wagons, etc. And for the most part you don't see those elements in a competitive list because of that. You also see randomness in many of the classic specialist games like Mordheim, Necromunda, Blood Bowl, and Gorka Morka.

    In contrast probability-based game play is where the player has a degree of control over the chances of a given outcome succeeding. Infinity is an example of where many of the elements are probability-based as opposed to random. Your chances of succeeding certain rolls are heavily influenced by how you play and position your models. Good players will manage those factors. It's no surprise that the most popular armies and builds in 40K emphasize are ones that contain probability managing elements. My favorite example is the Kustom Force Field, which dramatically enhances the probability that a given model will survive being shot at. Probability can also be mitigated by increasing the number of times a given roll is made, which trends the result towards an average value. If your goal is to kill something you have a much better chance of doing so if you're hitting it ten times instead of once.

    My hope is that 6th edition trends away from randomness and emphasizes probability-based game play. Given the sheer number of other game systems out there Games Workshop runs a real risk of losing market share if the newest generation of their flagship product doesn't change with the times.

  5. I'm not so complicated. Playing 1-2 games a week on game night, or maybe several on a day-long Saturday event, randomness never bothered me. The thing that would get me would be forgetting small but sometimes important rules, just because I didn't refresh myself on them every few days like more regular players. If you mis-remember how rending or tank shock or embark/disembark rules it can make for a very different game than you thought you'd be playing ;-)

  6. What you've missed is that 'casual' players are not in fact frustrated when they lose due to poor dice rolling, because they were not as focused on winning in the first place. It is perfectly possible to lose and still have a great time. We usually get much more frustrated when we are stomped by an aggressive player *regardless* of dice rolls because they are an extremely competitive player who puts much more time and effort into running the numbers than into 'hey, cool! tiny space people fighting!', which is why more randomness actually works in our favour.

  7. Agree more with those who say the casual gamers don't mind the poor rolls as much. They like to win, sure, but that's not as big of a reason they play. They'll also benefit more from days of good luck, so it should balance out, and they can actually take solace in "the dice screwing them" as opposed to thinking that they're just not good at the game/the game stinks, so I think they're actually less likely to quit.

    I also think it's good to remember that "frequent/infrequent" play does not necessarily equate to "competitive/casual" players. Some who play a lot are casual gamers, some who only get to play once in a while are extremely cutthroat!

    Strongly agree that the good players will adjust as will tournaments.

  8. To clarify the point, to the casual inputs (and, despite enjoying tournaments when I can find time for them, I fit many more definitions of "casual" player than "tournament" player, with most of my games coming in casual timeframes over a beer with friends).

    I'm not suggesting people are upset because they lose and happy because they win. I'm suggesting that whether you care about losing or not, a game CAN be ruined for anyone when the entire thing changes dramatically and against reasonable expectations because of randomness.

    There are CERTAINLY players who don't care if suddenly their heroic unit getting ready for a last stand is suddenly sucked into the warp by a random battlefield effect, and that's that. I think win or lose, *most* players I've run into (including the people I fell in love with 40k playing, who are as casual as they come save ... well, save Joe, that dirty jerk ;)) don't actually care about winning or losing .... they simply want to have fun.

    While for me, 90% of that fun comes "above" the table, it remains a concern that it's not the winning or losing b/c of random that's the point - hell, we win or lose due to random all the time right now.

    It's having a fun game suddenly end or dramatically change into a weird or oddball game because of a random effect that's been added.

    A final note - I don't think even random effects should rattle a mature individual all that much ... but there are a LOT of people who play Warhammer, even extremely "casual" players, who get really, really upset when things don't go as they expect them to ... again, regardless of whether what they expected was a win or loss.

    1. I don't know...I think if a random event ruins the game for someone, then that person is probably not in the right mindset for toy soldiers anyway.

  9. This is the first article in some time I could strongly agree with, right away. Well done, it's just spot on regarding "randomness".

    I love randomness, in all games. It's why Daemons are my favorite 40k army to play, and my favorite moments tend to be when the dice roll on the fringes of really good or really bad results, because that's where the game to me gets interesting. But that also means every other army I'm playing against is generally much more consistent, and it means there a certain disconnect I have from the general competitive Warhammer player who prefers running highly consistent lists, producing the same games time after time with only the tiniest differences. The thing we have in common is that we enjoy the game, and I feel this puts a significant pressure on 6th Edition to be accessible to casual players just as well as it would accommodate competitive play.

  10. The issue for me is whether the random effects are known before deployment, or are determined during game play. I think my guard would avoid the patch of powered armor eating petunias and instead head for the powered armor granting super trees. They do get briefings before combat right?

  11. One of the things that can be damaging is when casuals and not-so-casuals get mixed in together in a regular, say, monthly game. This can lead to a dynamic of assured stompage on a regular basis for the casuals, and I've seen some of them get put off because they know they don't play nearly enough to compete with someone that plays a few times a week. I'd advise trying to not do a completely random mix of players in cases like that. Since the casuals don't play so much they don't need as big an opponent pool to help keep it fresh most of the time.

    Just a thought of mine. Others may have better.

  12. And speaking of randomness, if I want to play a casual "beer and pretzels" random game, then I want to pay a casual "beer and pretzels" price like I would for a game of Monopoly, or Uno, or Candyland. But if I have to pay $75 for a rulebook and hundreds of dollars and hours to buy, build and paint an army.... I need a more rewarding game.

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