Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday the 13th Edition: the luck factor

I've been wanting to do a post on luck and strategy for a while now. But like a lot of my ideas, haven't gotten around to it yet. Today is a new day, in a new year! And it being Friday the 13th gave me as good a reason as any to pull out this article.

Wargames in general walk a fine line. you want a game that takes strategy and thought, but at the same time we desire randomness and chance. if you didn't want a game with luck or chance involved, you would play chess. Some people really like chess. but it doesn't give you the same kind of game as one where a perfect plan can turn into a terrible loss with a single roll of a die.

On the other hand, there needs to be strategy involved. otherwise, why would all of us be blogging about it, or reading blogs about it? if you don't want a game with strategy and want all randomness, go play Uno Attack (seriously, that game messes with you). so today I'm going to write a little bit about the strategy of mitigating risks that are inherent in a tabletop game, be it warhammer, warmachine, or any other game involving plastic dudes and dice.

I know that others have done articles and blogs about this topic, but it's one that really intrigues me. Of all the games I've played, I've never seen a game that I've liked as much as these tabletop games. and I'm pretty sure that is because of the interesting balance between strategy and chance. I love that I can spend hours building my army, perfecting my strategies, and planning for every possible outcome of an upcoming match. but then in the game, something happens that wasn't expected. my Land Raider gets immobilized on turn 1 by a missile that should have done nothing to it. my Titan gets killed by puny speedbump infantry. so I have to improvise.

What do you do when things go wrong? well, if you could plan that out, things wouldn't have gone wrong would they? So instead, let's look at how we can protect ourselves as much as possible from these chance disasters. These are a few rules I follow when playing these games, and they apply in a general sense to bothe warmachine and warhammer.

RULE #1 - fortune favors the bold. the same can't be said for statistics

Sometimes a plan goes south, and you have to scramble to figure out a plan B. Sometimes, charging with gretchin is the only way to pull out a win. but if that was your plan A, there might be a problem. the best stories are made from those times when something random happened and the one surviving guy in a squad killed off the tank, or whatever else the story might be. I have plenty of those stories, and I'm sure you do too.

Obviously, you can't rely on that happening, though. even if you're not into "math hammer" (and trust me, I'm not), it is good to know the abilities and strength of your army. know before going in whether your squad should be able to take on the other guy's squad in combat. don't just rush in and see what happens. and if an assault doesn't work out, keep note of what happened. next time you run into that situation, find a new tool to use.

Don't bank on a high dice roll for something that will cause you high losses the next turn. this is especially true in warmachine. Generally, if you fail an assassination run, whoever failed the run is going to die next turn. if it's not a sure assassination (or as sure as it can be), make sure you're willing to lose the piece you're sending in. This is why I never send my 'caster in on an assassination run. it might work, it might not. if it doesn't work, your caster will probably die next turn, losing you the game. Especially avoid doing this if the other caster has some way of surviving, like Tough. I only have one caster with Tough, and he's already survived 3 assassination attempts with it, each time resulting in a win on the next turn.

RULE #2 Focus on the sure thing first

In a given turn, there will likely be more than one target you would like to take out. I don't know how other people do it, but at the beginning of every turn, I take stock of the models I have left. I mentally pair them with an enemy model or unit, kind of like guys in a flag football match picking who they will cover in the next play. Every model has an "ideal" job to perform in the turn.

Obviously, not all of them will succeed. some of them will possibly get sent into situations where they are at best hoping to be a somewhat effective speed bump. some of them will almost always succeed, barring horrible strings of 1s being rolled. but this is a game of dice, and those 1s can and will show up.

During my turn, I need to mitigate this risk as much as possible. I'm pretty sure my bronzeback can take out that enemy heavy in a single activation (sometimes he can take 2 or 3 at the same time, but then you're starting to stray from Rule #1). but if he fails, I don't want him to be the last model on my team. I will activate the bronzeback first, so that if he fails to kill the other heavy, I still have some options. maybe I leave him with a few hitpoints left. If I still have a unit left, they can come and help out. maybe they were originally going to just be a tarpit. priorities changed and now they have to save their beast.

This is especially important in a timed format. sometimes you don't have enough time to get everything done. even if some of your high-risk moves will have a high payout, it will usually be better to make sure you get the sure kill first and then move on ot the risky stuff.

RULE #3 - overkill is underrated

sometimes, if you really need something dead, it is worth it to invest more than you originally planned to take it out. sometimes, it's worth using 2 or three or even 4 units to take out a single threat if that threat is big enough. Don't be afraid to do that in a game! if one unit should statistically beat another unit, 2 of them will have a very slim chance of failure.

If at all possible, I always try to isolate and pick off enemy units and models. I almost never send a single threat to handle a single enemy. if I can stack the odds on one area of the table so I have 2 guys on 1, I'll do it, even if I have to sacrifice control of a less important area of the board.

This goes hand in hand with spreading out your threats. I am not a fan of the "deathstar" approach. seriously, why are people even excited about building "deathstar" builds? yeah having 10 paladins, a techmarine and some ICs in one squad is hard to kill. yeah they can dish out some damage. but when it dies, what do you have left? probably not enough. I mean, really. Has anyone even watched Star Wars? the deathstar got blown up by some dinky little ships. if you're trying for an impressive unit, at least name it after something that was successful.

This is something I have always stuck to, especially with my Ork armies. I stay away from units like big mobs of nob bikers with bosses for this very reason. I'll send in some wimpy regular bikes with a Boss, and put the nobz on the other side of the field. now the enemy has 2 major threats to deal with instead of one big death star. the more threats coming towards you, the less you're able to focus on a single threat and kill it. and the more likely one of those threats will get in and do some damage.

RULE #4 - sometimes **** happens

No matter how well you plan, sometimes things will go badly for you. there's really nothing you can do about it. if you lose the game to some fluke roll, enjoy it, laugh about it. you'll have a funny story to tell later. it's just a game, after all.

The picture above was from a recent tournament in Waco. the game was already going badly for my opponent's eVlad list. the scenario was against him, and there was a giant river in the middle of the field (if you've never played with water features, go look it up. it might surprise you how bad it is for a jack to fall in water). at the end of the game, I took a single shot at his almost full health Vlad. normally Vlad gets harder to kill the more damage he takes. not so much when your opponent rolls triple sixes and ends the game in one fell swoop.

But he didn't complain or whine about it. He took it like a good sport and we had a good laugh about it. and in the end, he ended up getting a nice little trophy for the "bad luck" award. so everyone came out happy. Except Vlad. Next time, maybe he'll wear a helmet to go with those silly shoulder pads...

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