I got into a heated (but fun) discussion with a friend the other day over the nature of a particular rule in one of the games I player regularly, and it occurred to me that a lot of people hold the same opinion as my friend. I just thought I would chat a little bit about the nature of randomness in a tactical or strategic game.
Recently, Games-Workshop has released 6th edition 40k. This isn’t news to many of my readers, but some of you might be coming from other realms. This latest edition of the game sees a massive shift in the over all design philosophy of the game. Frankly, you have to be pretty deep down the Game Design rabbit whole to see how tectonic the core game has been redesigned. Why is it so hard to spot? Because it was done elegantly, in many small changes.
With so many small changes, players are going to have a hard time seeing the full picture. It feels like the same game we knew under 5th. So much is the same after all. That just isn’t the case, however. One of these large changes is the random charge length. Combined with other random elements (like random terrain features) some have commented that the game has become more random. That’s an easy thing to think too, we see the word “random” enough times in the rules and it sticks as a theme. I don’t know if the game, as a whole, really is more random, however. It’s possible that it just has more individual random elements. It’s a subtle, but critical, difference.
The crux of the debate mentioned above was simple. Does random charge distance make the game less strategic or tactical? I don’t believe it does. What it does do, is allow players to make strategic gambles. It’s actually the same gamble we were making before. “Do I think that my unit is within 6 inches” has simply become “Do I think I can roll high enough to get the charge off?”. The difference, is that with the addition of pre-measuring, now every player can make that informed tactical decision, not just the players who are confident at guessing ranges.
It’s evened the playing field in a way. Yes, you can lose out by a unit not making the charge. But that has always been the case, especially with the sheer amount of terrain that should be on a table. The opportunities for failure haven’t been reduced, the odds have just changed.
Back to the topic at hand, however. Is random less tactical? Take a look at Backgammon, for instance. You can find a pretty simple rule set here. I don’t know anyone who would claim that Backgammon doesn’t require skill. The core player decisions when playing Backgammon are all based on a random die roll. That’s where tactical comes into play. As long as the player has a chance to weight his odds, and make a decision, the game is still strategic.
By adding random charge distance to the game, the designers at the helm of Warhammer 40k have made a deliberate move to actually make the game more tactical. When combined with pre-measuring distances, players can make informed decisions about their odds, without relying on a tangential skill (in this case range guessing). Sure, they could fail, but they can calculate the exact odds of their success.
Frankly, this makes for a much better competitive environment. After all, Texas Hold’em Poker has completely random hands, and it takes a fair bit of skill to master. Those 40k players who are truly skilled will still win more games than they lose, even with random charge distance. Skilled players will actually win more games with this change. After all, if one charge is the difference between victory or defeat, it was probably a pretty close game anyway!