Conventions in Gaming – Luck


Last night availed the inhabitants of the 6 Inch Move floating citadel to yet another unplanned gaming rendezvous. Due to permission/absence/voodoo sacrifices of wives and girlfriends Castle Servitob was once more transformed into the vacuum of deep space. Both Space Hulk and Firestorm Armada got some table time.

This would the first outing for Gribblin’s new Aquan fleet, the first time any of us had seen the fleet played. Like a burk I forgot the flight stands for my fleet so the salty fleet went up against the torpedo happy Terrans. This post is not going to be a battle report, I will leave that to either of the participants to regale you all with tales of bold tactical manoeuvre and world-destroying firepower. What I do want to talk about though was aptly highlighted during one turn of this game. Look away now if you don’t want to read some spoilers. Feel free to read again once the italics end.

At the start of the game Gribblin deployed his fleet quite spread out, hoping to use the cover of a reasonable asteroid belt that spread across the middle of the table. Misjudging his distances and the alternating activation turn method that Firestorm uses saw his Cruisers zoom ahead unsupported by the rest of his fleet. This gave Servitob an opporunity for some early smackdown which he delivered forthrightly. By turn 2 the Aquans had no Cruisers left and with the fleet heading towards the Battleship things were already looking bleak for Capt. Birdseye and crew. However, we are all aware of how fickle the tides of fate are. Shortly after losing all of his Cruisers gribblin engineered a range band 2 broadside against the Terran Battleship, dice were rolled, hits were counted. Enough were rolled to cause a critical hit on the Terran capital ship, Servitob rolled the dice for his shields and, for once, they did not negate enough of the shots to prevent the critical hit. Gribblin eagerly grabbed his 2D6 for rolling on the critical table and was rewarded with a double 6! For those of you unaware of the Firestorm game either a double one or a double six cause the ship to explode, in this case as its main reactor is hit and causes the Firestorm version of a warp core breach. An undamaged battleship reduced to smouldering space flotsam in a single salvo. This changed the course of the game and Gribblin ended up wiping the Terrans from the table after a few more turns.

What this demonstration goes to show is that in many cases luck can be a major deciding factor in the winners and losers of our hobby. I am sure we can all recount sordid tales of the desertion of Lady Luck, when the cruel dice gods decide that we will roll ones and twos when we need high numbers and fives and sixes when we need low. Servitob did manage to cause a decompression on Gribblin’s Battleship in retaliation, venting liquid like an octagenarian granny, and on the following turn rolled the only number that kept the decompression going. However, when those dice are rolled, we are purely in the hands of the law of averages, hoping that we can do enough. As any gamer will tell you though, the law of averages mean squat. I can think of many instances where rolling a bunch of dice has either resulted in a massive haul of 1’s and 2’s or 5’s and 6’s, those middle numbers can be mightily elusive.

Although luck cannot be counted upon it’s actually just as much a part of our games as the terrain and models we use or the tactics or strategy we try to employ. Also, we cannot rely upon it deserting our foes either, although the phrase “Fortune Favors the Bold” does play out on occasion and some games even encourage an aggressive stance during play. Sometimes the right luck at the right time can really swing the fortunes of an entire conflict, just as in the example given above. I’ve seen units perform heroic last stands against superior enemies just because of the dice they managed to roll. After all, the games we play are not just pushing some toy soldiers around a table, at least I hope they aren’t. I would hope that each game is a story written in our memories. Thus it is that we can picture in our minds eye Sgt. Thumpy of the Blood Angels beating down countless hordes of Genestealers (well, 13) protecting a narrow corridor with nothing but a Storm Shield and Thunder Hammer for company. The Tau Fire Warriors standing atop their wrecked Devilfish fighting hand to hand with vile Necron Flayed Ones and surviving turn after turn without taking casualties. The Ork Boyz mob cruising around in their Trukk killing a Carnifex with a drive-by pistol storm. The poor Wood Elf alter kindred Noble who heroically charged into a Great Unclean One only to have his magical talisman fail on the first turn from the one attack the Daemon was allowed to make.

All these moments are the ones that get discussed for years afterwards, an event that should not have happened but, due to the luck of the dice, did. While Malifaux moves away from the dice mechanic, getting a hand full of the right cards to Cheat Fate is also full of chance, we cannot escape the luck that sometimes graces our battlefields. In some cases we may be the one of the receiving end of the misfortune, but even though I might moan and whine like a bitch when the dice desert me, beyond that I am happy that we have these systems where but one roll of the dice can dramatically change how things are going and give us excited memories that we carry with us of great times spent amongst friends.

Lcuk can be the best of friends, or a cold-hearted traitor and this gaming ZombiePirate wouldn’t change that for the world!

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2 thoughts on “Conventions in Gaming – Luck”

  1. Luck in game design really is interesting. It’s the source of some of the greatest moments and some of the worst moments. Many games have fudge factors that let player choice minimize luck, like deck sifting and searching mechanics in Magic the Gathering… and those tend to be the most popular and sought after cards.

    It’s almost like there’s a narrow band of randomness between “too much” and “too little” that is a sweet spot for game design… and it’s different for each game. It’s also slippery to pin down, usually requiring a lot of testing.

    Great article!

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