Thursday, January 12, 2012

Is Randomness Necessary? A 40k case study

I swore to myself that I would keep this blog Warmachine/Hordes focused but there's been something brewing in the miniatures gaming community that is so appropriate to my discussions a couple of days ago: a leaked version of the 40k 6th edition rules.  I stopped playing 40k because I was disappointed with the ruleset and the overwhelming cost of the game.  I felt like I was being mistreated and that I was in an abusive relationship.  Now with a new edition of core rules for the most popular sci-fi miniatures game on the market looming over our heads, there has been lots of discussion out there regarding what we can expect to see.  In two of my previous articles where I discussed if randomness is necessary (Part 1, Part 2) I discussed how randomness affects games and whether miniatures games can replace randomness with uncertainty.  What's interesting about the major leak of these 40k 6th Edition rules (legitimate or not) is that they represent a departure from randomness and a move towards uncertainty and a player's decision-making ability, as I discussed in my articles.  How?

More reliable hitting.
According to this document (which again, may or may not be legitimate), a move has been made to allow models to hit more reliably in close combat.  Previously, a model could only hit on a 3+ at best in melee, or at worst a 5+.  While this is not removing randomness, it is allowing the player to count on something more reliably, especially with the possibility of hitting things automatically or never, again removing some degree of randomness.

No more random movement.
By making terrain slow models down to 1/2 speed instead of the random rolling, it means that players can depend upon certain factors more.  This also means that abilities which ignore difficult terrain are more significant, while abilities that create it will become more effective.  Similarly, it seems that "running" will be a more legitimate way to reposition models on the table, allowing the game to be more reliably tactical.  Again, as a player you might not know if your opponent will just move and fire with his models or run to get into a better position, but you know reliably how far they could do either of those things.  Randomness is being replaced with uncertainty.

As I established in the Part 1 of whether randomness is necessary, a D6 system can occasionally lead to high-variance results since each result on the D6 is equally probable.  This ruleset that has been leaked tweaks the system by allowing a number of modifiers to affect the results on the D6.  This allows the player to control the desired results on the D6 more reliably (if I really don't want a model to be hit, I want to move them so that their EV value is higher).  This allows players to make more decisions without increasing randomness - in fact it decreases the degree of randomness.  Instead, we see more uncertainty for the opponent since they don't know if the unit will be easier or harder to kill the following turn.  Do I shoot at them now and miss more of my shots?  Or do I hope that they will be stationary next turn?  Can my unit survive long enough to make it worthwhile?  These are all difficult decisions because of the uncertainty of the decision and how the opponent reacts.

More courses of action.
Previously there were not many options for a unit besides running or "going to ground", but now there is a list of actions and reactions that units can make depending on certain circumstances.  This adds another level of uncertainty without randomness.  The player has to choose whether to move closer to their enemy to shoot more accurately and risk facing assault, or move away and hope that the enemy doesn't get to you.  More decisions mean more uncertainty, but again, the removal of randomness (like random charge distances and the like) are what make this better than the decisions that are offered in the similar system of 8th Edition Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

While the rules suggest a game that is still at a decently high degree of randomness (still a D6 system), it's curious to see a move towards less randomness and allowing the player more choices - which means more uncertainty for the opponent.  Even if these rules are completely faked, their existence has created a significant buzz in the community and perhaps this might set a precedent for future games and rules to move towards a decision/uncertainty-based ruleset and move away from randomness.  Time will tell.
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