Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Editorial: the Karma Deck

A couple of weeks back I was having a conversation with a long-time friend about 40k.  We often will discuss Warhammer 40k and, despite me rarely playing the game anymore, he appreciates my insight on various topics.  For now, I still keep up-to-date on the goings-on of 40k.  I think of 40k like an ex-girlfriend: we broke up a while ago and while I will never return to her, I do admit that I like to know what she's doing and how her life has changed.

During the course of my discussion with my friend about 40k, I had an idea come upon me.  We were discussing how dice can throw everything and it can be really frustrating when the dice are supposed to come back to help you, but sometimes never do.  It's a poor consolation that the dice should have rolled average over the course of a game but don't.  I came up with an idea that might maintain a level of randomness that is necessary for a game but with a greater degree of predictability and with proper probabilities that dice don't really offer.

This reminded me of my times playing Settlers of Catan with some friends.  I hate the game because even though a 2d6 is a weighted average, there's still no guarantee that someone can't roll a '9' wayyyy more over the course of a game than they should.  Such is the nature of dice.  However, in the Settlers community, there are some who've created a 36-card deck where each numerical result on a 2d6 is represented by a card in proportion to the actual probabilities on a 2d6.  This means that once that '12' comes up, you know it won't show up again until the deck runs out and the cards are shuffled.  While you maintain the level of randomness that the dice offer, the deck of cards forces the correct probabilities in the short term.  Do you see where I'm going with this?

While the true randomness of dice is not a problem unique to 40k (I have often been the victim of bad dice in warmachine/hordes too), it's not entirely insurmountable.  In Warmachine/Hordes the dice luck can be mitigated with the options to boost various rolls.  This helps to swing the curve in the direction you'd like, but again there's no guarantee that you'll roll any better!  While the probabilities are lower, there's no guarantee that you don't just roll terrible results the entire game.  In essence, there's nothing to prevent some really bad luck.  I've discussed this issue before in past articles, but I think I have a simple solution: a deck of cards.

"Duh, Malifaux already does this!" I hear you say aloud to your screen.  To you, I say "stop talking to your screen and let me finish!"  Malifaux is a system which is built around the cards and so it's not as simple as moving those mechanics into games like 40k nor Warmachine/Hordes.  In Malifaux the players have a hand of cards they can use, flips can be twisted in positive or negative directions, and the flips indicate weak/moderate/strong results instead of simple numerics.  It's not analagous at all to dice (but a fun system nonetheless).

No, I mean to say that today I could go into a game store and play a game of 40k with cards instead of dice.  Why not simply make a 60-card deck with each numeric result on a d6 represented 10 times?  Let's call it the Karma Deck  When playing 40k we would just flip a card for each time we needed to roll a d6, flipping multiple cards when making multiple attacks, etc.  What this allows for is a level of randomness that the dice provide (you don't know what cards you'll flip over) but what's different is that there is a guarantee that you will only see certain results a predictable number of times before you reshuffle the deck.  Does this mean you can 'count cards'?  Absolutely!  If you had a terrible shooting phase and have one last unit remaining, at least you know that those flips will make up for it!  The short-term results are going to stick to predictable probabilities that the long-term results would expect.  Unfortunately for us, dice only meet their probabilities after thousands or millions of results, but that's little consolation for the player who has consistently seen his opponent roll 18/20 "we'll be back" rolls and manages to fail 1/2 of his 3+ armor saves.  If we were flipping cards instead, at least the player would know that his luck would get better later.

You might think that flipping cards could result in the game taking much longer, especially for Orks which typically roll tons of dice.  I actually don't think that card flipping will take a significantly longer amount of time because even if rolling dice takes less time than flipping cards (which might not be true depending on how vigorously you roll your dice), people still have to count out the number of dice they need to roll.  I might argue that flipping cards would take less time once you factor in all of the searching for dice rolled off of the table or deciding whether results are "cocked" or not.  No, I think that at worst, flipping cards takes no longer than rolling dice does.

I have already made 2 decks out of some index cards which I cut in half.  While they are not machine quality, they will serve their purpose well, methinks.  The next time I play a miniatures game I want to propose this idea to my opponent to see if he wants to try playing the game with cards instead.  I can show him/her that the decks are evenly distributed and see if they're up for trying it out instead of rolling dice.  In fact, I think the idea will work just as well for any dice-based miniatures game, be it 40k, Warmachine/Hordes, or Dystopian Wars.  In fact, anyone can do it if you just make a deck of 60 cards with 10 of each of the results 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.  I encourage all of you to try it out the next time you play a game (make sure your opponent has one too, though! You want to keep it fair!) and let me know how it goes.  I know I will try it out but I think I will feel better knowing that my bad luck will eventually mean good luck later.  Help me test out the Karma Deck and perhaps we can completely change the face of miniatures wargaming!
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