How many times have you played a game and had the result come down to one lucky (or unlucky) roll of the dice? Your lone surviving model almost made it off the field with the macguffin objective in hand, or you barely pulled ahead on at the last round of shooting… we’ve all had those moments. Some things you can’t prepare for; like rolling five armor checks on a 2+ and failing all five. Others, you can see from a mile away; when you know the score is in your opponents’ favor but you’ve spotted a tactical mistake on their behalf. You win some of those situations, you don’t win others, and it all comes down to a random roll of the dice.
In the aftermath of a recent Star Trek: Attack Wing Organized Play event with my local gaming group, there were some differing opinions regarding the role of randomness within gaming. The random event in question was more than just a point of damage or two riding on the results of a die. The scenario being played was the first out of three in The Collective OP series, in which a neutral Borg Cube Token dominated the battlefield. Specifically, at the end of each turn this ship does harm to (either removing upgrades from or shooting) the closest three ships within short to medium range, and then moves in a randomly selected direction which will bring it towards potential targets, dealing an additional small amount of damage to any ships which it collides with. Having the Cube move towards your fleet at the wrong moment in the battle could easily mean the difference in winning or losing, regardless of how well you were faring against the other player. The Cube cannot be stopped, “resistance is futile” after all, but the objective of the match was to be the last one standing between yourself and your opponent, for the most part this was regardless of whether you or the Cube scored the kill.
In my case, luck seemed to be on my side, as the Cube seemed to either interfere with my opponent, or at least not interfere with my fleet to a great degree. One of the more prominent members of our group expressed (in a polite manner) that he did not care for this scenario as the Cube’s behavior was too random. Having seen him lose half of his force before his ships could engage mine, and knowing that wasn’t the only time it happened that day, I initially empathized with his viewpoint. However, our Tournament Organizer for this event offered a differing opinion from this player’s and touched on the game’s setting in the process. He stated that “most of the encounters that a Star Fleet captain encounter are completely random and more about how they react to the randomness while continuing with their mission”. Having given more thought about the matter, I agree with him whole heartedly in this instance and beyond, but especially in the case of pre-published scenarios. We both knew at the start of the match what the Cube’s behavior could include, and it simply turned out to be the worst outcome my opponent could face. The problem was, in my opinion, that he didn’t have a plan for what to do in that case.
I’ve certainly had my runs of bad luck in games, as just about any gamer has. I gave up dice based games completely for about a month earlier this year because the law of averages just seemed to stop applying for a little while. But then I realized that my range of luck is the same as my opponent’s luck (loaded dice assumed to not exist for the duration of this discussion), and the difference between you and your opponent is what you do about the results. Elite miniature gamers know what the odds are, do what they can to improve them, and find a way to win whether the dice help or hurt them.
In Attack Wing, when you roll a handful of dice for an attack, every die has a 3/8 chance of rolling a hit, 1/8 of a critical hit, 2/8 a “battlestations”, and 2/8 a miss. You can then plan for the possible outcomes: you know how roughly how likely you are to hit your target, how much damage you can realistically expect to deal, what the consequences are if you fail to destroy your target, and the tactical benefits for succeeding. Except in extremely rare cases which have an associated cost (such as hidden abilities purchased by Captain Kirk or by Quark), you know in advance if the opponent has something that will change those odds or mitigate your results. There’s no chance that a butterfly flapping its’ wings in Madagascar will cause a chain of events in which your attack hits an ally instead of your target.
Similarly, the “random” elements of these scenarios are published in advance. In the Collective OP 1 example, if the Borg Cube is surrounded with targets, there is a 1 in 4 chance that the Cube is going to move in the direction you want it to move the least. As the board shifts, this can become as high as a 100% chance that you don’t want the Cube to move where it does. The first question is, can you change the odds? With Attack Wing’s attack dice, a Target Lock action gives you a second chance with your dice. A Battlestations action gives you better odds of success. Combining the two takes each die from a 4/8 chance of some form of success to a 7/8 chance of some form of success. In a similar fashion, the movements of our Borg Cube can be manipulated by our fleet movements. If your opponent sets up in the northwest corner of the map, and your fleet is in the southwest corner, the Cube can only move north, south, or west. If you deploy one ship further east, and keep it to the east of the Cube for a couple of turns, now there is less of a chance of the Cube moving directly towards the main conflict.
There’s no such thing as a guarantee when randomization is involved. You never know when you’re going to have an unlucky roll on what you expected to be your kill shot. A wise player plans for this eventuality and will have additional firepower available to them if finishing off that target is crucial to the battle plan. When looking at the current tactical situation in the game, you should always be wondering “what will I do if [XYZ] happens?”, and in order to be successful you should have a plan for each possibility, or at least the ones that have a reasonable chance of occurring. By that same reasoning, players can plan to mitigate the effects of the Borg Cube Token’s movements, because we know that each turn it will move a fixed distance in one of up to four directions. Perhaps you could be prepared to use the extra mobility afforded by Sensor Echo actions in order to stay out of range. Perhaps you can study the Cube’s potential movement combinations in advance to determine what maneuvers will keep you out of harm’s way regardless of how it moves. In my case, I decided to put all my eggs into one basket, so to say, and equipped my flagship with a Transwarp Device which served as an “eject” button and allowed me to move my flagship to the opposite side of the map in case I was cornered. It was a one-use-only sort of device, but it let me take the Borg Cube Token out of the fight as far as I was concerned, while with clever positioning I could ensure that my opponent would have to simultaneously deal with both my fleet and the BCT. This plan wasn’t quite perfect, and as you can read in a previous article about this event, I almost lost a match largely because of a run of luck with critical hit results, of all things.
I spent significant a portion of my free time for a week leading up to this event creating my battle plan. On the other hand, out of six players in this event, I think one other player might have read the rules before the day of the event, but I’m not even certain of that. Within a couple of days, I had a new battle plan ready for the next time we ran this event, and was just as successful with new tactics, because as usual, luck favors the prepared.