Monday, September 26, 2005
Game Store Confidential ~ The Dice Gods Are Smiling
The three games I’ve played the most of in the last month are Runebound, Axis & Allies Miniatures and Conquest of the Empire. All three are total dice fests. Admittedly I’ve had a round or two of Power Grid and even the always boring snooze-fest, Through the Desert. But It's been a pretty steady diet of dice-driven games lately.
About a week or so ago Joe Gola posted a really nice article here about dice, and since he posted it in the middle of a four week dice festival of gaming out here in the sticks, I’ve had dice on my mind a lot.
Game Geeks are really, really weird. About dice that is. Probably about other things too, like politics, hygiene, Star Trek trivia, historical minutia, math, clothing, Mountain Dew, Doritos, Ziploc baggies, file transfer speed, totally rank music and perhaps even women. But those things aside, nobody is weirder about dice than Gamers.
So Lyle, his brother Sean and I are in a game of Conquest of the Empire and both of them are carping about how horribly they, in particular, roll dice. As the early game progresses I lose a few battles here and there and even a particularly important one in the province of Numidia. But oddly enough, when I’m getting my ass handed to me early in the game I’m not hearing them bitch about dice.
Same thing when I’m playing a couple of rounds of A&A Mini’s with my tree-farmer buddy Tony. He waxed me completely, twice in a row and never once did he moan about dice. But let him get pounded in a game of Runebound or Memoir '44 and he’ll complain endlessly about how he never, ever gets any luck with the dice. The good part about Tony beating me up in A&A Mini’s though is he ended up buying a couple hundred bucks worth of the booster boxes.
Makes me wonder if I ought to think about losing gracefully more often.
But back to the game with Lyle and Sean. After the early setbacks I suffered in North Africa as well as being shut out of Italy by Lyle building a large army there and posturing aggressively, they left me alone for a while. Being brothers, they much preferred to start beating up each other in the fertile lowlands of the eastern shores.
If you've never had a chance to play Conquest of the Empire then you probably are unaware that the worst thing you can do is to leave a guy like me alone… in Spain… with taxes rolling in… and a shipyard cranking out triremes… and catapults rumbling down the roads to the north and south… and hordes of foot soldiers and cavalry hankering to earn an extra measure of salt… and four generals all vying for the Caesar’s attention.
You do that and you’re asking for trouble.
And trouble is just what those two got. After a particularly humiliating sea battle where Lyle lost a significantly large army that was heading to Egypt, followed by Sean losing almost 50% of everything he owned in the heated up sands of North Africa, the whining about dice started.
“Man, I never get any good rolls!” Lyle moaned.
“How come I can’t get the rolls you do DW?” Sean complained.
A compassionate and caring person would have explained to Lyle that his lost fleet was more about doing something really dumb than it was about the dice. A kind man would have advised Sean that buying only infantry because they’re cheap means you can’t take advantage of any rolls for catapults or cavalry.
But I’m neither kind and compassionate nor caring when all I’m hearing is that the only reason I’m kicking someone’s butt is because I’m lucky.
For the last 23 years I’ve stood behind a game store counter and watched literally thousands of dice-chucking role-players open a set of dice and roll them 20, 30 or 40 times on the glass-topped counter. Besides making an incredibly annoying sound, it’s scary to imagine what is going through what passes for a mind when the customer is rolling the dice. Is he praying? Meditating? Conjuring? What’s the point? What on earth is standing at a counter and rolling a D20 going to tell him about a game session that night, next week or whenever?
Faced with illogical fear of the unknown – otherwise known as being real dumb – the typical dice-chucker would probably stand at the counter for hours rolling and rolling until some metaphysical event shone a ray of intelligence at him and broke the neural shut-down mode that excessive dice rolling creates in role-players. So to help them out I normally choose to offer a suggestion that will get the Geek to stop the incessant and irksome dice rolling and get to the part where he buys the frickin’ things. My usual suggestions are:
“You know… keep that up and you’ll roll all the 20’s out of that one.”
“Pick the ugly ones. Dice are like women, the prettier they are the more capricious, mean and destructive they can be.”
“If you roll those dice one more time I’m going to reach into your chest, pull your heart out and hand it to you while it’s still pumping.”
That last one always does the trick by the way.
So, back to Lyle and Sean. I smoked them. No surprise there, based upon the fact that they are typical gamers in that they actually believe that the randomness and chaos of dice in a game have anything at all to do with winning. They see dice as the reason, the source or perhaps the cause of wins and losses. And so long as they view dice in that fashion they’ll never get the understanding that chaos, while technically uncontrollable, can be temporarily corralled and used when you apply brainpower to a game that involves dice.
Sure, sure, sometimes you get a great roll when it’s not important and that’s followed up by a bad roll in a critical situation. But if you remove the situational bits and just look at the results over the course of a game you’re usually going to see that you average out, rolling just about as many good rolls as you do bad ones.
To me that is the challenge. To understand that you can’t control the dice, but you can avoid doing really dumb stuff where dice results will compound the negative situation.
“Hey DW, why don’t you just attack Sean there now?’
“Well Lyle, Sean has 12 units and two extra dice for the fortified city and I only have 14 units.”
“So what? He hasn’t been getting good rolls and you have.”
See what I mean? Duh.
Two turns later I land two triremes with an additional 10 troops and two generals and simultaneously attack from the west. In the interim Sean has bought 4 more infantry and sent them off to the meat grinder that I created just for him.
The net result? I take North Africa from Sean and Macedonia from Lyle in one turn… and the dice get all of the credit.
As we’re putting away the game, all neatly in separate Zip lock baggies of course, three dice-chucking geeks stroll in, wander over to the counter and announce, “We need to see a few sets of dice.”
Yeah,” adds one of them, “Mine have gone bad on me so I need to get a set that matches the color of my rogue’s cloak.”
“Sure guys, I’ll get some out for you, but remember, if you roll them too much you’ll use up all the 20’s.”
All three of them nod sagely at me, confident in the knowledge that they shop at a game store where the owner understands how fickle dice can be.
Yep. That's me. A guy who understands. Not to mention a guy who's in need of a career change.