Friday, February 1, 2013

Dice Psychology 101

Hello everyone, I thought I'd speak to something that seems to come up quite frequently in the 40k discussions at our local venue.  The matter of dice, but more specifically the effects of bad dice.  No one, not even the player who is on the better end of the result likes a game where nothing goes right for one of the players.  No matter how you slice it the game comes down to dice rolls.  These effects can be effected by playing smart, but the basic truth is there is always a chance, slim as it may be that all your dice just come up 1's.

So why is this...?  Well I will not stand here and make a claim that I have unlocked some form of latent psychic powers that allow me to always roll well... nor do I know of any real hard science that allows for a person's mind to emphasize a roll... or at least not directly.  While I don't know how to make dice roll the exact way I wish... there is something I have found that comes into play when playing that involves both dice, and psychology.  That is very simply knowing how to react in a given situation that will allow for bad dice to not take such a harsh toll when they come about.

First off, lets talk Dice.  Everyone who plays has them, and they are pretty essential to the game.  There are 6 sides, and that means each number has an equal probability to come up.  But how can we better understand these little guys.  Well my first theory is size.  I am not a fan of large dice.  Apart from being bigger, heavier, and more potentially threatening to the game (by way of running into models and actually having the weight to move them or potentially damage them), they also have one element I do not like.  The scale of these dice means that they need a larger area to roll in than that of their smaller, more common counterparts.  Often this space is just not possible to get, as we wargamers generally play on tables with uneven surfaces, terrain, or models in all the best spots.

As such, the limited space we have is better suited for the smaller dice for one crucial reason.  While I don't have hard science to back this up, the concept I think of with these larger dice is that if there isn't sufficient space for your dice to roll... you can't give them an adequate area to allow for all numbers to have a good chance at coming up.  I generally cup my hands around my little dice, give them a good 2 or 3 seconds of shaking and then disperse them by dropping them in a mostly vertical fashion.  This not only allows my dice a sufficient amount of randomization, but also helps give them a good amount of room to roll while not flying all over the place.  Larger dice I feel do much less rolling on the table, and so to me they feel as though they don't give as much variability.  Maybe some people like that, but I'm a fan of letting dice just do their thing without me as much as possible.

Another element is Hard vs. Rounded edges.  As a board owner, I dislike the hard edges and sharp points as they have a tendency to damage the softer foam top.  Beyond that, those dice seem to stop rather abruptly rather than roll smoothly.  There is a huge discussion about being able to "control" a roll, and these dice are generally how people do so.  I'm not sure if it's really possible on a grand scale, but I just prefer to stay away from them all together.

Now we move onto the Psychological effects.  Again, I'm not claiming that we need to develop some sort of sixth sense on how to control dice, but we need to step back and allow ourselves to realize how a situation is panning out.  To me the biggest factor here is how we handle a poor situation.  Much like dealing with terminators with not but small arms fire, the best way to handle a situation like this is to allow for redundancy in our tactics.  This stems from list construction and continues into the game itself.

To me, I like to build a list with dice in mind almost as much as the game statistics.  How will my list handle poor dice, and how can I make decisions with those units that will mitigate the negative situation which follows.  There are several ways we allow ourselves to out-think poor dice.

Again, first and foremost create a list that allows for units to cover one another, and create both redundancy and variety in terms of it's potential targeting.  This allows you to capitalize in either situation presented by dice (be it poor rolls which require more saturation on the target, or good rolls which yielded the desired result faster than you anticipated).  This keeps your army moving at an efficient pace, while covering your tactical decisions.

Second, be flexible in how you approach a situation.  In some cases you may find that poor dice will leave you with relatively few options, and the few you have aren't great.  An example stems from the last Bloomington tournament I went to.  My Veterans used the Grav-Chute from the Vendetta and ended up being placed by the enemy into my far back field due to a mishap.  This left me with absolutely no mobile mid field forces.  Ironically the only squad I had capable of reach mid field in time was a squad of heavy weapons teams.  I had to make the call of having those expensive lascannons forgo their great shots and boogie to mid field... and it totally paid off!  I bombarded the enemy squad on the mid point with as much artillery as I could, so my heavy weapons teams could actually do something, and 3 teams of lascannons we capable of downing the remaining two space marines.  It wasn't pretty, but it worked.

I utilized a strange synergy of hitting the enemy with shots that could assist that unit which was completely out of it's designed element.  I didn't expect results, but I got them all the same.  Loosing that mobile unit made me really have to dig deep for a back up plan.  Which is where the biggest and final point on psychology comes in.

You have to allow yourself to remain objective.  Allow yourself to move past bad dice, because the worst thing we can do is get upset.  Mostly because this is a game, and reacting poorly will sour the atmosphere for you and your opponent; but also because it will only cause you to make poor decisions.  The only way I have found is to really stay calm to let yourself see other options.  Succumbing to bad rolls will only make you lose sight of other opportunities and will eventually lead to bad situations in the coming events where you have neither the redundancy or availability to react properly, and those poor rolls will only get harder and harder to handle.  If you remain clam, and adjust your approach when it is required, you'll find poor dice happen, but aren't nearly as devastating as they could be.

There is so much more to the dilemma of how to handle poor rolls.  I believe it is a conscious effort in both that it needs preventative and progressive approaches.  You have to plan ahead, and be able to adjust when you need.  But I have no doubt missed something obvious or may have never considered another way in which we can be more adaptable players.  I'd love to hear your thoughts, or stories about where you could improve, or have made great choices.  Your stories may help inspire or prepare other players in the 40k community or any game that uses dice and strategy.


1 comment:

  1. Godfrey, everyone knows you microwave your dice to ensure god-tier rolling :P

    As for the article, dice remain solely in the realm of random probability. The fine members of Rites know I do not ascribe to any kind of "voodoo" with my dice, nor believe in sacrificing kittens to the dice gods. Mine is the realm of fickle chance....which can have both really good and really bad effects.

    Godfrey hit it right on the head; remain objective. No need to get fussy over bad rolls because it's gonna happen sooner or later. Same goes for good rolls. But remaining positive and having fun with both outcomes is the mark of a mature and well developed player. :)