Theory – Leveraging the Chance Factor

Ever since PPS_DC’s Privateer Insider posts on skill, luck, and social interaction I’ve been thinking about how these elements factor into not just Warmachine, but all of the other games we regularly play. A large part of being successful in any game is knowing how to combine luck and skill to use them to your advantage.

Luck Mechanics


This is the one mechanic that we’re all intimately familiar with. If you know that a D4, D6, D8, D10, D12, D20, or D100 is you’ll also know that there are almost as many ways to utilize them in gameplay. From classic games like Craps to complex miniature games, dice are a staple of the luck factor everywhere.

A good example of a dice mechanic implemented simply would be Warhammer 40k. With a few exceptions, one roll on one die is one attack, wound, or save. Armies rolling massively different numbers of dice can have a good chance against one another by the modifiers that are added to each roll. While mathematically the probability does balance out eventually, the rule of thumb I’ve heard tossed around is “the player with the most dice wins”.

I feel Warmachine puts a much better spin on how to use dice, allowing the player to spend resources to modify their chances on rolls requiring a specific total. This result can be achieved through modifiers to the roll or adding extra dice to the roll. The best Warmachine players have to be intimately familiar with averages to take risks they deem worthwhile.

What tabletop gamer isn't obsessed with dice?


Poker is the classic game that uses cards as the luck mechanic. It’s popularity is apparent even from just it’s online presence with big sites like Partypoker granting players a chance to try their hand online. Poker doesn’t rely solely on it’s draw mechanic however, as there is also a large element of strategy when bluffing against your opponents.

CCG’s are notorious for using draw style chance. While in most wargames the luck is modified by stats or in game effects, a game like Magic the Gathering allows players to modify their chances at success or failure based upon their deck composition. Just as bad rolling can ruin your day on the tabletop, a string of bad draws can ruin your day as a Planeswalker.

I’ve only played Malifaux a few times but I thought the game’s luck mechanic was very unique and quite effective. By having a secret hand of fate cards a player can effectively change combat or skill checks by using their handful of cards a a bonus. As long as your cards hold out you can constantly one-up your opponent in a most infuriating or satisfying way, depending if you’re winning or losing.

Skill Mechanics

Chess completely removes the element of chance from the game and instead focuses entirely on strategy. They may not all be good ones, but each and every time you attempt to accomplish a move it succeeds. The strategy is deep and has held up over a millenium with computers only able to consistently beat human opponents in the past few decades.

My Kingdom for a Horse!

Most modern games that rely completely on skill move out into the digital domain. While it may not require complex thought and further strategy like chess does, many RTS require quick thinking and quick action to come out on top. Games of the FPS genre also rely on skill, being able to remain calm and accurate in frantic firefights.

Putting it Together

Chess is the exception however, most analog games are hybrids requiring knowledge of the rules mixed with a degree of chance. You can only control so many factors before luck comes into play. This is important – you have to take control of as many aspects of the gameplay as possible to leverage it to your advantage. For the most part, this is completed via both the army composition that is brought to the table as well as tactics on the tabletop. The weight each of these factors carries can change significantly depending on the game you are playing as well (40k vs Infinity, for instance).

Now, how to incorporate luck into your overall strategy, or Good vs. Bad risk. If you’re game plan relies upon rolling 15 on 3D6 you’re probably doing it wrong. When you roll, try to take as much good risk as possible. Be familiar with the probabilities you’re working with and expect results in that realm of probability, as an example:

– A Space Marine Terminator has an armour save of +2, he will fail 1 in 6 saves.
– An Imperial Guard Lasgun has a Strength of 3 and will therefore wound the Marine 2 of 6 times.
– An Imperial Guardsmen has a BS of 3, which means he will hit 3 of 6 times.
– On average 1 failed save is 6 wounds, 18 hits, and 36 shots!

Painted Belial Conversion Deathwing

Tough Buggers, aren't they?

Now in the previous example if I was the Space Marine player I could expect to be reasonably safe against a whole unit of Guardsmen. In practice though, dice are fickle things. Sometimes that Choir member will one shot your caster, and sometimes the Butcher will roll double ones as he charges in for the killstroke. The point is: be informed about the risk you are taking, it’s just as important as positioning on the table and will allow you to make informed decisions when planning your strategy.