#Warmachine – Defending Deathclock

Recently an article titled “Death to the Deathclock” was posted up at Muse on Minis by a PG I’ve known for a long time, Paradox. While some of his concerns are valid, I want to make it clear that out of all my experience organizing and playing in tournaments, Deathclock is by far the best.

A Bit of Background…

I know most of the Warmachine players will understand what Deathclock vs. Timed means when I throw these terms around. For the uninitiated Deathclock imitates the Sudden Death chess time format, with each player getting an equal amount of time. Time only runs on your turn but if you run out that’s it, you lose! Rounds end when one player wins and one loses.

Timed turns gives each player up to a certain amount of time per turn, with rounds ending after a predetermined length +2d6 mins. After this round time expires “dice down” is called and the game goes to tiebreakers. These can be pulled from remaining casters, highest Control (Scenario) Points, or kill points.

An Admission of Imperfection

Now before I start I want to make it clear that Deathclock is by no means the perfect timing format. If a player is losing the game it is very easy to move into a defensive position in an attempt to drain the enemy’s clock. While attempting to win the game by forcing an opponent’s clock down may not be my idea of “Playing like you have a Pair”, the rules currently allow it and as such it is a valid tactic.

Some Classic Issues with Timed Turns

First and foremost, time spent as the active player can get get lopsided in a hurry. This one hits close to home as I am a relatively fast player and I’ve spent many rounds of 120+ minutes being the active player for 40 minutes or less. When I’m only the active player for 1/3 of the game my opponent gets twice the time I do to play his game.

Now, while I have the option to use that entire turn time, I normally don’t. For a player wanting to play the clock, having limited round time means you want your turns last as long as possible. The more time you use, the less your opponent will get. Players know this and it’s quite easy to exploit taking a long turn late game to hit that all important “dice down”, especially if your opponent is in a position to sneak out a win. Let me reiterate:

When you are ahead you can actively stall for dice down!

Now, Paradox does offer a solution to this problem, saying “a good TO will simply manipulate the clock if a player is found to be abusing the time and stalling late game”. I have a huge problem with this, as an organizer manipulating the clock in a Masters level event should never be tolerated. Even with the ability warn of disqualify, the best policy is enforcement through rules in the format.

So along came Deathclock…

So the TO’s of the Warmachine community introduced this new timing format, Deathclock. As soon as you agree to play by Deathclock you’ve entered a pack in which -you- will finish -your- game in a certain time limit, if not you lose. No tiebreakers to speak of, it’s game over. Both players get an exactly equal amount of time to play, and if a player wants to take an extra long complicated turn they have every right. From a TO perspective it’s a no brainer, there isn’t any running around or having to meddle with round timers.

Not only do I love the equal amount of playtime for each player, but forcing the player in the lead to really push to achieve that absolute victory rather than sit on his/her heels and bleed the clock dry. It may sound crazy now, but I remember MK1 finals game that came down to armies killing a sentry stone then backing off in a corner until the round time ended. Granted, Deathclock may take longer, but from my perspective minimizing player clock abuse always takes priority over length of an event.

This still doesn’t address the issues that come with any timing format, which is using the clock as a weapon against their opponents. Unlike the stalling that occurs in timed turns, in Deathclock this may manifest as players in a standoff with a toe in an objective zone, or camping focus late game. The wargaming equivalent of the following:

Warmachine Deathclock Come at me Bro!

Please yell this at your next event.

So then, how do we fix it?

Honestly? We don’t. Many of the problems I’ve seen thrown around have to do with casters not wanting to make the first move or players being ‘punished’ for having more models left. Compared to timed turns, it is -much- more difficult to pull off a win by time. Winning by scenario alone is much more a daunting prospect when you have less models than your opponent, not to mention the extensive risk one takes by taking a defensive position such as camping focus to hold a zone.

I do think there is room for improvement however, through scenario. I agree with Paradox’s assessment that control zones could be made smaller, or CP’s required for a victory lowered. Killbox does throw a weird wrench into the mix however, but perhaps it’s time that Killbox gets some tweaks to push players to the middle sooner than later.

  • Kevin

    Dice down is literally the dumbest thing that can happen in any competitive game. ESPECIALLY when it’s random. Having an equal amount of time for each player to play their game is the only fair way to have a balanced game. Most importantly it rewards timely (not necessarily fast) play as opposed to stalling.