Ponderings: Random Game Length in Tournaments

Random Game LengthThere’s been a lot of articles and discussions lately about tournament formats. A big topic is the random elements in a tournament. Basically, the less randomness in a mission the better the test is of player skill, which I can agree with. I know I’ve won and lost my share of missions based on some random element in the mission itself. However, what about random game length?

When 5th rolled around I was pleased to see random game length. My problem with a fixed amount of turns is that in knowing exactly when the game will end, barring time running out, you can position yourself for that last turn grab for an objective, or simply contesting it, especially if you’re going second. I’m not saying there’s no skill involved in properly doing this, or that with fixed game length it always goes down that way, but I see it as a matter of risk vs reward. Where’s the risk with fixed game length and going second in an objective mission, reserving some really fast units to come in late game and charging those forward to sit next to an objective? Until such a time you sit back and play some defense, thin the enemy out a bit to prepare for your late objective arrival. There’s not much risk to be had there but the reward is big. Same scenario with random game length means you need to access the risk to gain the reward. Is it worth making that objective grab in turn five when there’s only a 33% chance the game will end and you may get shot to hell if there’s a turn six?

It can play out a number of ways. I’m not saying it will always happen that way of course, but it creates a certain mindset and in turn predictability. Games that are predictable aren’t all that much fun. I also feel random game length does a few things fixed game length doesn’t. One thing being that not all armies play out the same and the random game length really tests your skill. For example, my fast Ork lists do not stand up well past turn five. At the end of turn five I tend to be in a favorable position for whatever the game objective is, generally. However, anything after turn five is usually me losing my final transports, thinned out Trukk Boyz squads getting finished off, etc. Without knowing how long the game will go I need to plan for all eventualities. I need to try and ensure I can deal with attrition beyond the fifth turn. Planning for what may or may not be is a true test of skill. On the other hand, some armies play better late games. A game going seven turns can be just what a particular army needs and fixed game length can deny them that.

The turns could be fixed at six turns, hurting early game armies some and helping late game armies some, striking a balance. It’s not a bad idea but then we’re back to predictability. Which brings me to my second point, knowing you’ve lost or won. With a fixed game length you can tell if you’re going to win or not. At which turn you know this varies but at some point you can look at your army and your enemy’s and figure out of it’s possible for him/her to reach an objective, or kill enough of your units for kill points. There was nothing more I hated in 4th than knowing on turn three that I could not win the game no matter what. It’s disheartening.

Back to the point, does random game length work in a tournament where the ideal is to eliminate random factors? I feel it does. There’s a difference between say randomly wandering objectives on the field and an unknown game length. Both are random to be sure but the former really comes down to luck where the latter is a test of skill and planning. In a tournament isn’t that exactly why you’re there, to find out who the better player is?

  • Anonymous

    I’m fine with random length – makes some things less likely but opens up others. For a tournament, I don’t think either one is necessarily better in isolation, though keep in mind that the rest of the ruleset (esp. reserves) are built with random length in mind. For casual games, I like the random length.

    • Good point on reserves. The game inherently has randomness: reserves, outflanking, deep strike mishaps, etc. You can’t completely remove randomness from the game. A good mission should remove random events in the mission itself but game length I don’t feel should be one of them.

  • Anonymous

    I like random game lengths in theory, but in practice it’s not so random. Usually in my experience the last turn is when the TO shouts, “15 minutes left in the round. players, do not start another turn.” That’s when all the memories of the bad old days of the last turn objective grabs and denial strategies we saw in 4th edition come screaming back.

    • Yeah, there’s really no getting around time limits. That being said, if you’re watching the clock you can prepare for it so you aren’t stuck in a situation where you just can’t pull out a win.

  • Anonymous

    Random game length is not a bad issue. It might punish a fast played game, but not a slow one.

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