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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bolt Action - Order Dice, It's Not as Bad as You Think

"I would have beaten him but he had more order dice than me," represents a sentiment I hear often regarding Bolt Action games that is simply untrue.

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." After all, who understands order dice better than a master of quantum mechanics?

This is an argument often made after a bitter loss, where things just didn't seem to go right. It might have started well enough, with you and your opponent bringing units onto the table in what you perceive to be a point/counterpoint matchup, your plan coming together tightly before your eyes, but something unraveled before long. Every individual push you made was countered by greater force than you could seem to muster in that area. Thinking about the loss, that's when it occurs to you: It's because your opponent had four more order dice than you! That must be it!

Special, limited edition, guaranteed to be pulled before the opponent's, order die delivery plane.

Except, that's not really it. Let's start from the beginning of the argument, where it felt like the game was a series of point/counterpoint maneuvers between two masterminds. This very well could have been the case - or you simply thought it was. There's something about our gamer minds that sometimes won't allow us to see the forest for the trees. Maybe that move that we thought was an elegant counter to the opponent's push was not elegant at all but merely the bumbling of your unit into the opponent's trap. That is, after all, how traps work. If we saw them coming, we wouldn't find ourselves in them. Often, I'm simply outwitted by my opponent! I can't be the only one this happens to!

This thing officially outwitted everyone.

What might constitute a trap in a game like Bolt Action? Finding your favored push unit the target of multiple enemy units simultaneously might be. The first reaction to this could simply be that your opponent was capable of hitting your unit over and over again in succession because that person had more order dice in the bag at the start of the turn. This hasty generalization represents confusing correlation with causation. To think that an opponent starting with sixteen order dice to your twelve means that the opponent will automatically pull consecutive dice exactly when they need to is a huge leap to take. If proven, this idea would reveal the existence of dice gods once and for all, as it would clearly show players are destined to win or lose before the game begins. Of course, this game takes a relatively long time to setup and play; therefore it's unlikely that the same exact scenario repeats itself enough for you to notice that it doesn't work out that way every time. Unfortunately, MarkDawg, Eenis and Company won't be providing conclusive evidence of this from within their lab's secret location in the wilds of the northwest. Or will they?

Delving into math is something I'm liable to embarrass myself doing, so feel free to correct (read: ridicule) me on our forum if I completely massacre the following; but even if the numbers are off I believe the premise holds true:

In a game including Red player and Blue player, Red might have 12 dice in the bag versus Blue's 16. On the first die pull of the game, there is therefore a 57% chance a Blue die comes out of the bag. After that, Red still has 12 and Blue has 15, so the chance for a Blue die to come out drops a couple percentage points to 55%. If you feel like a 55% chance to pull a die is ridiculously favorable, I'd like to refer you to the results of recent and past NBA lottery draws and the conspiracy theory inspiring madness that has resulted. In a game where players have somewhere in the realm of 26 order dice roughly, a complete bloodbath of a game, where 16 units die over six turns, will still see well over 100 order dice drawn. That's without counting a potential seventh turn. No one can predict exactly how all 114 of those order die pulls will end up.

Wait just a second - pointing you in the direction of professional basketball and its tenuous connection to Bolt Action would be a logical fallacy as well! Did it work? Were you buying into it at all? Admit it, Dano! I once heard an elderly homeless man mumbling the words "professional basketball and its tenuous connection to Bolt Action" on the street while rummaging through a garbage can outside of a Subway restaurant. The dice gods work in mysterious ways!

Think about what it might mean if you find yourself in a bad situation in Bolt Action, because chances are it simply means that Bolt Action happened. In two games against Nemesis this past weekend, I found myself down several key units by the middle of the second turn. In both games, he had between one and four more dice than I did. His Spank units, thanks to the fact that his wise play left them in a position to do so, had done their job excellently. None the less, there came a situation in the middle of turn three where both of us had infantry-carrying transports standing near each other. In our minds, it would all come down to pulling the next order die. He had the advantage in the bag, as he not only started with more, but had killed a few units early. Somehow, I pulled the next three dice and his transport, with troops aboard, was destroyed.

This is not offered as evidence that players with more order dice than their opponents win, lose, or draw. It is offered as evidence that Bolt Action Happens every single game. The best part is, the order die being removed from the bag represents just a small fraction of the randomness that happens between the start of the game and you winning or losing. The typical infantry shooting round involves sometimes double-digit dice. Some shooting, of course, is much more reliable than other forms. Additionally, some units you can't rely on to actually hit the target inflict relatively massive damage when they do hit. If Bolt Action Happens in a game where your opponent has a lot of big HE looking for sixes to hit, you're going to need a lot of Bolt Action Happening in your favor to recover from all the devastating explosions!

Is it possible that someone write a ridiculous list with dozens and dozens of order dice? Absolutely! Will that person have a lot of units that have little, if any, effect on the game? Absolutely! In extreme situations, a player can shift the odds to where it makes a significant difference - but the unit quality sacrifices that player makes means accomplishing the scenario objectives will be extremely difficult. When all is said and done, a fear of extra order dice is simply irrational.

Did anyone else notice Bolt Action Happens shares initials with the way Dano pronounces the word "bar". Coincidence? Let's ask the dice gods.

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