I have been reading a lot of discussion of late about randomness in wargaming and in Warhammer 8th edition in particular. There is a school of thought that 8th edition has introduced so much randomness into the game that all, or most, tactical skill has been lost to the detriment of the gaming experience.
I was particularly intrigued by this blog post which suggests that the randomness may be a leveller attempting to eliminate the disparity between experienced and inexperienced gamers, thus making for a more rewarding experience for younger gamers.
A few days ago I finally got round to playing some Warhammer 8th edition with my little brother, who had taken the opportunity at Christmas to get his Ogre army up to speed. For my part, I had recently indulged myself by grabbing an Arachnarok and so was in a position to field 2500 points of Goblins against his Ogres.
There was certainly no shortage of randomness over the course of the game. There was the moment when my Night Goblin Great Shaman killed himself with a poisoned mushroom on the last turn, having previously suffered another wound due to dodgy mushrooms and one because of a miscast. Then there was the Ogre Iron Blaster misfiring and taking itself out of the game for two turns. Or the Ogre Slaughtermaster losing control of the great maw which subsequently ate two of his own Ogres. With nine fanatics in play randomness was certainly in evidence there, most spectacularly when a unit of nine Ogre Ironguts, including a Tyrant, charged through two fanatics, only to lose the subsequent combat because of the goblins superior rank bonus, unexpectedly break and flee through the same fanatics killing all of them except the Tyrant.
I'm not really sure how much tactical skill was really in evidence, be we had an absolute blast playing it. In fact it was a lot more fun than the game of Malifaux we played two days earlier. To be fair, we were both trying out new factions and MLB got the hang of his a lot faster than I did. The end result was pretty one-sided, but hats off to him, he won fair and square. To a large extent, this was a less enjoyable experience simply because we had to spend so much time checking the rules.
Another highly enjoyable Christmas diversion was the Lego game Heroica, probably the most random game of all. A simplified dungeon crawl experience, essentially a race to the end of a dungeon, were everything is determined with single dice rolls. Heroica has been floating around the wargaming blogosphere and has received much praise because of its simplicity and accessibility.
The point about all of this, is that the amount of enjoyment I get from a game is not proportionate to the amount of control I have.
I can certainly understand the complaints of more competitive and tournament focused gamers of Warhammer 8th edition, but it is isn't a perspective I can share. For me, I am getting something entirely different from the experience.
I came to Wargaming at about the same time as Roleplaying and while I could never properly interest my friends in Dungeons & Dragons, wargaming proved to be more popular. For me, much of the enjoyment now comes form army building, painting and the creation of some kind of narrative in my gaming.
My recent forays into Realms of Chaos taps into a similar idea. There is far more fun to be had creating champions and warbands and telling their story than in any kind of competitive engagement. Especially when the generation of warbands is so random and straight forward competition so, necessarily, unfair.
All of which serves to explain how I was able to extract such straight forward enjoyment from my post-Christmas Warhammer. I am simply not a competitive person and wasn't in it for the tactical contest, it was more fun to line up my troops, direct them as best I could and watch the carnage unfold, regardless of outcome.
While Games Workshop's new spirit of randomness may be off-putting to many, and I can fully understand their complaints, for me it adds, rather than detracts, from the enjoyment.