Last time you decided that bioluminescence is better than darkness. You don’t just want light, but strange, almost magical light, and I can understand that. We do science here, we can’t grope in the dark. This week, I’m asking you to choose between a reward for caution and the audacity to be reckless. Which is better: a unit’s seniority or re-rolling the dice?
Seniority of the unit
In many strategy and tactics games, units are largely disposable and interchangeable. With the same resource value and utility value, you have little ties to this rifleman compared to this rifleman. Look away and you’ll probably forget which is which. Unless one of them has fought and survived long enough to become a unit of veterans, with special permanent buffs, in which case they are the most precious baby to cherish and protect.
In much of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2’s Allied campaign, my favorite tactic was to guard a group of squishy Prism tanks as they gained veteran ranks, then dispatch that squad of ultra-lethals regenerative laser beam to smash your way through enemy bases (even better once you have access to it in the Chronosphere and could teleport guys deep). It’s fun, rewarding, and welcome in a series where units often felt entirely disposable.
This can be especially important in games where units are transferred between missions. I think I first encountered this in Bungie’s Myth, where veteran units could be vital deep in the campaign. Even when veteran bonuses aren’t huge, it fosters bonding and adds drama. I recently played Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector (a game whose familiar setting helped me tackle deeper tactics), where surviving a mission only offered tiny permanent bonuses, and lost units could be replaced for free between missions. And yet, if my special little guys got too far behind enemy lines or were foolishly flanked, I would go to great lengths to save them.
Veteranity adds rewards for careful play and planning, gives handy bonuses, and creates unique little story beats in your battles. The unit that survives long enough to become a veteran, then uses their newfound strength to rain down kills and perform clutch saves, then oversteps and must be rescued. It’s a nice shot of drama to come from what is functionally just a stat boost.
Roll the dice
Chance runs deep in video games, shaping the outcome of everything from loot drops to gun accuracy. Few games expose this luck as clearly as those that show us rolling dice. And the most delicious of them are the games that allow us to collect a dice and then re-roll it declaring “That one doesn’t count”.
This isn’t the case in many games, but I’m always happy when a game challenges me to re-roll a dice. It’s a no-brainer to re-roll the worst possible roll and then get interesting with decent results. I would like to get a better roll, but what if the result is worse? This question can influence events in RPGs like Citizen Sleeper and Betrayal At Club Low (which we’re playing this month for RPS Game Club), rewarding boldness or punishing hubris. This is the basis of poker dice in the early Witcher games. And it’s a highlight in my current phone game, Slice & Dice (also available on PC from Itch, with a demo there too – check it out!).
Slice & Dice is a dungeon crawler that maps most attacks, abilities, and gear to dice faces. Roll a handful of dice, one per party member, and you’ll see your options this turn. You can also re-roll as many dice as you like, twice per turn, before locking in your choice. Usually it all depends on the roll. Maybe your healer launched an attack when you really need health. Maybe a character has an item that offers great power at the cost of masking a face, and you keep rolling the void. Maybe you just need an extra point of damage. Maybe you have a silly party comp filled with ‘cantrip’ effects that trigger every time the face is rolled, spraying damage and shields and mana and bonus re-rolls all over the place as you keep rolling. to roll. But maybe you face monsters that will assassinate you with damage reflection if you try to delay them with cantrips. And maybe you’ll lose a useful jet and get stuck with something useless. When do you lock a die? Do you accept a good turn, or do you dream big and keep going? And do you have a plan to recover if daring doesn’t pay off?
I love how re-rolling the dice gives us a bit of control, which massively encourages us to ignore reality and treat chance as a willing opponent we can beat. “Oh, there’s no way my raise will be lower than that 2,” I said, as if I didn’t know how dice work. “Nuh uh, I need at least a 4, you wouldn’t hurt me like that,” I insist, acting like the game is now my mate and we’re both looking for a positive outcome, so come on, give me a solid and give me a 5. “And after the snake eyes on the last round, honestly, you owe me at least a 6 as an apology,” I said, my understanding of the slippery reality. “DOUBLE 6! YOU DID IT! FINALLY! THANK YOU!” I scream as I spin unattached in a void that I’ll probably personify soon because I guess that’s the kind of idiot I am.
It says a lot about us that we will even treat a random number generator as friend or foe. If you stuck some googly eyes on the generator, we’d absolutely give it a name (which I guess is what Hand Of Fate’s Dealer did to draw cards, to great effect). Oh. I just realized. With a D6 you could use googly eyes instead of pips, right. GOOD. It’s a dice I need now.
But what is better?
I know I should rely on veteran units. I know I have to trust their fans. I know I should revel in their stories. And yet, I can’t resist rolling the dice and then re-rolling them. But what do you think, dear reader?
Choose your winner, vote in the poll below, and make your point in the comments to convince others. We will meet again next week to see which thing will triumph and continue the great contest.
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