Posted by: markfender | July 15, 2014

Defense Sucks

Apparently, my Google page rankings are always best when I put “sucks” in the title. So, here’s some more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhy is defense always more powerful than offense in miniature games? The first time this was brought to my attention in a big way was with Mage Knight (and other Wizkids-derived mini games). That game let you move or attack. Which meant that you were better off standing still and waiting for your enemy to approach you before you bothered actually playing the game. That just leads to really boring standoffs where everyone is afraid to move forward. The turtling philosophy in games is a giant turn-off for me. I want to watch your miniatures leave the table as fast as possible. It makes it look like something’s happening.

Heroscape was another “light” miniatures game that rewarded defense. You rolled some attack dice (which had 1/3 chance of hitting), then your opponent rolled some defense dice (which had 2/3 of hitting). It didn’t necessarily have the turtle issue that *Clix games did, but it still rewarded defense over offense. Boring.

Even more modern designs favor defense over offense. Dust Tactics uses the same idea as Heroscape, with defense winning out over offense. That pretty much means I’m not going to bother playing your game.

I’m far more interested in the strategy of how to destroy my enemy, not how to survive as long as possible. Yeah, it’s kind of reckless, but this is supposed to be a fun leisure time activity and I’d much rather the adrenaline rush of throwing crap at your army in a desperate bid to end it now versus the slow and careful dismantling of your strategy. I want to lay this at the feet of America’s love of football (over a much more dynamic sport like hockey), but I notice this is a perennial problem in games from across the pond (love of soccer?) as well so I don’t even know.

I’m not saying that defense shouldn’t be a thing. It should. Every game needs the “tough” faction. Hell, a game can even have multiple ways to have a “tough” faction. (Warmachine, for instance, has Defense to hit and Armor to resist damage, so an army can specialize in one over the other to give a different flavor to being “tough.”) But, the default state should not be that defense trumps offense. It means the default state of your game is “nothing happens.” At what point is that fun?

What I much prefer to see is a game that rewards smart play with defensive bonuses, but still prioritizes aggression. Infinity is pretty close to that mark (maybe a bit too lethal, but closer than most). In Infinity, troops that get shot at shoot back, potentially meaning that your brave aggressive strategy gets half your army killed. Likewise, cover provides more defense than even the best armor, so seeking out cover is important. You might read that and say “But that just means defense is still better than offense.” And that’s true. The difference is that defense in Infinity is an active thing that you need to engage in, not a passive bonus that exists within your basic rules. Defense in Infinity is attacking back, so the odds are mostly the same on both sides. Infinity isn’t perfect (it’s still a bit too swingy for my tastes), but the fact that defense is not a hard, baked-in decision that the rules made for you in the base die-rolling mechanic makes it a lot closer to my preferred state of gameplay.

I want a game to change from turn to turn in dynamic shifts. Early game, I want to see wide, sweeping flanking maneuvers where the battlefield situations shifts constantly. Mid-game, I want to see those troops make contact and minis start to leave the table. Late-game, I want one last desperate push from the losing player to turn the tides. I don’t care if it’s realistic or not, it’s entertaining. But the default state for most miniature games is to stand still and roll lots of dice until eventually one person rolls better than the other person. This is boring and we shouldn’t play that game.

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