Every so often double 1s become a topic of conversation and people get quite excitable. In fairness I have been known to get quite excitable about double 1s in a number of my games, as have many of my opponents. In fact, I would wager a small chocolate bar that no one who has ever played Kings of War has not got excitable about double 1s at some point. Double 1s have undoubtedly given me some interesting moments, so here are some choice four letter words (and slightly longer words) I associate with them:
I think it’s a flaw of human nature that we tend to remember the bad rather than the good. A bad gaming experience seems, so often, to accompany polite suggestions that double 1s is a silly rule and should be cancelled. However, the chances are that as often as the icy claw of double 1s have stolen victory from the dice bags of the righteous, so the hot flush of hope has been felt as an opponent double 1s and the gargoyles (insert unit name of your experience) survive to hold up not one, but two regiments of Soul Reaver cavalry (insert nasty, vicious enemy unit of your choice here) for another turn.
For some reason people are programmed to remember the bad stuff (I’m assuming some sort of primitive survival instinct). It’s also why just about every customer service course I’ve ever attended goes to great pains to point out customers are 10 times more likely to complain than give a compliment.
Perspective is a frustratingly relative thing, but the truth is that this rule is as beneficial as it is detrimental to all players (in the grand scheme of things).
Bear with me because this maybe a bit of conceptual reach. I’ve noticed this with friends I play regularly that double 1s can be considered a bit of a golf handicap style barometer (I did say a reach) of how much extra I need to do to start getting the odd draw or even win. When I’m playing someone better than me and double ones come up in my favour I like to keep a mental note. In particular, how many of them contribute towards a not quite so bad loss, an unusual draw and an inexplicable win. This might be one of those things that really is “just me”, but double 1s always stand out to me and I tend to have a view at the time on just how influential they’ve been.
That being said, I think it’s important to stress that I don’t think winning a game because of double 1s doesn’t count. I also don’t think it in anyway invalidates the achievement, as I’ll explain below.
Double 1s often lead to a lot of deep breathing and deep breathing is great for mindfulness (apparently) and mindfulness is great for self-improvement (also apparently). No?
Also, Kings of War is a game of probability. What I mean by this is: if you are better than your opponent at list building, managing scenarios, movement, etc. you will probably win (there’s probably some official maths statisticky thing way of putting this, but that’s not my area of expertise). Yes, it’s a dice game, but its not a game of chance. Yes, you can have a bad dice day, but that won’t be everyday (although it’s possible your bad dice days could just happen to align with the days you play Kings of War). In addition to this the double 1 rule is something that’s printed in the rule book, and we know about it. That means, just as with any other rule, we can learn to minimise its impact by taking account of it in the decisions we make on the table-top.
Are we even sure they really make that much of a difference to the outcome?
One of the interesting things I’ve noticed writing battle reports is that even though double 1s, at the time, might seem pivotal in a game very often when you consider the game as a whole they are not. Interestingly many of the games I lost that involved “pivotal” double 1s were games, if I’m honest, I probably would have lost anyway. In the same vain, games I won (particularly where the double 1 was not in my favour), I may have had to work hard to pull back, but I actually had the tools and the ability to get the win.
The point here is meant to be a positive one – my experience makes me believe that double 1s are very rarely pivotal in deciding the ultimate outcome of a game, but you might have to think a little harder to get there.
Kings of War doesn’t have separate health and morale stats. They are brought together in the nerve test mechanic. This means that the nerve stat and tests are not analogous with how many survivors there are in a unit following an attack. A great thing that comes out of this of course is multi-basing (intended or not), which is something that seems to be a real stand out when it comes to Kings of War as a hobby, rather than just a game.
What this rules mechanic acknowledges is that a unit’s decision to stay in the fight will be based on a number of things, such as casualties and bravery, consequently failing a nerve test does not mean the unit has been slaughtered. Therefore, it opens up narrative options to explain the decision to stay, or go.
And this, dear reader, brings me to what I believe to be the fundamental reason why double 1s should be in Kings of War. Whilst this is not intended to be a historically accurate representation of how goblins operate in theatres of war against sexy demons (Yeap, talking about you Scud, definitely not Succubi) it is still a representation of sentient beings hitting each other and so needs some reference in reality. So, just as most will make the sensible decision in the face of overwhelming odds, some won’t – and that’s what double 1’s represent: heroic last stands, evil generals so fearsome their soldiers would rather die than run or just plain bewilderment about all the spiky things being pointed in their general direction.
And so, to the challenge…
I’m going to close with a bit of a challenge, especially if you’ve stuck with this and still believe double 1s are the work of the devil. Why not, the next time you play, give you and you’re opponent the chance to throw in a guaranteed double 1 once during the game.
Yes, it might make the game an unmitigated disaster, but it might also help keep the rule more front of mind in your game play (because the reality is it is possible it could happen in every game) to help improve how your army responds.
It might also change the way you think about key combats, because for every ruck involving several hordes and regiments in the middle of the table there is a chaff unit that wins an objective or rear charges a titan that can change the course of the game. Having the option to throw in a double 1 means you can use it tactically against your opponent, so you have to think carefully about where it could have the biggest impact and that in itself might produce some interesting insights.