Breaking the Rubber-Band

This is a beginner article about a common game mechanic, some fools playing with dice and how both concepts relate to Warmachine and Hordes.  I’m going to walk you through what a rubber band is (the common game mechanic), how they’re made, and how you can apply this to your Warmachine and Hordes shenanigans.

Definition:  A rubber band is a gaming element that constrains players performing well and/or assists players performing poorly in a game.  Rubber banding is also sometimes referred to as dynamic game difficulty balancing.

Examples:        The item roles (ie. purple shell) in Mario Kart.

Experience yield/level in RPG games.

The AI difficulty and spawn rate in Left4Dead.

Why They Exist:  Games stop being fun when you know you’re out of the mix to win.  The instant most players know they’re not going to win they disengage.  Game designers started adding rubber bands to games to pool performance of all the players together.  As a result, the players stay engaged longer and view the game more positively (have more fun).  Another way to interpret this is that players excelling are burdened with additional challenge to make the game more interesting and players that are having trouble face less challenge to avoid frustration.

A few months ago I was hanging out with my old college roommate.  We went to undergrad for Engineering with one another so when we get together stupid things get technical for no reason.  Thankfully, this interaction was not a disappointment.  We’d just seen Looper and started to argue about who the most lethal character in Bruce Willis’s history would be.  He’s played a number of bad asses, so we approached the question…

Which of the bad ass Bruce Willis’s is the baddest ass?

Here comes the technical non-sense.  We listed qualifiers using IMDB and built out a bracket for the top 16 seeds.  Yes.  A picture will soon follow.  Now that we’d selected our combatants, we had to figure out how to battle them.  Straight dice didn’t seem fair because the #1 seed should have some material advantage over the #16 seed.  In balance with that, we don’t want the advantage to be SO large that the winners were going to be obvious high rank choices.  That second portion called for building a rubber band.  Here is what we did.

  1.  Each character starts with 17 – (seed #) dice (d6 of course).
  2. Roll
  3. Whichever character rolls the highest # wins (1-6)
  4. If they tie (each have at least one 6, or one 5, etc.) than the character with the larger pool of dice removes one.  Permanently.
  5. Repeat 2-5 until a winner is apparent.

Here are the results.  The super-script number is the residual dice counts each character carried into the next round.  You can see; as a result of the mechanic we introduced, we had some pretty interesting results and a few upsets.

I bring this up for two reasons;

  1.  It’s hilarious.
  2. Warmachine and Hordes have a very elegantly built-in rubber band:  The caster assassination.

The first caster I was ever really drawn into was Epic Caine.  He’s a great sculpt with rules to match.  What’s not to love?  I remember playing games where my entire point was to toilet bowl my whole army, lulling my opponent into a false sense of security and then opening up Caine’s feat at the very end and pulling out the win.  I was counting on the strength of Caine’s ability to abuse the rubber band to win.

This concept can be applied both into list building or play strategy.  The story above was an example of a list built to rubber band.  I was just waiting for that moment and built my list so I had a very strong option when I selected assassination.

Now let’s look at play strategy.  Lists gunning for scenario or attrition don’t like the rubber band of assassination.  The point of attrition and scenario play are to put your army in a superior posture with resources or position respectively, and then maintain that superiority.  If you’re playing attrition or scenario, look to break the rubber band by mitigating risk of assassination (via camp, taking out key pieces, play distance, etc.).  This lets you keep the game on your terms and helps you drive toward the end game result you’re trying to achieve.

I hope knowledge of this little mechanic gives you a slightly different perspective on the game the next time you’re tinkering around with a list or getting ready to take your turn.

The more you know… (hum the little diddy in your head when you read this last part)

Fun Fact:  The opposite of the rubber band is frequently called the “slippery slope” mechanism.  We each start with a 50pt army (50/50).  I kill half of your stuff.  Now we’re at 50/25.  You kill with the same efficiency, but because you now have fewer points you don’t eliminate as much.  Now we’re 37.5/25, it’s my turn and things are going to get worse for you than better.  This mechanic highlights the importance of getting to punch first. (alpha strike)

Author: Tmage

I'm a gaming and math enthusiast. I find games that balance strategic interaction with economic principles (delayed option, resource control, etc.) are some of the most rewarding for me as a player. I concentrated in Finance, Analytic Consulting, Decision Sciences and Management Strategy while getting my MBA at Kellogg (Northwestern University) and majored in Chemical Engineering during my undergrad at University of Illinois. I view gaming through this lens and share my perspective via periodic articles. Thanks for reading!

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