Risk, Value, and Decision-Making

Last week, I decided to bend my writing schedule and skip a post due to a midterm exam on computer security.  However, during this time my thoughts on Imperial Assault were far from dormant.  In fact, the more I thought about the two topics, the more intersection I identified – primarily when examining risk and value.  For instance, in computer security, we may want to assess whether Company X should use a piece of cloud computing software.  The reward in this case would be lower maintenance costs (no hardware maintenance for the company), greater convenience (can access the software through a browser on any machine), and new functionality (the software provides a new service).  The risks would be that Company X has no direct control over the security and maintenance of the software, the software provider may be a malicious actor, and the cloud software may be subject to a greater number of attacks since it is public-facing.  This is a simplistic analysis, but it illustrates the basics of “risk versus reward” – examine your plan, identify its risks, identify its value, and then decide if you want to execute the plan or do something else.  We can represent this idea by using a shorthand formula:

V = Value

R = Risk

P = Plan

If V > R, then execute P

If V < R, then reevaluate P

Originally, I wasn’t looking at this decision-making process through the lens of Imperial Assault.  However, a few nights ago another player asked a question that created an intersection between the two: “when should I train the Rancor?”  This is probably the most direct risk-reward question in Imperial Assault – would you like an extra defense die or would you like to attack twice?  It’s a deceivingly simple proposition – as if the only piece of information you need is whether you want more offense or more defense.  Unfortunately, reality is more complicated than the question would infer.  Not only do we need to know the nature of the risk, but we also need to know what our value requirements are.  Is there a minimum amount of value you’re willing to accept if the risk materializes?  In this case, what do I need to accomplish with an untrained Rancor if it dies as a result of not being trained?

Assessing Risk

In Imperial Assault, I identify two types of risk - direct and indirect.  Direct risk is comprised of enemy attacks; i.e., the risk of one of your units taking damage that would cause them to be removed from the game due to an enemy attack.  Generally, this is often the risk we would subject ourselves to by being active with a unit when attacking an enemy or capturing an objective.

To assess this risk, I primarily look at two metrics– frequency and magnitude.  Frequency refers to the number of attacks a unit will be subjected to and magnitude refers to the strength of each attack.  Our risk can be determined by multiplying frequency by magnitude, like this:

F= Frequency

M= Magnitude

R = Risk

R = F * M

Note that this model represents that risk is a product of both frequency and magnitude.  For instance, the risk posed by attacks from three Elite Stormtroopers (high frequency) may be equivalent to an attack from a Focused Obi-Wan Kenobi (high magnitude).  Generally, this analysis can be done by simply examining the number of units on the board and the dice that they roll, but it’s also important to consider the surges available to the attackers and the at-risk unit’s defense die.

The other type of risk we face is indirect risk - the risk we take by being inactive.  We don't assess this in the same way as direct risk, but rather use it as a counterweight to inaction.  If we stand to lose or our opponent stands to gain, we may need to perform any action even if it would put our units directly at risk.

Assessing Value

When playing a game where your main form of interaction is attacking other units, the value you stand to gain is not radically different from the risks you may suffer.  In Imperial Assault, the direct value available to you as a player is defeating enemy figures.  Not only does this provide you with victory points, but reduces the direct risk to your units by reducing the frequency and magnitude of enemy attacks.  

This sets up a relatively straightforward analysis when it comes to value. If you’re putting a unit at risk, that unit should at least have the potential to remove an enemy unit equal-to or greater-than your unit’s value.  For example, trading an Elite Heavy Stormtrooper for an Elite Echo Base Trooper is acceptable, as both players receive a 4-point increase in victory points and suffer a 4-point reduction in army strength (point cost of units is an imperfect measure, but for this discussion it will serve as an acceptable metric).

As with risk, we can also obtain indirect benefits from our units via objectives or other abilities.  I prefer to refer to these as indirect because they often cause a unit to forgo the direct benefit of attacking and removing an enemy unit.  For instance, if a Snowtrooper would like to heal a friendly trooper, it's very unlikely it will get to attack as well.  Or, if a unit moves out of position to claim an objective, it may put itself at risk to of being removed by enemy attacks.  Much like our indirect risks, these are much harder to quantify (how much is a heal of 1 Health worth?).  However, generally, we're looking to capture more value than we're foregoing by not attacking and removing an enemy unit.

For instance, if you move a Royal Guard to an objective to earn four victory points, but lose the Royal Guard as a result, you are likely behind because although both you and your opponent are up 4 points, your opponent’s army remains as strong as it was and your army has become diminished.  It's important to keep this in mind when forgoing attacks to obtain an indirect benefit.


Risk and Value

This post started with what seemed like a straightforward question - when should I train the Rancor?  Well, frankly I can't answer that question in the abstract.  There is no easy rule to apply.  However, we can use the tools I've provided and examine some of the questions I would be asking myself when making the decision.

Direct Risks

- How many attacks will target my Rancor?  If the frequency of attacks is high, but I believe that the Rancor could survive those attacks if trained, I would lean towards training it.

-  What type of attacks will be targeting my Rancor?  If the magnitude is high, such as attacks that have high pierce values or high single-target damage attacks, there may not be a lot of benefit in training the Rancor, as pierce tends to effectively negate black dice.

-  Do I have initiative or does my opponent have initiative?  Ideally, I want the Rancor to survive so I can attack with it during the next turn.  However, there's a chance that even if it survives this turn, it may be removed at the beginning of next turn if my opponent has initiative.  This would potentially favor not training it in order to get the offensive value this turn.  Don't forget the Take Initiative command card!


Indirect Risks

- If I do not train the Rancor, is some other objective put at risk?  Do I need to kill to enemy units this round to prevent my opponent from gaining victory points or winning the game?  If so, I likely need to train the Rancor.

Direct Value

- Is it likely that I can remove two or more enemy units using Brutality?  If not, I need to be wary of not training the Rancor as the value is in removing an enemy unit and preventing it from attacking my own units.

-  If I remove two enemy units, have I reduced the enemy armies' strength to a degree that my remaining units can contest them?  

Indirect Value

-  Even though the Rancor isn't a traditional support unit - the indirect value it provides is that it is too dangerous to ignore, thus giving your other units freedom to capture objectives and attack enemy units without being targeted.  Therefore, the question is whether my units are in a position to capitalize on the incentive of my opponent to attack the Rancor over my other units.  If not, the Rancor should be trained so it hopefully facilitates this type of coordination in a subsequent turn.


I wish there was time to do this analysis for every unit, for every move, in every game.  That isn't very realistic.  However, I'm sure I will have opportunities over the coming months leading up to Worlds 2017 to practice and talk theory with local players.  I may not be able to do this analysis during the game, but I can do the abstract version as I did in this post for every unit in my list prior to playing.  I can also think about it in terms of popular meta lists I expect to see - a benefit of getting proficient at this is not only being able to prevent my own mistakes, but being able to identify the mistakes of my opponents.  Ultimately, practicing this type of analysis will make me a much stronger player.

Let me know what you think.  If you want help brainstorming any particular scenarios, feel free to ask me!

- Dietz