Fresh of the heels of last week’s article on dice, I’d like to visit a related topic that, if you’re new to the game like me, you may not be aware is a point of discussion in the community: the Dodge Result “Problem.”
Now, before I take a deep dive on this issue, I want to establish that this discussion and analysis is neither meant to be taken as “the game is bad because of the dodge result,” nor as an affirmation that there isn’t any room for improvement on the mechanic. Rather, it’s meant to get people thinking about the game, and thinking critically about what is fun and not fun when playing. Moreover, I’m going to address this topic from a purely skirmish perspective, as I think playing campaign is an entirely different experience (basically, it's totally fine in campaign). Let’s begin!
The Basics of the Dodge Result “Problem”
As usual, I feel the best way to describe something in Imperial Assault is to create a simple scenario to illustrate it.
Let’s say you have Captain Terro at 8 health and your opponent has Jedi Luke Skywalker at 3 health. It is your turn to activate and Captain Terro is within two spaces of Jedi Luke. You activate Terro, pretty confident you can remove Jedi Luke from the board. He’s low health, you have Flamethrower, and you can perform a three dice attack. So that’s what you do – first you Flamethrower, dealing 1 damage to Luke and assigning him the Weakened condition. Then you perform an attack: B: 2 damage, G: 1 damage and 1 surge, Y: 1 surge. Luke has lost his natural evade due to Weakened and Captain Terro has access to Pierce 2 as a surge ability. Functionally, this means that when Jedi Luke rolls that white die, there’s only one result that keeps him alive: the dodge.
If he rolls the dodge, the game suddenly looks a lot different than it did. Not only is Luke not dead, but with two attacks and Pierce 3, it’s much more likely that Captain Terro will be the figure that’s removed this turn instead of Jedi Luke. It’s that swing of fortune that best defines the Dodge Result “Problem,” where one player has been granted an incredible advantage based on a dice result.
A Little History
I am not the first to bring attention to this problem. In fact, the very reason I wanted to write this post in the first place was because I enjoyed the discussion surrounding two posts from late 2016. I highly encourage you to read both of these articles. I will attempt to summarize their arguments below, but allow me to apologize if I miss any points or themes in them that you believe should have been highlighted.
Written by Joe from the Jodocast (an excellent Star Wars gaming podcast), this article, as seen in the title, defends the dodge result in a three ways. First, Joe contends that the dodge result is not unbalanced. He writes, “[y]ou have to look at the other dice in the game, as well as the figures that get access to the white die and their stats. All of these things factor into why the Dodge isn’t broken.” His second argument in favor of the dodge result is that it creates very emotional moments. “The Dodge creates memories. The stronger an emotion, the more it’ll stick in your brain after the game.” And finally, he points out that the dodge is meant to be unpredictable and should add a little bit of whimsy to the game. “It’s like Ewoks… No matter how seriously you take Star Wars, you have to remember it has some silly elements.”
Written by Stephan from Boardwars.eu (another excellent site with a great podcast), is a response to Joe’s article, arguing that the dodge result is bad for skirmish. He first notes that the memorable nature of the dodge is great for campaign, but bad in the competitive environment of skirmish. He states, “regardless if the dodge gets rolled or not, one of the players will feel exceptionally bad. Either the roll cancels a full attack, or the defender relies on the dodge to come up only to be disappointed.” Stephan goes on to further draw attention to the problem with trying to mitigate the dodge result – it is an all-or-nothing situation. “[T]ools focus on outright removing the result… [so] the white die is getting weakened to a degree where it is a liability.” Stephan closes his piece out by suggesting a a fix: have the dodge result “add 2 blocks and 1 evade and then have the defender reroll the die and add any results to the total,” keeping the strength of the result but allowing some degree of interaction.
The dodge result is both fun and frustrating
I hate to sit on the fence between the two sides of this argument. However, I want to premise my feeling with this: context matters. So, while I will do think it is important to examine whether the dodge result is actually a problem based on the units that have it, I think there is a fundamental difference between R2-D2 rolling a dodge and Jedi Luke Skywalker rolling a dodge. For the former, I can have a laugh about all the times that rascal has lucked his way out of trouble. For the latter, I think I may have just lost the game. One is fun and one is demoralizing.
Since I want to make sure that we focus on context, not just the hypothetical unfairness of the dodge result, I thought it would be useful to examine the units that utilize the white die.
I’ve put together a table of deployment cards with the white die by health. There are many ways to organize this data, but I believe this is the best way to characterize this discussion because high-health, white-die units are likely to get to roll their dice more often than the low health units, thus increasing the likelihood of getting a dodge result.
While health and the white die are a good starting place, it doesn’t actually tell us very much in the abstract. In my opinion, very few trends emerge from looking at this list. Therefore, I think it’s useful to narrow our issue a bit. I think many Imperial Assault players have felt the sting of a dodge result, but we have done a woeful job of expressing what about the dodge result causes our frustration. That bad feeling we get is merely the top level of the issue and there’s room to expound on it. Therefore, I’d like to identify three aspects of the dodge result that create negative play experiences. Like many things, these will be subjective, but I believe they better identify the underlying anguish surrounding the dodge result.
The attacking player’s loss of opportunity
One frustration the dodge result causes is the loss of opportunity suffered by the attacking player. For example, let's say my opponent is moving his last unit for the round, an ISB Infiltrator, and I am using Chewbacca (I love Chewy!). He moves into danger, but because he will get initiative next round, he feels he can move the ISB Infiltrators into a dangerous position, kill a unit, and then attack and escape at the beginning of the next round. The Infiltrators move up and successfully kill another unit. But then, SURPRISE, I play Debts Repaid!
Chewbacca is now readied and it's time to get some revenge on the Infiltrators. Chewbacca rolls 5 damage and 2 surges. As you may have guessed, the Infiltrator rolls a dodge.
Now, of course the Infiltrator's survival offers value to my opponent in this scenario, but the bigger loss here is on my end as the attacker - Chewbacca's command card, the focus condition, and a three-dice attack used with no gain. This is one situation where I believe the dodge result creates a particularly negative play experience due to the attacking player's investment in the attack that has essentially gone to waste.
The defending player’s gained opportunity
This may appear to be the same as the previously described problem, but I'm hoping I can show the nuance with another example. In this scenario, my opponent is running Vinto Hreeda and I am utilizing a group of Elite Stormtroopers. My opponent has moved his injured Vinto (3 health remaining) out in the open and attacked my troopers. He successfully killed one of them and was able to put two instances of Boltslinger damage on another (leaving me with two remaining troopers, one at 3 health and one at 5 health).
I activate my troopers. The first attacks and rolls 3 damage and Vinto rolls 1 block. This leaves Vinto at 1 health. The second trooper then attacks and rolls 2 damage. Vinto rolls a dodge.
Unlike the previous situation, it's not the loss of the Stormtrooper's attack that is the real loss here - after all, we're talking about a 2-dice attack from a 3-cost unit. However, if Vinto survives to activate again, it's likely that he will be able to remove the two remaining Stormtroopers. So while I haven't lost much when examing the exchange from my end, my opponent has the potential for significant gain.
Amplified value of unique character abilities
Finally, I wanted to draw attention to the fact that some characters have special abilities that allow them to benefit when they are able to avoid large amounts of damage and/or killing blows. Characters like Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, and Bossk all have the potential to not only attack again after a dodge result, but to undo the previous damage that has been done to them.
The dodge result and the ability to recover are both strong aspects of these characters, but the two combined can create a particularly negative experience.
Conclusion - Does the dodge result need to change?
I think the dodge result creates some situations where the game suffers. All of the situations that I've detailed in this article have actually happened to me when playing this game and I've only been playing for a month. I also believe that the dodge result creates a design problem in that it is an all or nothing result. You can't mitigate the dodge result. Either the the dodge is rolled and the attack misses or the attacker has a way to remove the dodge entirely. Perhaps the dodge would be better if it did as "The X-Files" suggested and provided a extra bump in the defender's defensive results, allowing for the use of Pierce and damage bonuses to overcome it if the attacker rolled exceptionally well.
Yet, despite these issues, I ultimately don't believe a change is good, or even necessary. The problems described are real, but are far from the breaking point. Overall, about a third of all deployment cards in the game have the white die, and only a subsection of those are costed such that they see play. Furthermore, any proposed beneficial change needs to be weighed against its costs. Like it or not, the dodge is one of the more straightforward mechanics in Imperial Assault - if you roll it you take no damage. Players instantly know what it does with very little explanation, an aspect of the game that should be protected.
Moreover, it's an elegant implementation of what we've seen in Star Wars for years (C-3P0 and R2-D2 getting out of trouble). There is some excitement when a characters gets out of trouble against the odds, even in skirmish. "X Happens" represents this point and I find that convincing.
So where does this leave us? Well, like I stated in the article, context matters. I don't believe a change is needed now, as the benefit of the change probably doesn't outweigh the inherent problems associated with erratas and rule changes. However, the potential for issues still exists and the issues that do exist won't magically disappear. At this point, I'm content to keep an eye on the problem with hope that the designers are doing the same.
Let me know what you think about the dodge result. I don't believe there really is a right or wrong opinion on this - just different ones. Thanks for reading!