What's better: unit veterancy, or rerolling dice?
Last time, you decided that bioluminescence is better than dark darkness. You want not just light but eerie, near-magical light, and I can understand that. We're doing science here, we can't go groping about in the dark. This week, I ask you to choose between a reward for caution and a dare to be reckless. What's better: unit veterancy, or rerolling dice?
In many strategy and tactics games, units are largely disposable and interchangeable. With the same resource value and utility value, you have little connection to this rifleman over that rifleman. Look away and you'll likely forget which is which. Unless one of them has fought and survived long enough to become a veteran unit, with special permanent buffs, in which case they are the most precious baby to cherish and protect.
Across much of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2's Allied campaign, my favourite tactic was babysitting a group of squishy Prism Tanks as they gained veterancy ranks, then sending this squad of regenerating laserbeam ultramurderers to carve through enemy bases (even better once you got access to the Chronosphere and could teleport the lads in deep). It's fun, rewarding, and welcome in a series where units often felt wholly disposable.
This can be especially important in games where units carry over between missions. I think I first encountered this in Bungie's Myth, where veteran units could be vital deep in the campaign. Even when veterancy bonuses aren't huge, it fosters attachment and adds moments of drama. I recently played Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector (a game whose familiar setting helped ease me into deeper tactics), where surviving a mission only offered tiny permanent bonuses, and lost units could be replaced for free between missions. And yet, if my special little guys got too deep behind enemy lines or foolishly flanked, I would go to great lengths to rescue them.
Veterancy adds rewards for careful play and planning, gives handy bonuses, and creates little unique story beats in your battles. The unit which survives long enough to become a veteran, then uses its newfound strength to rain murder and pull off clutch saves, then overreaches and needs to be rescued. That's a nice whack of drama to come from what's functionally just a stat boost.
Chance is embedded deeply in video games, shaping the outcome of everything from loot drops to gun accuracy. Few games expose this chance as plainly as those which show us dice rolling. And the most delightful of those are games which let us snatch a dice back up then roll it again, declaring "That one doesn't count."
This isn't in many games, but I'm aways glad when a game dares me to reroll a dice. It's a no-brainer to reroll the worst possible roll, then gets interesting with okay-ish results. I would like to get a better roll, but what if it comes out worse? This question can influence events in RPGs like Citizen Sleeper and Betrayal At Club Low (which we're playing this month for the RPS Game Club), rewarding daring or punishing hubris. It's the foundation of poker dice in the first couple of Witcher games. And it's a great moment in my current go-to phone game, Slice & Dice (also available on PC from Itch, with a demo there too—check it out!).
Slice & Dice is a dungeon crawler which maps most attacks, abilities, and equipment onto the faces of dice. Roll a handful of dice, one per party member, and you'll see the options available to you this turn. You can also reroll as many dice as you want, twice per turn, before locking in your choice. Usually, it all hinges on the roll. Maybe your healer rolled an attack when you really need health. Maybe one character has an item offering great power at the cost of blanking out one face, and you keep rolling the empty. Maybe you simply need one point more damage. Maybe you have a daft party composition packed with 'cantrip' effects that trigger every time the face is rolled, spraying damage and shields and mana and bonus rerolls all over as you keep on rolling. But maybe you're facing monsters who'll murder you with damage reflection if you try to stunt them with cantrips. And maybe you'll lose a useful-ish roll and be stuck with something useless. At what point do you lock a dice? Do you accept an okay turn, or do you dream big and keep rolling? And do you have a plan to recover if daring doesn't pay off?
I do like how rerolling dice gives us a small amount of control which massively encourages to disregard reality and treat chance as a wilful adversary we can beat. "Oh there's no way my reroll will be lower than this 2," I say, as if I don't know how dice work. "Nuh uh, I need at least a 4, you wouldn't do me dirty like that," I insist, acting as if the game is now my pal and we're both looking for a positive outcome, so c'mon, do me a solid and give me a 5. "And after snake eyes last round, honestly you owe me at least one 6 as an apology," I say, my grasp on reality slipping. "DOUBLE 6! YOU DID IT! FINALLY! THANK YOU!" I shout as I spin untethered through a void which I'll probably personify soon because I guess that's the type of idiot I am.
It says a lot about us that we'll treat even a random number generator as a friend or foe. If you stuck googly eyes on the generator, we would absolutely give it a name (which I suppose is what Hand Of Fate's Dealer did to drawing cards, to great effect). Oh. I've just realised. With a D6, you could use googly eyes instead of pips, couldn't you. Well. That's a dice I now need.
But which is better?
I know I should rely on veteran units. I know I should trust in their buffs. I know I should revel in their stories. And yet, I cannot help but roll the dice then roll them again. But what do you think, reader dear?
Pick your winner, vote in the poll below, and make your case in the comments to convince others. We'll reconvene next week to see which thing stands triumphant—and continue the great contest.