Wednesday, March 8, 2017

KOW - Timed Games & Death Clock

In my battle report from the weekend, I mentioned that we were playing a timed game and that we use the Death Clock mechanic. Death Clock means that when you run out of your allotted time you autolose the game.

Death Clock - Is Oblivion Really That Bad?

I was very surprised with some of the feedback that the battle report received on the KoW Fanatics FB page. Firstly, that New Zealand was the only jurisdiction in the world that played "Death Clock" and secondly, that some people would forgo playing in a tournament that used the rule.

My first response was "Wow" and the second was that some people needed a small dose of "HTFU" but it did get me thinking.

One of the things I like most about Kings of War is that it allows timed games. I used to get frustrated with games that didn't finish in the allotted time in WHFB. With no pressure on us we tend to relax and slow our decisionmaking down. I know I used to use the full time when I was playing Skaven. As a TO I got annoyed if players regularly only got through to Turn 3 in 2.5 hours.

With its rules, KoW allows you to assign the same playing allotment to both players. Locally for 2000 points we use 55 minutes. This gives you 5 minutes for deployment, seven 7 minute turns and a free minute to appreciate the good things in life. This allows you to have two hour rounds - and crucially get four rounds easily in for a one day event. Some Umpires have pushed to reduce the time further to 40-45 minutes but I'm not sure i buy their motivation of creating more pressure on the players.

The Dangers of Untimed Games - Picture of a Hut I Built Entirely From Compressed Toenail Clippings Grown in the Deployment Phase of a Local Dwarf Player

Without time pressure, some players will take forever. Measure every angle, determine every shooting lane, work out every combat outcome to three standard deviations etc. I feel that 55 minutes hits a sweet spot for everyone - the player, the opponent and the TO.

So if we accept timed games are needed and agree on the necessary allotment then we need a mechanism to penalise players that run out of time. The Death Clock with auto-lose is one mechanism but it seems that my thinking is out of sync with "world opinion". It appears that they use a "Dice Down" mechanic where the offender player is no longer able to make any dice rolls and all subsequent orders must be "Hold".

In the new Clash of Kings Organised Play book they have recognised that Death Clock isn't universally loved and suggest using the "Dice Down" mechanic. They do suggest that those players who time out should lose a battle point as a penalty.

Considering this I think that there is little or no different in outcome between Death Clock and Dice Down. I suspect there would likely be around 90% correlation. Where there could be variation is where time out happens very, very late, where both players are pushing the clock or where the offending player has built a substantial advantage. I may be overestimating the correlation but it feels "about right".

What I like about the CoK solution is that it actually punishes offenders more. If you accept that there is a 90% correlation, then they are still going to lose and given an additional penalty. I'm guessing that there will be a lot of players out there who will cry "Foul" at the extra penalty.


  1. Your first mistake, taking Fanatics FB page seriously. I've never seen so much whining and fanboi-ism in my life. I had to leave it and it's a big part of why I'm losing interest in KoW quickly. I'm ok with timed games in tournaments, as an experienced player. When it comes to getting new players into the tournament scene, timed games are a big hurdle for them. That being said, if you are worried about time, you can build your list in such a way that would allow for quicker turns.

  2. I've never had an issue with the death clock, and I believe I used to be one of the notorious slow players.

    It encourages thinking ahead, always a useful skill in wargaming. Also (though I seem to be in the minority), I like that it adds a little pressure into the game. Sometimes mistakes will be made because of this, but that is a part of gaming under real time pressure. I imagine commanding armies always involved a bit of pressured decision making without all the time/information at hand.

    In a tournament setting, I like that I know exactly how long the round will take at maximum - so I have guaranteed time between rounds for feeding/watering/socialising.

  3. I believe the timer adds an extra element of fairness and is good for the game, particularly when it comes to organising a tournament.

    That said how many of us started in this hobby thinking, I'm going to spend months (to years) and spend a small fortune collecting, building and painting my armies, just so I can play a game system that will squeeze out extraneous gameplay elements. Who needs or wants time to appreciate the spectacle of a battle, or indulge in the narrative, or celebrate the highs and mourn the lows of variance? I just want to play a system that gets everything done as quickly as mechanically possible.

    It wasn't why I started.