Space Marines and Orks. Which is the most reliable and which is the most random? Surely the bold and courageous Space Marines are the most reliable, and the battle-crazed Orks are random as hell, right? Wrong! It’s all about the dice…

Picture a small, elite Space Marine army, full of expensive troops like Terminators – perhaps it’s a Deathwing or Grey Knights force – probably numbering only 30 or so models for your 1,500 points. Then picture an Ork army, full of Boyz – maybe there’s a hundred models in the army. Now the key thing with dice, is that the more you roll, the more the results will average out. For example, if you rolled 50 dice, you’d never expect them all (or even half) to come up 6s – no, you can pretty much rely on a roughly even spread. On the other hand, if you roll just 5 dice then getting four or even five 6s is not nearly so rare – I’m sure we’ve all seen it on occasions, perhaps when an Ork player takes his 6+ saves (followed by a little dance to celebrate his good fortune). Which brings me back to the Space Marines and the greenskins. The fact is, a big Ork army will roll far more dice during a game, and all those extra rolls make the outcome far more predictable – luck becomes less of a issue.

Another factor is the effect of an extreme dice result. If the Orks roll five 6s to pass their saves, they’ve been lucky, sure, but it’s no big deal to either side. If the Space Marines roll five 1s (exactly the same probability) to fail their Terminator saves, it’s game changing. The elite army is far more susceptible to bad luck, and because they are rolling less dice, they are more likely to suffer unusual dice results. And it’s this double whammy makes the Emperor’s finest a surprisingly random army to play.

While I was on holiday with just my laptop to play games on, I decided to have a quick game of Sid Meier’s Civilization (number IV, not that it really makes much difference). Being in a chilled out mood, I set out to win with a ‘cultural victory’ which means you’re the most modern, advanced, progressive nation, and all the others are barbarian primitives. It took about five minutes for me to get bored of building theatres and universities, and send a wave of panzer tanks to invade America.

Unfortunately peace just doesn’t make much of a game.

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