Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Custodes Ka'Tahs, Mathematics, and the complicating of a supposedly "streamlined" edition

 So Games Workshop gave us a preview of Custodes Ka'Tahs yesterday. You can go read more on it by clicking that hyperlink (takes you to Warhammer Community, I swear its not a Rick Roll... but for what's to come you might as well save time and go Rick Roll yourself anyway).

I am not going to dive into the the Ka'tahs they previewed. That is not the point of why I am writing this article. What I wanted to dive into is how Ka'tahs work, why everyone seems to feel like it is unnecessarily complicated, and ultimately why I think it is a bad game design move.

So the part in focus is this

Basically it works like this (I am copying and pasting this from an earlier discussion I had on this topic. For the purposes of this, a Ka'tah is a "Discipline", A is a primary choice, B a secondary and C the tertiary. 1 and 2 are the stances within each of those.

  • When the game starts you pick Discipline A, B, C from a list of disciplines (current # unknown, at least 3)
  • Turn 1 you have to pick stance 1 or 2 from discipline A. Lets say you pick stance 1.
  • Turn 2, you can now pick stance 2 from discipline A OR you can pick stance 1 or 2 from discipline B, but not discipline C. Lets say you pick stance 1 from discipline B.
  • Turn 3, you can now pick stance 2 from discipline B OR you can pick stance 1 or 2 from discipline C. You cannot go back and pick stance 2 from discipline A. Lets say you pick stance 2 from discipline B.
  • Turn 4, you can now only pick from Discipline C. Can't go back to A and you used up B. Lets say you pick Stance 1, discipline C.
  • Turn 5, you are now stuck with Stance 2, Discipline C.
  • If you did 1 from A Turn 1, 1 from B turn 2, and 1 from C turn 3, turn 4 you'd be stuck with 2 from C and then turn 5 have nothing.

Because of the way this is going to be what separates wheat from chaff and really will put a skilled/practiced custodes player above the rest, because thinking through the order and timing when you want to land your key Kat'ah is going to be crucial. Lets show you some decision trees to demonstrate the point.

Complicated yet?

Okay so that one was a joke first attempt one of my team mates made, but it illustrates the point (as a side note, the guy who drew that has a Master's degree in Math, the only reason he doesn't have a doctorate is he was tired of school, and he currently teaches Math at a collegiate level... so yeah, color him not a fan of this system). I made a cleaned up version in power point.

So that decision tree has 72 nodes in it. That is 72 different decisions you can make with Ka'tahs once you have chosen them. It would be more if we had 6 turns, but the game currently ends Turn 5. This leaves you with some routes that end before using the 6th stance available to you, while some routes you have no stance in turn 5 because you burned through your Ka'tahs fast.

There is fortunately an easier way to look at it. Back to my Math friend

So in this simplified trace path, you start on A1 or A2 on Turn 1 and each arrow represents a new Turn of the game. And you have to remember, you can never go back wards. 

But it really isn't that simple now is it. This represents once you have picked your Ka'tahs. What we need to talk about is permutations. We are in an N choose r situation, where we know r to be 3 (Primary, Secondary, Tertiary), but we don't know what N is. Now based on the preview we know there are 3 Ka'tahs minimum, but also based on the preview I am going to assume there are more. Now I'd venture that there are no more than 6 Ka'tahs for a total of 12 stances. This fits the potential for randomly rolling for a Ka'tah and stance as part of some crusade mechanic or something. There could be less, but likely no fewer than 4, and there could be more, but I am willing to bet no more than 6 Ka'tahs to choose from. We always get 6 powers in a discipline. We always get 6 Warlord Traits. 6 fits the design prerogative of Warhammer 40,000. 

So assuming 6, that is 120 permutations of Ka'tahs. To do the math, that is 

  • 6!/(6-3)! = 120
  • (6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1)/(3 x 2 x 1) = 120
  • 6 x 5 x 4 = 120
  • 720/6 =120

Now lets go look at that visually.

That is 8,640 nodes. Or 3,840 pathways to play the game.

8,640 potential decisions you as the player should understand the consequences of before the game starts. That is 3,840 courses of action that will play out on the table. Even if we used the simplified table, that would be 1,680 nodes for 6 Ka'tahs.

Or as I like to think about it, one node for each name Constantine Valdor has. Which is now canon.

Yes it is.

Now, yes, you don't actually need to know the whole diagram, and you can be flexible and reactive on the decision tree to a degree. And for sure, there will be some Ka'tahs that are OBVIOUSLY better than others, and that's also not to mention that people will have their own personal favorites, leading them to ignore other Ka'tahs all together 99% of the time.

But what you need to understand is that from all that potentiality, each decision you make locks out more and more of the totality of potential, and from the beginning of the game you may choose 3 Ka'tahs that result in this table...

When you really needed a subset down here to achieve victory.

See as you pick yohr Ka'Tahs, you rapidly winnow options available. Without consodering order if you pick one Ka'Tah, you instantly eliminate 30 tables here. Down to 90. Another Ka'Tah and you are down to 24, or 1 row above. You're third and you are down to 6. Start ordering them, the moment you set a primary you are at 2 tables left, and then your secondary selection drives which table you are on.

And there in lies the rub. For a "streamlined" game, this is an INCREDIBLY HIGH amount of decision making and comprehension of potential choices and their impact that is required by the player, and it really does set up for those with the natural ability to understand this, or those who are more experienced in its use, to be better than everyone else. And that is not a system that is friendly to new players, nor is it really friendly to casual players. And IMO to be a good mechanic is a game claiming to be streamlined, it should do both those things.

I can also almost guarantee this will slow game play as people go back and forth agonizing over which Ka'tahs they should select, what order to place them in, and then which stance they should use each turn.

And to complicate it all even further, I am willing to bet there will be

  • A stratagem allowing you to use both Stances from a Ka'tah in a turn
  • A stratagem allowing you to reuse a previously used Ka'tah and/or stance
And I am sure that won't complicate the matter...

And oddly enough your Primary Ka'Tah isn't even your most important. You can only acces it T1 and T2, and you can leave it as early as T2. Your secondary is where it is at since you can time it to be T2, 3 or 4. So whatever stance you want to hit the hardest, make it B1 or B2. Your second most important Ka'Tah is actually your Tertiary for the same reason prett much. You can access it T3, 4 and 5 if timed properly. THIS is what I am talking about when I talk about more some players really using Ka'Tahs to a degree that others can't. Understanding when and where to land their Ka'Tahs.

Now this also means, it may be a little easier to choose though. If a Ka'Tah is obviously a Defensive/Movement buff, it may always be just clear to use it as a Primary for Turn 1 and 2 access. Where as your shooting ones may be best as Secondary and your Assault or Scoring ones as Tertiary. Really narrows you down on the table faster.

I also want to take a moment here to point out though that while this is supposed to represent a Martial prowess and flexibility as unparralled by any others, it is really actually super rigid mechanically. Those potential stratagems aside, lets say I pick a stance from a Ka'tah that would shut down a rerolling hit/wound deathstar character. Lets say its the second stance in that Ka'tah I have used, so I have to move onto a new Ka'tah next turn. Now I selected this in my command phase, so in my opponents turn he knows I have that selected... so he just chooses not to charge this turn. Next turn, I have to choose a new Ka'tah and uh-oh... it is one for dealing with hordes. Now my opponent in his turn charges that character into me and destroys the squad by rerolling everything.

Some bunch of ultimate badasses I was, not able to adapt to the situation when faced with a combat monster instead of the chaff infantry I was planning for.

And to me, this really underscores the complicated nature of the system and what I was saying earlier. You make one bad mistake about what order to put your Ka'tahs in at the start of the game, you are now locked into that mistake for the entire game and may potentially not be able to recover from it. And that is a hallmark of a bad game mechanic IMO.

Will Ka'tahs be useful? I'm sure. But useful doesn't mean good mechanically. Back when space marines got 500 free points in Rhinos and Razorbacks, that was useful, but terrible for the game. When you could have untargetable assasins, useful but bad mechanically. Ka'tahs don't seem to that level, especially since they aren't unfair to your opponent it seems, but they still seem off and rough on their own player.

Will they be fun? IDK. This is where I think you'd need to look more specifically at the Ka'tahs themselves. However, no matter what they are, I am sure there could have been a more fun way to implement them, because this...

This give me a migraine.