40K: Random Turn Length Needs To Die

Stormcaller is back and he’s sick and tired of RNG ending his games unpredictably!

Meta, Meta, Meta.  Enough already.  Let’s talk about the pointlessness that is random turn length.

The turn-length mechanic is counter-intuitive to the way GW has changed the rules to reduce (we can never eliminate) the random nature of our rule set.  There is also another popular GW tabletop game called Age of Sigmar that does not have such a mechanic.  In fact, most tabletop miniatures games have a fixed number of turns or end game conditions.  So why the hold-over?  Only the folks in Nottingham know, and they seem content to leave it intact.  I say nay! (Admittedly, I have won as many games in Turn 6 or 7 as I have lost…fate can be a cruel mistress.)

Did someone call for Fateweaver? No? Oh…

First, from a tournament player perspective, random game length is almost never used.  How many games at major events go past turn 5?  With the wonky way people in the tournament scene build lists, most games are decided by turn 2 or 3.  Going 6 or 7 turns?  Highly unlikely.  Moreover, many 40K tournament games run out of time before getting to the end of turn 5, let alone having to roll for extra turns.  I can understand why the very vocal tournament community doesn’t really discuss random game length much.  They rarely have to deal with it.

I pity the fools who go the distance…

Full disclosure, I am a Maelstrom fan.  It is by far my favorite way to play.  “So why is it, Stormy, that you are OK with the randomness of Maelstrom and not random turn length?”  What I like about Maelstrom is that it forces me, as a player, to respond to changing battlefield priorities and conditions.  It is certainly a random mechanic but it makes the game more interesting and more challenging to me – especially when there are faction specific objectives to achieve.  Also, for those who say that it doesn’t work because some of the objectives are not able to be achieved (no psykers, no flyers, e.g.), this issue is easily mitigated by allowing players to replace those type of objective cards.  Random game length is more like moving the goal post.  I think I am 1st and goal, and suddenly I am 1st and 10 at midfield!

Yeah – Sports Analogies!

Another issue for my is that random turn length in objective based games seems to punish those who actually try to achieve the objectives.  Actually reaching a goal should signify a defined end point, not just sitting at the bus stop waiting to get on the next bus.  Let’s see, I have five turns to score the most objective points.  It is the bottom of turn 5 and I have 5 more points than my opponent.  It has been a hard fought game, but I have been able to achieve more of my objectives.  Suddenly, the game says “all that you have achieved to this point means nothing.  Now, at the top of turn 6, it is a totally new game, and you have a 5 point advantage.  Your opponent gets another turn to score at least 5 points.”

So it is now the bottom of turn 6.  I am still ahead by 5 points.  The game tells me that it is once again a new game and my opponent has another chance to tie or win the game.  This mechanic is so random as to be maddening.

Did someone call for John Madden? Oh – you said Maddening. The sports talk is throwing me off. Apologies.

Of course you and your opponent can decide to not to use random turn length.  In fact, in open play, it specifies that the game only lasts 5 turns.  But in Narrative and Match play, random turn length is a basic component of the game.  There is a 67% chance of going to turn 6, and a 33% (1/2 of 67%) chance of going all 7 turns.  Yikes!  So unless you have tabled your opponent or are ahead/behind by 20 objective points at the bottom of 5 (and wisely call the game), you are quite likely to go at least another turn.  At times, I feel like random turn length is a vestigial organ that refuses to go away.  Kept around for nostalgic purposes.

…Like the Appendix!

Almost every other tabletop game I know of has a fixed set of turns or a clearly defined end game condition.  Almost all of the board games I play are done when certain victory conditions are achieved.  Even when I sit down for a game of D&D, there is a definitive point where the game is over.  Athletic events are done when the clock runs out if one team has more points than the other.  Clock management is an important component of most sporting events, but would not be viable if the game could randomly continue when the clock runs out.  Imagine watching your favorite team, who is ahead by a point when the clock is done.  Suddenly, one of the officials runs out onto the field, and flips a coin to determine if the game will last another 5 minutes.  Insane, no?!

Actually in Football (Soccer) the refs do kind of do this…so…

Random turn length is a mechanic that has both benefited and cost me in 40K.  But I would be more than happy to see it disappear, just like the 18 pages of Universal Special Rules did with the arrival of 8th edition.


Would you miss random turn length in 40K if it disappeared?

  • RocketScience80

    I can see a point here, too much random is never good… I would like to see a “sudden death” turn six. but the game ending if any player has an advantage at the end of turn five.

    • How do you mean Sudden Death? Would everybody get one wound or something?

      • RocketScience80

        No just a sixth battleround to try to grab some extra victory points to settle the score.

  • zeno666

    Yes, this game need a lot less Random.

    • Adam Richard Corrigan

      And yet they added random damage, I’d like to see it all a fixed value.

      • zeno666

        Hell yeah!
        Random charges and run movement?!
        And btw, why do units charge longer than they can run?!?!?
        Random objectives when using “tactical” objectives..
        This edition sounded good, but turned out to be a real farce.

        • NagaBaboon

          I dunno man this version of the game your dreaming up sounds a lot more boring, it’d become a list building game and it’d all be decided by the end of unit deployment.

          • zeno666

            Yeah, using tactics can be scary to some people

          • EnTyme

            “My numbers are better than your numbers” hardly qualifies as “tactics”. There is a strong case to be made for being better at managing risk (I’ll movie to within 7″ of my target so I have a better chance of reaching it on the charge) as being tactical.

          • marxlives

            Don’t you know zeno666, the lottery and roulette are the absolute heights of strategy.

          • Calgar

            I agree, if you want fixed movement and damage there is already a game for you, its called chess. 40k is simulating a very chaotic situation between two different forces. Its messy, stuff happens, you have to adapt.

            Making a great plan is a good start, but the game is all about what happens to your plan once you make contact with the enemy. Its War, its not orderly and predictable.

          • marxlives

            “It’s War” what? hahahaha. It is a GAME.

          • Vincent Cachoeira Martinez

            Actually, it’s a game. People that are into gaming will often agree that certain random elements aren’t necessary and do not contribute to gameplay in a meaningful way.

            I’d say random movement ranks among the worst mechanics a game can possibly have (think Candy Land and Clue). It’s totally unnecessary and many other games do just fine without it. Not to mention it would speed up the game quite a bit.

            Random damge is fine since it is essentially a “crit” mechanic. The problem is too many “anti-tank” weapons do d6, and the difference between 1 and 6 is far too great, especially considering you will often only be hitting with a couple of these weapons a turn.
            Changing all d6 weapons to 2d3 would be a step in the right direction. 6 damage would be harder to land, but it would he otherwise more consistent.

            And it’s not like GW has had a good track record in handling these sort of things. It baffles me that random reserves rolls were a thing for so long. On top of that, random deep strike scattering or random table edge nonsense.

          • It would be going back to the days of 3rd – 5th, which yeah to me was quite boring and very static, but yes it was also a game where player agency was 100% and gaming the game was the primary goal where you didn’t have to worry about unforseen events so much.

          • marxlives

            Yet other companies are able to do what you describe and keep their game interesting all the time. And I don’t mean one or two different games, I mean a whole bunch.

          • Thats a subjective opinion (whether a game is “good” or “bad”). If you like static 100% player agency games then you’ll find those games interesting all the time.

            I’ve played pretty much every major game out at some point, and any game that involves 100% player agency bores me to tears after a few months of playing it because the games start to become the same.

            Which is why I am not interested in those style of games regardless of what company puts them out.

        • Xodis

          If I had to come up with an explaination, it would be that a “run” is a tactical movement, while a charge is a berserk sprint towards the enemy.
          Soldiers move fast from one point to another, but charging a fortified position (or any stationary unit) usually requires a reckless abandon not normally seen elsewhere.

      • Spacefrisian

        They also added random names for deepstrike and feel no pain…That feel no pain is starting to annoy again, to easy to survive a battlecannon shell to the face.

      • Muninwing

        it was always random for blasts. that was how the “to hit” mechanic worked.

        and if you average it out, it’s actually about as it used to be. less chance of doing nothing, less chance of huge successes, but fairly true to average.

  • jonsgot

    You make some good points here, but put forward a one sided argument which fails to explain why random turn length was introduced, which was to stop people using knowledge of having the final turn as a way to play without fear of retaliation. Your main argument would still be appeased by reducing the game to 4-6 turns. I also suspect you like to play 40k in a limited way which is why you want to get rid of the mechanic; when all you need to do is agree that with your opponents, rather than start a community debate about it. Some people will agree others won’t. Nothing will be proved.

    • Tigirus

      Agreed, there have been many a game where an eldar player boosts on to objectives to contest last turn knowing they won’t have reprisal. However if we randomly get another turn I can punish that player for making such a bold maneuver. Random game length forces players to always make sure they’re both is a good position to win and in a good position to take another turn since you never know what will happen next.

      I can also see an argument for random turn length being realistic since it’s not like many armed engagements include a set time for it to take place, though they usually end once the objective is complete not at an arbitrary time. Best route would be to make it like AoS where if at the end of turn X you control all objectives you automatically win and the rest of the game isn’t played out, that’s what crushing victories would be like anyway.

      • Adam Richard Corrigan

        In my view knowing you have the last turn would slightly balance of the 1st turn alphastrike.

        • marxlives

          1st turn alpha strike is not a problem…its advanced!

    • I_am_Alpharius

      #truthbomb This so much^

      Spot on and very eloquently put. You’ve won the thread. Give this man a pint (of the tipple of your choosing).

  • Rainthezangoose

    Disagree completely, friendly people who play for fun like random turn length. Competitive people want fixed. From a fluff perspective the way you behave on a last turn would make no sense ‘most’ of the time in an actual firefight.

    • Heinz Fiction

      I wouldn’t generalize it like that. I’m a casual player and don’t really like it, although I consider it a minor issue. In the current edition games usually don’t go that fa anyway.

    • ZeeLobby

      And I’m a competitive person who really likes random turn length. I think first turn alpha is a much bigger issue.

      • EnTyme

        Definitely agree with that statement. We need more reactionary abilities to help mitigate alpha strikes, even if they’re only available on turn 1. I’ve seen too many games effectively decided before the second player ever breaks out his tape measure.

  • Johaad

    Im fine with random turn length. Malifaux does it too and it works fine. You need to plan on winning by X turn, but still need to plan on the possibility of an extra turn or two.

    • ReveredChaplainDrake

      To be fair, Malifaux also has fixed points. You know that you need “your ten” because those are the only things that will potentially score you points, and points are the only things that matter in the end. Especially with the “kill three dudes with one minion while within 6″ of the center of the table, then pick up all their corpses and pantomime a barbershop quartet while hopping on one foot, belching the alphabet backwards, and revealing a full Royal Flush in your hand” nature of most of the schemes (at least they were the last time I played… ffs…), you lost games more on “did I pull unreasonably difficult schemes for what models I own / can hire” than “did the game last an extra turn”.

  • Manwiththedogs

    Random turn length is great. I’d hate to see it go.

  • Rob brown

    I’m about as much in favour of removing random game length as I am removing random first turn. That is to say not at all. While I agree with the basic premise that too much randomness in the way your army plays can be frustrating, some things are too important to be predictable. Some randomness is needed to prevent abuse.

    It’s not right that some armies should be able to hold units back to steal a fifth turn win with little their opponent can do about it. Randomness maintains the tension and also gives players something to fight for because there may be more opportunity than was originally thought in a situation or because they can’t rest on their laurels and assume that unit out on the left flank will never get to them in time.

    In terms of the game structure and time, 5th-7th turns normally to extremely quickly in my experience, because of reduced model count and targets. If players stopped agonising over the placement and moving decision of every model in turn 1 and 2 and just got on and played there would be plenty of time for later turns.

    The best games I’ve had were where my opponent and I were throwing every scrap of effort we had and each battling for the advantage praying this would be the last turn that there would be one more turn depending on who had the upper hand. I really don’t understand why you have an issue with the opponent having chances to tie or win the game. Is that because winning has become more important than playing?

    Randomness in turn length makes us try harder if we’re both winning and losing and therefore benefits everyone in the game… even tournament players.

    • grim_dork

      Well said.

    • Heinz Fiction

      The luxury of having a last turn without retaliation is heavily paid for by going second, though.

      • Dan

        you’ve always got the last turn if you go second though. You might not have a guarantee of no retaliation next turn but that still has value.

  • Deacon Ix

    You have just explained why random turn amount is good – If I know that the game is going to be a set number of turns I would hold off on the objectives until the last turn and rush then at the end to reduce the chance my opponent has of pushing me off them, with a random turn length I have to have got there by turn 5 and hold them for 1-3 turns.

    • Karru

      The way you got around the whole “last turn objective grab” is to just rework the missions to be better in every way. I mean, just making it so Objectives matter throughout the game would be a massive improvement and make the game that much more interesting and not just the endless “try to wipe out the enemy and grab all objectives on the last turn”.

      While you could say that the Maelstrom Missions are just that, I don’t even want to count the number of times the win can be credited to pure luck of the draw. There is very little actual skill involved with the Maelstrom objectives as it is just hoping to get cards that you can achieve while you wish that your opponent doesn’t get something that he can achieve.

      Basically have a set Objectives that can be achieved by both players during the length of the game with no advantage given to either player for going first, things like free VP from First Blood for example. Basically, missions where you can win even if you were almost completely wiped out to the last model but still by focusing on the objectives more than your opponent. That would make the game so much more interesting and fair.

      • euansmith

        Cumulative score of objective points through out the game is fun and can lead to more maneuvering. I’m not a big fan of First Blood and Slay the Warlord as they can negatively impact some forces more than others. Dark Age and Wrath of Kings have some cool mechanisms for scoring points.

        • Graymantle

          This is, IMO, the best way to play objectives. If they are tallied at the end of each turn, rather than only at the end of the game, it creates a constant power struggle throughout—greatly diminishing the value of those last-turn grabs.

          • Muninwing

            add in a total — if you have X or more at the end of a round, you win — and i think it would be better off too…

  • Leviticus Stroud

    I always thought that random turn length also spoiled the narrative.
    “We need to secure these positions before the reinforcements arrive. It’s urgent, we have a very specific deadline”
    “Yes sir. What time will they get here?”
    “About 35 minutes, or maybe 45 if the traffic is bad.”

    Reinforcements tend to know if they are 2 minutes away or 20, and the bomb with a countdown clock in a movie only works storywise if the bomb doesn’t go off with 7 minutes still to go, or continue counting into negative figures!

    I can see the ability to call an extra turn as a stratagem or similar as a good thing, but as a random event it holds about as much logic as the old night fighting rules- the ones where no one in the 41st millennium knew what time of day it was and when dusk/dawn was on the way.

    • Rainthezangoose

      I disagree when you think about how long a game turn is…. I mean a single round of combat or moving and shooting weapons once would be like… a minute or two tops in actual narrative time when you think about it.

    • Heinz Fiction

      Actually it’s not that unlikely that reinforcements get delayed due to roadblocks ambushes and so on.
      Also the countdown clocks on movie bombs tend to get slower and slower the closer they get to zero…

  • Leonidas Laskaridis

    I think that we should take things a step further when talking of culling the RNG. Lets stop using dice. Period.

    Chess doesn’t use them and it is simply awesome – pure skill determines the winner.
    How many times the unfairness of dicer rolls have turned a victory to defeat and vice versa? Why should we even submit ourselves to the whims of the small cube tyrants?

    We should push for a game with no luck involved; Limiting ourselves to only the “random game length” being abolished sounds like the protests of a cry-baby to me. Go the full lenght or stop crying over spilled milk

    • YetAnotherFacelessMan

      I had a friend who tried playing pure mathhammer once. He would calculate the average results and use dice to randomize the fractions and leadership tests. So, when he shot 6 shots with his marines, he hit 4 times and then wounded guardsmen twice and rolled a 3+ for the third one.

      He’s notoriously unlucky. It was the only game of 40k he won in all of 6th edition.

  • Antoine Henry

    My game never lasts more than 4 turns 😀

  • Adam Richard Corrigan

    First to reach a certain point level, say 20 is an option but reliant on the cards.

  • Ghachii

    “There is also another popular GW tabletop game called Age of Sigmar that does not have such a mechanic.”

    Actually it does. It just depends on which battleplan you’re playing. I’ve played plenty that have you roll to see if the game ends after X number of turns.

  • Crevab

    Those other wargames with fixed length, do they count victory points after every turn or only at the end?

    Cause if you’re trying to take and hold something you don’t need the random, but if the game is won by who swoops in at the

    last chance then you do

    • Spacefrisian

      Warmahordes does per turn without random game length, Bolt action doesnt have player turns, and Xwing has a set time limit.

  • ZeeLobby

    Continuous point score removes the need for it. I’m fine either way, as a competitive player, though. I think first turn alpha is, and always has been, one of the bigger issues of the game.

    • zeno666

      Yepp. And “First blood” goes to the first player with lots of shooting again… and again… and again…

  • MVBrandt

    “I think I am 1st and goal, and suddenly I am 1st and 10 at midfield!” = good, but …

    “Imagine watching your favorite team, who is ahead by a point when the clock is done. Suddenly, one of the officials runs out onto the field, and flips a coin to determine if the game will last another 5 minutes. Insane, no?!” = bad?

    I will add the sports analogy to the repertoire for explaining why maelstrom isn’t a strategy game anymore, though. The more the game randomly shifts the goalposts, the less you’re playing a strategy game and the more you’re playing a GMed game where the dice are the GM. True for rgl, true for maelstrom.

  • Everything I Don’t Like Needs To Die: the blog entry saga

  • I disagree. Strongly. This is not a sport for one. Second, random turn length does one thing which is why I’d never agree to lose it – it keeps both players uncertain.

    I can’t stand games where you have full agency to game the game the entire time. I like having uncertainties that make you react instead of getting to sit back and drive with impunity the entire time because you know that you have X number of turns remaining so can do this or this, whereas if you don’t know that this isn’t your last turn, you may have to be bold or risk being conservative hoping for another turn.

    But there is at least the risk. Playing these games for many years before random game length was a thing, one of the things that bored me to tears was how easy to game the game it was (and still is in other areas) and the random elements are what keep replayability high for me.

  • Carey_Mahoney

    Tennis and Volleyball don’t have fixed game duration either.
    If you wanna play the sports analogies game, do it right.

  • Puddinhead Wilson


  • I_am_Alpharius

    To sum up the article. Grumble Grumble random turns suck. Whinge whinge people* lose games due to this. Waa waa waa other game systems** don’t use including AoS***. Boo Hoo random turns should go.

    *Translate to I’ve, personally, lost loads of games
    **Yes they do e.g. AoS (see***); Malifaux; Necromunda (depending on mission); Bloodbowl (depending on, in game effect like loss of turns after a pitch invasion); shall I go on…
    ***Yes it does depending on the Battleplan used – know your games.

  • I don’t mind random game length at all. Right now if I’m not going to win it’s over by turn 3 so having more turns wouldn’t change anything.
    I’m sure my opinion will change a little after I’ve played more of this new edition. One constant for me over the years is that winnings nice but I prefer a Draw. It’s not a bout the finish it’s about how I get there. Random game length is just part of that. It’s stolen victory from me as much as handed it to me. Often we just shoot for 4 turns and then decide if we want to continue. I really wish 40K had added Double turns like AoS has.

    • I_am_Alpharius

      Not sure double turns would work 40K with the way the system is structure. It kind of works in AoS, but that also is not great; I get the feeling AoS will the double turn thing come a new edition, there is a reason they didn’t port it over from the AoS rules. Don’t get me wrong double turns can be really fun and work really well; so I’d be all for them. However, you need the game mechanics to support it. The LotR strategy battle game used it really and it makes the game very tactically challenging. It works because both sides move, then both sides shoot and then both side charge and fight; with the player who has priority doing actions first and deciding what order fights are fought in. I’d really like to see both 40K and AoS get that form of the double turn – you could use of Command Points like Might to steal movement/shooting/combats orders.

  • NagaBaboon

    By the same logic you could say every turn is a new game in which either of you has a chance to get ahead with whatever you happen to have left, that is literally the point in the game, just because you don’t know for sure the later ones will happen doesn’t change that, you know they could, just like you could fail this charge or not roll highly enough on that advance to grab the objective.

    The way maelstrom cards are dealt generally means it’d be very hard for someone to score more than 5 VPs a turn, certainly in turn 6 and above. And if someone manages it it probably means they have a managed to keep a lot of stuff alive and have been getting bum cards up to that point.

    I don’t particularly care about random game length, not having it is vital for a game with the tactical depth of Infinity but for a simple brawl of a game like 40k, it’s not that important and I can happily take or leave it, and to be fair most games of 8th are determined way before the end of turn 5 even outside the tournament scene.

  • Dhalgren Schroeder

    The title..and really the main point ‘random TURN length,’ just does not work, since the article is actually about random GAME length, due to the number on turns. Nothing to do with how long they are.
    Especially since turns are always random length. An army with 10 units is gonna take longer to go one turn than an army with 3.

    Was the confusing title on purpose or somehow..unnoticed?

  • V0iddrgn

    I understand why random game length is necessary. There should be that mechanic that keeps players honest. However, I think (and I’ve thought this for a while now) that it should only go to a possible 6th turn on a 4+. GW, remove the 7th turn, please!

  • piglette

    I usually only do 5 turns as 6 or 7 takes too long.

  • Xodis

    I like random game length, adds an element of surprise and helps prevent a boring game of turtle until the last round or two. An option I have been tossing around is optional objectives that can either extend the game or remove turns.
    This could work well, IMO, with both random and fixed game turns just need to find a way to allow counters.

    • Muninwing

      optional objectives — i like that

      if you claim the ammo dump, you can go for another round

      if you claim the promethium furnace, the game ends earlier because you’ve sabotaged the pipes and it will blow up…

  • Xodis

    As far as an answer for 1st turn Alpha strikes go…..I think Army initiative should be a thing again. I didnt get to play with it too much, but it would make sense that certain armies would get a boost (Eldar, DEldar, etc…) while other armies did not (SM, TAU), you could even introduce negative modifiers for slow and powerful armies like DeathGuard.

    • I_am_Alpharius

      I could see that working; obviously can be forgone in the types of scenarios that warrant it e.g. Dawn Raid or Ambushes etc..

    • zeno666

      Oh yeah. Strategy Rating I believe it was called in 2nd.
      I’d like to see something like that.

  • The Bob

    NEeds more randomness. Random= fun. If you don’t want random play a game that doesn’t use dice

  • Muninwing

    My suggestion to fix this problem is simple.

    – roll for first turn
    – if winner chooses to go first, loser gets to invoke another turn at the end
    – if winner chooses second, it is fixed length
    – if initiative is stolen, the player that lost initiative gets to invoke another turn at the end


    it’s now a strategic choice. it’s also a simple rule. and it’s not a random mechanic.

  • Muninwing

    i also would be more fine with random game length, or more turns past 5, if turn 1 was spent maneuvering — each unit gets one move, and that’s where the outflank or infiltrate or scout moves come in.

    each unit gets to move, in ascending order of initiative (faster can react to slower, giving advantage), and then special movements like infiltrate or scout last. then start the actual game.

    that way, there is little lost at the start, but positioning starts to really matter.

    then again… i wonder if the biggest problem is that it’s a number of turns that is the goal, not the achievement of a goal or condition. what if, instead, the game automatically ended at 20 maelstrom points? or when the primary goal was achieved by either or both players? really, turn length only matters for something like an “outlast” siege mission, where one army is trying to see how long they can last before dying. that way, a match that’s decided by turn 3 might be over in turn 3.

  • Bigalmoney666

    Do you mean random GAME length?

    • Crablezworth

      thankyou 🙂

  • Kayreios

    You could just write your own mission scenario…

  • Koen Diepen Van

    I am not a fan of ranomness but 40K needs random trunlenght.
    Because otherwise you get this. PPl holding back whit big tough units all game (like eeh flyers) And then just moveing on all objectives in turn 6 and winning. Because if you know there will be no next trun 100% you can just ignore every thing

  • YetAnotherFacelessMan

    My impression of the article: “Random turn length doesn’t come up in tournaments because tournaments are cancer and are either decided entirely too quickly and entirely too slowly. Outside of tournaments, it’s down to personal preference and I COULD ask my opponents if we could please just have the game end at Turn 6, but I need to write articles for BoLS, so I’ll just do that instead.”

    Seriously, man… if you want the game to end on a set turn, have the game end on a set turn. Easy fix!