Over the last ten or so years it’s clear that GW has been pushing one aspect of their game that they feel makes it fun.
In general tabletop wargames can be disguised a lot by the company that makes them. Different companies have their own philosophies and set their marks on games. When you look at say an FFG game, you know it’s an FFG game. By far the most successful of the tabletop games, Warhammer, is no different. It’s got its own style and feel, and while rules and editions change, the game remains familiar. Over the last ten or so years it’s clear that one of the secret ingredients to 40K is the sheer amount of the dice players roll in the game. Indeed it seems that this might be the key thing that GW designers feel is fun. Let’s take a look at this.
Rolling Dice In Other Games
To set a baseline let’s first take a look a how many dice you might roll in a standard interaction in other tabletop games. Now, this number can vary a lot, but it’s normally going to end up not being too high. Let’s look for instance at the FFG/AMG games. In Armada rolling ten dice in a single attack is possible, but it’s way on the high end. More usual would be something like 4-6 dice, with a few potential re-rolls. With the defender not normally rolling any dice, that (counting re-rolls) probably puts a normally attack at 10ish dice. X-Wing is around the same range, the dice pools tend to be smaller, in the 3-4 range, but the defender also gets to roll some dice. On the whole, Star Wars Legion isn’t too far off either.
In the Warmachine/Hordes games most attacks are made with 2, or maybe 3 dice only, a very small number. Of course models and units might make a lot of these attacks so it can scale up a lot, even so attacking with a whole large unit is quite likely to only get you maybe 20-40 dice rolls total and these are very broken down. RPGs of course often roll even less dice. A normal attack in D&D will roll with 2-3 dice and even major attacks like a Fireball are unlikely to need more than 10 rolls. Overall it’s uncommon to need much more than 10 total dice rolls to resolve at attack in most games. Generally speaking, these games can be played with a handful of dice.
Not so with GW.
In The Older Days
Back in older editions of 40K the game also fell into this range normally. Consider for instance some of the really common units in older editions, such as Space Marine Tactical Squads, Guard Infantry or Eldar Guardians. Taken as standard 10 man units they would normally rock about 10 attacks in combat, or 10-20 shots at range. Their starting dice pools were fairly comparable with the dice rolled in other games today. The same could be said of Warhammer Fantasy, the very common formation of a 20 man block in a 5×4 arrangement tended to get between 6-11 attacks. This was a pretty restrained period overall.
Of course, this was somewhat deceptive. GW has seemingly always loved to roll a lot of dice. One of the signatures of Warhammer games is the hit/wound/save mechanic. With 3 sets of rolls, this means that even with a similar starting pool GW games have always tended to just roll more dice. Starting with a 20 dice pool, can still lead to making up to 60 total rolls to resolve an attack. And that was before things …escalated.
At some point it seems GW really started upping the number of dice you needed to roll in a game. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact tipping point but if I had to put one it would be about 10 years ago with the 5th Edition Guard Codex and the rise of the Leafblower army. Now before this you COULD build armies or units that rolled just a ton of dice. I ran 50 man Conscript squads that threw out 100 shots, leading to a possible 300 dice rolls. But these kind of things were real outliers and pretty rare. In the middle of 5th Edition though armies like the Leafblower showed up and the idea that you could build lists to just roll a ton of dice and wipe out enemy armies really took off.
Into The Modern Era
Since that point GW has really doubled down on rolling a LOT of dice, with in particular 7th, 8th and now 9th Edition really building on it. The number of attacks, both in combat and shooting has steadily increased. The old Tactical Squad with its 11 CC attacks and 10-20 shots has been replaced with Intercessors, rocking 21-41 (depending on buffs and factions) CC attacks and up to 42 ranged attacks. It also has gotten a lot easy to make attacks and fight in both phases. So a basic Marine unit has gone from 10-20 start dice in a turn, to up to 80 – or a four-fold increase. The old Guard Squad, which use to throw out 11 cc attacks and 20 ranged shots can now be buffed up to 31 cc attacks and 37 ranged attacks.
This is a pretty general trend. Old guns and units have gotten more attacks, while new units roll up with more and more attacks and shots. On top of this you’ve got the widespread addition of re-rolls thrown in to make you roll even more dice. A standard unit of Intercessors, nothing special in the grand scheme, might roll in with some buffs to combat and start out with 41 attacks. While this starts at only 41, once you add in hits, wounds, armor saves and re-rolls to hits and wounds, you could suddenly need to roll 200 dice to resolve that one attack. And yeah, that’s not going to happen, that would require insane dice (missing every hit, then making every re-roll and the same for wound). But I would bet most of you also read that you could need 200 rolls to resolve an attack and didn’t think that was ridiculous. In fact, I’d bet you just thought of a time when you needed to roll that many dice.
Does Rolling Dice = Fun?
What it comes down to is that in an era when most games resolve attacks with dice rolls measured in the 10s, GW is having you roll 100s of dice. And yes, I think most people know that you roll a lot of dice in 40K. However it is not something that’s really emphasized openly, nor I think is it something you really clearly see until you break down the numbers. Sure you roll more dice, but most people might not realize how much more. This is clearly one of the open secrets of Warhammer. It’s been done so purposefully at this point that we have to assume GW has made the connection that rolling more dice = more fun and is building theor games around that assumption. It’s part of a strategy that has admittedly seen 40K go from a large competitor in the field to far and away the dominant and untouching king of tabletop gaming.
Let us know what you think about rolling THAT many dice, down in the comments!