In-depth: Why luck is our best friend and enemy

9 Tommy squads in 9 trenches. Luck had nothing to do with it

Above: 9 Tommy squads in 9 trenches. Luck had no part in it.

It’s quite a huge deal for me to claim that COH is a bonafide addiction for me. Afterall, I’ve been playing RTS games since purchasing my first copy of Command & Conquer in 1995. And I was in high school then! In fact, I daresay COH and her sister act OF have rightfully revolutionized the RTS genre. So much so that it has changed the way I looked at, approached and played RTS games.

The formula used to be so simple. Mass Unit A as quickly as possible, and rush the opponent. Rinse and repeat. Or Mass Unit A + B and catch the opponent while they’re caught unawares. Rinse and repeat. The whole idea was to overwhelm them with attrition. It wasn’t rocket science. It wasn’t the Rock, Paper, Scissors theory. It was just who could muster Unit A the quickest and annihilate the opponent. I bought COH ‘coz it looked cool and had a really pretty game engine. But someone forgot to tell me COH isn’t just your run-of-the-mill RTS.

*insert awful pwnage lesson after massing only riflemen for 5 minutes and giving them an Attack Move order.*

I then realised that COH has many elements that needed to be learnt and/or understood. One of them is Luck. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Luck as the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual.. To me, it just means whenever I roll an imaginary six-sided die and engage the enemy, I have a 50% chance of:

1) Getting hit, or hitting back
2) My shells or bullets bouncing off the enemy
3) My enemies getting killed in cover, or my units getting killed in cover

I had a chat with one of the game’s leading players, SayNoToStim, and he explained to me how a unit hits/gets hit and a little insight into how complicated the damage table is.

“Every time a soldier fires a weapon, that shot is either a ‘hit’ or a miss. Keep that in mind.

Now, there are two types of shots – small arms fire (bullets), and shells (like tank shells). When small arms fire shots are rolled as a ‘miss,’ they cannot hit anything and there may or may not be an animation of it plinking off the fence/the tree/the wall/whatever. If its a hit, the thing it hits takes damage.

Shells are a little different. If a shell is rolled as a ‘hit,’ it will hit its target, regardless of anything else. This is why you see shells curve mid air, go through things, and sometimes just bug out and zig/zag to its target. However, if its a miss, it still lands somewhere and does splash damage. Thats why the shreck of 2.2 and ealier was so effective – even when it would miss, the coding was set up so that even misses would continue on dead on target, often hitting its intended target even though its rolled as a miss.

Putting your units behind cover doesnt ‘protect’ them so to say – it just reduces your opponents accuracy tables so he’s going to hit less. So despite what you think, building 9 rows of sandbags and standing behind them wont stop 9 times as many bullets.

Some vehicles get a bonus for being in cover, with is a 25% reduction of your opponents incoming fire, regardless of if they’re in green cover or yellow cover. You will be able to see a yellow cover shield if they’re sitting in cover.”

In short, just because you’re shooting doesn’t mean you’re going to hit. And just because you’re in a good defensive position doesn’t mean you’re not going to lose units.

It’s this unmitigated game of chance (even though you think you’ve the trump cards) that really got me thinking about the Luck factor. Unless the skill level between two teams are really great, there’s always a chance that the underdog team will win.

I also believe there’s a correlation between the number of games played and the current rank a player occupies. Looking at the 2v2 RT ladder, 90% of the top #20 players have played at least 200 games per faction to get to where they are. In fact, some players are just shy of 600 games for a particular faction. Mind boggling when you consider many of them play all four factions. That’s over 2000 games!

“What has Luck got to do with their ranking?” you ask. Well, I feel that massing games in 2v2 RT is the easiest way to climb the 2v2 RT ladder as the odds of one winning a game is always 33.333%. Assuming all four players speak English and are not in the game to sandbag their ally/mass kettens/AFK, the scenario is one of three:

You + Pro vs Pro + Noob

You + Noob vs Pro + Pro

You + Pro vs Noob + Noob

But wait! It gets more interesting. Although the odds are against you (66.666%), I did not factor in map choice and in game Luck. By in game Luck, I mean the chance of a, say, pineapple blowing up and killing three volksgrenadiers in yellow cover. By virtue of many other factors (direction of cover, health of squad and whether it’s vetted), sometimes the pineapple will kill all three volksgrenadiers and sometimes it wouldn’t even scratch them.

There’re also other scenarios that Luck is heavily involved in as well. More often than not, it’s out of our control.

Fastest Fingers Win: A rifleman squad tosses a pineapple into a house with PG squad. PG exits the house before the pineapple explodes. And at this point both players attempt to move their squad into the house. There’s a 50% chance that the rifleman will get in first if the USA player had clicked on the house first. And vice versa.

Random arty shelling FTW: You order a 105mm arty bombardment on the Wehr medic bunker. Boom! Boom! Boom! You survey the damage. Full squad MG42 and half health bunker. Yet in some games, the same bombardment will yield a dead MG42 squad and a severely damaged bunker.

Retreating units are OP!: You’ve seen this before. A retreating squad, say, a KCH kills an Engineer squad while retreating. On a better day, the Engineer would have made it home to his family.

As you can see the degree of ‘error’ is so minute, it can change the outcome of a game. Most times it’s out of our control.

At this point of writing, I’m so caught up with numbers and reasoning I don’t see any point in giving percentages anymore. In fact, those figures don’t seem to mean anything to me. That’s the beauty of COH. Just because you’re up against two pros doesn’t mean you’re already instagibbed. Because it’s a team game (in a game that plays with chance), sometimes the dice are rolled in your favor.

The top 2v2 RT players have all experienced moments of madness or genius in the game. They’ve all had noob partners who trains only one unit the entire game or refuses to follow command. Sometimes these noob partners end up being worthy partners not because of their skill level, but they got lucky with a high roll on the dice not once, but many times. Enough to win the game.

Perhaps, the RT ladder is catered for people who love a flutter and living life on the edge. You’ll never know who you’re going to end up with. Oh boy I scored a lvl 13 American partner. Here comes his strafing run bearing down on 4 PG squads. A low dice roll. All 4 squads survive with minimum casualties.

Damn my Luck.

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One Response to In-depth: Why luck is our best friend and enemy

  1. Liquidwulfe says:

    I believe it was Johnny Chan who said “Winning any single poker hand is nothing but luck. Winning 1000 hands of poker is skill.” This applies to CoH as well. Odds tend to balance out when you have three squads of rifles beating on four squads of PG’s, with so many random calculations thrown in to a game they tend to balance out. Granted, there are “dare to be great moments”, such as when that Panzer is 5%ing so bad it sucks up 5 or more 57mm shots than it should have, but these things are rare.

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