Friday, August 27, 2010

Editorial: Making 40K Competitive

I think that trying to use GW rules for 40K to play a truly competitive game is like building your house out of dung. You can do it but you will always be wondering about that smell. Games Workshop says their games are not designed for competitive play and it is a hobby but then they sponsor events like Hard Boyz. Their statements about competitive play is more of an intentional cop out so they do not have to care about making it a fair competition between the armies.

The problem is of course the rules. You cannot play a game competitive unless everyone knows and understands the rules. Beyond just confusing and unclear wording in the rules, the whole structure of the rules is insufficiently organized. In a game driven by special rules you would expect definitions of categories so that rules can be quickly and clear defined. You can create a hierarchy of how to apply them to cut down on all the problems. In a properly formed system, no one would have to write a 100+ FAQ to try to cover any marginally reasonable question people could ask. Those people who put in a ton of work get bashed for it by haters on the blogosphere. The haters either think their answers are obvious, they give the wrong answer(so such answer must not be obvious), or they have a gone so far as to admit to changing the rules. It is not like GW does not change the rules in their FAQ, they just do not have the balls to admit that is what they are doing. Remember Errata and FAQ are different. In an Errata they can rewrite the rules but a FAQ is only supposed to clarify vague issues. I am all for changing some unclear or obvious against intention rules. I would probably support a lot more rules changes and think it could go a long way to making the game more competitive.

Of course GW does update the main rules on a consistant bases now. Looks like every 4 years going forward, but they do not do this to tweak the rules to make the game more balanced and rules more clear. It is purely a planned obsolence system to make money not to make the game better. While every army would love to get regular update some lanquish for so long that they really do not allow their use in the uber competitive ultra optimized list world. Watch out when your army does get updated. You might all the sudden have an illegal army with no HQs. (I am not kidding, my nids lost their warriors and Broodlord as HQ choices so I had no HQ in my 1000 points anymore). Or you find that they have made your current models overcosted with new units that are better in most ways and less costly in points so that they can sell their new plastic kits.

Currently you have the codexes that are just not good enough or have a single build which appears. People who want competitive gaming should be working on getting these list fixes as part of their event FAQ. I am sure all the out of play armies could be brought into line with some point adjustments and some subtle use of current USRs. The game would be a lot more competitive if you had to worry about facing 16 different codexes of armies on a level playing field. A competitive game should be about who is the best at the game not whose collection matches best with what GW has decided is going to be the best armies right now or who is willing to just throw money at GW for that current army. Finding that unit that GW has improperly priced and bringing as many as you can should not be where the competition should be. People always defend this unit spamming as building redundancy and real armies have multiple repeated units. This reminds me of an saying, "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want."

Fixing the game as an event organizer is a ton of work and you would probably get flak from it from all circles but your ideas would be more useful than debating a single elimination or swiss format. Now if a real competitve movement starts, the work can be shared with a rules and balance committee made up of organizers of the events signing on for annual review cycle. You get 4-6 large events using the same rules/balance packet and you are probably in business.

I would think that if you really want to test your skills as a commander, the events should use prescribed lists. Some mirror battles would be interesting to see who can out move and out fight his opponents. It would probably been limited to the main armies like space marines or now IG since you would need to have the army people have selected to play. Or give them a realistic force to build their strike force out of with limits on the items in the forces armory. This takes a good part of the hobby of picking and building your force up out of the equation but might be interesting secondary events.

Now I am sure this editorial can be ripped apart. If it was published on BOLS it would be ridiculed in a rainbow of colors but the main point is: If you want to make it a competitive game you need to do the work to make the rules clear and the armies balanced, GW has made it clear that they have no interest in doing it for you.

Flame Away.


  1. The only way to really balance it IMO would be for everyone to use the exact same list, and play two games vs. same opponent each round - first game, player 1 chooses side/goes first, second game, player 2 chooses side/goes first.

  2. I do suggest mirror list games as an option. I expect that their will always be a rock paper scissors issue where some armies to better against certain other armies but this can be balanced by making as many armies as possible really playable.

  3. I stand beside you on your opinion. I feel the same way.

  4. Mirror lists are a terrible way of balancing because they remove the skill of list building (and knowing your list well) from the game.

    While the codices are certainly not all even, the 5E books are all par with each other (and I say this speaking as a Tyranid player, widely regarded to be the weakest of them). Most older books also have at least one strong build as well, although a few armies do tend to struggle.

    Everything not being equal is not an ideal situation, but recognizing what is good and what isn't is also part of the skill of the game.

    GW is doing a fine job of balancing the rules, all things considered, even if it would be nice if they'd update codices a bit faster. I can pretty much guarantee that any kind of fan-driven "fixes" to the game will only make things worse, as keeping something as complex as 40K balanced is incredibly difficult. A single word, a couple points, and you can completely shift the way an entire army functions; these are not things to be trifled with.

    >A competitive game should be about who is the best at the game not whose collection matches best with what GW has decided is going to be the best armies right now or who is willing to just throw money at GW for that current army.

    Generalship and list-building are both important skills, just as with any other game. All units are NOT equal, and you will never be able to make them that way; rather, they each have their own place in the right army. (And yes, some of them are simply bad and have no place, but that will happen no matter what you do. You cannot perfectly and absolutely balance all choices across a single codex. You must accept that some choices/builds will be better than others; otherwise, list-building becomes a non-skill.)

  5. One roll makes or breaks a game. If you want competition, try mtg. Then quit it b/c one draw makes or breaks a game.

    Most fun and competitive game out there for me right now is WoW. Roll w/a team or perish. It's about who we play with not what we're playing!

  6. @Abuse Puppy

    Thanks for bringing by a different opinion.

    On list building and knowing how to play your list being part of the game that is true, but list building is now being farmed out on the internet. YTTH builds peoples lists all the time as do many other people. Should you win best painted for a commissioned paint job? There is a lot of skill in knowing how to play your list but there is also a lot of skill in knowing how to play a different list. Both are equally as challenging.

    I would love to see these double blind challenge matches were all either people know going in is what codex the army is coming out of. That would certain test some skills at playing the game.

    If GW is doing a fine job balancing the rules then why of 14 space marine players out of 88 did none of them make the second day at NOVA Open while 4 of the 11 space wolves players did. Two codexes representing 25% of the players took 75% of the second day spots. The only answer that is supportive of competitive play (as is the game currently allows the better player to win) is that better players choose these codexes to play? Why would they do that? Because they are better codexes?

    I also do not think you give enough credit to the community in what they could do from a balance stand point. I would be shocked if a group of about 20 serious competitive players could not keep things better balanced than GW one the codex has been out for more any a few years.

    Sure the units are not equal but that is what the points cost is supposed to compensate for. The points cost should not be based like it is now on how many of these GW wants to sell.

  7. >One roll makes or breaks a game. If you want competition, try mtg.

    Sometimes, and sometimes not. Sometimes M:tG will come down to having that counterspell, or Lightning Bolt, or what have you- that doesn't mean it's purely a game of luck.

    >If GW is doing a fine job balancing the rules then why of 14 space marine players out of 88 did none of them make the second day at NOVA Open while 4 of the 11 space wolves players did.

    Because they didn't bring as good of lists? The SM codex is hardly weak, and there are plenty of things it's good for (TH/SS, Razor spam, bike armies, various special characters). The fact that, at one particular event, no one managed to advance doesn't really mean anything. Now, if after a dozen more events we _still) haven't seen any SM players succeeding, I will certainly change my mind, but a single event is a terrible sample size.

    >I would be shocked if a group of about 20 serious competitive players could not keep things better balanced than GW one the codex has been out for more any a few years. I think that the bizarre concentration of codices in the upper circles was something of an aberration, a stroke of luck, and not because they are unusually strong. If look at Stelek's list, it's not that he decided "welp, gonna play the strongest codex and that means SW," he instead had many lists under consideration from several different books.

    I disagree about list building being "farmed out." SImply having someone else write a list for you doesn't make you any good with it, nor does it help you understand how the list functions. It makes your list better, to be sure, but only to a very limited degree; learning to play a list and play it well is much more important, and it's one of the reasons that players with otherwise sub-par lists can beat netlisters that don't understand what they're doing.

    I hardly think that how many of something GW wants to sell is a determining factor in how powerful they make something- look at the Pyrovore, with its expensive model and horrible rules, or TWC, Stormravens, Tyrannofexes, and Tervigons, all high-end units that lack a model and with GW having no intention of making them. Points costs _are_ supposed to balance units against each other, but as I said, it's an unbelievably complex interaction of factors- what other units are in the codex, what options they have, what other books they have to compete against, etc, etc.

    I think you should prepare to be shocked, then. Game design is incredibly difficult, despite how easy it may look from the outside. Yes, trash like the Pyrovore slips through, but also look at things like the Tyrannofex- most players consider it horrible, but the reality is it's a very important part of the codex. What if it had been priced 40pts cheaper, like a lot of people thing it should be? They would be tearing the tournament scene apart right now.

  8. I stand by your comment. I difficulty is that so many people see 'talent' in their army list and its choosing. There isn't any really. Talent in an army list is Fritz's Harlequin or new 'all spawn' chaos list and making that work. He exemplifies 'fight with the army you have'.

    I would suggest an alternative to 'mirror', I've played a lot of mirror games, and they do add a level of challenge (more similar to chess) ... as players cannot simply bulldoze non-premium lists for a mistake or two.

    Whynot HOBO it. By HOBO, I mean that you swap armies on the toss of a coin. Anyone power gaming will suddenly find themselves on the receiving end of their killer list.

    It's amazing how lists change when there's a chance of facing your own list.