Thursday, February 25, 2010

Composition or, How to Have a Not Tournament

Please don't let the title fool you - I don't "hate" Composition, I just feel it is often misrepresented.

Let me elaborate, and as I will in general do, I am talking about Warhammer 40,000.

1) Warhammer 40,000 operates with a published set of rules and codices that are available to anyone who plays the game. More importantly, anyone attending a tournament is probably going to have a rough grasp on this game.

2) People play the game of 40k differently everywhere you go. There's no right way to play it, b/c it is not a professionalized game. This isn't Baseball, or Football, where there are a prescribed set of rules and regulations that apply to the sport anywhere you go.

Or, maybe it is. If you went someplace and watched them play baseball, and runs were worth different points levels depending on how difficult or not the event host considered the scoring play to be, you would be a little perplexed. It might be interesting, it might even be fascinating ... heck, you might even want to grab a glove and a bat and participate. But wait, they don't use gloves and bats. Instead, you have to catch balls with your bare hands the way the original players did. You have to use a railroad crossbar as a bat (seriously). It's a small lead ball that they use, not a Rawlings Baseball.

Upon inquiring about the odd equipment, the event organizers tell you that this is how the game is SUPPOSED to be played, and that it encourages a totally different and unique approach, and it's way more fun. You protest, that you've played baseball the same way your entire life, and how are you supposed to excel at this new version of the game?

You can see where I'm going with this.

It's totally functional and alright to play the game of Warhammer 40,000 differently, but as soon as you diverge materially from the rules of the game, you aren't playing the game anymore. You're playing YOUR version of it. It's not Warhammer 40,000. It's Tourney Organizer X's Warhammer 40k.

Interestingly, you can't actually avoid this. No matter what you do, it's not going to be pure 40k, and probably for the best. Nevertheless, Composition requirements and limitations greatly exacerbate this problem.

If you don't like that 40k allows for a wide variety of army builds, that range greatly in terms of their competitiveness, please consider avoiding the tournament notion of the hobby, and continue to play among friends who believe that you should only build lists a certain way, or rather should never build them a certain way (6 and half dozen as those opinions are).

Warhammer 40,000 is - for better or worse - written by amateurs. The people who craft the game are not graduates of the Oxford School of Wargame Rules Writing. In some (or many) cases, they are not even fully college educated. This isn't a knock on them, but it's a wake-up call to the fact that they aren't pure pros - their rules aren't perfect. Acknowledge that the reason for this isn't that they are stupid. They're just people with jobs. Regardless, all of us tournament organizers nationwide are ... ALSO not professional rules writers. We're also amateurs. We have our opinions about the game. We are not BETTER qualified to regulate a game that we didn't write in the first place. We may prefer it were different, and that's fine, but consider strongly whether that preference - as individual and opinionated as it is - belongs in a COMPETITION.

Wherever possible, I will keep my own opinions about what units or army lists are best or most creative or how it should be done OUT of building a tournament setting. Wherever possible, I will encourage people to play by the rules of the game out there.

The most important "why" behind my stance on this is as follows: A competition should be competitive. Professional sports are competitive b/c their rules are codified and regulated across the depth and breadth of their pursuit. With only subtle variations, the game of baseball is the same for a 13 year old as it is for a 33 year old. You can learn this game via the official rules, which anyone can access. First base is first base, a run is a run, a strike is a strike.

Since everyone who attends a tournament is likely in possession of and is aware of the rules of Warhammer 40k, and the details of at least their own codex, it best supports a competitive and reliable environment on the gaming front to utilize those rules, instead of instilling our own homegrown restrictions.

Will we develop a FAQ to answer questions not addressed by GW? Probably, to as much of a degree as we absolutely must. Will we consider different restrictions for Warhammer Fantasy, where the game is *arguably* far less balanced? Possibly. Will we come up with missions and objectives that are not identical to the ones in the Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook? Again, possibly.

What must be said, though, is that composition will likely NOT play a role in the Warhammer 40k side of our event. It is just too extreme (unless it's mellow to the point of being pointless) an amendment to the BASE game. It is in and of itself unfair to the wide margin of participants, who effectively must attempt to investigate, comprehend and react to a set of entirely new army build restrictions with whatever time the organizers give them for digestion.

What are your thoughts on composition?


  1. A good post but you didn't really explain what composition is and I'm still a bit confused because I've never encountered it. Is it simply scoring someone on how "hardcore" their list is?

    As an aside what are your thoughts on the Forgeworld IA update rules? Will you allow them?

  2. Atrotos,

    Good point - I really didn't define composition or explain what I think of it as.

    I think comp is usually done in one of three ways. For Fantasy most often, you see comp done as actual changes to the way you can build an army. It goes so far as to say that at XXXX points, certain armies can actually field MORE points and certain armies must field LESS, while the more "baseline" armies actually play at the tourney points level.

    For 40k, it's most often either a pre-set scoring mechanism and seeding mechanism that is based upon your army - this can be done objectively via a scoring system, or subjectively via tourney organizer opinion. So, you'd score x/Possible composition, with a higher score reflective of not taking duplicates of certain units, etc. You'd typically also be paired up against people with a similar comp score in the early rounds.

    The other way - simpler way - that comp is done in 40k is sometimes there will simply be a component of sportsmanship that is scored by your opponents based upon their opinion of your army list - was it too cheesy, spammy, etc. Not as impactful as the former, it is still effectively a composition restriction, b/c you're more prone to suffering in your sports score (and so for most events in your overall/general scores) as a result.

    I don't think we'll utilize Imperial Armor in the tournament. The primary reason for this relates to composition, in that most people don't own the IA books, and so most people would either have to make an investment on top of the registration fee to be prepared, or would have to "fly blind," which opens the field up to a greater level of shenanigans.

    I won't say this is a fixed decision yet, but it's probable.

  3. Ok that clarifies things. It also makes it obvious to me that a comp score really only befits "narrative" or less competitive play.

    On the subject of IA I think every tournament organizer should be including these rules. It's not an extra investment because the rules are now free online (
    and as long as you inform people ahead of time everyone could be familiar with them if they took the time to read them.

    The reason I think these rules are so important is because they update a lot of entries from older, less competitive codecies to bring them in line with newer ones - an important balancing issue for any tournament organizer to consider. Why should Inquisition players pay double for the same chimera the IG use?

    It's the habit of most organizers to say "we won't use them because GW events don't use them" but when it comes to being progressive and forward-thinking GW's is the last example I would follow. Just my two cents. Take a look at the rules and let me know what you think.

    Oh and sorry for rambling.

  4. Atrotos - the rambling is MOST welcome. Since I just started up the blog, traffic is traffic, and you tend to put thought into your replies.

  5. In fact - I'll make a new post to address IA rules in a tournament setting.

  6. I've got to agree with you that for about 99.9%* of the game what is traditionally called 'comp' does not need to be involved in tournament play. Mike does a pretty decent job of discussing what comp is and how it should not be a requirement for the game and I agree completely.

    Where friendly comp belongs is in a friendly game. If you are playing beer and pretzels warhammer with a buddy who is playing in the same mindset then leave your tournament army at home. It's not a fun game, and lets remember it is a game, when one person brings 15 Thunderwolf Calvalry and the other person brings an army with no elements that can effectively work against those units.

    I don't believe there should be hard comp rules, it should simply be a mindset of 'what can I bring that is fun, effective, but doesn't unbalance the game.' Don't show up to a friendly game with your buddy packing 9 Vendettas and a bunch of Main Battle Tanks. He probably isn't going to be your buddy for to much longer. At the same time if you know your buddy is down for a "kick you in the teeth" approach to playing, then by all means, show up for that. I believe comp should revolve around who you are playing.

    Along with that, what I really strongly believe is that in a tournament format your 'comp' should be geared towards winning(if that is your intention). Tournament comp is simply what you think in your army should be taken to achieve your goal. No one gets to the final table of a tournament and says 'I don't want to win this.' An interesting thing to note is I have a friend who is an incredible painter. His army comp for when he goes to a tournament has almost nothing to do with what will win him games. He plans his army around what will win him 'best painted' or 'player's choice'. Oddly enough, none of the other tournmanet goers complain about his army. It might suck, it might make no sense what so ever, but damn if it doesn't look great on the table.

    Should my friend have to take a 'better' army as far as game play goes? I don't think so. It is a tournament and he is trying to win.


    *There are certain things, primarily in warhammer fantasy that are simply broken in game mechanics and should never be used. This is akin to the gentleman's agreement in pro Street Fighter tournaments not to use certain characters due to an unbalancing aspect of the game.

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