Monday, March 1, 2010
Player Variance & Its Impact on the Game and Balance
Good Morning and Happy Monday,
I was prompted to write this entry based upon a thread over at BOLS that I responded to. Interestingly (or not), I may not really be topical with what I wrote, but it will spin off into more of a commentary here.
To that end,
Balance is one of those things that bears scrutiny b/c it varies so much from player to player. It is all well and good to view the game only through the lens of your own impression of what the "best" way to play is. Case in point: http://www.yesthetruthhurts.com ... Stelek is on point with a lot of his evaluation, and it's a good place to go for primers on the game at a more fundamentally competitive level.
Regardless, when you're thinking about how other people view the game, and the subsequent impact that has on how a tournament is run, on how people talk about other people (the classic branding of hardcore competitive players as "bad," or casual players as "bad," or whatever), and on balance is important.
Let's take a simple example.
Tyranid Termagants with their T3 and 6+ save are base costed at 5 points. For 5 points you get a model that will die to almost anything that wounds it, regardless of source. Lasguns, bolters, close combat attacks, whatever, right? I would say wrong. It's a rare occasion that you'll ever go up against me in even a fairly terran-less board and find numerous Termagants who do not have cover saves. Since the cover save of 5th edition is almost always a 4+, these 5 point models now only die to half of the attacks sent against them from almost any ranged weapon in the game.
This plays out heavily when you consider individual players, and differing levels of terrain at various locations, and other sorts of variables.
A couple of weekends ago, in the first round of a local tournament I participated in, this issue brought itself forward in extreme clarity.
I went up against an extremely casual player in my first round with an Eldar list that, while it had plenty of teeth, was far from optimized and had a very significant "foot" portion in the form of a walking farseer, 3 squads of walking guardians, and a squad of walking avengers, plus an avatar and a wraithguard. My army was fully mechanized ... a pair of demolishers, a trio of chimeras, and 5 vendettas (which I probably would have fielded less of, but my newer chimeras are not yet painted). I am familiar with having cover often, and knowing how to use it and how to acquire it when it's scarce on the board.
You could tell right away that my opponent was used to a casual group of players who utilized cover very sparsely, and rarely granted it ... more noticeably, they appeared by some of his actions to be a "4th edition" group. Cover was harder to come by unless you were clearly in it, and foot armies were a little more plausible. Regardless, whenever I would fire at him through partial obscuring terrain, I would have to argue politely with him to allow HIM to have a cover save - he was so used to not ever having any. Similarly, I had to bite my tongue and pass on having cover saves when he'd fire at a leman russ 75% obscured by a fence (for example), b/c his group clearly viewed things like "fences" as silly cover, and utilized realism over rules in such instances.
Note - I don't disagree with that approach, but the point is here to highlight that playstyles vary widely among players, and not all players are built - via group, and/or personality - to take advantage of all the rules of the game to their fullest capacity.
So let's reference this back to the inclusion of homebrew rules in a tournament setting, attempts at rebalancing the game, and the inclusion of army amplifiers like IA rules.
If you give my opponent from Round 1 a Wraithguard, and you give me a Wraithguard, mine will survive most games far longer than his (which bit it to a single vendetta round right off the bat, since he never tried to give it any cover ... just a wraithguard waltzing across the board). This isn't b/c I'm necessarily smarter, but b/c my playing background and mental outlook encourages me to fully grasp the impact of the 50% cover rule and apply it whenever and wherever possible. Fight tooth and nail for every wound on every model, and you're more likely to come out of the game in one piece.
This is an extremely simple example, but hopefully renders a point clear - that the more competitive the player, the more advantage he will take of rules in the game to achieve an advantage for his army. As a result, while it would *feel* like changes to make units more competitive would benefit everyone, they actually benefit more competitive players (who already do not require an advantage) on an exponential level. If you were to make gaunts 4 points instead of 5 (just as an example), you're making a unit slightly better for those who always get them shot up with no saves, and you're improving the unit twice as much for a player who always ensures they have a cover save. That one point of savings goes twice as far for the better player.
Maybe others might see it differently, but it takes a lot of careful thought when it comes to balance to utilize rules beyond those already in the codices (which are already questionably balanced). Excellent players do not require an advantage, and poor players are not going to be better off for it. These rules changes and "extra" rules (like IA) seem to therefore have their best place within normalized play groups, where the style and level of play usually equalizes over time for the most part, and so where changes benefit everyone equally, instead of increasing the disparity between players (and therefore reducing competitiveness, instead of improving it).
Just a few Monday morning $.02