Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kill Points vs. Victory Points - Impacts in a Tournament Setting

The age old debate of KP vs VP is one that I'll never cease to run into, so long as we utilize VP even a little in our tournament formats.

In the past, every tournament or league we've run has been the trio of book missions and deployments, with the VP tiebreaker option from the back of the rulebook in use.

We did this in large part as a deference to those who prefer it that way, and in contrast to tournaments who designed their own scenarios using up to 6 missions "per."

We also kept track of all of the games played ... and the armies used ... and the # of kill points these armies had vs. how many were scored off them ... and whether VP (which we tracked as well) were a generally better barometer of balance and competitiveness than KP.

Here's where my brain is at in the matter ...

What are the advantages of the kill points mission? GW states numerous times in their book that you are not required to nor should you limit yourself to the 3 standard book missions, so I'm going to avoid a discussion direction that goes "YOU SHOULD USE THE STANDARD BOOK MISSIONS," b/c that's not based in anything other than personal preference. Our goal for the NOVA Open is as much competitive balance as we can muster - we want the best general with the best all-comers list to win, not the guy who gets a few lucky opponent draws on the key missions. As much as we can avoid it, of course ;)

So ... advantages of kill points ...

1) The chance for kill points coming up at the least makes people think about their armies as they are building them ... do they want to tool their individual squads up more, or spam as many as possible? Do they want to go for a MSU style approach, or do they want to minimize kill points altogether? I can say that for my own part, I've never tailored my list with kill points in mind, and yet have never lost a kill point mission (even against lists with 10+ KP less than me). I will also say that I've collected statistics that show no routine advantage to low kp armies over high kp armies in KP missions, in actual practice.

So does having fewer kill points give you an advantage, if both lists are still optimized?

Ah, now we bring in the word "Optimized." I think it can be said that the more a list is optimized, the better it will perform in the hands of equivalent generals. Are intentionally "reduced" kill point armies optimized? Do they perform better in objective missions? Lots of questions.

What we can generally say with accuracy is this (and I think this one is hard to argue): There are some codices that CANNOT compete right now with "low" kill point totals. Examples include Witch Hunters and Dark Eldar. Low KP WH and DE armies might as well not bother playing, b/c their builds that are still competitive so many years after codex release are all VERY high in KP (we're talking 17+). There are other examples of armies that don't perform AS well with fewer KP. Guard is NOT one of these armies - they can build potent lists at LOW KP (platoon blobs and artillery spam) or obviously high KP (we've all run into and many of us own a mech guard army).

So, there are at least a few armies that cannot be expected to field moderate or low KP armies and remain competitive in non-KP missions.

What about the reverse? Are there armies that can't be expected to or even be able to field high KP totals and be competitive? Well, possibly. What about Orks? High KP Ork tend to win tournaments ... low KP horde ork and nob biker ork have lost their luster now that people know how to manage them ... they aren't "optimized" armies ... regardless, they are low KP ... so Ork can field arguably competitive armies at both low and high KP totals. What about Necron? Well, the "best" Necron armies are pretty low KP, we can all agree there. Does KP in a tournament then make Necron competitively capable of winning tourneys? Ah ... unfortunately, not really.

OK, still digging here. What about Tyranid. There's a winner, right? It's a common and reasonable argument that one of the best Tyranid armies and certainly one of the most common that people have invested their time and money in is the Tervigon + Hive Guard army. Oh ... crud ... that army actually loses most of its advantages in fear during a KP mission, b/c the Tervis can't risk creating 3-gaunt kill points each turn.

Well crud ... so what army NEEDS kill points to be competitive? What codex cannot field armies that will win at all w/out the kill point mission active? I don't know ... it's clearly an argument, a discussion to be had ... and one steeped heavily in opinion. As soon as you try to make "non-optimized" lists competitive, or argue for KP in light of army builds that would only be able to win KP anyway (and wouldn't be able to win obj/etc. missions), you're running into dangerous territory as well.

Let's get off that track for a bit ... it's a morass known as the KP argument. Suffice to say that not every codex is normalized around a general kill point total, especially not some of the old ones (the ones you would think should be most considered, since the newer codices are more flexible in competitive build variety). How, then, do you account for "luck of the draw" in a tournament setting?

What's that? Well, Players 5, 7, 10, and 22 are playing. Their numbers represent their # of kill points.

In round 1, kill points is the mission. Players 5, 7 and 4 have all intentionally built their armies at the LOW kill point level so that they can try to compete against mech guard and mech DE in the tournament.

5 plays vs 22
10 plays vs 7

What's fair about this? Regardless of the "balance" of the game, how is this mission fair? Five has lucked out and needs only kill 23% of his opponent's units, while losing no more than 80% of his own. He can win by losing 80% of his units ... and only killing 23% of his opponent's.

What about Mr. 10? He brought a well balanced list that has enough units to realistically tackle big 22 kp armies without getting tabled. But crap ... he drew Mr. 7. Mr. 7 can lose 87% of his units and only have to kill 70% of 10's if he loses that much. So much for Mr 10's plan to bring fewer kill points and improve his odds. Lucky day for Mr. 5 (unless he gets outright tabled).

What about Mr.'s 18 and 21 on Table 3? They both brought higher kill point armies, and they are vs. each other. They each have tons of fragile transports, and some seriously potent units ... is it a competitive and appropriate game if they spend the entire time targeting the most fragile things, and ignoring the actual threats? I don't know ... you tell me.

That's luck of the draw in a tournament setting. If you are using VP, every one of those people becomes Mr. 2000, and the only argument remaining is "codex balance." We all know how opinionated and impossible that argument is.

Ok, so let's take VP vs. KP. The argument of "MSU" ... that some armies without kill points to "reign them in" just rock others ... let's get real about it for a second.

At most, 1/3 missions takes KP into account, if you go straight from the book. This means that whatever glorified low KP armies that "can't compete" against mech armies are literally HOPING that they get "lucky" and only run up against a mechanized army in the KP mission. Is it REALLY a *tournament* balancer to have people hoping? Any advantage argued for the high KP army vs. low KP army is erased when you consider that not every mission is going to be KP.

Let's compare this to a "real" tourney format in the sports world. Just b/c Team Cindarella has the magical ingredient to beat one of the Giants on their way to the Final Four, doesn't mean they should or deserve to win the tourney ... and unless they are genuinely the better team on all fronts, they're going to lose to another Giant eventually anyway.

Off into argument land again ... I'm enjoying rambling on this one, and will enjoy no doubt the different opinions in the comments ... so let's hear them, but back on track.

What does every army in a 2,000 point tournament have?
a) About 2,000 points, or at least as many as that
b) At least 2 scoring units, by requirement
c) At least 3 total units, by requirement

So if a tournament organizer is trying to put on an UNBIASED EVENT, where he is leaving out his OPINION about the competitive game, how best does he manage it? Does he throw his hands up in the air and utilize kill points from the book? Or, does he ensure an even and unbiased field by measuring off the variables that are steady across every army?

VP enables everyone to score the same number of points off every opponent. If their army is not built to tackle the all comers of ANY opposing codex's optimized build, they're going to get steamrolled by armies they can't handle. Are there any codices that SIMPLY CANNOT HANDLE optimized lists from other codices? You all know that our experience-based stance on this is NO. Even Necron (probably the most hamstrung right now) *can* build a list that can compete with most other codices. DH, WH, and DE *certainly* can, though their best builds are nailed in the face by KP. Tyranid are the next closest to hamstrung, due to their limited spread of anti-tank capacity ... but a solid Nid build has very hard to score VP concentrated on very hard-as-nails units, and is exceptionally capable in capture missions where the objective is to contest or take territory and objectives. Every other army? Their best builds tend toward higher KP anyway.

Lots of thoughts here from me ... but let's take it this way - I want ya'lls feedback.

It's critical to me that our event be competitive, balanced and fair. It's not critical to me that we follow ANY conventions in accomplishing this. What actual games have you played where you could not have competed if not for the 33% chance to roll a KP mission? What tournaments have you been at where dozens of competitors would have been trampled upon if not for one of the rounds having KP? What tournaments have you been to where a superior general LOST b/c his opponent had way fewer KP and targeted his transports instead of his key units?

Blah blah blah ... ya'll's turn. Know that I am not attached to any result here, and our primer rounds/missions are just that - primers. The combination of mission+deployment will NOT be the same for the Open, and the missions themselves can still change by then ;)

- Mike

PS - for any interested, our primer tourney packet is up:


  1. I had one tourney game where my opponent optimized his black Templar for KP's. at 1500, I think he had 6-7, I had 14 with my WH's.

    it was a crazily uphill battle for me. I was lucky it wasn't Dawn of War, and was at least Pitched Battle deployment.

    In the end, had it NOT been a KP mission, I would have won. Even if it were VP's I would have won. Having to kill twice as many points out of your opponent's army as he has to kill out of yours isn't a fun battle.

  2. I find, increasingly, that I quite like KPs...weirdly. Earlier, in Seize Ground, I was wishing for multiple Win Conditions, or Scoring (like Stelek's 5x5, after a fashion) simply for the extra variety, and depth.

    That said, I generally consider building a list with them in mind is like going out naked in case your clothes get dirty. It's impractical, it's silly, and better resource management mitigates the likelihood of the thing you aim to avoid.

  3. Blogger ate my post. >:( I'll try to summarize.

    - I don't like it.
    - I don't think these decisions are anything but based on your opinions. I don't think that's fundamentally a bad thing (or an avoidable one), but I do disagree with calling opinion objective fact.
    - I think KP, while not perfect, are integral to the design of the current armies. Any sort of boost your trying to give to older armies will be magnified with the newer armies.
    - There's a reason Rhinos cost 35 points: KP.

  4. Rush - sorry Blogger at your post!

    I would glean more ... agreement than you'd guess between the sentiment you put forth and my own feelings.

    Consider that I tend to think KP was added for the reason you suggest - to attempt to "balance" armies that take lots of cheap transports vs. armies that ... well, can't (not that there are very many of those, but you get the point).

    In a league setting, or a long-running round robin style tournament, or in pick-up games ... I think they actually pull off their goal fairly effectively. That is to say that if you run a high KP army vs. your buddy all the time, and his army is much lower KP, he's going to beat you 1/3 of the time by "default," b/c his army will eventually have the right tools to tackle some of your stuff and not be tabled.

    Adjustment at that point is required, or you simply concede that the ability to win or lose is based off a dice roll.

    The issue I've found via observation, participation, and "facts collection" in terms of data in our own leagues/tourneys, is that over a "short frame" tournament it doesn't work out this way. It's entirely based upon "luck of the draw," and people do not willfully "optimize" around Kill Points. This has become even more the case with the proliferation of mech guard, mech space wolves, etc. - your odds of running into a list with more or less as many KP as your own are higher and higher, and less and less pressure subsequently is applied to people to optimize around them.

    So ... what we're trying to do is NOT make a judgment based upon opinion (such as: KP was designed to balance things like 35 point rhinos) and more based upon the actual "reality" of a tournament and the fair play it should pursue.

    NOW ... maybe that's not the case, and that's where I am looking for input. Does KP actually balance certain things that would otherwise be unfair at tournaments ... and do different armies altogether win tournaments BECAUSE of kill points? If KP is not accomplishing its "apparent" goal in a tournament setting, it ceases to be valuable in comparison to the "everybody has the same # of points to score" nature of VP. That's what it's my responsibility to determine ... but the still-critical-analysis-requiring nature of it is why Primer Missions are just that - Primers, not the final deals ;)

    Thanks for the input, Rush - and keep back and forthing if you're of a mind to ... I like to think I'm not the typical e-blogger full of "NO YUR RONG I WILL ALWAYZ DISGREE!11"

  5. One thing you really have to be lauded for is how open, transparent and open to discussion you've been in the planning for this thing. I don't think anyone could accuse you of all-caps, internet rage disagreement. :)

    It seems to me that, you're saying that, because people are taking higher and higher KP lists, there's less pressure to take low KP lists / avoid high KP lists. I don't think I'm in a position to dispute facts here, but the logic of this seems a little skewed. Shouldn't that mean there should be increased pressure to stay away from higher KP lists?

    In a league or a long-running tournament, you're right: the likelihood that a game will be KP based works out to ~1/3rd of your games. The more games, the closer that's going to be. I don't believe that that any different from a tournament, though, because you're able to set the scenarios. You don't have to rely on the Monte Carlo method of delivering your one in three KP games: you can just make it so.

    I mean, if you know that ~1/3rd of the games you're going to play at a tournament are going to be Kill Point-based then you know that your ability to win one game (and, likely, a fistful of bonus points across several other games) will depend, in great part, on your taking a lower KP list. One game might not be an entire day's worth of games, but someone who loses a game isn't going to be the guy walking home with Best Overall. That should be pretty good motivation to build a list with KP in mind.

    NoVA Open's got a slightly different format, yes, but I think the principle remains: if you know that some number of your games is going to involve Kill Points, you can be sure that taking a high-KP army is going to make it difficult for you to win all of your games and therefore the tournament.

    You've got data that shows that people don't appear to take KP into consideration in building their lists: I'm curious to how it works out. Is it tournament-wide, just the top half or just the top tables? Is it that people just assume they'll crush on their other games and hope for a good draw on the KP game?

    This reminds me, a little bit, about the complaints people have had about The Colonial's comp system this past month. With Fantasy, comp's kind of a big deal, and the tournament has always put lots of emphasis put on good comp vs. bad comp. This year, the benefit to taking a good comp list and the penalty for taking a bad comp list were... significantly imbalanced. Ultimately this meant that the folks who came with good comp lists were suckers who didn't stand a chance while folks with bad comp lists were able to shrug off any penalty for their lists. The problem isn't that they had a comp system, it's that the comp system wasn't sufficiently significant.

    Maybe I'm starting to argue, not so much against the removal of KP, but for an increased presence to make them increasingly relevant.

  6. So if a tournament organizer is trying to put on an UNBIASED EVENT, where he is leaving out his OPINION about the competitive game, king size mattress cover , single bed razai cover how best does he manage it? Does he throw his hands up in the air and utilize kill points from the book? Or, does he ensure an even and unbiased field by measuring off the variables that are steady across every army?