Friday, April 2, 2010

Perils of Composition - Broken Comp

There's been some chatter around the web today about comp here and there, and I thought I'd do a little thought experiment to help highlight what I feel are the perils of the system.

Let's get a couple of assertions out of the way ...

Let us presume that 40k is a relatively balanced game, where almost every codex can put a list together that will enable a SKILLED player to compete at a tournament level where they don't know their opponents and the missions are "fair." I think this isn't an unfair presumption ... and I challenge someone to put forth a dex that doesn't fall under this category. Trust me when I say that demonhunters and necrons are both able to do this. Demonhunters most especially due to the allies rule (for better or worse, my point is not theme here at the moment ... just competitive capacity).

The problems with codex creep and balance are not that older codices cannot compete, just that with each new dex, the older dexes have FEWER builds that can compete. This number will never reach "zero," it will just shrink ... at this point, some of the very old dexes are already at the "1" point where they have one competitive build and that's it. Dark Eldar come to mind. While lamentable, this doesn't represent a broken situation - just one where if you choose to use an older army, you'll be more limited on your competitive builds until your codices are revamped and you can join the rejoicing crowds of wolves, guardsmen, and angels who can field 20 competitive builds each.

Onto my point, while there are many different rationales for instituting composition restrictions, the long and short is that they represent an amateur (in the form of a tournament organizer or organizers) attempting to restrict the game in a way that will enable older codices or less "potent" list builders to be on more of a level playing field.

An example of a composition restriction I ran into recently for a 1750 event restricted the players to 200 points for Heavy and Fast choices, 250 points for Elite and HQ choices, and the rest to Troops. You also cannot duplicate a FOC choice outside of Troops (weapons regardless, meaning you can't have 2 of the same unit, period). The intent is obviously to "rebalance" peoples' limitations and thus improve the "fun" for all - including noncompetitive list builders.

Alright, fair enough, but what if someone brings this ...

Company Command Squad w/ 2 Meltaguns, Chimera (Multilaser and Heavy Flamer) - 125
Lord Comissar, Chimera (Multilaser and Heavy Flamer) - 125

4+Overseer Psyker Battle Squad, Chimera (Multilaser and Heavy Flamer) - 115
Ogryn Squad - 130 (goes in Lord Com's Chimera)

Veteran Guard Squad w/ 3 Meltaguns, Chimera (Multilaser and Heavy Flamer) - 155
Veteran Guard Squad w/ 3 Meltaguns, Chimera (Multilaser and Heavy Flamer) - 155
Veteran Guard Squad w/ 3 Meltaguns, Chimera (Multilaser and Heavy Flamer) - 155
Veteran Guard Squad w/ 3 Meltaguns, Chimera (Multilaser and Heavy Flamer) - 155
Veteran Guard Squad w/ 3 Meltaguns, Chimera (Multilaser and Heavy Flamer) - 155
Veteran Guard Squad w/ 3 Meltaguns, Chimera (Multilaser and Heavy Flamer) - 155

3 x Armored Sentinel w/ Autocannon - 120

Hydra Flak Tank w/ Heavy Flamer Hull - 75
Basilisk w/ Heavy Flamer Hull - 125

That's 14 AV12 vehicles, 11 Heavy Flamers, 20 BS4 Meltaguns, 5 Autocannons, 9 Multilasers, some ordnance, and plenty of annoying other crap and bodies at 1750 and fully within the composition restrictions. In fact, Elite and Fast Attack haven't hit the cap, and per the apparent intent Troops are maxed out.

We see the problem?

I could go through any composition system, as could most anyone, and "break" it ... I could field the above list, too, with little effort or expenditure. It'd be fully painted and very nice looking, yatta yatta.

I can guarantee that armies such as Dark Eldar, Demonhunters, Necron, and others are FAR more hurt by the comp restrictions above than the competitive builds. More importantly, I can guarantee that the people who STRUGGLE to own / build strong lists will struggle even more. I can further guarantee this will not help the people who like to bring purely thematic armies.

This isn't a knock on the system - in reality, a social contract should be vibrantly apparent here, where you should either not come, or bring a "relaxed" army build ... that's affirmatively what the tournament organizer WANTS you to do. What forces people to do this, though? Worse, what if someone brings a powerful build but DIDN'T try to break the comp? What if that's all he could do with the models he had?

Will that person be branded a "douche" for intentionally breaking the compa, also? The person who does it on purpose deserves it, but this theoretical innocent sure doesn't.

Show me a perfect comp system for 40k that can't be broken and destroyed in purpose anyway, and tell me what the purpose of it is, and I'll consider running that comp system personally in smaller events.

For Fantasy, it's a different beast, b/c pending the details of 8th edition, it's a far more broken system ... it needs comp, or it's pointless to play / bring any but a few builds. Where in 40k, the power curve has given variety of competitiveness to new books and limited variety of older books, in Fantasy there's basically a limited competitive spectrum to the NEW books, and the older books might as well not even bother. Different beast, where even an amateur's stab at comp has to be attempted.

Comp presents the opportunity for very dangerous and muddy waters, where often times verbal abuse is heaped upon the wrong people, and the right people aren't helped at all. Consider the impacts carefully before you go forward with it, and make sure your own personal bias and metagame experience isn't finding its way into the system.

Whatever you do, make it immensely transparent! We all have heard about one of the GT's recently that did a "secret" comp, rated people behind closed doors, and then had some of its own organizers participate in the event.

Food for thought,
- Mike


  1. Great post, thanks for sharing.

    It really is impossible to create a comp system that doesn't needlessly hamper players with themed lists or older Codices.

    Locally, for example, people were discussing banning 2 SCs in the same army. Bad luck me, I run a Death/Raven Dark Angels army using Sammael and Belial. Any time I try and bring it up, they tell me to basically suck it up and not bring a power build. I wasn't aware Dark Angels even *could* make a power build :P

  2. Oh God, that comp system just made me throw up all over my screen!

    Great article thought, valid points all around!

    Anyway, comp is supposed to make the game fun right? But this kills themes. Like Airforce Guard, Harlequin Eldar, Tau Suit frenzies, and Wolf Cavalry. What is fun about that. I really wish comp would go away.

  3. Absolutely right. Tbh, I've yet to hear an argument for comp that can stand up to serious scrutiny aside from "this is how we always do it here in ."

  4. This is a fantastic post.

    So good, in fact, that it jumped straight to the head of the queue, overtaking several other blogs, for my 'Community posts of Note' series...

    That said, I have an issue with usage of the phrase Codex Creep, as I believe this is not a real phenomenon, and merely a manufactured one created by those who are desperate to blame others (ie, GW) for their inability to adapt to the changing game environment of new Codexes and Editions.

  5. I don't see Codex Creep as a real thing, at least not in a negative way. It's a factx that older codices have fewer competitivce builds, but not that they are rendered noncompetitive. The subtle difference is "life unavoiadable" vs. "codex creep." No worries, and thanks for the "props."

  6. I secretly rate every army for comp in our 40K tournament. I do it so I can have a list of players to make it easier to guess who will do well, who will have trouble moving their models, and who is there playing with the models they happen to have.

    Not that my comp rating means anything, since it's not scored and has no bearing on anything other than my own personal side bets against myself - I don't seed with it or anything.

    There isn't a compelling case for comp in 40K, just like there is a good case for comp in WFB.

    Anyway, competently written piece.

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  8. Sandwyrm and Farmpunk showed how Comp Scoring can be easily broken with a local tournament they played in. They came to the same conclusion that you did:

    Comp handicaps the older codices while the new codices have the flexibility to work around the restrictions.

    It doesn't just restrict the "power gamers" but also the gamer that wants to field a thematic army e.g. Acro-flagellant and Penitent Engine heavy list.

    I agree with your reasoning that older codices haver fewer competitive builds. The article was a great read. Glad TKE had a link to this as I may never of found it.


  9. Terrible article, how can we have fun at an event? Without comp everyone is going to become a WAAC competitive gamer and no one will have any fun.

    I guess I'll start to follow this blog so I can correct all the wrong on it.


  10. I don't have a link to here just for LOLs, you know! I should 'trim' my sidebar though, into a more definitive 'recommended reading' section, and a 'I also enjoy, but don't necessarily endorse' section.

    As regards 'Codex Creep' aka 'Life Unavoidable' (nice!) I will be doing a post sometime in the not-to-distant, and rest assured, I will steal your phrase!

  11. I really can't understand the GW apologists who claim codex creep is an imagined phenomonon..... it is very clear that each new codex GW releases is increasingly silly (ridiculously overpowered characters, vehicles, units, special rules) when compared with previous codexs. GW do this so players will buy the latest army they've come up with, they are a private company with one goal: to make money, they will do this at the expense of the gaming experience.

    Just compare the 4th ed guard list with the 5th one and tell me codexs creep isn't real. It gave troop choices ordanace. Went from max 3 ordanace vehicles in a list to a possible 18... its insane.