Friday, November 26, 2010

Competitive vs. Competitively EVALUATIVE - 5 seconds of holiday post

So I keep seeing this misused, join with me, and comment on your own pet peeves about the same or similar subject:

Competitive = directly proportional to the average skill difference between all players present
Competitively Determinate = effective at evaluating the best competitor at an event

FluffBunny40k, where the ultimate winner is determined by who can dance best, but where everyone is almost identical in skill and army list ... vs. NOVA format (or, in comparison to that, ANY format) ... one is by nature Competitive (The first), the second is simply Competitive Determinate.

MOST 40k events are COMPETITIVE, made more so with larger crowds and more rounds, where your later rounds are probably going to be pretty "close" in terms of skill matching.

NOT all 40k events are competitively determinate.


Monday, November 22, 2010

The NFL is About to Make Me Sick

I'm crazy busy at work ... and while I'm excited about my Redskins winning yesterday, I'm still haunted by the horrific coaching performance put on by Jim Haslett and Kyle Shanahan against the Eagles just a week ago.

Is anyone else disgusted by the impending PLU strike (aka raping-of-fans)?  The players and coaches and owners all are employed and gain revenue by virtue of the product they provide - entertainment, for fans.  Our love and adoration has elevated their sport to incredible levels of profit and success, that improve every year as the league reaches greater and greater levels of talent saturation and parity.

It should be embarrassing to them that they haven't resolved this yet, and should further be a focal point of all they do and think every single day to resolve the issue and not threaten the future of the sport and the enjoyment of the fans.  Strikes are CRIPPLING to a sport's following, and to its integrity - any problems that are systemic to the entire infrastructure are, in fact.

Yeah, I'm pointing at you, Baseball Steroid Scandal.

I feel like there's nothing we as fans can do to hurry them up - they've come to the point where their customers are not the target of consideration.  I grew up watching Joe Gibbs win 3 Super Bowls, with my family and all friends always there for a big spread and beers every Sunday during football season.  We still uphold that tradition.  Anyone who lives in the DC area is more than welcome every Sunday for a massive TV and an awesome spread of food.  Hell, I've even played organized football on and off in various forms for over a decade.  I love this sport, and I love the game at its professional level.  It's so much more infinitely complex and subtle than people outside the game give it credit for, and even more so in comparison to other popular sports such as basketball, hockey, baseball and soccer.

For the love of all that is good and holy, can we please not have a dagger of mistrust and anger jabbed into us as fans?  I don't want to watch scrubs play the game for a year, watch our favorite players and teams all get out of their rhythms, and have our confidence in the NFL's and players' commitment to their fans/customers be permanently damaged.

Anywho, back to work!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Internal Codex Balance Series - Article 1.1 - CSM Rebalance by Unit v2

OK, updated based upon feedback, further playtest, etc.

Version 2

Continue to offer constructive input and commentary, changes are in red

Next step in the series is to continue to revise the above, and then to internally rebalance another dex AND keep it balanced toward and unique enough from the CSM rebalance.

NOVA Mission Thought Process - Goal Tiering - Tie-able Goals - Game Balance - Bad Luck Tournament Match-Ups - Etc.

Something that's been going around a variety of forums and chats lately is me trying to better enunciate the "why" behind the NOVA format, and also highlight what exactly it is.

Let's simplify it ...

Here's the skeleton of the format, that could be used by any tournament organizer at will:

Goal #1: Put Mission A in here, whatever you wish
Goal #2: Put Mission B in here, whatever you wish
Goal #3: Put Mission C in here, whatever you wish
VP ultimate tiebreaker, per optional rule in 40k rulebook (or whatever game system you're in's ultimate tiebreaker)

Rotate the goals by round, utilizing all the deployment methods equally.  For rounds past 3, either randomize one of the first 3 rounds (and then remove it from the randomization pool until you get to round 7), or utilize additional combinations of goal tiering.

Here's where things get interesting, and you'll see some of the rationale behind the goals we specifically choose.

The game of 40k is extremely heterogeneous across codices and army build styles.  There exists widespread argument that the basic rulebook missions "balance" the game across these styles and builds ... I don't necessarily disagree, but here's what happens that causes problems in tournaments when you have missions that are a) hard to tie, and/or b) battle points and margin of victory oriented.

Let's take a "tournament" of 4 people ... far less random than a tournament of, oh, 256 ... but we can still see victimization of random draw.

Player A has 8 units, Player B has 8 units, Player C has 10 units, Player D has 26 units
We can all generally agree that the players with 8 or 10 units are going to have an advantage in a sense against Player D in the Kill Point mission, but not really against each other.  Additionally, Player D is going to have an advantage in the Objective mission (especially with 5 objectives).  So let's take this 2 round tournament and apply the missions Kill Points and 5 Objectives.  So far, by the pro-bookmission / KP arguments out there, our tournament is fair: we are using the extremes of the BRB missions to accomplish "balance" across them.

Round 1, Kill Points, randomized matches
Player A vs. Player C
Player B vs. Player D

Wait a minute here.  The games are TOTALLY different, aren't they?  You're thinking: this happens no matter what, but stay with me - I'll get to it.  In this one example though, which happens in any tournament all the time, this isn't a fair event ALREADY.  A and C are largely at an "even" match, where player skill will be the determinant (and dice, ofc).  B and D are not at all an "even" match ... if B has a "strong" list that D can't table, B has a strong chance of winning the KP war, b/c he only needs to win by "1" ... and that may simply mean not getting tabled.  Life's harder on A and C.

So, Round 2, Objectives
Player A vs. Player D
Player B vs. Player C

WAIT A MINUTE.  Same problem, right?  A's again kind of screwed here ... sure, he can force a tie on the 5 objective mission if he plays well and is a better opponent, but he's really, really unlikely to win that sucker.  D has TWENTY SIX UNITS to contest objectives with, and have scoring units on his own.  Good luck, A.  Now B & C on the other hand ... well, fair match-up.

The use of the BRB's "balanced" missions in this tournament setting example has generally screwed most everyone, and established the event as completely illegitimate and unfair.

Well, what if it were a league?  What if these guys played each other in a series of games over a course of a month or two?  Is it fair then?  Well, yes, yes it is.  Each of them are going to get their fair shake at the breadth of the opposition present playing the breadth of missions present, and the better player and better-prepared-list for the environment will win out.

What about the other issue - margin of victory / battle points?  Even if some of those mis-matches above see the skilled player fight out, say, the 5 objective mission to a draw with his 8 units against D's 26 units ... in a Battle Point system, they both suffer extensively for what in reality is a hell of a close game against the odds, right?  One could even argue 8 probably played a better game (and let's presume for the example he did, but it's not super relevant).

We see these problems, and most people would agree they are real and exist.  So, what do we do about it?  Can we completely fix it?  No, we can't.  Can we largely mitigate it?  YES.  This is what the NOVA format is intended toward, with the right "goals" put into those gaps above.  Here's what I mean.

Place these goals into the 3:
Quarters - Capture quarters by having a simple VP advantage
5 Objectives - 5 Objectives, standard GW rules for capturing/contesting them
Win-by-4 Kill Points (or more) - Kill Points scored as they are now, but you must win by 4 or more in order to win the goal and not see it go down to the next tiebreaker

Each build style and codex style has slight advantages here, for each mission.  Furthermore, since the NOVA format doesn't place any significant FINAL standing emphasis on how much you win a goal by (other than to help seed subsequent rounds), it doesn't harm you if you play to your army's strength and force ties when the primary and/or secondary goals favor your opponent's LIST.  If you're a superior player than him (which is what we're trying to evaluate here, after all), you'll be able to play for the tie when your army match-up just CAN'T reasonably win the primary.  Skill, foresight, tactics leave you positioned for a better shot at winning a 2ndary or tertiary that better suits your army's capabilities.  No doubt this gets harder, but you have an "out," vs. a simple up-hill battle toward a low-battlepoint marginal victory or draw based PURELY on the unfavorability of your match-up.

Furthermore, this places advantages to bringing a wider VARIETY of lists.  All of those army build styles that you weren't comfortable bringing due to their inability to reliably CRUSH a lot of players are now viable again, as is bringing a balanced force that can compete in any mission even if it can't CRUSH people in some.  This further weakens the "rock-paper-scissors" game that 40k can sometimes be, where you go to a tournament with a Rock hoping to draw a bunch of scissors (or enough scissors) for a battle point margin win in the final standings.

YMMV by goal - the point here is to have goals that a) can be tied via skill, not luck ("plain" KP can't be tied reliably by skill and planning ... the margin of 1 is just too narrow for any kind of practical application of the fundamentals to the system here).  Our initial "win-by-5" was too high a #, so we're playtesting at win-by-4 right now.

NOW, what about you all that just absolutely love your battle points / margin of victory / sports and painting input Best Overall traditional tournament systems, are sure this one is bad and wrong, and just don't want to change or feel forced to change?  Ah, well, and I'll go into this more in future articles - we have you covered.

The Tournament Champion award at our events is our equivalent of Best General, awarded to players who win each 2nd day Bracket and to the overall winner of the top bracket, on a pure w/l approach.  At the end of the 2nd day, there will be 15 people who win their brackets by going 4-0 on Day 2, and the top Tournament Champ who wins the top bracket, finishing as the only 8-0 out of 256 players for the tournament.

The Renaissance Man award, however, is our Best Overall.  It is awarded to the player with the highest score combined by the following:

Competitive Rating / Possible ( (winratex10 + goal1% + goal2% + goal3%)/13 ) ... so basically w/l moderated by how much of each goal you accomplished over all 8 rounds


Appearance Score / Possible

+ Sports Score / Possible * .5

In short, because each one is "out of possible" you're going to score between 0-1 in each category.  This weights Competitive Score as much as Appearance Score, and Sports Score half as much as each of those (we found equal weighting to favor sports and collusion a little too much the first time around).

So while the "hardcore competitive" types have a full on elim-style w/l tournament at their disposal, the more traditional types and hobbyists have an event that is 40% Competitive Points, 40% Appearance Points, 20% Sports Points.  At the same time.  In a sense, two uniquely different and uniquely catering tournaments occurring at exactly the same time, within the same crowd of players.

Give it some thought, pass it around ... it's built to do a couple of things - fairly, competitively evaluate the field of generals; achieve as much balance as is reasonably possible between the various codex and build styles, while rewarding a wider variety of lists by placing much greater emphasis on simply pulling out the win (even an extremely narrow one), and in the process encouraging closer matches between better balanced armies; maintain the tradition of a Best Overall that is comprised of record, battle points, appearance points, and sportsmanship scores; at least partially mitigate the inherent flaw of "random draw" in a heterogeneous-list environment by utilizing missions/goals that are specifically designed to address that problem.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Internal Codex Balance Series - Article 1 - CSM Re-Balance By Unit v1

Alright, as promised earlier today, here is the re-write of the CSM Codex by unit.  At the top of the doc is a quick intro on what you should be going for in reading and playtesting it.

While I haven't firmly nailed it down, let's keep it looking like this - the people who build and playtest the largest # of lists and provide the strongest feedback are the people who are most likely to win a free weekend badge or two to next year's NOVA Open.

So, take a good hard look.  Keep this in mind - any unit you think is "underpowered" or worthless, I'll strongly consider that input "in a vacuum."  Any unit you think is "overpowered," please build it into a list in a capacity that highlights this, in comparison to other strong lists from legitimate codices.  That's to say - don't tell me that Kharn's +2A special rule for the unit he's attached to is OP unless you can show me a list with that in application that's provably OP :)

Read the pdf, and begin to feedback here and now ... all material feedback will be considered for updates and revisions.

Keep in mind the goals here, they're listed in the pdf ;)


Internal Codex Balance - Possible? Upcoming Article Series & Competition

Ok, so I was appropriately called out in another thread -

Kevin Nash said:

I challenge anyone to take a codex, like CSM for example and make all of their troop choices equally competitive in any meta-game simultaneously. They aren't allowed to be the same unit with different fluff either. They must be distinct. I posit it's impossible to do that. What you'll wind up with is a good unit, a couple specialty units that probably aren't as good all around or good in a specific role (please see scout marines) and you'll end up with some units that are just weaker. To buff one will weaken the other.

G Red then said:

Now Mike, not a temptation but rather a challenge: (I thought the language I used was a bit too confrontational to be viewed as tempting. Looks like I need a better editor too.) Design a game engine, or at least the outline of one. Don't need to do an entire game. I would be curious to see how a power gamer would built such a thing. No boundaries except: Plays in ~2 hours, uses 40-50 miniatures (28mm-32mm on 30mm bases, the current standard, but you can go old school w/ 25mm bases), and measured in inches. (not cm). Type of dice used, etc. are all up to you. Present it in a multi-part blog post. You'll get alot of response from the commentariat. Look at how many have commented here. We all know that GW is not going to change.

So, first off - I'm not going to be posting a brand new game system in a multi-part blog post at this time.  That's not to say I, like many gamers, don't have ideas about what a good one would be ... but that's a bit of an ambitious start point if we're trying to prove that you can build internal codex balance on an all-units basis without simply homogenizing different models with more or less identical rules.

So, there are a couple of key things here, and we'll see them pan out.

First - You can't take any single unit in a vacuum, nor can you take a FOC in a vacuum - take Chaos Space Marines; there are some things you could change about the way the cult marines worked, but they wouldn't necessarily make them all cross-competitive and still different unless the designer considered the impact of the REST of the FOC on them at a certain points level or levels.

So keep that in mind as we go through things - but here's what we're going to do.
I'm going to post a "re-tool" of a codex - Chaos Space Marines.  I may post it in a series of articles, FOC by FOC, or the entire thing all at once.  Suffice to say, I want your input and feedback, but I want it in the realm of building up lists, and vassal or playtesting them ... as well as "knee-jerk" reactions.  Understand that I won't be doing this off the cuff - that I've playtested what I'll post, via vassal and with actual opponents.

The goal here is NOT to create a homebrew ruleset of 40k for people to run about and play with, or to play with at the NOVA, or anything of the sort, but to provide an illustrative example (and series of discussable topics) for players to see that you can indeed balance units against each other in a dex, make every unit a worthy and fully competitive selection in certain builds, and in the process create a codex approach that de-emphasizes dividing lines between players who want to be able to field a variety of units they find cool, and players that currently spam the "good" units while eschewing the "bad" ones in any given codex.

I'll be posting the first post up in this series later today, for feedback and input.  Chances are it will be a full re-written dex, FIRST CUT - for input and alteration from you the readership.  It will also likely be accompanied by sample army lists identifying the ability to field competitive lists with a wide variety of units, both spamming various competing units within each FOC, and mix-matching them.

I'll be balancing this at the 1,500 - 2,000 point levels; both because it's fairly common in the US scene, and because it's what we play with most often around here.

Should be a bit of a change of pace as well ... but here's the little carrot on a stick.  I'll be working a competition for free NOVA Open 2011 weekend badges into this; no deets yet, we'll work those out as the series becomes more concrete.

 - Mike

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Examining the Culture Gap - "Fun" vs. "Competitive" Gamers

So, yesterday's article on game design was a bit of a first step in trying to openly assess and dissolve what I think is a largely fictional divide between gamer styles within the hobby.

First of all, it's important to know how I look at things - I'm a performance improvement guy in terms of how I view my own approach to things; I want to be a BETTER person, a BETTER friend, a BETTER employee, a BETTER manager, a BETTER golfer, a BETTER painter, a BETTER gamer ... every time I play.  I don't see the point to being "bad" and not caring, but doing it anyway.  I frankly think nobody else does either ... very few people are attached to being "bad," and most want to be "good."  But ... good at what?  Another discussion, but understand my position - that it is as bad to eschew the gaming component of the hobby as it is to eschew the painting component.  You're not participating in the hobby at that point.  You're just participating in half of it - while OK, it's not something I personally do or find sensible.  There are a lot of hobbies out there with better models and things to just paint/convert.  There are a lot of hobbies out there with better rules if you just want to play a wargame (and that are cheaper).


Let's go to the point of this particular article.  It ties back into the notion of internal codex balance and "pointless" units (in a gaming / competitive sense).  It also ties into how we look at our fellow gamers.

Is there any "non-competitive gamer" out there that willfully believes they are too mentally challenged to tactically match up against a "competitive gamer?"  (Let's call them NCG's and CG's for the rest of the article).  What I mean is this - are there very many NCG's who think they'd simply be unable to beat a CG if they were to fully use the rules, with a "powerful" list from whatever is considered a really powerful Codex?

I'd like to think the answer is NO.  While there may be some people who would say "I REFUSE TO BE A COMPETITIVE WAAC GUY" and quickly derail the subject, I don't think there are many people ANYWHERE who simply believe they CAN'T compete.  More, I believe the issue is that they do not wish to compromise their ideas of a fun list in order to play "competitively."

There's an issue some people have of viewing "competitive" play as not fun - of being too intense, or too full of jerks.  This is bullcrap.  Here's where I partially derail to simply state - jerks who will bend, break and abuse the rules, and who will bully you during a game ... are as common among "NCG" as among "CG."  In fact, I'd argue they are more common among NCG, who haven't brought a "powerful" list and yet still - like most people - WANT to win.  Hell, they're even willing often to "bully" people over their choice of list - "You don't understand the spirit of the game, just spamming meltavets like a netlister."

So let's take a look around at other games that are out there.  How many people pull out the Risk board with their local buddies, and have that one guy in their group who constantly berates them for capturing Australia and South America ASAP b/c it "doesn't make sense, those places wouldn't give you world dominating power in real life!"  How many people seriously try to capture Asia and literally auto-lose just to fluffily play as Ghengis Khan?  NOBODY.

Why?  It's not a "real" option.  In 40k ... and in Fantasy, and in GW games in general ... every dex/army book/etc. has built in OPTIONS to play ... well, "bad."  YET, they develop intriguing backstory and fluff that makes you really want to play with those options.  Ogryns are badass and kind of hilarious.  Pyrovores (esp. the models) look awesome.  Yatta yatta.  Who wouldn't want to play with them?

There's an issue in this game ... and not in the player base ... that I think is causing what we're seeing.  Truth of the matter is - jerks are jerks.  There's a reason that some of the greatest competitors in history - in intense sports and other sorts of things - have often been some of the nicest, most affable, most upstanding people you'll meet.  Competitiveness is not COMPARABLE to fun.  You might as well suggest that people who compete to win at wargames are unhappy, or are bipolar.  Picture is unrelated, as it were.

Truth of the matter is the game puts certain personality types in untenable situations.  Some people respect and obsess over the fluff more than others, and that's FINE.  That said, some people don't - some people emphasize by their very nature the "competition" as fun over the "fluff" as fun.  Sometimes you get hybrids as well - someone building an adeptus mechanicus guard army really has no need to not spam units ... every model can be converted to look different, yatta yatta.  Someone could have nothing but guardsmen with lasguns, spammed across their entire army along with a company command squad w/ lasguns, and have every model be different, and be as fluffy and cool as possible, yet as spammy as possible as well.

Sound like obvious stuff?  I would think it is.  Is there a solution, though?  Yes, and no.

Can we get GW to tighten up its codices so that no matter what list you build, it will be uniquely your own, represent the fluff in whatever capacity you want, and compete with anyone as long as YOU as a tactician can compete?  No.  We probably can't.  We could build our own game, but let's not go there right now.

So why do I say "yes" then?  We can solve the problem by increasing AWARENESS of it.  Looking at someone with a spammy tournament list and presuming they are a bad WAAC netlisting jerk ... well, that makes you about as nearsighted and unaware as it gets.  If we can't get GW to change the game, to "perfect" the game, we as people have to take a more open minded look at our fellow hobbyists.  Furthermore, the dividing lines should be drawn along behavior, not army list.  How many times have you heard people who bring a bunch of meltavets or razorback grey hunter squads snidely referred to as "cheesy" during aimless conversations over the paint booth at the local game shop, or in unrelated forum threads?

There's another tie in here ... it's not just the "softer" gamers who should give the "harder" ones a break, and take them for who they are.  It cuts both ways.  If Nolan Ryan in his prime shows up at a pick-up Sunday BBQ baseball game among family and friends, and picks up that ball on the mound with his grandma up to bat ... do you think he chucks a 98 mph smoker down the pipe and inside to brush her off the plate?  No freaking way.

All you "hardcoar competitorz" who bring the nastiest list possible and liberally, almost abusively kick the teeth in of some softer opponent or buddy at the FLGS or even at a tournament ... come on.  I get it, if it's a crap-ass battle point tournament that basically demands you table him when you get a chance to, but other than that situation ... come the fuck on.

The real problems and stereotypes arise when some dbag murders poor Joe Average when he tests the waters away from the paint table to see what the game's like.  What do you think Mr. Average's view of "hardcore" gamers is going to be thereafter, when the spammy powerlist tables him in 3 turns, the whole while calling super close line of sight and cover saves, and cheesing combat pile-in moves for advantages and all the like?  Tell you one thing - there's a giant pool of equally douchey entrenched anti-gamers out there to egg him on and welcome him into the fold, on the other side of a shitty dividing line.

Food for thought, and rambly ... more thoughts and conversation always welcome, blog's been surprisingly post-happy past couple of days.  Either way - it comes down to how we actively assess, analyze and think about the game we play, and the humanity of those we play with and against (both in actual games, and on the itnernet).  I'll tell you one thing - the anti-social jerks of the hobby cross the dividing line; they're on both sides.  Maybe the more decent and approachable among us oughtta do the same.  We might wind up with a different dividing line - one that actually benefits the hobby.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Balancing a Game - Competitive Balance vs. "Who Cares" / "For Fun" Balance - Mythology and Weirdness in 40k and General Game Design

So, something that's always gotten my goat is the question of whether or not the tabletop wargame(s) we all play and love should be balanced with competitive hardcore tournament players in mind.

The common company line response from Games Workshop in regard to this is that the game is not built with hardcore competitive tournament players in mind, and that it was meant to be a fun beer and pretzels game, and that the majority of its players aren't competitive hardcore tournament players.

Let's think about this critically.

What makes Sisters Repentia cool?  Giant chainswords of doom?  Crazy bitches with holy rage?  The Lumperjacks of Battle, seeking forgiveness for their errors by treating the enemies of the Emperor like a crop of young saplings?

Having them walk across the board getting shot to pieces?  Costing too many points?  Not having a sweet anger-management ride to travel around in?

I'm guessing the latter parts have nothing to do with their cool and fun features.  I'm guessing further that if they were properly points costed, properly equipped, and properly protected / protectable (i.e. a transport) that they'd do two things - 1) not be any less fun, cool, beer and pretzels, fluffy, neato, etc.  .... 2) be more balanced and therefore loved by and functional for hardcore competitive tournament players.  Plus, more hard choices when building a dex, which is never a bad thing for sales OR fun (omg I can change my list whenever I like and the new plugins are still going to compete and I have to buy new models!).

What about the polish of the rules?  How many casual players do you think forbid Bjorn the Fell-handed from using his rule to re-roll the dice to go first due to there not technically being a roll to "select deployment zone?"  I think you'd agree it was more common among tournament players, that dispute.  If GW had better edited and polished their product prior to release, and listed that as re-rolling the dice to go first ... do you think it would have negatively impacted the casual players' games at all?  Of course not.

How about the Pyrovore.  What if it had a good armor save, could move faster in some capacity, didn't hurt gaunts when it died, had better stats or a better weapon, or in any capacity was competitively useful.  Would the model suddenly look hideous?  Would the tiny handful of players who currently use them suddenly throw them away?  Would everyone maybe consider using them, from the top to the bottom of the scale of player types?

Do you see where we're going here?  The things required to make this game air-tight and perfectly balanced for competitive gamers are NOT things that would in any way compromise the "fun" of beer and pretzels gamers.

Having the various unit selections in a codex be interchangeable, where your challenge is how to best use good units within a slot and mesh them with an overall army build, instead of simply nominating the "power" units and spamming them ... would also probably make the game MORE fun for everyone - casual players first of all.  No longer would they be faced with the intensely irritating dilemma of whether to take those ripper swarms that they thematically just LOVE or the "obvious" Tervigon and Gaunt troops.  On the rules front and the game front, you'd also integrate everyone better - no longer would you get into a fight over a hinky rules interpretation with a more "competitive" stranger at the local GW.

Frankly, the "competitive" and "fun" differences also don't exist in games that are more balanced and air-tight in their design ... you don't need homogeneity to accomplish it either.

I wonder if GW will ever pick up on what is largely an obvious truth here - that better and more competitive and balanced rules are better for EVERYONE, and more fun for EVERYONE, and reduce divisions within the hobby while increasing sales.  I wonder if the "casual" crowd will figure this out also.  The Dick Move blog had one of its Friday Night Internet Fights with a guy claiming there needed to be multiple versions of the game of 40k - a "fun" version and a "competitive" version and all of that.  I couldn't disagree more, and I think all of us would have more fun with everyone if we found a way to pressure GW or encourage them to build a better mousetrap.  Until that pressure is there, it'll always be a crapshoot and a hope shot ... and every codex will have those "suboptimal" units that no one spams or takes ... encouraging the super casuals to take them to be "different," and subsequently lament the "spam" present on the internet and among the "non fun competitive" crowd.

As always, the secondary point here is when YOU stop to criticize a "fluffy" or "competitive" player ... consider the reason they are how they are ... and consider it's the GAME, not the PLAYER, you should be hating.

 - Mike

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reader E-Mail Response / Discussion Subject - Counts As and WYSIWYG at the NOVA and GT's in General

Received an e-mail from R., who is planning to attend the NOVA Open this year, and is among the 200+ pre-registrants we've so far received.

Hi Mike,

I have been planning out an army where I will be using my Craftworld Eldar (Ulthw√©) models to represent a Dark Eldar force. In my discussion with some other gamers, I have faced some opposition on the idea that it is viable. Most of this opposition comes in using the Eldar grav-tanks for representing the Raiders and Ravagers or in my opponent's confusion during the game.  Here is an overview of how I had planned the "Counts As" to work:

Model Swaps:

Autarchs -> Archons
Farseers -> Hekatrix/Succubus
Warlocks -> Wyches
Guardians -> Warriors
Dire Avengers -> Trueborn with Shardcarbines
Fire Dragons -> Trueborn with Blasters
Wraithguard -> Wracks
Wave Serpent -> Raider
Modified Fire Prism/Night Spinner -> Ravager (the modified tank actually has 3 bright lances when used as a Ravager)
Vyper -> Venom
Swooping Hawks -> Scourges
Jetbike Seer Council or Shining Spears -> Reavers (Magnetized gun add-ons for blasters/heat lances)

Weapon Swaps:

Shuriken Catapult -> Splinter Rifle
Shuriken Cannon -> Splinter Cannon
Fusion Gun -> Blaster
Bright Lance -> Dark Lance
Singing Spear -> Wych Weapon (I'll be keeping all Wych Weapons the same in the list)

Using this outline, would I be capable of running such a list at the Nova Open GT? I'm sure I'm not the only person planning something like this. It might be cool to get some feedback from other tournament organizers as well, though I am not familiar with any of the others just yet. Nova 2011 is going to be the first time I travel more than 2 hours away to play 40k.

Perhaps you can give your answer as a post on your blog so we can gauge the community's opinion through the discussion?

Thanks for your time!
 So, this is a good subject of conversation ... what to do about this scenario.
Here are my subjects that I'll touch on:
1) Dark Eldar Models vs. Eldar Models
2) Player "Confusion"
3) Legality and Fair Play

On a personal level, I think counts-as armies are one of the best things about this game.  There are some players who question the originality of a list that basically counts something else you already "owned" as the "newest, shiniest net list."  I think that's kind of a bunch of bull.  If someone takes the time to creatively expand upon and build a list that's uniquely his own, let him - so long as he addresses the issues I'll present in my #1 - #3

In order of difficulty and seriousness ...

1.  Dark Eldar Models vs. Eldar Models

Dark Eldar Models are newer, cooler, and more plastic.  Dude.  Seriously.  You're missing out.

Heh, that's it on that one ;)
2.  Player "Confusion" 
Player confusion is a big one, obviously, but I don't think it's the "real" big one.  It's important that whatever you do, you build your list to properly reflect some of the thematics ... to wit, I once wanted to build a "cowboy" Space Wolf army, that used basically cowboy marines / gunslinger marines.  To that effect, the plan involved appropriate representations.  Dual bolt pistol "gunslingers" on foot would be grey hunters.  If I put a wolf riding a horse around, this would really have to be a thunderwolf cav or a blood claw biker ... it would be "wrong" on a lot of levels, starting with the obviousness of the counts-as, to have a bunch of dudes on horses and tell people they're "grey hunters."  I could try to "force" this, but it would require extremes - having my rhinos actually be big horse carts with horsies inside, to explain how they're disembarking, whatever.  I'm winging it now, so let's get back to you.
The Dark Eldar are thematically different from the Eldar in that they are more fragile, more evil, and more ... well, dark and spiky.  Worth considering how you represent and with what models.

That said - whatever you do can be relatively easily mitigated by preparation and provision of information to your opponents, on the confusion front.  A great note can be taken from the book of Dan Oppedisano of Ten Inch Template (linked in my blogroll) ... Dan provides people with a soft-back binder in which he has included a full backstory on his Vraaksian renegade guardsmen, complete with photographs identifying each model in his list and what it is, as many of his vehicles and dudes (read: all) are not out-of-the-box guard models.  Without his book, even if he explained what things were, you'd potentially have a hard time remembering during the course of play ... but the inclusion of the book completely changes the perception his opponents have, from a guy with a confusing and possibly advantage-seeking army into a dude with a passionate and admirable attention to detail and to the theme of his army.

Consider similar behavior and activities, to ensure that people are NOT confused - remember that we are playing a game here, and you want to make sure that however you design your counts-as army, it matches and meshes well with the nature and course of play - if it's so unrecognizably obscure why each model is actually a DIFFERENT model, you're going to not only piss off and confuse your opponents, you're going to dramatically slow down the pace of play as you spend time discussing what's what, and explaining it all in the first place.

3.  Legality and Fair Play 

What's legal is what this all really boils down to.  I support people building counts-as armies, and I support the creative side of the hobby.  That said, take a look at the NOVA FAQ, and how it addresses counts-as components and models that aren't identical to their out of the box counterparts.  Acquire a Dark Eldar equivalent model for every unit you plan on using as something else, so that you can swap it in as necessary in order to establish "actual" height and positioning.  Additionally, be aware that in any case where your counts-as model has different dimensions and those different dimensions impede or harm your progress in a game, you'll count them as actually being there.
To provide a more concrete example, let's presuppose the dimensions of a Dark Eldar Raider are 5" long by 3" wide by 4" tall (I  have no idea what they really are).  Let's presume the dimensions of your Eldar Wave Serpent are 3" long by 5" wide by 3" tall.  When people are firing at you, you'll treat cover and los as if you are both as tall and long as a Raider, but as wide as a Wave Serpent.  For purposes of disembarkation, however, you will not be able to disembark from the edges of the wave serpent, but instead the edges of where the Raider would be.
This can provide a complex problem when participating in game play during a tournament - so, think outside the box, innovate, and be creative.  The goal here, indubitably, is to be creative with your army disposition and building.  How do you address the vast disparity in size between a raider and a serpent?
My honest thought is that the "easier" approach would be to work into an Exodite Eldar theme, so that you are using Eldar infantry models across the board, but so that you use the "frames" of Dark Eldar vehicles and other similarly large models where relevant.  Frankly, you could also find a better fit for things such as the Talos - alien "beasts" from the Exodite world your Eldar hail from.  It strikes me that it would be much easier to de-spikey-fy a Dark Eldar Ravager, remove the sails, smooth over some of the portions of it with green stuff, and mount a trio of the new Eldar Fire Prism cannons instead of a trio of Dark Lances ... for instance ... than to try and jury rig the proper dimensions of an actual Fire Prism model.
I'd like more input here, and I'd also like more creative suggestion - my goal is not to discourage R. from fielding his Eldar counts-as-Dark Eldar army, but to try and find a way to do it that remains true to his goals / motives (whatever they may be, perhaps he'd like to share ...), while making the models used much more functional for in-game play.  The actual infantry models are the EASY part - it doesn't even require a great deal of thought (IMO) to fit them in.  The tricky part is the vehicles - Eldar Vehicles are possessed of DRASTICALLY different dimensions than DE vehicles, and therein lies the rub.
Discuss away!
 - Mike

Monday, November 8, 2010

NOVA Invitational - 5 Games in 1 Day Schedule Notion

So one of the things on the plate for the NOVA Invitational is 5 games in 1 day.

The question then becomes - how do you schedule such a thing?  The important note behind things is this: 5 games in a day is BRUTAL, but probably an acceptable challenge for those who've earned the right to be there, want to be there, and are in it for a huge cash prize.

My thoughts behind the initial schedule idea are this - time in BETWEEN games.  What kills you, what exhausts you over the course of a day is just finishing a brutal game, getting your stuff reorganized, and instantly having the next assignments in your hand and racing to digest a new mission and get there.

To that effect, here's the first schedule idea ... thoughts?

Check-In - 7:00AM
Round 1 - 7:30AM - 9:30AM
Round 2 - 10:30AM - 12:30PM
Round 3 - 1:30PM - 3:30PM
Round 4 - 4:30PM - 6:30PM
2 hour break before the rubber match
Round 5 - 8:30PM - 10:30PM

The goal here is breakspace; 2 hours is plenty of time for the "best of the best" players with referees to prevent slowplay and solve disputes at every table to get a game in.  One hour in between each round gives players plenty of time to finish games, get a drink or a bite to eat, settle down / calm down from a tough opponent, etc.  Before the "final" round we give people 2 hours, to get dinner and calm their nerves as necessary before the big play.

In order to limit tension, we'll have a referee over every game - preventing people from cheesing movements, breaking rules, cheating, etc. (instead of their opponent having to call them on it, resulting in bullying and other sorts of things).  In order to calm nerves somewhat, and give people something other than "win it all" to play for, we'll have a Renaissance Man equivalent for a % of the Cash prize.  50% painting, 50% competitive rating.

Back to a ton of work on my desk "in real life."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Head Games in a Tournament Setting - Bully40k, Taking a Hit, Other Important Notes

Author's note - this gets rambly, but I want it kept as it is ... so I'm not going to go back and retweak it ... hopefully a little discussion and sharing can be elicited. 

Warhammer 40k is neither won nor lost entirely on the tabletop.  The interactions you have with your opponent are often complex, often important, and often overlooked.

There are plenty of players out there who say they are never even fazed one bit by their opponents' commentary ... that they're a stone, or even some who refuse to talk in games.  Here's a hint - they're all liars.  Everything you do and say is important in a game, but is there a limit to what you SHOULD do and say?

Let's look at a few scenarios, and these will necessarily be simplistic - the subtleties of mastering social interaction as a gaming tool are far beyond the relatively simplistic presentation of a web article  ...

Your opponent is pondering whether to rapid fire or charge one of your units with one of his.  He doesn't necessarily have to SAY anything - you know it's on his mind by his body language, his commentary, his pauses or timing of doing other things first, the way he glances at the board ... everything is important to watch.  You poker players know what I'm talking about - everybody has tells, and most 40k players (even "good" ones) aren't even thinking about sharing them.

So, what do you do?  Me, I'll say *SOMETHING* ... I might point out what that unit is going to do if it doesn't get charged, or I might point out what I'm going to do to him on another part of the board no matter what he does, or I might say something like "and now they die, sorry dudes - that was the plan for you," whatever suits the situation and the opponent, and whatever sounds most ... well, obvious and simplistic.  I certainly don't want to seem smart, but I also don't want to seem like I'm forcing what I'm saying just to get an advantage.  If you can't be subtle, don't try!  By saying SOMETHING, you guarantee an impact upon your opponent.  So, whatever you do, do not say something that will influence him for his benefit.  Regardless, if what you say influences him even in the smallest ways to his detriment, you're positively impacting the game in your favor without relying on a dice roll to do it.

The "comedians" in this situation are the high and mighty folk who think they are so slick, so brilliant and so above the curve that such things have NO impact on them.  Sorry, guys, you're not that good.  The very act of trying to have it NOT affect you ... causes it to affect you.  The changes in blood pressure, thought pattern, reaction instead of proaction ... these are all working in the favor of the person starting the sequence.

OK, so in this situation, however (and in the others I'll hit on), when is it too much, and when is it unsporting, and when is it wrong?  Is there a "wrong" or a "too much?" 


Playing head games, making small comments, these can be done without treating your opponent with disrespect, and without forcing your opponent into a corner or uncomfortable situation.  "Bullying people off their games" is a common activity that is an extreme spin off from this.  Calling them on every full movement, making them re-measure everything, bitching about single dice that spin off out of sight (even when they clearly didn't try to have that happen), and generally being an obnoxious douche ... that's not playing head games, it's bullying.  It will work on some people who are too timid to fight back, but it invariably speaks less of you.  Too much of a "good" thing, as it were.  Getting someone so busy defending his actions that he forgets his game plan or abridges it is not the same as subtly worming into his head and watching him change his game plan of his own volition.

So, what are we talking about here ... manipulation?  Maybe. If you've followed enough of my articles, you probably know that I HATE being at the mercy of dice.

I love the movement phase - the ability it has to completely change and determine games without relying on dice at all.  Similarly, it should be unsurprising that I have a love of trying to master the social interaction of the game - again, no dice.  Connecting with your opponent competitively, and socially, changes everything - win or lose you're having fun with a "new friend," and winning and losing becomes more than just "target priority" (that lower tier level of game play that I abhor).

Another important component to the social interaction, and really to play in general is Taking a Hit ... but, after this quick hit about it, I think I'll give it another article altogether ....

In short, however, it revolves around the disturbing rise in "Alpha Strike" armies in this game, and my general distaste for them.  When you go to a tournament, how many of you are busy trying to prevent being harmed in a game?  Don't take this too literally - you should ALWAYS be trying to make killing units in your army as difficult as possible for your opponent, but how many of you think alpha strike and reserves are the approaches of choice to try and avoid getting harmed AT ALL?  Your list is bad.

As the game becomes more balanced across codices (and slowly, but surely, it is), and as players more and more join the "competitive" wave that's going across the country (not in a negative, WAAC way, but in the "I'm willing to build a competitive list and play in tournaments" way), you're going to be facing lists that in every way can and will hurt you.  They'll crush your units, blow up your tanks, mess with your mobility and threaten your day.  How are you reacting to that?  For a bigger article, no doubt.

To this article ...
Ponder what you do socially to assist you in the win. 
Ponder what you do socially to connect with your opponent on a level that will ensure the game is fun for YOU whether or not you win.

We've all heard of and even many of us seen games between "hardkoarz competiturs" where the two opponents say almost NOTHING.  My games with Alex Fennel and Andrew Sutton at the Battle for Salvation Semi-Finals and Finals were full of laughter, conversation, and gaming at all levels - between our words, our actions, our movements, and our dice.  For this, they were better and more fun win OR lose.

I'm a competitor, I guess - and this applies to anyone I wind up playing.  I noticed this in my game with Alex.  The more you do - using the rules and head games and social interactions and everything - to try and win the game (without being a dick or a bully about it), the more I respect you and the more I'm motivated to do the same.  Moreover, the tighter and more competitive the game gets, and the more rewarding it becomes for BOTH of us as it comes down to the very wire.  While not quite a "Never give up, never surrender" message, it's a message on what makes a game great - not guys shoving models around, rolling dice, and going "aw shux I guess we'll call it."  But, instead, to me ... those "bottom of the 9th 2 outs and runners on base" games, where both players elevate, compete, fight it gritty and nitty, but still smile and laugh their way along - recognizing that just like in ANY game (vs. a sport, or a job), if you're not having fun you're "doing it wrong."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NOVA Invitational - Soliciting Input, Sources of Qualification

So, we're starting up the prep for next year's Open convention, and there are a few things we're working through.

One of my areas of concern right now is the NOVA Invitational, and how best to integrate it into the weekend (or whether to at all).

At present, here's the folks who are attending ...

1.  Andrew Sutton (NOVA Open Ace)
2.  Mark Ferek (NOVA Open Ace)
3.  Sam Penson (NOVA Open Ace)
4.  Justin Hilderbrandt (NOVA Open Ace)
5.  Alex Fennell (BFS highest general score who hadn't already qual'ed)
6.  Simon Leen (BFS Renaissance Man)
7.  Dan Matulich (NOVA Open Renaissance Man)

There would be 8, but Tony Kopach's list was 3 points over

The next spots firmly offered are for:
Adepticon - 4 slots
Wargamescon - 4 slots
Bolter Beach II - 2 slots
Mechanicon - 2 slots
Sprue Posse Invitational and Grand Prix - 1 slot each
At-Large Invites - 4 (NOVA Open final discretionary choices)

Spots in discussion w/ event organizers:
Las Vegas Iron Man - 2
DaBoyz GT - 2

That's 29 total, leaving 3 unassigned/ungranted, and a possible up to 4 ungranted (the at-large)

It's important to note - the competitiveness of an event is as important as its format.  Some of the best players around show up to DaBoyz, for example - so even though it is a heavily comp'ed tournament (which SOME folks would consider not a good "format" for competitive eval), the competition level is likely to be quite high, and the quality of the event is also very high.  Whoever gets awarded invites from it is likely to be very worthy of attending any caliber of invitational.

In terms of timing and format, here's my *CURRENT* thought process

The NOVA Open next year runs Thursday PM --> Sunday PM.  The Open GT in 40k is probably the headline event, a 256-person GT running Saturday and Sunday, 4 rounds each day for all players.

So, my initial thought is to go with Thursday PM Round 1 for the Invitational, and then Friday all day (4 rounds) to determine it.  That puts pressure on the attendees to play up to 13 games of competitive 40k over the weekend (5 in the Invitational, 8 in the Open), which might not augur well for their performance or even possibly participation in the Open itself.

So, the question then becomes - hold the Invitational on a different weekend (this can be difficult, harming the venue / etc. of the invitational, and still harming the possibility of those players participating in the Open)?  Change the timing of the Invitational rounds?  Reduce the # of rounds of the Invitational, and use more of a "battle points" approach to break ties between top undefeated finishers (explicitly against all of our principles)?

Also, should it be seeded, and if so, how?

My initial thought would be to come up with a rubric of % of possible competitive score for each player's top performance at a qualifying event, moderately factored by # of attendees at event (so, someone who scored 90% of possible battle points at Adepticon would have a higher seed than someone who scored 90% of possible at Battle for Salvation, due to Adepticon being a 256 field to battle through, and BFS being a 48 person field).   First round random pairing vs. first round seeded pairing is an important question; usually difficult to do, but we'll actually have data to manipulate and use for it in this case.

Input welcome, as well as input from event organizers / players who wish to be invited.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Well then ... 40k GT --> 256?

I promise "real posts" this week on the blog, about a number of subjects, including the "first" primer missions for the NOVA Invitational and NOVA Open next year.

But, a quick note for any that want to pre-register for the 40k GT but just haven't yet, we hit 187 pre-registrations earlier this morning.  While a pre-registration isn't a confirmation of attendance, that number is probably going to escalate rapidly as we get closer to the date.  I would pre-register now if I were you!

Again, more "real" posts to come,
 - Mike