Thursday, November 18, 2010

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.


  1. I really think it's a mistake to move from Victory points to Kill points. However, those arguments have all been made, and I don't really want to repeat them.

    Otherwise, I think this article is just one of many excellent articles that fully explains the rationale and development of the NOVA format. It's this kind of analysis that makes people want to show up. They understand your thoughts, where you stand and what the aims of your event are.

  2. We're not sold on moving to KP, though I think we'll leave VP as the "final" tiebreaker, and a scored % of your rating.

    The trick is finding a third mission that addresses both the concerns of players/potential attendees, and is tie-able and balanced enough. Win-by-KP hasn't been so bad, in the play; even with wide KP disparities, an opponent must actually BEAT You to win, as opposed to just chintzing a few of your DT's and avoiding a tabling.

  3. Mike, what about doing both? You have to win by 4KP AND 350 VP (or whatever you used) That way you really have to win, not "win" by killing two more rhinos and 2 HF/MM speeders than your opponent

  4. Will players be allowed to place the objectives as they want? Some lists are not really well designed for having to spread out all over the board to contest/capture.

  5. Well thought out, Mike.

    I have a suggestion, though I hesitate considering how thorough your reasoning is:

    Allow each player the option of removing one objective from the pre-placed five. Not sure how that effects the balance, but I'm throwing it out there.