Friday, December 20, 2013

Asymmetrical Mission Design for a Better Game - Playtest Mission #1


Feedback has been wonderful to the concept. A number of players and TOs as far ranging as LVO and FOB, 11th Company, ETC, GTGT, AdeptiCon and as many more as we can proactively reach (and if we haven't reached you or you haven't reached us, do so - e-mail me at and I'll get you into the google docs; we're working with a lot of incoming variables in a big hurry, so get on my radar and I'll get you in ... we want no one left out) have been involved in this process already.

The initial mission went up in google docs based on feedback, numerous participants weighed in with comments and edits, it was revised (as well as with continued input from the community) and is now up for playtest. We'll be developing numerous missions anonymously authored in their baseline from numerous different TOs, and then playtested.

For playtest, please be as comprehensive as you can - please include things like images of the deployment zone and objective locations, obviously the armies involved and any other variables you can think of.

Mission #1 - Beta
Note: This mission is currently designed toward fixed objective location and symmetrical terrain. In the future and comprehensively we anticipate not every mission will look like this - the variety needs to allow TOs to tailor their selections from the Catalog to the specific parameters and constraints of their particular tournament environment.

Asymmetrical Tournament Test Mission #1
For purposes of playtesting, we recommend you note down Standard/Alternate and Secondary Escalations prior to rolling any dice. Suggestions for alternate times to reveal and why are welcome! We recommend playing this particular mission in either Vanguard or Dawn of War deployments.

On a separate piece of paper (for playtest), privately note whether you will be playing the Standard Primary or Alternate Primary; also note which Secondary you will be Escalating (see below for more information).
Immediately after rolling to determine deployment zones / place objective markers, both players must reveal their Primary and Secondary choices as noted above.

Primary - Whoever scores the most points from OBJECTIVES wins the Primary
Secondary - Whoever scores the most points from SECONDARIES wins the Secondary

Standard Primary Objectives - Each Objective is worth 3 points if controlled at the end of the game
Alternate Primary Objectives - You score 1 point for each Objective you control at the start of YOUR OWN player turns, not counting the first, sixth or seventh.

You may not score more than 9 points for either the Standard or Alternate version of this mission.

After rolling to determine deployment zones, place 6 objectives in the following fashion:
Place 1 objective in the center of each Table Quarter (12" from the nearest long table edge, 18" from the nearest short table edge)
Starting with the player who won the roll to select deployment zones, each player places one objective in a location of their choosing, no closer than 12" from any other Objective, and no closer than 6" from any table edge

Example: Player A selects to play Alternate Primary Objectives; he controls 3 Objectives at the start of his 2nd Player Turn (3 Points), 2 at the start of his 3rd Player Turn (2 Points), 1 at the start of his 4th Player Turn (1 Point) and none for the remainder of the game. Player B selects to play Standard Primary Objectives and controls 2 Objectives at the end of the game (6 Points). Both players score 6 Points toward the Primary, yielding a tie on Primary.

Each SECONDARY is worth 2 points; ESCALATED SECONDARIES are worth a maximum of 4 points. You must choose to convert one Secondary into its ESCALATED version.

You may score a maximum of 8 points for accomplishing SECONDARIES.

  • First Blood - 2 Points for being the first player to destroy an enemy unit
  • Slay the Warlord - 2 Points for destroying the enemy Warlord
  • Linebreaker - 2 Points for ending the game with a scoring/denial unit in the enemy deployment zone

  • ESCALATED First Blood - Up to 4 Points for destroying more units than your opponent destroys; subtract the # of units your opponent destroyed from the # of units you destroyed; the sum is the # of points you earn for this Escalated Secondary (minimum of 0, maximum of 4); you no longer score any points for achieving Standard First Blood
  • ESCALATED Slay the Warlord - 1 Point for each enemy Character destroyed, to a maximum of 4 points; you no longer score any additional points for destroying the enemy’s Warlord.
  • ESCALATED Linebreaker - 1 Point for each non-Independent Character scoring or denial unit WHOLLY within the enemy's deployment zone at the end of the game, to a maximum of 4 points; you no longer score any additional points for standard Linebreaker.

EXAMPLE: Player A chooses to Escalate First Blood. During the course of the game, he completes Linebreaker (2 Points), Slay the Warlord (2 Points), First Blood (now worth 0 Points) and he destroys 4 more enemy units than his opponent destroys of his (4 Points). He has scored the maximum of 8 Points toward winning Secondary.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Better Mission Design - A More Proactive Direction for Tournament Fairness

Let's go through a mental exercise, talking out something I've been chatting with TOs and players from a wide variety of sources. To be clear, this isn't "Mike's idea." This is the formative beginning and articulation of something that could be a pretty valuable direction to travel. It's been discussed and bantered about by an already-large-ish group of TOs and gamers.

To hammer home a point a little bit - right now one of the more important things for the community is TO interaction. There's a lot of it going on behind the scenes, and there also needs to be a broad band of support I think for those who are in the toughest spot; Feast with early qualifiers and LVO with its event right around the corner, Onslaught at TempleCon, etc.; these guys aren't going to have the freedom to innovate and collaborate as much as others like AdeptiCon, NOVA, etc., might given the timing of the recent buzz of COMP PLEASE going on internet/attendee-wide. So cut 'em some slack and show 'em some love, they're working hard to put on fun events regardless.

I'm going to mock up a bit of back and forth here ... so stay with me. Please note the following represents a CONCEPTUAL example and discussion, not a mathematically and playtest vetted final status. Please read through and think about, therefore, the concept and not what the final nuanced and detailed example will be.

So you're at an 1850 point GT, and you've brought ... let's say ... a Dark Angels army with a ton of Tactical Marines, backed by various and sundry fire support and take-all-comers enhancing options. It's Round 1, and as you're walking up to the table you note the particular rules for the event and see the mission is 6 Objectives, each worth 3 points if held at the end of the game.

You saunter up to the table (oh yes, saunter) and shake your opponent's hand, and as you do you notice he's fielding the dreaded JET STAR. He's got a big old squad of warlocks on jetbikes w/ farseers and baron and 2+ re-rollable saves and the works. You're fairly certain he'll hit the overwhelming odds and roll Fortune and a few Protects and Conceals up, and it's gonna be a nasty unit. His scoring is pretty stock-standard as one of the two ways this list is typically run, and consists of 6 squads of 3 guardian jetbikes.

If you're ANY reasonable player in the 40k universe right now, you're thinking "well crap." Not only is this a tough match, it's arguably impossible. All he has to do is beat you down over the course of the game, contest anything you hold with surviving marines late, and grab at least one objective of his own, and bam ... he gets the win (on primary at that, netting him a higher level of points even in most BP formats).

This is where most of the game centralizes ... the missions from the rulebook and thus dictated into tournament play are primarily objectives (With a KP exception). Even in KP, the same armies do well that are frustrating many players on the tournament scene right now - jetstar, screamerstar, ovestar, serpentspam, tau firepower spam w/ hidey sneaky kroot troops, FMC armies that spend the entire game off the board.

They all have a couple of things combined -
1) They are able to keep their models "Safe" ... either by having extreme ranged firepower advantages (serpentspam, tau firepower builds), extremely durable saves (2+ re-rolls), a combination of both (Ovesa Star), or perhaps they just use wonky game mechanics to avoid any kind of damage (FMC on/off play, and guardian jetbikes hiding in corners due to 48" moves, staying in reserves, being kept their by Scrier's Gaze, etc.).

2) They have keynote units that are able to ensure KP advantages or "split" and help ensure contesting all but the minimum their hidey-hole troops need to procure at game end.

Right now the common person playing these Dark Angels may be feeling very similarly to a LOT of the 40k community right now; you'd be feeling this way if he were playing serpent spam, or tau firepower spam, or whatever. You're wondering what the game designers were thinking, you're wishing someone would just say this army can't be taken, you want comp or a ban or ... or SOMETHING. Maybe you don't want to even play in tournaments anymore. If you're most of the internet right now (unfortunately), you also don't care if that means the guy you just shook hands with isn't allowed to use the army he paid for anymore (to be fair, you can't use the one presently that YOU paid for ... so how do we cross the impasse?).

So here is where things get interesting ...
You look down at your scoresheet after you roll for deployment sides, and you notice two check boxes - one for "Standard Primary" and one for "Alternate Primary." You've read ahead and I'm still keeping the punchline for the readers, so you check "Alternate Primary" privately while your opponent notes something down as well. Before deployment, you swap scoresheets. Looking at what you've received, you notice your opponent the Jetstar has selected "Standard Primary," and understandably so; he'll earn 3 points for each objective he holds at the end of the game ... most points scored for objectives wins Primary. You the Dark Angel player have - on the other hand - selected "Alternate Primary." You score nothing at the end of the game; instead, you score 1 point for each objective you hold at the end of ANY game turn.

How do you feel now compared to before knowing about this alternate approach? If you sit and think for a minute, you're going to brighten up considerably. Now instead of having to somehow survive the storm for the entire game, and be in position to contest every single objective and somehow control one of your own, all while dealing with the dreaded Jetstar and whatever support elements it selected ... you have a different route to potential victory (or at least making the game pretty darn interesting). If you can create safe havens with the bodies of your marines, let's say, and control the three objectives closest to you for the first 2-3 turns, you'll earn anywhere from 6-9 Points. It's going to cost you to do this - your opponent is savvy, he won't simply let you do it, but he also can't just separate his superstar on Turn 1 and send it helter skelter all over the board trying to deny you points as he would if you were playing the "standard" version of the Primary at game end. He can't afford to. He'll lose his star if he does, b/c it'll lose fortune after a full turn of separation. Further, you've got plenty of bodies early on - you built your army this way! You've got the troops to create un-contest bubbles for a few turns while he uses his lower # of kill units to start whittling away at you. You're playing to the strengths of the army you designed.

Interestingly, so is your opponent. The mission hasn't nerfed his army - he's still excellent at controlling and contesting objectives late, and his ONE time capture is still worth 3 points per. He's not out of this. But .... he's having to work at it. His army has a certain strength when it comes to objective missions, it's a strength that b/c of the "Base" objective mission is a little bit isolated to a certain army type (crap troops are as good as awesome troops, scoring last second is all that counts).

What about a KP example? You face the same game on Kill Points; your opponent the Jetstar selects KP - it's what his army excels at; he can expertly hide his easier KP and apply the beatstick with his super unit(s). You select "Alternate Primary" and activate VP differential. Now, your opponent is trying to kill more units than you, while you are trying to destroy more points than him. Neither is nerfed, both armies are still playing to their strengths. Theorize a CONCEPTUAL (not mathematically finalized or sound) situation where you earn 1 point for every KP differential if you play the "Standard" ... and you earn 1 point for every 100 points of Points Destroyed differential if you play the "Alternate." Now, once again, each army is playing to its strengths to try and compete the variation on the fundamental mission it is best designed for. If in this theory he kills 6 units and loses 1, he earns 5 points; if he destroys 600 points but you destroy 1300, you earn 7 points (again, these #'s aren't mathematically sound, just concept-clarifiers). The game is still readily and easily scored and understood, despite each of you playing a different spin on the basic mission presented.

This is immediately apparent as superior to building alternating missions where you have no choice - where it's either KP or VP, and you "hope" the wrong matchups happen at the wrong time to deter extreme game-breaking builds. This is what you DO NOT WANT TO DO.

As a conceptual summation - this is all predicated on the very visceral reaction many players rightly have to the notions of "changing the game," or of telling a spread of players that what they bring to a tournament within the legal confines of the purchaseable game of Warhammer 40,000 isn't OK. This is all predicated on the notion that it's wrong and unhealthy and frankly just downright negative to rage that the game is broken and we should just start banning things or nerfing things.

What if instead of nerfing things, we as a community got together and built a catalog of missions along these conceptual lines that allowed a WIDER variety of armies to play according to their strengths and compete against these power builds and any future builds as they competed according to THEIR own strengths. While the jetstar uses its durability and speed to play as well as it can toward the late-game grab, the horde of infantry orks or dark angel tactical marines are playing to their strengths trying to hold valuable ground for as long a period of time as they can to offset what they know is coming late. While Draigowing slaughters unit after unit of trash, the sum greater than the whole works all game toward trying to offset the net loss by cutting the head off the beast.

Instead of making a random mission that "has a warp variance and psykers don't work" that therefore tells Daemon or Eldar players "sorry you can't use your preferred army" in the same way comp does, why not rise above and use our collective minds to create missions that expertly resolve the problem - by giving armies and army types that don't want to play "rocksolid star and late grab" the opportunity to see if they can play to their strengths better than their opponents play to their own?

This is the concept boiled down in fact; instead of "Is his army more powerful than yours? Yes? Sorry!" it's:

Can you play to your army's designed strengths BETTER than your opponent plays to his army's designed strengths?

The desire is to have as many TOs as would like to participate work together to create an independent catalog of vetted and tested GT missions leveraging the above concept, from which any event large or small can draw to present players a fair expectation of what they're going to face, and to redress game balance issues in a way that is proactive, tactically stimulating and positive in nature ... rather than a comp-and-ban-heavy presentation with a decidedly more negative and "god help us" tone. This is the direction we'd love to see the community as a whole go in. If I can only convince a smaller set of TOs to get on board and what-not, so be it, but this isn't about creating "The NOVA Mission Pack!" I have no problem it being an US creating "The Independent GT Mission Catalog" with the contribution and collaboration of all.

These things can be done, IMO they should be done. It's positive, it's proactive, as my fellow TO Neil Gilstrap (11th Co is a nearly-hundred person GT in SC if you didn't know it) is often known to say. Instead of screaming "the sky is falling, nerf and comp it all" we should instead say "We can do a better job presenting a fun and fair environment in which the sky can't fall."

So far, the more people we've been sharing this with, the more positive the feedback has been. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Note: this thread intentionally includes unvarnished opinion, and to prove the overarching and still-resonant "keep calm and roll dice" intent, take it with a grain of salt!

Just so people are aware, b/c I keep getting asked, NO we are probably not going to be following the big small wave of OMG MAKE MANY CHANGES that seems to be the rave right about now.

There are a couple of things in 40k that present consternation, and a couple of things only:

1) Formations, or really, the Tau formation. The only reason this presents a problem is there will be / are people already hovering over the order button to build 19 interceptor missile broadside armies supported by tons of scoring kroot and riptides, merrily ready to roll a million dice at you and clear you off the table. These should probably be looked at to avoid the ridiculosity of it. That doesn't mean they should be removed or banned or anything conclusive at present. Just ... looked at.

2) The newest supplements to standard 40k (To go alongside existing supplements to standard 40k like Forgeworld, Planetstrike, Cities of Death and Apocalypse). Just b/c a few blogs with their own agendas reported them with a massive spin of THIS IS MEANT TO BE PLAYED BY ALL PEOPLE WHETHER YOU WANT TO OR NOT IN EVERY 40K GAME ... doesn't make them any different than any other supplement to the core rulebook + codices. They're official, they're supplements, that's that. Whether to allow them or not is at the discretion of any given player and any given tournament.

In terms of expectation setting, while it won't be our guiding line, adding Escalation and then immediately banning a portion of it seems about as bass-ackwards as one can imagine (I'm talking about the people going ... well it's OK but ban D weapons!). If the supplement is an untested copy paste bunch of BS ... why are you using it at all? Further, if you're banning D weapons, all you're doing is adding something to the game where more casual gamers will take their awesome expensive models and be yet again disappointed that they aren't any good. If you ARE going to legalize it, legalize it all the way. You might as well legalize FW but ban individual units, as legalize any other supplement then ban certain parts of it. Cherrypicking it into the game is asking to upset everyone - purists will be angry at the internal comp to the legalization, people who realize it's an untested piece of crap cash grab will be upset you're legalizing it at all, people who want to use their fun D-weapon Thunderhawks and Revenants will be upset at you, casual gamers will be upset when they realize their expensive toys aren't any good, etc. etc. etc. Or you just say "hey we don't use that supplement in some of our events" and magically you've got a simple resolution. Alternately, say "hey we do use that supplement in some of our events" and there you go, also simple.

Voidshield Assault is similarly problematic, maybe in part b/c it's just inviting power gamers to ... well ... power game even more. The more untested potentially powerful variables you add to the game, the wider the gap becomes between those who are willing to invest the time and money into it and those who aren't. This worsens experiences. Since it is written explicitly as a SUPPLEMENT to the game and not as a formal modification to the extant rules ... why legalize it at all? Are people really going to miss getting to scratchbuild models for which there isn't even a designed template yet? I don't get it.

3) Fast moving kill-all units with 2+ saves that can be re-rolled. If Shadows in the Warp hasn't changed (TBD, but actually seems it might not have been) and Tyranid are powerful/popular (some rumors seem to indicate they might be!) ... you don't need to do anything about this. Even the closest major event, Las Vegas Open, will have the Tyranid rules legal for it ... which means no major event needs to make a rash judgment on 2+ re-rolls right now. We can just all acknowledge unkillable super fast units that can kill anything are really annoying for most players to deal with, and generally aren't very engaging.

To the person out there thinking "oh come on there are like 5 hard counters to each of those!" Stop it. We don't design tournaments for you. We design them for the 200 people who DON'T spend hours problem solving every possible combination. This is also why you want to keep it simple for those players, and not add even more crazy combinations to the game IF YOU DON'T HAVE TO. If GW releases a new Codex, you kinda have to add it to your tournament. If GW releases a supplement that tells you how to play with apoc units in a regular game if you want to ... you actually DON'T have to add it to your tournament. You're free to, even encouraged to if it suits you and your attendees, but you don't HAVE to. You'll also find with a little critical thinking ... doing so might actually hurt more people (especially laid back gamers) than it enriches.

Also, just b/c a lot of people take Trick Commanders doesn't mean you should ban them or try to nullify where they can be taken. The same can be said of Riptides and other things. These are powerful models in the game of 40k and are themselves fairly killable. This jives with the game as it's been for A VERY LONG TIME. 35/36 save odds and hit and run and 48"/turn movement is NOT precedented at any time since Rogue Trader. Really mean shooty units that lots of people can and will take ... ARE precedented. Deal for a bit on those, please.

So do I have a firm opinion on these? No. Do I have an opinion on these? Yes. Will I be making any kneejerk rulings? OF COURSE NOT. Will I be making any rulings on my own as a random guy? Nopers! I'm looking forward to a telecon with a ton of TOs in January, and to keeping an eye on the evolving situation while LOL'ing at the wig-outs. But since I keep getting asked today "ARE YOU GOING TO FOLLOW SUIT AND START BANNING TONS OF THINGS AND TWEAKING THE RULES AND ADDING 0-1'S AND STUFF?" NO, probably not. We might do some things, but we want to do them in unison with a broader range of events (hey, wouldn't it be cool if like a half dozen or a dozen major GT's all had the same ban/legal list instead of every event doing it differently?), and we want to do them under the lens of critical thinking, group-think that isn't just internal-to-the-GT-yes-men, and with a little more patience than THE INITIAL REPORTERS SAID THEY HAD TO BE USED IN STANDARD 40K SO I GUESS WE HAVE TO???

Additionally, we'll be sending out a very carefully-crafted survey to our 1500+ newsletter distro in January, and we'll be running all of our initial ideas (even if they are "no changes at all!") by same attendees once decided upon, so that we're making decisions in a way that isn't just "some smart people brainstorming" but is also reflective of what our paying players actually want.

Yes, I totally abused my caps lock in the creation of this post.

Long story short btw - if you folks with tournaments right around the corner losing your minds just say: "No Escalation, Voidshield Assault, Formations" + "TBD on 2+ re-rolls" you'll save yourselves a lot of headache. Jumping from "omg these just came out what do we do?!" to "FULL ON COMP AND BANS EVERYWHERE" is probably needless. This isn't even because it isn't necessary, who knows but that it is, but when you do it so aggressively and everywhere ... it SMACKS of reckless abandon instead of reasoned TO'ship, and that's a disservice both to the PR of your event and consideration for your attendees.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A 40K Tumult - Stay Cool and Roll Dice

This isn't the long post it could be.

Seriously, to all the TOs and players out there (with the exception of people running January events) ... stay calm.

We're in the middle of Dataslatecember, with a meta-critical Tyranid release rearing its head in the first week of January.

Calm the 'eff down and WAIT a second. This is especially true if your event isn't until like ... August / Sep / Oct / Nov. Kneejerk ruling on things NOW is not good, and smacks of impatience.

Just hang tight, folks. Let the game get through the next codex release, let people actually playtest the supplements of Dscalation and Voidshield Assault (since GW does 0 playtesting as far as anyone half-reasonable can tell), and if we're going to make changes let's do it as a broad band group in a reasoned way.

I reached out to most of the major TOs I could think of over the last month, and most have settled on a phone call to hash this stuff out come Jan after we have a chance to see Nids and all the Dec releases. This reachout list includes Feast, Bay, WGC, Adept, DaBoyz, 11th Co, BFS, Kila, Indy, Bugeater, Redstone, etc. If you want in on it too as a 50+ size TO just give me a holler (and I probably forgot people, sorry! Happy to have all!). No reason we can't take a reasonable look at all the different releases and issues in the game, and give attendees nationwide a reasonable set of expectations by which to invest in army purchases.

The last thing we as a community need to do is present 20 different restriction lists, thus requiring 20 different armies even if points are the same for people to be able to play at more than one event. Every event being different mission/format/etc. wise is good. Having to consider taking a Revenant for one event that's illegal at the next probably isn't.

No matter what happens among TOs, enjoy the holidays and stop wigging out. Seriously.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Beer, Pretzels and Drunken Gremlin Ninjas - Malifaux Mondays in the World of Warhammer

So some DC area fellas and I started playing Malifaux together a few weeks ago on Monday nights. The group is going strong - let me know if you'd like to join! We game in Falls Church, with three centrally located hosts to ensure the night is steady and reliable for participants.

This is a casual gaming group ... the whole purpose is to learn a game that nobody really knows (it just released a second edition) in a relaxing environment. We're also always open to combining a little Mixology in with the mess ... Malifaux and Mixology Mondays I guess.

So while I'm openly inviting any DC area folks to join for Malifaux Mondays, that's not the point of this post. The point is to share a little about why I like Malifaux, and why it is so well-balanced.

The point THEN ... and the main thrust of this post ... is to talk about how designing a characterful, well-balanced game is better for competitors and "beer-and-pretzels" gamers alike than "not caring about balance." This is directly relevant to the recent flurry of random additions to the game and the long-standing party line FROM Games Workshop that "you guys shouldn't be so concerned about balance and competition, this is a beer and pretzels game!" The worse the balance of a game ... the BETTER the game is for "power gamers," and the worse it is for average enjoyers of the hobby.

"Why Malifaux is Cool" (or "Learn to Love Drunken Gremlin Ninjas")

Malifaux is a Western Zombie Hillbilly Steampunk/Victorian Horror Fantasy miniature skirmish game. That's a mouthful, but it covers the gamut pretty well.

On any given evening, you may find yourself facing a crew of Western gunslingers in faded dusters, or a Victorian Pimp leading a crew of undead zombie hookers, or the manifested and horrific nightmares of a dreaming boy, or a mysterious criminal crew masquerading as a rail-building Chinese work gang, or even a Moonshining Gremlin and his team of besotted gremlin ninjas.

What makes Malifaux stand out right from the beginning is the dramatic diversity of deeply characterful factions and pieces it contains. Unlike some games where a specific aesthetic or race dominates the imagery, Malifaux manages to expertly weave together a vast diaspora of variant heroes and villains whose synchronizing thread is perhaps best summarized by one of the game's grimly droll taglines: "Bad Things Happen."

What's important to note is the various factions and crew combination possibilities are not just different in their theme, they're also different in their respective emotional impact. Some crews are clearly good, some are clearly bad and many lie firmly in the grey. Some possess a serious and appropriately grim atmosphere, while others are utterly horrifying and yet more are absolutely hilarious. Malifaux will never force a player to commit to the grimdark, nor will it leave them marooned on an island of inane imbecility. As far as the aesthetics go, it's exactly what you want it to be ... however you wish it to be.

But while ill occurrences befall even the most powerful of Malifaux's fictive figurines throughout the fluff and games, nothing could be further from the truth for those who play it. In the game of Malifaux, wondrous things abound.

I was first drawn to the game years ago during its inaugural release by the aesthetic and the fundamental game mechanic. These still abide. The mechanic orients around the complete absence of dice. Instead, Malifaux uses traditional playing cards ... a full 52-card 4-suit deck + the 2 Jokers (one black, one red). You should look into it yourself (and the late beta rules are nigh-on identical to the rulebook release), but fundamentally it orients around flipping cards off the top of the deck, adding them to a relevant stat, and hoping to reach a target number (or, when squaring off against an opposing model, hoping to beat your opponent's total). An array of environmental, strategic and characterful triggers and rules keeps this from feeling like the old-school flip-flip-flip card game of "War," and this is further made unique by the existence of what is called a Control Hand. At the beginning of each alternating-model-activation turn of Malifaux, players draw up to 6 cards into their hand with which they can "cheat fate" during the game, replacing undesirable card flips carefully with cards of a needed number or suit from their hand. This mechanic is incredibly deep in actual gameplay, and depth is what it offers. Additionally, it removes the dice-based possibility of "feeling screwed by luck." The nature of a poker hand limits the # of bad and good "rolls" that can happen during any one deckset of card flips, and the presence of your Control Hand means you either have good cards to sub in for bad flips, or you have bad cards you know aren't in the deck to bite you randomly. This fact couples w/ the power you have to decide when or if to use your Control Hand, yielding a resultant feeling that even if "bad things happen" in terms of your luck in a given turn ... it's at least a little bit your fault. You almost never have someone come out of a game raging about how "the dice screwed" him.

Once you've fallen in love with the aesthetics and learned the mechanics, however, Malifaux starts to really hit its stride in how you play.

As I mentioned, our group was created with an eye toward the "Beer and Pretzels." Participants are as far-ranging as 40k GT winners like Tony Kopach (and I suppose me) and die-hard "Casual" painter-first types like Shades Schaefer. You can summarize the game fairly directly based upon that ... in the world of Malifaux, both Tony and Shades are power gamers ... because every possible crew [within reason] is powerful.

Unless you're really trying hard, it's difficult to produce a "bad" crew in Malifaux, in part because of the design and intent of the game. It's a "list-tailor-by-design" system, and the various models and crews are all generally well-balanced anyway. The missions are also brilliant in concept. So here's how the basic game works in simplicity ..

Tell person your Faction (think: tell them your Codex)
Randomly determine the Stratagem (think: Mission (sidebar, see Stratagems below))
Randomly determine 5 available Schemes (think: Mission is worth 0-4 points, each Scheme is worth 0-3, I can pick two Schemes, and they're secret (sidebar, see Schemes below))
Build your Crew (think: build your army list)
Reveal your schemes (to make them worth more by virtue of your opponent knowing what's coming)
Play the game

A quick note on how Stratagems and Schemes work and are scored:
Stratagems - these are scored in a very minimalistic and clever way. Example - Reckoning is the basic "kill stuff" Stratagem ... after Turn 1 (so alpha striking isn't beneficial other than you've killed stuff) you get 1 point if you killed 2+ models that turn (think: units). That's it. Your opponent can get that too. If at the end of a Turn, there are no opposing models on the table, you also get 1 point (so, pyrrhic victories are possible here). This rather cleverly balances MSU and HVU (High Value Unit), in that having tons of units may enable you to better gang up on and kill big powerful units ... but if you can't get 2 kills a turn and he is getting 2 kills a turn, tabling him by the end of the game (turn 5+) isn't going to do you a lot of good. On the other hand, the "deathstarry" type of models aren't going to win just by winking a kill here or there while playing it safe. In a masterful dual stroke, the weakness of a mission like KP is rendered in stark contrast.

Another Stratagem example is Squatter's Rights, which places 5 markers across the centerline between deployment zones ... and allows you to spend actions to "take" these markers. Having 2 or more gets you a VP (so again, both sides can score it every turn) at the end of any turn after the first. Even if it's costing you casualties, it doesn't much matter if you can either get an early lead or at least maintain the pace ... holding on and getting involved in a close-fought match right from the get-go can net you a win regardless of cost.

Schemes - Schemes are an incredibly interesting mechanic. Some involve placing "Scheme" Markers around the board in various ways (i.e., placing them around an enemy Master and setting them off as mines ... or drawing a "line" across the middle of the board with them ... or defending markers you place near your deployment zone ... etc.). Almost all of them are entirely secret, however, and you choose 2 from a randomly determined subset of 5 pre-game (There are well more than 5 schemes, so you randomize 5 ... and then select 2 secretly). Because of this mechanic and the nature of Schemes, and the fact that accomplishing both of your schemes without even revealing them can equal the MOST points you can accomplish with the main Stratagem ... the net effect is you can use schemes to totally mess with the mind of an opponent and with careful Scheme selection ... can outweigh the problems posed by a bad match.

Example - Sunday night I got in a game with Owen, a member of the NOVA Open Executive Board. Owen had a combat crew ... and I had a shooty crew. While his crew was able to put up smoke screens and other things to sneak across the board out of line of sight, I had a couple of guys who ignored line of sight entirely and were very accurate ... meaning when he tried to bumrush me he'd get all shot up. He had a Scheme available, however, that oriented around him setting up markers in his own deployment zone. So Owen in the aftermath was able to devise a strategy in the replay whereby he could do a couple of things ... place down Scheme Markers even if he didn't have it as his Scheme (yup, you can "headfake" people by placing Scheme Markers in alignment with one you may  not have actually selected) in order to bait me out of my shooty position ... or flat out select a Scheme that forced me to either get out of a "Castle" or face a tie at best.

Summarization ... a combat crew could select sub-schemes that would directly counteract the advantages of a crew that went too far to the extreme on "mathematical" firepower in trying to counter the combat. Imagine if in a game against Tau, a combat-based army with a terrible match-up could avail itself of a couple of optional schemes that involved hiding in their backfield and setting up shop.

I also want to clarify that Malifaux isn't entirely focused around list tailoring. Just the ability to marginally tweak for mission - and select appropriate Schemes to suit the matchup - enables a player to realize what's across the table, and come well-prepared.

The straight-up balance is ALSO well done ... with almost every model we've fiddled with so far fitting very nicely in with all the rest. Everything seems to have a time and place for its use, even if that is sometimes just when tweaking for a specific Strategy or Scheme. In the net, the result is that everyone always feels like they are playing on a level field regardless of their competitive bent ... there's no real dramatic ability to "power game" from a list-building perspective, there's a lot less impact of streaky bad or good luck, and so the games come down to what you do on the table ... and not how much money or time you put into trying to break the game ahead of time.

If it isn't clear yet, Malifaux has given us a window into how the concept of power gamer vs. casual gamer vs. whatever gamer changes when a game is well-designed from a balance perspective. The "ideal" of balance can be seen in a game like Chess, where the difference between White and Black is by definition marginal. In Malifaux, every crew feels like White, and the ability to tweak and custom-select from a Scheme set leaves you feeling like if your chess set is missing a bishop there's a way to get it back AFTER you've started playing. You lose that feeling of "well I'm going to lose this, his list is cheesy" that can happen between casual and more committed players in 40K. As a result, by being BETTER designed for fair competitive play among ANY number of players ... Malifaux is also better for Beer and Pretzels players. In fact, it's arguably better for ANY player.

So is this me bagging on 40K? No, not at all. Anyone who wants to take the time to prepare can show up to any sort of 40K tournament and have a damn fine chance to compete against just about anybody else. It's just fine, as a matter of fact. Few people look at 40K and EXPECT the game to be balanced in a true across-all-models sense. We all realize you shouldn't show up with Pyorovres (I reserve the right to change this specific example come January) and expect to table a Seerstar.

No, this isn't about tournament talk. Malifaux is GREAT for tournament play as well, as far as I can tell, but that's not really the point. The point is about Beer and Pretzels gaming. The point is about how to design a game in general.

The more rock-solid a game is from a balance perspective, the easier it is for just about anyone to pick it up, learn the basics, and get into a fun and engaging / competitive game regardless of their opponent's experience level. In 40K gaming groups, you have to set an expectation level that goes BEYOND just "we're playing at this points level." A paint-first guy who chooses models because they look cool does not want to walk blindly into an "1850 gaming night" with Tony, me, Andrew Gonyo, James Watkins and Eric Hoewrger (all nice, fun-loving local buds who often hang and game together ... and also five multiple GT winners). This isn't because we're jerks or power gamers or anything else, but because 40K is so ill-balanced WITHIN its codices ... and so ever-changing from a release perspective ... that it's very difficult for the average player to have any idea where they have to be to have a "Fair" game against others. In a sense, without expectation setting 40K isn't one game ... it's 10. It's as if you had a big giant bag of Chess pieces to choose from when you first purchased the game, and the rules told you how to play Chess but didn't tell you how all the pieces worked or how many were suggested in terms of working together. So if you show up to a night with a bunch of veteran Chess Players ... even if you understand the tactics and rules really well ... you won't necessarily know how many Bishops or Knights or Queens you're supposed to put down on the board. So while the regulars who play each other every week know exactly how many their group has agreed on ... you've got no idea as a first-timer unless they explicitly tell you.

Malifaux, on the other hand, is more like a game where nearly every possible pre-purchased combination of chess pieces works just fine if you know the basics of the rules. So if you show up to play Malifaux with a bunch of strangers or want to join in on a Beer and Pretzels weekly game night ... well, read the rules, pick a crew or faction you think is cool, and go to it ... you'll fit in just fine.

So how do we summarize this, as it's been a long post already.
No matter how a game is designed, if the mechanics are sound and the overall Codex-equivalents can compete against each other more or less, it's FINE for tournament play. Arguably, it's fine in general. The game's fun "cap" is determined thereafter by the aesthetics, core mechanics, etc. In this, MOST of the current tabletop games are pretty similar, whether you're talking 40K or Infinity or Malifaux. Players of equal skill level and commitment to the game will do well enough in 40K regardless of Codex (with an acknowledged nod to the more recent ones having an edge). The most skilled and/or most committed players will bring the "Best" combos and armies and will also do fine against each other.

Where things are different, however, is in "average" play ... pick-up play between strangers or beer and pretzels play between an influx/outflux group of regulars and semi-regulars. In 40K these groups are MORE difficult to sustain over time, because the various participants invest in, commit to and learn the game at dramatically different rates. Someone who isn't keeping up with the best combos, the best combos in reaction to new combos, the newest formations and dataslates and whosawhats, etc. is going to suddenly realize he's showing up to his semi-regular appearances at the game group and not doing nearly as well with the army he already owns. In Malifaux, this doesn't happen. As long as you have your basic range of models to choose from for your favorite Crew/Faction (and in 2E, the rules are a little simpler and the balance is a little better regardless of Crew ... so you don't have to have the entire Faction to do fine), you're going to do just fine at a Malifaux night. Even the point level is pretty fixed - the designers recommend you play at ONE LEVEL, while tacitly acknowledging you're certainly welcome to play outside it if you really want. I feel comfortable that if I showed up at a random group or game store's Malifaux night, they'd be playing 50 Soulstones (points) and my crew would do A-OK ... no matter whether that crew were comprised of quickdrawing gunslinger babes or tottering drunken ninja gremlins.

So when you hear someone say "Beer and Pretzels gamers don't care about balance," I want you to challenge them as follows. If you're in one of the "Beer and Pretzels" 40K groups that claims balance doesn't really matter, and you invite a stranger from the local store to start gaming with you, and he shows up with max Wave Serpent spam while your group "doesn't play that way," what's the outcome? At the LEAST, you're going to have to tell him to tone it down and bring something more along the lines of what you all think is OK. It's very likely he'll either not come back, or be excoriated for being a "spammy power gamer," or have a few false starts where his idea of toning it down still doesn't jive with yours, etc.

In a balanced game, that scenario simply can't happen. Nobody shows up to a Chess Game and gets yelled at for taking 2 bishops. People don't show up to Malifaux nights saying "how dare you take XYZ???!?!" In a Tournament Environment, a dearth of game balance isn't a deathknell - you have time to prepare, you can set your expectations at "prepare for the worst" from a "how hard will these things be vs. how soft" perspective.

The less balanced a game is at the "pick-up gaming / beer and pretzels" level, however, the more bad things happen.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Era of Rampant Supplements

Is it time we take a stand on these things as TOs?

Do we need to implement some kind of basic control here?

40k is still an amazing game made so by the massive # of people who play it, enjoy it, compete in it, etc.

BUT do things such as the random allowance of 2 Broadside Units and 1 Riptide outside the FOC onto almost any army actually advance the game for anyone - competitors or narrative-forgers alike - out there in a tournament or organized gaming setting?

Curious what the field thinks.

Friday, November 29, 2013

New Logo - Gracias Mr. Reidy

So I received a contact from Thomas "Goatboy" Reidy the other day informing me my site logo wasn't up to the task ... and how could I disagree (it was blurry, I did it on photoshop one random day)?!

A little texting back and forth and he was off to the races. I gotta say, I can't complain about the result! He even did the Tyranid in my own Hive Fleet's colors, with NOVA and Whiskey40K tones to match!

So a quick shout-out and thank you to Thomas ( Now if only I knew how to properly build and design this blog so everything fit perfectly together! "Goatboy" is a well-known internet blogger, tournament attendee, cheery fellow, miniature painter, carrying case painter and overall commissionable artist with a passion for our shared hobby. Check him out if you haven't!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tyranids - Last Hope for a Comp-Free World?

This is possibly not true. How many people out there think Space Wolves will retain Runic Weapons that nullify psy powers (vs. just buff their own unit's Deny the Witch)?


OK, so maybe it is true.

The state of the 40k Meta is not bad right now, save 2 builds that make the game incredibly difficult to prepare for.

These are:

Long story short, these lists rely on extremely powerful units that are geared/equipped/ruled to be able to kill technically anything in cc, yet are also extraordinarily fast, separable, and possessed of some form of re-rollable 2+ saves. By far the NASTIEST of these is the Jetstar.

Jetstar lists can be run a variety of ways. In my opinion, the strongest at present was run by Matt DeFranza at the Battle for Salvation.

In general, these lists revolve around 5-6 squads of Guardian Jetbikes, a squad of Dark Eldar Warriors [to enable ...] Baron Sathonyx, 2 Wraithknights (or a set of Wave Serpents if you prefer, which I personally do not if you're doing it "right"), a pair of Farseers on Jetbikes (both with Runes of Warding/Witnessing to prevent Fortune Fails and Misfortune/Terrify/Hallucinate; one with the Shard of Anaris for Fearless), several squads of Swooping Hawks and 10 Warlocks on Jetbikes, with a few spears optionally to fill in points.

This list is custom built to 6th Edition, combining psychic powers and special rules for the ability to win almost any objective-based mission (which should be 5 of 6 Tournament Missions if you're reflecting the game's design), and to field a unit with extreme mobility and a re-rollable 2+ armor save, cover save, and re-rollable 4+ Invul Save (with optional 2+ re-rollable invul save if you want / position for it). The unit also has Hit and Run and Fearless, and it fails its Hit and Run on only a 6. It has extreme mobility (able to move 48" a turn if needed ... trailing behind to keep Baron in coherency for shorter moves ... and able to split into 4 distinct units, 3 of which can go anywhere, AFTER buffing everyone with powers like Fortune and Protect, so the splitting units are all 2+ re-rollable cover/armor when they split).

Hopefully we can all figure out you can't torrent these units down. Many armies in the current meta CAN torrent down a 3+ re-rollable save. No armies can torrent down a 2+ re-rollable (barring dumb luck).

Moreover, these armies are backed by bunches of Guardian Jetbike units that score and contest effectively, and also can move 48" at any point. Coupled w/ the ability to often enough get Scrier's Gaze and keep them off the table until Turn 4, it can be hard to actually draw a bead on them (much less do so without getting pinned down or outright destroyed by the highly mobile council in your face, or the 2 Wraithknights that in the idea situation should be trailing it).

The catch here is that even now, a properly designed Tyranid list trumps BOTH these armies rather dramatically, due to the mobility and model count of units like Gargoyles, coupled w/ Shadow in the Warp on a hide-able model like the Parasite of Mortrex. Being able to jam a 12" aura of "take your key LD tests on a 3d6" down the throat of an army built around a relative paucity of firepower and the presence of a big honking 2+ re-roll unit dependent on psychic powers to function is a pretty effective way to take them down.

Moreover, Tyranid lists have the bodycount in throwaway or "it's ok if they aren't doing anything" troop units like Termagants to properly bubble wrap objectives against late game contests / controls from units like the council and guardian jetbikes. They also possess key abilities like mass poison, to make the prospect of Wraithknights getting tangled into big 30-model gargoyle and/or termagant squads not all that terrifying (in fact, Parasite outright loves a chance to fling rending instant-killing attacks at Wraithknights).

That all said, Tyranid are neither overly popular nor overly present in contemporary 40k, and the "right" list with the current Codex takes far too long to play (making it painful physically in a tournament setting, and also downright unsporting for your opponent).

We're also about to get a new Tyranid codex.

So what should we all be hoping?
a) The new Tyranid have optimal lists that can be played reasonably in a tournament setting without utterly destroying either your back or your opponents' patience.
b) The new Tyranid are good enough to be taken by a fairly large # of players, thus forcing Jet/Screamerstar players to face the concept they are fairly likely to run into them during a typical GT.
c) The new Tyranid retain Shadows in the Warp or see it buffed, in its ability to apply psy power dampening or nullifying auras to portions of the table. If Shadows in the Warp sees a nerf the likes of which Runes of Warding suffered, and simply applies something like Adamantium Will to units in range, the game of 40k will in my opinion be broken, and will require a basic rule tweak added to the tournament environment akin to:
"Any re-rolled save only succeeds on a 4+."


PS - Jetstars can be played around, can be meta'ed for (at risk to getting pantsed by everything else), can be beaten. In the hands of decent players, however, and as the proper jet council "net list" becomes more and more well known and played (it's also SUPER AFFORDABLE TO BUILD FINANCIALLY), it's going to become a serious problem at the average tournament, for the average player. TOs always have these folks in mind first and foremost. We care LESS about the person who is a 40k Savant and thinks he can handle any combo any time. I'm sure you can. You're not the majority of people attending events and having to deal with things like a unit that can contest the entire board at any time, and passes 35/36 saves.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Narrative Army Tweaks - Optional Adjustments

The DC Narrative Team is in playtest mode for the next couple months working through a sort of optional comp.

Players who participate in either the full on or night-only components of the Narrative will be able to "activate" Narrative-sync'ed versions of their Codices. These are only optional - people who want to play with their basic dex are more than welcome to do so.

As a reminder, the Narrative enables all components (more or less) of the 40k Universe, including FW armies, 40k-approved-units, Horus Heresy lists, etc. Pairing and advancement structures people toward similar power levels and list types, so it manages out the possible imbalances fairly effectively.

The goal with these changes, the first of which we'll sneak peak, is less to try and make the game somehow perfectly balanced, and more to engage a limited and manageable number of optional tweaks that enable people to play alternate or popular/desirable aspects of their codex in a less-hamstrung way. Example: more effective Deathwing/Ravenwing/Dark Angels ... or non-Serpent-Spamming/Jetcouncil'ing Eldar.

Thus, first two "past the first playtest and into v2 of expected several more" test tweaks; feedback is welcome, but keep in mind tweaks are meant to be limited (And thus easy for attendees to process/anticipate) and fairly broad in their impact; you'll also notice things that are meant to somewhat prevent "more broken" builds (i.e., the 0-2 limit on Avengers in the Wraith aspect Eldar option):

Aspect of Implacability (those Virtue who refuse to acknowledge what has happened to them and their compatriots)

Aspect of Piracy (those Virtue who have adopted realistic acceptance of what has happened, and taken on an “every superhuman alien immortal for himself” outlook … to also include mercenarial / allied races better equipped to handle the outcome of the 2nd war)

Aspect of Insanity (those Virtue who have been so horrifically scarred by what they’ve witnessed that they are incapable of coping beyond falling to the worst antithesis of their race … murderous, horrific and utterly insane)


Aspect of the Van (Generally oriented around speed and aggression, the various recon, advance and vanguard components of Humanity’s forces)

Aspect of Retribution (Those Human forces who have fallen most deeply into pure hatred and vengeance over their near-extinction at the hand of the “Virtue”)

Aspect of Experience (Hardened veterans who’ve kept their cool over time, and are intimately familiar with how best to engage the various forces of the Virtue still active in the Solar System)

Eldar v2
All Eldar
- Fortune: The unit gains d3 re-rolled saves; these persist and stack with subsequent rolls
- Serpents: 80 Points; Serpent Shields are an Option, for +50 points (15 point net increase)
- All Eldar Units - +3” Movement; Run D6+1”

Virtue - Aspect of Piracy
- All non-Wraith units gain Hit and Run
- All non-Wraith units gain Haywire Grenades
- The Crimson Hunter gains a 3+ Evade/Jink save, and costs 120 points base

Humanity - Aspect of the Van
- All Wraith Constructs gain the Jetpack unit type; Wraith Knights remain as Jump
- The Hemlock gains Holo Fields and AV12, and costs 120 points base
- Dire Avengers gain “0-2” in terms of the # of units that may be selected

Dark Angels v2
All Dark Angels
- All Dark Angel “Infantry” or “Jump Infantry” models in Power Armor gain the “Relentless” USR
- Any Dark Angel model that does not move in the Movement Phase gains Twin-Linked on all of its ranged weapons until the start of its next Movement Phase
- Blacksword Missiles are resolved at S8 against enemy models with the Skimmer, Flyer and Flying Monstrous Creature special rules

Virtue - Aspect of Implacability
- All Terminator Armored Models without the “Independent Character” special rule are Scoring
- All “Deathwing” Terminator, Knight and Land Raider Models may select any options from their Unit Entries at no points cost

Humanity - Aspect of the Van
- All Models on Space Marine Bikes without the “Independent Character” special rule are Scoring
- All Models on Space Marine Bikes may re-roll the dice to determine arrival from Reserves, and gain the “Acute Senses” special rule

Monday, October 28, 2013

DC Narrative 2014 - Teaser - "Full Weekend" Track and Expansion of the Most Unique and Dramatic Narrative 40k Event Out There

The NOVA prides itself on the DC Narrative. For two years now, we've put on a truly unique Narrative event experience, literally unlike any other in the world of 40k.

In the first year, around 20 people showed up to participate; in year 2, total participation more than doubled, and most players were not involved in the GT during the day (unique attendees).

The Narrative production team has expanded this year, and we're turning it into something truly special, following along with the tracks of the past years.

2014 will focus on the reaction of the Virtue (our own homebrew intergalactic race) remnants still in Earth's Solar System as they struggle to cope with the reality of what occurred. Meanwhile, Earth will be facing their own struggles in terms of racial morality and survival; the planet is devastated (perhaps beyond habitable repair), and the survivors are riddled with both grief and hatred ... eager for revenge upon any and all surviving members of the Virtue (both Earthbound and lingering throughout the Solar System).

To reflect the expanded appeal of the Narrative, 40k players who wish for a different experience from the GT altogether (As opposed to just something in the evening to do instead of or in addition to the GT) will have it: the DC Narrative's full track will involve a unique combination of Command and Combat capabilities, where the Full Track participants (a very limited # of slots ... around 35 ... will be available) both battle it out during the day, and participate in smallgroup sessions that will help determine the battles to occur in the evenings, and will help determine the direction of the Narrative story as a whole in a much more direct way.

A great deal more information is forthcoming, but in addition to the battles these players will be facing, they'll also be responsible for such things as determining which areas of operations the evening players (which they're also a part of) will be deployed to. Our Narrative leads best described some of it as "Model UN meets War of the Worlds."

On the technical gaming front, Day Teams will be in part responsible for determining where night battles will occur, matching wits between Human and Virtue opponents in both a strategic and tactical sense. Furthermore, all participants in the Narrative will have the opportunity to play Virtue or Human "aspects" of each current 40k Codex; these Aspects will introduce subtle tweaks and changes to improve both the connection of the codices to the Narrative's backstory and encourage different ways to play some of the more net-listed armies.

As with everything NOVA, there'll be extensive opportunities for player involvement, playtesting and feedback in the lead-up.

Moreover, players will still be able to participate in the "Night Only" Narrative Gaming we've had to date, so those who wish to duke it out in the GT during the day and have a light, relaxing schedule at night maintain it ... while those who wish to experience an entire weekend full of 7 Narrative Games at relaxing paces coupled w/ "into the story" sessions gain that as well (and plenty of time to hit up seminars, shop vendors, etc. while they're at it).

For those who lived ... mercy died.
Uncredited Human source, following the 2nd Earth-Virtue War of 2313.

Sneak Peak Background Material
Written by Owen Beste (one of the co-leads for the 2014 Narrative, and 2013's Human "Acting" Faction Commander), edited by Mike Brandt, the closing notes to this year's Narrative

"Aspects" of the Virtue and Humanity for 2014
Each Codex will gain an optional "tweak" connecting to one of the three aspects of Humanity and the Virtue as their profiles evolve following the latest war. These includes the Virtue's "Aspect of Insanity," and Humanity's "Aspect of Revenge."

Plenty more information forthcoming for the Narrative, so keep your eyes and ears peeled. This year's format and presentation will also be heavily revised in terms of ensuring fair and balanced matches (especially for the evening games) and will include dramatic new terrain additions, including sector and specific location boards.

We've all seen Zero Gravity combat rules, for instance. Imagine placing your miniatures on a zero gravity gaming board ... complete with suspended, inertially-rotating terrain pieces and flickering embers and explosions.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Army Lists, and a Re-Blog - Competitive vs. Casual, the Endless Debate

So I told Chip / Torrent of Fire that I'd occasionally write a freelance article for them. I'm going to re-post that here.

I also wanted to share that I heard through the grapevine about something ... and if people are looking for army list advice, I suggest ... ask! There are a lot of really nice guys out there (and I'm occasionally one of them) who are happy to help out and share thoughts whenever people ask us for list advice. The grapevine was that someone thought those of us who historically share were suddenly being "sekrit" and only sharing with our friends. Oddball thing, that, but everyone in this hobby is a friend (or should be, it's small enough)!

On to the Re-Blog
Original post:

And the text of it ...
casualty2I’m going to try to convince people to stop using the words Casual and Competitive.
I’m going to do this by using them repeatedly for an entire, long article.
If I could give anyone I know a single piece of advice in life, it would be to live a life without expectations. If I could give someone a second piece of advice, it would be to establish goals instead.
The notion of “expectation” plays out heavily throughout our hobby. It impacts how our games pan out, how we play, how we feel about our games, and dramatically impacts our collective outlook on the hobby itself.
Lately, expectations are coming into play again with an upsurge in the perceived conflict between “Competitive” and “Casual” in Warhammer 40k. It bears understanding right from the get-go that these words are both awful words to use; we use them wrong, and we use them wrong routinely … they’re imprecise and highly subjective. More importantly, they cause serious problems in our community, because they detract from the real issues we often see causing conflict. They imprecisely and inaccurately rebrand these problems as a conflict of culture instead of a conflict caused by unrealistic and selfish expectations.
So let’s break some things down that need discussion …
As soon as you call something a Tournament and establish wins, losses, ties and scores for performance (whether that performance is “Did you win?” or “Was your opponent’s list cheesy in your expert opinion?” or “How attractive is your army compared to everyone else’s?”), you’ve created a Competition. A competition need not be competitive, but competitiveness is largely beyond the control of the organizer in contemporary 40k.
It’s time to take you guys to the mystical realm of ANALOGYLAND (which is apparently a real place). If you host a five-round one-on-one street basketball tournament in which the first round is randomly paired and the participants are Kobe Bryant in his prime, Michael Jordan in his prime, and 30 identically cloned people with dwarfism … is it competitive? We know it’s a competition … after all, it’s a five-round streetball tournament. Your initial thought might be “This isn’t competitive,” since we can probably guess Kobe and MJ are going to face each other at some point (not necessarily in the final round as would make sense, since the first round is randomly paired), and are otherwise going to run roughshod over a bunch of poor little people.
You’d be wrong.
In every round save for the first, 14 of the 16 games played are going to be practical mirror matches in terms of size and athleticism. The excepted round will have 16 highly competitive games, because at some point either Kobe or MJ are going to have to face each other … it’s a five-round tournament and there are 32 players, and we can safely assume neither of them is going to lose to a dwarf. So while theoretically eight games are going to be highly unfair and not competitive (the four rounds in which MJ and Kobe are beating up on the little people, and not facing each other), 72 games are going to be exceptionally competitive. So even though 30 of the 32 players never had a chance to win, the event itself is incredibly competitive, with 72 of 80 games likely to be very closely contested, with no clear guess at a winner ahead of time. Plus, the game to determine the overall winner (Kobe vs. MJ, whenever it happens) is also going to be very competitive (let’s avoid Kobe vs. MJ debates and assume they’d be similar enough in their respective primes).
A far less competitive event would be one in which the field is incredibly diverse. Host the same tournament with the same random first round pairings, yet change the field to MJ and Kobe, a handful of the little people, and then a full spectrum of basketball players from grade school, junior high and high school, college, the pros and retiree leagues. This event is far less likely to be even remotely competitive, because the ability to actually pair up evenly matched individuals becomes more difficult … and you still know going into it who is likely to wind up at or near the top by the end.
The second example represents all of today’s major 40k tournaments, from the Feast of Blades and NOVA Invitational all the way through most local Rogue Trader tournaments. You won’t find any event that is even remotely competitive. You’ll find plenty of events that are well-designed, fair competitions.
There’s another point, by the way. I’ll wager no one reading this wondered about the rules of basketball while pondering the whimsy of the above examples. Nobody was sitting there thinking, “3-pointers are overpowered; I wonder if any of the old guys will bring those to their game.” Perceived and real imbalances in 40k create yet another layer of “Come on guys, none of these tournaments are competitive.”
You, the reader, represent one of the people in the second tournament example above. Just like that example, when you attend a Tournament you are competing. You are in a competition. Your likelihood of getting a bunch of competitive games isn’t necessarily very high. Your likelihood of successfully winning games is directly proportional to your metrics; while for MJ the key factors were his skill and physical attributes, for you it’s your skill and army attributes.
In all of these cases, skill and army … or skill and physicality … are independent of personality. They are independent of “competitive spirit” and “sociability” and “fun-lovingness.”
Hall Of Fame Induction CeremonyThe world is full of competitively elite people who are superjerks, and competitively elite people who are wonderful human beings. Cal Ripken, Jr. isn’t an awesome human being because he played a ton of consecutive baseball games.
The world is also full of competitively incompetent a**holes, and competitively incompetent angels. Kim Jong-un isn’t a horrible ornery a**hole because of his poor hangtime.
But I’m getting off course. There’s a paradigm in our hobby of trying to brand people as being “one or the other,” “competitive vs. casual,” and other similar brandings.Kim 40k
I hope we’ve by now completely abolished the horrible use of the word “competitive” when referring to 40k tournaments. They aren’t, and IMO they never will be. There are too few events, too diverse a set of codices, too rapid a series of changes to those codices and too many players spread across too large a land area. Until we have a seeded event for only the best players (and look, I think the NOVA Invitational gets close, but it’s still fairly diverse in skill and army level), we’re never going to have a remotely competitive 40k event.
Stop thinking yours is. I’m talking to you, Mike Brandt of the NOVA Open. I’m talking to you, Chandler Lee of the Feast of Blades. I’m talking to you, Reece Robbins of the Bay Area Open. Whoever. Until we want to shoot ourselves in the financial foot and only let in a tiny handful of people we know are “good,” and then just to be sure, QC their lists with an independent commission to make sure none of them are being dummies and taking something that’s trying too hard to be different … we’ll never have a truly competitive event. Furthermore, calling someone “competitive” makes no sense whatsoever. I’ve faced many local heroes who are considered competitive dudes by their local crews … and crushed them. Does that mean they are or aren’t competitive? Just … STOP using the word. Try “good at 40k,” or “He has an optimized list,” or “He a bad man!!!” Those, at least, are all aware of their own subjectivity.
shoot-40kWhat we all do have, by the way, are fair competitions with fair rules in which people have a fair shot to prove how good they are (at painting, gaming, being good people in the eyes of those with whom they interact, or all three combined somehow).
So … moving on to the word “casual.”
What does it mean?
  • Relaxed and unconcerned
  • A person who does something irregularly
  • Clothes or shoes suitable for everyday wear rather than formal occasions
  • Made or done without much thought or premeditation
The closest I can see any of these getting to how our hobby community tries to use it is the fourth definition, but it’s still …. just awful as a way to try and brand someone.
I call tell you, the people out there desperately crying for comp or “casual” events are very, very concerned, and aren’t even a little bit relaxed. I can tell you none of them seem to play 40k irregularly. We can skip the clothing definition …
There are other uses for “casual,” as funny as that is. There’s also a great deal of thought and premeditation going into trying to brand “Competitive vs. Casual” subsets of players, and then trying to add qualitative value to whom each “side” is as human beings.
I’m a casual player. OH YEAH I DID. Am I concerned with the outcome of a tournament or game I attend? Not particularly. Am I relaxed when I play? Most opponents would probably argue stridently “yes,” especially when making cocktails for opponents and myself (as at Battle for Salvation: Lavender Bitters + Citadelle Gin + Q Tonic, yessir!). I played about four games of 40k in the two+ months leading up to BFS. Sounds fairly irregular to me. Less than once every two weeks. Less than twice a month. I do occasionally wear fancier clothes while playing … but that’s usually because I just got home from work. I often scribble out a list to play against my opponents on the spot, the moment I get home, with … well, without much thought or premeditation.
Yet I’m not who the Branders are thinking of when they say “casual.” (Oh yeah, I just branded the Branders, sue me.)
Who are they thinking of? Bad players? Players who try really hard to build a list they don’t think is “competitive” (there’s that stupid word again). Players who … don’t care if they win? Wait, can’t go there … lots of the “competitive” guys don’t care if they win either, despite bringing strong lists and playing well.
I think what gets me is that it’s the opposite of casual to try and stovepipe or brand people who share the same hobby as being a certain way. There are a lot of players who are anything but casual, but for whatever reason (more power to them) don’t want to play what is considered an optimal list, and don’t want to spend much energy within their games playing to win. That’s OK. I don’t fully understand it personally, because I’ve always found myself able to engender positive relationships with all sorts of player types while playing the game as it is supposed to be played and bringing whatever list I want to bring … the exact definition of a casual player.
The truth of the matter is we all need to take it a little less seriously, and remember that it is a game. When you sit down to play Apples to Apples, or Trivial Pursuit, or Pictionary … you give it your best shot at playing the game correctly and to win … you congratulate those who do well … you laugh at the fun things that happen … and you generally care not all that much about the outcome. You certainly don’t look at that guy next to you who is answering all the Trivial Pursuit questions correctly and say
competitive-2The long and short of this long-winded retort to the Branders of our little hobby world is this:
Kim Jong-un sucks at basketball (I’m just sure of it), and also sucks at life. Cal Ripken, Jr. is pretty awesome at life, and awesome at baseball. I think most of us use the words “casual” and “competitive” incorrectly, but we all know what players mean when they try to brand people as being one or the other.
And it’s still wrong.
There are as many overly intense, unpleasant people who play 40k poorly or with fluffy / underpowered lists as there are overly intense, unpleasant people who play 40k well and with optimized or overpowered lists.
Drop your expectations when going into public gaming settings (local game stores, tournaments, etc.), and be open and aware of your own needs. Avoid games that are too far outside your skill and list level, and if you put yourself in games that are outside your skill and list level … understand and accept responsibility for the fact that’s exactly where you’ve put yourself. You aren’t a “casual player” stuck facing a bunch of “competitive players.” You aren’t a competitive player forced to get his practice in against “casual newbies.” We’re all different, we all share traits and differ in all sorts of variable ways, and we’re all playing a silly little game. Obsessing over throwing a diverse group of human beings into a couple of hyper-generic, grammatically intoxicated buckets is probably the last thing any of us should be doing.