Monday, March 24, 2014

Why 40K is Becoming Better for Social Groups and Tournaments ... But Worse for Pick-Up and LGS Gaming

So as time goes on, more and more becomes visible and apparent about the design intent of Games Workshop.

It's probably been apparent for a while, but something Neil Gilstrap and I were chatting about further reinforces the point and I think hits the nail on the head.

Many of the chief design folks in Games Workshop (i.e., JJ) come from the original D&D / home gaming era, where things like 40K were not so much played at big tournaments or local game shops, as they were played among a group of friends with a bunch of reference books and a few brews and pretzels in the nearest available basement (or loft, whatever).

If you look at 40K now, with it costing nearly $1,200 to obtain all the core rules (not counting Forgeworld here, folks), it's a game that is nearly impossible for one person to legally be up to speed with.

Now, if any GW folks are reading this, please chime in or share in. Your competitors actually do cross blog posts and share their $.02. Community engagement and all that. You have no idea how motivating it is when the designer of a game drops by and gives his $.02. I say this because I don't think many can fathom the logic or reasonability in charging over one thousand dollars (and counting) to own the basic unit and game rules.

But I digress. A healthy social gaming club/group is going to have access to all the rules in aggregate. A tournament organizer is going to have access to all the rules via their resources, volunteers, other TOs, etc. A random gamer is not, at this point, going to ever have access to them. A new gamer is certainly not.

Why 40K Today is Good for Social Groups/Clubs
Because of the incredibly diverse and dense quantity of rules now in the game of Warhammer 40,000, any social gaming group or club can effectively sift through the mass and decide what is or isn't kosher for the weekly activities of the group. Don't want to see D weapons? Cool, make a group decision and you won't have to. Do want to see Knight Titans? Cool, make a group decision and you will. Don't want to see super battle bro deathstars (hereafter known as Brostars)? Cool, make a house rule and they're gone for good.

40K is at this point by its very nature an optional/modular ruleset game. Social groups and clubs can establish what modules and rules are and aren't OK. They can also use and ratify rules changes / house rules.

I think this is the prime target of the design studio, maybe just of Jervis. I *wonder* whether they know how much worse they are making their game for the random and new gamer, but we'll get to that.

Why 40K Today is Good for Tournaments
In many ways, Tournaments are like Social Groups/Clubs. They have an online presence, they establish mission and rules guidelines, they establish FAQs for how they're going to play fuzzy rules, etc. They're also club-like with other Tournaments, and while each TO may have his closer buddies within the club or even a couple clubmates they don't care for, generally speaking they're all roughly aware of what the other guys are doing and want to do, and thus try not to stray too far from the established understandings (while still doing what they really want to do most). You could spend an article drawing meaningful parallels.

The biggest note to be drawn here, however, is that a Tournament can and will set forth a clear understanding (or at least it should) of what will and won't be legal, how questionable things will be played, etc. Generally speaking, a TO will make these rules based upon what he believes is best for his attendees' enjoyment (again, at least he should).

So just like a social gaming group, attendees to a Tournament have a clearer understanding of what is and isn't kosher from amongst the horridly dense and divergent components of the 40K of today.

Long and Short on the Upside
If you aren't attending tournaments or joined to a club/social group that communicates well, YOU SHOULD. It's in these environments you'll be able to enjoy the game most, because it's in these environments you'll most be able to know what parameters you'll be gaming within. Yes, that means go to the NOVA Open and participate in the Narrative or the brass tacks GT, but this isn't really the point of the post. I'm just as encouraging of you to either form or join a social group or club in your local area. You'll enjoy the game far more. You'll also have a much better idea of what things you actually should spend your money on.

THE most frustrated hardcore hobbyists I see these days are the ones who aren't part of a tight social gaming group or club and tend to buy what they think looks or sounds cool from within the entire range of GW products ... from Forgeworld through Stronghold. These folks end up really frustrated when tournaments ban or outlaw certain things, or when their local game groupings do the same. They never knew what the expectations were before they made their investments (or those expectations have changed over time, that does happen, though it's not really applicable to investments like knight titans or recent forgeworld escalation units, etc), and so they end up with all manner of rationalizations for why the community (locally, tournament-wise, or just at large) is just scared to use new units or doesn't understand what GW intends balance wise, or whatever other rationalization works better than "I just didn't know I couldn't regularly find opponents to use this against if I bought and lovingly built/painted it."

This leads to ...

The People Whose Enjoyment Games Workshop is Directly Harming
New players. People who lack the social interest in or local group availability for joining a social game group/club. Hardcore hobbyists who spend their time buying and painting models, and game only occasionally.

You can go on with the list, but it's a large subset ... I think actually a pretty substantial subset ... of the hobby.

These people are worse off for what GW has been doing lately. While TOs have a little more work and stress on their plates, attendees of tournaments are going to have just as much fun as ever. If any part of GW hopes to negatively impact tourney success, sorry ... that goal has failed miserably. If any part of GW hopes to increase the fun of beer and pretzels weekly game night folks ... that goal has succeeded admirably (there's more stuff from which to choose when establishing acceptable list building protocols for the group).

It's the people who don't exist within a group that has already-established frameworks of acceptable use who are harmed here. They often end up buying the coolest, newest thing, then end up subsequently frustrated at the community at large (or probably, eventually, GW) for not letting them routinely find playing opportunities.

So the point here I think is (if there is one beyond simple observation and opinion sharing) ... any game that requires veteran players to lead you by the nose into it is not doing its job well from a "find new customers" vantage point. Any game that punishes more socially introverted hobbyists could arguably not be doing a good job ... but, it is a social game by nature.

Regardless, rather than hate on Games Workshop for whatever rampantly short-term, short-sighted "meet the quarterly report and don't lose our jobs to the customers we REALLY care about - shareholders" business decisions they make (and who knows if it's that or just beer/pretzels-home-hobby-focused-at-the-cost-of-all-else decision making within the design studio) ... either fix the problem by playing in more tournaments and joining social game groups / clubs ... or fix it by finding a game whose balance and design by nature levels the playing field for all player types (whether you're fluff/paint-first, competition-first, or somewhere in between), like Malifaux.

There's a lot of doom and gloom out there about 40k ... I don't think it's actually warranted. As always in life, take a look at what's really in front of you, find a solution, and carry on.

In fun news ... we had THIRTY people at the Terrain Build this past weekend, and it was awesome. Here's the prototype for the Lunar/Asteroid tables for this year's Narrative.

It's also a good sneak peak at the layout with double the center LOS blockage. This layout will be in play at all the 40K events ... so expect a lot more LOS blockage than last year, where Tau and Eldar gunlines/serpentlines had a field day in the alternate layouts, etc.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Progressive Scoring vs. Asymmetrical / Choice-Based Mission Design - Devil in the Details

The next renovation of the approach to the Asymmetrical Missions represented at will be to develop a broader range of Secondaries, and enable players to choose from a set # of them for each mission. So, instead of more restrictive and typical ones, you'll see perhaps 6-7 to choose from, and select the ones that best suit the match-up (which your opponent will of course be doing also).

There's an important nuanced difference to be found between progressive mission scoring (which the asymmetricals espouse in large part) and choice-based mission design.

Let's jury rig an example for comparison here ...

1) Asymmetrical / Choice-Based Mission ... Choose either to have your objectives count for X points each at game end, or Y points per turn. Your opponent chooses independent of you. Further, choose what secondary goals you're pursuing (i.e., KP, Linebreaker, Warlord, Quarters, whatever). Select 2-3 from a list of 7. Again, you're choosing your mission independent of your opponent.

2) Progressive Scoring Only Mission ... Both players accumulate points on a per turn basis or throughout the game along identical scoring metrics.

The difference here should be more clear when presented in this way, but it's an important one in assessing the intent and purpose of missions. One of the key goals behind Asymmetrical Mission design is the avoidance of harm to the status quo "power lists." If missions are designed that broaden the competitive field, all is well. If all they do is change the competitive field, you're simply shifting the bar to a different status of what a power list is.

These differences are important, because there's been a lot of inspiration throughout the community from the mission catalog - across forums and blogs everywhere you're seeing a lot of really creative and productive thinking toward how to build a better mousetrap ... how to make missions that are more effective at making the game more interesting for players.

THAT SAID, keep in mind as you are designing your own, and as you are talking about the ones we've built, the key for these missions is NOT the progressive scoring in and of itself. The key is the freedom of choice for players, so that the actual mission you are playing is determined based upon the match-up, the round, etc., and not predetermined in a very fixed way in the mission primer.

By making mission design partly in the hands of the players, and not determined until you actually start the mission, you prevent gaming the system more effectively. You also demolish the notion of a predictable meta and of knowing what list you should or shouldn't take to do well.

In this way, a broader range of list styles are activated as able to do well without harming the effectiveness of the lists that are "best of" by the nature of the game designed by Games Workshop. In the same way that you do not want to completely abandon the rules of the game, you do not want to structure a tournament that completely abandons the naturally good lists of the game. This is true both because you do not want to harm one set of players' investments just to give other players a chance (ending in a net-zero change and no true improvement), and because you want to remain respectful of the game you're choosing to play / put on an event for.

Food for thought.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

MSU'ing Your Way Around Deathstars, PLUS Malifaux Terrain for NOVA 2014 Works in Progress

First, a bit of a sneak peak here ....

Malifaux registration is off to a roaring start for 2014, and with good reason! There are "bad things happening" every single day and night of NOVA with regard to this particularly excellent game.

Coupled w/ inputs from the Malifaux leads, we've been working through the terrain concepts for this year's 26 tables, with swamp/Gremlin hoocheville, badlands, desert, frosty, and grassy plains themes in the works.

I laid a couple of the early concepts - Badlands and Frosty - out for our regular Malifaux Mondays this week .... Obviously the tabletops themselves at NOVA will match the themes ...

Badlands Theme in Progress

Frozen Tundra Theme in Progress, some inspiration from Certs on the Infinity Team
Now, onto the 40K thought of the month ...

Something I started playing with about a month ago and have become increasingly enamored with is the concept of working your way around deathstars and eventually knightbuilds by leveraging MSU - most especially highly deployable/redeployable MSU.

What you do not want to do is have a mostly static or "I have to either deploy or come on standard reserves" force if you do this, because many of the common deathstars these days have split fire, and multi-assault capabilites that they are readily willing to use due to their extreme durability.

There are 2 in particular that have seen a lot of use; one is Eldar primarily, with Tau allies, and the other is Farsight/Tau, built to help Justin Cook of Team America work through a similar concept that he's been mulling.

Can you tell me why these work? I'll do a follow-up article with vassal screenshots to explain how these have been used to beat the snot out of common Jetstar, Centstar, Screamerstar, etc., lists, even on Kill Points (yup!).

(p) Eldar / (a) Tau MSU List

Baharroth - 195
Shadowsun - 135

5 Striking Scorpions - 85
5 Striking Scorpions - 85
5 Striking Scorpions - 85
Crisis Suit w/ Fusion Gun, Burst Cannon, 2 Gun Drones - 71

3 Guardian Jetbikes w/ Shuriken Cannon - 61
3 Guardian Jetbikes w/ Shuriken Cannon - 61
3 Guardian Jetbikes w/ Shuriken Cannon - 61
3 Guardian Jetbikes w/ Shuriken Cannon - 61
3 Guardian Jetbikes w/ Shuriken Cannon - 61
3 Guardian Jetbikes w/ Shuriken Cannon - 61
10 Kroot w/ Kroot Hound - 65

6 Swooping Hawks - 96
6 Swooping Hawks - 96
6 Swooping Hawks - 96
4 Pathfinders - 44
Devilfish Dedicated Transport w/ SMS, 2 Seekers - 106

Skyray - 115
War Walker w/ Scatter Laser, Bright Lance - 70
War Walker w/ Scatter Laser, Bright Lance - 70
War Walker w/ Scatter Laser, Bright Lance - 70


(p) Farsight / (a) Tau MSU List

Codex: Farsight - Primary Detachment

Commander (85) w/ 2 Fusion Blasters (30), Warscaper Drone (35), Vectored Retro-Thruster (5) - 155

3 x Crisis Suits (66) w/ Bonding Knives (3), 2 x Flamers Each (30) - 99
Crisis Suit (22) w/ Bonding Knife (1), 2 x Missile Pods (30) - 53
Crisis Suit (22) w/ Bonding Knife (1), 2 x Missile Pods (30) - 53
Crisis Suit (22) w/ Bonding Knife (1), 2 x Missile Pods (30) - 53
Crisis Suit (22) w/ Bonding Knife (1), 2 x Missile Pods (30) - 53
Crisis Suit (22) w/ Bonding Knife (1), 2 x Missile Pods (30) - 53

4 x Pathfinders (44) w/ Devilfish Dedicated Transport (80), SMS Upgrade (10), 2 x Seeker Missiles (16) - 150
4 x Pathfinders (44) w/ Devilfish Dedicated Transport (80), SMS Upgrade (10), 2 x Seeker Missiles (16) - 150
4 x Pathfinders (44) w/ Devilfish Dedicated Transport (80), SMS Upgrade (10), 2 x Seeker Missiles (16) - 150

Skyray Missile Gunship (115) w/ Black Sun Filter (1) - 116
Skyray Missile Gunship (115) w/ Black Sun Filter (1) - 116
Skyray Missile Gunship (115) w/ Black Sun Filter (1) - 116

Codex: Tau - Allied Detachment

Commander Shadowsun - 135

Crisis Suit (22) w/ Bonding Knife (1), 2 x Missile Pods (30) - 53

10 x Kroot Carnivores (60) w/ Kroot Hound (5) - 65

4 x Pathfinders (44) w/ Devilfish Dedicated Transport (80), SMS Upgrade (10), 2 x Seeker Missiles (16) - 150

Skyray Missile Gunship (115) w/ Black Sun Filter (1) - 116

Total Points - 1836 (aka you have points to play with)

Let's see who can figure out the details and nuance of how this works, and why it works (hint: it's not just to have lots of threats ... there are a few keys to many of the unit choices and other things that is critical to the way it all works)