Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Balance in a No-Comp World

On a forum I belong to there has been a discussion about the lessons from NiCon over the weekend. Nicon 40k ran comp-free and was one of the few (only) major events to do so in the past few years.

The organiser sent me the participants’ lists and after reviewing them I feel pretty confident in saying that this is probably how No-Comp looks at the Special Olympics. In most cases it was pretty evident that people had either just stuck in a Special Character or duplicated a unit that they had already had.

Personally I hope the experiment continues as I can that for a lot of people it will take a complete re-think of how they approach the game and play their armies.

What will be interesting is whether a schism will develop. A lot of people in the past have podiumed from their ability to win sufficient games with a softer army and then ride the comp-boost up the table. In future it will be purely battle as those that are serious will ensure that they gain all possible painting and sports points.

I have some concerns as to whether this is necessarily good for the community, in a country of 4 million people. It is hard to deny that there has been significant power creep in codexes through the life of 5th which means that once a race is selected (and before the list is drawn up) it is not a level playing field. Yes, everybody can choose the strong book but economics and time issues don’t make this always viable.

So I was thinking how best to level the playing field in a No-Comp environment until, not to put it too bluntly, the training wheels are off. The idea is to make Little Johnny feels secure and less like a turkey at Thanksgiving.

Essentially given the book missions, what points level best balances the power differences between the different codexes?






  1. 2000pts is imo the best balanced point level. However at a tournament you also start running in to issues with time, which is why 1850 and 1750pts are the standard. 1500pts is not balanced at all because older codices with weak scoring units really struggle to get enough killing power into their list.

    I think you are overestimating the so called power creep in 5th and the need to try and create an artificial level playing field. All the 5th edition codices are high quality (as in more than 1 build), competitive and balanced against each other, Nids took a hit with their FAQ but as shown by the Nicon results are still solid. Of the older codices, Necrons are clearly at the bottom, but they are next in line for an update (and looking like a complete overhaul at that). Thanks to the latest FAQs pretty much everything else is competitive, even if they only really have a very limited competitive build (Eldar, Witchhunters, Tau, Deathwing). You can say there is a power level jump from 4th edition books to 5th edition books, but that's about it really.

    It matters very little in any case, it was roughly the same bunch of people in the top places which once again proves that player skill is by far the most important factor.

  2. Think you and I subscribe to very different theories on this one Pete.

    I don't see that the codicies are unbalanced at all. The better codicies just have a higher number of viable builds and units. They can seem "easier" to play because their playstyle is more straight forward, or requires less advanced tactics, or may be more forgiving, but are capable of the same competetive levels.

    What does still happen though is the paper-scissor-rock mentality to the game, and this can lead to verious trends and a percieved inbalance.

    If more of the tyranid players ran something like the polish genestealer/hive guard based list that Team Poland took at the ETC and smashed the crap out of every mech guard list that showed up, then Mech Guard would slide down the scales a bit. Instead they take drastically different lists that turn them from a rock to paper against the guard scissors, and run to the internet saying they're not a viable codex.

    This would in turn cause the guard lists to need to change to keep up with it, which would lead to an evolution in other lists, and so on and so forth.

    If people refuse to evolve, this does NOT make the game unbalanced.

    We really need to stop comparing ourselves to a country that runs rulebook missions on terrainless tables with tournaments that hit 200-300 people, and expecting that thats what will become of us if we let go of the comp liferaft.

    "OMG THERE WERE 20 PRACTICALLY IDENTICAL GUARD LISTS!" - we get 3 practically identical guard lists in a 30 person tournament with comp, so there's no point to be made in that scaremongering.

  3. Bugger. I have written two replies and lost them both.

    I think that we are mid cycle in 40k. At a similar point to where we were post release of Dark Elves in 7th Ed fantasy. Notwithstanding Charlie's comments re terrainless overseas tables i'd stand by the fact that IG and SW are clearly stronger codexes than the 4th ed Necrons, Tau, Chaos, eldar, Sisters. Good point re recent FAQ

    Hence my question as to where the game is most balanced. As a TO id love no comp and happy campers.

    And regardless the best players will win, just like in life! They are better prepared and more ruthless

  4. I think we might be measuring different things.

    When I'm looking at whether a book is competitive, I'm looking at whether it can win a tournament.

    In that light, I think I could win an event with witch hunters as easily as I could with space wolves. The difference is, I can only really see one sisters list, playing one way each and every time that I could do it with (and it's a playstyle that would make me want to chew tinfoil), where with the wolves I'm still tossing and turning over the many different viable builds and units, and different ways to play each game.

    As such, each time I select a new army - the question isn't "can I win a tournament with it?" but rather, "can I sustain enjoyment trying to win with this army?".

    People have began ragging on me for playing my orks for 2 years. The truth is I'm not tired of playing with them at all, as they can play so differently. I can have a shooting war with Nikola, an all out bum-rush against Lewy, and a defensive posturing for the midfield against Damien quite happily. Against Daniel Haydn I can have a completely unmolested trip across the table before setting up precise assaults to mitigate the counter attack, and then in the next game get every wheel shot out from under me and have to drag myself across the table praying against Doug.

    The better designed books give you more options, but I don't think its as black and white as "book X is stronger than book Y".

    I will however concede that "Little Johnny Average" is going to place higher over all with a mediocre space wolf list than he will with a mediocre necron list however, and I will also concede that if thats the direct comparison you're looking for, then that would indicate it was stronger.

    As to the points that are most balanced, that is a most contentious subject! The UK adamantly believe that the game is balanced around 1500 points, and many think it is ONLY balanced at that point. When you get higher, you start to get to duplicate too many good things, or surpass a saturation point of what people can deal with. 10 chimera vehicles? not too bad to deal with. 15? Getting harder... etc.

    On the reverse of that coin, you have the crowd that believe its only at 2000 that people can fit in enough counters to begin eliminating some of the paper scissor rock element, or can bring enough anti tank to combat multiple land raiders etc.

    Personally I really have no idea what the right answer is. I suspect both are true, depending on the books. Some will be very powerful at 1500 points, and taper off as they're forced to spend the extra points on less efficient stuff, while other lists just throw in more of what makes them strong and get stronger in turn.

    For that reason I quite like 1750 because its in the middle of the two extremes, but that doesn't make it the right answer - though we all knew before I started typing this that I'm a habitual fence sitter, eh :P?

  5. It will be interesting to see how Over the Top goes next year, 2000 points with no comp score, or so I hear. Many players around New Zealand seem to struggle with fitting a 1850 point game into 2.5 hours, let alone a 2000 point game. Personally I think we shouldn't drop the points limit down to 1500 - at the end of the day I feel it wouldn't be as fun with less stuff on the board (less death!) I tend to agree with points that both you and Charlie make, Pete. Some books are slightly weaker, but as Charlie says, it just limits the choices you can make. Personally I enjoyed NICON, the lack of a comp score was great. Less bitching, less people whining over cheese armies, just good honest wargaming.

  6. Duplication/redundancy or lack thereof is pretty much the (well my) biggest problem with 1500pts. I can take my 1 specialised heavy anti tank unit and my 1 anti horde unit and then you run into situations where you lose them early and the game goes downhill fast with no real way for you to recover it. This is a particularly obvious problem if you are playing a list which pushes the envelop at either end (Land Raider spam, Green Tide etc). This isn't so much of an issue at higher point levels because the additional stuff keeps the game revolving around 'how do I use unit X to stop his unit Y' (i.e in game tactics) rather than 'did I bring enough of unit Z' (list building). Of course there is the other end of the scale as well i.e 2500pts and upwards where everyone can buy everything they feel like, which is why a nice balance somewhere in the 1750-2000pt range is a good idea (hence why it's the most popular).

    The other issue is basically how scalable a codex is. To be fair this has definitely been getting better, all the 5th edition books can scale down to 1500pts and up to 2500pts quite happily. Its mostly just the 4th edition books with weak scoring units which struggle with scaling. They don't scale down well because they have no killing power in their Troops and don't have the points to afford Elites/Heavy etc, and they don't scale up past a certain point for the same reason, you max out everything apart from Troops and then are back adding in filler.