Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Case for Hard Caps - Part Deux

Well the post around Hard Cap Composition caused a bit of a stir yesterday. Thanks to everybody who contributed. The comments made were all considered and reflected that some thought had gone into them. They certainly made me consider my thoughts more thoroughly.

Sometimes a TO Wears Many (Hard) Hats

I wanted to pick up on a point one poster, Powerguy made. He said:

“but to me the absolute last thing you should want to be doing as a TO is directly dictating what people bring to your tournament. Indirectly sure (with comp and forcing people to build for scenarios) but with hard caps you are basically trying to redesign and rebalance the entire system yourself, which is a pretty massive task for one person (GW have whole teams working on this kinda stuff full time...). I have never seen a comp/hard cap system which doesn't have the same kind of loopholes as the base systems which GW made to start with.”

Now there are a lot of things in his statement I’d like to comment on as to me they strike at the reason why I favour a hard cap composition system.

The first part of Powerguy’s statement concerns the actions of the TO and whether he should be dictating what people bring to a tournament. I fundamentally disagree with this assertion as I believe it is a fundamental right (responsibility) to determine what should be there. My reasoning on this is twofold.

Firstly, as the TO is the one investing his time in organising and running the event, I believe he has the right to dictate the nature of the event. If he wants the event to be a no-holds barred fight to the death then he can set the parameters to encourage this. Similarly, if he wants it to be a love-in where renditions of “Kumbaya” ring out between each round he can do that. However, he also has the responsibility to publicise the nature and conditions of the event well in advance of the cut-off date so that individuals can make an informed decision as to whether it is the type of event they wish to attend. It may be a generational thing but to say he doesn’t have the right to dictate conditions seems to me to reflect an “entitlement” by the individual that I don’t subscribe to.

Secondly, and more importantly, I do think that TO would want to ensure that the attendees enjoyed the event – not least because he probably wants repeat attendance. Now Warhammer of either genre is not a bloodsport and I expect that most attendees would prefer a level playing field. This might not be the case for all - some will come just to throw dice – but I don’t think anyone actively seeks out a tournament where they are at a known disadvantage. Therefore to ensure that there is a better chance of enjoyment for all, I know I’m attracted to events where the playing field is levelled.

The second point that Powerguy makes concerns one guy undertaking the task to re-balance what GW Design Team have spent months developing. The assertion, quite valid, is that it is arrogant to think you can do better. Now this argument comes up frequently but personally I think it is fundamentally flawed.

Why? GW has a team of up to 10 people in its Design Studio (let’s put aside for a minute that one of them was Gav Thorpe). They also use playtesters but this group is also limited in numbers. Now I am aware of how the playtesting process works – the Warlords had a group of 40k playtesters for 2-3 years – and how many games etc that they play. I’m willing to say that the number of games played with a rulebook, army book or codex in the week after its general release dwarfs any playtesting prior to release. It just a reflection of the market they serve.

As a result of this very quickly any rules problems (remember the Skaven book required 7 pages of errata and FAQs) are quickly identified. Similarly the most effective units quickly become evident. Twenty years ago this didn’t matter as much as playing groups were distant and disjointed. You therefore had local meta games that developed in isolation. This is no longer the case. Internet forums, informative blogs (such as this one), podcasts etc pool and publish this shared experience. It is no accident that the words “net list” has entered our lexicon.

And this is no reflection of the job done by GW but rather just sheer mathematics. You can’t hope to replicate the number of situations that come up in play after release during the playtesting process. GW, themselves, acknowledge this limitation by trotting out the line that their game is not balanced and not designed for tournaments. The shared knowledge grows with time as more and more situations occur.

Given this shared knowledge most comp systems are the result of pooled experience, borrowing shamelessly from around the globe. A good example of this is the “Power Scroll”. To the best of my knowledge the Power Scroll quickly came verboetten in NZ tournaments despite, to the best of my knowledge, no NZ player using the item. This purely was the result of shared experience with TOs recognising how much it could unbalance a game.

I think that it is important to give TOs some credit that where there are any, thought has gone into restrictions. I know in my case they are not there to ruin anyone’s fun but rather to ensure that the enjoyment of the majority is not ruined. However acknowledging that “less is more” the system we use locally is deliberately brief and doesn’t profess to be a catch-all. Instead it is designed to knock out the most egregious offenders. By its nature it is also a living document but hopefully avoids the “Crimes Against Pete” mentality.

So I hope this has explained my reasoning a little more. It certainly isn’t designed to denigrate the views of Powerguy but hopefully addresses some of the points he raised.



  1. Well that seemed to kill the topic dead!

  2. I agree that Fantasy is imbalanced, and I accept that TO's can run a tournament however they please - if the players hate it that much they can attend elsewhere!
    BUT - comp of all flavours has in built problems.
    For example, my first and only painted Fantasy army, goblins, is quite thoroughly shafted by hard caps. No Scarsnik (useful in some builds), only 4 warmachines, what, are BS3 spearchuckas really that scary? Even if they are reasonably effective, they are there to make up for the dreadful state of the rest of the troops. No double giant, no double doomdiver or rocklobber?
    Completly gimps the goblin army.
    My high elves? Partially screwed, unless they get exceptions as per their army book. My empire? Nadda. No change. No impact.
    ALL comp systems I've seen that includes points or absolute caps effect armies unequally, and can be worked around by those very same army books that you're trying to limit.

    I know what you're trying to do, and I applaud the idea; but hurting some army builds and rewarding others / letting them go free is the wrong way to go.

  3. The relationship between a TO and players is always going to be a balancing act. The TO is the guy putting in all the effort, doesn't get much recognition if everything runs smoothly but gets blasted when things go wrong. As such I can agree that he can run things how he wants, its his time after all. However tournaments are always going to be for the players, and as such everything the TO does should be putting them first when he can. The second you introduce caps then you are having a massive impact on the players, and while you might be trying to make it a positive impact you WILL have a negative impact as well. Critically it will impact some people (well armies, but not many people have multiple tournament sized armies) more than others. Fluffy and competitive builds for a range of armies are suddenly no longer possible, which I certainly don't see as putting the player first.

    This is all compounded by the fact that there aren't a huge number of tournaments in NZ and even less tournament organisers (which is largely to do with population). Every TO can run things how he likes, but basically everyone follows the same format which I can only really put down to TO's not having the time to sort out something new. Every tournament has the same or similar comp and/or hard cap systems, usually with the same (rulebook) missions using the crazy terrain rules. No one runs no comp tournaments or ventures far from the norm with missions. For starters this leaves anyone who doesn't like the format stuck (you could run your own I guess, but playing in your own tournament is a major no-no) but also means that the tournament 'system' is very slow to react to ideas. No experimentation means that potentially better ways to do things can get ignored for a very long time. 40k is the same, Comp has slowly been getting scaled back and starting to disappear completely as people realised it wasn't working/had no place, but it has taken a very long time.

    One thing which I think would really help Fantasy is adopting a system more like the NOVA Tournaments in the US (I'm assuming everyone knows what I'm talking about here). If you can completely separate out the competitive side from the overall standings (and reward both, which is the crucial bit) then you don't have to worry about trying to balance an inherently unbalanced system. Assuming you have no comp/caps, people who want to stomp face can bring crazy lists and will end up beating each others faces in towards the end. Those who want to run fluffy/balanced lists can also do so, they might hit one hardcore list but then should be facing similar lists and still be in a position to win something.

    Btw when was the last time someone from GW said that the game is not balanced for tournaments? For either 40k or Fantasy? I know its been said in the past, but its not something I've seen said for quite a while. I think GW has actually realised that a balanced game is a better idea than an unbalanced game (I'll try and repost my comments about balancing in the other thread) and have stopping saying that and starting making an effort to balance things.

  4. @Powerguy - yes NZ's gaming community is small but this always means it communicates with itself more easily. Comp rules used in NZ tournaments follow similar lines because general consensus is that these are the rules that work. WHFB tournaments here are attended by the same group of core gamers with a larger group of semi-regulars. These players all contribute to discussion over comp rules and the lack of variation reflects IMO community consensus over the suitability of the comp systems used here.

    Pete Lite is the latest variation on this trend. Yes hard caps can hurt - I mean I would have loved to have taken 2 Organ Guns in my last list, but I made do without. TO's also have a responsibility to promote the game and allowing uber OTT lists without restrictions will effectively kill off the attendance of new players at tournaments.

    As for a lack of experimentation have you not followed the last 3 campaign team based tournaments run here? These offered a major departure from the norm, enhanced the game, were highly enjoyable and a great all round gaming experience.

    And Im sorry but I have to ask - Do you actually like Warhammer? I read a lot of negatives in all of your comments - the rules are bad, the terrain is bad, army books suck etc. Negative comments like that are one reason I gave up on visiting forums were its a non-stop barrage of I hate this and I hate that from people who are supposedly enthusiasts.

  5. That's bit of an odd question John.M, he's taken a risk wandering into the Dunnite interwebz bastion with differing ideas, I'd be suprised if he didn't like Warhammer, I'd say he was downright passionate about it. A lot of the TO ruleset is cut'n'paste and probably appeases the people nearest to the TO and his circle of influence. Powerguy (unfortunate name)just wants variation from the rather samey offerings he's currently got in his Tourney diet. In saying that, Tauranga are running a no-comp tourney in a couple of weeks, and there's 2 of my crew going, and absolutely looking forward to it, and the ones not going wanted too. Mix it up, might be surprised.Personally I don't look at comp when picking a tournament, I worry about that at list time, I fight in all weather.

  6. Yep, I think Powerguy is passionate too...and I welcome that passion and his contribution. As Chaoswolf says things can get 'samey" and that's one of the reasons I've encouraged other people to pick up the TO mantle and run with it.

    After organising the Fields of Blood 40k Grand Tournament for three years I thought that this year (RWC impact) was a good opportunity to take a step back and look at other ideas.

    I know I have move from a subjective comp view to hard caps (fantasy) but still believe that is difficult with 40k (while keeping things brief).

    What I don't like with subjective is that no matter how much work you do prior you can't manage people's expectations. This means that there is some unhappiness post event, something I like to avoid.

    please keep the debate coming. well passionate, I try to be open to other opinions.

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  8. Ok on reflection it was an unfair question - but there is a limit when it comes to constructive criticism.

  9. I have a question when you guys say no comp still makes for boring lists because people build to the max. If you build to the max under the hard caps what is the difference between the max at hard caps and max at no comp, you are just building a new ceiling to stop at.

  10. First, all composition systems are flawed, there is no nivarna that will please everyone all the time. Composition systems exist because the army books are not balanced, never have been and never will be. For all armies to balanced, they would have to identical in choices available and characteristics, this wouldn't make for a great game. Fantasy, is a fun game due to the variations in the lists and that fact they all vary in the way the play in various phases of the game.

  11. I just had a chance to read the Ogres book today and it appears at first glance to be closely balanced to the two previous 8th books. This of course opens up the opportunity to relax or approach hard caps alternativley IMO. I would propose no restrictions being made to OnG, TK, and Ogres at this point, but continuing to restrict the rest of the field, or atleast the main offenders (insert Demons, Skaven, WoC, Vamps etc). At this point I think the most imbalanced aspect of 8th is the difference between 8th books and 7th books. The one thing that annoys me with hard caps is the persistance to remove large blocks of infantry from the game, yet leave the tools that are designed to counter them in the game ie big magic. The new books have been designed in respect to this aspect of the game, and one can only hope as more 8th edition books are released TO's will start to embrace this part of the game more instead of the 7th edition ideas that still prevail (IMO)

  12. @ Jeremy: The difference is, that under no comp, there are about 3-4 armies that, when built to the max, the "ceiling" (to use your wording) is so much higher than the rest of the armies, it becomes very hard to compete (theres a reason the majority of armies in a tournie tend toward Dark Elves, Daemons, Vamps, Skaven and Lizards under no comp)

    However if you shift the bar with hard caps, the ideal (note I said ideal, as actually achieving perfect balance is near impossible is the difficult part here) will be that most if not all armies can be built to the "max" and have a similar "ceiling" height to hit, if you get what I mean.

    That said, I don't particularly care what rules I'm playing under as long as its made clear and concise beforehand.

  13. Sorry guys, have been stupidly busy with work to the point where hobby is really taking a back seat.

    One huge lesson I have learned over the last 2 years though, is the one wrong move you can make is to believe there is ONE right answer.

    We have, as a community in general until now, strived towards a consistent tournament format. Rounds, points, layout, comp, painting, sports, etc.

    I really think over the next year we'll see comp, no comp, doubles, escelating point totals (BOTCH styles!) and more, and I welcome that variation with open arms.