Monday, August 29, 2011

Comp Systems - The Case for Hard Caps

In the last twelve months I have radically changed my views on Composition systems and which make the best basis for tournament and casual play.

I start from the assumption that neither Warhammer Fantasy nor Warhammer 40k are balanced games. Now you can debate whether this is by design – the dreaded power creep – or just a reality that books are competing over a timespan of 3-10 years and sometimes two editions of the game. As a result not all things are created equal and therefore the playing field is not level. If this is to be a game of skill – and let’s be honest, we all hope it is – then to encourage some parity we either need to accept that the winners come from a narrow subset of stronger lists or introduce a composition system.

When I started playing tournaments there were two prevalent systems. The first was a math-based system centred around points based on the percentages in each slot, while the second was subjective and based on peer scoring. While both were better than nothing neither produced what I believe was a scientific levelling e.g. Deathwing creamed the points in a pure maths system, as did Fantasy Chaos. In the peer based system you ran the risk of chipmunks, disgruntled opponents, people with no clue and buddy boosting. It could be a lottery though I think it generally identified/punished really egregious lists.

The next development was to go No-Comp (and here GW did a 180 degree turn on their previous RT system) or to a Panel Comp. No-Comp really only works if you accept that GW got it 100% right, vote for the Tea Party or believe in pixies. However it removes all subjectivity from the equation. Panel comp works very well if the Panel members know what they are marking – but it is subjective. It also has the problem that some of the delicate snowflakes that take ‘hard as nails” armies don’t like to contemplate the reality that some of their success may be list-driven. This group tends to bitch and moan after any event about their comp score as evidenced by a visit to various forums post-event.

So for me as primarily a Fantasy player these days I have come around to the view that a hard cap system is the best compromise. The system works by putting restrictions on certain choices – either general or in some cases army-specific – to remove the worse offenders. This means that you probably have a system that is 90%+ effective but subjectivity exists in deciding on the restrictions. It does remove an avenue for whining though as the snowflakes have to acknowledge that they have lost the opportunity to blame a poor comp score for their underperformance.

One of the reasons it works really well in Fantasy is the shift GW Designers have made in rules design. Out have gone 50+ individual magic items per book to be replaced by a Common Magic Item list of 81 items backed up with 8 book specific items. This has greatly increased the balance, particularly of later books. It will take awhile for this to work through the cycle but I hope GW persist as it has done more for comp than any other development. The other reason has been the use of scenarios which act as inbuilt limitation device. I have written a very light comp system (it is less than half a page) that seems to be working for our local Warhammer game.

Unfortunately it has not been possible to do this for 40k. I think it would be possible to put something together but it would be more difficult (and would be more subjective). There appears to be little appetite amongst local players to have restrictions put on them so for the moment an arms race seems to be developing where (in the main) players are directed to the last 5-6 codexes to be on the top tables.

Love to hear people's thoughts.


  1. I think Hard Caps are far far worse than most comp systems and are easily the biggest turn off for me from playing in NZ Fantasy tournaments (admittedly I'm a 40k player first, which makes it impossible in most cases anyway). I will freely admit that Fantasy is less balanced than 40k (but you do need to accept that 8th is by design a very random game and you will never really change that) but I don't think Hard Caps are how to fix it. Every time I go to build an army list (which are always based around some common theme, cavalry heavy or MSU etc etc) I run into 'I'm sorry you can't do that' at every turn. I know I'm not the only one, in general people do not like restrictions and limits being put on them, we only accept them because they have some perceived positive outcome overall. By all means make it harder for tougher lists to win if you want to (in Fantasy scenarios are seriously underused from a balancing perspective, + there is always comp I guess), 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.

    As soon as the Necron codex arrives I would be very adamant in saying that 40k is fully balanced, at the moment having 1 codex which can't really compete isn't really that bad (and its been that way for a while, Daemonhunters and Dark Eldar were usable at tournaments before their 5th edition books, they were just very rare). If you are talking about diversity then yes sure all the 5th edition books are a step above the 4th edition ones, but all the 4th edition books can still build competitive lists. Importantly there is a pretty clear standard established, all the 5th edition books have been consistently on par with each other for diversity and overall power, so everyone who is waiting for their turn knows roughly what to expect. If everything is pretty well balanced to start with comp really has no use, as long as you still have non gaming related awards at tournaments (i.e painting) then people will still be bringing interesting lists and by default you get balance and diversity from all the people aiming to podium as well. I think we can all agree that a balanced system which doesn't need comp at all should be the overall goal (for GW, and us as customers/players) and I think 40k is pretty close.

    This is kind of the opposite of what has happened with Fantasy. Tbh I think all the Fantasy books released so far in 8th have been a step down in power from all the existing books. Sure they are interesting, fix some obvious issues with that army and introduced a whole heap of new toys but they are clearly a step down from a big chunk of the 7th edition books (make a monster heavy and a shooting heavy list with Tomb Kings then do the same with Lizardmen and Dark Elves....). If nothing else this is going to seriously drag out the changeover between editions, armies like Lizardmen and Dark Elves are going to stay at their current power level for quite a while and if the 8th edition books continue their current trend then they will get more and more powerful/unbalanced. This will probably make comp stick around for the foreseeable future :(.


  2. Personally, I prefer panel comp. I agree that you will get whingers who are never happy with their scores, but in some cases these people need a reality check anyway.

    The reason I like panel comp over hard caps is that a hard cap can result in some armies going for a certain build, and you end up with Attack of the Clones. Knowing that taking a less than perfectly optimal list will offer you the chance of some extra points tends to mix things up more. People are more adventurous with their lists and it adds variety.

    Getting hard caps exactly right is also a difficult thing. The imbalance between army books means certain armies exploit hard caps better than others, and if you try to put in a raft of army-specific restrictions (or lifting of restrictions), you will still get all the whingers coming out of the woodwork - it just happens pre-tournament instead of afterwards.

  3. @Powerguy - wow, just wow. I don't know where to start. I pretty much disagree with most of what you say.

    You're yanking my chain...."As soon as the Necron codex arrives I would be very adamant in saying that 40k is fully balanced".

    There's not going to be a lot of common ground between us. If you think Tau or non-Double Lash CSM can foot it with SW, non-Council Eldar mix it with Grey Knights, Daemons mix it with dark Eldar.....well let's just saw our paths are not just divergent they are on a different planet :-)

    "Every time I go to build an army list (which are always based around some common theme, cavalry heavy or MSU etc etc) I run into 'I'm sorry you can't do that' at every turn."

    Sorry but I can't see how the following stops any reasonable build:

    General Restrictions

    • No Special Characters

    • Max Power Dice usage of 12 in Magic Phase (as distinct from max of 12 dice in pool at any time)

    • Army to have no more than four (4) potential template weapons

    • Army to have a maximum of four (4) warmachines

    • No more than two (2) of any Special choice

    • No double Rare choice worth more than 70 points

    • Only one item that automatically dispels a spell

    Army Specific Restrictions

    • Daemons of Chaos: No duplication of Daemonic Gifts

    • Empire: Steam Tank is classed as Warmachine in terms of General Restrictions

    • Lizardmen: Slaan may have maximum two of Focus of Mystery, Becalming Cogitation, Cupped Hands or Focused Rumination

    • Skaven: Maximum of three Engineers

    • Vampire Counts: Only one Vampire may have Loremaster ability

    As for your comment "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 think your glasses are a little rosy. GW doesn't profess to balance the game. However they also show all the flexibility of the Politbureau when it comes to admitting past mistakes.

  4. I agree with Powerguy.

    Though not one of your General Restrictions stops any reasonable build, they prevent so many more reasonable builds from becoming competitive in a fair way.

    To be fair, I'm a relative newb with only 3 tournament attendances to draw from, so I shall have to defer to your guys' experience, but I feel like I've played 18 games this year against very similar lists, and have felt very restricted to take a very similar list every time.

    I guess if I wanted more variation in the lists myself and my opponents bring I should just avoid tournaments, probably. I live in hope that one day there will be a solution to this conundrum. Until then though, I just don't see hard caps as the solution either. I have more fun playing without comp.

    But then I disagree with the Tea Party Movement as well, and refuse to believe in Pixies. So I don't know what side I'm on anymore.

  5. I think people need to realize that GW never intended for their games to be played competitively. They created their games from a beer and pretzels perspective. One that is to be a narrative story that is to played with a friend. Instead a small but very vocal part of their customer base has convinced themselves that the game systems are to be played on a competitive level. As such we crave for balanced environment to meet our own individual needs. THese needs however do not and will not match up with GW business perspective. Something that many of us quickly lose sight on.

    I recently jump off the 40k ship and landed on the Fantasy one. Reason being is that the 40k environment has become bland thanks to the flooding of MEQ based armies. On the other side of the GW coin fantasy offers a diversity that 40k could only dream of one day achieving. Couple this with the random effects that is built into 8th edition and you have a game that change the course of battle faster than the weather can change. Nothing is real life is finite as their is always a wide array of variable that change any situation in the blink of an eye. Why should our GW gaming systems be any different.

    Implementing comp of any kind or changing the core rules that GW has set out is just a way for those who want GW games to be a level playing field like that of chess. Any time that you limit someone ability to take something you are going to upset people. Instead those of us who are using those codices that have fallen behind on the power level just need to come to terms with it. If that is something you cannot do then it's time to switch armies if want to play competitively. By having two codices that are spread out on the release schedule then you can mitigate the effects of power creep on your competitive gaming.

  6. "No-Comp really only works if you accept that GW got it 100% right, vote for the Tea Party or believe in pixies" - love that

    as for Hard Cap comp aka 'Pete Lite' it works and is fair considering the wide variation in books across 8th Ed. I found comp frustrating in my first few tournaments but I now understand its purpose, accept its necessity and agree with the process.

    Now I have uttered the odd Dwarven grumble here and there about various restrictions, and pulled out my beard wondering why everyone else got cool monsters but not me. But my grumblings reflected more the power imbalances between army books not problems with comp systems. I also do not envy any TO who has to come up with a workable system that satisfys everybody.

    Happy to play under it as everyone has to abide by the same rules and after a dozen or so tournaments its pretty clear to me that at the end of the day its dice and tactics that wins you games not comp restrictions.

  7. Is there a size limit on posts? I tried to write another reply and it refuses to submit (and yes I know I write too much lol).

  8. @Powerguy: If there is, I can't find a setting for it, so it's out of our control

  9. Your posts got hard capped, Powerguy.

  10. @Powerguy - I've noticed that happens sometimes too. I now copy it before I hit Post Comment just in case

    @Timothy - Ha!

  11. I'm a big fan of hard comp. Pete, I think you have done a great job with your comp system.

    My one gripe is that is does not cater towards the "lets try MSU." 3x20 Black Guard is horrible...3x7 though maybe not.

    Same with High Elves. They pay a premium for the ability to take 6 repeat special and 4 repeat rare in "normal" sized games. The hard comp doesn't allow for their unique situation.

    Maybe my personal utopian comp would be hard comps with a "review exception". Ie hard comp applies, but if you have an idea for a list that is outside of the hard comps it can be "reviewed". Subject to the opinion of the TO/panel of course, but would mean that the not so scary out of hard comps stuff (eg 2x10 way watchers is not allowed, but 2x75 shades is)can be catered for while stopping the "real" issues (such as 2x abomb etc).

  12. I agree that Hard caps are the best way to control the broken lists. Comp bitching was actually ruining the hobby imo.

    Also Powerguy, I don't know if you've played in any no-comp Fantasy tournies, but I can happily tell you that no-comp leads to most lists being very similar as well. Its nothing to do with comp, its just that half the army books in Warhammer (40k or fantasy) have one-two good competitive builds, and gamers will find them whatever the restrictions (or lack of them)

  13. I like the hard cap sort of comp, but do agree with Joel that there is some collateral damage done too.

    I've been kicking about the idea that a lot of the comp issues are to do with someone having *all* the toys, instead of just some of them.

    For example, under Pete-lite, playing Skaven, I can't take 2 Abominations (which may be ok) and I can't take 2 Doomwheels either (which should be ok to run).

    My idea would be to give each army a pool of options (units, items, monsters etc) which they can pick a certain number from. So for example:

    "Skaven can take at most 2 of the following: HPA, Doomwheel, WLC, Ratapult, Grey Seer, Furnace, Doomrocket."

    So you can take 2 Abombs, but can't max out your magic too. You can take a Seer+Bell, and a Priest+Furnace, but no rares as well.

    I think this could be done for all the armies and would allow more variety without the cheese.


  14. @ymmij What you suggest has been done before in other editions (and immediately Cancon in Oz springs to mind as well as a reasonably recent example), where often the computations of list design as a result tend to have one reaching for painkillers to numb the resulting headache. They also result in a much larger workload for TO's in regards to list checking. Under something like pete-lite there IS actually a huge range of variations possible for any list... the reason you are not seeing them, or not taking them yourself is simple. Under comp, or no comp, most players will always take whatever list they think is the most effective.

    (It is interesting to note that sometimes the flavour of this changes dramatically even though the rules don't - simply by a different perspective being used on how an army plays or a new army book being released... the High Elf book and following couple of army books under 7th Ed showed this... prior to the HE book there was not a lot of magic or magic defence being taken due to players, the HE book changed this dramatically in regards to builds being seen in Oz and NZ).

    @powerguy There is a simple answer to what you have said. "Run a no-comp event then". Pete has certainly offered in the past to help take care of all the "difficult stuff" aka tables, terrain, venue etc.
    As a WFB player in NZ for nearly 20 years though, I have to agree with pretty much everything Pete says here and in his second post on the subject.
    Every comp system (or no comp) will have loopholes, and players WILL always find them. I am aware of the NOVA type tournaments you mention in reply to Pete's second post on this topic, and there is not a lot of difference between those and the "Ard Boyz" style events here in the US in my opinion. (There is a reason many of the lists taken to these events are known as "filthy" - and it has nothing to do with dirt or dust).
    It has been my experience both as a player and as a TO that those who complain the most about comp, and being unable to run "whatever they want, are usually those that are seeking to use some kind of combo that they think will "kick ass". Trying to argue that comp doesn't allow you to design or use a list around a "theme" is a pretty weak argument, and just means you need to think a little more outside the box in regards to your modelling, or use a different army type.

    @JohnM Dude.. dwarves are, always have been, and always will be THE most boring WFB army. Thats just how stunties are (monsters and magic just aren't dwarven), and given that by and large WFB is a game of movement... having stunty legs is always going to limit the effectiveness therein. But feel free to keep up the grumbling, its nicely dwarven after all!

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