Thursday, May 18, 2017

KOW - Zero Sum Game

Over the last week on both the Fanatics page and also the Mantic Forum there has been a discussion about scoring systems.

Largely this has been about the mix of scenario points versus kill points with a secondary discussion on granularity of scenario victory. Personally I am all in favour of distinguishing between the decisiveness of scenario victory and that feeding through into the game score. For example, I feel that you should score more in Loot if you win 3-0 over say 2-1 or 1-0. The Rules Committee have said they are looking at this with interest. That is a good thing!

One aspect of the discussion that I have a major problem with is in the determination of "kill" points. The common situation is to determine kill points on the differential between points killed by both players. One suggestion is to dispense with that any just determine bonus points based on enemy killed.

The problem with this alternative methodology is that it is not zero sum. By this I mean that each game is not worth the same number of points. I'll illustrate this with an example:

Differential Situation

Bono beats Sting in the scenario and scores 15-5. He also scores more kill points than Sting - who is a miserable bastard anyway - inflicting 1500 points to 1200. This gives a 300 point difference and under the scoring matrix this gives Bono +1 TP and Sting gets -1 TP. The final score for the game is 16-4 to Bono.

On the next table Adele is playing Cher and again wins the scenario - it is Cher's first tournament after all. Again the differential is 300 points. Adele kills 400 and loses only 100. The score is 16-4 as well.

In both cases the game is worth 20 points total.

Kills Only

Bono gets his 15 points for winning the scenario but in killing 1500 points of Sting's army he gets +8 points. Sting also gets bonus points because he killed 1200 points, in this case 6 TPs. The final score is 23-11 (the game being worth 33 points).

Adele gets the 15 points but in this case only killed 400 points so gets 1 bonus. Cher gets nothing as her 100 pts falls below the threshold. The score is thus 16-5 to Adele (the game is worth only 21 points).


There are a number of problems arising from the system not being zero sum (each point gained is at the expense of your opponent). First is that it creates reckless play as there is no downside. In turns 6-7 you are rewarded for throwing units into forlorn hope combats if they will not influence the scenario. For instance, it is in my interest to commit to a combat where I likely need a 11 or 12 to rout you on a Nerve Roll as it has a net positive outcome (it doesn't matter if I subsequently lose the unit). I don't care about exposing my flanks or rear as long as I get a chance to break you regardless of whether it is low probability.

Secondly there isa huge opportunity for collusion. As there is no downside to losing units both players are happy to swap their troops as it increases both their bonus points. Don't think this will happen? Well you have more faith in human nature than me. Smart players will know that swapping units maximises their scores and will engineer the result that gives them most benefit. Yes, you can make such collusion illegal but if you do try policing it at a large event.

I used to play a lot of Games Workshop-run Grand Tournaments in 40k about 12-15 years ago. They loved a mission called Messengers where you had three markers you had to get off your opponent's board edge. If you did you got a TP. However there was now edit to stopping your opponent's. In 90% of games I saw, players would set up with their three messengers on opposite flanks and March them unimpeded off their opponent's edge. Both players got the three bonus points and then they'd play kill for the scenario. Dodgy? Maybe...but that was the outcome that provided the greatest reward.

Finally it favours some builds/races over other. Some armies dish out the pain but are a glass hammer - My Herd is a good example - whereas others win by inflicting death by a thousand cuts. By skewing the points on offer you incentivise certain builds.

Any non-zero sum scoring is open to abuse and/or incentivising suboptimal play or certain builds. I'd hate to see Kings of War - be it in a new edition or a COK supplement - adopt such a methodology in any official capacity.


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