Tag Archives: game balance

DieCon 11 – The Tables

As promised, I got a chance to walk around and take photos of some of the tables for the DieCon GT. There’s definitely an interesting mix of tables, with some tables being far more interesting than others. There’s not a lot of consistency between tables, though, especially in the area of area terrain. For example, here are a couple of tables that make good use of it:

Jungle Ruins
Eldar Maiden World

And then there are tables that are downright sparse; some barely even have LoS blocking terrain.

Frozen Monoliths
Crash Site / Intersection?
Industrial Park
Desert Mesas

There’s even a range of Cityfight/Cities of Death tables, but terrain placement’s uneven there as well.

Good City Table
Empty City Table

I can’t fault them on the overall quality of the terrain pieces themselves, though. Besides all the standard Imperial world pieces, there’s some xenos-themed tables as well (such as the Maiden World above).

Tyranid Spore Pods
Ork Industrial Camp

Finally, at the center table, there’s a mega-Cityfight table. Whereas the other tables are set up to allow movement, even with all the terrain, this one is downright crowded. I’m not sure how that table fits into the general scheme of the event, because it’s definitely far busier and more tightly constrained than any of the others. Looks nice, though.

Mega-City 1
A closeup on one section of the board, beyond the larger buildings

Terrain is going to make a big difference in this tournament, I think, but not necessarily a good one. I don’t expect every table to be identical, or to have the exact same number of terrain pieces, but it’s surprising how widely these tables differ from one another. Someone with a shooty army like me that ends up on a table with sparse terrain has the chance for a field day; some of these tables lack even enough cover to give a reasonable cover save. That cuts both ways, though; my Kroot need forested cover to survive, and there’s only a handful of tables where that’s even an option. And the mega-city table – I don’t know if it’s just a display piece, or if it’s going to come into use. A heavily mechanized army is going to have a hell of a time on that one.

Still, I have to hand it to the organizers; they’re keeping the tables looking interesting for the most part. I don’t envy them having to set up terrain for over two dozen tables, so I won’t judge them too harshly. I still think they could have evened things out a bit, though, rather than having some tables being very busy and impressive and others barely more than empty expanses.

1500 is a Magic Number

This weekend, my friends and I were sitting around assembling miniatures (the “Pink is the New Black” build continues), and the subject of game point levels came up in conversation. Then, coincidentally enough, I discovered that Blood of Kittens has recently started a series of articles titled “In Defense of 1500“, putting forth arguments supporting the adoption of 1500 points as the “standard” game size. As I stated when I discussed our local metagame, 1500 points is the standard in our gaming circle. The reasons why came up in our around-the-table discussion on Saturday, and I figured I would share my thoughts on the subject.

It’s no secret that Warhammer 40K is designed for and balanced at 1500-point games. It’s one of the suggested point sizes for a balanced and reasonably-long game in the 5th Edition rulebook (as is 2000 points). This is nothing new; look back at a 2nd Edition codex, and you’ll see the same point totals touted as appropriate for a balanced battle that will last a few hours. Of course, a 2nd Edition 1500-point army looked a bit different than its 5th Edition counterpart. Point costs have come down noticeably over time. Take one of the standard Chaos Marine squads in my Slaanesh list. In the current Chaos codex (technically a 4th Edition codex), that unit costs 265 points. That same unit, or as close an analog as I can get given the options in 2nd Edition, costs 358 points. There are just more minis on the table these days, but the game’s also been streamlined to account for that.

This brings me to one of the main issues I see raised against 1500-point games. “I don’t like 1500-point games,” the argument goes, “because it limits what I can bring to the tabletop. I have to pick and choose units, and I can’t make a well-rounded all-comers list.” My response: you’re absolutely right. It does limit what you can run in your list. You can’t run every neat toy your army can have; instead, you have to decide your army’s strategy and carefully pick units to help fulfill it. It’s a format that rewards the efficient list builder. I will concede that this can result in a rock-paper-scissors environment to an extent. Since you can’t build an army that can take on everything equally, you will have weaknesses that an appropriately-built army can exploit.

There are two reasons that this doesn’t bother me. The first is that this forces you to deal with those deficiencies with tactics, rather than with list building. With the lower model count compared to, say, a 2000-point game, it’s easier for a game to turn on a single round’s worth of shooting or assault. I personally feel that this forces you to play a bit smarter, as there’s less margin for error or loss. The second reason that I’m fine with the more restrictive point total is that my friends and I come from a collectible card game background. Before any of us were mini-pushers, we were card-floppers, and part of CCGs is deckbuilding. Usually, decks are built around a standard deck size, like Magic’s 60-card decks. 60 cards doesn’t give you the room to throw in everything and the kitchen sink; you have to carefully decide what to put in, acknowledging that there will be other decks out there that will be the counter to yours. With that thinking solidly embedded in our brains after years of CCG playing, building army lists and playing 40k with a similar mindset just comes naturally.

Finally, there’s another reason why our group has adopted 1500 points as our standard size: pragmatism. We don’t always have a lot of time to play, and some of us don’t have terribly large collections. However, 1500 points is a reasonable army size to collect, while still having some fun options to play with. The games can also be completed in a couple of hours, which fits our schedules well. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t enjoy playing a larger game; I’m sure Richard is still itching to bring his Stompa (the one superheavy across all our collections) onto the table in an Apocalypse-sized game. However, it’ll still be a while before we raise our de facto point standard.

With all these arguments made, though, I want to be clear: I don’t believe that 1500 points is the One True Point Level or anything. I prefer it, and I think there are some solid arguments for having it as our standard, but it’s just that – a preference. I know other people like larger games, or games with more well-rounded lists, and that’s totally fine. As I said earlier, 2000 points is also listed in the 5th Edition rulebook as a balanced, reasonable game size, so it has just as much “official” support as 1500 does. If anything, it could be argued that 2000 points has more support, as many of the battle reports in recent issues of White Dwarf feature 2000-point armies, although that could be argued to be more of a marketing ploy (show off more minis on the table) than a game balance measure. So, in the end, play how you want to play. We do, and it’s working just fine for us.

It’s All Been Done Before

Right now, there seems to be a bit of turmoil across the 40K blogscape, and it’s mostly been kicked off by two factors. First, there’s the power creep perceived in the new Space Wolves codex. Second, there’s the big Imperial Guard win at the ‘Ard Boyz nationals. In response to these, there’s been a flurry of discussions online about the state of the game. Are people jumping on to the Space Wolves and Guard bandwagons in droves? Is the tournament scene dead for older armies? Is the hobby as we know it dead or dying and in need of yet another revamp?

Well, folks, the sky is not falling. The end is not nigh.

How do I know this? Because I’ve witnessed this particular kind of temporary panic before. It’s a regular occurrence in the collectible card game world. Any time a new expansion comes out, or a new faction/deck type wins a major tournament, the same conversations take place. Are people flocking to this new deck type? Are there any “real” players of that faction/deck left? Are the cards in the latest set overpowered or underpowered? If they’re overpowered, why do the designers want to destroy the game so much? Is there any point in playing anymore? Sometimes, it can get pretty nasty. Insults will be thrown around, people will quit the game, and it will seem that all hell is breaking loose. Eventually, though, cooler heads prevail, everything settles back down, and people get on with rethinking strategies and playing the game again. 40K isn’t that different. You’ve got new armies (or revisions of older ones) that come in and upset the current tournament balance. You’ve got players who jump from one netlist to another because they want to win. You’ve got the players who change what they’re playing just because they’re tired of their old armies just aren’t performing at the same level as they once did. It’s unsurprising that the same discussions take place here.

With that in mind, here are a few points to help you keep your head while those about you are losing theirs:

  1. The metagame is a constantly-shifting thing at all scales – local, regional, national, and international. Power lists will come and power lists will go. Often, what happens is that the environment isn’t ready for a new addition, because it’s never had to be. During that period of growing pains, it’s likely that the big new thing will dominate. Over time, though, players will adjust their strategies and tactics to deal with the new threat – whether it’s a new codex on the market, or just a new player at your local store – and learn to co-exist along with it… just in time for the next new thing.
  2. Design philosophies change. Armies designed for 5th Edition seem to be dominating right now, especially when compared to those armies with 3rd and earlier 4th edition codexes. I’m not so much convinced that this is power creep so much as it is a rethinking in how the armies are built. The downside is that older armies are falling a bit to the wayside, just because they were designed with a different mindset and for a different environment. The upside is that as these armies are revisited, they’ll be brought into line with the new way of thinking (and from the sound of things, GW has a five-year plan that includes all currently available armies getting updated codexes).
  3. People are going to play what they are going to play; don’t let that faze you. There will always be players who want to play the winning army du jour, especially in the competitive world of tournament play. For such players, it’s the win that’s paramount, rather than what they were playing to achieve it. That doesn’t mean that all players playing that army are that way, or that it’s even a bad way of approaching the game. It’s just how they play. If you have an army that you like, don’t feel pressured to jump to the latest codex if it’s not for you. That said, if what you have isn’t working for you, or if you’re just bored and looking for something different, don’t be afraid to try out something different. Trying to draw lines between bandwagonners and “true believers” is a fruitless effort, so just stick to your guns, play what you want to play, and enjoy yourself.

In the end, the landscape of the game may change, but the game, and the hobby around it, will survive. Change is often an uncomfortable process, but it’s also important for growth; a stagnant environment is a dead one. It’s true for CCGs, and it’s just as true for miniature wargaming. Just remember to play what you want to play how you want to play it, and to have a good time doing it, because that’s what really matters in the end.

Warhammer 40k, Statistics, and Power Creep

I just read an interesting piece that I found through TauOnline.org entitled “Is Warhammer Balanced?” This blogger has taken tournament data for both Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 for a particular set of tournament data and determined the mean score for each faction in order of codex release date. The purpose? To determine, as best as can be done with the data at hand, if any power creep has occured from codex to codex. Power creep, the ramping up of in-game power from one supplement to another, is a common issue in any sort of ongoing expandable game, whether it be CCGs, RPGs, or wargaming. The third edition of Dungeons and Dragons, for example, became increasingly prone to power creep as more and more books were released, with later character classes completely outshining those from the core rulebooks.

What the blogger in question has found reinforces some already-accepted assumptions, especially in regards to Warhammer Fantasy. Specifically, the answer to the posed question is, “No, Warhammer is not balanced.” Fantasy in particular had noticeable power creep in the newer codices. Warhammer 40k, on the other hand, had a much smoother, shallower increase. Granted, it doesn’t mean that one game’s factions are more closely balanced than the other; Fantasy and 40k play very differently, so options are available in the latter game that aren’t in the former, and those options can even the playing field somewhat.

Also, while the most popular armies in Fantasy tended to be the best performing, that did not play out in 40k. Space Marines were the second most popular army, but came in with the lowest mean score. Does this mean that there Space Marines are the weakest army? Or does it mean that there are a lot of really bad Space Marine players out there? I’m leaning towards the second explanation; they are one of the most popular starting factions in the game, so a lot of first-time players may be giving them a go. Unfortunately, the article (and the data it’s based on) isn’t clear as to whether these games were played before or after the new Space Marine codex came out. If not, the second-newest codex – Orks – comes in as the most powerful. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for power creep, but consider that the last pre-5th codex, Daemons, sits right in the middle of the pack. However, if they are post-Marine-codex games, then power creep doesn’t seem to be apparent (although again, the relative skill levels of the players may skew that). I’m not too worried, though. The next codex is Imperial Guard, and I’m highly suspicious that the IG are suddenly going to be the killer army du jour.