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 Better Mission Design: A More Proactive Direction for Tournament Fairness

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PostSubject: Better Mission Design: A More Proactive Direction for Tournament Fairness   Tue Mar 11, 2014 12:54 pm

by Chip Boyd  
     If you haven’t heard of the comp / ban / escalation / rerollable / *star / tournament drama that’s been on fire over the last week, lucky for you. If you are part of the majority that has either heard of or been involved in the conversation, I want to give credence to a direction that I think is so much more worthwhile than the faux-comp systems being discussed.

I have highlighted this idea in some previous posts: Creative mission design, rather than forfeiture of the 40k meta of list-building, can lead to a more balanced, interactive and enjoyable game, not to mention make it more competitive for players of all levels. Discussions about this have ensued between a lot of major Tournament Organizers, and here is a first write-up by Mike Brandt, with significant contribution from Neil Gilstrap. Additional TOs have been asked to weigh in, and this will be a working, living document that I think is a HUGE first step toward that goal I highlighted previously.


From Mike Brandt/Neil Gilstrap, syndicated on Whiskey & 40k:

Let’s go through a mental exercise, talking out something I’ve been chatting about with TOs and players from a wide variety of sources. To be clear, this isn’t “Mike’s idea.” This is the formative beginning and articulation of something that could be a pretty valuable direction to travel. It’s been discussed and bantered about by an already-large-ish group of TOs and gamers.

To hammer home a point a little bit—right now, one of the more important things for the community is TO interaction. There’s a lot of it going on behind the scenes, and there also needs to be a broad band of support, I think, for those who are in the toughest spot; Feast of Blades with early qualifiers and LVO with its event right around the corner, Onslaught at TempleCon, etc.; these guys aren’t going to have the freedom to innovate and collaborate as much as others like AdeptiCon, NOVA, etc., might given the timing of the recent buzz of COMP PLEASE going on Internet/attendee-wide. So cut ‘em some slack and show ‘em some love; they’re working hard to put on fun events regardless.

I’m going to mock up a bit of back and forth here … so stay with me. Please note that the following represents a CONCEPTUAL example and discussion, not a mathematically and playtest-vetted final status. Please read through and think about, therefore, the concept and not what the final nuanced and detailed example will be.

So you’re at an 1,850 point GT, and you’ve brought … let’s say … a Dark Angels army with a ton of Tactical Marines, backed by various and sundry fire support and take-all-comers enhancing options. It’s Round one, and as you’re walking up to the table you note the particular rules for the event and see the mission is six objectives, each worth three points if held at the end of the game.

You saunter up to the table (oh yes, saunter) and shake your opponent’s hand, and as you do you notice he’s fielding the vetted-missionsdreaded JETSTAR. He’s got a big old squad of Warlocks on Jetbikes with Farseers and Baron and 2+ re-rollable saves and the works. You’re fairly certain he’ll hit the overwhelming odds and roll Fortune and a few Protects and Conceals up, and it’s gonna be a nasty unit. His scoring is pretty stock-standard as one of the two ways this list is typically run, and consists of six squads of three guardian Jetbikes.

If you’re ANY reasonable player in the 40k universe right now, you’re thinking “Well, crap.” Not only is this a tough match, it’s arguably impossible. All he has to do is beat you down over the course of the game, contest anything you hold with surviving marines late, and grab at least one objective of his own, and bam … he gets the win (on primary at that, netting him a higher level of points even in most BP formats).

This is where most of the game centralizes … the missions from the rulebook and thus dictated into tournament play are primarily objectives (with a KP exception). Even in KP, the same armies do well that are frustrating many players on the tournament scene right now—Jetstar, Screamerstar, O’vesa Star, Serpentspam, Tau firepower spam with hidey sneaky Kroot troops, FMC armies that spend the entire game off the board.

These all have a couple of things combined:

1.They are able to keep their models “safe” … either by having extreme ranged firepower advantages (Serpentspam, Tau firepower builds), extremely durable saves (2+ re-rolls), a combination of both (O’vesa Star), or perhaps they just use wonky game mechanics to avoid any kind of damage (FMC on/off play, guardian Jetbikes hiding in corners due to 48″ moves, staying in reserves, being kept their by Scrier’s Gaze, etc.).
2.They have keynote units that are able to ensure KP advantages or “split” and help ensure they contest all but the minimum that their hidey-hole troops need to procure at game end.

Right now, the common person playing these Dark Angels may be feeling very similar to a LOT of the 40k community right now; you’d be feeling this way if he were playing Serpentspam, or Tau firepower spam, or whatever. You’re wondering what the game designers were thinking, you’re wishing someone would just say this army can’t be taken, you want comp or a ban or … or SOMETHING. Maybe you don’t want to even play in tournaments anymore. If you’re most of the Internet right now (unfortunately), you also don’t care if that means the guy you just shook hands with isn’t allowed to use the army he paid for anymore (to be fair, you can’t presently use the one that YOU paid for) … so how do we cross the impasse?

Here is where things get interesting …

You look down at your scoresheet after you roll for deployment sides, and you notice two check boxes—one for “Standard Primary” and one for “Alternate Primary.” You’ve read ahead (and I’m still keeping the punchline for the readers), so you check “Alternate Primary” privately while your opponent notes something down as well. Before deployment, you swap scoresheets. Looking at what you’ve received, you notice your opponent, the Jetstar, has selected “Standard Primary,” and understandably so; he’ll earn three points for each objective he holds at the end of the game … most points scored for objectives wins Primary. You, the Dark Angel player, have on the other hand selected “Alternate Primary.” You score nothing at the end of the game; instead, you score one point for each objective you hold at the end of ANY game turn.

How do you feel now compared to before, knowing about this alternate approach? If you sit and think for a minute, you’re going to brighten up considerably. Now instead of having to somehow survive the storm for the entire game, and be in position to contest every single objective and somehow control one of your own, all the while dealing with the dreaded Jetstar and whatever support elements it selected … you have a different route to potential victory (or at least one that makes the game pretty darn interesting). If you can create safe havens with the bodies of your Marines, let’s say, and control the three objectives closest to you for the first two or three turns, you’ll earn anywhere from six to nine points.

It’s going to cost you to do this—your opponent is savvy, he won’t simply let you do it, but he also can’t just separate his superstar on turn one and send it helter skelter all over the board trying to deny you points, as he would if you were playing the “standard” version of the Primary at game end. He can’t afford to. He’ll lose his star if he does, because it’ll lose fortune after a full turn of separation. Further, you’ve got plenty of bodies early on—you built your army this way! You’ve got the troops to create un-contest bubbles for a few turns while he uses his lower number of kill units to start whittling away at you. You’re playing to the strengths of the army you designed.

Interestingly, so is your opponent. The mission hasn’t nerfed his army; he’s still excellent at controlling and contesting objectives late, and his ONE-time capture is still worth three points per. He’s not out of this. But …. he’s having to work at it. His army has a certain strength when it comes to objective missions. It’s a strength that because of the “base” objective mission is a little bit isolated to a certain army type (crap troops are as good as awesome troops, and scoring last second is all that counts).

What about a KP example? You face the same game on Kill Points; your opponent the Jetstar selects KP. It’s what his army excels at; he can expertly hide his easier KP and apply the beatstick with his super unit(s). You select “Alternate Primary” and activate VP differential. Now, your opponent is trying to kill more units than you, while you are trying to destroy more points than him. Neither is nerfed, both armies are still playing to their strengths. Theorize a CONCEPTUAL (not mathematically finalized or sound) situation where you earn one point for every KP differential if you play the “Standard” … and you earn one point for every 100 points of Points Destroyed differential if you play the “Alternate.”

Now, once again, each army is playing to its strengths to try and compete the variation on the fundamental mission it is best designed for. If in this theory he kills six units and loses one, he earns five points; if he destroys 600 points but you destroy 1,300, you earn seven points (again, these numbers aren’t mathematically sound, just concept-clarifiers). The game is still readily and easily scored and understood, despite each of you playing a different spin on the basic mission presented.

This is immediately apparent as superior to building alternating missions where you have no choice—where it’s either KP or VP, and you “hope” the wrong matchups happen at the wrong time to deter extreme game-breaking builds. This is what you DO NOT WANT TO DO.

As a conceptual summation:

This is all predicated on the very visceral reaction many players rightly have to the notions of “changing the game,” or of telling a spread of players that what they bring to a tournament within the legal confines of the purchaseable game of Warhammer 40,000 isn’t OK. This is all predicated on the notion that it’s wrong and unhealthy and frankly just downright negative to rage that the game is broken and we should just start banning things or nerfing things.

What if instead of nerfing things, we as a community got together and built a catalog of missions along these conceptual lines that allowed a WIDER variety of armies to play according to their strengths, and compete against these power builds and any future builds as they competed according to THEIR own strengths. While the Jetstar uses its durability and speed to play as well as it can toward the late-game grab, the horde of infantry Orks or Dark Angel tactical Marines are playing to their strengths trying to hold valuable ground for as long a period of time as they can to offset what they know is coming late. While Draigowing slaughters unit after unit of trash, the sum greater than the whole works the entire game toward trying to offset the net loss by cutting the head off the beast.

Instead of making a random mission that “has a Warp variance, and Psykers don’t work” that therefore tells Daemon or Eldar players “Sorry, you can’t use your preferred army” in the same way comp does, why not rise above and use our collective minds to create missions that expertly resolve the problem—by giving armies and army types that don’t want to play “rock solid star and late grab” the opportunity to see if they can play to their strengths better than their opponents play to their own?

This is the concept boiled down in fact: Instead of “Is his army more powerful than yours? Yes? Sorry!”, it’s: Can you play to your army’s designed strengths BETTER than your opponent plays to his army’s designed strengths?

The desire is to have as many TOs as would like to participate work together to create an independent catalog of vetted and tested GT missions leveraging the above concept, from which any event large or small can draw to present players a fair expectation of what they’re going to face, and to redress game balance issues in a way that is proactive, tactically stimulating and positive in nature … rather than a comp-and-ban-heavy presentation with a decidedly more negative and “God help us” tone. This is the direction we’d love to see the community as a whole go. If I can only convince a smaller set of TOs to get on board and whatnot, so be it, but this isn’t about creating “The NOVA Mission Pack!” I have no problem with it being an US creating “The Independent GT Mission Catalog,” with the contribution and collaboration of all.

These things can be done. IMO they should be done. It’s positive, and it’s proactive, as my fellow TO Neil Gilstrap (11th Company is a nearly-hundred person GT in SC if you didn’t know it) is often known to say. Instead of screaming “The sky is falling; nerf and comp it all!” we should instead say “We can do a better job presenting a fun and fair environment in which the sky can’t fall.”

So far, the more people we’ve been sharing this with, the more positive the feedback has been. What are your thoughts?

Martial Law-Salute
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PostSubject: Re: Better Mission Design: A More Proactive Direction for Tournament Fairness   Tue Mar 11, 2014 1:11 pm

Definitely worth investigating...
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PostSubject: Re: Better Mission Design: A More Proactive Direction for Tournament Fairness   Tue Mar 11, 2014 3:42 pm

I thought it was an interesting concept. It might work it might not but I thought it was worth posting.

Martial Law-Salute
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PostSubject: Re: Better Mission Design: A More Proactive Direction for Tournament Fairness   Tue Mar 11, 2014 6:42 pm

Nice read.

Declaring Martial Law - FTW
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PostSubject: Re: Better Mission Design: A More Proactive Direction for Tournament Fairness   Wed Mar 12, 2014 11:13 am

Good stuff
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