Kirb your enthusiasm!
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Posted by AbusePuppy
Let's take a break from talking about particular armies and builds and units and instead talk about something much broader: tournament rankings. Specifically, battle points that many tournaments use. Usually this means some kind of primary/secondary/tertiary objectives system, or alternately a minor win/major win/massacre ranking. Battle points are added up over each round of the tournament and at the end, the player with the most wins. Seems straightforward, no? Drastically lowers the need for messy tiebreaker criteria- if you've got 57 BP, you're ahead of the guy with 56 BP. Nice and easy.
Easy, yes, but not nice. What battle points encourage is the opposite of what competitive AND casual players want. Let's review for a second: a competitive player is generally going to get the most enjoyment out of a hard-fought game against a strong opponent- someone who really challenges his play skills and pushes his abilities to the limit. (In the most ideal sense, they don't care whether it's a win or loss provided it was a good game, but the reality is that most everyone would rather win than lose, be they competitive or not.) Casual gamers would like to have a relaxed game where both players can enjoy themselves, chat, show off models, act out scenic battles, etc- there are a lot of different kinds of casual gamer, but the uniting factor is probably that they want a game to be about mutual enjoyment, as opposed to a contest. (Again, all other things being equal a casual gamer would probably rather win, but that is not necessarily their only goal.) Battle points are detrimental to both these styles of play.
Let's look at the competitive gamer and what he wants. Obviously, he wants to win the match and do the best he can- after all, he's here to compete. "Doing the best he can," in a battle points game, means that he wants to get every possible battle point. This, pretty much by necessity, means crushing his opponent as hard as he can, since most BP are a "either one person or the other gets them" sort of thing, and even when they aren't they generally require taking something from your opponent, like destroying one of their units. This means that not only is the competitive gamer forced to play like a jerk to get what he wants- taking every possible advantage and punishing every mistake the enemy makes in order to maximize his ability to get BP- in order to get an ideal score, he needs to be playing against a much weaker opponent. This is the first and foremost problem with BP: they reward "clubbing baby seals," to steal a phrase. If two highly-talented players are ranked up against each other, it isn't a contest of titans for victory in the tournament- it's a near-guarantee that neither of them will emerge the overall winner because they didn't score a massacre against their opponent. BP reward whoever gets ranked against the most low-skill opponents and crushes them ruthlessly. This isn't what competitive players want and it isn't fun for them unless they're huge jerks.
This is where the casual player comes in, and where his lack of fun stems from. If we are using a simple win/loss system, a casual player and a competitive player coming to the table is not necessarily a problem; both players can get what they want out of the game, provided the opponent is willing to work with them. The competitive player is happy to play out a good game with a clear victor- and if he doesn't win, it's because he didn't play well enough. The casual player can have his wacky scenario or epic character duel or whatnot as part of the regular game, and it doesn't necessarily cost anyone anything. But when battle points are introduced, it creates friction- suddenly, the competitive player needs to earn as many points as possible in order to have a chance of advancing- he can no longer afford to indulge in narrative fights when it has any chance at all of depriving him of a secondary or tertiary objective. His ability to compromise with the casual gamer is severely limited, as he's on a much tighter leash with regards to his goals. This means the game is going to more tense, more competitive, and less fun for both parties.
Battle points are a poor system; football teams don't determine a winner at the end of the season by adding up the total points they scored in all games over the course of the year, and for exactly the same reasons- it unfairly rewards teams who got easy matchups or got lucky and trounced an opponent badly, somehow defining this win as "better." Rather, they stick to a simple win/loss/draw- either you beat them or you didn't. Sometimes draws are avoided, even and everything comes down to tiebreakers, at which point "secondaries" become perfectly acceptable- if you had the same number of objectives, go to VP, or table quarters, or KP, or whatever. But battle points not only encourage unfun play, they can also create absurd overall results where the tournament "winner" was beaten by the loser in one of the earlier rounds (and never played them again.) Huh? My army beat your army, and somehow you still come out on top? That's a sign of a poor system right there, and one that needs to go.
Many of the arguments for battle points come down to the fact that games of 40K are long and players can't be expected to play for sixteen-plus hours in a single day; battle points cut down on the number of rounds "necessary" to determine an overall winner. Fair enough, and true as far as it goes, but they only do so by producing a misleading result. Shorter rounds (which generally necessitates smaller battles, rather than the 2500pt messes that are 'Ard Boyz over here in the States) and multi-day tournaments are the answer here: four two-hour rounds on the first day and semifinals/finals on the next are not an unreasonable expectation, and leave plenty of time for breaks for lunch and in between rounds, etc. A particularly ambitious tournament might run all four rounds AND the final two in the same day, but that becomes a truly all-day affair, clocking in at fifteen-plus hours, at which point everyone involved would probably be dead on their feet.
Battle points are not the most crucial issue facing the 40K tournament scene; certainly, there are plenty of others to worry about. But they are important, because they are harmful to the validity of the results and they are a deterrent to the "good" aspects of competitive play and encourage many of the bad ones. Whether you are a competitive player or not, the issue affects you (unless, of course, you don't attend tournaments), and not simply in the sense of winning or not winning the tournament; it changes how your opponents will behave and the sort of play environment that the tournament encourages. We owe it to ourselves, as a community, to make the game enjoyable for everyone, and the current system does exactly the opposite.