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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Better Playtesting: How To Learn a New Format

Hello, Nikephoros here.  Most of us are not super geniuses who can look at the 6th Edition rulebook and “solve” the 6th Edition competitive scene immediately.  It took many months, and a lot of new codices, before the virtues of mech and MSU were accepted by a majority of the competitive 5th Edition players.  I expect it to only take slightly less time before 6th Edition is similarly solved.

As the book is going to drop (as the kid’s kids say these days) at the end of June and the first competitive GT using 6th is scheduled for August, that isn’t a ton of time to figure out what is going to be good or bad, especially since you will have to model and paint any units that rise to greatness in that time, too. 

In my previous articles about how to playtest for competitive events a repeated dictum of mine was to playtest your lists against a gauntlet of stock lists.  This was easy 4 or 5 years into 5th Edition: we knew what the right stock lists to test against were.  We are now about to venture into unknown territory with 6th so how exactly do we get where we need to be?

First, don’t make radical list changes.  I would highly suggest playing a few games of 6th with whatever lists you were using at the end of 5th.  They might seem clunkly or inefficient, but that’s the point.  Take copious notes about what units are now inefficient, and also what units are more than pulling their weight.  Once you have played a few games you should be able to see trends.  Beyond units, write about general trends, what factors caused you to win or to lose as these will be important for list building later.

Second, make changes to your lists slowly.  After the first round of testing, resist the temptation to write all new lists from scratch.  If everybody changes all the units in their lists at the same time based on initial playtesting, or worse gut instinct after reading the rules, you can very quickly create inbred lists.  Sure the lists you decide are good might be good, but you might also find that they are only good against each other and bad against the lists that the general public brings to a tournament.  As I said, change things slowly.  If Unit A consistently underperformed, change it out for something that might work better.  But don’t change Unit B and C and D at the same time too.  You need to play a few games without A to confirm that A was really bad and that the unit you replaced it with was good.  It’s like a controlled experiment in science: you are testing to see how one factor changes the outcome by keeping everything else the same.

After a few rounds of swapping a unit in or out, you should definitely be able to identify emerging trends.  You should know whether mech is still king or if infantry is back.  You’ll have an idea if units like Land Raiders are playable again.  You should know whether close combat centric lists are viable alternatives to the shooty lists. 

It’s at this point that you should have a clear picture not only of what individual units are more useful than others, but also what general style of list you should be working towards.  If you have this general feel for the style of lists that will be good you can then build a preliminary gauntlet for 6th.  And knowing how to build your shiny, new 6th edition gauntlet will let you test and refine your tournament list.  At this point, I would refer you to my articles that cover that step to see where to go from here.

In summary, the most important thing you can do to avoid disaster is to resist the urge to make changes for the sake of making changes.  Just because something got buffed doesn’t mean it’s competitive now, and just because something got a nerf doesn’t mean it isn’t competitive anymore.  And it will be impossible to know simply from reading the rules and trying to figure it out in your head, you will suffer from pet unit confirmation bias all the time if you try it that way.  The best thing I can advise you to do is make your list changes from 5th Edition to 6th Edition very slowly and deliberately, and based on game tested feedback; not based on the novelty of the idea. 

I should iterate that this advice really only applies to people who are cracking open the book and have to prepare for a GT a month later.  If you’re a casual guy, or you only play in lower stakes local events, feel free to play whatever crazy stuff ignites your imagination.  Besides those of us attending NOVA, this advice is also practical for people whose armies get a new codex a month before a major event.  It can be hard to get a 100% solid grasp of the internal balance of a codex on short schedule, so dedicated playtesting will be your best bet.

Comments, questions, polemic, vitriol?

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