Age of Sigmar, age of points

Posted: May 3, 2016 in Gaming
Tags: ,

Wassup? Been busy, as I said last time I was here. I’ve three novels to write in four months (+++STATUS UPDATE 1.4 NOVELS COMPLETE +++BLEEP+++), and also my dog, Magnus died. I mentioned it on twitter, but I was so cut up about it I didn’t feel like sharing in the modern-day way with a 3000 word eulogy. He was my friend. I was very upset. Enough.

So, all this is bit frustrating actually, as there is a TON of stuff I want to write about on this blog; some, as you know from past performance, I’ll never get around to communicating. But some things are timely, and if I have time to take advantage of the timeliness, I should. So I do. So here we go.

Today I got this message from Thor Odinson (@Thor_Odinson). I’m pretty sure he’s not the Thor, but you never know.

POINTS VALUES WERE NEVER BALANCED. They were actually unfair. Warhammer devolved into an exercise where power-mad dice chuckers would spend every waking moment breaking the latest army book. “Well, the points are equal. Therefore it is fair,” they would say of their latest hell-combo, when quite patently it was not fair, and what they really meant was “This arbitrary system of points attribution provides a cloak of legitimacy to my frightening need to prove my validity as a human being by winning at toy soldiers.”

So have you heard that GW’s adding points to Age of Sigmar?

I was going to answer this anyway, so I thought I’d share with everyone.

In short: Points in Age of Sigmar are a not a good idea, they’re a great idea.

What?! Yeah, you read that right. Let me explain.

I have nothing against points in games. I play plenty of games that use points-based army selection systems – X-Wing, Bolt Action and Saga among them. The difference with these systems is that the points values – more or less – have some correlation with how useful something is in the game (though X-Wing is edging its way out of that bracket).

But in Warhammer – and I definitely mean Warhammer 40,000 here too – not so much. Both 8th Edition Warhammer and current 40k are so complex, with so many layers of rules, supplements, exceptions and so forth that the points values were/are essentially meaningless. Games Workshop have always had a tendency to make their latest models more powerful. In the main this is just out-and-out “wouldn’t it be way cool if this could do that?” gaming geekery. Rules creep has been the norm in Warhammer right from when I was a nipper. Watch tourney players debating the 40k  “meta” as I believe the youngsters call it these days, and most of the top lists are drawn from the more recent codexes. I reiterate, this is nothing new. You should have heard me endlessly rant about how overpowered 2nd and 3rd edition Wood Elves were (and they bloody were).

Points values started out very simple. As did Warhammer. The more complex the game got, the less accurate points became as a metric of how powerful something was, and the more open to abuse the system was. Points gaming was the default way to play, therefore winning at all costs by breaking the army books became the game. As a more thematic, story-driven, hobby gamer, this bored and frustrated me.

However, points are good, if the system works. We’ve all heard the arguments for the need for them during pick-up games, and then there’s the tournament community, who were put out by the lack of pointage in AoS.

There was great debate about the points value thing within GW when AoS was launched. They wanted to get away from points as default gaming style. But the community didn’t entirely agree, and Games Workshop are listening to their fans again. That’s the really important thing here. I think they’ve moved from a position of “We’re the market leader, our customers will follow whatever we do,” because, well New Coke.

I’m all for it. Provided points don’t become again practically the only way to play, and they are executed with the same elegant simplicity as the Age of Sigmar core rules, then they’ll be really cool.

By dint of the timing of this decision, when open play is already embedded in the public consciousness,  I am reasonably confident that points gaming won’t come to completely dominate as it did in the past, and even if it does, then we’ve now all been freed from the “must have a 2000-point army that beats everything” mindset. Open play will continue to be a viable option. If the campaign system proves to be good too, then we’ve exciting times ahead.

I’m also confident that the points system will be balanced. Of key importance here, GW seem to be involving people who have lots and lots of experience in organised play like tournaments.

Every playing style will be accommodated in the upcoming General’s Handbook. That’s a good thing. I’m sure I’ll play all three ways.

Rules creep will happen. It happens everywhere. But AoS, with its free rules and warscrolls, offers the chance for constant tweaking and rebalancing. The core rules are so short that should they need adjusting it can be done relatively easily. It won’t take a 300 page rulebook every four years and a dozen codexes/army books.

I used the word “devolved” in my original post. Well, it looks like we’re getting a touch of progressive evolution.

Does that answer your question, Mighty Odinsson?

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Comments
  1. morvael says:

    Sorry to hear about the loss of your dog. I know how these things hurt.

    As for the rest of the post:

    #1
    “complex, with so many layers of rules, supplements, exceptions and so forth that the points values were/are essentially meaningless.”

    This is true to an extent. Sure, there is rules creep, and often unforeseen interactions between two rules can break points balance. However, this effect can be reduced by extensive playtesting by many competent people. I’m sure GW could count on community enthusiasts to do it for free, just like many people help to create computer games for free (by creating scenarios, unit databases, collecting photos of leaders and equipment). Just give them NDA to sign, and collect the results over a period of time to assess balance. And any points are better than no points at all. Because they can be a very rough and imprecise guide to what is stronger and what is weaker. On the other hand, no points are no guide at all. So this is failure on the part of GW in terms of openness and embracing modern way of doing things with bigger input from the community thanks to “web 2.0”. When done right it can only help sales, not hurt them.

    #2
    “Games Workshop have always had a tendency to make their latest models more powerful.”

    This is another failure on the part of GW, which was trying to drive sales of new models by making them too good for their points value (overpowered), which means deliberately breaking points balance. I’m sure players can to an extent understand unintentional lack of balance caused by reason #1 (paragraph above), but not this. How are points systems supposed to work if they are to be used as sales driver? They can’t survive such kind of abuse. Points (and rules in general) should be completely separated from marketing concerns (other than knowing that to make them as good as possible will help sales).

    #3
    “Of key importance here, GW seem to be involving people who have lots and lots of experience in organised play like tournaments help them sort it”

    That opportunity existed before, when WFB was still around. This is basically just a rehash of #1, so I won’t repeat arguments here.

    To sum it up, a point system can never work when it will be abused by the author (#2), and when the author will not care enough to make it as good as possible, by spending more effort on playtesting, using community if necessary (#1, #3). A good point system made with the help of community is a win-win situation for both sides. People are involved (people love this these days), people get better game (even those who won’t participate in improving it), company has better product (thanks to well play-tested rules and balanced point system), company has better sales (word of mouth says the game is good, people involvement/company activity is visible on the Internet and this is a good sign in these days).

    • guyhaley says:

      I basically agree. And of course the opportunity existed before. (In fact, they used to use external playtesters in a limited way years ago). They haven’t done it for ages. That they’re now talking to outsiders about game balance marks a very big, positive shift in my mind.

      I do hope points will attract lots of people to the game. I genuinely like AoS.

      I, however, will just keep chucking my models on the table without the pre-battle maths 🙂

      • morvael says:

        Too bad this “very big, positive shift” (which it really is) was preceded by a revolution (killing WFB as a whole – setting, rules, points, bases, regimental combat), before seeing the light, and tapping into an existing external resource which the community is, to create a “balanced points system” (see disclaimer below).

        I’m sure any player with even a modicum of experience with any games, will know that a “balanced points system” is an ideal, that cannot be really fully achieved, but one that should be the goal all the time. The scale is “1 no point system – 2 totally unbalanced point system – 3 partially balanced point system – 4 fully balanced point system”. WFB was 2, AoS is 1. The goal in mind should always be 4, but 3 is perfectly acceptable. I think 4 is possible only for some abstract, easy to learn but hard to master math-like games.

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