Friday, October 15, 2010

40k and the Competitive Gulf in Codices

Thor made an excellent post on Creative Twilight that summed up an idea I've had bouncing around in my head for a while but hadn't been able to sort out until I read his take on it.

Thor questioned why it is we see Orks doing very well in the local tournament scene, but at major national tournaments they rarely place.  His thesis was that Ork players are more passionate about their army than others, and more loyal to it.  That creates a level of experience that other players of other armies rarely match.  This could quite possibly be true, but it doesn't really explain why they fail to show nationally, yet dominate locally.

I posited in the comments that there really is a gulf in competitiveness between the best books (Space Wolves, Guard, Blood Angels) and the mediocre ones (Chaos Space Marines, Orks, Eldar) and the difference in national and local results comes down to this gulf.  I'm going to explain my theory in further detail here now.

Stelek tends to talk in absolutes.  Orks are not as good as the best books, so they suck.  The implication being that they are totally unplayable.  If you solely read his opinion and didn't play the game you might conclude that there is an enormous gulf of competitiveness between the two armies.  The proof would be tested by giving a total noob an optimized Wolf army and a season veteran an optimized Ork army.  If the competitive gulf was indeed huge between them, let's say a 2:1 ratio, the noobish Wolf player should still win because his army is so vastly superior that he can afford to make all kinds of tactical errors and his superior army will be forgiving enough to carry him.  We all know this clearly isn't the case in reality.  A veteran competitive Ork player will crush a noob Space Wolf player.  This isn't to say Stelek is wrong.  He is very right.  Space Wolves ARE better than Orks.  He just uses hyperbole and absolutes to argue, and if you aren't able to detect the difference between rhetorical hyperbole and wild exaggeration you might get confused.

So what is the actual competitive gulf between, say, Space Wolves and Orks?  No idea.  We would have to play test 1000 games with relatively equal players with balanced scenarios and equally optimized lists to get an accurate sample size.  But so this editorial doesn't end right now, I'll tentatively say the ratio is something like 1.15:1.  Which is to say the Space Wolves are 15% better than Orks.  Let's just assume this is a fact for the purposes of this article.  Whether the real ratio is 10% or 20% or 17.85% it's irrelevant for the argument.

On the local level, a 15% gulf will be undetectable, for the most part.  When you go to a small 12 man local tournament, the gulf in individual player skill will be far greater than 15% between most of the players.  The best player might have a gulf of 75% between him and the worst player.  Maybe even 99.9%.  If the best player shows up with an optimized Ork list, and the worst player shows up with an unoptimized Wolf list, the 15% difference in Codex potentially will be completely washed out by the far greater gulf in player skill.  Even handicapped by a weak codex, the best local players will still win a lot of games locally by virtue of the fact that there may not be anyone else who can compete until the last round of the tournament.

On the national level, round 4 of a NOVA style tournament, we can assume the 3-0 players are all relatively close competitively.  The gulf between the best 3-0 player and the worst 3-0 player is a marginal 5-10%.  When the player skill is that close, and tactical errors are likely to be that minimal, the gulf between the armies becomes a much more decisive factor.  

A Space Wolf player may only have a 5% skill advantage over an Ork player.  If the codices were equal, that 5% gulf would be small enough for luck of the dice or a single fluke tactical error to give the win to either player.  The small gulf in individual player skill, masked by luck of the dice, would require dozens or hundreds of games before you had a sample size large enough to determine who was the actual superior player overall.  

But this isn't reality.  The codices aren't equal.  The Wolf player has a 5% play skill advantage AND a 15% codex advantage.  Once you create a gulf of 20% between the two players the chances of luck affecting the outcome is very minimal.  Even if the Ork player had a 5% skill advantage, the gulf would still be 10% between them.  And 10% is still big enough of an advantage that luck shouldn't play a huge factor between two equally experienced and skilled players.

So what is the end result?  The result is when traveling 800+ miles, and paying for a hotel room, and 3 meals a day out on vacation in order to attend a competitive tournament, no one who has a serious intention to contest for the win is going to give himself a 15% handicap from the starting gun.  I love my Black Templars, and I am a very experienced player who rarely makes tactical errors.  But I'm not about to pay $1,000 on a vacation to a competitive tournament with Templars in order to go 3-1 or 2-2 simply due to the fact there is a 15-20% gulf in between my army book and the army book of other people attending the tournament of equal skill level.

So yeah, like other people's Orks, my Templars win a lot locally where I can beat people with superior playskill, but I know they wouldn't place nationally where I wouldn't have any measurable playskill advantage to compensate for my weak codex.


  1. Very interesting stuff.

    I've seen very similar results in my local area as well. I play Eldar and Tau, while another friend plays Orks. He and I are very evenly matched in skill and tend to split the local tournament winnings pretty evenly.

    I can definitely see that player skill plays a lot into it, but when you match two evenly matched players against each other, the strength of the list and codex in general start playing a much larger factor.

  2. What a cool way to break it down.

    On BT: Again, I am glad I am reading this now- not that I have any intention whatsoever of playing in tournaments, but this is still nice to know.

  3. Great article chap

    As I play mechdar and have been thinking about this alot recently , what you have written here just gives form to those thoughts.

    I win alot with my mechdar locally, but playing newer armies in the hands of competent opponents really ramps the difficulty up.

    I'm jumping to DE until the new Eldar book swings around , will be interesting to see if its just me or that 15% disparity in books you talked about .

    thanks for the article

  4. Great article.

    I hate when people package everything up in absolutes as though things were just that simple. You did well to explain your thoughts and put forward newer codices without completely ridiculing earlier ones.

    I agree with your assessment also, as much as I'd hate to admit it as an Ork player. If I attended something larger than the local scene then I'd invariably bring my Orks because despite being an older codex, it's also the army I'm the most competitive with. Considering the gulf you've done well to explain, I'd be banking on one of those neglected factors in competitive gaming, surprise. What...Kult of Speed Orks at this event? Between surprise, probably their lack of experience playing that style of army, and probably cockiness, I might be able to reduce that gulf a bit.