Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Stupidity on the Internet: BOLS Edition

OMG hi everyone.  I was roused out of my torpor by one of the dumbest articles I've read on the 40k blogosphere in ages.  While I don't play 40k anymore, I still do my best to keep up with it because who knows, something may happen that causes me to jump back into the hobby with a vengeance.  Once a competitive player, always a competitive player.

In ages past this segment was always one of my most popular but also got a lot of hate thrown my way.  The good news is now that I am not part of "the community" I don't care about the hate!  Today's subject is this abortion:

Not gonna lie, this article is atrociously written.  From the start it seems to fail to meet the same level of professionalism from most BOLS articles, which implies whatever that standard means to you.

The author of this piece seems to argue (because he isn't bold enough to actually come out and state his thesis directly) that 7th edition is just as competitive as 5th edition.  His arguments exclusively fall into the "back in my day" line of argumentation.  He cites the flavor of the month tournament lists from each previous edition as evidence that the game has always been poorly balanced.  Congrats dude.  You cited the names of lists.  I guess that about wraps up the debate!  

Me:  5th Edition was the most competitive edition of 40k
Me:  How can anyone argue with logic like that?!  I surrender!

Ummmmm no.  Sorry bro, that doesn't settle anything.  I don't care if vehicles were insanely overpowered in 3rd edition, that has no bearing on 5th edition.  Many a good tournament player from the 5th edition era will tell you that the original leafblower list wasn't all that good after the first few months in the metagame.  5th Edition was about mech and shooting, and that list was definitely that.  But it took advantage of players who hadn't fully adapted to the "mech and shooting" metagame of 5th edition.  Once the community adapted, by adding more anti-mech firepower and bringing "mech and shooting" lists of their own I would argue that the leafblower list wasn't even that good.  There were MANY lists I was much more afraid of running into at NOVA than mechguard,  

There were a couple traits that made 5th Edition the golden age of competitive 40k, traits that are missing now.

1.  Simplicity:  Stelek's 5x5 and the NOVA variation thereof created a very MOBA-like battlefield where everyone was on even ground.  There were no asymmetrical scenarios.  If I have to explain why asymmetrical scenarios are non-competitive in tournament play you should probably stop reading and attend to your head trauma.  Hell, even if you stuck to the 3 (yes 3) book scenarios the missions were at least relatively symmetrical.  No matter which side of the scenario you rolled you had a more or less equal chance of winning.  The same cannot be said of 7th edition.  In 7th the scenario you roll is very capable of determining the winner before the first bolter is fired in anger.  Sure TOs can ignore all that and run tournaments the way they were run in 5th edition, but they shouldn't have to.

2.  Variance.  Any game with as much dice rolling as WH40k has going to have lots and lots of variance.  In ANY game, the better players desire less variance and worse players desire more variance.  There is a healthy balance between luck vs skill.  A skillful player should be favored to beat a less skilled play in a healthy game.  But there should be enough variance so that a less skilled player can still pull off and upset some amount of time.  5th Edition struck a good balance between the two.  I've seen some savage losses to bad rolls, some close games that shouldn't have been close and some other games where the dice had very little say in the matter, the skill gap being that wide.  Quite frankly, all the RPG elements in 6th and 7th edition added too much variance.  Warlord traits being rolled adds stupid variance.  Random charge distance added stupid variance.  The scenarios (mentioned above) added too much variance.  Even worse: a lot of these things are rolled before the game even starts.  Having the outcome of the game tipped in one player's favor before the game starts based purely on luck is ridiculous.

3.  Balance.  Was 5th edition perfectly balanced?  Hell no.  There were plenty of armies that were at a distinct disadvantage ::cough:: Nids and Orks ::cough:: but the tiers were not NEARLY so pronounced as in 7th edition.  In 5th Edition I could play against a "tier 1 list" with my "tier 3" Black Templar army and get a close game.  It was not a forlorn conclusion.  I won several 5th edition tournaments with Black Templars, which were not considered an especially powerful army.  Sure this is anecdotal but everyone would agree that the distance between the best list in the worst book to the best list in the best book were significantly smaller than it is today.  This matters.  It matters a lot.  Saying "LOL Leafblower" is meaningless.  Leafblower wasn't anywhere near as dominant as Eldar or Tau are in 7th.  

So that's my case for 5th edition as a more competitive format: it had significantly better army balance, lower variance, and better scenario symmetry.  Now that I've made my case let's get into the fun...

"Balance – lol that one is a red herring. Most guys that want competitive tournaments actively try to break the game in the list building phase. The list building phase is the biggest factor in tournament gaming if you are playing to win – show up with a weak list and no matter how good you are you are going to be at a severe handicap."

Everyone tries to make the best list they can. Duh.  No one is arguing that 5th edition allowed people to play weak lists and be competitive.  In fact, that would be the sign of a non-competitive game.  5th Edition, as I said, had smaller space between the tiers and more codices had relevant tournament lists.

"Still others cite shoddy rules – but again the rules have always been complained about. Every edition there have been reams of threads about how crappy the rules are, but still tournament players were content with rolling until 6th."

The rules could always be improved regardless of the edition, no one is arguing that.  What you miss is the qualitative difference.  If the rules of 5th edition were bad and complaint-worthy, and 7th Edition is also bad and complaint-worthy that doesn't mean that 5th and 7th are equally bad.  One can be bad, but still vastly better by comparison.

"I think the biggest change that is commonly griped about are two fold:
1) allies
2) forge world"

These DO matter.  The option to include allies and OTT forgeworld bullshit means that any chance of balance between individual codices is ruined.  GW made the list-building so open-ended that there is no reasonable way to balance them competitively.

"In 3rd, 4th, and 5th edition there were usually three power builds that the vast majority of players took (i am speaking from heavy 3rd and 4th tournament experience and saw it in 5th after i had gotten out of tournament play)."

That's right folks:  you're being lectured on tournament balance between 5th and 7th edition by a guy who hasn't played in a tournament in a decade or more and hasn't played in a competitive tournament in either of the two editions he is talking about.

"Today you can face six or seven power lists and the listbuilding phase is much harder to win in."

This is where the author lets you know the reason people hate 7th edition is because there are TOO MANY good lists, rather than too few.  You see, us bad tournament players apparently like it when there are only a handful of lists to prepare for since our pea-brains can't handle anymore.  Once you introduce "six or seven" possible tournament armies our donkey brains can't cope and we just say the game is broken.  That's a weird conclusion to draw when I can argue (as someone who actually played 5th edition tournaments, as opposed to the BOLS writer) that were were many, many competitive lists in 5th edition, and based on everything I see now, there are far fewer good options in 7th.  

Well that's it.  I'm going to crawl back into my cave.