40k Word Association is where we take four opinionated players from the across the country and pick their brains to tackle current 40k topics.

First up, this week is Jwolf from Bell of Lost Souls and regular at Battleforge Games in Austin TX.

Composition scoring is the most nebulous way to enforce the Tournament Organizers’ beliefs on how the game should be played.  At the end of the day, all TOs make some composition limiting decisions; either we ban units, give comp scores, or write the scenarios to favor certain builds (or punish others).

Of these, comp scores are my least favorite – if I know the rules beforehand I have to spend time gaming it to get the best build possible for whatever comp penalty I want to pay; if I go in blind, I face getting a bad score because the 20yo volunteer that scores my army had a bad game last week against someone else playing an army like mine (or wearing the same shirt).

Banning units is at least fair – no one will have Eldrad and get a good comp score, when without a ban I am at the whim of random judges. Scenario design is the best method for favoring certain composition, and every TO does this to lesser and greater degrees.  I favor having scenarios that make different elements strong over the course of the event, with rewards for aggressive play built into the system.  I won’t comment on most scenarios I’ve seen, other than to say not every “cool” concept results in a fun scenario.

To sum it all up, comp scores in 40K add a metagaming aspect that is probably fun for people who love to game the comp system.  Comp scores are potentially a useful way to seed round one of a tournament, if one person does all the seeding.  As a method for awarding any points at all, comp scores in 40K are ultimately hurts the perception of events and the hobby, and resulting in more bad feelings than not.  I guess that puts me in the comp scores suck category.

Next up Blackmoor, recent winner of The Wild West Shoot Out in Mesa AZ. You can find Blackmoor on his blog as well playing at Empire Games in Mesa.

Comp? I hate comp!

Talking about comp we have to figure out what is comp? Comp is a way of handicapping armies so that they are all equal. Since Games Workshop makes codices that are not equal in power, comp is a way for others to try to balance them. There would be no need for comp if GW balanced there codices better, but they are either unable or unwilling to do it.

Balancing the codices seems like a good idea, but it is impossible to do.

The first problem is that what codices/units need balancing? If you ask 5 people you will get 5 different answers, so no one can agree what needs fixing

The second part is how do you even balance them?

I have played in many comp systems and they are all very bad.

Let’s take a look at few different comp systems:

Player judged comp is bad because everyone has prejudices that are sometimes not based on reality. At the Baltimore GT I played a SoB army and my opponent did not like my army because I took 3 Exorcists. He did not like me spamming any one unit for all of my heavy support choices. Never mind that Exorcists are the Witchhunters only ranged anti-tank, and the only way they can deal with Mech armies, and armies with lots of Oblits etc. The funny thing is that he had 2 Land Raiders, and there was no way that I could deal with them without the Exorcists. So in his mind 3 of any unit is bad, but 2 are ok…why?

Check lists.
I played in a 5 game GT style tournament in Sacramento a couple of years ago and they had a long laundry list of items that you get penalized for. The problem, not all armies fit in to a check list. I brought a Thousand Sons armies that people think was pretty tame, and most people thought were one of the weakest armies, and I got the worst comp score. Why should I get penalized when I am playing a weak and fluffy army?
Here is what it has changed to:

Judge Scoring:
This is an ok way to go, but you are still open to what the judge thinks is cheesy and what is not. Also when you travel around to RTTs, the locals always get better scores than the out-of-towners, for a couple of reasons. One is that they are friends with the judges, the other is that the locals know what armies and units cheesy for the area, and what are not (it is strange to see how much local variance there really is).

The ugly side of comp:
If you try to institute comp, and all comp does is shift the power to other armies that are the most powerful within those restrictions.

Comp also makes you soft. At the UK GT they were wondering why all the Italians and the Spanish always do very well in their heats. Why is that? There are a couple of reasons, if you are flying to a major event you are there to compete and have a good showing. Also the UK for the most part (other than the UK GT) is very comp friendly and that has made the English soft when they go up against the other Europeans who do not play with comp.

Now for some Miggidy Mack, host of the great weekly Podcast Dice Like Thunder

Apparently I’m being challenged to make the most absurd and maniacal rant ever.

Challenge… accepted. Please note that this opinion might be incendiary… you have been advised.

The only people who like Composition Scores in games hate their local hobby store and openly wish that they would go out of business. To like a comp score is to actively work towards destruction of all miniatures war gaming anywhere in the world by anyone ever. The people who support composition scores think Jules Verne is a dickhead and wish Gary Gygax had never been born.

I know this because Comp Scores are bad for business. There is a metagame to Warhammer 40k that cycles. A player comes up with a new strategy that really works, let’s say he uses a bunch of Razorbacks and units with Heavy Bolters to take down the Ork and Guard players in his area that field infantry power houses. The Guard player then picks up a few chimera’s and a basilisk to deal with the problem. The Ork player then runs Nobz to whether the firepower of both of them. The marine player starts including some meltaguns instead and the cycle continues.

People buy new toys and adapt, coming up with new strategies to surprise their friends. Then they go to a tournament. This tournament has a comp score, telling them that the way they have played is immoral. There are rules, to judge people for playing with toys they like. Peer pressure ensues. It’s easier to complain about a list being too hard than to accept losing might be from being out played. The group stagnates, fielding “tournament lists” that take these comp scores into account. They stop buying as much over the long-term. The store has to push new armies to make money, driving players out with hardsells.

Comp Scores are trying to fight the evolving metagame. They were invented by luddites who lack the skill and intelligence to adapt their own play style to new editions or strategies. Instead they assume that anyone who plays with their toys differently than them is cheating by breaking some unwritten rules that exist only in their own deranged minds. The passive aggressive legislation of the toys “allowed” must end.

What’s worse is that the creators of comp scores lack the ability to balance the rules or see the big picture. The rules often punish armies randomly by making blanket statements without regard for how each codex functions. The target offender is punished, but so are innocent bystanders.

The implementation is often with the addition of battle points to the battle point totals. This means players can enter a tournament with an extra loss or win based on their comp. They can’t take a middle ground; it’s either a crazy list or one bent to the will of others. In the end the tournament organizer only forces more people to play the armies he didn’t want to see! The idea that “better” players win with “weaker” lists is tragically small minded. Better players adapt to new challenges and don’t cry foul. It’s just another way to make poor sports feel better about a loss.

In summation, players who like comp scores are children who don’t like how you play with your toys.

Finally,  Nathan Fluger blog commentator and monumental Ork player from the Pacific Northwest who can be found at the Fire and Sword Gaming Center in Seattle WA.

Comp score is one of those things that has a good heart, but, in the end, doesn’t work.  The purpose of comp score is to try and add an extra level of balance to the game beyond the basic framework of the game and the points system.

Quickly, some background on myself.  I am a comp nazi in some regards.  When I was playing Half-Life a lot, I would invariably switch over to the crowbar against most opponents because I was winning so convincingly with the shotgun or rocket launcher.  When I played Counterstrike I would chastise my opponents who used the AWP and the Sig; and would instead limit myself to the Desert Eagle and Scout.  In Starcraft, I would find out what the most maligned race was and play them until I could beat most anyone in ladder play.  I would try and use units that people said were terrible and learn to use them to win.  I am all about putting arbitrary limits on games to balance the playing field and make games closer.  However, even with this in mind, I think that comp scores are a complete waste of time and shouldn’t be part of any tournament.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone out there who thinks all things in a codex are perfect.  In fact, the opposite is true, there are certain units that end up standing out like blazing suns for either being way better than their points or way worse. Hard-core gamers will immediately latch on to those units that are a bargain and denounce those too costly and invariably the internet will create uber lists that we all come to know and love/hate.  Nob biker list, Jetseer council, Nidzilla, etc…  What ends up happening is that only a few specific builds from each codex become common in the upper echelons of tournament play, while other builds (or codices for that matter…) stay in the dregs.

Now, in games at your local store; most people if they are winning all the time with a specific build will either soften their list to make it more fun, or else people will stop playing them because they are sick of losing.  Invariably, composition is effected as groups of gamers decide what is ok to play and play against. The main idea of comp scoring is similar in purpose.  It is trying to give those outlier units and books a chance to compete in tournaments, where the motive is to win, and typically you don’t have to worry about playing the same people again, so composition is less of a concern.  Composition is a noble idea, but the problem is the application.  It’s a worn adage, but cheese to one person is perfectly fine to another. With Metagames in various parts of the country being very different.

The store I play at is pretty competitive in terms of what we allow, and I know that some people come there and think, “What a bunch of cheesy gits!”.  But, it’s what we are use to, and most of our lists reflect that.  So when we go to tournaments in which there is comp scoring, units and combos that we consider fine are considered over the top or just plain mean.  I have regularly gotten max sports points only to get dinged hard on comp.
I’d like to say this is something more than sour grapes in terms of comp scores, but it isn’t.  I find it annoying that the results change and my army is being judged.  The main reason I get so peeved, is that I don’t think what I’m bringing is that cheesy.  In fact, if you want to get me riled up really quickly, call my army cheese.  I literally can’t help myself from explaining how it isn’t.  How I’ve scrupulously avoided bringing the BEST possible combinations and taken sub-par units. When my standings in a tournament are thusly effected it drives me crazy.  I just don’t see how its fair to those who have different opinions on what is cheese or not (or if such a concept even exists!).  I think that comp scores shouldn’t be a part of tournaments, but if they are, they should at least have a non-arbitrary rule set posted beforehand so you know what you are getting into. For instance, there is an invitation-only tournament in the Pacific Northwest that I have attended a few times that judges all the armies submitted and rejects those lists they think are too strong.  With that criteria, most optimal lists are removed and there is a wonderful variety of armies, and what is left is roughly equal in power.  Therefore the games are usually close and hard-fought.  This is probably my favorite tournament every year and I think it’s the only way to include comp in a tournament.

Comp score is a great idea that just doesn’t work because it’s too subjective.

Let the Comp Score hate continue!

Questions for Comment

  1. What do you think of Comp scores?
  2. What has been the best implementation of Comp scores that you have seen?
  3. What units or lists in your area would get you a low Com score?