Composition scoring, also known as 'comp', essentially seeks to control the composition of each player's army, for example by limiting the number of times a unit may be taken or banning certain models. It is seen by some tournament organisers (TO's) as a tool to try to restore balance to a game where particular army builds, units or tactics are dominating the tournament scene.

This CONCEPTS: posts looks at the pros and cons of comp for the purposes of competitive tournament gaming, followed by my personal opinion as to if or when it should be used. What I'm not going to talk about here is terrain, missions or FAQ's, as while these can have an impact on your army (if you choose to tailor your list to an event), I will not class these as comp for the purposes of this article. This is also not a discussion related to custom or specialist tournaments, as these are by definition individual by nature. What I'm looking to discuss here is comp for general tournament play.

  1. Balance - In an environment where a particular type of unit is very strong, but where not every army has access to said unit, comp is seen as an easy way to remove the 'problem', restoring balance and making it much fairer for everybody else.
  2. Variety - Encouraging a variety of armies/units/play styles is good for the game.
  3. Playing the game 'as intended' - Similar to the rules as written (RAW) vs rules as intended (RAI) debate, it could be argued that the game designers never intended the 'broken' units to be so powerful, and that it's no big deal to fix the game with comp.
  1. Shifts the 'broken' units/lists/armies away from the perceived problem area and into another. Players who spend the time improving their armies/game play are probably aware enough to adapt to the restrictions to a greater or lesser degree, so after a period of adjustment the game balance appears 'broken' again. The restrictions can also penalise some factions more than others, with some armies able to work around the limitations with minimal difficulty and others finding themselves severely hampered, which may not have been the intention of the original comp.
  2. Subjective and often not open to debate. The TO usually sets the comp and players either accept it and attend the event or not and don't go.
  3. Doesn't give players a chance to find their own solution to the 'problem', which may turn out to be not that great after all when something even better is found as the game progresses (a common fix).
  4. Theme armies - It can also stop people playing with themed lists like all terminators, bikes etc.
  5. National/international tournament standard - It's harder to run a consistent competitive environment when individual TO's restrictions placed on a game system.
Whist I too want a well balanced gaming system, I think introducing comp needs to be handled with extreme care.

I look to how Wizards of the Coast handle the various Magic The Gathering formats banned/restricted lists as a comparison. There is a centralised rules system run by the game creators, who actively seek to provide a worldwide accepted professional tournament capable game system. Dominating a meta (and I choose my use of the word carefully here) in MTG is not enough to ban/restrict a card. Generally speaking, only when it becomes apparent that a particular card makes the game almost completely unplayable over an extended period of time do WotC begin to consider comp.

On the other hand we have Games Workshop, who have clearly stated that they are a model company first and actively discourage competitive play. They now mostly run tournaments from Warhammer World with, let's say, unusual scoring, effecting leaving independent TO's to themselves. I have found that comp at a independent 40k even tends to be on a much wider level than MTG, often changing the fundamental rules of the game (not just banning a single unit), such as banning or limiting allies/fliers, because they think that they are too powerful without, I suspect, the depth of consistent playtesting that a company with a developed competitive scene such as WotC provide.

I believe that all games have certain biases and imbalances, some by design and others by consequence. As such there will naturally be stronger and weaker choices, and these will change if new factors are introduced into the system (e.g. new models, units, or armies). In a competitive setting, the stronger choices are much more likely to be taken more frequently, as they are often strictly better. If there are limited strong choices, these can become predictable, in which case a counter can be prepared. This can provide it's own balancing factor. However, if the counter is in turn predictable, a counter-counter might be possible. Without going into a separate discussion into knowing your enemy, Yomi, metagaming, or any of that stuff, suffice to say that comp removes the possibility of the players finding their own solution to the perceived problem.

Sometimes, however, there is a problem. Some games companies work hard to maintain a level of internal balance, and only when absolutely necessary do they step in with comp. There also other model companies who write rules for their models, and for whatever reason (sales? ignorance?), change the balance over time and leave it up to us to play nicely or roll-off (good name for a blog there!). Without central leadership, its up to the community to agree its own way forward in the event of a problem.
Personally I think that variety is good for the enjoyment of any game, and perhaps this can be provided by the various custom tournaments available. However, to develop a consistant competitive tournament environment, i.e. one where we're all playing the same game and can build, practice with and play with the same armies and they work the same everywhere, I suggest we need consistency, not comp.

Further Reading
Sirlin, Playing to Win  (seminal internet book on competitive gaming, free)
Ideas for Army List Restriction at Blog Wars 6 on From the Fang (see comments for some very good points on comp)

2013 - Looking Ahead


So this isn't exactly a New Year's post, but hey it's done now! So, what do I want for 2013? I have two primary goals - to develop and promote the blog primarily focused on improving competitive gameplay and to qualify for the 40kUK GT final in 2014. I might not make it, but hey, I'm going to give it a go. Focus!

I *just* missed out on a place in the 40kUK GT final this year, going 2-2-2 in Heat 2 at what was my first proper competitive event (did I mention I went 2-2-0 in the first four games or that I would have won the second draw if I hadn't clarified a rule with the TO to make polite conversation, not realising I was within earshot of my opponent and so costing me the game?). What I really need is more experience playing at tournament level. Sadly, I'm unlikely to make it to more than one non-club tournament before October, but such is life. I'm intending to make it to the summer Brighton Warlords singles tournament, along with as many club events as possible. Realistically, I'm unlikely to be able to go to many more, so I will have to make the most of the games I can get locally and go from there.

There seems to be a growing base of players at the club (Walberton Wargamers) who are becoming interested in playing harder lists (perhaps due to my corrupting influence?), so I'm hoping to get more breadth and depth of experience this year in playing a wider range of tougher armies. I'm also hoping to be able to make it down to Brighton Warlords on a few club nights at some point during the year to see if I can get some games in against some different opponents, but we'll have to see how this goes as this is difficult logistically!

Walberton Wargamers

Although I'm usually reading and thinking about 40k, I don't tend to get to play as many games as I would like (a few a month if I'm lucky?) or have unlimited funds to pump into my army (mouths to feed come first), so I tend to plan my lists and purchases well in advance, keeping the core of my lists the same and experiment with different units around what I know works. This gives me a familiar base or control group for comparison, so I can focus on the different aspects in game and analyse their impact after. Leading up to a tournament, I will fix a list and play with it constantly for about 6-10 games against different opponents. This means I know what the army is, or isn't capable of, and gives me a chance to paint everything up (a slow process). As they say, don't innovate on race day!

In terms of what army I will be running, I will continue to use my Space Wolves as my primary army, but they need reinforcements! For a while now, I have been at a crossroads with where I want to take my Wolves for 6th. I've been really struggling to build a balanced list that can deal with fliers (not a surprise for Wolves), mech and hoards (this will sound familiar to some who read the same blogs I do), and I'm still not entirely convinced where to go. When 6th came out I was hoping that GW would feed in anti-air a little more readily than has proved to be the case, and now that my beloved puppies are the only faction without a flier, I am really feeling the lack of flakk missiles on my Long Fangs. Perhaps a campaign is called for, 'Flakk for Fangs'!

So where to take my Wolves for 6th? Having invested in a few Grey Knights as some quick and dirty MSU allies last year, and I could continue down this route, which I'm sure could give me some strong options that can deal with mech and hoards, and try to mitigate the damage dome from fliers through MSU and mass scoring bodies. Not sure one this one yet, but may be worth a go.

Cool Mini or Not - Tzardauker

On the other hand, I could bring in some flier support of my own (I now have a vendetta, not the one above!) and some scoring backfield fire support with Imperial Guard allies. I've been working on lists with Guard allies for months now, but there's a few things that just stop me committing.

For example, as they say 'two is one, one is none' (couldn't find who's law this was), I'm not entirely sure that one vendetta is really enough, as if it comes on first, against another flier heavy army there is a decent chance that it will just get shot down before it gets to contribute. It might be better to save the points entirely, in which case, why am I taking Guard instead of Grey Knights? OK, there are still a few advantages, but enough? There's always strong Forge World options (sabre defence platforms anyone?), but if tournaments suddenly decide to stop allowing these, that's a huge amount of wasted money...

Also, I'm really struggling to motivate myself at the thought of putting together 100 odd Guard miniatures unless I really love the models. I'm not a mass infantry fan by nature, generally preferring tanks, so I'm naturally reluctant to leap into such a massive project without being totally convinced that it's going to work on the tabletop, for my wallet and be fun to create. As much as I want to do develop my game, I know myself well enough to know that I will loose interest in playing Guard if I'm forcing the hobby side.

Getting the army second hand, pre-assembled but not painted, could save some time, but I have a very specific aesthetic in mind (see Hobby below), so this isn't really an option unless I just give up any hobby interest in the entire force, in which case I loose all joy in playing the army and will only be using them to increase my chances of winning - If you hadn't guessed by the name of the blog, I play wargaming for the total immersive experience, so if I ever gets to that point, I'll probably stop playing miniature games and go and play competitive MTG instead. It looks like if I go with Guard, it's going to be a slow grow project. I could always go for the Grey Knights for now, then build up the Guard as a primary with three Vendettas. This may be the long term option.

Forge World, Death Korps of Krieg

So if I do go Imperial Guard, very loosely, I'm working on something along the lines of that they're a bunch of renegade guard, still loyal to the emperor but on the run from the authorities for not carryout some merciless purging of civilians (work with me here!). The Space Wolves, having empathy with their moral stand and a history of defying the powers that be themselves (see first war of Armageddon), use the group as allies when the need arises.

Visually, the infantry will all have masks/cloaks/hoods and I'm thinking of mixing together various models from the Forgeworld Death Korps of Kreig, Armageddon Steel Legion, Chaos Cultists and Forgeworld Renegade conversion kits. Partly this is because I really don't like painting faces (!) but also because I like this aesthetic for a fringe group of desperados.

The colour scheme will be quite dark, with greys, blacks and brown, and I will use the same deep red and mid blue as my Wolves for isolated highlights and accent colours. As the group will struggle to get supplies, any weapons and vehicles will have a rugged look with plenty of battle damage and weathering (eventually!).

Sample of my Space Wolves - Need details!

If I don't go Guard, then I hope to get my Wolves and Grey Knights up to the next level, taking them from their current 3 colours (including an 6-8 stage armour build up from undercoat to highlight, mind!), basic faces and crushed slate basing to include details, better faces, perhaps some squad markings - basically using Brighton Warlord's tournament soft scoring system as guide, although I'll never get the WYSIWYG with all the Wolves!

2013 Banner

Given a reliable internet connection, this is the year that I hope to get the blog moving. I've already made a number of cosmetic improvements early in the year with a new banner, various graphic improvements and the links bar at the top. I'm regularly updating the links along the side bar as I find new sites, and I've been trying to but failing to get LinkedIn to work too!

Now that I'm happy with how the site looks and typically able to produce regular posts, I will start popping my blogging head above the parapet and see if anyone is interested. Having just broken the 1000 hits mark with 0 followers in my first year, January and February saw a massive jump thanks to From the Fang adding me to the recommended reading list and a cheeky link in the Warhammer Forum Caledonian post. At the time of writing the blog's doubled it's hits to well over 2000 in two months and now has 7 followers (thanks From the Fang, atr_127, Skcuzzlebumm, Ven, Peter, David and Aseldi!). Now I know I have a way to go, but compared to the begninning of the year, it's a massive jump!

My aim now is to register with a selection of the usual blog promoters, such as Imperius Dominatus' UK Blogger's Network and House of Paincakes, as well as boldly ask my favourite blogs to add me to their recommended reading lists (if your blog is on the links list, I'm coming for you - you know who you are!). Hopefully a few of them might even say yes.

Site Snapshot, February 2013

In terms of content, I will continue to focus primarily on improving and competative play. I intend to continue this though the CONCEPTS: analysis articles (currently working on Comp, Netlisting, List Writing and Tools, amoungst others), the short Food For Thought posts and List-Fu army list analysis. I would like to get better at putting together battle reports too - but I find that the level of detail I want to put into these to make them more than a simple storytelling excersice is massively time consuming and also likely TL;DR. I make a habit of taking photos of all my games and I'm profecient with Photoshop enough that a graphic solution might be a possiblity. Something to work on perhaps...

To break up the more serious content, I also expect to throw in the occasional blog review, hobby images, random web comics and whatever else I'm interested in at the time. This might include the odd PC game and I've started playing MTG online for a distraction, so I may break into a post or two about mana curves and pauper decks if I can tear myself away from 40k for long enough, but the chances of this look fairly slim at the moment to be honest - so many CONCEPTS: articles I want to write first!

Phew! That was a lot longer that I thought it would be! Lots to get on with and think about and so little time. Need to play some games too! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the rest of year with the blog.

Codex: Chaos Daemons Out Now


For anyone who's missed it, the new Chaos Daemons codex is out.

Will this change up the screamer/flamer dominated lists we've been seeing since the White Dwarf update? Probably! Shame, as I never got to play the list and with my usual mech MSU Space Wolves and Grey Knights list this would have been an interesting fight (even if I lost!).

Either way, I look forward to seeing what the new codex holds in store.