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)

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