Tag Archives: Balance

Tired of Wargaming?


This is something that has been playing on my mind now for a few months, and I worry that I might actually be completely burned out with wargaming.

I have been part of this hobby for ages now, and it has always been good fun. Primarily I’ve been in it for the social aspect, the opportunity to meet with and have common interests with nerds from all over the galaxy has been great. The artistic modelling, painting, stories and narratives have all been a bonus, not to mention the incessant smack talk and DPZ.

I don’t think for a moment that I have a problem with the people in the hobby. I have made some awesome gaming buddies over the years. My current gaming group is amongst the best.

Without trying to sound too much like a prima donna though, I just think that gaming has got too commercial. It just seems to me that wargaming at present is just an endless cycle of imbalances, releases, further imbalances and further releases. Add in a heavy emphasis of win-at-all-costs style gaming and you’ve got a right royal banana skin. This is something that the sheriff has been keen to implement over the last few years to boost sales. I’m sure you regularly reading googlespiders are aware, but in practice it goes a little something like this:

1) Release game system
2) Release codex
3) Release slightly better codex
4) Release slightly even better codex
5) Rerelease game system to add more imbalances

But that’s not the whole story. In the background of all these cycles win-at-all-costs-gaming styles soon take precedence, whether intentionally or not. No-one likes to get trounced all of the time, so people with earlier codices or inferior army lists look to the internet and other sources to tweak their forces just to make them a bit more competitive. People then nudge their forces closer and closer to tournament standards as the cycle perpetuates. All of this obviously involves the purchase and painting of new miniatures or even new armies, so the games companies are happy to keep things cycling. Go to any games club to see the effects – hordes of new unpainted miniatures battling it out with hordes of other new unpainted miniatures in a vain effort to have a reasonably balanced game. Gaming ceases to be about fun and more about micromanaging your selections and purchases.

But what about the companies who do not adopt this approach? Much kudos to them. Remember, companies are out there to make money. Don’t forget that most games companies would like to sell as much stuff and with such incredulous mark-up as the market leaders. A case in point is Spartan Games, a niche games manufacturer. A few years ago they released ‘Uncharted Seas’, a decent but by no means perfect fantasy sea battle game. It was fun. Within what seemed like a few weeks they then went on to release and hype ‘Firestorm Armada’. Essentially the same game in space, with many improvements. Uncharted Seas almost became obsolete. Again, what seemed like a few weeks later they released ‘Dystopian Wars’ to further large amounts of hype, again a very similar style of game making their previous efforts almost like last year’s fashions. What they managed to do though was sell the Uncharted Seas fan 3 separate rule sets and probably 3 sets of models. Now there’s nothing wrong with this, and in fact I think their games are pretty good. Personally though this just makes me sigh, as none of these great games truly got the run they deserved. I know that no-one will be playing Firestorm Armada in five years time, as it is surpassed, overlooked and replaced by something newer and shinier. The great models sit there unpainted on eBay. The sad fact is that the new systems people will be playing will probably be no more fun than those they replaced. A few tweaks to suit a few tastes, but essentially games are games and not simulations. The gamers have not benefitted, only the companies that produce the stuff. See what I mean about gaming becoming too commercial? It’s unfair to single out a company like Spartan, as I reckon this could be applied to pretty much any company that needs to make a profit in the wargames market.

So what’s the future? For me, things have been quite fortunate of late. Recently at our gaming sessions we have been sticking to ‘boxed’ games. Games where force selection is severely limited or non-existent. There’s no need to buy and paint more models to counter your opponent’s latest models only to discard them in three months when something new comes along that renders your models obsolete. The games come ‘as is’, and are not going to be subject to errata or FAQs because they are so unbelievably complex or imbalanced. Games where there are no doubts over movements as tape measures are not required. Games such as Dust, Formula D, Blood Bowl and the co-operative experience of No More Room In Hell. Over the last few months I have found these types of games to be the most fun of all.

For sale: 5000 points of awesomely painted Space Marines soon to be hopelessly outclassed by the new Necron codex!

Advertisements

Concepts In Gaming – The Myth of Balance


Time to sink our collective teeth into another of the meaty topics related to gaming. Whether you lean more towards the tabletop world or the virtual world there is an often quoted and talked about concept that has the potential to construct a perfect storm of CAPS LOCK fury and ‘Rage of the Nerd’ (TM). Any game that has more than one player in it strives for this singular achievement of gaming, as the title of this post has already not very subtly alluded to, that principle is balance.

This really is the holy grail of gaming, to have a game perfectly poised so that anything can defeat anything else and it just comes down to the player at the end of the day. What I am going to say is that right up front this is a crock! That’s right, I’m flinging poo at the punters again, not only did I decry Comp the other day but here I am now saying that balance in both tabletop games and online virtual environments is nigh unachievable. We here at 6 Inch Move don’t shy away from the big topics for you to enjoy at home or on the road. Obviously this is a viewpoint that I am going to have to back up. Luckily I have a good number of words left to try to achieve that, so, please stick with me and we’ll see where we end up.

Without the rose-tinted glasses of hindsight I doubt that we can ever come up with a game that was perfectly balanced (other than the original Starcraft, but I am not counting that as we are dealing with tabletop games and MMOs primarily). Both of these spheres have things in common, both tend to go with players on two sides, and each side will have access to various classes/races/armies or whatever. With tabletop gaming you have an army list to pick your units from, this leads to a whole host of different combinations that can be taken, especially when you throw in options for different magic items and upgrades that can alter how your army performs. In MMOs there are race/class combinations as well as differences in gear levels. Now, for MMOs balance is an argument that is almost universally attributed to the PvP environment, the reason I bring tabletop gaming up as well is that, in essence, this is also a PvP arena, one person or a team against another person or team. If one person finds it hard to beat another there can often times be a whine associated with it. Now, I’m not going to tar everyone with the same brush, it is normally the vocal minority that you hear about, they are the ones that are complaining after all and in our hyper-connected Internet world we hear about these things through the communities we associate with.

For wargaming there is an expectation that each army be balanced against all others, that there is no significant advantage gained by taking one army over another. However, if you consider the amount of variety available balancing each and every possible combination is next to impossible. Personally I don’t think any combo is unbeatable, you may have to come with up some inventive tactics or strategies and shy away from that one favourite unit you have in order to overcome something you struggle against. Sure I can understand the argument that if you bring an all-comers list you should have a good chance of beating your opponent but there will always be bad match ups. This happens in real life as well, some forces are better equipped than others yet they have stood up and made an accounting greater than they should have. The same can be true of our war games.

In an MMO environment I am even more dead set that balance is something that should not really even be considered. If I run around as a Holy Priest for instance, why should I be entitled to think that I can beat any pure DPS class or tank? I CHOSE to heal my team mates, it is their job to protect me so I can protect them. In one way the balance comes from the team and any team that has damage dealing and healing should steam roll any other team that is missing one or the other. I took a lowbie character into a Warsong Gulch match a few months back and we were faced with a team of 8 or 9 Hunters. In the 11-19 bracket that meant we just go walked all over because we couldn’t match their damage output and we had next to no healers (I myself was a Hunter on the side getting pwned). With WoW as a specific case I don’t think the classes are balanced around PvP anyway, more that they are looked at in PvE and PvP is just an addition. There was a lot of this in SWG too, PvP was a pretty big part of the game with the Galactic Civil War period, yet anyone that played a class that could attack the Mind pool of player was pretty much guaranteed to win.

If the only thing to happen was a one vs one then the game could strive to achieve a certain balance, but each person would have to have the same abilities and the same core design to allow only player skill to show through. In order to make an engaging game you lose this aspect, especially when other players are brought into the mix. Sure it can be frustrating to get absolutely spanked in a situation where you have no chance of doing anything else but everytime some people band together and start using teamwork things get a lot better. There is much more to a game than one thing being able to beat another or even the Starcraft like Rock, Paper, Scissors (Lizard, Spock). Balance is an unachievable Holy Grail in an environment that almost discounts balance at its heart. Sometimes you will win, sometimes you lose, this is a life principle and rather than just whining about we lost and such and such an army or class is broken we should suck it up, look at what we did and what happened and try to learn from that. Afterall, retreating from a fight is not always a sign of cowardice, feigned flight can be a strategy in and of itself and while you are alive you have a chance to fight back.