The 11th Company 40K Podcast

Welcome to the 11th Company BLOG. The 11th Company is a Warhammer 40K podcast dedicated to players, strategies, and tactics.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Read as Wrong: What is Correct? Reading Comprehension.

This is Part 2 of an article series.  You can find Part 1 here:

Introduction and Recap:

To recap, in part 1 of this series, I closed by stating that this article series intends to move forward with the notion that there is a BETTER way to negotiate rules disputes other than “Read as Written”, that “Read as Written” (RaW) as a sole rules arbitration tool produces the same “Bizzaro 40K’ that gets produced when rules arbitration takes place without applying the RaW philosophy.  Moreover, part 1 also sought to introduce the idea that the RaW banner has become a sort of cult-like mentality which I refer to as the “Church of RaW”, to which many people within our community flock to and follow.  Mostly, this is because the promises of the Church are quite alluring as it promises a method of rules arbitration which is logical, results in absolute truths, and disregards our human nature’s incessant ability to interject our personal feelings into arguments.  However, the siren’s call that is these idealistic principles has some very serious drawbacks of which I believe our community is growing to ignore.

Ultimately, where I will end up with these essays is not as a denial as to the usefulness of the philosophy of RaW.  Rather, what I am seeking to do is to help provide the community with the thoughts that perhaps RaW is not the ONLY answer but rather a TOOL that when combined with all the other myriad tools out there, HELPS to CORRECTLY resolve rules disputes.  I will contend that using RaW as anything other than one tool out of a tool box ultimately leads to INCORRECT rules resolutions, the same INCORRECT rules resolutions that a follower of the Church accuses anyone who is not a member of the Church of arriving at by any other methodology.

What is Correct?

If I really wanted to, I could devolve this essay at this point into a riotous romp through thousands of years of philosophy about “the Universe”, “Universal Truth”, “human perspective”, and close out with a ton of links to thousands of philosophical essays covering this topic.  We could all sit around, toke on a hookah, talk about our small part in such a massive Universe, and ultimately resolve nothing except getting high while stroking our egos.  (Hell, we could get really interesting, hit some acid, and end the night actually thinking we’ve solved the Universe’s greatest mysteries by tapping into the stream of unconscious energy and reading each other’s minds.  Seen this happen, so true story, bro. :) )

Fortunately, though, I don’t have to go there!  Our beloved gaming system has definable boundaries and actual answers to the mysteries that it manufactures, and even better, solely because our game system is manufactured, that means our brains can actually wrap themselves around the concepts it presents.  Sweet!

So, if we actually do have correct answers, then why are there so many rules arguments?  Where are these correct answers when I’m sitting at a game table trying to explain to some very emotional competitor that actually, a Flying Monstrous Creature not being grounded after it takes a grounded test is wrong even though the Rulebook doesn’t explicitly state that, is neither “Read as Written” nor correct.  (See what I did there?  Used a RaW argument that was proven WRONG!  Note the Bizzaro 40K that this rules issue created.)

One of the major tenets of the RaW philosophy is that if you read the words of the rules exactly as they are written that you will arrive at the only possible, logical conclusion.  If this were not true then the Church of RaW would be forced to acquiesce that perhaps correct answers to rules questions can be found by some other means than just reading words.   
Although I agree that this line of thinking is very alluring, there’s this BIG problem that we know for an undeniable FACT that RaW doesn’t always produce correct answers.  What encompassing proof by contradiction is this that is so absolutely powerful? 

The GW FAQs.

See, correct answers in the 40K Universe don’t come from logical proofs.  They don’t derive themselves out of undeniable, mathematical certainty.  They come from the gaming company that wrote the game.  GW is the supreme court of our game.  What they say is the correct answer regardless of if what they say is logically ascertainable from the Rulebook or not.

This is what CORRECT is. 

Ultimately, as a TO and podcaster, when I get asked a rules question, I’m not interested in providing WRONG answers.  I’m interested in providing RIGHT answers.  RIGHT answers are those that when the rubber meets the road that the gaming company will agree with me on., not those that I can obscure in a drawn out proof misquoting or cherry picking sentences and words.

This is very important because it introduces the notion that what we should be seeking is to actually find those CORRECT answers, not logical proofs of INCORRECT ones.  And this leads to our next topic.

Reading Comprehension

One thing that is immediately obvious about our set of CORRECT answers is that our governing body doesn’t always rule in favor of the direction that the “Read as Written” results in.  Fundamentally, this should be all you need at this point to out of hand reject RaW as a rules governing philosophy, and I could end this essay where it stands.  However, as stated, that’s not my goal nor intent.  What I want to express is that RaW is IMPORTANT but only because RaW is the first baby steps into a much broader area, known as Reading Comprehension.

I LOL’ed when I read this:  (WIKIPedia on reading Comprehension)

Reading comprehension is defined as the level of understanding of a text/message. This understanding comes from the interaction between the words that are written and how they trigger knowledge outside the text/message. .[1]
Woah!  “the interaction between the words that are written and how they trigger knowledge outside the text/message?”  Hold the phone!  Are you trying to tell me that there is meaning to some text besides what is actually written on the paper?  That true comprehension of what you read doesn’t just involve the words on the paper but also knowledge outside the paper?

“That Which Isn’t Written.”

I recall a time in my life where I HATED analogies.  I could write an essay on that topic.  You know, those statements on the SAT that read something like: “this is to this as that is to _______”.  And you were expected to come up with an answer to this.  Absurd!  Preposterous!  You can’t prove a result to this bogus question.  There’s nothing factual here.  There is nothing but assumptions based on what you “feel like” the common ground it.

I loved history when I was in school in no small part to my Dad being a history teacher.  I specifically remember a teacher I had junior year who would use standardized tests at the end of each chapter in our book.  I was a smart-ass teenager like everyone else, and I remember several times, thinking I was funny and not realizing that I was just being a jack-ass (see statement about nerd culture above), that I would go up to her in the middle of tests and express to her that although I knew the answer to Question #36 was “A”, that arguably “C” could potentially be correct as the question itself was ambiguous due to wording.

And even then, I couldn’t admit it to myself that if it was so ambiguous, provably so, why did I know for certain that “A” was the correct answer even though by logical proof it wasn’t?

Because there are forces at work which drive CORRECT answers which aren’t necessarily WRITTEN DOWN in the text you are reading.  “That which isn’t written” is exactly what English professors are trying to beat into your skull with all that jazz about context, bias, history, and a load of other jargon that I of course memorized (math geeks have zero trouble memorizing and regurgitating) but not actually internalized (because it’s tripe and unprovable to begin with. 

Wouldn’t you know?  Just because you can argue ambiguity in an analogy doesn’t mean that the analogy has no CORRECT answer?  All that means is that you flatly just don’t perceive the answer.  It’s not ambiguous at all if the guy that scored an 800 on the English portion of the SAT blew through it.  You just suck at reading comprehension (and probably at vocabulary which is a big contributor, but I digress).

Think about it.  The lauded authors of history didn’t get that way because “they wrote good words”.  You don’t MOVE people emotionally with text.  You move them when they comprehend what you are really trying to say.

And what I’m really trying to say is that it is fundamentally obvious with any amount of reading comprehension that our governing body, the body which produces the CORRECT answers, doesn’t just use words to find them, it uses comprehension of the text to produce them. 

“That which isn’t written”  NOT EQUAL TO “Read as Written”.

More to come.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Read as Wrong: The Origins of Bizzaro 40K and the Need to Argue.

I’ve been thinking about this BLOG post for a while.  It will also translate itself into a podcast topic.  I really just haven’t had the courage to actually write these thoughts down, and courage is exactly what it takes to go against the grain.

Specifically, this article is about rule resolution in 40k or rather the methodology by which rules issues are resolved.  The play on words in the title is a reference to “Read as Written”, the rather dominant rules philosophy which permeates the greater public consciousness when arbitrating rules issues in 40K.  “Read as Written” (RAW), is a philosophy of rules resolution which works under the notion that the only path to resolving rules questions within the system is by exact readings of the words and their application as exactly stated.  This form of arbitration is highly regarded, especially in the competitive community, as being the only viable method by which 40K rules issues can be resolved, and furthermore, to the large number of proponents of this philosophy, the only way rules issues SHOULD be resolved.

The tenets of the “Read as Written” philosophy are very compelling.  As a competitive 40K gamer, tournament organizer, podcaster, and overall 40K rules nut, I at one time found myself waving the banner of what I now more sarcastically refer to as the “Church of RaW”, so named because of the zealous nature by which followers of the RaW philosophy will defend the tenets of RaW even in the face of insurmountable evidence to some potential contrary.  The pull of “RaW’ is very seductive to a reasoning person who is seeking correct rules interpretations because it attracts followers with seemingly plausible and great promises such as:

  • Read as Written is common ground for all players and groups.
  • Read as Written is logical, not subjective, basing rules interpretations off of what is present rather than what is interpreted to be present.
  •  Read as Written does not assume intent.

Indeed, for many players, both actively in the competitive 40K scene and not, “RaW’ has become somewhat of a banner or wary cry.  It’s a statement of philosophy, like someone stating their political affiliation, group identity, or other source.  Just a quick Google search and I can find articles written by well-known BLOGgers and community personalities all espousing their membership in the Church of RaW and why it is the best choice for playing 40K.

And that is why it takes courage to write this series of articles.  Having anything negative to say about a very dominant philosophy, be it a religious faith or even something so tripe as 40K rules arbitration, especially when the dominant group is so very vocal about their opinions, requires some guts.

My motivation for doing this, however, is not rooted in trying to rebuke what is basically an idealistic form of rules arbitration but rather that I have travelled that road and come out on the other side only to look back and realize that the rules philosophy that I once touted is now actually becoming the one thing that it originally sought to destroy, namely a game of 40K in which the rules were dictated by the whims of players rather than the rules themselves.

The Origins of Bizzaro 40K

Way back in the dark ages of 40K, laughably less than a decade ago by most accounts, before the explosion of the independent tournament scene, when GW ruled the circuit, the game of 40K was decentralized outside of the control of the parent company.  For those of us who were playing the game then, the GT circuit at the time was barely worth mentioning in terms of competitive play.  Most games of 40K took place at a local shop or your buddy’s house, and rules disputes?  Well, they were resolved by either calling the GW customer service line and asking Bob for a random answer or by house ruling your way into solving problems.

However, with the rise of the 40K internet scene, the explosion of the Indy GT circuit, local tournaments, and so on, it was very quickly realized that, given the very loose manner in which GW manages the rules of 40K, more competitive games of 40K really aren’t possible without a tighter set of rules.  More importantly, what was really needed was a tighter philosophy on rule resolution than “well, that’s just how we play it around here!”

If you are like me and have to travel many hours to go play 40K, having the rules be different every place you go gets really AGGRAVATING!

I referred to this time and place as “Bizzaro 40K’, a Universe in which nobody actually plays 40K but rather plays the version of 40K that their local group has decided is correct.  Forget what the rules actually say!  We are doing it our way!

Thus, the seeds were sown for the rise of the Church of RaW.  We NEEDED, and still do, a way to globalize the game and more importantly, the rules of the game.  Seemingly, the only fair way to do this is to take the words written into the rulebook at their absolute face value.  Everyone has access to the exact same rules, and so long as well all follow them to the letter, we should all be playing the same game of 40K.

That’s the theory anyways.

And thus, Bizzaro 40K gets banished from the realms.  All is well in the newly globalized world of 40K.

The Need to Argue

But, as should be expected, not everything has exactly gone according to plan, and unfortunately, Bizzaro 40K is still quite alive and well, just not in the form we all remember.  Bizzaro 40K has taken on a new mask, one created by intentional rules mis-readings, over-analysis, and an undeniable need for many members of our community to simply argue.

And thus, the backlash of the Church of RaW begins, rooted in that need to argue.

Turns out, once you walk the road of RaW and come out on the other side, you turnaround and instead of seeing a utopia ruled by logic and administered by the great custodes of principle, what you actually see is a cancerous pit of rules lawyering, intentional disregard of the obvious, cherry-picking, denial of proof, acceptance without evidence, and what is flatly an utter lack of reading comprehension.

And moreover, what you really see is that there are very vocal members of our community who just NEED to argue about anything and everything and at the expense of whomever is unfortunate enough to come across their path.

What RaW Creates

My favorite quote of this week from a devout member of the Church of RaW went like this:
See, when you have people talking like they know how to play 6th, then I expect them to know how to play it.
This includes having a grasp of the fundamentals, which includes understanding English at a higher than 1st grade level.”
This is great because it shows two very important points about the Church of RaW that over this series of articles I really hope that I can convince you aren’t necessary, factual, nor good for the community.

First, RaW has created a false God in that there must be a “right answer” to any given rules question and that therefore, if you don’t understand the “right answer” provided, you are either stupid or can’t read.  Because, RaW, is, after all, just using what is written, RIGHT?!!! RAWR!!!!1111!111"  (Bow before the Church!).
Second, RaW creates a notion that if you can read, then you must always arrive at the same conclusion as everyone else.  I get a chuckle out of the rant above accusing people of not being able to read at a first grade level as to the reason why they don’t agree with the poster in this sense is itself humorous because 1st grade reading skills, even up to 5th grade reading skills, which is why newspapers are written to that standard, fail to incorporate MUCH higher reading skills, namely comprehension, context, and implication, most of which the author of this quote was intentionally disregarding in this conversation.  But, after all, if things like context exist, then the tenets of the Faith just aren’t true, are they?

Where I’m Going with This

My favorite part about the Church of RaW is that it assumes that there are right answers.  In fact, it provides vacuous truths, stating that what it provides is the ONLY answer to any question because it is an answer based off of written words to which there is no dispute and that ANY other form of argument is itself “Read as Intended”, being the only other way in which rules can be interpreted.
I guarantee you that before this article series is over, someone in the comments will accuse me of not reading the rules or not using the rules as they are written.  This will be done as a blanket statement, a knee-jerk reaction to what is ultimately not only a false notion but a horrible assumption that the poster himself is right in the first place based on a prayer to a false God.
There is another way.  You don’t have to play Bizzaro 40K.  Not just the Bizzaro 40K created by complete lack of rules regard but also the Bizzaro 40K created by arguing rules that flatly are argued incorrectly or argued into a state in which the game is no longer the game we are all playing.

RaW creates Bizzaro 40K, the same Bizzaro 40K that is created by people who make up the rules as they go along.

That’s the point I’m driving at, and hopefully by the end of this series I will have at least put some thoughts in your head that perhaps we can help the pendulum swing back a little more to the middle rather than “IT’s RAW!!! Quit Uzing FLUFF To make an Rule sdiscusison RAWRRR!!!!111!!” as the final word in rules debates.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bought XCOM last night....

And I'm super impressed thus far!  That's a hard thing to do for a guy that's "seen it all" in terms of video games over the last 25 years or so.

Of course I was around when the original XCOM came out, and it still is for me one of the best games ever made.

So, what's up with this one?

Simply put, I just got finished playing Diablo III.  ( I know, late to the party ).  Diablo III was a big disappointment for me after Diablo II (also one of the best games ever made).  All anyone ever wanted out of Diablo III was Diablo II with some updated graphics.  What did we get instead?  A heavily modified version of the game. :(  Nobody wanted that.

What does XCOM deliver?  4 hours in?  An almost identical experience to the original XCOM with updated graphics, game play mechanics, and a user interface.  This is EXACTLY what I wanted from this title.

Not sure when the honeymoon will end, but right now, I haven't been this excited by a game in a long time!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Running a GREAT Tournament

(insert random picture!)

This was a huge e-mail response I just made to a listener who asked me for advice on how to run good tournaments.


There's a lot of very subtle and underlying choices that go into running tournaments which are designed to increase player enjoyment of their tournaments which go above and beyond just playing a few games with some fair rules judging.

Each one of these elements is designed to increase player enjoyment of your event, not to increase some sort of misguided competitiveness or other such thought.  Overall, just like with any event your run, you will be successful if you are focusing on ALL players having the most FUN possible, not focusing on if your top table guys got competitive games or not (although these things generally go hand in hand).  Overall, remember that the same guys will always win the events, they will always play each other in the end, and so on.  However, this will be just a small portion of the people at your event.  Your job is to cater to everyone, the majority, who won't be winning all their games or playing at top tables.  

In a nutshell, if you make it fun for "most" people, your top guys will be having fun because your events will be large, and top guys like large events because it makes them feel like they are doing better.  Hope that makes sense.

So, here's some elements that make a great tournament in my opinion.

1)  One prize for top players, multiple prizes for people who won't make top tables.  - Top players don't care about prizes.  They win them all the time.  What they care about is proving themselves, prize or no prize.  A top player gets satisfied by a trophy, not so much a box set.  Give them a token prize and a trophy, they go home happy.  Distribute the majority of your prize support to non-winners.  Do this for painting competitions, runner-up brackets, best sports, best army, or really anything, and make sure that at least a few things can be earned just randomly.  A great concept here is to randomly distribute a prize weighed towards people who have lost games.  (I.e. the more you lose the greater your chance at a random prize).  

This all depends on prize support of course.  However, do not fall into the trap where you give the farm away to the guy who won the event.  He doesn't really appreciate the prize, and everyone else will get discouraged and stop coming, which eventually leads to the top players stopping as well because they no longer have an event to prove themselves at.

Pro Tip:  You can buy sweet dog tags for like $3 on the internet that say things like "Tournament Champion". custom made.  Great trophies for a little bit of nothing.

2)  Pick a mission/tournament format that is fair and simple.  The more fair a mission, the better everyone feels about playing it.  The simpler it is, the better everyone can understand it.  Top players are going to win missions no matter what they are, no matter how wonky.  To break a myth, non-top players do not enjoy wonky missions.  They are complicated, not fun, and take a lot away from the game.  If you want to run "wonky", story missions, do those in a non-tournament event, like a narrative event, games day, or something that isn't competitive.  

Pro Tip:  No matter how smart you think you are, you won't come up with perfect missions.  Nobody likes wonky missions.  If I have to read a entire page of text and discuss with my opponent just to understand what we are supposed to be doing or how some deployment works, I'm not having fun and neither is he.

Pro Tip:  Use national level GT missions for events that are close to you. Generally, their mission packets are vetted, very well thought out, fair, simple, and even better, attract people to your event because they can use your event for training for that event.  (For example, you are in Sacremento, I would highly suggest then the Bay Area Open format which is not only very good, simple, and vetted, it's used in many GT level events in your region by the Team Zero Comp crew that run them).

3)  Complete fairness and impartiality.  Whoever is judging should not be playing, PERIOD.  This just creates a sense of hostility and unfairness.  Keep in mind that people are paying a fee to play in your event (even if it is a tiny one).  They don't want to feel like they are being robbed.  I've been there before where I had to run an event and could not play in it because of it.  Yes, it is a thankless job.  You do it for the love of the hobby. :)   If you want to play in an event that your organize, you need to strive to find a good judge who is impartial to you.  (I.e. do not pick your best friend).  Alternately, a good idea for smaller events is to randomly nominate a few entrants and have a council judge system for larger rules disputes.

Pro Tip:  Use a nationally vetted FAQ.  The INAT in my opinion is the best one, like their rulings or not.  Alternately, several large GTs produce their own FAQs.

4)  Terrain Set-up and Policy.  Adopt a fair and balanced terrain set-up policy, not some random assignment.  Pay very careful attention to your terrain and that policy.  For example, I highly recommend the NoVA Open terrain format.  WargamesCon also has a very good terrain format.  Their policies produce very fair boards with very fair terrain layouts.

Contrary to common wisdom, players do not enjoy playing on wonky or crazy terrain.  Also, consistency provides for fair and fun games for all involved, not "boring" games as some people will claim.

5)  Use a Scheduling Algorithm that Attempts to Match Top Players to Top Players where possible in the end.  The point of this is that top players love playing top players.  That's why they show up!  Non-top players do not, however, enjoy playing top players.  It's discouraging.  Use a scheduling algorithm which will favor top players jumping out of the pack so that they play each other in later games so that your non-top players end the day playing each other and having FUN.  

For example, during Round 1, try and set your initial match-ups so that Top Players are not playing each other at all.  This way, for Round 2+, they will jump out of the pack and play each other the rest of the day.  This frees up non-Top players.  

I am not suggesting you FIX the tournament.  If someone legitimately loses, they must play at a lower level.  What I'm suggesting is basically seeding the tournament based on expectations.  This produces a FUNNER tournament, not a less fair one.  By the laws of random, it could have ended up the way you seeded it anyways.  

6)  Adopt a scheduling algorithm that attempts to not have friends play each other and attempts to schedule players to tables they have not played on before.  Most of the tournament software I have available for free use will do these things.  It's on our forums.  My Bay Area Open format scorer is out of date, but I plan on updating it soon.

7)  Save the wonky missions and story terrain for events that are not tournaments.  Bottom line is, a tournament is a competition.  

If you or your player base really enjoys narratives, wonky terrain, crazy-fun mission formats, comp'ed lists and so on, there's nothing wrong with that at all!  However, that does not make for a very fun/good tournament.  My recommendation then is that is your calling is to run narrative events, games day style events, and just in general, events which do not intend to reward winning.  You will enjoy yourselves so much better that way!  Do not run a tournament expecting everyone who shows up will want to play in a wonky game.  You will find yourself getting upset as people will show up who are competitive nature and want to win, play hard, and so on.  Your event will not turn out like you want it to.

8)  Lastly, always remember if you are a TO, your job is to ensure the most people are having the most fun!  This does not mean creating an event that only caters to the 2 guys who always win.  BORING!  Not to mention, discouraging for everyone else.  

Distribute prizes in non-competitive ways.  Call up people who win best painted (take best painted SERIOUSLY!, also best sports if you want to) and laud them just like you would best general.  Applaud participation and reward guys for just showing up.  Remember, if no one shows up, you don't have an event.  

Other than that, here's my top picks for terrain/mission formats:

Terrain Formats:
NoVA Open Terrain Format
WargamesCon Terrain Format

Mission Formats:
Bay Area Open Mission Format
NoVA Open Mission Format
WargamesCon Mission Format
Adepticon Mission Format
Feast of Blades Mission Format


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

11th Company GT 2012

Just under 2 months to go!

The 11th Company GT is a NoVA Format GT taking place on Nov 10-11th (Veteran's Day Weekend) in Myrtle Beach, SC.


Lots of Info about format, scoring, etc.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Next week, the 11th Company will be live video broadcasting the top tables at the Nova Open starting next week Thursday roughly at 4PM Eastern time.

We will have the players wear wireless mics, so you can hear their discussions during their game. We will have between game interviews with various attendees and guests, and have the channel open for players wanting to broadcast their game live before and after the tournaments during open gaming.

Please join us in the chat room while watching the broadcasts live Thursday August 30th - Sunday September 2nd, or catch the archived broadcasts after the event. We would greatly appreciate it if you shared the above information on your blog/podcast/forums or shared with your friends.

Friday, June 29, 2012

6th Ed. Readings

Interesting Changes I've Noticed so Far:

Contentious Rules Fixed (and not)

Today will be the Day

I should get my 6th ed. rulebook in hand today and start reading for what will be our 6th ed. episode to be released next Wednesday.  I haven't been this excited about the hobby in a very long time.

Mostly what has me going is that so much has been introduced which is going to shake up the foundation of the game, that I'm not even sure where to begin with building lists.  I'm certain that I'm going to stick with the Necrons for the rest of the year and possibly into the next year.  If I feel like I need to give my Orks some play time, I can always ally them in.

Speaking of allies, I was very worried at first about this, but now, not so much.  I'm actually very excited now about the possibilities that this is going to add to the game.  I do wish they had banned Special Characters from ally contingents, but it's pretty confirmed at this point that they didn't.  There are a lot of questions running about of how some things are going to interact, but hopefully, that will get resolved.

Further, I'm really hoping that tomorrow we will see a flood of FAQs to bring all the books up to date and to answer a lot of lingering questions that I have.  Overall, though, my mind is going crazy with the number of cool things that are coming back into the game.  I think some old and dead codices are going to be right back in it.  Armies like Demons I think are going to be down-right scary if they hit vehicles on a 3+ all the time.  Combine that with being able to wreck vehicles with just a multitude of glances, and that's going to bring new life into that book.

Bring on the 6th!  I'm ready to play.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Learning to Accept Allies: The Stages of Grief

Much to my continued /facepalm, the rumors about allies becoming a big part of 6th Ed. 40K continue to grow stronger.

We still aren't totally clear about how they will work, but already, I've definitely gone through the stages of grief over the issue.


Nah!  No way this is going to happen.  Remember, it wasn't that long away that the design team went to the effort to remove Allies from the Sisters of Battle and Demonhunters PDFs by re-publishing their codices as PDFs, minus the ally pages?  They released them FOR FREE!  FREE people!  FREE!  GW never does that.  They hated allies so much, that they decided to fix the problem with a FREE release!

There's just no way we would revisit this.  And look at these crazy rumors!  They are saying that we are going to introduce allies, but we are going to limit who can ally with who!  That would just be so ridiculously unfair.  There's no way this can be right....


Okay!  Have we totally lost our minds, here?  Does nobody remember allies from before?  Imperial Guard and Space Marine players cherry-picking the best units out of ANOTHER book simply to shore up their designed weaknesses while nobody else could do that?!?!

Do nobody remember every Guard player taking a freakin' inquisitor just to get the Emperor's Tarot, a Psychic Hood, and a nearly impenetrable Deep Strike defense so that Leaf Blower could dominate the tournament scene for over a year because of it?!?!  Nobody at all?

Nobody remembers people cherry picking a Grand Master out of Grey Knights for psychic defense and a clearly abused Force Weapon rule to bypass instant death?

Come on people!  Almost nobody builds a list to play for fluff reasons!  Can we get over this already?  People take what works, not crap.  And what will work is some broken, crazy combination gained by some Imperial player because he can ally with everyone!  Awesome!  Let's give every Imperial army Psybolt Dreadnoughts!  Let's give them all Coteaz and a bunch of cheap henchmen, Rune Priests for ultimate psychic protection, Vendettas, Manticores, Purifiers, Paladins, Draigo... Sanguinary priests?  I mean really?


All this time getting excited over a new edition, and now, it's going to be totally ruined by something so stupid.  This is a blantant attempt to sell models, and now, our game is going to be ruined because of it.


No big deal, right?  Tournament organizers will surely see how dumb this is, and we'll just all decide to exclude allies from events, right?  Surely, nobody will think this is a good idea and actually allow it to happen!

We can control this craziness!


Well, at least everyone is going to get some kind of shot at coming up with interesting combinations.  Maybe this will actually improve the game creating a wide variety of builds for a wide variety of books that might not have otherwise been used.  The amount of variety this could potentially introduce could be mind boggling and a lot of fun!

It'll certainly be better than seeing the same 5 armies over and over.

Friday, June 8, 2012

GT Appearance Scoring Pt 3

What follows will be a ridiculous over-analysis and serious effort to turn something mundane into a ridiculously complex discussion all in an effort to prove the following point:

- To be as correct as possible when calculating Best Overall, your Appearance Scoring system should contribute its points in exactly the same way as your Generalship Scoring system.  (Likewise for Sports if you count it)

For those of you interested in all the intricacies and what amounts to a simple concept being blow out of proportion to make me sound smarter than I really am, read on!  Otherwise, skip to the next article where I will discuss my proposition for what our Appearance Scoring system will actually be for consideration and input (when that article is available of course).  The goal of this article is to lay the ground work behind the thought process that will be used to upgrade our Appearance Scoring solution (and eventually Sports Scoring solution) to ensure that is useful, as accurate as possible, and just as important, contributes fairly to Best Overall.

Oh yeah, this is going to be really long, too!

An Unbalanced Best Overall

Recall that Best Overall is truly intended to find the most talented participant in the room.  It combines the person who brings it the most in Generalship, Appearance, and for us, Sports.  If you let one of those categories contribute to the Best Overall score in such a way as to "crowd out" or "boost" the value of another category, you are now, most likely inadvertently, favoring one category over another in some small but potentially tournament changing way.

As a disclaimer: Having an unbalanced Best Overall is not necessarily a bad thing nor am I suggesting it is.  Plenty of people think that, for example, Generalship should count for the majority of Best Overall points while soft scores contribute less.  For us, however, our goal is treat them all equally.  This being said, it also just so happens to turn out that if you aren't ensuring that your contribution is happening like you think it is, even a skewed Best Overall may still not be delivering the results it is intended to.

It's a lot easier than you might think to have your score contributions be unbalanced.  The reason is that it is generally very simple to come up with a very good scoring mechanic for a given category, even a very smart one, BUT the magic (and pitfalls) happens when you try to combine them.

I can get overly philosophical which I like to do, but I'll cut it short with a quick example.  Let's say you want to compare Apples, Oranges, and Pears (which, funnily, is exactly what we are trying to do here!).  To do so, you have to define what it is about them that you want to compare.  Straight up, you can't compare them, but you can compare common things ABOUT them, like their height, width, flavor, color, and so on.  That's all good, but a problem will pop up if you try to combine what you are measuring about these things to define a Watermelon (makes perfect sense right?!).  For example, let's say our Watermelon is the combination of the HEIGHT of all the Apples, Oranges, and Pears I have.  That's easy, then.  Just add up all their heights.  Done!  However, if I told you that a Watermelon MUST not be comprised of more than 33% Apples, Oranges, and Pears, respectively, can I be certain now that measuring each of my fruits is a "fair" contribution to the height of my Watermelon?  Pears seems to be "taller" on average than Apples (just made that up).  So, based on that, the more Pears that go into making your Watermelon, the taller your Watermelon will also probably be.  By this simple analogy, Pears contribute more to the Watermelon than do the other fruits.  Thus, your TALLEST Watermelon will GENERALLY (not always) end up being comprised of more Pears than Apples or Oranges if the total number of Apples and Oranges and Pears can never exceed a certain value.

Yeah I know... so anyways...

Here's an example of just how easy it is to design a Best Overall system that is unbalanced.

Let's say you score Generalship on Win/Loss (which we do!).  Let's say that Generalship's contribution to the Best Overall category then is the Number of Wins / Number of Losses.  So, the guy who wins all of his games contributes a full 100% of Generalship.  The guy who loses all games contributes 0%, and everything in between.  Great!

Let's say that your Best Appearance award is on a scale of 0-400 like ours was last year.  Everyone gets scored based on a rubric.

To calculate Best Overall just using those two categories, you contribute each equally.  You get the % of total Generalship and add that to the % of total Appearance.  So, if I went 5/1 last year, my contribution to Generalship would be 83%.  If I scored a 137 on the Appearance Rubric, my Appearance contribution would be 34.25%.  Now, my Best Overall should be 1/2 and 1/2, so (0.5) * 83% + (0.5) * 34.25% = 58.625% of the total Best Overall points available.

Now, here comes the monkey wrench!  There are so many ways this system can fail to fairly produce that Best Overall score, and I will try and list a bunch in a bit.  For now, let me just insert one to prove the point.

Generalship's contribution to Best Overall in this example is very RIGID.  Think about it this way, for our 64 man GT this year, contributions based on the Wins/Games system will ALWAYS be like this at the end of the day:

1 - 100% (6/0)
8 - 83% (5/1)
15 - 66% (4/2)
20 - 50% (3/3)
15 - 33% (2/4)
8 - 17% (1/5)
1 - 0% (0/6)

The thing about Generalship is that this will ALWAYS be the case.  It doesn't change no matter the other factors in the room such as the AVERAGE PLAYER SKILL, the DIFFERENCE IN SKILL BETWEEN ONE GUY AND ANOTHER, and also important, it's IMPOSSIBLE for 2 guys to contribute 100%.

The same cannot be said of our Appearance Scoring method.

Just for an example, I checked our Appearance Scores from last year, and the average score in the room (after discarding 0's) was 241/400.  Hrm.  This could have an effect on Best Overall, couldn't it?  Indeed!  Because the average person in the room is now contributing 60.25% to the Best Overall category while the average General is contributing only 50%.

Thus, at the end of the day, Generalship scores MATTERED more when it came to our Best Overall than did Appearance Scores.  The reason why that is true is because the upper level Appearance Scores were less meaningful than the upper level Generalship scores because the average participant scored higher than middle of the road.  So, whereas Generalship has a granulation of 50% between middle and top, Appearance had one of about 40%.

Did it matter?  How would I know?  Well, I decided to check.  To do so, I decided to convert my Generalship Scores and my Appearance Scores into Z scores, comparing the values to their averages rather than our rubric.  My Best Overall didn't change at all.  He DOMINATED my GT anyways, scoring extremely high in all 3 categories.  However, my Best Overall 2nd-5th DID matter.  They were swapped around slightly, and you could see that the guys with higher Appearance Scores suddenly start to bubble up and just BARELY edge people above them who had a higher Generalship score.

See, all of this doesn't much matter so long as the spread between your participants is LARGE.  However, when it gets tight, those little decimals can mean differences in placement.

I would bet, if I had more than 50 people, my average Appearance would have approached 200.  I say to myself, oh well, it's a wash right?  Well, turns out, just "reaching average" isn't all that is required.  There are just a seemingly endless amount of potential ways in which Appearance Scoring can create problems, almost all of which spawn from the fact that a Generalship score is so RIGID while an Appearance Score is potentially (not necessarily!) FLUID.

Here's a short list just off the cuff of things that will cause a potential imbalance:

  • Does an Appearance Rubric always produce an average result for the average person?  What happens if everyone shows up at your tournament with an army they paid to have painted by Blue Table Painting?
  • Does a rubric produce enough granularity even if it does have a consistent average?  What happens when 49 people show up with *yawn* and GREGOR TEH AWESOME!!!1! shows up with an army so cool it blinds you just to look at?
  • Does a rubric allow for ties for the top score?  Our Generalship rubric doesn't.
  • Using my above example, will my Appearance Scoring system have a way to contribute values other than 0%, 17%, 33%, 50%, 66%, 83%, and 100%?  If so, it can unbalance my Generalship scores.
  • Does a rubric allow for ties for the bottom score?  Our Generalship rubric also doesn't.
  • Is a rubric skewed to allow people to earn easy points while only granting small point values to the hard to get stuff?  (This is done to make Appearance Scores attainable in a lot of ways).  This will skew your Appearance contribution causing Generalship to matter more.
  • Does the difference between the BEST army in the room and the 2nd best cause the contribution of their scores to a gap less than or greater than 17%?  Generalship does not.  (E.g:  99/100 = 99%.  98/100 = 98%.  For Generalship, top place is 100%, 2nd is 83%.)
  • Does an Appearance rubric always produce a 0%?  Generalship does.
  • And lots and lots more.

One pitfall I kept running into all week long as the volume of problems kept seeming to increase no matter how much I tried to be creative with upgrading our Appearance scoring was that I kept wanting to dismiss them for practical or logical reasons.  This would amount to thoughts like:

  • "yeah, well, it's not realistic that people will show up with armies like that..."
  • "it's not realistic that I'll get that many ties"
  • "but we're talking such a small number here, it won't really matter"
  • "I can design a methodology which will fairly overcome that"
The real back breaker thought is this one:
  • "well, it's okay to have 2 people share the top spot if they both have awesome armies!"  (this one is insidious because what it is tempting you to do is not treat your Appearance scores as worthy of competition as you are your Generals... which means you aren't really believing they are equal)

Yesterday, I had it all worked out where my new Appearance scoring methodology was going to be to examine Z scores compared to an average of the room.  I had written all my arguments why this was the best method using all the thoughts from above to show why, realistically, that was as good as it gets.  I was prepared to finish up my rubrics, design my post rubric judging methodology (read tie breakers), and press on.

This morning, on the way to work, though, I think I finally solved the problem in a much better way.

I've hinted at it repeatedly here as I wrote this article.  The best solution I have come up with, which I will extrapolate on in the next article, is to make the final result of your Appearance scores to produce a contribution which will exactly mirror your Generalship's ability to contribute.  That is, whatever you do to get your Appearance rankings, when you go to translate them to Best Overall, the way in which they contribute should come as close to exactly matching the way in which your Generalship translates and contributes.

In other words, rather than adding up your Apples, Oranges, and Pears to get Watermelons, instead, convert your Apples, Oranges, and Pears into Grapes first, then all you need to do is write a formula to convert Grapes to Watermelons.  

The key is to model it after your Generalship because your Generalship is as close to a rigid, fundamental truth as it gets.  This isn't some kind of genius discovery or anything.  It's just the logical conclusion that should have been (and probably is to most people) obvious to begin with. 

The plan, then, will effectively be the same thing as if I started pairing players together at the table, a judge walks up to score both armies on Appearance, declares a winner, and then match them up with their next opponent.... just like Generalship.  Now, it's not going to be exactly that because there are things we can do that are much easier and also eliminate some flaws in how Generalship is calculated, but that's the over-arching theme for how it's going to work.  

And when it's all over, the contributions will be just about identical and Best Appearance will still be the best army in the room.

This will also have all sorts of side benefits which includes things like being able to set your appearance rubric however you like, skewed, straight, average, or more importantly for me, able to incorporate a level beyond a rubric all the while not unbalancing your contribution to Best Overall.  The only real factors then will end up being, just like our Generalship does already, no ties and everyone gets ranked.

(What the specifics are going to be is still being worked on :P)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

GT Appearance Scoring Pt 2

Wow!  Since I started with the first part in this series, which amounts to an introduction to what I want to do with Appearance Scoring at our GT, I have discovered that the Rabbit Hole gets very, very, deep indeed!  It feels like what started out as an innocent review of the system has now made my head explode!

Where to start?

Well, since I've now come up with 4 different topics which all surround Appearance Scoring and Best Overall scoring, I'll go ahead and introduce them here.  From there, I'll talk about a simple conclusion for each, and then, I'll address the granular specifics behind each in their own article.

  • Best in Class, encouraging good participation
  • Appearance/Sports Scoring based on the competition rather than an arbitrary rubric.  How much better did you do versus everyone else in the room, not against some unproven, mostly arbitrary, non-researched number.
  • Judging Appearance Scores with a rubric and BEYOND.  Truth is, rubrics really suck at determining whose army really is the best.  They are very good for weeding out contestants but very BAD at classifying the best.  We can do better.
  • Redefining how to calculate Best Overall.  Turns out, when you really get to the bottom of the Appearance Scoring rabbit hole, the entire notion of Best Overall and how it is calculated begins to change.  More to come!

Appearance Scoring Rubric, Attainable Appearance Scores, Generalship, and Encouraging Better Participants... AKA  Best in Class

In the first part of this series, I had originally wanted to modify the Appearance Scoring rubric so that it was attainable for most people, rather than serving a purpose of only to granulate the best from the worst in the room.  Why?

1)  First and foremost, because at it currently stands, most Appearance Rubrics set a bar for the Best Overall category which is insurmountable by the average hobbyist.  Best Overall, after all, will combine your Appearance and Generalship scores.  Thus, if you aren't an above average hobbyist, once you lose a game, your ability to place in Best Overall just went along with it.  So, for the average and below, it's all about winning your games.

2)  Because of that, if you know you will never be a top notch hobbyist, this provides zero encouragement for you to even bother getting serious about painting your army.  The reality is, you either win on Generalship alone or you pack it up and go home.

But it doesn't stop there!  The same exact two points can be made for people who don't have a lot of Generalship skills.  If they know they will never be a top player, if they spot an army that's better than theirs, well, they can pack it up right there!

What's even worse than that?  What if you know you will never be a top notch player nor a top hobbyist?  Well, other than just being social, which should be a strong motivator for anyone with their head in the right place about attending GTs, there isn't much encouragement for you to show up to begin with.

Does this sound like a familiar drum beat?

Well, good grief.  All I wanted to do was encourage people to paint better, and all of a sudden, I'm opening up a philosophical can of tournament worms.

So, part of my misconception about Best Overall is that one of its intents is to reward people for all aspects of the hobby.  That part is true, but the misconception is that I had thought it to be designed for the average hobbyist to be able to compete at a high level because he could bring some Generalshiip game and some Appearance game.  Turns out, that's not the case.

The reality is, Best Overall rewards the most talented person in the room.  It is still as utterly unattainable to the average hobbyist as Best General or Best Appearance.  The truth is, Best Overall will always go to the person who is highly above average in the room in all categories, or utterly exceptional in one category while being average-above average, at a minimum, in another.

Thus, if you can't be above average in every category, no point in trying for Best Overall.  Thus, for guys like me, that makes us really not want to spend to much effort, tournament wise, on making sure our armies look good on the table.  Likewise, for those exceptional hobbyists out there who barely know the rules of the game, they just show up to go through the motions of a game of 40K, while in reality, trying to win Best Appearance, and generate a series of lop-sided or generally un-challenging games for their opponents.

In both cases, everyone loses.  The issue is that we really do want to encourage people to bring their A game, even if their A game amounts to other people's D game!  We all win in that case.  We get better looking armies at our tournaments and funner, more challenging games for everybody involved.

This is, of course, an unrealistic ideal, but if you don't try, you definitely won't succeed.

Best in Class

Through the power of math-fu and a little thought, we can take some steps to make a meaningful tournament goal actually attainable to average player.  We all love winners.  So, you aren't going to just give out a booby prize.  The guy still has to earn it.  And by earning, that means he will still have to be ABOVE AVERAGE.  So, how is this going to work, again?

As said in the last article, one of the genius ideas given to us by the NoVA Open is putting people into Generalship brackets on Day 2.  This allows them to compete for a meaningful Generalship prize with their peers.  It creates an actually attainable Generalship goal for the average player.  Very cool!

Now, what if we also created an actually attainable Appearance Score and Sports Score for the average player that can't be completely over-shadowed by the talent in the room?  Then, we could combine these three scores, and presto, we have a new prize class which is basically Best Overall 'for the rest of us'.  I'll call it, Best in Class.

We take your Generalship score from the games you play in your bracket only.  Great.  This is you versus your peers.  This excludes earlier games where you may have clubbed or been clubbed as the case may be.  Average versus average, at least in theory anyways.  Check!

Next, we generate an Appearance Rubric 'for the rest of us'.  (Or more realistically, we add a cut score to our current rubric)  This new rubric encourages you to bring a great looking, table-top quality army, one in which anyone, with enough effort and time, could actually do if they felt so inclined, sprinkle in just a little reference or two for some talent, and there, an actually attainable appearance score that lets everyone compete towards a "great table-top quality" rather than towards "BLOW YOUR FREAKIN' MIND AWESOME!".  It also just so happens to lay out the road map for what a good army should have in it... you  know... for those of us who are artistically clueless.

I didn't invent this Appearance idea.  Other GTs did.  They did it when they started introducing appearance rubrics which make the first 90 points easy to get, and the last 10 difficult (or the first 15 and last 5.. or whatever).  This way, your top talent still gets a higher score, but the score they receive won't blow everyone else out of the water.  Or, maybe you just set an appearance cap for Best in Class, which is what I am leaning towards right now.

THIS WILL NOT REPLACE BEST APPEARANCE NOR BEST OVERALL.  Keep that in mind.  You will still need another way to do this, and that's to come in more articles.

Last by not least, you look at Sports scores which our Sport Scoring system already normalizes for us.

Now, you have a path to reasonably attain a high Generalship score by only counting games against your peers, a path to reasonably attain a high Appearance Score by providing a clear, easy to follow, rubric with attainable goals, and a path to reasonably attain a high Sports Score because Sports is already normalized with most people getting average to begin with.

Best in Class.


Monday, June 4, 2012

GT Appearance Scoring Part 1

This week on the podcast we are starting a 3 part series on Appearance Scoring for our GT.  The reason is that I am trying to come up with a smart way of accomplishing a few goals with Appearance Scoring at our GT.    What we ultimately want is a way to encourage people to a high, table-top standard, encourage players to compete for the Best Overall category, and finally, of course, provide a great atmosphere for the true Best Appearance competitors to really show their stuff.

Now, before I even get started, I suppose I should start with a disclaimer.  For some reason, anytime you start talking about Appearance and Sports scoring, some groups of people feel the need to exclaim that this kind of thing is too subjective and should really not be scored.  Let me go ahead and take care of that now.

Appearance Scoring is subjective?  THANK YOU CAPTAIN OBVIOUS!  Now, that we got that out of system, let's move on and see if we can apply our collective brain power to solving the problem rather than simply stating that there is a problem.  (As a more serious life lesson for any who haven't thought about this yet, the money, power, and women go to the guy who finds solutions not to the guy who points out problems.  We are all smart enough to recognize problems.  We AREN'T all smart enough to solve them.)

We just finished recording for this week over an hour of back-and-forth conversation revolving mostly around the starting concept of Appearance Scoring.  Although a good portion of that conversation may very well get edited out for the rambling and circular talk, I found that conversation to be VERY useful to me when determining what it is exactly that I want Appearance Scoring to do at my GT.

1)  Reduce "butt-hurt" that gets associated with Appearance Scoring.  Nothing generates "butt-hurt" at a tournament quite like Appearance Scoring.  People get down-right hostile when they feel like their army should have scored higher than it did, ESPECIALLY higher than that guy's army over there!

2)  Encourage people who will NEVER be the BEST to still strive for a high table-top quality.  

3)  Encourage people (just like me!) to honestly compete for Best Overall, instead of just hanging it up because we know that our Appearance Scores will not be adequate enough.

4)  Create an arena where the people who CAN be the BEST a place for their work to be truly graded at the level they need, rather than at the level of the "rest of us".  Do this, while not making it impossible for the "rest of us" to win Best Overall.

5)  Give players an honest way of knowing up front how they will perform, Appearance wise.  To me, this is just like players knowing what the tournament packet is before they show up with their army.

So, it's no secret that I'm a total fan boi of the NoVA Open.  The NoVA Open concept has blessed us with two very good ideas when it comes to tournaments which need to be reflected on at this point before continuing to talk about Appearance Scoring.

Best Overall Category - NoVA calls this Renaissance Man.  (I prefer Best Overall because it sounds a lot less pretentious to me... I said I was a fan boi not a drone. :P  Also, if you haven't bought a 2012 ticket yet, you should.  They don't have a whole lot left.)   Best Overall, in my opinion, in the best overall thing to happen to the Indy tournament scene.  The concept is that the top winner of your tournament is not the guy who wins all of his games.  The concept is that your top winner is the guy who most ably reflects all aspects of our great hobby.  Thus, this combines elements of Generalship, Appearance, and for us, Sportsmanship.  So, to win Best Overall, the top tournament prize and spot, you need to bring you game not only on the table-top, but also in the hobby.

Brackets - Another NoVA brain-child which I find to be genius.  This concept is that in a multi-round GT, you will use the first half of the GT to essentially qualify for what will become your actual tournament brackets in the second half.  This way, when you actually start to compete to win prizes, awards, etc., you are doing so against your PEERS rather than having ZERO chance to compete because the people who are the Best Generals just drown everyone else out.

So, what does this have to do with Appearance Scoring, and more importantly, who cares?

What I want is a method for EVERYONE to be able to compete for Best Overall and not simply get canned because they can't paint very well.  This is important for people JUST LIKE ME, whose hobby skills BLOW.  You see, this is no different than the guys who feel like they can never win on Generalship because they will never be as good as others.  They don't want to swim with sharks, but let me tell you, NEITHER DO I.  At the end of the day, we should model bracketing in some manner that let's us all compete and more importantly, HAVE FUN.  

Second, the goal is Best Overall.  Being able to compete with your peers increases your chance of scoring the coveted Best Overall.  If I have an honest shot at winning Best Overall because I don't have to paint like Rembrandt, I might actually make an effort to do so.  Likewise, if a true hobbyist has a shot at Best Overall by learning how to use his army, he might actually TRY rather than just hanging it up.

So, what direction are we headed in this series?  

What I would like to see is the creation of an Appearance Scoring rubric that is designed for the average guy.  Something people like me can strive for.  This score is what will ultimately apply to my Best Overall ranking.  This will encourage guys like me to give it an honest try, and at the end of the day, we all win because guys like me will start showing up with good table-top quality armies rather than half-assed paint jobs.

Second, since the Appearance Scoring rubric will be for the average person, I expect anyone with a serious shot at a Best Appearnace to easily sweep past the rubric.  These guys get a top score in painting, which they should, and THEN, they go off onto a separate path for Best Appearance.  This leads into a much more subjective grading system performed by their PEERS.  (More on this later).  This way, they get the judgement they deserve rather than a silly rubric which will have the audacity to compare their master pieces to guys like me!


In Part 2, I'll start talking about the formation of a rubric as well as what happens to the Best Appearances.  I'll also continue the discussion around Best Overall because there are some subtle problems with scoring Best Overall to a rubric but not Best Appearance, mainly not giving ENOUGH credit to the Best Appearance players towards the Overall score.