Reflections On Comp

Well this past week has seen quite the shit storm over one particular event pack:

Specifically, Facehammer have chosen to alter the rules of the game for their event. They are hardly the first TOs to do so, but it does carry a bit more oomph when it’s playtesters who are doing it. Let’s take a look at what’s been done, and explore the ramifications.

We all play comp

First thing to establish here is just how not-new this is. If you played first edition at all, you definitely comped the shit out of the game by measuring base-to-base instead of model-to-model. It took years for that to get cleared up, and there’s still an element of comp in measuring cylinder to cylinder:

Credit: @Russ_Veal

And can you remember the chaos that 2nd edition was at launch? We were meant to roll off to select a Realm, and in Ghur you could bring a free Monster. A free fucking Monster! I would be astonished if anyone anywhere in the world played a single game of 2nd ed straight from the book. What happened instead was that TOs comped that rule out in various ways: I did once see the monster being comped to being only an Aleguzzler Gargant, but more often events either pre-determined Realms or simply ignored them completely. What they definitely didn’t do was allow me to bring a free Magma Dragon, and that’s without even getting into the likes of Banishment.

Credit: Games Workshop

And that feeds into an important subtext here: comp can be used as a proxy war for the pro- and anti-GW crowds. Because comp is needed most when the game isn’t functioning properly, it can become a stick with which to beat GW’s rules writing. That’s the context in which Facehammer’s comp stands out: they are inside the tent, they had a hand or an influence in shaping the game that we are all playing right now, so when they tell us with their actions that parts of it aren’t working properly, that’s a pretty big statement.

What was actually comped?

The contents are honestly pretty benign, and seem to be pitched mostly at player experience rather than power level. I won’t regurgitate the whole thing, but some selected highlights are:

  • Gotrek can’t go in Battalions (read: Hunters of the Heartlands) and can’t be healed
  • Cogs only gives one wizard an extra spell, not your whole fucking army
  • LRL’s Shrine gives out its benefits once per Battleround, not once per turn
  • LRL’s Foxes only move in their own shooting phase, not their opponent’s

Lumineth players are presumably very excited about these changes, considering their main hobby is defending their army online. So there you go, here’s your opportunity to fire up and make a big show of pretending to believe that your army is not shit to play against.

An interesting one is Gotrek, whose healing was nerfed – I happen think this is justifiable on the basis that his 8 wounds are a pretty clear diversion from his true durability, and every wound added back onto him is really at least 3 wounds due to his 3++ ward, and probably more in practice due to his damage reduction. But regardless of whether I’m on board with that aspect of Gotrek being reigned in, the truth is that it’s been nerfed because it was “a bit much”, not because it was ambiguous or impacted on the flow of the game.

Now if every healed wound on Gotrek counts as way more than that in practice – which it does – and that was comped because it’s a bit much – which it is – why weren’t Horrors also comped? Every wound added back into the unit is effectively 5 wounds, because they’ll always add back a Pink. Lifeswarm popping off twice slings a lazy 20 wounds back into the unit, which is utterly preposterous, so why was Gotrek comped but not Horrors? It’s not as if poor old Horrors are struggling – Tzeentch won literally every GT last weekend, 3/3, so it’s hard to understand why Gotrek got the treatment but Horrors didn’t.

Slippery slope

And that leads me onto my own biggest problem with comp – the slippery slope. Where does it end? If you’re nerfing my unit, why aren’t you nerfing his? Bullshit is in the eye of the beholder, and wherever you draw the line, it will look wavy to someone else.

You’ll have people picking favourites, you’ll have people allowing things to slide because their mates want to win an event with them, you’ll have the next worst thing and the next worst thing banned until whole armies are out of the game. We’ve already seen that happen in 40K, and there have been plenty of times people have called for it in AOS when the likes of Slaanesh were brutally overpowered. I personally hope we never go there, but whatever your views on banning more stuff, the risk is real that comp can prove the thin end of the wedge.

Not enough data

The other big factor to consider is that comp masks problems, rather than holding them up to scrutiny. If people did take it upon themselves to start nerfing Tzeentch for example, and they ended up no longer winning every event, it covers up what they’ve really got under the hood.

It’s hard enough to get nuanced tournament data as it is, but when we’ve got multiple different versions of the game out there, it’ll be an impossible task to say with true clarity whether this faction or that faction is outside the bounds of acceptable performance. Given that GW have openly declared that tournament data feeds directly into their balance reviews, the fact is that it does matter, and data drives decisions.

Opinions are like arseholes

And that brings me to the final question I wanted to address, which is why I’m banging on about this at all. What business is it of mine, when I would never go to a Facehammer event?

The truth is, it affects all of us. When comp becomes normalised, it impacts on all of our hobby. TOs are entitled to do whatever the fuck they like at their events, you’re entitled to buy tickets or not, and we as a community are all entitled to an opinion on it. It has a meaningful impact on the game we’re playing, so if comp is A Thing, we’re within our rights to have a view on that.

Every regular tournament player has skin in the game here, and if you get off your arse to travel to events, you’ve earned the right to an opinion on how that landscape looks. And just to bring us full circle, TOs are entitled either to completely ignore me, or take the thoughts of me (and others) on board as they wish. That’s the circle of life.

Credit: Theo Jansen, @StrijkijzerAoS

Counterpoint: I’m a big, fat hypocrite

So having made a case for why I don’t like comp, I have to acknowledge that I’m a big fat hypocrite. Every event I’ve been to has had some form of comp – to add to the examples I gave at the top of the article, it’s very common for tourneys in Australia to allow you to just walk all over Wyldwoods as if they’re not there.

The funny thing about that is the Sylvaneth players didn’t seem to care. A lot of them were just filth chasers who rapidly dumped the army when it wasn’t a regular podium challenger; those who genuinely liked the army wanted their trees to give them some teleport and defensive shenanigans, and maybe kick out some mortal wounds, rather than just gumming up the board to prevent movement. That is to say, they wanted their terrain to help them win the game rather than to avoid even playing the game.

If I was going to customise any one thing in a pack tomorrow, it would be that, because jamming up the table with 15 pieces of terrain turn 1 is an absolute disgrace. Too many armies just aren’t playing Warhammer at that point, and it’s something that’s already been a consistent feature of event packs here in Australia for many years – and I don’t think the game has been noticeably worse for its absence. So even though I’m broadly “against comp”, I need to recognise that I’ve actually been playing comp for years – and in practice it has been a net benefit to the game as it’s played.

Squaring the circle

The reality is that “No Comp” would be an untenably extreme position to take, and I’m not going to paint myself into a corner on that one. Given that comp has always been part of this game and likely always will, what should it look like?

My own view on how comp should be treated is:

  • Light touch. Comp should be minimalist, and aimed at improving the experience for your players, not demonstrating that you are a secret genius and a tragic loss to the world of game design.
  • Gameplay focused. Comp should aim to make the game flow smoothly and round off some jagged edges, rather than addressing the perceived power level of a given build.

Furthermore, I would argue that what comp should avoid is targeted nerfs at specific armies. This is a trap to avoid for several reasons:

  • It will lead to a slippery slope and unintended consequences. You’ll nerf something, then something else will pop up in its place, calling out to be the next item comped.
  • It will obscure problematic armies and rules. Without clear tournament data, we risk muddying the waters and having dumb shit stick around in the actual rules for too long.
  • It invites hypocrisy and favoritism. You’ll have some things getting cherry picked for the comphammer while other arguably worse things escape unscathed, and that’s a terrible look.

This isn’t to say we should never touch an army’s rules; rather that it should be done to make the game function better and improve player experience, rather than bringing the big bad down a notch or two. This will sometimes mean that comp hits armies that are mid-tier rather than serial event-winners: Sylvaneth Wyldwoods would be a good example, and likewise my own Sons of Behemat auto-winning on Places of Arcane Power.

Sons rarely if ever made the podium, but putting a stop to that nonsense was still the right thing to do – this goes to the heart of the difference between NPE and OP. Comp, where it is used at all, should be an anti-bullshit device rather than a cack-handed balancing tool.

The wrap

Anyway, that’s my little barefoot rampage through this whole minefield. As is so often the case, I think that extreme positions are pretty unhelpful, so I won’t pretend that comp is always and everywhere a bad thing; but I do hope that we as a community can continue to use it very sparingly, and mainly for edge-case gameplay experience reasons rather than attempting to balance out perceived power levels.

Let me know what you think – I’m always up for talking hammer, so you can hit me up here or on Twitter. Now if you’ll excuse me, lockdown Fridays are Mario Kart Fridays with the Measured Gaming crew, so it’s time to get pissed up and fall off some rainbows.

Credit for the cover image goes to @HarrySherwin

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