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How Do You Balance AoS?

  • Player Agreement (no comp)

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  • Balance by Wounds

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  • Points-per-Model (SDK, RGL)

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  • Point-Buy (Azyr, Clash)

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  • Other (explain)

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Benevolent Dictator
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Discussion Starter #1
Hey guys - after a post in the 'what Fantasy games are you playing' thread (here), I decided that maybe a discussion on how we're all playing AoS was worth looking in to.

Recently, there are a lot of balance and comp systems coming out for AoS. I actually think that this might have been GW's intent all along. You see, most "serious" tournaments were already using some kind of fan-made comp, so I think that GW's approach to the whole "balance" situation, really was to just let us figure it out ourselves. The points system was restrictive, and I think that to GW, it seemed almost needlessly so - especially when you factor in how many people complained about it being inadequate. Sure, it was helpful for new players to get roughly fair and balanced pickup games, but this is the internet era; anyone who hears about AoS by now, will probably have heard of it from a veteran or found it online, and we all know where to find comp-systems if we feel we need one. I suppose it's fair and valid to ask why the didn't at least post some guidelines for us all to use, but I point to the old "include with your opponent's permission" status of named characters, and the fact that they did away with that - if they had given us guidelines, those would have been what we all considered the "official" system, for better or worse. Much better to just leave it entirely up to the players to balance things out. So to that end, how do we balance Age of Sigmar?

Player Agreement (aka: no comp, "the default")
Okay, so the default for AoS is for both players to just put models on the table, with a special win condition in case someone has 33% more models than their opponent. As a balance system? Potentially disastrous - there's nothing out there stopping me from showing up with 20 Dragons against your 20 Goblins, and no, there's no special condition that's going to give those Gobbos a fighting chance.
'MiniWargaming' has done some batreps using this method, and they found that all players ended up fielding were Heroes, Monsters, and Warmachines. It sort of turned into a WWE wrestling match between the "who's who" of the Warhammer universe, if there were fans sitting around the edge of the ring manning siege ballistae to "keep 'em honest".
However, that was for the truly competitive players, and let's be real for a moment - that's not most gamers, and even then, most gamers don't have 20 dragons to drop on the table.
This comp system is actually perfect for two new players. They can balance the models as they see fit, sousing out what's good and what's not. Sure, a points system might say that Archers are super good if you use them properly. If a new player doesn't know how to play his army though, his archers might not be that good at all. In other words, remember how some people advise that if you're up against a new or unskilled player, you should 'hamstring' yourself by taking a few hundred points less than they take, to keep things fair? Well, that's what happens without any comp - players will use their experience to work out what is fair between them, and if someone ends up fielding "2000pts against 3000pts" nobody will ever know or feel inadequate. It's just what they consider fair.

Wounds Comp (GW Official Solution)
How to Balance the Age of Sigmar- From Games Workshop - Faeit 212: Warhammer 40k News and Rumors
Wounds Comp focuses on balancing the armies based on how many Wounds are present. The link above takes you out to a Faeit post that references a tournament hosted at a GW store, leading some to consider this the "official" Age of Sigmar balancing method according to GW's own offices.
Pros
>> Prevents players from bringing 20 Dragons against 20 Goblins and calling it 'fair'
>> Provides some structure to list building for competitive players
>> Some methods (like the one linked) also limit the types of scrolls, so that players don't bring just heroes/monsters/warmachines
Cons
>> "Macro" balance upsets: This method assumes that 1 Goblin is the equivalent of 1 Swordmaster. They are not.
>> "Micro" balance upsets: 1 Swordmaster is not equal to 1 Blood Letter, although the two might be nearly the same.
>> Does not account for 'scaling' - 10 Skeletons are fairly worthless, but 30 Skeletons get +2A each!

There have been defenses of this method posted online already, in very long threads. The consensus is that although a Goblin is not equal to a Swordmaster at first glance, it is possible to field 40 Goblins and get massive benefits that a unit of 40 Swordmasters would not gain, and therefore you have an odd sort of balance where there are several different "types" of units to balance against each other. From elite single-wound models fielded in lower numbers, to large blocks of "horde-y" models fielded in huge, expensive blocks, through your specialists like Cavalry and Monsters/Warmachines.
Having played using this comp method, I can say that yes, this is generally how the game works. There are several distinct breakdowns however. Shooting, in this method, is intensely powerful. Also, models like Monsters and Characters are still very powerful for the number of wounds that they bring to the table.
This system holds up because the Warscrolls in AoS actually follow several standard conventions. Most models do not deviate much from the 4+/4+ requirements 'To Hit / To Wound'. Elites might have a 3+ somewhere in there, and units who are particularly weak might have a 5+ for one or both stats (most missile units have a 5+/5+ in melee).

Points-Per-Model Comp (classic solution)
The SDK system
My own points system, here on LO

Pros
>> Prevents players from bringing 20 Dragons against 20 Goblins
>> Accounts for the strength of Shooting and Magic-using models, as well as the presence of Special Rules and different weapon options
>> Macro/Micro Balance: 1 Goblin is not the same as 1 Swordmaster, and a points system will account for that, as well as the more subtle difference between Swordmasters and Bloodletters, etc
>> Doesn't need restrictions on players bringing Monsters, Warmachines, and Heroes, as these models cost significantly more than other troop types

Cons
>> Often does not account well for 'scaling' like the Skeleton Warriors. You can only account for one unit size. If players go above or below that size and do not reap the benefits (or reap more benefit) then the unit will change it's value in relation to the point-cost of the models
>> Most complicated of all the systems, and yet, still not perfect. Using averages and a formula has limitations, and still will not yield a perfect balance, despite outward appearances of doing so.

Having worked on one of these myself, I can tell you that they are everywhere and every single one of them has it's problems. For example, SDK comp makes sweeping generalizations about the value of things like rerolls - rather than using the actual decimal values, they just assess "+Xpts" in the formula. My own system (and all systems) uses some form of "average enemy" as the basis for the formula - while in reality, a Swordmaster used against armored foes is much better than a Swordmaster used against Goblins (that "average foe" does not technically exist).

That said, Points Systems are still excellent, and in many regards, better than simply balancing by wounds. If you look under the hood of the system, you'll find that everything does still work out pretty close, owing to the aforementioned nature of the Warscrolls in AoS. A +1 or -1 here or there on a statline has very little impact on points values, but the collected total of changes can be very clear. I would say that a Points System is better than a Wounds method by a noticeable margin.

An interesting thing about pts/model systems is that they are so balanced that it can make list building a sort of "whatever you want to field" situation, much like uncomped versions. You can trust (mostly) that 200pts of Oranges will be equivalent to 200pts of Apples, in a pts/model system. There's little need to debate "optimized" choices for your list because of this balance. It's a well known fact that the balance for earlier editions of WHFB was very "off" and was intentionally manipulated by GW in order to sell particular models. That doesn't happen with fan-made formulas, so unless you seek out large, sweeping flaws in the system, you won't find any model that is "better for it's points cost" than another model.

Point-Buy Systems (Kings of War style)
Azyr Comp
Clash Comp

Pros
>> Easiest and most streamlined of all the comp systems
>> Can easily include "scaling costs" (although neither of the above formats actually do)
>> Has the same advantages as Pts/Model systems, although to a slightly lesser degree

Cons
>> Less accurate than a Pts/Model system when determining differences between very similar models (Micro balance)
>> Robs players of choice, by strictly dictating unit size

Point-buy systems often use the same formulas as a pts/model system, but take it a step further and abstract it so that you buy warscrolls by certain sizes. So rather than paying 100pts for 10 Clan Rats, you might pay 2pts for 10 Clan Rats. This is where the small hit to accuracy comes from, as there is a great deal of rounding here. If the formula assumes that 50/1 ratio for points values, then two units who cost 100pts and 115pts might both cost 2pts, with one having a slight advantage.
Personally, I like this margin of error, as it leaves a lot of room for debates between players about whether or not a unit is "worth it's points" compared to another unit at the same cost. Additionally, all points-based balance systems must admit some margin of error in their system - a point-buy system embraces that margin of error, and codes it directly into the system. It's like an additional level of transparency.

One advantage that these Point-Buy systems have, which they don't seem to be capitalizing on, is the ability to charge players for the scaling effects of special rules. For example, those Skeleton Warriors who get +1A each for having 20+ models, and +2A each if they have 30+ models, could charge different values for different unit sizes, based on the tiered increases at each level.
In my opinion, Point-Buy systems might be the best option for AoS, simply because of this. To do that in a pts/model system would be far more complicated for players, but in a Point-Buy system it is easy to account for.
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So what are your thoughts? How are you guys balancing Age of Sigmar, and how have the different types of systems been working out for you? Are there any different systems you'd like to share?
 
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