Thursday, April 4, 2013

Psyche of a Gamer: Getting Your Points Back

So here is something that gets my mind working on a regular basis.  I see and hear gamers everywhere decry that this unit or that unit is sub par.  And the reason for this evaluation often is "It never gets it's point back."  This one statement often sends me running for duct tape to keep my head from exploding.  So this post is dedicated to the exploration of this statement, and why it drives me bat shit crazy.

OK, first off I think gamers are inherently lazy.  There are exceptions sure, but by and large they prefer the path of least resistance.  You could make the argument that most of humanity is like this, but I really think the ratio in gamers is markedly higher.  The simple statement "It never gets it's points back." is a symptom of this laziness.  The implication is that every model/unit a game designer creates is designed to kill a value of the enemy equal to it's own.  I'm sorry but if that were true every game would be checkers.

Now as every game is not checkers (and if you think they all are, you need to reconsider your hobby), why would a model/unit be created that is not designed to earn it's own weight back in points?  There are many reasons to have models/units look sub par.  There are two I'm going to focus on in this article. Sacrificial or Bait Units and Support Units.

When I first got into this hobby I played an army designed by it's nature to be higher point cost then it's opponents.  This lead to a lower model count.  This then lead to a truism of my army at the time, I had to control which fights I got into.  If I let my opponent dictate the combats I got into, I would lose.  As I grew into my own as a Table Top General I discovered (OK someone pointed it out to me) something that most of my fellow gamers thought abhorrent, I needed units that I could sacrifice to force my opponent's movement on the table.  So I wrote a list where a full third of the points in the list were designed to die.  If they won a combat it was an accident.  The entire purpose of these units was to die.

To my opponents surprise, I started to win fairly consistently with the army.  But the accepted logic of "getting your points back" meant that these units had no value.  Not directly no, but indirectly they made the effectiveness of all the other units better.  This increase in effectiveness made up for the loss of these units.  Now here is a something that isn't a secret, but it seems most gamers aren't aware of, game designers plan for sacrificial units.  They have for centuries.  I'm looking at chess, and the pawn in particular.  There is a reason the word pawn has become synonymous with being used.

Game designers today put models/units in their games to accomplish the same idea.  Spinespur uses thugs and shattered.  Warzone/Beyond the Gates of Antares has basic troops.  Dark Age has cheap models, Skarrd Buzzblades for example.  All of these examples showcase that the Sacrificial unit is still pronounced in game design.

The second type of unit that is inherent sub par on a point for point basis, is the Support Unit.  This is a model/unit that by design will lose straight up, but it's presence on the field makes the other models/units better.  The main difference between this and a Sacrificial Unit is that. generally, the support unit has to survive to maintain it's effectiveness.  Sometimes this comes in the form of special rules, sometimes in the tactics around which it is designed to be used.

As an example of the tactics determining the value of the unit, imagine in a game of Spinespur (or any skirmish game) using a weak model, like a Thug, to pile into a combat to make that combat easier for another model.  Units that are good at this, are generally cheap individually, and are almost never good at any one thing in the game.

The special rule Support Unit works in one of two ways.  In one the model/unit makes others better at something.  An example of this type of unit could be Keepsake or A Sister of Charity in the Skarrd faction of Dark Age.  Keepsake uses special rules to make sweeping influences on the battlefield.  A Sister of Charity makes a unit of Buzzblades (the cheapest and most basic Skarrd unit) better by upgrading them into Charity's Might or Charity's Zeal.  The point of which is that individuality these units will not kill their points back, but they make up for that weakness by making those around them better.  the other way a Support Unit works is by making the enemy weaker.  A prime example of this type of Support Unit is the Fetish Bearer for the Skarrd in Dark Age.  What makes him good as a
Support Unit, well if you have read this review you know that everything in Dark Age is done by finding a Target Number and trying to roll the number or lower.  The Fetish Bearer adds a -1 modifier to TN for every model within 8 inches.  That is a base 5% impact on every single roll for every model in range.  Is the Fetish Bearer going to kill his points back in direct combat?  Maybe but unlikely.  Can he make enough models fail a TN and die to earn his points back?  Damn straight!

So the point of all this rambling is simple.  The next time you find yourself thinking that a unit is sub par and unable to do enough to be more than a liability  ask yourself "What did the designers want this model/unit to do?"  Often trying to think like a designer will put the spotlight on the true purpose of the model/unit.  Now you might notice that I used the Thug as an example of both a Sacrificial and a Support Unit.  That's because in almost every game I have played, there were multiple ways units could perform on the field.  Never, ever assume that a model/unit can only every perform one job.  But that my friends is a subject for another time.  Until then...


1 comment:

  1. In the world of Sports it's referred to as "intangibles"- qualities some players have that, while they might not score points, lends to winning more games.

    In the military it's referred to as "Interdiction." Sometimes the best offense is simply a kickass defense, and Interdiction is the ability to thwart an enemy's plans- sometimes by direct action, but more likely by ECM, ECCM, and subterfuge.

    It's always been an aspect I think underplayed in game design in general, and thus most gamers never need to focus on it. Even "Points back" gamers take healers- that form of interdiction they can understand. All to often it stops there though. Very good read!