Thursday, May 1, 2014

Introducing the K-Comp System!


Hey Reader!

So, for the past year or so Tiberius and I have been hard at work (well, hehe: actually, "hard" being defined as "on-and-off-as-we-got-ideas") on a comp system for LOTR SBG.  For those who have a background with tournaments for Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40k, you're familiar with the idea of a Comp System - for those of you who are less familiar with it, I hinted at some of the basics of the comp system in my post regarding "soft lists" in LOTR.  Here, I want to very briefly acquaint everyone with what the K-Comp System is designed to do, what it is not designed to do, and what its possible uses could be for the blogosphere at large and the microcosm of a gaming community.

You can find the most up-to-date copy of the K-Comp System on Scribd here.  I uploaded it to Scribd 1) because I am a firm believer in the wonderful resource that is Scribd, 2) it is available so far as I know in all countries, so it shouldn't cut out any of our viewership, and 3) it's much easier to upload documents there than it is to upload a document through the HTML on this site, and I'm lazy that way, :)  So as you read this post, you'll be able to see what we're talking about via the document on Scribd (though I'll also be including screenshot photos in relevant sections below).

I.  Why the Name?

Comp Systems are usually named after the group that starts them - the Swedish Comp System, for example, originated in Sweden, though it is now the gold standard for comp systems in tournaments across the globe for Fantasy.  Since my last name is extremely long and I moved to the Washington-D.C. area about seven years ago...there weren't a lot of good ways to name the comp system, so I settled on the "K-Comp System" because 1) it had a nice ring to it, 2) it works (as it uses the initial of my last name), and 3) it says what you need to know with enough distinction from other comp systems to get the point across (thus fulfilling Strunk & White Rule 17).  Hence the name, :)

It is worth mentioning upfront, by the way, that there is some dispute over the use of comp systems.  The Swedish Comp System developed by Mr. Aronson and Mr. Troeger et al. for Warhammer Fantasy, for example, has been very well-received (if not universally received).  The preeminent comp system for Warhammer 40k, on the other hand, has been a point of great contention in regards to how well it comps army lists, and there are a vast number of tournaments that refuse to use it because they believe it is not well-made.  As this is the first rendition of the K-Comp System for LOTR (and the only one of its kind that I'm aware of for LOTR SBG), it would not surprise me if there is a lot of commentary on the effectiveness of this comp system.  In the comments section of this post (or in commentary on your blog, if you have one!), I'd love to hear what you think about it and how helpful it is to you, and I look forward to seeing the system improve and change going forward.

With all of that said, let's look at the comp system, :)

II.  How the System Works

First of all, our comp system is based around a base statline, where models are compared to the baseline and are graded according to their deviation.  Naturally, though, heroes tend to have better stat lines than warriors, and they tend to cost more.  So how do you compare them?  We used two base profiles: one to compare the heroes to, and one for the warriors.  Heroes were compared to this profile:

F/S    S  D   A  W   M  F
4/4+  4   5   2    2    2   1

This is a pretty basic profile for heroes - most captains have something like this, so we used it here.  Some heroes (like Grima Wormtongue) will fall below this; others (like Aragorn) will be dramatically higher than this.  So their comp scores will vary accordingly.  Warriors are compared to the following profile:

F/S    S  D   A  W   M  F
3/4+  3   4   1    1    0   0

Again, pretty straightforward: we also used this for calculating select heroes, because they are low-cost heroes that would not be accurately computed against the hero standard (Damrod, for example, who costs 20 points and is basically an exalted Ranger of Gondor).  Add some points for applicable special rules that help a model with firepower or sustainability (more on that below), and the resulting deviation from the base statline gave us the comp scores for models, which we'll examine now.

First of all, imagine yourself starting with a pool of 200 points (we'll call them comp points).  Each model's comp score is calculated as a negative number, representing how much you minus from the pool of points, with larger negative number representing units that were better than the base statline.  So, for example:


As you can see, Aragorn is a -33 to the points pool (I'll explain the other stuff later).  Directly above him, we have a Captain of Arnor, who is only a -6 from the points pool.  Because Aragorn's stats are better in regards to firepower and sustainability, he will be a greater reduction from the pool.  Conversely, if a model is far below the baseline (which is rare, but does happen in the case of heroes like Peregrin Took), it may add points to the pool, or it may require a group of models (usually four, as is the case with some orc and goblin warriors) to equal a slight reduction of points.

Sometimes adding an upgrade to a model will further increase the pool points spent on a model.  So, for example: the Captain of Arnor is usually a -6 (which is pretty basic for most captains).  If you take a shield, though, you increase the Defense Value of the Captain of Arnor from D6 to D7, so there is a further -1 to his pool point cost if you take the shield upgrade on him (bringing him to a -7).  Some units will have multiple reductions (An Uruk-Hai Captain with heavy armor and a shield, or with heavy armor and a crossbow, or heavy armor and a 2H weapon, for example); just add all reductions to the final count for the model.

To obtain the comp score for an army list, take every unit in your army, and minus their comp score from your total pool of 200.  This will give you your raw comp score.  Take your raw comp score and divide by 10.  This will give you your final comp score.  To illustrate how this works, I'll use the list that I brought with me to the Hunters Red October Tournament this past October:

The Grey Company:
-Aragorn, Isildur's Heir: -33 (if I had purchased an elven cloak for Aragorn, it would have been a -34 instead of -33)
-4 Rangers of the North: -24 (-6 each)
-3 Dunedain: -15 (-5 each)
-28 Rangers of Arnor: -84 (-3 each)

So, we started with 200, minused the points for each unit, and computed our raw score (which was 44).  We then divide by 10, and arrive at the final comp score for this army, which is a 4.4.

So what does this tell us?  Two things.  First, the comp score measures armies on a scale of 0.0 - 15.0, with 0-5 representing a "hard" list, a 5-10 representing a "balanced" list, and 10-15 representing a "soft" list.  The Grey Company come in at a 4.4, which means it's a pretty hard build (and among the lowest comp scores available to Grey Company at 600 points).  It tells you that when you face an army like this, the player has streamlined his points to focus on firepower (in this case, archery and F4 combat power) or on sustainability (a very similar comp score could be created for a Warbands army that focused on F4 D6 Warriors of Arnor).  But the comp score gives you a baseline for comparing it to other lists.

Compare this, for example, to the Shire army I built for the TMAT Grand Tournament in March, and will be bringing to the GT4 next March:

Defenders of Eriador:
-Aragorn/Strider w/ armor, bow, and Anduril, Flame of the West: -34 (usually -30, with -1 for armor and -3 for Anduril; the bow does not increase his comp cost)
-4 Dunedain: -20 (-5 each)
-Meriadoc, Captain of the Shire with shield: -2
-Peregrin, Captain of the Shire: -1
-Farmer Maggot w/ Grip, Fang, and Wolf: -1
-12 Hobbit Shirriffs: -6 (Broken down like this:

                 3            (First three Shirriffs each add 1 point to the pool)
                -9            (Each additional Shirriff is -1, and there are nine of those)
TOTAL:     -6            (Final score for the 12 shirriffs)

-8 Battlin' Brandybucks: -6 (Broken down like this:

                 5            (First five Hobbit Militia each add 1 point to the pool)
                -5            (Each Militia is -1 for the Battlin' Brandybuck upgrade)
                -6            (Each additional Brandybuck is -2 each)
TOTAL:     -6            (Final score for the 8 Brandybucks)

-10 Tookish Hunters: -12 (Broken down like this:

                 4            (First four Hobbit Archers each add 1 point to the pool)
                -4            (Each Archer is -1 for the Tookish Hunter upgrade)
               -12          (Each additional Hunter is -2 each)
TOTAL:     -12          (Final score for the 10 Hunters)

So, again, we start with 200 points, minused the points for each unit, and computed our raw score (which was 118).  We then divide by 10, and arrive at the final comp score, which is an 11.8.  What does this tell us?  This is a much softer list than the Grey Company list for a few reasons.  First, it's themed.  As an LOME army, you can't ally Shire with another force, so your choice of models is pretty limited.  In addition to this, you are primarily working with F2 and F3 units, so your chance of winning ties (except against goblins maybe) is pretty low, and when coupled with S2 and D3, you lack both survivability and firepower.  It is possible to build a weaker list than this (Aragorn and the Dunedain are what buoy this list - if you take Frodo, Sam, and a host of warriors you will end up with a score pushing 14.0 or more), but this list illustrates very well what a "soft" list is: it's a themed list, that focuses on the theme over and against the strength of the list, and is run as a "fun" army as opposed to a "competitive" army.

I took this team to the GT in March, and while I did not compete in the tournament with it, I am looking forward to taking it to GT4 in 2015 for a variety of reasons (the entire list has the Resistant to Magic rule or has Will points so everyone can resist magic, the list makes both F4 and D6 superfluous spending of points, and it gives me a chance to play with a fully decked out Aragorn), and while I am doing it to have fun (Go Team Waistcoat!  Yeah buddy!), I also feel like I have a chance against the other teams that will likely show up in the tournament.  So we'll see.

Now that you know how the comp system works, let's look at what a comp system is designed to do.

III.  What a Comp System Is Designed to Do
      A.  Devotion of Points toward Specific Factors

The K-Comp System focuses on those factors that provide both firepower and sustainability.  This means that some stats in a unit's bestiary (like Fight Value, Shoot Value, Strength, Defense, Attacks, Wounds, Might, and Fate) are all considered, while others (like Will, Courage, and Movement) are not considered.  I want to say something upfront:

Yes: all of these stats have an impact in-game on firepower and sustainability.

It's true: if you fail to charge a terror-causing unit, you won't be doing any damage to him.  Similarly, if your unit flees the field due to a low Courage rating, it won't help you much in regards to sustainability, and if you can never reach those elves as they chuck throwing weapons at you, that probably won't help you on either score either.  The Comp System is not designed to look at these factors, primarily because it starts getting hard in the nitty-gritty to baseline these: is a difference of Courage 2 and Courage 3 the same as the difference between Strength 3 and Strength 4?  Do 5" and 6" movement make the same difference as D5 and D6?  It's only one step, but is it the same difference in firepower or sustainability?  It's hard to compute, so naturally every comp system cannot take everything into account.  Instead, it will focus on key factors.  I'd love feedback, though, on whether additional factors should be considered, so don't hesitate to question our choice of factors.

Similarly, not all special rules will help a unit with its comp score.  Aragorn's Mighty Hero rule naturally adds to his comp score (as it will help him with both firepower and sustainability), but the Expert Rider rule for Eomer will not help him (even though it can protect him from a S3 hit, allows him to be D7 while using a bow, etc.).  Magic spells are a bit harder: how do you classify Immobilize?  How about Command?  We reached the happy medium of counting one and not the other for those who had both, but on the whole there were a number of decisions made on special rules that were purely arbitrary.  This is the joy of Version 1.0 - we can make mistakes, and we can remedy it, :)  We reserve the right to look into adding or removing special rules from a comp score in the future, but at present we are satisfied with what we have.  Again, you have to choose which factors you want to focus on with a comp system, and we chose these ones.

      B.  Provide a Baseline for Army Comparison

In a given battle, each general will choose to allocate his points toward different things: how much do you value heavy armor?  High strength?  How about a hero that will keep your men in the field (support heroes like shamans), as opposed to one that will remove enemy models from the field (the bruisers/scrappers/tank heroes)?  Comp Systems are designed to show players how they are allotting their points: an army list with a low comp score is devoting more of its points toward firepower and sustainability than it is to support and magic, and vice versa.

And this is why the comp score spectrum is divided into three sections.  Scores of 0.0 - 5.0 are considered "hard" lists, meaning that you have devoted your points almost exclusively toward firepower and durability at the expense of magic and traditional "support" roles (like a 12" Stand Fast radius, for example).  Lists that score from a 5.1 - 10.0 are considered "balanced" lists, with points devoted toward a smattering of threats and strengths.  Lists that score a 10.1 - 15.0 are considered "soft" lists or "fun" lists, not designed to be devastating to an opponent (though they may prove to be in a given battle).  This is more common in Warhammer Fantasy, but it is also true of LOTR (an Isengard Raider list or Ruffian list, for example, would be "softer" than a Fighting Uruk-Hai list which focuses on D6 and S4).

Thus a comp score can help a new (or veteran) player better discern where he should tweak his army list in the event that his strategy changes or his needs in battle change.  If I am consistently facing D6 opponents and I feel like I need more firepower, I can look at the comp score for my list and see whether I'm already devoting a lot of my points toward Strength, and whether I should be focusing my list more toward that (by building a "hard" list, between 0.0 - 5.0).  Alternatively, if my high-damage heroes (like Boromir) are becoming 105-point "statues" due to Immobilize, it may be worth it for me to take points away from firepower and put more thought into a "softer" list (on the higher end of the 0.0 - 15.0 scale) that has more magic defense.

This is not to say that a Comp System will answer all of your problems, or provide statistical analysis for how well you will do in a tournament, as we will see in the next section.

IV.  What a Comp System Is Not Designed to Do
      A.  Predict a Tournament Winner

At first glance, it may seem like the "harder" lists will win a tournament, thus the team with the lowest comp score would be the most likely team to win the tournament.  Putting aside for a moment the fact that the comp score is based on a system that rolls dice to see how effectively a warrior fights in a given round, comp systems may only be helpful in predicting who will win a round if 1) both armies are similarly constituted toward the same strengths (and with similar weaknesses), and 2) both commanders have similar playing styles.  If two like-minded armies met in combat and one of them was stronger and more heavily defended, yes: it is probable that the stronger army would win.

But what if one of the army heavily relies on magic to neutralize heavy heroes (as was the case with my Misty Mountains/Angmar army at the TMAT Grand Tournament II in March 2013)?  The softer army can win, because it plays a very different game, and thus compensates for the weaker, less defensible warriors in its core by utilizing other strengths (resulting in a dead Shagrat, an almost dead Amdur, and a lot of dead F4 D6 warriors).  Comp systems are not designed to show who is more likely to win a tournament: it can be used, however (and often is used) to pair similarly constituted forces against each other for pairings in the preliminary games of a tournament.  That way hard lists face each other, and soft lists face each other, as some tournament directors may find this more helpful in the opening rounds.

      B.  Calculate All Factors

As mentioned earlier, people would love for comp systems to take everything into consideration.  After all, part of the strength of any elf civ is that you have Courage 5 standard issue for all of your warriors (and Courage 6 for all of your heroes), and part of the weakness of goblin- and orc-based teams is that they are Courage 2 for their rank-and-file infantry.  So by not looking at Courage in the comp system, we're overlooking strengths for some civs and weaknesses of other civs, right?

I suppose so.  Honestly, though, Courage only becomes a factor if 1) the army is broken in combat, 2) the model in question is charging a terror unit, or 3) the unit is being attacked by a spectral unit that attacks against a unit's Courage value rather than their Defense value.  All three cases make Courage hard to integrate into the comp system because 1) there are teams of orcs and goblins, not to mention elves, that may finish the battle without being broken, which means their advantage or disadvantage may never come up in the fight, 2) most civs that have problems charging terror-causing units have a shaman option which allows them to pass all courage tests (which begs the question of whether the point value for a unit goes up based on the presence of a shaman, and how do we account for the chance of losing Fury or being outside the range of Fury, or the instance where a shaman fails to cast Fury, which I experienced recently), and 3) most civs don't have access to spectral units, and they are not commonly used in the armies that do have access to them.

So if this is the case, how do we calculate that in the comp system?  All of the questions are hard to quantify in a comp system - and rightly so.  There are some things that a comp system cannot fully account for, and that's okay.  Comp systems are not designed to look at everything: they should look at enough to cover the subject matter of the system, but not the minutia details that apply to specific strategic circumstances.  That duty falls to the general of the army.

      C.  Provide a Baseline for Army Strength

This is a personal fear of mine.  I don't know how it is in the blogosphere at large, but in our gaming group I've seen F4 D6 armies become the norm, because if you go for lower than F4 you'll lose ties, and people want to only suffer wounds on 6s from S3 warriors.  I can understand that, but what it can mean for a gaming community is that people start getting into the rut of "Okay, how can I make my F4 D6 army even more killy or hard to crack than it already is!"  Nothing wrong with that way of thinking, unless it leads players (especially new players) to not consider other options or ways to deal with a problem.  I started my army collection with Rohan (which is primarily F3 D5), and because I had a few F4 D6 Rohan Royal Guards, I realized quickly the advantage of F4 D6.  What I also realized, though, is that there are other ways to get around heavy Uruk frontlines than just bringing a similarly killy list.

My hope is that the comp system will help to dissuade players from thinking that there's only one way to build an army: building a "hard" list.  Instead, as player realize the value of soft lists (albeit a value that stems from a lot of forethought and practice with said soft lists), they will have a broader horizon for army building.  Comp systems are designed to do just that: it shows you where you how you are spending your points, and where your list falls on the greater spectrum of heavy attack/defense and magic/support.

One of the issues that is really close to my heart as a gamer is the importance of creativity and imagination.  My hope is that the K-Comp System will help players get more creative in using their points, as it will help to visualize whether a unit, for its cost, is a good investment for firepower/durability or support/magic.

      D.  Reward Expensive Models

This is key to the comp system: each model spends its points differently across its stat line and special rules, and not all models are created equal.  It is possible that your 25-point Beregond has similar killing power as your 60-point Uruk Captain in heavy armor with a crossbow, allowing you to accompany him with a handful of citadel guards that will also be pumping S3 longbow fire into your enemies.  This doesn't mean that the uruk captain should be worth as much as the citadel guards and Beregond: some units are a waste of points for the metric of durability and firepower, and yet they may be a good purchase thematically for an army or to fill a niche role.

And there are times when some units are just overpriced.  I'm...still at a loss as to why Bandrobras Took costs 35 points, so there are also some units that are just overpriced, period.  But hey...

V.  Practical Uses for a Comp System
      A.  Tournament Pairings

So now that we've discussed what a comp system can and cannot do for you, let's talk briefly about how you can use a comp system in your battles and/or gaming group.  Most commonly, comp systems are designed to facilitate tournament pairings.  If a tournament director doesn't want to just do a random pairing of teams for the preliminary rounds of a tournament, he can either power match (pitting similar scores against each other), or he can power protect (putting hard lists against soft lists).  Both options are easily facilitated by a comp system, and can be easily adjusted in the event that more players join a tournament last-minute.  Of all of the uses for a comp system, this one is the most common, though there are many tournaments that do not use comp scores for pairings.

      B.  Tournament Army Threshold

Some tournaments will require participants to have a score that meets a certain threshold (for example, a 12.0 or lower).  This is primarily to keep out the "wacky" lists that are just a hodge-podge of models thrown together to create an army, guide the creation of a thematic list, or divert the imagination of a general from pursuing an army that would be unduly strained on a given board (for example, a general may not be able to run a list that only runs three heavily armed ringwraiths all mounted on fell beasts, which could lead to their demise on a Domination map).  Not every tournament has a threshold; some use it, some don't.

      C.  Bonus Comp Points

For some tournaments, it may be in the best interest of the players to give conciliatory points to armies that are softer, as they are generally designed more for the theme of the army rather than the strength of the army.  This is not commonly done, but some tournaments will do it to encourage people to use armies that they enjoy using, toy with themes they want to try out for fun, etc., without throwing away their chance to win the tournament.  I can see the advantage of doing this: I'd hate to see someone test something completely new and have it get stomped by a run of F4 D6 armies one after another that devoted their resources toward the same end.  It's not common, nor should it be done often, but I can definitely see the advantage of doing this.

Conclusion

Over the course of the next few weeks, I hope to put the final touches on my Azog's Hunters army (buying Bolg being the big one), along with a few practice games with my new "Halloween" list.  I'm also working on some Fantasy, 40k, and Infinity projects, so I may do a painting update on those as well.  Until we meet again, you know where to find me,

Watching the stars,

Centaur

"We watch the skies for the great tides of evil or change that are sometimes marked there." ~ Firenze, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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