Monday, September 28, 2009

[ 06 / 11 / 05 ] I'm a pretty lame messiah

So, let me get this straight, I spend 15 years trying to get league play sorted out, extoling the virtues of base rings, and sculpting football figures and my legacy to the Bloodbowl community turns out to be all of this NBA/RCN nonsense? Well, that about figures, doesn't it. I mean, come on, I must make a dozen pointless remarks on the boards every day and you people pick the one about Orthodox Nufflism to actually bother reading... sheesh.

Can I at least get a cut from the collection plate or something?

Oh well, at least I got a cool shaker cup out of it, which brings me to my thought for the day: when did everyone stop rolling dice in box lids?

Seriously, most of what I remember about the last tournie I went to was the constant sound of dice clattering onto the floor and the scurry of coaches trying desperately to find them in the dark corners below (I'm sure that same rat who made off with Torg's sunglasses has a little mountain of lost dice as well). Listen to an old-timer for once, it doesn't have to be like this people!

I guess the real reason for the dice spending so much time on the floor is simple enough - GW stopped making blister boxes. Damn, those things were awesome. What couldn't you do with a blister box? We could store minis in them, a little foam and you had a travel case too. They were great for sorting stuff on the painting table. You could keep your counters and stuff in them. Oh, and best of all, you could roll dice in them and unless you were trying to break the sound barrier, the damn things would stay right there in the box,on the table, and life was a lot simpler.

So, forget your pseudoreligious fervor, drop your complaints about the vault, stop trying to get people to remove MB from the werewolf and get behind a truly worthy cause: lets make them bring back the blister box!

[ 06 / 14 / 05 ] I suppose he's having fun, but...

Sartre once said "hell is other people". Well, he didn't really say that, he said the same sort of thing in French, no doubt around a cigarette and with a level of detached arrogance I can only aspire to, but the sentiment is there.

Anyway, point being that no matter how much I wish it were otherwise, my pastime, or perhaps more accurately my quixotic crusade to solve the riddle of the league will always have to have asshats like Ryan here lurking about the corners. The process of designing league rules, which are at their essence not just systems for developing abstract teams, but also means to manage and regulate interaction between the coaches themselves cannot fail to take this human interaction into account, and to make it a central motif, or at least a strongly-typed variable in the overall model. One hallmark of many games' campaign and league systems which I have noted is a fairly pronounced ignorance of the world beyond the table. Most systems seem to rely upon rather idealistic, or perhaps even naive expectations of the behavior, motivations, and even honesty of the people playing the games. While it is true that in the smallest cells of the hobby, the players are presumably friends, able to cooperate, and likely possess the same motivations and level of maturity, the reality of adventure gaming is that a great proportion of it happens among people who are not drawn together, but rather thrown together. We have a hobby which is not particularly pervasive in society, and the places where we gather, and the relationships we form in order to participate in the hobby are very often of necessity rather than preference. We form leagues from whoever can be found who might be interested in the game, and we search high and low just to make that number. The community is so small that it is difficult, if not impossible to be particularly selective and this leads to nearly every league having one or two Ryans in it.

The argument can certainly be made that rules should not be beholden to people like Ryan, and that the game should not be limited for those who can play nice with others simply because a few can not, but on this I disagree. No, I do not think that it is the job of the game to police the players' behavior, don't get me wrong, rather I think it is the job of the game designer to create a singular experience which is largely resistant to reduction by the lowest common denominator. The imperative is not on the designer to handicap the players, but rather to create a game without ill-conceived opportunities for exploitation so that those who play the game casually need not fear losing anything more than just an enjoyable afternoon to power gamers, jackasses, and the emotionally deficient.

League systems in particular have the potential to ruin the long-term game experience of the quality player by way of interactions with the Ryans, and Bloodbowl traditionally is particularly, egregiously, and infuriatingly guilty of this error. Bloodbowl's league system has always had a basic philosophy which encourages and promotes the periodic hamstringing of teams and a prolonged struggle for restoration of basic playability at its core. Bewilderingly, Bloodbowl would like you to think that there is enjoyment in seeing your team decimated and then being forced to play at a significant disadvantage for any number of subsequent matches - likely becoming increasingly reduced along the way due to your hopeless numeric inferiority. How many veteran coaches give up a team that loses three or four players in one match? How many new coaches give up the game after getting decimated in their second match? How many of us really enjoy going into a match knowing we have little or no chance because our team has been disassembled?

Maybe I should turn in my simulationists' club membership card, but this cannot be an appropriate design philosophy for a game which is supposed to occupy and enrich our free time. I do not enjoy having some childish twit foul and claw my squad out of playability - nor do I enjoy having my best friend accidentally do so with a few lucky die rolls. Rebuilding has always been so monolithically difficult in Bloodbowl, and the opportunities for even an honest, sporting player to hamstring an opponent so pervasive - nevermind the potential that exists for someone with a less than fully-developed social conscience, that there simply must be something wrong with the essential approach to the game itself, because right now, the game often just isn't fun anymore.

The failure is not simply the poorly-conceived injury mechanics or the hopeless winnings structure, it is a blindness to the reality of human interaction instead. In leagues where sportsmanship, friendship, and a love of the hobby are tantamount, you often see and hear coaches compensating for the rules in order to maintain the experience of the others - "Here, let me use my apo on your blitzer," or I'll loan you 100k to get back on your feet." Yes, it is nice that people can be nice, but clearly there is something wrong with the game when they need to be. At the other end of the pitch, usually in store leagues in my experience, there are those league full of Ryans where you simply cannot enjoy yourself for all of the fouling, the mindless and antagonistic violence, and the inevitable gloating that follows. Turnover tends to be very high in these leagues and those who stay either enjoy or learn to handle the flawed mindset that goes with these leagues.

So, what then is the designer's job? The simplest way to phrase it would be that the designer has the responsibility to create a league system that functions flawlessly among players of the highest quality and cannot be corrupted by players of the lowest. A system which has no failings which will need to be compensated for by amiable coaches and a system which a Ryan can not abuse in order to gain an undue advantage over others. The rules cannot hope to stop an asshat from acting like an anti-social baboon, but they should be able to prevent his approach to the game from impacting the long-term enjoyment of other coaches. The goal would be to ensure that the worst that Ryan could do is ruin your afternoon, but prevent him from ruining your entire league experience in doing so.

So, having gone on about this for three miles, it seems vaguely pedantic, or at least lazy of me not to turn around and outline a complete and bulletproof league system that does exactly what I'm proposing, but this column is already too long and full disclosure too voluminous for such meanderings. Begin with the Four Houserules Sublime over in "the answers" and we'll develop the idea further in future columns, because while the Four will get you started on the road to right, there's a few extra stops to make along the way.

But hey, they 'll be excuses for more comics too, so at least there's some reward for waiting about.

Maybe I can do detached arrogance afterall.

[ 06 / 17 / 05 ] Napoleon, Stunty or Titchy?

Ok, so if you're not all that familiar with the historical gaming crowd, this might not be so funny, but by way of explanation I'll say this: historical games are intentionally and pointlessly over-complicated. They also are, as a rule, notoriously inconsistent in the application of design concepts, which is why we're all here today.

But before I get directly to the point, let's skip over to the sweeping generalizations department and look at Phil's Rule #1, which says: "Phil's Rule #1 is that the game is supposed to be fun." There, that's not so odd a concept, is it? I mean, it is a game afterall, shouldn't it naturally be founded upon the notion of being fun? Well, don't answer so quickly, there mr. skippy - have you poked in down at the local store league lately?

Yes, the game is supposed to be fun, and this is, indeed, rule #1. Since I arrange my rules in order of importance, that would also make this the most important rule, more important than any other rule in fact. That being the case, then clearly my opinion is that anything in the game which can possibly get in the way of rule numero uno has got to go.

So, lets get back to the issue of consistency.

Bloodbowl isn 't. That's bad.

But how exactly does inconsistency threaten Rule #1? The reality of the situation is that the inconsistency, which occasionally makes the rules difficult to recall or learn is a minefield for over-the-table arguments. Arguments reduce playing experience, a reduced playing experience is less fun, and the alpha rule is not followed. Bad Bloodbowl, bad.

And it is a problem which only gets worse over time, not better. When third edition came out, it had its inconsistencies is application of skills, re-roll eligibility, roster valuation, etc, and given the prolonged period of disinterest toward the game shown by GW for years after release, we were able to effectively and quite broadly houserule much of what needed to be addressed immediately, or play enough to ultimately sort out amongst ourselves the rest. Things weren't perfect, hell, they never will be, but they were eventually manageable. Then, along came the BBRC.

Ok , I 'll be fair, it isn't just them, but the whole climate of liquid tinkering that Jervis has brought to the brand over the last four years or so. What started as a game that held a few oddly-applied mechanical inconsistencies has blossomed into a game with regularly redefined mechanical inconsistencies. Even if you were to be generous and state that the culture of change that has overwhelmed the game has resolved as many inconsistent rules as it has smoothed out, which would be being very generous indeed, you would still have to also accept that the regular, often needless modification of the rules has hit over-the-table civility right in the nuts with a spikey-toed boot.

Is it possible to play a match anymore without having to pull out the rulebook? Does anyone even know which rulebook to pull out? While many, if not most rules disagreements or misunderstandings can and are resolved quickly and amiably, it cannot be denied that there is a significant and rather determined minority of the community who make such situations as unpleasant as possible. Fluctuations in rules, and fluctuations in rules which are at their core applied variably are fodder for these malcontents, and the source of many unpleasant afternoons over the game. These games aren't fun, Rule #1 must be enforced, something's got to give.

Ok, so, the quick fix is obvious, quit changing the damn game every year. This has pissed me off ever since they failed to quit while they were ahead after the first BBRC review, and it continues to piss me off annually. While the grist mill appears to have it that the opportunity for actual rules modification is going to be absent for a period following the release of the anniversary edition rulebook in order to maintain the market weight of that expensive print run, there will still be conduits for "experimental" rules, which, published through official channels are as in general practice about as optional as income tax.

Of course, the fact that the boneheads steering the ship keep trying to put a fresh coat of makeup on the pig that is the 3rd edition league rules just goes to show that whether or not they stop as a courtesy to the courtesy in and around the game, they really just need to stop out of a profound sense of their own inefficiency, but that's a story for another bedtime.

But enough about changes being made, lets get to what actually needs to change.

Bloodbowl needs to stick to its design a bit better. As it stands, consistent application of concepts has suffered at the hands of simulationism, revisionism, and idealism and the net effect is that areas like skill use, re-roll use, and development have entirely too many contradictory rules. Each area could very easily have a ingle design notion applied evenly, but due to any or all of poor initial design, pointless revision, or directed revision poorly applied have strayed entirely too far from that core mechanic - when there was one to begin with.

Take re-rolls as a prime example. The essential mechanic may once have been "you can re-roll any roll you make," but now you need to remember the ten or fifty cases where you can't. And what is worse than the fact that the rules are no longer consistent is that the changes and exceptions are mostly band-aids for problems caused by other poorly-designed rules which weren't changed. When re-rolling the armor check after a block was leading to too many injuries, it wasn't the skills that increased the potency of injuries that were corrected, but the ability to try to get into the can a second time. Poorly-designed skills were left intact (at that point anyway) and exceptions were added to the game that confused play and led to a fun reduction cycle.

I suspect that the mistake which has been made over and over by those in the position to make the changes which ultimately become inconsistent and generally unsuccessful must be a lack of perspective. The whole process seems so overwhelmed with myopia that it is no wonder the big picture has been lost. Those in charge of the game don't seem to be aware of the presence of a central design concept, or if they are, they are so obsessed with applying rules in response to specific circumstances while remaining ignorant to the damage done not only to other circumstances, but to the game's integrity as a whole. They look up from one combination of player A blocking player B resolved in an undesired fashion and revise the rule without changing the perspective and seeing not only what harm is done to the holistic game by such changes, but also failed to see the flaw which was the cause of the troublesome effect in the first place.

So, Bloodbowl needs an iron-handed consistency dictator. Hell, it just needs regime change in general.

Of course, there are almost certainly going to have to be a few spots in the game that can't have black and white march step with a core concept, but if the limitation can be kept to entire segments, and have absolutely no further exception - if, for instance a "Big Idea" approach was taken to re-rolls and injuries where the try again could be used on the armor in absolutely all cases, but never on the injury in any case at all, the exception, while still unfortunate, would at least be more easily learned, remembered, and difficult to use as a flashpoint to disagreement and ultimately, reduction of fun.

Besides, who really wants to have less fun?

And who wants to remember all those damn rules anyway?

[ 06 / 23 / 05 ] What, no AG 4 Black Orcs?


Anyone who already dislikes my perspective surely won't be coming over to the light after this piece, but the interesting thing to keep track of today is how many people who were optimistically onboard thus far will join the "Phil is just plain nutty" camp in about four paragraphs. I think that I want to get back to really talking about rules here, and get off my thousand-miles-up design theory rants for a bit. Now, any rules I propose or discuss in this forum naturally come with an understood disclaimer that they are a) absolutely only discussed in the context of their being used with every other rule I outline here, and b) I am of the opinion that while most all of this could be used modularly in any given league, the ultimate objective and the assumption made in the development of these ideas is that the entire system will be used together. Fair? Good. Get on with it then...

One of the more frequent criticisms of the balanced-TR system - aside from the whole bit about it just being a reheated rejected Chetism - is that the free exchange of players can lead to beardy bastards like our old friend Ryan here concentrating upon a stockpile of players with favorable skill rolls in an effort to gain a competitive edge, and it is a fair complaint, because we all know that bastard would do it. The thing, though, is to make a hard decision - which is more important, long-term competitive balance or highly-varied player development?

I think we all know where I would fall on this one, now I get to try to convince the lot of you that I'm right about it.

This, then, is my league's table for skill gains:

roll: 2-12, effect: select skill from available category.

You: Hmm. do you really need a table?

Me: No, I don't, which is why my league doesn't actually {i}have{/i} a skill roll table anymore.

You: Wait, how do I get the 5 Strength Black Orcs I rely upon to win games under these rules?

Me: You don't. Attribute variation is more of a harm than a benefit to the game. Attribute change, up or down, is a confusing factor in the game, it slows play as the coaches are constantly sorting it out - "Which guy had the +1 Str again?" and in the long run, a few good rolls here and there leads to team valuation being rendered effectively inaccurate. Some systems would have you value players more highly after a stat bump - I ask simply why we need stat bumps at all. Bloodbowl is already perched on an absolute knife-edge when it comes to balance anyway, and stats are the most acute contributor to the weight of a team. Why do we try so hard to foul out the +1 STR wardancer or the AG 5 gutterrunner? Because these players not only present an undue advantage in the game, but generally break the balance. Strength in
particular is systemically precarious - any changes in player strength cascade through so many aspects of play that you just cannot but wonder if allowing these stats to migrate in either direction can possibly not have a negative effect on long-term play.

You: Where 's the traits?

Me: They're all skills now, all of 'em, even the mutations, all skills.

You: But that means that players can get really powerful abilities easily.

Me: Which shows that a variety of them needed to be reworked a bit to make them all about as good as each other, doesn't it? Fortunately, that process is well underway as well and will make a good future installment.

You: I can still take an out-of-category skill on doubles, right?

Me: Nope.

You: But, how does my mummy get dodge without a doubles clause?

Me: He doesn't.

You: This sucks.

Me: You're ugly.

Believe it or not, there really are benefits to this approach - not only do you free yourself from the problem of asshat coaches abusing the rules to build uber-squads, but you also make it pretty much irrelevant if the little turd decides to go and cheat on his roster too. Sure, Ryan's favorite catcher can show up next week with two more TD's than he's actually scored as a team in the league - with skills to match, but at least he can't then also expect you to believe he rolled a +1 AG {i}and{/i} a +1 STR along the way. No matter what the chump does, he can't build a team that anyone who played fairly and honestly couldn't build too, and you need not suffer his cheating - he's got a couple of extra skills, yeah, but also the cap hit to go with it and if the balanced-TR system does its job - and it will - then overall
balance is still tight enough to make the annoyance trivial rather than disruptive.

Yes, I know that not all leagues have cheaters and asshats, and I know that people lucky enough not to are often quick to question why they should worry about rules founded upon this notion, but this rule really does reach a lot further than just mitigating unscrupulous abuses of advancement rolls. As mentioned in the section on stat bumps, taking some of the most acutely disruptive effects out of advancement will benefit game balance overall - especially over long-term periods where teams with good rolls will be more competitive than those with average rolls. If you stop kvetching about not being able to get a MA 11 Gutterrunner long enough to realize you'll never have to stop a MA 11 Gutterrunner you might understand how it improves game balance. If you enjoy the challenge of taking down superplayers, then I really can't help you, but the game is suffering imbalance for your enjoyment.

And yes, I know that removing the doubles option will reduce variety and drive player development toward repetitive patterns, but the compliment to this rule has to be the addition of a few new attractive skills in each category, and that too would come with this and again, is fodder for future discussion.

In the end, the real question is this, do you sacrifice a popular but ill-conceived aspect of the game for the improvement of the system, or do you find yourself obligated to keep it in because coaches like broken players and problematic development? It all resolves back to Phil's Rule #1: The game must be fun, and anything that imbalances long-term play, slows the game needlessly, or is open to abuse by the unscrupulous just has to go. Given that it's just a bad design to begin with, sacrifice is perhaps even the wrong term altogether - lets try exorcise instead.

[ 06 / 28 / 05 ] I see silver people...

Get out your pencils, class, because today's I'm going to make the trip all the way from a bit of artistic snobbery all the way to substantive discussion of the Balanced-TR system without even the slightest hint of non-sequitor.

Please keep your brain inside the ride at all times.

Ahem...

I hate playing against unpainted teams. Given my choice between winning the game and seeing 22 painted miniatures on the table, I'll take pigment every time. Maybe I'm just missing the point here, but aren't the toy soldiers the point of this hobby?

Let's be honest with ourselves for just a moment, ok, the game itself blows goats. I can think of at least ten board games available right now down the corner at wal-mart (all probably manufactured by child slave labor!) which are more enjoyable, better designed, and more interesting than Bloodbowl. The game is unbalanced, overly-complicated, inconsistent, and essentially flawed. Why the hell do we even bother playing it?

We play it because it looks cool. We were all drawn to Bloodbowl by the aesthetics, by the concept, by the intangible groove of it. The box art piqued our interest and the miniatures sealed our fate. This game has really cool miniatures (even those rather unfortunate 3e Morley pieces). I tolerate a lot to have an excuse to collect, sculpt, paint, and admire Bloodbowl miniatures - but someone sitting across the table from me reducing my experience out of simple laziness is not one those things (for the record, those things are crap rules, annoying opponents, and trafe on the pizza).

Seriously, even the most ham-fisted (speaking of trafe) layabout can slap down enough paint to meet tournament standards, not doing so is essentially nothing more than a passive-aggressive and anti-social failure to uphold your end of the social contract. When one participates in the toy soldier hobby, one agrees to a few unwritten rules of the community, and anyone not complying with these rules will be treated to even greater levels of awkward introvert scorn than the rest.

Rule #3 - Bathe.

Rule #2 - Make sure no one is a vegetarian or has other dietary restrictions (like not eating pork, damnit) before ordering the pizza.

Rule #1 - paint your miniatures.

Now, anytime someone breaks any of these rules, they impact their fellow hobbyists' ability to enjoy their afternoon, and since some of us only get out on odd weekends, that is simply unacceptable. Furthermore, the other gamers will talk about you behind your back, and we are very catty and petty about these things (If you need help with this, ask the guy with a girlfriend for pointers).

Funny thing is, Hobby Rule #1 and Phil's Rule #1 intersect nicely. To recap, Phil's Rule #1 says, "The game is supposed to be fun." Now, I'm not saying that you absolutely cannot have fun while forced to sit across the table from someone reeking of their own filth and shoveling piece after piece of swine lover's pizza down their maw while shoving silver miniatures around the pitch, but I am saying it is a hell of a lot easier to have fun when you don't.

But this is a hobby after all, and it is not always easy to get people to do something difficult when nothing other than the undying scorn of people who still live with their parents is on the line, so the truth is that peer pressure and Rousseau-tinged civic responsibility simply aren't enough, you need to hit them where it hurts, make it a rule.

No, no, you can't get away with just making a rule as brief and trite as "You must paint your miniatures. period." because no one will really be moved by it and it's a little impractical anyway. You must lead the horse to water - then catheterize him!

Don 't tell the bum that they can't play unpainted figures, he'll either quit the league or test your resolve - and you'll get nothing good from either outcome - tell him his team's TR cap is 145 until he meets the painting guidelines.

Ouch.

The sublime subtlety of it, I almost want to cry.

The painting rules I recommend are as follows - a coach is exempt from the painting guidelines with a team for the first three matches that side plays. Thereafter, if the minimum requisite of 11 miniatures painted with at least three colors and obvious effort is not met, then the team's TR threshold is reduced by 5 points until such time as the requirements are met.

The beauty is that it really isn't that big of a deal, but it'll bug the shit out of anyone who shows up with little silver men. Even in the contrived parity of the balanced-TR system, a team down 5 points will still be essentially as competitive as those still at the usual threshold, but psychologically, the impact of being a) systemically penalized and b) a perceived underdog will be sufficient to get brushes going where once they were idle.

it 's a good thing.

Now, about those table manners...

As long as I'm already on the topic of getting all soft on the "Hard Cap" I might as well delve into a related notion, cap movement.

One of the most tiringly constant complaints about the balanced-TR system is the fact that it 'doesn't allow for advancement' over time. While this is ultimately an argument which I find short-sighted and incorrect, I do at least appreciate the psychological impact of moving those numbers up and down (see my rationale for the painting rule, after all). Thus, I am toying with an idea about which I really would like some feedback from you, the readers of questionable sanity who bother to get this far into one of my rambling diatribes - namely, allowing for some TR-threshold variation based on Fan Factor level.

Recall that in the Balanced-TR system, FF is never purchased, it is earned and all teams start at (and cannot go below) 1. With all other rules for gaining and losing Fan Factor left alone (for now anyway), I would like to consider the idea of allowing teams a +5 TR bonus for every full ten fan factor. This variable cap would adjust immediately following a game, and would go down should a team's FF ever drift backward sufficiently.

This system would allow for a tangible benefit to longevity and success. While the FF system is a bit random, the overall trend does favor teams that win, and teams that stick it out for very long periods almost cannot help but gain some. That said, the best of fan factors rarely get out of the twenties with the '-1 per 10' rule in place. Thus, we are really looking at a realistic 10 point variance in threshold favoring older and more successful teams. This range is not fully within the spirit of the balance the system seeks to enforce, but it is never insurmountable in a match either. Even an average coach is not going to find the prospect of being 10 TR down, even to a veteran squad, overly prone to creating a diminished day of gaming, and yet, the aged veterans can still feel like they got somewhere at the end of the day. It is tightly controlled advancement, true to the nature, if not religiously steadfast to the overall scheme of Balanced-TR, and it may catch a few more flies than the vinegar has to d _
e.

I might put a clause in about the bathing too.

[ 07 / 07 / 05 ] Karma, thy name is One.


I can 't stand Gamesmanship. Not only because of the people who are usually the ones who engage in it, but because of the guilt that even someone as typically indifferent as myself is even tempted to engage in it from time to time. Who hasn't though about passing up the easy TD to get those SPP's on the guy who needs them most, who hasn't made a silly, pointless pass action just for the cheap experience? "It isn't cheating, it's playing the game." No, it is over-playing the game. Believe me, I cashed in my simulationist chips years ago, but these exercises in greedy SPP harvesting point to yet another problem spot with the game, and provide another demand for alteration.

No, it isn't cheating, usually no one gets hurt or upset, but the fact that the game is not being played intuitively, but rather in a contrived fashion points to a real problem. It must be self-evident that the game should flow along certain preconceived notions from actual sport, even if you hold no pretense that the game should be an accurate simulation.

Gamesmanship is not something that can be ruled out of the coaches, the game needs to possess an immunity to the behavior gained through solid design instead. But gamesmanship, unlike some of the other negative personality traits which previous installments were aimed at checking, is not a characteristic that should be seen as negative even though it is a trait which points to rules which may need reconsideration. In fact, gamesmanship is a wonderful tool for the game designer to use, because it points to an area of the rules which has a broken or poorly-designed
system, and thus the task is to reform the rules which are being abused - not to remove gamesmanship itself, but rather, to correct the poor design underlying it. Good design negates gamesmanship and when something like SPP harvesting comes along, game designers can be well-measured by observers - those who fail to appreciate the presence of a problem, those who seek to attack the practice without resolving the core problem, and those who can get past proximate causes and pride and resolve the root causes.

So, given that we identify SPP allocation as a having a design flaw by the warning flag of well-known and rather ubiquitous gamesmanship-laced coach behavior, what can we describe as being the root cause of the problem and what approach could be taken to improve the rule itself? The best place to start is dissecting the warning behavior itself.

Ok, so what are coaches doing out there? They're trying to improve their players just a little quicker by doing counter-intuitive or game-ey things to get extra SPP's, either in general or on specific players - especially on specific players. Coaches are also running up scores just for the SPP's, throwing extra blocks and passes in meaningless garbage time, in some leagues coaches are even agreeing to go to overtime just for the extra turns in which to try these tricks. Clearly, there are patterns of bad behavior emerging around the idea of individual players performances being the only variable in the development equation which quite obviously condemn that design as flawed.

Ahh, there it is, the mistake. Individual performance as the basic mechanic of team development. What damage hast it wrought? let us count the ways...

In addition to being the root cause of the gamesmanship behaviors discussed above, individual tallies have also brought the game such wonders as coaches who see no point to winning or losing, linemen who never progress, the need for the thoroughly mislabeled MVP, and the generally unsatisfactory disproportionate concentration of experience on catchers.

While the variety of symptoms of this problem are themselves an effective indictment of the core design, the issue of the lack of a systemic incentive for winning requires an aside, because it is an odd case that it should exist at all and has been at the fore of recent discussions.

Over the years, I have heard this complaint about the game many times, and it initially surprised me. After all, I thought, who doesn't try to win a game, and if there are people out there that really have this problem, why do they play the game at all? I really only play the game for the miniatures and I'm still guilty of stranding my star catcher in the sights of the other guy's ogre in turn seven of the second half if it's the only chance I have to pick up the win in the last turn. I simply cannot wrap my head around the notion of taking the time to buy and paint a team, learn the rules, set aside three hours for playing, and then happily concede a
loss as long as you can pick up a few SPP's and some gold on the way out. And, to be honest, I seriously doubt the credibility and substance of arguments that claim that people have such an attitude. What I will accept, on the other hand, are arguments that say that there is no benefit to winning (though I might not agree that there is a problem with the design, but I will agree that the design exists as such) and I will also argue that the scope of the arguer's frame of reference is too narrow to produce an accurate case.

Firstly, the instinct on my part might be to say that if the lack of reward for victory is leading to people setting for draws rather than make risky plays for the win, or even taking a loss without a fight, that it cannot be seen as a design flaw of the game itself, because unlike the situation with gamesmanship in experience harvesting, the indifference that might exist toward winning is something which falls under the auspices of being dependent on expected behavior - people should want to win games they are playing, and people who do not should just be left to their eccentricities. But, oddly enough, this is not the route that I can go because the problem is that these coaches are thinking bigger than just this match, and in that wider perspective there is indeed a case for this being exactly the same variety of gamesmanship warning flag which we already saw with experience.

Yes, the coach should want to win a game, but this particular game does not have the finite scope of checkers, it is a perpetual game and decisions which lead to instances of choosing not to try to win most often stem from this fact, not from either a lack of testosterone in the coach or lack of rules driving the coach toward a win. Coaches thinking of their teams beyond today 's match will not want to risk that catcher in the open to do better than a tie today unless the reward for the greater context is sufficient. Even if the game offered mountains of gold to the winning team, a team that knows it has to play a championship game next week will play differently, and it is this reasonable, expected, and quite natural thinking that really leads to most such decisions. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the league schedule itself, and the general momentum of a team 's lifespan which is responsible for shaping competitive drive. Even in a setting without structural impetus such as an open season, a coach who passes up a chance to win a single match cannot be branded as overly soft, they likely are thinking of the long-term competitiveness of their team, and appreciate that a win today could cost them other games down the road if that catcher gets blasted in the attempt.

So, in this case it is not that coaches are engaging in gamey behavior, it is that they simply take in the full scope of the league setting and the specific format and scheduling scenario in which they likely fall. If a league does not have a particularly strong format drive for success, some coaches may be content to sit back and simply build despite a poor record. This is not gamesmanship, it is a choice, but that is not to say similar behaviors are not driven by other motivations.

Indeed, there are a segment of coaches who do downplay winning in many leagues and seek to maximize their experience harvest without regard for the outcome of the match, though. These are coaches for whom the reward of individual player development serves as the motivation for play rather than league standings, and for these coaches, decisions always come doen to protecting developing players, but this again is not an indictment of the game 's lack of incentive for winning, but rather yet another opportunity to note and address the issue of poor design in the experience system.

And still beyond the scope of experience and competitive format, there are without question some coaches whose personal enjoyment is based on destroying other teams. Again, we can't always choose our league members in this hobby, and we can't legislate behavior in the rules, but as discussed in earlier diatribes on personality traits (or the lack thereof), a game which has badly designed systems which offer specific and substantive benefits to those who express such characteristics needs to be looked at.

In the end, the issue of coaches not caring to win the game is as complex and varied as the coaches playing the game. The question before the designer is how to react to the possibility that coaches will not want to win the game. The designer may decide that this is an issue best left out of the game itself and left to human nature entirely, and this is a perfectly fine solution for one-off games, but does fail in games where development is involved - especially when the rate of development is not
tied to outcomes in which case we do see indifference emerge. The designer may decide to employ rewards for winning or penalties for losing which are sufficiently dramatic to compel the players to win, but such a response will almost certainly lead to long-term imbalance as teams on streaks may well outpace their opponents. Finally, a designer may seek something in between, and this I think is where the most pleasing results lay.

Why should the game concern itself with promoting winning in the first place? Again, we come back to reasonable expectations. Bloodbowl is, at the end of the day, a game about development over time. While the outcomes of an individual match can and should be left to the character of the coaches playing it, the reasonable expectation is that those teams which consistently win should benefit from the luck or prowess they have shown. Benefit, in this context, can only come from greater or faster development. Therefore, the role of winning in design for this game should be to offer an increase in development, not as a carrot for individual game wins, but
rather as a trend through the larger life of the game. This benefit does not exist to correct any counter-intuitive behavior of coaches, indeed, it is neither a response to coach behavior nor an inducement to action of any sort, but rather is a systemic device to produce expected results. The ideal for this game is not to concern the design with how people play the game, but rather to create a system which produces desired results in desired circumstances and let the humans do as they will with it. If the design is correct, the trend in behavior will follow. If the design has flaws, gamesmanship will point them out.

All that said, the two lessons which the designer can come away with are these, individual statistics should not be the principal determining factor in team development and winning should be more beneficial than the alternatives, over both the long and short term.

To that end, then, I propose the following replacement for the current player experience system:

After every match, roll a d6 on the following table, then add the appropriate modifiers listed, to determine how many SPPs the player earned from this match.

{table border=0}
{tr}{th}Roll{/th}{th}SPPs{/th}{/tr}
{tr}{td}2 or less{/td}{td}0{/td}{/tr}
{tr bgcolor="whitesmoke"}{td}3 - 4{/td}{td}1{/td}{/tr}
{tr}{td}5 - 6{/td}{td}2{/td}{/tr}
{tr bgcolor="whitesmoke"}{td}7 - 8{/td}{td}3{/td}{/tr}
{tr}{td}9 - 10{/td}{td}4{/td}{/tr}
{tr bgcolor="whitesmoke"}{td}11 or more{/td}{td}5{/td}{/tr}
{th colspan=2}Modifiers{/th}
{tr}{td}Team won{/td}{td}+1{/td}{/tr}
{tr bgcolor="whitesmoke"}{td}Team lost{/td}{td}-1{/td}{/tr}
{tr}{td}Team scored 2+ TD's{/td}{td}+1{/td}{/tr}
{tr bgcolor="whitesmoke"}{td}Team caused 2+ casualties{/td}{td}+1{/td}{/tr}
{tr}{td}Player scored any TD's{/td}{td}+1{/td}{/tr}
{tr bgcolor="whitesmoke"}{td}Player caused any casualties{/td}{td}+1{/td}{/tr}
{/table}

This table is, for now, to be considered a draft. I'm still expecting to get some final decisions on where the numbers should fall from the Greenfield Elementary Math Club, but the essential character of the system is quite clear and immutable.

As usual, this approach is also brutally simple, but that's how I like to do things around here. But what does it get us? Oh so many things, actually.

First, it clearly addresses both of the major issues just elaborated by making team performance more important to the development of the squad than individual performances, though it does leave sufficient benefit from being the key player to satisfy desires for this benefit as well. Overall, though, this system is more in keeping with the notion of a team sport, where every player has a role in the play on the pitch, not just the one who walked over the goal line. Such an approach is able to recognize that the daring lino who held up the other guy's minotaur for five turns probably contributed just as much as anyone.

By providing visible and desirable benefit to the winning side, the system also makes sure that a fair number of coaches who might otherwise be prone to overly conservative play will be more likely to try for the win, if only for the better roll mods. The impact on an individual player's development is almost insignificant, but the impact on an entire team is visible. Winning has an undeniable impact on long-term development, but balance is maintained by the use of the balanced-tr system, because remember, all of this is part of a unified design and cannot be expected to produce full effect if broken apart.

Yes, leaving any individual achievement modifiers in the system will result in there being opportunities for gamesmanship, but this is a judgment call falling somewhere between the current utterly broken system and the polar opposite which lacks the expected result of direct benefit for a player who directly contributes. The potential still exists for some coaches to participate in silly plays to maximize modifiers around his team, but an examination of the numbers will reveal a generally poor return for such nonsense and the practice will certainly trend down even further.

I still can't do anything about all those 1's you roll, though.

[ 08 / 08 / 05 ] Have Team, Will Travel


Yeah , Yeah, I 'm a little late, but then, I never promised to keep to a schedule, did I?

Anyway...

today 's rant is brought to you by the letter irony.

Before we get to that, lets look back at what has emerged regarding the overall design goals and accomplishments I've expressed so far: we have a system of perpetual balance through all age levels of teams, luck and accompanying tiers of advancement removed from team development, and dishonest recordkeeping reduced to triviality. Each of these effects has resulted from its own end, and answered a specific need in kind, but taken together, they form a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Taken together, this system gives teams something magic - portability.

And it gives portability in many different contexts. A coach could play matches with his league team against any league team in any other league using the same system and be assured not only of a balanced match, but the essential nature of the balanced development curve would mean that that match could "count" with development rolls afterward without affecting the balance of either originating league. A coach also gains a measure of temporal portability - again, with developmental balance and no fear from matches played out of sight, they could play any number of inter-schedule friendlies or other matches, again, with full development and history in place. A coach could even take his league team to a tournament which has team building rules which follow the system and play them in their actual form, rather than simply reusing the miniatures.

A team in this system gains a broader, more robust life of its own. Your team is liberated from your league. It can survive the collapse of a gaming group, it can travel with you, it can have a full, glorious, and varied saga of its own and the games it plays, no matter how many or where they might be, will always be effectively well-matched.

I feel like a preacher - or maybe a used car salesman. You'll have to excuse me if I take on a bit of a messianic tone on this one, but at the end of the day, I think this may well be the gift to be found in the design I espouse, which is where we find the irony, since the original intention with which I began this journey was to create rules for myself to use in the vacuum of my dining room. It is quite by accident then that I wound up with a version of the game that offers so much to so many.

And why shouldn't the game have such a design? And why have the groups tasked with the care and fostering of the game outside of my house made such portability possible for us? We have in the community an organization whose stated goal is to enable and support Bloodbowl events, an organization that even tries to keep score on coaches' outcomes, yet they make no effort whatsoever to even validate those rankings with standardized formats, much less demanding or creating a rules foundation which would allow for the movement of results through their own web of events. In the world of missed opportunities, and in a game which has always been oppressed and mismanaged by those in positions of ownership and leadership, what is most depressing is that it is so easy to sort things out otherwise.

I am not saying the world should adopt my system, I never have and I never will. I am however offering a lament that when it has turned out to be so easy to create one that does offer these benefits, we as a community have never been given a rulebook that worked, and what is worse, there is no demand for it.

[ 08 / 16 / 05 ] R.I.P. Phigs Miniatures

I really haven't said much publicly about my rather sudden closure of Phigs a couple
of weeks ago. For the most part, this is simply because the whole thing didn't really
call for theatrics or mourning at this point. Still, I've gotten quite a lot of emails
since wondering about what happened, and, mostly, wondering if there were still any
figures left.

The latter question is now easier to answer than the former - there were, but there
aren 't any more now. You had your chance, then you had a last chance, now they're
gone.that 's really all I'll say on the subject.

To the question of "why?" I'll be somewhat more verbose and a lot less trite (or the
other way around), if only because people seem to have entirely the wrong impression
about the whole thing.

First and foremost, despite the conclusion of this chapter of the story being rather
sudden, it does not mean anything actually changed in my life recently. Everything is
fine, the family and the sculptor are all well and quite happy, but thanks for the
concern, however unnecessary.

Truth is, it's been done for months, I just forgot to turn off the lights.

What cannot be forgotten along the by and by is that Phigs should never have been
anything more than a hobby. I think it got started as more or less just that, but it
got delusions of grandeur somewhere along the way. It was supposed to be just a bit of
fun, a way to make miniatures that I wanted to play with and maybe get you guys to pay
the casting costs. If it had never been anything more than that, i may have liked it
more. My first mistake was making the Valkyries.

It seems a little odd to hang such a yoke upon the only release Phigs ever had that
turned an actual profit, but the fact of the matter is that I didn't really have any
particular interest in the concept - but I knew they would sell, they were half-naked
norsewomen after all. Selling them was my motivation for making them, not my own
interest or artistic cravings. Sure, they sold, quite a few, actually, but they
changed the entire Phigs experience forever. When I turned around and released a team
that I desperately wanted for myself, the Gnolls, and they failed financially by any
comparison, I found myself increasingly torn between what interested me and what
could provide what was ultimately a trivial increase in my pocket change. Releases
bounced back and forth between things I actually wanted to make and things that I
thought I had to make and at the end of the day, what I wasn't doing is enjoying my
hobby. I was sacrificing all of my available hobby time, and almost all of my
potential hobby joy to a miniatures line that at its most capitalist excess could
barely pay half of the bill for my new computer.

I think I lost interest with the Black Widows. They were such an obviously formulaic
and immature effort aimed at the lowest of basal urges to be found amongst our hobby
that I must profess rather profound embarrassment to have attached my name to them in
the first place, all things considered. The last nail in the coffin was the complete
failure of the multi-part humans. As this episode of the comic suggests, I had come to
find criticism of the paucity of poses available to small operation like mine to be an
almost infuriating nuisance - when I struck out in a rather expensive direction
specifically designed to rectify that specific and omnipresent complaint only to have
the entire effort find an audience devoid of either interest or excitement, I knew it
was over.

it wasn 't just me, then, clearly you guys were bored too. Sure, I was over here
playing the frustrated artist churning out functionality instead of inspiration, but
people weren 't buying either anymore anyway. I think that people started to take it
all for granted. When I first started Phigs, there was a desperate novelty to it. You
guys grabbed the stuff up quickly when it came out and clutched at it like some
wondrous new gift no matter what they happened to be. The idea of independent
football-themed miniatures was still essentially unexplored in 2001, and I think that
everyone assumed it was going to be a brief aberration at most. My lazy tenacity
ultimately undid that initial wonder. When the Razorbacks were still available almost
four years later, the reception to anything new was going to be marginal at best. The
public rightly assumed that the figures would just be around forever, and if they
didn 't feel like dropping their cash on them this week, they could just get around to
it at some indefinite point in the distant future. And what's more, by releasing a few
things every year, that same public which no longer felt any particular compulsion to
act also felt no particular need to settle for what I felt like making. Instead of
buying just about anything simply because it was new and different also rightly began
to act like more rational consumers and were only buying what really interested them,
which, increasingly, was not anything I was making. Somewhere along the way, other
people started making football themed figures as well, the looming parent company
started providing new official miniatures to muddy the pool even more, and the whole
scene degenerated into a morose, stagnant pond of complete indifference from both
sides of the sales counter.

So , that 's where we were two weeks or so ago. I had a line of figures I didn't really
feel like selling which you didn't really feel like buying. I couldn't even hang onto
my previously ill-placed neurotic pursuit of some sort of life-affirming immortality
through creation anymore once I'd discovered that all of that comes from your kids
instead. It was done. Time to finally turn off the light. And so, I did. Phigs didn't
fall to market forces or personal tragedy, it fell to mutual disinterest. No use
crying over that, then.

And that was the end of it, it was indeed done. Nothing more, nothing less, and I am
completely at peace with the situation. If Phigs had really failed, if I still needed
some sort of ego-stroke from it, if there was still any vitality left in it, maybe it
would be different, but at the end of the day, there is simply nothing more for me to
get from it and the continued trickle of orders, and the accompanying special
out-of-the-way trips to the post office were becoming something I was more annoyed by
than buoyed by. Phigs was supposed to be a hobby, a hobby that annoys you has little
chance of justifying itself.

So, maybe I'm more than just OK with the end, then, I'm in a way a little relieved.
Relieved to be free from the agonizing over what to make next, getting frustrated with
the lack of time available, having to go to the post office, yadda yadda yadda...

Truth be told, I'm going to enjoy actually just painting miniatures again.

[ 08 / 22 / 05 ] But, what if I'm color blind?


So, who had the over on issues before I got around to a baserings column?

Vegas had the line at two and a half, so congratulations on some shrewd (or was it uneducated) wagering.

Yes, I can't believe I managed to steer clear of this topic for this many issues either, maybe I take the weight of my own feelings on this topic for granted now, maybe I'm just too topical, who knows. Either way, here's a basering column, but for those of you have seen me rant on this topic before, never fear, I actually do have some new material in this thing.

As is my custom, I'll start with the problem before outlining the solution - since it'd make very little sense if I did it the other way around.

Sometimes, it is just hard to tell miniatures apart. Maybe you're up against a team made up of third-party figures, or conversions, or maybe even an old second edition squad. Perhaps your opponent is new to the game and doesn't know the figures well. Maybe it's just dark. Whatever the case, it certainly isn't an uncommon occurrence in the world of bloodbowl for coaches to lose track of just which figure is which type. We used to have a ready cure for this, too many people have forgotten it. Baserings.

I 'll cut to the chase on the what and try to include at something new on the why front.

The baserings system is as follows, every player gets his basering painted a color which corresponds to the position of the player. By tradition, these colors are:

Linemen - Grey
Blitzers - Red
Throwers - White
Catchers - Yellow
Blockers -Green

Every player on every roster in the game can be slotted into one of those base colors with very little or no immaginative effort. It's quite a simple system, really.

While the obvious argument for baserings is that removes any confusion over which player is of what type, and a variety of benefits fall off of this essential rationale including sportsmanship, improved table interaction, improved tactical awareness on both sides, etc, the rationale with which I am most concerned these days is game speed.

Bloodbowl is too slow. Any friendly conversation, any distractions, any diversions will push the game toward three hours. At this stage in my life, and I am sure at this stage in most of yours as well, this is just a lot of time. Bloodbowl in its unmodified form is a difficult game to wrap up a match of after dinner on a weeknight without sacrificing some sleep. Games at tournements are not always finished before time is called, generally, it just takes too long. As I suggest above, one of the factors which slows down the game is lack of awareness of the nature of the figures on the board. Anything that improves this awareness, anything that removes questions and answers from a turn will speed up the game. The game needs a whole lot of help to move faster, but color-coding your base rings is a first step on that journey and it is just one of the dozen benefits to baserings of which I've shouted myself blue in the face recounting over the years.

But even I am tired of that argument, this article is really more about what else you can do to compliment those baserings and add to the benefit they grant.

One thing I would personally like to see is the return of team cards. Back in the old days we had one of these for just about every team in the game (well, if you bought all of right White Dwarfs you did) and they were a tremendous aid to you opponent as well as yourself. In the more recent incarnation of the game, there were cards for humans and orcs, but almost to a man, coaches discard these as soon as they have memorized the stats for their own team, if they are even playing one of those two teams in th first place. What is overlooked in this tradition of just memorizing your own squad or in the oversight of not providing cards for other races is that the team card is as much, if not more of an aid to your opponent as it is or was to you.

Most coaches do not regularly play every race in the game. Many coaches do not know from memory the base stats of more than one team. Ina lmost every match a coach will be heard to ask their opponent regularly for these basic profile values. It is not entirely uncommon for the other player to have to look them up himself. Clearly, providing basic roster information as an on-table reference would allow for an improved speed of play. Anyone interested in reducing the excessive duration of the game should look into creating such cards for their team, and I'd certainly love to see a community effort to create high-quality examples for public use.

Even after all of this, though, we still have one more thing slowing down the game, quite possibly moreso even than basic figure confusion - gained skills. How much time do we actually waste while coaches sort out just which player has guard while sorting out a turn? "Which one was the guard guy" is probably the second most used phrase in bloodbowl after "You guys want to order pizza?" Delays from skill uncertaintly affect both coaches in both sides' turn, and there are a handful of skills which are very common and also very often the focus of such breaks in flow. As long as we are sorting out ways to make the game more pacey and clear visually, shouldn't we look at this as well?

The last thing I want to do is to suggest that every skill a player gains be marked on the player's base one way or the other. I tried this ages ago and it was ugly, difficult in its own way, and generally not at all pleasing despite some small success in speading up gameplay. A more essential approach makes more sense. If we look at gameplay, what we typically discover is that skill questions are most often asked about the oposing team, and most often asked around passive blocking and moving skills, and then, some more than others. What would aid the game, then, would be marking skills which are most often gained, used in the opponent's turn which can have real impact on the opponent's decision of movement, blocking choices, or outcomes of either.

To that end, the four skills that most apply to this criteria are Block, Dodge,
Guard, and Tackle.

Simply marking the presence of these skills on a player's base in some fashion which is a) reasonably unobtrusive yet clearly apparent and b) consistent would make turns move visibly faster, especially in league play. This, then, is my proposal, dots.

A small dab of paint for each of these skills a player has, color coded as follows:

Block - Red
Dodge - Yellow
Guard - Green
Tackle -Blue

While Positional rings and team cards should be sufficient to fully inform of the presence of any of these skills by default, it may also be argued that coaches will come to rely more strongly on these dots than on other factors when looking for these specific skills, therefore, it is encouraged, though not mandatory, that dots be included even when the skill is part of the basic profile. When colors intersect (i.e. a blitzer and the block skill) then an empty black-riged circle will be effective.

While these four skills are the most commonly-encountered, there are clearly several other skills which, while less often seen, still have an impact on the flow of the other player's turn which might be effectively ddesignated to speed play. Rather than degenerate into an inscrutable rainbow of individual color codes, it is more effective to simply denote the presence of a skill of any type which migh impact one of two actions, allowing for improved speed by letting coaches ask "which skill does that player have that appears to be a factor in this action" instead of "does any player over here have any skills?"

So, we need just two more dots, a white dot to denote any skill a player might have which could impact the movement portion of the opponent's turn (shadowing, diving tackle) and a black dot to indicate skills which affect the blocking portion of the opponent's turn (Sidestep, Foul Appearance).

Skills which impact pass actions and other less-frequent occurances should not be considered for dots simply to keep the signal-to-noise ratio down. The intent of this system is not to make every detail of the game visible on player models, but to speed the game and increase transparency where it is most effective and neccessary to do so.

It is also true that small dots would not be too difficult to paint over when players are retired or taken to new teams. Crafty coaches with need for more versatile miniatures could even look into solutions involving dry erase markers and such. We're a creative bunch, I'm sure that we can have our cake and eat it to if need be.

Oh, and St. James, sorry about not writing pretty much this same column for you when asked so nicely two or three years ago... I'm like a glacier, you see, retreating from the heat, or getting to things very slowly - but definitely one of the two.

[ 09 / 28 / 05 ] You'd hit it.


One of the old annoyances has come back around in the noise this week - chaos power-specific rosters. Has a new face ever appeared in the community that didn't quickly attempt to ingraciate itself to us all by bringing a quartet of chaos rosters down from the mountain to fill the void no one else had ever had the foresight to fill?

Still, the new guy flogging the unregenerated troll is, while a nuisance, excusable. On the surface it is an obvious step no matter how pointless and unneccessary it may be, but it really gets my jock in a wad when an old fart suddenly brings it up again. He really should know better by now.

We 've been over this, people. The answer is no.

The reason for such obstinance on this subject is simple enough, first of all, daemon rosters have yet to appear which aren't deficient in game design terms and second of all, they're already in the game.

Team design is always the first stumbling block to a daemon team. The response is always to either introduce new, overdeveloped daemon players or to give existing players a mutation. Either option is a major increase in potency of the chaos roster as it stands, and is thus utterly inadmissable on grounds of poor design. Even the most insightful and balanced approaches have ultimately found no widespread interest in the community as a whole. While it may be true that this is most largely due to the general indifference to unofficial rosters through most of the audience, there is also a clear undercurrent of specific indifference to this concept among those with even the faintest shred of creativity and understanding of team development because in the end, attempts to create power-specific rosters come up against one insurmountable barrier, stated or otherwise - star player points.

It is simply the case that any regular chaos team can become a fully-realized chaos power team in just a handful of games. Skill selection shapes a team, and by choosing skills that reflect the traditional characteristics of the desired power, a coach can quickly put the appropriate stamp on his squad. A coach trying to create a nurgle squad can load up on Foul Appearance, one going after a Tzeench motif can get a few players with Big Hand.

Thoughtful team development, coupled with good modelling, can achieve the entire aim of daemon rosters, and can do so without introducing any new complexities or imbalances to the game. The appreciation and understanding of this fact is a constant subtext in discussions of power-specific rosters, and underlines another unstated aspect of the widespread dislike for such rosters - the clear presence of the aroma of cheese.

Whether they realize it or not, what people are trying to get to with this sort of roster creation is a head start. They are trying to "get back" those first couple of skill rolls to use them on more tactically-desirable skills such as block and guard rather than the skills which would provide a connection the daemon concept which they cannot intellectually make without an entry on the roster sheet. Unable to either reach satisfaction with achieving the concept through modelling alone, or through modelling and targetted team development, these people either have a profound lack of immagination, are secretly powergamers, or are just exceptionally slow to pick up on game design concepts. The rosters they design rely upon specific skills, rather than modelling or simple roleplaying, to convey the character of the specific chaos variety they wish to emmulate, yet they are not willing to sacrifice traditional development lines to get to them. They are unable to realize a chaos power team without specific mutati _
s, and too greedy to just take those mutations in the normal course of development.

The rest of us, even when we can't put it into words, seem to sense this essential lack of character which so often drives daemon rosters, and are wise enough to steer clear of such notions. While there may be a place for such concepts in leagues with the doors blown off roster options and very loose standards for balance and logic, in the much more narrow conventional world, and especially in the world of officially-recognized choices, there is just no effective niche for these rosters.

And a niche is what is required. A new roster is not a matter of realizing a development platform, it is a matter of introducing a new tactical design idea to the game. Designing a roster, for example, that is founded upon a highly-mobile, larcenous team with many players possessing pass block and strip ball is a style of play niche which was not explored by the initial set of rosters, and is therefore ripe pickings for an acceptable new roster. The chaos power rosters always fail to measure up to this niche standard because they do not explore a unique concept in team play, they simply allocate advanced development steps or at their most innocent are an attempt to convey an aesthetic idea through a roster, which is folly in itself, as all aesthetic considerations should be left to the models alone. It is indeed true that should someone craft a roster that suits an unexplored game idea which also satisfies the misplaced aesthetic needs of a daemon roster, then they would have a valid argument for the valid _
y of the roster - but how often has this actually occurred? Can such a niche be found for every one of the four powers without a suspension of at least some level of rational evaluation? not likely, and less likely when every attempt begins and ends with the limited Chaos roster to begin with.

Ultimately, power-specific rosters just cannot find a reasonable foothold in the game. They cannot be created without being overdeveloped, kickstarting development, expressing aesthetic ideas best left to the miniatures instead, or realize a nuiance of the game not yet explored in other rosters. Daemon rosters just cannot be introduced in a manner which improves the game, and cannot be justified as anything other than poor design, developmental greed, or a basic lack of creativity.

[ 12 / 02 / 05 ] Ignorance IS Bliss


Apparently there is a new rulebook. Yeah, I know you all know that, but then, this is not a news site, it's a shrine to my own self-importance.

Anyway , there 's a new rulebook and when this sort of thing happens dozens of people slow enough to want to know what I think about such things invariably send me emails asking what I think about such things. Or no one does, but definitely one of the two. Either way,
eventually I get around to a series of long-winded, arrogant rants about how this or that change was good, bad, or indifferent.

But this isn't one of those.

Remarkably enough, the manifestation of a new rulebook has had little or no impact upon me at all. Oh, I've got a copy, I even asked Tom to send it to me, but I just haven't bothered to look at it.

Why not?

Truth is, I'm not sure why I just don't care this time.

Shouldn 't be that way, I know. I still love this game. I still think about it entirely too much and write about it slightly less than I really should. I am painting and sculpting more these days than I have been able to do for almost two years. Nothing has really changed, except that for the first time in ages I just don't particularly give a damn that the rules got overhauled yet again.

Maybe it 's fatigue. This one makes how many new versions of the game in the last five years or so? I've made my feelings on the pace of change and the disastrous potential consequences on long-term coach retention known in the past. Have my Nostradamian visions of coach
alienation from excessive revision not only come true, but come true in the case of the prophet himself?

Or perhaps I am confused about what this new version is. It isn't the LRB, it might be the next printed version, it might be official, it wasn 't assembled by GW itself, nor was the entire BBRC involved. The status of this rulebook is so jumbled that it is possible I just don't
take it as seriously as I probably should.

Maybe I simply recognize that by the time I get around to playing another match, the rules will change again. Aside from the odd dining room tilt against Jim, for which rules really aren't particularly required or observed anyway, I'm remarkably unashamed to report that I am down to only getting metal on the table once a year for the Three Kingdom 's Challenge tourney. That said, I can usually get a crash course in major changes ten minutes before round one and be fine. When the game changes more often than you play it, sometimes it just doesn 't pay to keep up.

But it is most likely that I simply no longer have any pressing interest in the game's ever-changing sanctioned form. I've been telling people for a while now that I am now working on a ten-year schedule with everything I do with Bloodbowl. I started playing this game as a kid, now I have kids. Being a grown-up (well, contextually one, if not actually one) and rarely playing, I have unconsciously shifted almost all of my thinking toward a vague point in the future when my boys will be old enough to play the game. What the rules are today really aren't as important to me in this frame of reference. I know that the rules will change a dozen times before the day that I will really need them again, and I know that the majority of the
rulebook my kids will learn the game from has not been written as of today (whether I write it myself or the game gets its act together over the next decade remains to be seen). All that said, I approach something like a new version in a very different way than I would have done two or three years ago when those changes took immediate impact upon my then much more often and very much present life in the game. The bubble I'm in now (or the rock I'm under, you decide) affords me the opportunity of evaluating the flights of fancy that masquerade as official rules for a few weeks every few months in a much more leisurely and critical light, and to do so whenever I feel like it, or never at all.

So, the short story long is that I don't have an opinion on the substance of the new version. I'm sure Tom put a lot of thought and effort into the thing, and I must admit that I don't envy him his new position as chief slander target in the community that came with the job, but it may be profoundly appropriate that he got that helmet for his time.

He 's going to need it.

But for a change, I won't be first in line with stone in hand.

[ 12 / 09 / 05 ] That's why I never played gobbos


Bloodbowl is a game which owes a great deal of its relative success over the years to the impact of the flavor of the game upon those who play it. The concept of the game, the look of the art and figures, and the overall vibe of the thing draws players in and captivates all of us. Therefore, the elements of the game which provide this tangible feel are not to be fiddled about with too lightly, but let's be honest, two of them just flat out don't work - secret weapons and magic.

Yes, you absolutely have to find a place for both of these in the game somewhere. What would this game be afterall without chainsaws and Zap!s? Diminished for certain. Yet the systems in place for both of these concepts are so unweildy, so frustrating, and so poorly-considered that these segments which are mandatory by their nature are burdening the game with their poor designs. Something better has to exist and something different has be ventured in order to find a more effective application of the concept within the system. These concepts deserve better, afterall, because they really do in part define our game.

What then can we say is really the problem, especially when so many people are content to play on with these terrible rules. This is true, but the kickoff table is a terrible rule people play on with as well. A rule which is used is not a rule which was designed well. Certainly the secret weapon rules are not the utter catastophe that the league rules are, but it is definitely well short of ideal regardless.

As for those secret weapons, the problems are numerous. They have very elaborate and unweildy special rules which are rarely memorized, and even more rarely recalled correctly. Looking up rules is ponderous and breaks the flow and enjoyment of the game. Arguing over mistaken recollections of the rules is even worse. Table dissent interferes with enjoyment, and nothing is allowed to interfere with enjoyment. It's rule #1, if you remember correctly. In addition to having obtrusive rules, the distribution of secret weapons is hardly handled well, and the systems of aquisition are too many and too varried to mention.

What is needed is a rule which is simple, something that fits well within the space of a typical paragraph at most. The ideal rule would also fit securely within the normal flow of the rules, rather than having rules all to itself. This rule would be unique in the game, not just a rehashed skill definition. All races would have equal and obvious access to the secret weapons, and above all, the end result would maintain, if not enhance the look and feel of the game.

Similarly, magic in the game has long suffered from poor initial offerings. Second edition's magic had the right character, but the system was overly-detailed and thus introduced slowing complexity. Third edition's system tried to abstract the concept, but in clinging to a mechanic which still tried to interface with the gameboard created an absolutely terrible situation in which one team could make a massive impact on the outcome of a match without an effective mechanism for his opponent to compensate or plan around it. More recent attempt to bring the magic back onto the board have been admirable, but have not only returned 2e's complexity, but indeed expanded upon it to the degree that magic is entirely unpleasant. Clearly, this concept has never fared well in the game, though this does mean that almost any alternative may well be an improvement.

What then are we to look for in a magic rule? Again, simplicity is a key value - anything you can describe in a paragraph is admirable. The rules must place magic in the hands of players on the pitch so that both teams have this portion of the game firmly within the scope of their tactical decisions. Finally, this rule must also do its best to maintain the appropriate vibe which in part defines the game.

That is in fact asking an aweful lot from a couple of rules, but I've been determined to find these rules for quite some time.

One of the first ideas which must be introduced is universality. Whatever system is adopted for either of these rules must be immutable for every race in the game. All races must have access to the exact same secret weapons and their spellcasters to the exact same spells. Only in this way are the rules going to be effectively and fully balanced, as well as being the system with the smallest opportunity for dissent and the lowest burden on coach's memory.

While it is essential that these two effects do no simply replicate the effect of any given skill, using the skill system to introduce these effects may well be the most desireable way to redefine them. As skills these two concepts would become widely and universally available. Therefore, the approach to be taken is to remove the notion of players who use secret weapons or spells as special position players, star players, or any such scheme and instead simply make a new skill for each. This proposal, then is for the addition of two new general skills, Cheater and Spellcaster.

The sublime goal of simplification, taken to an elemental extreme, would have us look over the list of secret weapons and determine that the essential character of this design concept is the use of illegal impliments of destruction on the pitch. While the specific reality of past rules does include a handful of fiendish devices designed to move the ball or the player about the pitch, the majority have dealt very efficient damage, and it is these devices with an emphasis on the weapon portion of the phrase, secret weapons, which are the eponymous icons of the concept. We can, therefore, conclude that a rule which only includes this aspect would be sufficient to convey the desired effect.

All of that said, why could the entire secret weapon concept not be delivered as:

Cheater, General skill.

A player with this skill will sneak an outlawed weapon of some sort, perhaps a dagger, chainsaw, or siege cannon onto the pitch to give him a little something extra on his blocks. Anytime this player knocks down his opponent on a block (whether the cheater is the attacking or defending player) goes directly to the injury roll, there is no need to make an armor roll. Such weapons are, however, very much against the rules and referees are always on the lookout for such infractions. At the conclusion of any drive in which the cheater took the field, roll a D6 for this player. On a roll of 4, 5, or 6 the Referee spots the infraction and ejects the cheater. The coach may argue this call as normal.

Magic is perhaps even easier to reduce to a common denomenator, as the third edition version with which most coaches are the most familiar is itself boiled down to little more, in practice, than a single spell. As our goal is simplification, we simply reject outright the approaches found elsewhere and concentrate istead on filling the remaining design goal with the sigular Zap! spell concept. This, fortunately, is not at all hard to accomplish, though we do need to add one more bit to the rulebook than we did with secret weapons.

Cast Action

A player with the appropriate ability may attempt to cast a spell. Players that have been knocked over or who have moved in this turn may not perform this action. This action may not be declared by more than one player per team turn.

Now that that's out of the way, the new skill required:

Spellcaster, General skill

A player with this skill has trained in the magical arts and is not averse to attempting to use that knowedge to gain an edge in the match. In order to use this skill, the player must make a Cast action. The player may select one opposing player within 5 squares as the target. Once a target is selected roll a D6. If the result is a 4, 5, or 6 then the spell has been cast successfully and the target player is stunned. Following any successful cast action, there is a possibility that the referee will notice the player's arcane chanting and gyrations and eject the wizard for illegal spellcasting. Roll a D6. If the result is a 6, then the spellcaster is ejected. The coach may argue the call as normal.

Yes, these rules are simplified to the extreme, but the measure by which they should be judged should not be to degree to which they are beholden to a history of failures, but rather the degree to which they deliver on the design goals set forth. While they very much meet the targets for simplification, universality, and system compatability, the risk that is being taken here is that in over-simplification we are precariously close to losing some or all of the character which these rules are intended to add to the game, and that in reducing them to such elemental levels, they will no longer serve as hallmarks of the game's spirit, but simply as anonymous elements within it. Can rules so thoroughly reduced deliver the appropriate flavor element to the game, or are they so reduced that this, the target which is ultimately most important, is lost?

Personally, I suspect that such an approach will succeed. Do we really need rules for seven different secret weapons, or do we in fact really only need seven different secret weapon-equipped models which share a common and effective rule?

[ 12 / 19 / 05 ] The gibberish that never was

I drew this installment's comic a while back, and to be honest, I'm almost amazed that it finally has a monologue to accompany it on it's journey to irrelevance. When I created it, I had intended to marry it to a diatribe outlining a scheme I'd cooked up for bringing Second Edition's fan attributes back into the game, but every time I sat down to write that monologue, I just couldn't string together even my normal semi-lucid perpendicular lines of thought. Something was just not quite right with what I was trying to do and I was acutely aware of that fact, but I just wasn't sure what it was that wouldn't let me finish the column.

The rules were quite good, actually. Born from a period of prolonged nostalgia, simple, elegant even, without burdening the game, slowing it down, or otherwise getting in the way. They seemed to work very well, interesting simulationist-inspired retro rules that added a bit of variety to a neglected corner of the game. Yet, I still couldn't formulate an argument for using them, I couldn't even convince myself.

But why not?

Well, lets look at just enough of the substance of the rules to make the point. The idea was that a team's Fan Factor would be split into the familiar three attributes of Chant, Hooligans and Loyalty. Each Fan Factor increase or decrease would give the team the opportunity to add or remove one point from any one of these values, and Fan Factor would remain the sum of the three. One or the other attribute would replace Fan Factor in modifying the die rolls for kickoff table events, and the aforementioned table would be modified slightly to include one, and only one, result requiring each of the three. They would have no other impact upon the game.

That's the nickle tour, but you get the idea, I'm sure.

So, why couldn't I pen an even marginally-persuasive bit of prose to illuminate and advocate those rules? I really wasn't sure for a while, and so the comic you see above these rather mediocre lines sat upon a shelf with an uncertain and indeed unlikely future while I slowly mulled the dilemma over in my mind.

Thing you don't need or want to know about Phil #39 - I do my best thinking on the way home from work.

Maybe it's because my brain is Jello at that point and I'm stuck in creeping traffic with nothing else to do but try not to fall asleep while listening to the oh-so-subdued announcers of the BBC World Service report without emotion about the day's tragedies, but my thoughts often turn to Bloodbowl while waiting in vain for the solid wall of cars in front of me on I-275 to part like some ancient Hebrew expectantly waiting for Moses to do something about the inconvenient sea in the way, and that, this phrase included only to make an already awkwardly-long and overly-pretentious sentence even longer, is exactly when and where I realized what was wrong with those rules.

The long-awaited answer? They just weren't necessary.

And there it was, the truth I'd been searching for was that the system was entirely pointless. Sure, the rules worked, and it did add variety and character to an otherwise very mundane section of the team sheet, and yes, it did bring back some more of the flavor of Second Edition, but at the end of the day, it was nothing more than a more elaborate version of what existed prior to my meddling, and as such, was simply not a worthwhile venture.

Fan Factor was already accomplishing everything that this new approach offered, except variety. But what is the value in variety? In this case, very little. In the version of Bloodbowl this site illuminates, Fan Factor plays only a trivial role. Without gate roles, fans are relegated to doing little more than modifying a couple of kickoff roles and serving as a measure of luck and success for teams. Yes, it is a bland little corner of the team sheet, but does it deserve to be more than that? Can I remain intellectually honest to my philosophy of simplicity and anti-simulationism while trumpeting such rules? No and no.

In the end, even though they were neat rules, even though they were rules that worked, and even though I personally wanted to use them, the new fan attribute rules were of no value to the game I am striving to realize. And so, with a heavy heart and something that could be regret, relief, or indigestion I consign them to the great graveyard of utterly useless good ideas - right next to the McDLT.

The moral of this story is one which anyone involved in the incessant rewriting of this game should take to heart, yet none seem even marginally-inclined to do - not everything you think of, even the good things you think of, belong in the game. The game is the sum of its parts, and overloading or under developing any portion can diminish the whole of the game. As with this case, over describing a trivial aspect gains you nothing. Even when that mistake is so unremarkable, even when it would never slow the game, confuse a coach, or otherwise threaten Rule #1 in anyway, something which is simply not needed is just that.

[ 01 / 03 / 06 ] Not that he has a shot either way...

Not long ago, Jim and I were idly speculating on how it is possible that Bloodbowl, a game which should by all rights be wildly popular, still meets with only a small niche following. Ever since that conversation, the topic has been at the forefront of my prefrontal perambulations. While several possibilities present themselves, the one I find most intriguing is this:

Is it at all possible that Bloodbowl's name has been holding it back all of these years?

Seriously, what does Bloodbowl actually lack in a hobby game? Its concept has the universal appeal of sport, its flavor text is entertaining, the rules are easy and for the most part effective, the miniatures are great, and the buy-in cost is very low. Even without consistent or complete support, the game has more to offer than either of the GW battle games, rules which are no better or worse, figures which are no more or less interesting, a background which has no less potential, and a much more affordable price point, yet those games still take up every table at the local game shop.

You can put teeth to an argument that GW itself has no desire to see Bloodbowl succeed over the cash-intensive core battle games, as the same low buy-in that should make the game wildly successful would also take a huge toll on the company's profits, but considering the fact that even when the game was well-stocked, actively marketed, and generally given fair-haired treatment by the parent company, it just never took off.

And again I ask, could it just be the terrible name?

Show of hands, how many of you have ever been embarrassed to tell a family member the name of the game you're playing? How many of you have described Bloodbowl to a girl in place of answering a query about the name of the game you're playing? Have you ever reacted to Warhammer or Dungeons and Dragons with the save elusiveness? I've done it and I've heard it done by others. There seems to be a generalized anxiety in the community over the game's name. But why?

Really, when you step back a bit and consider the name objectively and literally, it really is no surprise that it is a minefield. Bloodbowl, when spoken, places the forcefulness of its pronunciation in the first half of the word, and just sort of trails off in the second. A listener without familiarity or with only marginal interest (which is any girl you ever talk to) is likely to hear little more than just "Blood" and process only that. The inclusion of the "bowl" portion of the name, even when not overlooked, does little to mitigate the severity of the first part, and is not effective in its role of grounding the name in the sporting genre, as even when the listener is likely to associate the word "bowl" with sport, which is not always, it is likely not to be fully processed in the first place.

Thus, the listener is left with a first impression of the game which amounts to "Blood-somethingorother" and most sane and rational people will not be anything other than marginalized by a game whose name means nothing to them beyond simple and undescribed violence. The game may as well be called "Murder" or "Rape" for all the good that it's present name does it in casual conversation.

And that first impression is important. Even when you're not chatting up a girl and feeling awkward about discussing your hobbies, the game doesn't always fare well because not all gamers are attracted to games which are founded upon overly violent concepts, and many of us are wise enough at this point to know that those games which are overly violent in nature tend to have many things going against them, namely rules which are painfully immature and rarely balanced, as well as players which can likewise be described as painfully immature and rarely balanced. Many gamers are simply expectant that a game with such a name is not likely to be an enjoyable pursuit without substantial convincing, and in the absence of an existing and effectively evangelical league, the opportunity to alter that impression may not exist.

This is all very speculative, by its very nature, but the rhetorical question that I will leave you with is this, would Bloodbowl be a bigger game if it were called Goblin Rules Football instead?