Monday, September 28, 2009

[ 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.