Monday, September 28, 2009

[ 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.