Monday, September 28, 2009

Balanced TR Leagues, How and Why

[Reposted from the house rules section of the website - as so many of the columns reference this system, it seemed only appropriate to present it here as well.]

All teams will have a static Team Rating of 150 at all times. Any combination of players, staff, and re-rolls may be purchased to meet this mark, and any of these may be removed to make the mark as well. All teams must meet this TR restriction prior to and after every match, and thus must make alterations to their roster following each match to return to the TR threshold by any means they wish. A team may never have a TR of greater or less than 150. All new and replacement players added are rookies, and must meet the normal maximums of the roster. Veteran players removed are lost permanently, and may not be recovered in the future. Re-rolls added and removed are done so at the normal base cost at all times. Fan Factor for all teams begins at 1. Teams do not purchase fan factor, instead, it is only gained and lost through post-match rolls. Finally, there is no treasury or winnings rolls, and, as a result, no gate rolls.

The formula for computing TR has the following changes:
  • Fan factor no longer figures into TR.

  • Without a treasury, there is obviously no treasury component to TR.

  • SPPs are not figured as before. Instead, only the number required to advance to another skill roll is used in calculating a player's value, i.e.:
    SPPsTR Value

  • This is certainly the most dramatic departure from the baseline of the game found in these rules, and it is the foundation upon which healthy leagues and competitive matches is built. I wish that I could take full credit for this idea, I like to think that I was at least close to it at times, but Chet Z was the real innovator and from his idea I have arrived at this implementation.

    The reason this system works is that it is the first to effectively strike at the heart of the persistent problem that the game has had with long-term balance and the ability of new teams to play old teams enjoyably.

    The key to the success of this system is that it is the first to handle well the long-overlooked core source of disparity in the game, the balance between bench depth and team skill. Ever since the inception of the 3rd edition of the game, this problem, that veteran teams have both long benches and more skilled players than opponents with fewer matches under their belts, has persisted. Previously, attempts to balance matches in league settings have made two terrible mistakes.

    First, they have always concentrated on establishing a one-match artificial balance or handicap to make a match between disparate teams balanced. This has always meant that teams would either see their rosters or abilities diminished or increased, but only for that match. This is a system that will never feel right, and will never result in long-term health for the league or the teams within it. Coaches resent systems that leave their toys on the bench unused, and coaches similarly dislike having boosts to their team that make development seem irrelevant or inconsequential. Further, neither team after such a match is any closer to being balanced when next they meet, the state of disarray is maintained, and the match probably wasn't particularly well-balanced in the first place. A league needs to be managed at a higher level than the single-match perspective. A decision must be made about the envelope in which all teams will operate within, and that frame of reference needs to be small enough to make all games interesting (I will never say balanced, or fair, experience should lead to advantage, but games need not be the farcical drubbings they tend to be in the current model either), yet wide enough to allow for enjoyable team development.

    The second mistake made by every league management system seen to date is that they have all completely overlooked the root cause of the imbalance between teams of different levels of experience - the misalignment of the bench vs. experience axis. The status quo in Bloodbowl has always seen the teams which least need bench depth as the only sides with that commodoty, meanwhile, fresh teams that lack the skills to succeed without a constant flow of replacements rarely have more than the starting eleven. Ultimately, this leads to matches where the veteran team comes in full and never even needs to put four or five of those players on the field, while the newer team often finds itself down four or five players by the second half. These are th games that are not fun. Eleven players against eleven players is almost always interesting, or at least almost always has the potential to be a fair match. Sixteen players against seven or eight is never going to be either fun or interesting, yet this is precisely what we see time and time again in disparate matchups. The veteran team has the skills to not only knock the other side off the pitch, but also to weather the opposite's attempts to knock them off the pitch while they're at it. The veteran team also has no concern about the odd injury, as they will always have more players on their roster than they will have occasion to use. Meanwhile, the younger team, suffering under the attrition of being on the wrong side of a team that has developed an ability to put them out well beyond a new squads ability to suffer such losses is also hamstrung by a short bench afforded them by the low starting budget of the traditional league system. It is not skilled teams against unskilled teams that causes uninteresting disparate matchups, it is the inability for one side to keep eleven players on the field as the game progresses that undermines these matches.

    Therefore, it is clear that the missing element required to keep all matches in a league of various levels of experience is to extend the benches of young teams, allowing them to keep the full eleven on the pitch longer, and to shorten the benches of veteran teams, and allowing casualties to affect their performance. The ideal axis for team development, therefore, would be one where young teams are able to field nearly-full rosters, and where the most skilled and senior teams in the league have only a couple of backups waiting in the wings. Along the development track, this bench-depth to skill ratio would shift cleanly.

    The usual attempts at new team management systems traditionally only address one side of the ratio. Typically, notions such as salary caps and appearance fees do an acceptable job of limiting the veteran team, but nothing is done to elevate the junior. Similarly, handicapping systems that give the junior team a one-match boost do nothing to address the unbalancing depth of their opponent (and further, one-match player-granting handicaps actually encourage long-term disparity by slowing spp growth of the team's roster players). The only effective way to address league balance is to simultaneously deepen the benches of younger teams while shortening the benches of older teams