Game Theory with Adam Tremblay

Welcome to the first of many Game Theory articles that will take a detailed look at some of our favourite miniature table top wargames and video games (Interactive visual game entertainment/experiences). I love games and how they work, but I also love to interpret the artistic value of a game as I attempt to get a glimpse of what the creator had in mind as they built these games.

Today we are going to take a look at the notrious victory points system for the games Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K from Games-Workshop.

1) Why do Victory Points Exist?
The majority of miniature wargames assign a specific price tag or point value to a single/group of miniatures. Within the context of the game world this is supposed to symbolize the differences in quality and quantity between models. Points have a duel purpose, first by being a game balancing agent by creating a disparity between models. With weaker models costing less compared to the more powerful, yet more expensive elite miniatures. Secondly, it allows the game designer to develop a deeper sense of thematic identity for a group of miniatures. For example: the elite powerful Chaos Knights are imbued with the gifts of their Gods, therefore they should be extremely powerful; yet rare because the Gods are fickle about who they bestow their gift upon. Compared to the numerous and weedy goblins, which are weak on their own, but together in a horde can be a greentide of death and misery.

Victory points, are the direct side effect of this system. Miniature wargames, by their true nature need to have a victor and defeated opponent. For a designer, victory points are the most simplistic and rational way to force a victory condition. Each model is worth a point value, every model I remove from my opponent’s army nets me those points and if I can prevent my opponent from doing the same, then I am the victor. Really simple and effective, but is it thematic? To an extent perhaps, because history has shown to contain brutal massacres and drawn out stalemates. However, here is where some of the many problems with victory points begin…

2) The Consequences of the Victory Point System
The primary issue with victory points is how they are utilized within a game system. For starters in Warhammer Fantasy, whenever you run down or completely destroy a unit you gain its combined victory points value. Seems all right so far. Until you begin to notice that this begins to promote two different extremes within the game. Units that are large and full of powerful models (expensive in points because of their improved stats) and dozens of smaller redirecting units (small size and cheap cost) for repositioning these larger more powerful units. Essentially, the larger “death units” are used to clear out other models, while the smaller cheap units/models are used to keep these more powerful models from earning their points back.

Why is this such a big deal? Well the issue is that this system promotes these two extremes and armies will have no middle ground units that offer alternatives or tools for varying the army playstyle. Because the playstyle of an army, is so connected to its theme, you soon get this homogenised effect of armies feeling too similar. Once armies are playing the same style, pretty soon it becomes a min-max game that alienates models/armies that are just under the radar.

Also how people approach the game is altered as well, because now its more about a model’s points value (is a model cost-effective, super cheap or really powerful), instead of a model’s potential tactical value or toolbox nature. For instance: High Elf Sea Guard, have bows and spears for weapons and can switch them on the fly. A fairly flexible unit that can perform a variety of roles, however because of the victory points system, you would be at a disadvantage for taking them. They are more expensive compared to spearmen and bowmen, and even though being flexible is nice, it does make them lackluster, by not being truly great in one particular area.

3) Fixing the Mission
Victory Points often promote a “Kill or be Killed” mentality, but here’s an effective way to change-up this age-old formula. Missions! Simple right? Now I want to clarify that missions that award additional victory points don’t really count, because they haven’t actively solved the problem.

Instead missions should take the focus off the individual models/units (thereby removing emphasis on points values) and focus on tactical play and objective based games. With regards to Fantasy, this could be done with missions that rely on units with banners holding key points on the map. It works thematically (armies smashing face full metal style) and in-game as well because all the models still retain all their roles. Smashy units still smash, redirectors still distract, but now tool box units could potentially have more value. Using the High Elf Sea Guard example; they still lack a defined role but now they can adjust to what the army would need during the game. For instance in a take and hold mission the can offer support by providing additional firepower and break into the zone with the rest of the hammer melee units on that crucial turn.

For more examples of awesome and interesting Warhammer Fantasy Missions, make sure to checkout the Uk Tournament: Blood and Glory! Which is run by Ben Curry from the Bad Dice Podcast for more information on the event and how it played out.

Are these absolute answers or permanent examples of how to change the game? No. But I found that they are a step in the right direction to promote more interesting competitive and casual play in Warhammer Fantasy!

Until next time! 

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