In Defense of Battle Points

After the NOVA Open last week, there's been a lot of discussion about the strengths and weakness of various tournament formats. Discussions comparing the more complicated Swiss-style tournament to the less forgiving elimination system. Debates about the all-or-nothing of Win-Loss scoring compared to the broader Battle Points scoring. And flat-out arguments about the fairness of various matching systems.

Today, AbusePuppy at 3++ is the new black posted an article expressing why he felt Battle Points where bad for competitive and casual players. I've decided dig a little deeper into the idea. If you want to read the full article, you can jump to here -- but don't feel like you have to because I'll be quoting a hefty amount of it here.

Let's start with a quick "hows and why" on over-sized wargaming tournaments.

TOURNAMENT FORMAT: There are two basic formats available to tournament organizers for our kind of games. Overwhelmingly, the most popular system is the Swiss-system (used for chess, go, Scrabble, Magic: The Gathering and many other popular, competitive games), but single elimination (or knockout) tournaments are viable options (commonly used in sports where it's impractical for every team to be playing simultaneously). Both require the exact same number of rounds to determine a clear winner.

Swiss-system tournaments are generally preferred because a) every player gets to play every round, b) all games can happen concurrently, c) they better support random, first round seeding and c) all players are ranked - relative to each other - at the completion of the event.

TOURNAMENT SIZE: One of the down-sides of both formats is the relatively small number of players they can support. This is especially true for games like Warhammer where only a handful of games can be played in a single day.

The popularity of these events -- and the desire for tournament organizers to support lots of players, leads to over-sized tournaments.

An "over-sized" tournament is one where there are more than 2^n players (where n is the number of rounds in the event) competing against each other. For a 5-round tournament, an over-sized tournament has more than 2^5 (or 32) players. For a 7-round player, an over-sized tournament has more than 128 (or 2^7) players.

It is these over-sized tournaments (in particular events like Adepticon and Grand Tournaments) that have led to the birth of "Battle Points".

BATTLE POINTS: Simply put, your Battle Points total is your "score". The most important function of Battle Points is to give a tournament organizer the ability to measure the degree of victory in a game. If a player wins a game and scores 45 points, he outscores, outranks and outwins a player who "wins" with only 20 points.

THE PROS: Because Battle Points allow you to rank "winners", a Battle Point-enabled tournament can support more than 2^n number of players. This allows for a much larger event (WarGamesCon used Battle Points to handle an extra 60 players in a 7-round event -- Adepticon stretches this MUCH further). Larger capacity events attract more players, lead to larger prize pools, more social interaction and a lot more fun.

THE CONS: The downside of Battle Points is that it's tougher to resolve a clear winner. In a 7-round tournament with 250 players, you will end up with TWO players winning all of their games. One player has more (maybe even many more) Battle Points and is declared the winner, even though the second player lost no games -- and may not have had an opportunity to play against the overall winner.

This can lead to player frustration -- particularly if the player doesn't really understand how the tournament really works when they register.

Now let's take a look at AbusePuppy's article (his quotes are in that very light red color):

"What battle points encourage is the opposite of what competitive AND casual players want. Let's review for a second: a competitive player is generally going to get the most enjoyment out of a hard-fought game against a strong opponent- someone who really challenges his play skills and pushes his abilities to the limit. (In the most ideal sense, they don't care whether it's a win or loss provided it was a good game, but the reality is that most everyone would rather win than lose, be they competitive or not.) Casual gamers would like to have a relaxed game where both players can enjoy themselves, chat, show off models, act out scenic battles, etc- there are a lot of different kinds of casual gamer, but the uniting factor is probably that they want a game to be about mutual enjoyment, as opposed to a contest. (Again, all other things being equal a casual gamer would probably rather win, but that is not necessarily their only goal.) Battle points are detrimental to both these styles of play."

First of all, you don't understand casual players at all. Do you really think casual players are there to "show off their models" and "act out scenic battles"? Really? That's like saying a casual tennis player plays to "show off his raquet" and "act out famous matches" -- "Hey, honey. Let's go to the club and re-enact the Wimbleton 1976 finals. I'll be Bjorn Borg and you can be Chris Evert. Don't forget to bring your replica of Andre Agassi's 1999 French Open raquet to show off. What? No, I'll play Jimmy Conners next weekend.".

Casual players are there to play the game (just like you) -- and winning is part of the game. Every player, even the most fluffy bunny, likes to win -- and puts effort into it. The only difference between a competitive player and a casual player is the value he places on winning. That's it. Warhammer is a competitive game -- every single game has a winner and a loser. Competition is at the heart of every single game - even narrative campaigns and custom scenarios. Likewise, every game should be casual. Our hobby is first and foremost a game -- and both players are there to have fun.
"I guess I should've let him act out that scenic battle..."

" 'Doing the best he can', in a battle points game, means that he wants to get every possible battle point. This, pretty much by necessity, means crushing his opponent as hard as he can, since most BP are a "either one person or the other gets them" sort of thing, and even when they aren't they generally require taking something from your opponent, like destroying one of their units. This means that not only is the competitive gamer forced to play like a jerk to get what he wants- taking every possible advantage and punishing every mistake the enemy makes in order to maximize his ability to get BP- in order to get an ideal score, he needs to be playing against a much weaker opponent."

You are generalizing. Objectives in well-designed Battle Point games don't require you to "crush your opponent". There were a few 4th Edition missions from Adepticon with tertiary objectives being awarded for 1,601+ victory point wins, but those were really rare (and bad). In any case, I agree with you -- missions and scoring encouraging you to annhiliate your opponent are bad.

You might be surprised "crush your opponent" requires exist in tournaments that don't use battle points. The recent NOVA Open matched players using degree of victory as a criteria -- meaning players who annihilated their opponents were matched against weaker players. That's major incentive to completely crush your opponent in a tournament without Battle Points. As a matter of fact, the NOVA missions had primary, secondary and tertiary objectves (just like the missions at Adepticon and WarGamesCon) -- they just didn't have associated scores.

Objectives in Battle Point tournaments are no different than objectives in Win-Loss tournaments. The only difference is that in a Battle Point tournament, winning an objective gives you a certain number of points; instead of a simple win or loss.

"If we are using a simple win/loss system, a casual player and a competitive player coming to the table is not necessarily a problem; both players can get what they want out of the game, provided the opponent is willing to work with them. The competitive player is happy to play out a good game with a clear victor- and if he doesn't win, it's because he didn't play well enough. The casual player can have his wacky scenario or epic character duel or whatnot as part of the regular game, and it doesn't necessarily cost anyone anything. 

Honestly, AbusePuppy. The casual player can have his "wacky scenario or epic character duel"? You really have an irrational (and pretty negative) view of the community. Casual players and competitive players aren't as different as you think.

"But when battle points are introduced, it creates friction- suddenly, the competitive player needs to earn as many points as possible in order to have a chance of advancing- he can no longer afford to indulge in narrative fights when it has any chance at all of depriving him of a secondary or tertiary objective. His ability to compromise with the casual gamer is severely limited, as he's on a much tighter leash with regards to his goals. This means the game is going to more tense, more competitive, and less fun for both parties."
Now the competitive player is indulging the casual player's fantasy during a tournament?? Do you think casual players are confused as to the point of a tournament? Somehow it's a role-playing opportunity to them? Is this what you see when you think of casual player?

Let's have a "narrative fight"! Take that, Green Goblin!

No player is expecting to roleplay at a tournament. All players, even the ones with their whole army painted, are at the tournament to compete. The more casual players just aren't willing to go to the same lengths to win as a more competitive player. You don't have to change your game to make a casual player happy -- just bring a good attitude, have fun and try to make sure the guy across the table has some fun too.


Secondly, points don't add any more friction than winning and losing. Prizes add friction by incentivising players to win at any cost. Bad missions (in any tournament system) add friction by encouraging players to crush each other.

"But battle points not only encourage unfun play, they can also create absurd overall results where the tournament "winner" was beaten by the loser in one of the earlier rounds (and never played them again.) Huh? My army beat your army, and somehow you still come out on top? That's a sign of a poor system right there, and one that needs to go."

No. You are confusing tournament format (single elimination vs. Swiss-system tournaments) with tournament scoring (W/L/D vs. Battle Points) -- which makes me wonder if you should dig a little deeper into the subject. If you use W/L/D scoring in a Swiss-system (which is how most tournaments work), you can lose a tournament to someone you beat in an earlier round. You could end the weekend with a 5-2 score while a guy you beat won the event with a 6-1 score.

Battle Points don't lead to this problem, the Swiss-system leads to this problem. If you want to argue the advantages and disadvantages of the elimination vs. the Swiss-system, I'm happy to have that argument (I want the "Swiss-system is better side") -- but it has nothing to do with Battle Points.

Secondly, the Swiss-system - when properly used - fixes the problems caused by bad match-ups from the initial random seeding. That's why in subsequent rounds, you play someone with the same score. If you were lucky and pulled an undeserved win, then you are paired with another player with the same score (which, if you are the weaker player, should push you back down). The system was designed to solve those sort of pairing problems -- and it works great with Battle Points.

"Many of the arguments for battle points come down to the fact that games of 40K are long and players can't be expected to play for sixteen-plus hours in a single day; battle points cut down on the number of rounds "necessary" to determine an overall winner. Fair enough, and true as far as it goes, but they only do so by producing a misleading result. Shorter rounds (which generally necessitates smaller battles, rather than the 2500pt messes that are 'Ard Boyz over here in the States) and multi-day tournaments are the answer here: four two-hour rounds on the first day and semifinals/finals on the next are not an unreasonable expectation, and leave plenty of time for breaks for lunch and in between rounds, etc. A particularly ambitious tournament might run all four rounds AND the final two in the same day, but that becomes a truly all-day affair, clocking in at fifteen-plus hours, at which point everyone involved would probably be dead on their feet."

The argument for Battle Points isn't fewer games -- it's more players. A tournament with seven rounds (four on Saturday and three on Sunday) can handle a MAXIMUM of 128 players without some modification. If you have more than 128 players, you are screwed because there won't be a clear winner.

So you either use a scoring mechanism like Battle Points or you break your event into multiple 128-player tournaments. WarGamesCon would've needed EIGHT rounds to resolve a clear winner with W/L/D scoring. Adepticon would need at least NINE rounds.

When putting together a major event you have to consider the trade-offs. Let's think about a 300-player event.

1) To have a single winner with 300 player, you need nine rounds. Nine rounds in two days means five games on Saturday and 4 on Sunday. With 30 minutes for sign-in, 1.5 hours to play, 30 minutes for scoring and 1 hour for lunch, then you need 11 hours. If those games were 2 hours, you'd need 13.5 hours -- 2.5 hour games require 16 hours. Assuming no delays. If you shortened the rounds, you'd probably need to reduce the point totals (and maybe fix the missions to five turns). That's bad.

Keep in mind that after the fourth round, 75% of the attendees will have a 2-2 or crappier record. Why would they play a 5th game, if they know the winner is going to have a 9-0 record? After the 4th round, 94% of players would be effectively eliminated with five rounds left to go. Who would come back a second year afer getting eliminated that quickly? Not many.


2) You could break the tournament into THREE 7-round tournaments of 100 players each. This works pretty smoothly, but you end up with three different winners.

You might end up the Best Blue General in your little tournament -- you might get your picture taken with the Best Green General and the Best Red General. But that's a lot less cool than a winning a single 300-player tournament and being THE Best General.


3) You could introduce an element that would help you elevate one "winner" over another. Tie breakers, bonus points, and soft scores are okay for this, but not as good as Battle Points. 

Tournaments in our hobby aren't designed to find the "best player". Things like random pairings, match-up, mission and luck all conspire against "pure skill" to make it next to impossible to determine if the "best player" even made it to the top tables. All we can do is award the prize to the guy who performed the best in this single tournament.

If you want to use "lost the fewest games" to just that performace, that's fine. Just be aware of the drawbacks (e.g., limited number of players, effective elimination, large number of rounds, etc.). If you want to use "scored the most points", that's fine too. Battle Points are great because every player is aware of the rules when they walk in the door -- they know that the winner is the guy that gets the most points. A bunch of marginal victories is not going to give you a prize when someone else has a bunch of overwhelming victories.

A truly competitive player elevates himself to the competition. If you can't manage decisive victories, then play harder and learn to build armies and skills to handle multiple mission objectives. It's not about winning individial games -- it's about winning tournaments. If you aren't up to that challenge, then maybe you aren't the competitive player you think you are.


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