A random series of articles on war gaming in 40K, FOW and other systems. The headings are, WiP; Conversions and models in various states of assembly. PiP; Paint works on various models. Mission Critical; scenarios or missions to bring a bit of a twist to a normal game. MiA; rules for units and characters that could/should/might appear in a game. Dig In; How to guides on making various types of terrain for different game systems. Sit Rep; Battle reports and after action reports on games played

Friday, August 13, 2010

40K; To Rank or not to Rank that is the question

So the ETC has come and gone and dust is starting to settle. Ireland's performance was good but should have been better. I had hoped for a top half finished instead we ended up in the bottom quarter.

One of the interesting points raised was how the team was selected. There are two distinct schools of thought on how it should be done the first is the Rankers and the second is the Captain choice. The Ranker philosophy is that the top eight ranked players at a given time are the best players in the country regardless of all other factors. Ideally the captain is the best player in the country. The captain choice philosophy is that there are 100+ players that play games in Ireland by picking players for a given purpose a better team can be created. Ideally the captain is not playing and is dedicated on getting a team win.

The common issue with the captain’s choice is that it is open to corruption and the captain will only pick his mates for the team. The counter is that such a captain is a bad captain and a bad captain would be a liability regardless of method selected. Another complaint is that the captains choice would bypass rankings in favour of getting to know the captain. The counter is the same a good captain goes to all/most of the events he should know most of the players, he should be thinking of the big picture the rankings are still important to generate names see how players are progressing. A good captain with freehand to select his A-team and a burning desire to win would be lethal when it comes to ETC. Most of the top teams use a version Captains choice and true so do some of the bottom ones but considering there are twenty four teams ahead of Ireland compared to seven below implies it is more gain than pain.

The rankers favour rankings because it is simple and is based on merit. At first pass it seems ideal. Others, like myself, think it breaks down too often and that the top eight are only the top eight at the time you look at them, next time you check the list will have changed particularly around the bottom half. Other notable issues are,
The Tristam effect;
Tristam is a good player with the second highest number of tournament wins this year but he did not make the cut for the ETC, Why? Is the answer that he organised and ref'd several tournaments? In organising/running Gaelcon and Vaticon he was penalised under the ranking system, everybody who attended got points but he did not. Without his sacrifice the rankings cannot work and the tournament scene would be a poorer place..
The Mike Brown effect
Some players are annoyingly good. But because of life commitments they have only limited time to game. They do not get to go to many events but when they do they do very well. Under rankings they are penalised despite the fact they are arguably the best players around.
The Mike Tangley effect:
Some players regularly travel aboard for big events and have played in Tournaments from San Francisco to Nottingham. They are penalised under rankings if they opted to play in a large 150+ event aboard instead of a small local 10 player ranked event. Despite the fact they bring so much to the team.
The Vulcan effect;
Some players can build awesome armies that are capable of doing very well and break into the top ten. However, their armies may not be allowable at the ETC and the player may have little or no ability with any other army but they still make the cut on a ranking team.
The Unknown Soldier effect;
Somewhere in the Irish rankings is one or more unknown soldiers. He plays tournaments with his favourite army, it is ETC allowed, the player consistently gets draws or wins but doesn't always win big or score high on the rankings. At the ETC he would be an ideal in a shield role (I will discuss the roles swords and shields at the ETC later). But he will never make selection on a ranked system
The Josh Roberts effect;
Some of the players who make a rankers team will need to change armies either it is not ETC allow or another player has first call on their armies. The argument is that they are good players regardless of armies used, Mike Brown, Dan Aherne and Paul Quigley are examples such players who can switch armies and still do well. I think that works small tournaments but will fail a ETC. A ranker who qualifies and changes army has at most 3-4 months to be become familiar with his army. When he goes to the ETC he will face Josh Robert of team England. Josh has 500 games of experience with his army. That is a game a day for nearly year and half. To get a result against that type of player a big ask of the ranked player. Its even worse if you are asking it of someone who is not playing their first choice army or have had only a couple of months in their new role.
The "I won" effect;
In order for the rankers to pick a team they must pick a point in time and say by this date the top eight are on the team. If a player is in the top eight before or after that date but not on the date they do not make the cut. Consider a player who is in the top eight for seven of the eight tournaments during the year but misses out because the one event he missed was the decider. Or consider the case of a player who makes the cuts but has soon as he qualifies he plummets down the rankings so that by the time of the ETC they are ranked forty seventh.
The precedent;
This year ETC team was intended to act as golden ticket and friends affair with players get invites to play for the team and a couple of others getting to play. As it worked out it ended up being a ranking ETC team. All of the players ranked in at some stage or another. The rankings team consisted of nothing but swords (more on this later) i.e. players who play to win and for who the concept who playing for draw is alien, you don't get to make the top ten by playing for a draw. This team went to ETC and was badly defeated, the players were good the team was not. The precedent is against the ranked team.

The ETC and Pairings
Regardless of the selection method both systems are aimed at doing well at the ETC. They do this by winning the pairings. The ideal team consists of a mixed bag of players some are sword players, they play to win, for them the idea of a draw is alien and their armies themed for that purpose. Others are shield players, they are okay with draw and can hold their own against pretty much anything. The third type are jack of all trades they can do both but not to the same level as dedicated sword or shield players. The Ideal team consists of three swords, three shields and two jacks. The way the pairings work is that one team nominates player the other team picks a nemesis army for him to play against the cycle is repeated three times with the last two pairs consisting of two predetermined team champions and the last free players on teams. The sequence they are played is sword, shield, sword, shield, sword, shield, jack, jack depending on who has the initiative swords and shield may switch places in the sequence. The desired results is win, draw, win, draw, win, draw, draw, draw points wise the win translates 95 v 65 ETC points. There may be some upsets causing a swing of +\-20 points but by and large that is how it should play out.

The ranked team consists of nothing but swords, most of whom will have to play as shields or jacks only three will be playing in roles they are suited for. The Captains choice will consist best swords, shields and jacks available for the ETC. When the Ranked team and the Captain choice pair off both teams will be pretty similar, good players are good players after all, however, where they deviate it will be to the advantage of the captains choice. His players are picked for purpose from a larger pool while the ranked team has players who are in roles they are not accustom to or have had only a couple of month to get up to speed with.

By and large that is what happened to Ireland most of the time the swords were blunted, the shields were broken and the jacks did so-so. Intermittently swords struck and shields held but far far too few times. If you are not convinced look at the scores for Ireland at the ETC. How rounds were won by more than 115 points or lost by more than 45 points? The fault is not the players they are some of the best nor is the issue the captain he has to make do with what he has. The main problem is that team is off balance too many swords not enough shields or jacks. The result was a team where the captain struggled to get good pairings and players struggled to get good results.

Considering that the ranked team did not work this year and suggesting that we use it again next year is like WW1 if the first wave did not work we send in another wave. Yes there is the benefit of hindsight but they had that as well in WW1. It would be far better to change tactics and try another selection system and if that doesn't work then try another system the year after, to keep on driving to create the best selection process.

So having read all of the above and gotten pass the bad grammar and spelling the question is do you rank or not rank?