Sunday, February 9, 2014

How Do You Put a Number on That? (Part Two)

In my last installment, I talked about the process of setting game statistics.  In this part, I will move onto the much more complicated question of how to set point values.  A bring-and-battle wargame like Warhammer 40k or Flames of War pretty much lives or dies based on its point balance.  No player wants to collect and assemble a force, then find it grossly outmatched on the tabletop because game units are over- or undercosted.

It's easy enough to complain about this or that unit's cost in an established game.  But how do you know how much things should cost you're building a game completely from scratch?

Here's my journey so far though that vexed country.

Why have Points?

My first decision was whether to have points at all.  A pure sandbox game could probably do without them: look at games like Hail Caesar! or Black Powder. In most gaming groups, players know their collections and can balance forces and scenarios by eye without too much trouble.

Still, I decided I wanted points.  I want my game to be a bring and battle game, where players can show up with a list and play a stranger.  Plus, I also know that players derive a lot of pleasure in choosing a list, building models for it, and tinkering with different combinations.  Why take that away from them?


So, once I decided to have points, I needed to decide on a scale.  How much will an average model cost in points?  How many points will be in a typical army overall?

Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer 40k, and Flames of War all have a pretty similar point scale.  1500 is on the lower side of average.  2000 is pretty large.  Anything under 1500 is small, and anything under 1000 is possibly unplayable because you can't cover all the bases in your list.

But this scale is more or less arbitrary.  A unit could cost 1 point instead of 100, and an army could be set at 15 or 20 point value.  A higher scale has the virtue of greater differentiation between units.  It is easier to reflect a slight advantage, with say a 160 point vs a 150 point unit.  If a typical unit was 3 points, the difference between a 3 point and a 4 point unit would be just massive.  So if I'm going to have lots of fiddly options and details, like different options for guns, armor and support weapons, I'm going to want a relatively large set of integers to mess with.

I decided that to set a very simple metric.  An average dude would cost 10 points.  By average, I meant a Skill 2/2 infantry model with no Special Characteristics, a range 24", RoF2 gun, and RoA 1 in Melee.

What's it Worth?

I then decided to create a standard formula in Excel.  I could plug in all the factors of a model, and have it give me a value. Now, I know I'm almost certainly going to have to adjust this formula as I playtest.  I may have to individually modify the point costs of various units manually, to reflect some special problem.  But at least having a formula gives me a place to start, a beginning point on the hermeneutic cycle.

And if I design the formula well, I may not have to tweak it all that much down the line.  Maybe.  Yeah.

So what's my formula?

I decided that a model is valuable on the table top based on several factors:

Durability:  How hard it is to kill.
Shooting:  How well it kills things at a distance.
Assault:  How well it kills things in melee.
Leadership:  In my game, Leadership keeps a model on the table, keeps it active rather than suppressed, and also activates its Doctrines.
Mobility:  A model that moves faster or more nimbly is overall better than one that is slow.

My formula rates all these variables as a 1 for standard infantry models.  As they get better, the number increases.  As they get worse, it decreases.

The basic formula is (Durability+Shooting+Assault)(1/3)(Leadership)(Mobility).

So Leadership and Mobility are multiplicitive of the whole, whereas the other factors are additive, and increase the point value more slowly. 

11 Herbs and Spices

You can find my special recipe posted to my rules page here.  The spreadsheet has all the current calculations I used to produce the Colonist army book. 

I suspect none of you except maybe the Riha (do you even read this blog, Eric?) will really enjoy a guided tour through the numbers, so I'll summarize:

Durability is based on a combination of Shooting Skill, Melee Skill, Armor, Vehicle Armor, Toughness. Shooting is based on a combination of Shooting Skill, Range, RoF, and Weapon Special Characteristics. Assault is based on Melee Skill, RoA and Special Characteristics.

An increase in skill affects various parts of the formula: both offense and defense.  Shooting value increases the point cost more rapidly than Melee Skill, and a increased Shooting characteristics more rapidly than an increased Assault characteristics.  I figure models will shoot more than they fight in hand to hand.

Special Characteristics increase exponentially in value.  So a Characteristic of 1 isn't worth very much, but a 5 or a 6 is worth a lot.

I set Vehicle Armor, AT and HE to increase in cost more quickly than other characteristics, as I figure they will be more important in game play than other factors.  There are special rules protecting tanks against small-arm fire that do not similarly protect monsters, and just about everything benefits from cover or suffers from removing it!

Final Scale

The final resulting scale means that a squad of ten regular infantry, with an accompanying light machine-gun and an SMG will be about 130 points.  The same squad as veteran will cost about 160.  An elite version will be pricier yet, at around 210.  These should be gut-familiar to Flames of War players as around the same cost of roughly equivalent platoons in that game.  They are not too far off Warhammer 40k pricing either, for a good, better, and best quality squads there.

Since this is a platoon-level game, the final scale will end up with 500 points being a very small game, 750 being average-but-tight, and 1000 giving a reasonable selection.  This works out to about half the point value of an equivalent game in one of those other system. 

So now, to playtest.  Anyone want to help me out?

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