Age of Sigmar: What's the Point?
Hey everyone, time for an opinion article, haven't done one of these in a while, so this will be fun! Right now, the internet is all ablaze with righteous indignation in response to the gall that Games Workshop should try something new to revive a good game that had abysmal sales. It seems that everyone agrees that something had to be done, just a lot of people aren't particularly pleased with totally changing the game. Against my better judgement, I spent some time browsing some forums to see what people think about this new game. Of all the mechanics in Age of Sigmar that people seem to get riled up about, it's by far the lack of a unified point measurement system. Not only did people seem to think that without points the game would be impossible to balance, but also, if you self imposed any sort of limitation, you're not playing "real" Age of Sigmar... which is really what got me to start this article.
What's in a Point?
First of all, lets talk about points, specifically in relation to 40k (since that's a readily available comparison). Points are simply a fairly standard mechanic of allowing players to come up with some sort of baseline limitation of their army composition before they start a game. Many games have points, and they seem to get the job done adequately enough. When you play a points-based system, players typically agree on some limit, then do their best to take the most effective army they can within said restriction (I'll mention what happens if you don't in a minute). After deciding upon their army, they'll take it to the battlefield, assuming that the points mean that their armies will be suitably matched for a fair game... This however, is frankly just not the truth. Every army for every game (that I've personally encountered) that uses points, has units it's units that are winners, and losers, must-haves, and garbage. There are many units in 40k which never really see the day of light in a competitive tournament, because in an environment driven by points, efficiency is key.
One big limitation of using points as your basis for determining fairness is that they are not readily mutable. By that I mean, points remain consistent, even when they become a hugely incorrect assessment of efficiency. For example, Draigo, by himself, isn't all that great for his points, similarly Centurions aren't over the top either. When you take Draigo and put him with Centurions, their value can definitely be worth more than their cost. Using force multipliers is a big part of playing the game, and often times the army with the best force multipliers do so well in competition. Another example is adding 25 more bodies to a unit of 10 cultists... you definitely don't see this very often, and why should you? It's not an efficient use of points. You get the picture.
Well back to what I mentioned above, what happens when you don't take the best units? I like Berserkers (and I also agree that they're too many points for what they do), but when I take them, I'm aware that against a more point efficient army, I am essentially at a point handicap equal to the difference in what their cost should be for their efficiency. There are tons of units like this in the game, and most people who do take them, are doing so knowing the implications. Points never have been a balanced solution, they're just a quick and dirty way to get balanced-ish games. Sorry, but not all 1850 armies are created equal. Ironically, the most balanced way to play with points is for both players to take whatever they can make the most point efficient, forsaking units that might otherwise be fun. If one player takes a "fun" list against a "competitive" list, the game is not likely to be balanced.
Culture of Restriction
Before you start a game of 40k, you probably have a whole pile of other implicit agreements. My local gaming group assumes all games will be made with Battleforged armies, consisting of 1850 points, with no more than 3 detachments, Forgeworld is totally allowed, as are most, but not all super-heavy vehicles, the base of ruins count as part of the ruins, and the list goes on and on, unless people agree otherwise. If you've been playing 40k long enough, you've probably encountered veteran players who are new to your group, and they have different customs and unspoken rules. In this case they'll show up, have to change a little bit about how/what they play, and the next time they come, they'll probably be prepared to play by those local customs. Those things don't make either of your ways better or worse, just different, but in either case, there are going to be plenty of changes to just the "real" rules of the game.
Now, with Age of Sigmar, we have what is essentially an entirely new game. There are no long-standing traditions, or local rules built upon years of game play and evolution, and the game doesn't use points as a limiting factor for army composition. So because of that, we shouldn't play it, right? Or maybe we should take the army that we think can abuse the lack of a point system the most, that'll be good. Since it is such a new game, it will take time for manners to develop, but you can be absolutely certain that gaming groups will self-regulate on what is considered acceptable practice in the game, just like they do with other systems.
Playing it "Real"
Back to what I said in the beginning about playing "real" Age of Sigmar. This isn't something people do for any other game, why should they do it for Age of Sigmar? If you've ever gone to an ITC event, you'll notice that there is a 19 page document of FAQs and rules changes, on top of playing 6 custom built scenarios! Does this mean we're not playing 40k? Sure, I give Reece a hard time whenever they change the rules for their events (boo, Destroyer nerf!), but that doesn't make those tournaments non-40k, it's just the expression of the wishes of the people playing the game.
With or without points, it is always up to the players to decide what they think is fair for the game they want to play. People will come up with agreements or systems that they want to use to come up with quick approximations of a balanced enough game, and that's totally fine. This isn't all that new of a concept, it just now means my Cygor is no longer 100 points more than it should be.
PS - iIf you want some good laughs, check out the Rage of Sigmar Facebook group, where I borrowed the masthead from.