Evolution and Warhammer/40K

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Evolution and Warhammer/40K

Postby Flavius Infernus » Wed Sep 14, 2005 6:07 am

So I was reading Stephen Jay Gould's Full House and I came across this gem of wisdom:


Complex systems improve when the best performers play by the same rules over extended periods of time. As systems improve, they equilibrate and variation decreases.

Although Gould was talking about evolution (and baseball) this seems like the thing that happens with Warhammer and 40K rules--the longer the ruleset remains stable, the more similar the winning armies look. "Balanced" generalist armies lose the edge that they had early-on in the rule cycle and a few "dominant" army patterns emerge.

Gould's extensive mathematical proofs suggest that this kind of evolution is inevitable for these types of systems, and it makes sense given our experience. This is why I can't play Empire right now in Fantasy:

"Dedicated performers are constantly watching, thinking and struggling for ways to twiddle or manipulate the system in order to gain a legitimate edge...The net result through time must inevitably encourage an ever-closer apporach to optimal perfomance in all aspects of play--combined with ever-decreasing variation in modes of procedure."
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Re: Evolution and Warhammer/40K

Postby -Jarrett » Wed Sep 14, 2005 6:52 am

Except that you absolutely can play Empire in Fantasy, and be successful doing so.


Army books becoming weaker with time has to do with an increase in the power of newer armies, not really with refinement of gameplay. Still, your point is valid. If everyone played Empire then it's likely a similar pattern in army list selection would emerge.

I think that there's enough variation in the selection options and special rules for troops of Warhammer and 40k that variety in army list selection will be fairly constant. Yes, people will always settle on certain staples (the ratling gun for example), but also remember that as veteran players of certain armies lock their lists down they also get bored and eventually move on to something different, and so the learning process begins anew. New players also bring fresh approaches to lists
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Re: Evolution and Warhammer/40K

Postby -onimusha » Wed Sep 14, 2005 6:56 am

I know how you feel Tom, because I'm not one of those people who strives to maximize my competitive edge. Yet, I'm surrounded by them... makes for some frustrating gameplay...
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Re: Evolution and Warhammer/40K

Postby WickerNipple » Wed Sep 14, 2005 7:16 am

Come'on. Empire just won Heat 2.

They're they new b0rk3n!
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Re: Evolution and Warhammer/40K

Postby -dumbuket » Wed Sep 14, 2005 7:38 am

That's what I love about wargaming: simple underlying rules create complex emergent gameplay.

As far as a few specialized armies evolving to dominate gameplay... well, that only need be if the environmental conditions of gameplay are static. A good tournament should punish overspecialized (imbalanced) lists by varying conditions. Terrain placement/layout, differing victory conditions, a varied mix of opponents, and truly balanced units should be enough to discourage overly one-dimensional army lists.

If it doesn't, it's the fault of the tournaments.
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Re: Evolution and Warhammer/40K

Postby Flavius Infernus » Wed Sep 14, 2005 9:11 pm

@Jarrett: the phenomenon of the "middle" part of the distribution moving upward is part of it. The idea that codex creep causes some armies to pass others is part of the picture, but the other part is the way that the level of gameplay in general improves. So the worst players aren't as bad anymore, but the best players are approaching the limit of how good it is possible to be. So the distribution contracts, and that causes a decrease in the amount of variation in the system (that's Gould's argument).

@Zack (dumbuket, right?) I think people are smarter than rules--even tournament rules. Good players take the possibilities of tournament variation into account when they're fiddling around looking for an advantage. Also, tournaments that stray too far from the static pattern are hugely unpopular (because ppl lose their advantages).

I think Empire is a good example of the principle at work. It's a list that has a lot of variety, but has been around so long that the competitive patterns have processed out and the rest fallen away. Right now there are about 3 competitive variations I know of

-knight and gunpowder army that has been popular for awhile
-MSU knights like Fallen Scholar runs
-sword horde like Tim Walker runs

With a few necessary exceptions (like Andy P's rockhard infantry variant) and unless I'm missing something, that's pretty much it.

Eldar are an even better example--there are maybe three effective Eldar armies.
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Re: Evolution and Warhammer/40K

Postby mauleed » Wed Sep 14, 2005 9:18 pm

Don't forget to factor in one special feature of wargaming tournaments: They're limited to just a few games, and you can get very lucky in your pairings and do well with a really bad list.

So if an army just draws the opponents it's advantaged against, it will do well, even if, overall, it's not competitive.

So the individual performance of a single army at a single event isn't really relevant to what Tom's saying.

But back on point, in response to Tom: I would have thought that obvious. And that's why I'm all for the rules changing often. Figuring out the best "formula" is fun. And having to keep figuring it out enhances the fun.
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Re: Evolution and Warhammer/40K

Postby VectorAWX3 » Wed Sep 14, 2005 9:33 pm

Tom, your conclusion is mildly faulty... look at what he said:
by the same rules over extended periods of time.
Define your timeline. Editions change every few years, and the cycle begins anew. Army books (hence rules) change. Errata are written that change these rules. We're not talking about evolution, which is on a scale of hundreds of million of years, or baseball, which has the most minor rule changes over dozens of years.

Warhammer's major rulesets have a life of, say, 4 years. Adne very army book released changes that ruleset. (i.e. your perfect empire army is no good, now that the fishmen have been released). Granted, armies evolve towards a "perfect" build, but that evolution is flawed due to the fact that we can't predict the future, or even the laws of nature (in this case, the rules).
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Re: Evolution and Warhammer/40K

Postby -FarseerVinnie » Wed Sep 14, 2005 10:14 pm

I agree with Tom. My favorite part of playing 40K is trying to find as effective an army as possible, and every time I play I figure out something else that needs changing. After a while, these adjustments get smaller and smaller until they top completely. That's when I consider the list "optimal".

For example my tournament Eldar list is perfectly optimized for 1850. There's not a single thing in it I would even consider changing, but when I have to go up or down in points (2000 for the Rogues Den tournament or 1700 for the Toronto conflict next week) I get uncertain about what will be effective because I haven't gone through that whole process, and my army isn't "optimal" any more.

It does get boring though, I don't enjoy playing my eldar army as much as I used to because it's the same every time, which is why I'm building a new army. Once my new army is done, i'll begin the process all over again. It's a cycle.
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Re: Evolution and Warhammer/40K

Postby Flavius Infernus » Wed Sep 14, 2005 11:00 pm

@ Nidal: The length of an "extended period" varies from one context to another. In evolution, an extended period is the tens of billions of years that fall between the earth's periodic mass extinctions. In baseball Gould argues that the lack of changes in the rules over the last century explains part of why baseball now works the way it does. For Warhammer/40K, I think I sense a consensus that the lifespan of an edition is maybe 4 or 6 years, maybe less for an army book or codex.

The part that is predictable--according to the model--is that the longer the rules remain stable, the more the amount of diversity in the system decreases. The math suggests that it's an inevitable pattern.

So I guess my point is that raging against the lack of diversity in aged army rulesets is pointless, since that's always going to happen that way over time. The thing to do instead is expect and accept rule changes as the necessary infusions of new life, and maybe lobby for even more frequent rule changes.

Is it just me, or did 40K 3rd edition decline really fast when they stopped doing the regular infusions of new official rules in "Chapter Approved?"
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