Does the Hobby Want--or Need--Army Composition Scoring?

Scoring for an Army's Composition in organized Warhammer 40,000 (or Warhammer Fantasy) play--especially tournaments. Is it needed? Does it have a role, if not? Is there a way to do it fairly?

The answer to the first question is, simply, no: it is not necessary to the success of play. The codices for each army, a construction framework such as percentages or the Force Organization Chart--and a determined points value--are the only essential tools for composing armies. And there are numerous organized events and tournaments which do not feature any scoring for Army Composition, or otherwise address the issue beyond the requirement that a participating army be codex-legal and adhere to the indicated points value and Force Organization.

The answer to the second question is the meat of the subject, really. If Army Composition scoring is not necessary, and some events succeed quite satisfactorily without it--why add it? It is undeniably extra work for a moderator, to score and ensure compliance, and there are clearly significant portions of the player base which do not embrace it. The reason for Army Composition scoring in organized play is simply that the game is not an abstract construct, like chess; it--and the codices which allow army construction within it--attempt to do more than balance each army for competition, they also attempt to help players create a simulation on the tabletop, and tell a compelling story. Allowing army builds from codices without prejudice can be likened to allowing chess players to build their side with as many knights, rooks or queens as they choose instead of pawns (thus creating 'power armies' or 'tiered codices' or whichever descriptive phrase of your choice indicates that in the Hobby not all codices and not all entries in codices are evenly balanced, competitively): it wouldn't be 'fair' in chess so chess doesn't allow it--and providing some scoring for Army Composition in organized play attempts to address it insofar as possible, for 40K. In that light, it would seem that yes, scoring for Army Composition has a role...especially as long as there are also events available wherein it is *not* used, as well, for those who do not enjoy or appreciate such restraints.

That role can only be properly filled if the scoring for Army Composition seems to participants to accomplish its intent. Thus, the third question--can it be scored fairly? Of the two reasons players tend not to like scoring for Army Composition (the first being not liking any penalty being assessed for building an army other than how one prefers), it is experience with unfair Army Composition scoring in organized play that leaves the most distaste. We've all heard the horror stories: armies identical in build receiving different scores; armies built to a given judge's hard-and-fast notion of what is 'right' getting high scores when they seem to fly in the face of the game's background; not knowing what judges wanted in a build before--and often after--getting scored.... Army Composition was always a component of Official GW GTs in the 90s and early 2000s--and was always controversial, because they rarely told you what their build criteria were, and/or how they had applied it. You got your score, at the end of the GT--you just never knew why. Things came to a head when a particular judge answered an interview question about ideal Army Composition by saying that his perfect vision of a 1500 point army was 100 space marines on foot; while reasonable players knew what he was driving at (a representation of a company of space marines), a simple application of this Army Composition to the then-extant rules revealed there was no physical way to get a hundred marines into such a list, never mind within a Force Org chart and never mind that such a force, denied mobility or heavy/special weapons or leadership, would get pasted in almost any mission imaginable. Even as this pronouncement raised the already ire-filled argument about Army Comp to new levels, competitive players began trying to apply the philosophy in GTs--reaching the height of ridiculousness when one such was awarded 'Best Army Composition' at one Grand Tournament for a Chaos Space Marine army which featured the then-legal composition of six 50-strong infantry Chaos Cultist hordes and multiple Great Unclean Ones of Nurgle. Not a single actual Chaos Space Marine in sight.

It was in light of such antics that Army Composition went away completely in many events, or took on radical refining in others, the latter in an effort to continue to allow it to fill its role but to do so fairly. The best such--then and still--is Astronomi-Con's Army Composition: it presents players with guidelines that try to address the role indicated above, but does so completely voluntarily--so that a player can break the Army Comp guidelines for a modest scoring penalty if they think they can make up those points in battle with their higher-end performing army--and completely transparently--so that every player knows how his choices will affect his score.

Is it perfect? No--no more than the game itself is perfect, or perfectly balanced. Very often, players have to 'break' the Army Composition guidelines for a simulation- or story-based reason, as much as in an attempt to power-up their build; the best example I can think of from the recent AstroDallas was a Tyranid player whose love for that army has always been built around large monstrous creatures, especially carnifexes, and who had to take big hits to his Army Comp to get those monsters on the table even though almost no one fears Tyranid 'godzilla' builds under the current codex, *especially* the grossly neutered carnifexes. But the important thing is that 1) he knew what doing so was going to do to his Army Comp score in advance, and was able to decide if that penalty was enough that he needed to go out and start adding hordes; and 2) when he decided it wasn't and he'd rather play the army he liked, he could do it anyway.

I am on record as preferring not to have an Army Composition score in events I run. I recognize the inherent imbalance in the codices, and choose to address it by allowing actual participants to include their perception of the opposing army build as an element of their Sportsmanship scoring. This is where I have always believed it belonged, because the relative 'funness' or 'unfunness' to play of an army construction is almost always a reflection of the relative 'funness' or 'unfunness' of an opposing player to play--and on the occasions I encounter someone who has power-built an army but who is really fun and sporting to play against and has put a great deal into the simulation aspect of that army as well, I am if anything inclined to score him the higher for it, Sportsmanship wise, because that is not very common (the inverse, of someone who shows up with a very thematic army they've invested tremendously in the simulation aspect of but who winds up being a complete douche to game against happens, too--and Sportsmanship *still* seems to be a reasonable area to address that, in scoring). Is this perfect? Of course not--the most obvious flaw being, as in any player-scored aspect, that often the least Sporting players will use that very element of the overall scoring in manipulative ways. Play your buddy, who is obviously a jackass to everyone in the room with his contentiousness, and who has tweaked his army to match, and give him perfect marks for Sportsmanship including his build? Yeah--you've beaten the system. Bravo to you, a-hole...but don't think everyone doesn't know you did it, and don't be shocked when *your* Sportsmanship scoring seems lower from your opponents other than your buddy than you thought you deserve, and maybe costs you a placing.

The important thing to remember in either case is that players know this aspect of scoring will be present in advance; it at least presents the opportunity for addressing imbalance, and achieving a higher level of competitive fairness, and if it isn't their cup-of-tea, hobby-wise, there are plenty of 'harder' organized play events out there, for their investment of time, effort and expense. That is 'fairness' at its most balanced.

The Ard Boyz events come under a lot of criticism in discussions of any aspect of the Hobby other than tabletop results--but in my view they shouldn't. They are to gameplay what Golden Daemon competitions are to the painting aspect of the Hobby: an organized event narrowly focusing on that part of the overall Hobby, not a replacement for organized events which fully embrace and celebrate as many aspects of the Hobby at once as possible. Just as Golden Daemon should not diminish the accomplishments of a Best Painted or Best Army trophy winner at a broad-hobby event, Ard Boyz play should not dictate to broad-hobby play. Let them all exist, and let hobbyists decide where they are happiest participating.

And if, in a given area, there *aren't* enough events of any one type or another, and a hobbyist has a very strong feeling about it...there are always plenty of retailers looking for events, and someone with the commitment to run one. Doing so is biting off a chunk of work, to be sure, but will have a much longer-term impact that simply talking about it or posting about it. In the ongoing matter of scoring for Army Composition, as in the rest of the hobby, as in life...effort trumps opinion. I know Astronomi-Con was formed from a challenge to its moderators, after an unsatisfactory organized play experience, to 'see if you can do better'...and they have.