Many rulesets of various periods and genres provide not only army lists but often a points system as well, where each troop type in the army list is accorded a certain points value, with a higher value generally indicating a ‘better’ troop type.
Points systems, as many things in life, have their advantages and disadvantages, and their champions and detractors. In this entry, I’ll try to present some of these views and issues. I expect quite a lot of reaction to this post, since I know that Phil, for instance, has quite firm views wrg points systems. That is of course a good thing, and one of the reasons we started this blog in the first place.
So, what is the advantage of a points system? Superficially, one would say that a well thought out points system would enable players to select balanced armies so they can expect a fair game. However, when one looks deeper into this, it appears that is a bit of a flawed assumption. Firstly, experience has shown that it is very hard to design a well balanced points system (the many, many threads concerning the latest killer troop type on various mailing lists bear witness to this fact), so having two equal points armies does not guarantee a balanced or fair game. Secondly, games between equal points armies, while probably the most appropriate for tournament situations, are often somewhat sterile at best and genuinely uninteresting at worst. A scenario, possibly because those feature a skewed force distribution more often than not, generally leads to a more interesting and exciting game.
So that’s an advantage that turned out to be if not a disadvantage, then at least neutral in character. There is however an advantage to points systems that is related to the above and is a true advantage. Points systems make it possible to play against anyone and anywhere and (within the limits stated above) know what to expect; they enhance the portability of rules. To provide the archetypical example, someone from Belgium can easily travel to the UK (and many do) armed with a 400 points army and be assured to find a gamer or two on the other side of the channel with a compatible army, and can also expect to play against this army with little in the way of problems (not related to tactics on the tabletop, that is :) ).
The disadvantages of points systems are twofold: they promote a ‘shopping list’ mentality, and they seem to attract the type of player that enjoys tweaking army lists and squeezing the last possible advantage out of the various lists, regardless of what kind of weird or downright silly army results from this process.
The shopping list mentality is the antithesis of historical wargaming: no historical general ever gathered an army based on point based systems. They never went “oh, I seem to have some points left over, let’s see … ah yes, some Iberian slingers will do just fine, and that leaves me with enough points to get one of them elephants that Macedonian fellow was raving about earlier.” Instead, historical generals fought with what they were provided with (OK, to be fair, there were mercenaries which could be hired, but I’d argue that the vast majority of ones troops were not of this kind — you fought with what you had available). Building armies from shopping lists is skewing history quite a bit.
The second disadvantage is probably among the top three of Most Annoying Qualities in Wargamers: the munchkin attitude. You know the type of player — try to find the loopholes in the points system (and there inevitably are loopholes) and build an army around them, no matter what that army might be. This is the oft mentioned quest for the killer army or the killer troop type. While this exists outside of points systems as well, the existence of points systems is a force multiplier for this behaviour. Nobody likes this kind of behaviour, I should think.
In conclusion, I’d consider points systems as a necessary evil. While they encourage some of the most abrasing behaviour in the hobby, they do facilitate the portability of the games and armies, which in a hobby which is as insular and distributed as ours, is worth its weight in gold - or points :).
Let the commenting begin.
Update: it seems that minutes after I posted this item, we got a whole slew of comment spam (advertising various contact services in Germany, if you’re curious) — that’s not quite what I meant with ‘let the commenting begin’ :)