Friday, January 20, 2012

Editorial: Should playtesters be allowed to compete?

This is a difficult topic for me to bring up since I know some playtesters personally, but in light of the new SR2012 rules I started thinking: should playtesters be allowed to compete in tournaments if they're playtesting that same game?  I'm not talking about small, local tournaments, but rather the large conventions like the upcoming Templecon.  It's an issue that I'm not sure has been addressed before and it's something that I think is worth thinking about as Warmachine/Hordes - and miniatures games in general - become more popular.  It essentially boils down to the question: does advanced knowledge of rules provide an unfair advantage over the rest of the gaming population?

There may be those of you out there unaware that the new rules for Steamroller tournaments was recently released for the 2012 season by Privateer Press.  The SR2012 rules packet is a fairly huge departure from the SR2011 ruleset by introducing a new method of deployment and a bunch of new scenarios, bringing the total potential scenarios up to a whopping 18.  While the 12 presented in SR2011 provided a good amount of variety, the SR2012 packet increases this by 50% into the "Omg" range.  Additionally, some scenarios have interactive objectives which can do things that range from placing magical AOEs to allowing free running/charging.  Finally, we have an entirely new way to deploy with reinforcements. 

There are a lot of new changes and even the old scenarios have changed somewhat, so one cannot rely on past knowledge or experience of a scenario to dictate how things will turn out.  Why is this a big deal?  It means that your average player will need lots of time to try all 18 scenarios, and due to the more complex interactions with reinforcements and interactive objectives, it makes it much more challenging to prepare.
Yeah, these will come in handy
That's all fine with me!  I like challenge and it adds depth to a game so that someone can be encouraged to keep playing and continue to find new, exciting things about it.  This does, however, mean that those individuals who've playtested these scenarios (even with changes over time) have already played these scenarios many times by the time the final rules are released to the public.  By the end of the tournament season, this will be less of an issue, as the vast body of gamers will have had time to practice these scenarios and have more experience with them, but for those at Templecon, there will only be 3 weeks of public knowledge of the Steamroller rules.  I've been fortunate to play around with the beta rules, but what about those without said access?  Is it fair that they don't have time to prepare like playtesters have? 

If being a Privateer Playtester was open like they did in the MkII beta, it wouldn't be a big deal, but playtesting has since closed (for good reasons, mind you).  I also understand that some playtesting of these new scenarios began last year, to iron-out all of the kinks for final release, so that means that a playtester has had possibly hundreds of hours of practice, where a general member of the public would have to play 7 hours per day from now until Templecon to even get close to 100 hours of playtesting.
So what's the counter-argument?  Playtesters are not just playtesting scenarios but also rules for lots of models that have not been released yet, and often the finalized rules are very different from the ones they tested or even suggested.  While they have lots of experience playtesting scenarios, they also have to consider playtesting with models that might be sub-optimal and thus have many factors to consider besides "does this scenario work."  In the end, while they have an early exposure to rules for models (which I didn't even bring up) or scenarios, the versions they see can sometimes be pretty different from the ones they practiced with and I could easily see confusion creeping into a game where one forgot that the final version didn't have X ability.  Additionally, one might say that one has to be a competitive player anyway in order to be a good playtester, and without large events to play in, it would be hard for these playtesters to prove their mettle, as it were.

In the end, I must admit, I'm not sure if it's fair or not for playtesters to compete in large events.  My scope on the issue is fairly limited to only the group of playtesters I know, but all I know is that they consistently win events in my area - but this didn't change much from before they were playtesters anyway.  Additionally, I'm not sure if the winners at other big events and conventions were also PP playtesters.  We will see, I guess, but if you happen to know any playtesters, let me know if you notice them winning a majority of events in your meta too.  I'm curious if a trend emerges.

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