When I sit down to optimise something – when I get to the third stage of the three-stage process that was outlined last time – I’m generally looking at four things, two of which came up in the discussion on Craftworld Lansing which originally started me off on this topic.
- How does this list/deck/character actually achieve what it’s setting out to achieve?
With a Magic deck or Warmahordes army, that generally means I’m looking for a kill condition. How does the deck take large amounts of life points off the other people in the game? How does the army kill warcasters? (I’m aware that scenarios are a thing, but I’m generally really bad at winning by scenario conditions, and so I mentally file them away under another stage in the process, which we’ll come to later.)
With characters – either in the WoWs or in tabletop RPGs where ‘build optimisation’ is an issue – I’m looking for ways to make that character fulfil their role effectively. How does the character, for instance, stop flag carriers from dying, or carry the flags myself? If the character is supposed to be entertaining, or scary, or sexy, what behaviours will it exhibit that create that reaction?
- How many ‘ifs’ are involved in getting there?
Is there something which has worked in one engagement and failed in nine others? Is that something a fringe case or something that the build is allegedly built to achieve? Too often do I see people mashing together mechanics that they happen to like and creating beautiful little synergies which… don’t actually interact with the means by which the game is won or lost. Too often do I see people sinking their effort and resources into salvaging a poor choice, throwing good rules after bad and frustrating themselves with getting so little reward for so much work. Too often do I see people struggling with classes that they don’t really want to play, or with characters who are only interesting if you happen to know their entire backstory from the word go.
Case in point; my Golgari deck, in Magic, has several different kill conditions but frequently struggles to meet any of them because they all depend on it being about turn 5 and some losses having already been taken. Outside of exceptionally fortunate draws and match-ups, the deck has too many ‘ifs’ to survive the early game in most encounters. When it wins, it’s in slow games which frequently bore the other participants to death.
My Vampire Counts armies, at least in WFB.8, tend to struggle with the huge ‘if I roll these support spells, and successfully cast these support spells’ factor; the army is balanced around the possibility of Vanhel’s Danse or whatever, but how does it manage if that’s not available? That leads us into the next point…
- How does it deal with factors which would prevent the build from achieving its objective?
If I’m running a tank character in the WoW, how does the character survive massive thumps of damage (assuming the absence of competent healers), and how does it recover threat when some trigger-happy over-geared Warlock starts throwing their Chaos Bolts around?If I’m building a themed wargames army that might have to be used for pick-up games occasionally, can it hold its own against the power builds of the day, or will it just have to not be played outside of controlled conditions?
If I’m building a Warmahordes force, how does it avoid losing by scenario before it can get the kill in? I admit I’m a bit of a scrub in this regard; I don’t have the luxury of being able to play often enough to keep up with the latest Stallroller revision, so my interaction with scenarios is very much to treat them as something to mitigate, something to keep off my back while I kill your caster stone dead. Do I play Retribution to justify that play-style? Possibly.
If I’m building a 40K list, how does it create target priority issues for my opponent, and how does it deal with army-wrecking nonsense like the Heldrake?
If I’m building a Pathfinder NPC, how does it avoid being Not Fun to interact with? This doesn’t necessarily mean it has to have a weakness; it may be mechanically overpowering but can it be negotiated with or neutralised by factors outside the crunch?
- How efficiently does the build do all this?
Is there an odd mix of guns in the Havoc Squad? Is there a weird feat choice that’s only there for boring mechanical effectiveness reasons when this is meant to be a throwaway NPC? Does the execution depend on using a very precise set of abilities while standing still for forty seconds?
The next few posts will probably be running some examples of this process in action…