Sunday, April 14, 2013

Blood Bowl: Salary Cap

The second season of our Blood Bowl league is due to start on May 1st and there was plenty of debate a while ago on Vent and the Facebook group with regards to how to regulate teams joining the league. Everyone wants as many people as possible to be playing, and they want everyone to have fun, but there are different points of view in terms of what is fair.

One group of people likened a Blood Bowl league to a Magic tournament, and your team to a deck. This point of view dictates that everyone should follow the same set of rules to build an initial team, and they should all work out to be even in power. You can, and should, use any means necessary to get your initial team up to maximum efficiency. Everyone else can, and should, do the same thing. This will result in even matches in the first week of the league at the very least, and things will then evolve based on game results and luck from there. This line of thinking is what led to my fan factor post which itself resulted in me burning away all my fan factor before joining season 1 of the league.

The other group of people view Blood Bowl as more of a long term role playing game. Your guys gain experience, they level up, they get hurt. If they get good levels or bad levels is up to the whims of the dice. If they suffer permanent debilitating injuries is also up to the whims of the dice. They think the power level of a team should depend on the results of the meaningful games the team played and not on mathing out an optimal team and then peacefully farming your way into it. These people have problems with conceding games to burn off fan factor, since teams should organically acquire that fan factor and be forced to keep it. They hate the idea of firing off your big guys that don't roll doubles for block, buying a new one, and playing more games to level them up. They absolutely detest the idea of conceding games back and forth in order to accumulate cash and levels with no risk of injury.

Looking back at my history with Magic, I can totally understand both points of view. For the longest time I was firmly in the anti-netdeck camp. I thought of myself as being way smarter and better at the game than the people I'd play with. I could outplay them, and I could outbuild them. Having us both play tested professional quality decks was just evening the playing field, but since I had the initial advantage that evening of the playing field was detrimental to me. In retrospect I stuck to those guns way too long. I steadfastly refused to play the high tide deck, for example, during an extended season where it was both the best deck and where I was awesome at playing the deck. I played it a ton in testing to give my friends something to play against, but I refused to play it in PTQs. And that hurt my results. Turkish Prison was a great name for a deck, but the deck was terrible, and I should not have played it in a regionals event. Eventually I got over this irrational hatred of netdecks, but by that point my core Magic group had moved on and I never put as much time into the game. But, I've gotten off track...

At any rate, the two groups of people weren't going to agree and Sceadeau ended up coming up with a compromise. Teams that grew organically in the first season of the league would be allowed to continue as is. They'd be stuck with their fan factor, and they'd be stuck with their injuries, but they could carry as much experience and cash as they could have accumulated over 7-10 games. New teams to the league would have to conform to the initial joining rules from the first season. Cash on hand plus all potential TV (injured players counting at full value) have to equal 1500 or less. This would put the new teams 7-10 games behind the existing teams, but these teams would have the doors open to any sort of 'cheesy' play. So the new teams could concede games to burn off all their fan factor. They could fire guys who got a niggling injury and just play more games to earn them back. They could get other teams to concede to them in order to get close to 1500. They probably shouldn't have a huge number of concessions in order to accumulate enough levels to get a ton of +ST level rolls, but even then they wouldn't be able to got many of them before hitting the cap.

Doing this would also, hopefully, encourage teams to stick around season over season. The benefit there is you can establish rivalries of sorts with other teams. The example Sceadeau gave was Mike's played Olaf, who started the season as a bit of a beast and everyone wants to kill. If Mike was able to level a new team, with 'cheesy' tactics, and come in at the same power level as everyone else then he'd be incented to get rid of Olaf, and that would be bad from an RP point of view. I clearly believe this to be true, as the primary reason I'm going to keep playing my dwarf team is to give other people a shot at taking out the champion.

Now that the first season is over I wanted to take a look at the power level of the existing teams to see if I felt the entry bar was a fair one. From a strict power level point of view, would I rather level up a fresh dwarf team to 1500 or play my current one? Would I rather pare my current team down?

What are the old teams looking like? Looking at the final four from last season... One team got completely decimated near the end of the season and lost a bunch of players. His TV is currently only 1480, and he has 9 FF. He has a treasury of 80k. He has a niggling injury and a -AG. It looks like his skills include +ST, a single double, and the rest are normal skills. If this was my team I would absolutely want to start over. Well, I really like the one guy who has +ST and the double skill, so I'd probably just play a couple farm games with the team and burn off all the FF. I think he is clearly disadvantaged if he plays on.

Another team has 1520TV, 160k in the bank, 6 FF, and 2 skills still to choose. He has no permanent injuries. He also has a +ST and one double skill. This team doesn't have much to gain by starting over. He could burn off the 6 FF, and all his cash, and then if he rolled normal skills with his 2 pending levels would be at just 1500. He does have 2 guys missing the next game, so he could get them both back and ready to play during one of the FF burning concessions. Maybe he'd be better off doing that, but I don't know that 6 FF is so inefficient that it justifies throwing away the 160k in cash. As is he's pretty resilient against a death or two in the first game of the season. With no cash he might have troubles. And the two guys missing the next game probably give him inducements in his first game next season, and maybe enough to get a wizard. In all, I think he is better off just jumping into the next season.

The finalist has a TV of 1630. He has 340k in the bank. He has no permanent injuries. He has 8 FF. He has 2 +AG skills, a +MA skill, and a double skill. There is no question in my mind that this team is _way_ better than a 1500 capped team. He would need to burn off all his FF and fire a guy with multiple skills to fit under the cap, and he has no injuries to fix. His skill rolls are very good. Maybe not perfectly optimal, but actually pretty close.

My team has a TV of 1830, with 210k in the bank and 8 FF. I have 2 niggling injuries and a -MA for permanent damage. I have one +ST, 2 +MAs, and two double skills. I would like to get rid of those injuries but they're all on guys with skills. I have one player who I misbuilt (and who rolled 4 regular skills) that I wouldn't mind firing too. I have 560k tied up in those 4 players and my FF, so I could get rid of all that, buy two replacements for 150k, and still have 80k to play with. Like, say, getting guard on 4 guys to replace the 4 guards I'd have sold. But that would leave me with no bank, an 11 man roster, and would cost me my +ST guy and one of my guys with mighty blow. This would have potential to go places for sure, but any serious injury at the start of the season could be crippling. I think I'm better off sticking with this team, but giving my opponent inducements coupled with the permanent damage I'm carrying does make me leery.

Looking at 3 other teams from last season that already joined the new league they're carrying a combined one injury. (A niggling injury on a +AG ghoul. That guy is going to die, but he'll probably win a game or two first.) They are all significantly higher than 1500 TV, even counting their FF, and most have huge banks. They all look to be much better off than a capped 1500 team.

Looking at the remnants of the old league we see a bit of a different story. There's a decimated elf team that's almost certainly worse than a fresh 1000 TV team, let alone a 1500 one. There's a team with 5 permanent injuries, 2 guys missing the next game, but is higher than 1500TV and has a big bank. There's an elf team that's already played 2 post-league matches. After that there's a bunch of team well above 1500 TV, with very few permanent injuries, and decently sized banks and skills. Even Robb, who has his traditional lineman with multiple permanent injuries, is looking very good. 1930 TV, 3 FF, 140k in the bank. 3 +MA skills, 2 +ST skills, a +AG skill. No injuries beyond that one lineman. His team is _way_ better than a 1500 capped team would be.

I look at the farm league, to see who may be close to joining, and I'm not encouraged. There are a couple of chaos teams close to the cap, but one has no stats at all and the other has a permanent injury. Robb's human team is both not near 1500 and has a permanent injury. Lino's team is rocking 3 permanent injuries.

Having looked at the teams carrying over, it really looks like all the talk of permanent injuries and bad skill rolls has been pretty overblown. A couple of the 16 teams are clearly worse than a 1500 capped team. A couple are on the fence one way or the other. But the rest are way, way better. Most of the teams that are carrying over have fewer injuries than the teams set to be joining up. I think part of the problem is going to be that people aren't actually being super 'cheesy'. The system is set up to make the optimal new team be worse than most carried over teams, which is fine, but it's making it so non-optimal new teams are going to be at a significant disadvantage.

I don't know if there's a solution, though. Inflate the starting cap value maybe? Actively encourage people to optimize their teams? (My halfling team will give or take concessions!) Give new teams that played legitimate games the whole way up (excluding self-concessions to burn off FF) some cap relief for injuries? Your first 5 relevant permanent injuries are worth -20k, that sort of thing? Possibly impose some sort of cap on the teams that are carrying over, too? I think it's silly that there are some teams holding 200k in cash in the treasury, and I'm one of them.

I also think the argument that home grown teams suffer permanent injuries that new teams don't isn't proving to be true. Many of the other teams carrying over are pristine. Mine isn't, and that makes me sad. I don't like that I'm worse off than some of the luckier/better teams that are carrying over. I don't like that I'm better off than anyone bringing in a new team.

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