Angry man's corner
Angry man's corner. One man's rant at the World. This issue; 'Balance' in Blood Bowl.
This is probably the rant closest to my heart to date, but also the toughest to crystallise in words (you‘re lucky this page doesn‘t read RAAAAAGGGGHHHHHH NERD RAGE); ‘balance’ in reference to Blood Bowl has been a spider laying eggs of annoyance in my brain over the years, and they’ve recently hatched and had little ranting babies. Luckily for me, I have this outlet for arachnospawn, or I think I’d have some sort of Alien birth scene. Through my face. The advent of CRP on FUMBBL has lead to miles and miles of forum debate over this skill or that, the game as a whole, whether Top Gun is the greatest movie of all time (and we all know the answer to that is no, the better movie was the straight to video, oddly less remembered classic; Top Gun II : Maverick finally comes out and the gang play Twister with babyoil; the pretence is over) and more often than not, some wise guy invokes the term ‘balance’ as if it’s Star Wars in order to appear that his point is that of a super bearded, pipe-smoking, uber physics scholar. Well, I’m here to tell you that ‘balance’ has little to no place in Blood Bowl, and if it creeps in, we should get rid of it. I’m not actually sure which is more annoying, the concept ‘balance’ exists / should exist, or the people that cite the term willy nilly as a throw away cure all I-can’t-think-of-a-decent-point-so-here-is-a-word-that-should-fit argument fixer! Which one of the Harry Potter kids would you most like to smack? Exactly, you’ve got two hands. Hermionie can get away with it this time. As long as she remembers I’ve been kind.
The first thing to note is that I’m not going to fall into the trap of assuming I knew what was in the minds of the rules people when BB in any of it’s forms was conceived. It’s an easy trap to fall into, reading a few posts on a forum and then assuming you’re in the know; this is all one (angry) man’s assumption. That guy who devours IMDB profiles and then acts like he knows Scarlet Johansson is still a lunatic and not her long lost brother, afterall. These are all my feelings and not some prescribed knowledge about the grand plan. I’m no vicar at the church of rules. A common error the ‘balance’ n00bs make is citing this quote or that quote, pretending like they know what they’re talking about. I will never and have never made the mistake of pretending I know what I’m on about.
Balance, then, in a nutshell. Difficult concept to fully flesh out, when you think about it. I suppose you could concentrate it down to the idea that everything in love and war is fair. Football league seasons are balanced, play everyone home and away once, see who does best. Chess is balanced, you have exactly the same tools at your disposal, nothing is random, go out and think better than the other guy with the same pieces. Rock, paper, scissors, we all have the same three options, the same access to the winning move, select one each. These are but three examples of balance, be they giving everyone the same playing conditions, the same teams / resources or the same chance of selecting the correct random choice. Of course it gets trickier than this, people go on for hours about this game or that and whether it’s balanced, but the majority of games have a vast array of moving parts attached, so it makes it very tough to streamline the playing experience to the point where genuine balance is achieved. Many try a turn based system like Civ (although, not all start positions are equal, so it’s hardly totally balanced since your resources differ from those of the next guy) or they have you playing all at the same time on the same map (although, think FPS games, sometimes whomever gets ‘that’ gun first wins some days). Either way, the more complex and intricate your game, the harder it is to get it totally balanced. What I’m saying about what we have here, Blood Bowl, is that it isn’t, and moreover, it shouldn’t be. That was all very serious, but I do sometimes wonder whether the overarching concept of ‘balance’ and the fact you can’t wholly pin it down means that people think they can get away with knocking the word out in forum threads because you can’t pin them down to what it is they’re trying to say. If it’s not easy to explain, it doesn’t make you clever. I’d like to go around to each of your homes and mix up all of your CDs and DVDs, putting them all away in the incorrect cases. Yes, that’s right, the ultimate punishment! See how you like that, balance mongers.
Do you need balance for fun? This is the main crux of why BB doesn’t have to be balanced. We are the tippiest toppiest most hardcore BB nerds. We take this game way too seriously, you know. It’s supposed to be a laugh with a buddy, not the highbrow many hour experience we make it sometimes. It’s the Expendables, not some art house French flick. A guilty pleasure. Here you are reading a nerd newsletter on a nerd website, have you seen outside recently? It has sunshine now. Worth checking out, you’ve got Wi-fi, right? It also has girls; although Wi-fi has already taught you that.
There are obviously better and worse races, kickoff results that change and decide games, your player can trip and die on a GFI. The very concept of dice to make any action work isn’t fair, is it? When I run my Snotling through your line and your 9 dice fail to knock him down, that’s not fair, it’s not balanced, what it is is hilarious and a great time for all concerned. Well, except you, laugh’s on you, guy who can’t knock down a Snotling. You very much became the guy that fell over in public and got uploaded to You Tube! 2 million hits leter, you’re still funny. What’s even less balanced is that the winners / better teams and coaches keep improving. If you win, you’ve likely taken less CAS / got more SPPs, you’re a better coach so your skill picks are better, and the whole spiral loop takes you to a better position in your next game, making it even less balanced.
It’s not immediately obvious BB is unbalanced, that’s part of the charm. There is a veil that the game is fully skill orientated like the veil of Charlie Sheen’s sanity, and before you know it you’re in having fun before it can put you off. Having met Charlie and been transfixed; you’re too far along the line to think better of it by the time he has you invading Russia wielding an asthma inhaler driving a tank made entirely of matchsticks.
Another reason ‘balance’ is a concept we don’t need here is the role playing / team management aspect of BB. It’s not some pure, chess like experience where you throw your pieces away in passionless exchanges to improve position; BB is about the teams and the pixels to most of us. That Zombie has played 100 games, he’s a hero! That Wardancer is AG6, he is using that Apo and no-one else can have it! We get as much fun and enjoyment out of forwarding the team and the players, the story, as we do from the simple nuts and bolts mechanics of the thing.
Those of you that run tier two and three teams (yeah, there was your first clue balance had no place here, to be honest, teams _designed_ to win less, wait, it's a trap!) know the feeling of bravely fighting against the odds. That’s fun, fun you wouldn’t have with true ‘balance’. Those of you running tier one teams know the thrill of trying to stay there and win as much as possible with your juggernaughts. It’s good to be top dog. Ogres aren’t supposed to beat Woodies, that’s why when you see that match on ‘games’ and it’s 0-0 with 80% time gone, you join to see what’s happening, you cheer like a mad thing when the Woodies snake the game away, and you support the underdog as if it was your own family thwarting World hunger causing Commie-Nazis. That imbalance is at the heart of what makes this game great, isn’t it? Does the very concept of Inducements not lead you to think balance has gone out of the window? Underdogs should win ‘about 30% of the time’ (oh hell, I'm not only trapped, I've thrown away the saw my leg off option out of the nearby window and I'm awaiting starvation). This is gloriously vague, isn’t it?! Superb random silliness.
Random events effect ‘balance’ No-one would try it; but the fact that Black Orc can theoretically wander into your cage on a 6, -3d triple POW kill Morg and then scoop up the ball and run away is delicious. We see lesser events than this every day and it frustrates and delights in equal measure. A game that champions such random events isn’t fair or balanced, but what it is is damn good fun!
Let’s talk about skills. Skills are the biggest clue this game is fun orientated, that the tightrope walker fell off the rope a long time ago and you shouldn’t be claiming that he’s still there and all is well. Why do we care what skills we pick? That seems a daft question, but the only answer is that all skills were not created equal. If the game were rock, paper, scissors, if each skill were as powerful as the next, we’d not care which we took. We’d have a bit of everything such that our rocks could thwart scissors the next time we saw them. In actual fact, rock/paper/sicissorering forty odd skills sounds like an utter nightmare. And on top of that, it sounds massively boring to me. Some skills are better than others, some combinations better than other combinations. That’s life, again, it feeds in to the rich getting richer and not all things being created equal. The only thing that matters is that some skill or combination isn’t overpowered.
OP! ZOMG!? ‘Overpowered’ is the forum brother of ‘balance’. Oh, how I wish when keyboards felt that combination of letters they let out electric shocks, or better yet, they fed the location of the offender through the internet to a central government source that sent lions round to their house. It’s just as lazy, as misinformed and as annoying as blurting out ‘balance’. Overpowered doesn’t mean ‘I don’t like +2DP, I lost a good player to it once, and it kinda meant I lost a game’. It doesn’t mean ‘You know what, we’ve seen Claw/MB/PO for a month in a bash heavy division, it’s broken’, it simply means it’s an insta win button. Insta win. So whilst all of your mens (sorry, sorry) are getting slaughtered, that’s not only a nice coat of red paint for the pitch, there is physically nothing you nor dice can do to change that result. That makes overpowered a phrase that should be handled with care, it should be kept in a glass case with ‘In case of emergency, think very carefully, then break glass. If you break glass for reasons other than OPness, we will bite your arm off. Very sure? Bet your left testicle? Leave a deposit of your right testicle, because we have to be super sure…’ written on it. Instead, n00bs from all over the World of the interweb throw the term around as if they’re collecting points. It’s not bingo, this, it’s a serious accusation, considering we’re all uber nerds who care too much. What it is 99 times out of 100 is someone being damned lazy and not actually thinking or fleshing out a point properly. They probably noted some balance or other 3 pages back.
Have a bit of a think the next time you want to mention 'balance' or decry xyz as 'overpowered'. What are you doing, anyway? Are you having fun? Check, hence you’re still here. I bet you a great deal that if we made BB a game that was entirely balanced, that we fixed skills, dealt with dice, made the teams all of one level, you’d ruddy hate it. If I got to sleep now and wake up three years later and FUMBBL has just teams of Human Linemen left with access to three skills a piece (let’s call them stones, pointy cutty man and reformulated tree) all doing diceless actions, I’ll know that you’ve gotten to Christer. You’ve tied him up in your shackles of balance, your handcuffs of non overpoweredness, and you’ve ruined all our fun. For that, I’ll take all of those CDs and DVDs I rearranged earlier and I’ll microwave them, replacing the originals with copies of Top Gun II.
And that’ll learn you.