Painting as first tiebreaker in Warmachine?

A little while ago, I came up with a joke. It was that for Warmachine, the Steamroller document should have percent of models painted as first tiebreaker. The joke was that this was such a silly suggestion, so absurd on face value and so unlikely to be actually implemented that it was humourous.

I know, my sense of humour leaves something to be desired. But the more I thought about it, the more I started thinking that having some sort of metric based on proportion of army painted as the first tiebreaker really isn’t such a terrible idea.

The problem of tiebreaks

Right now, in Warmachine, it’s generally easy to determine who won the tournament. The way matchmaking is done, assuming you play enough rounds, by the end of the day there will be one guy who won all his games and didn’t lose any. He’s the winner. But from there, it gets a little messy – with multiple people going away with win/loss records like 3-1 and 2-2, it’s not as straightforward to determine placings below first.

There are two ways that can be used to determine tiebreakers. First, as the Steamroller packet suggests, you can use Strength of Schedule as the first tiebreaker, which basically scores you based on how well your opponents did. If your opponents won a lot of games, that implies that you got your 3-1 record against stronger players, and you get credit for that in the form of a higher SoS score. The other option, which is currently the second tiebreaker for people who have the same W/L record and SoS, is to use an in-game measure such as most control points scored to rank players.

Both of these have their issues. Strength of Schedule can be frustrating for a lot of players because in a lot of ways, it’s beyond their control. If their first round opponent goes on to win all the rest of his games, you’ll get a high SoS, while if he drops from the tournament and waters his sorrows at a bar, your SoS will tank. As such, it seems odd and can be frustrating to have second place be determined by something like how many of your opponents stick around and win some more games and how many drop from the tournament. In-game methods like using total control points have their disadvantages as well, in that they can reward unsportsmanlike behaviour such as dragging a game out to farm control points long after the opponent has any hope of winning, or colluding with an opponent to maximize your control points.

But what if there were some sort of method that is 100% within a player’s control, and doesn’t reward players who engage in questionable behaviour on the day of the event in order to cheese the system? Hmmmmm… perhaps we might be on to something here with this painting thing?

How to encourage painting anyways?

Another issue is the question of how we encourage and reward painting in Warmachine. It’s been something that has been on my mind for a while, and something that I’ve talked about a fair bit lately, possibly to the consternation of others.

There are a number of things that can be incorporated into tournaments to promote painting. Soft scores, best painted awards, painting requirements, in-game bonuses for painted armies, and so on are all possibilities. Unfortunately, one thing I’ve seen on internet discussions of this topic is that none of these possibilities please everyone.

Soft scores are basically heresy in the WMH community, and given the response that I got when I suggested that painted armies could get +1 on the roll to go first on the old PP forums, so is in-game bonuses. Some people argue against painting requirements in the name of inclusivity, and some people don’t like best painted awards because it’s possible for the best painters to always win. Finally, some people object to any system where the highly skilled competitive players have to share the prize pool with filthy casuals and hobbyists.

Regardless, I feel like it’s more important to do something to celebrate and reward painting and encourage people to get armies painted up than it is to find the perfect solution that no one would object to, because that solution doesn’t exist. This may not be the perfect solution, but it has some advantages. People who don’t have or don’t play fully painted armies aren’t turned away, and it can be effectively implemented regardless of the size of the tournament or the prize pool. Further, it encourages people at all skill levels to at least get their armies painted to whatever level satisfies them, instead of being a prize that only the James Wappels of the local meta are in contention for.

Cut to top X

One more reason for implementing painting as a tiebreaker is that a lot of big tournaments end up being streamed online. When games are being streamed, it’s good to have painted models on the table in order to make for a better looking stream and promote the game online. Many large tournaments also end up with a cut to top X, whereby people end up playing a few rounds to start, and then at the end of those rounds, they take the top 4 or 8 or 16 players and put them into a playoff bracket.

You can see where this is going. While the people who go undefeated are guaranteed to make the playoffs, there are a lot of people who end up with an X and 1 win/loss record. Some of them make the playoffs and some don’t. By using painting as first tiebreaker, this means that there will be more painted armies in the finals which is good if the games are being watched or streamed.

But what about competitive players who hate painting?

I’m sure there are going to be objections to this idea. After all, it’s basically heresy in certain segments of the Warmachine community that painting should have anything to do with competitive play. However, there are some simple ways that individuals who wish to be competitive players can tackle that issue. First, people who want to be competitive under such a regime would have an incentive to get their armies painted up. Best case scenario, everyone gets fully painted, in which case it would still go to a second tiebreaker such as strength of schedule or control points. Failing that, people who are that competitive could just win every game and not need to deal with tiebreakers. Simple, right?

Conclusion

I don’t think this idea will ever replace strength of schedule as the default first tiebreak method in standard Warmachine tournaments. However, I think does have its advantages and is worth considering — perhaps not for all tournaments, but for some; I do think there is some advantage when there is a diversity of formats. At the end of the day, it may not be perfect but it’s better than doing nothing to promote the hobby aspect and at the very least, I hope this will provoke some thought and positive discussion regarding the question of how to encourage and reward painting at tournaments.

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