True Weakness vs. Perceived Weakness

This army sucks.

Why would you take that model? It’s horrible.

Don’t play that class – it’s pathetic compared to the others.

Sound familiar? I’m willing to bet it does. This language tends to permeate gaming no matter if it’s board gaming, roleplaying, table top battle games or pc/console games.

There are always choices in games that are considered to be sub par. Sometimes it’s by a single person in a play group, sometimes it’s a small section of people, and at other times it’s almost everyone.

The key element to take into consideration with ‘weak’ options in a game is if that option is actually weak or just perceived to be.

In board games this is usually a weakness from a starting position or from the traits a chosen faction has. Table top battle games is almost always focused on either specific units or sometimes an entire faction. RPGs end up with classes or races that lack the raw number of skills that others have or lack the abilities that others may bring to the game.

The problem with many of these is that popular opinion is often wrong.

Many times people are just repeating what others have said. This can cause some issue with getting the point across as to why something is really a weak option. If a player had a bad experience or bad set of rolls while using something they could have the personal opinion that it’s not as good as the other stuff available. This on it’s own is no problem.

The problem does arise when this opinion is spread to others without the numbers to back it up. What is ok within a system could suddenly be defamed as being worthless and for no good reason. Its why you need to really analyze what people tell you about a game. They could just be jaded.

I’ve seen many games where a weaker faction/class/skill was picked up by a skilled player and made amazing. They look at the reasons the item in question has a bad rap and works out some way to make it shine.

I think one of the root causes for this perception problem is when something is different from the rest. Sometimes the paradigm for which a thing should be used in the game is designed to have a different function in mind from the rest of the things in a similar slot.

A prime example that I see in the Firestorm Armada game is the Sorylian Battleship. A lot of people tend to see this ship as the worst Battleship in the game. Often you will see comments on how it’s not as tough as it should be, or how it’s too slow. When you look at the stats, the ship is about average toughness (DR and CR for the initiated) and is actually one of the faster Battleships available. It gets this bad rap because I feel it plays differently than the other Battleships. It has shorter ranged weapons that contribute to the feeling that it’s too slow, but these weapons are fully capable of tearing apart smaller ships than any other Battleship in the game. Nothing outclasses it.

Combine that with the fact that the Sorylian force has some of the heaviest hitting Frigates in the game. The paradigm for the Sorylians allows their Frigates to hunt enemy large ships while their Battleship protects the fleet from small craft that can cause problems to the larger Sorylian ships. It’s a different way to play and it can be hard to come to terms with because it does play differently.

Now the reverse can also happen as well. Some items in a game are considered too strong. It often follows the same paths of logic as the perceived weakness. Someone experienced a strong unit or faction in a game and before you know it they are stating how broken it is.

A good example was the Vampire Counts Army in Warhammer Fantasy Battle 7th ed. They were unstoppable if you tracked the tournament scene. They were crushing all on comers until the Daemons Army Book was released. The problem here was that they weren’t as hot as people thought. Their units were completely pathetic unless you got to the elite (expensive) ones. When they lost combat, their units would start to crumble. Not bad for the rank and file, but it also applied to their lords and expensive units with few wounds.

They also had the fundamental flaw that killing their general would mean the entire army begins to fall apart. Something that only the best tacticians could come back from.

But they were still a top tier army – why?

The reason was because they could summon back dead units. Amazing right? The key to destroying them however was to target their main casters. Without their magic, the Vampire Counts were worthless. I’m not saying they were weak, but they did have a fundamental flaw. If you knew what to attack and when, a Vampire Counts Army would be in a very bad position.

I know – I used to play them. So many times in a game I would think to myself “if my opponent does X, I’ve lost”. Guess what – X rarely ever happened. The reason why was due to the paradigm shift in tactics. You couldn’t just attack the Vampire Counts like you did every other force in Warhammer Fantasy. It just wouldn’t work. You would lose – and that’s why they had such a scary reputation.

So next time a unit/class/faction/whatever is said to be weak (or strong!), really give it some thought. See if that item in question is fundamentally different than what else is around you. If it is the same paradigm, but worse… well, it probably is weak 🙂



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