To Comp or Not to Comp, That is the Question

In my local scene I’ve been running the tournaments for several years now for 40k and Age of Sigmar (and WHFB before that).  I’m not really a huge fan of comp scoring, as I’ve seen it applied elsewhere with a rather heavy hand, and where it just opens up the door to a different group of top lists that can game the comp system.

This article applies more to 40k than Age of Sigmar, which for a game which many initially decried as unbalanced, seems to have itself better positioned for everyone to have a fun game.

I never really had to worry about comp scoring because I’m spoiled with a great group of players locally who generally never have an issue with bringing a good solid list but nothing too over the top which causes people to have a really bad day.  Netlists have been pretty foreign here actually.

A few years ago I changed our prize format to draw prizes only for all of the prize pool, with the exception of engraving winners names on a club trophy for bragging rights, and individual trophies for our big club championship 2 day tourney we have every year in February.  So really there’s no monetary reward to stomping everyone’s face in.

This has resulted in us having a pretty friendly, welcoming community for newcomers, where someone can have less than a dozen games under their belt and still attend our tournaments and have a good time and feel like they’re in the mix of things.

Sure we’ve had the odd power gamer or two come to a tournament and stomp face, but generally once they find out this isn’t that sort of community, they normally assimilate quite well into our glorious cult of the broodmind… ahem… I’ve said too much…


So why on earth am I talking about comp scores?

Over the past year we’ve had more of the power lists creeping in than usual.  It’s pretty easy to create a tough list in this era of 40K with powerful armies and pretty over the top formations and super heavies.  I as a tournament organizer have gone with the “this will all sort itself out” point of view, much like an ostrich, which as everyone knows is the animal with the best perspective of them all!



This all came to a head a week ago when we had our two-day team event.  We had 28 players signed up in 4 person teams.  This structure was stolen inspired from Adepticon format.  The four person team would have 1k lists and would face another team. Two players vs. two players.  Add up the scores, and Bob’s your uncle, we’ve got a tournament!

I was happy this year because we had 28 players.  This is a relatively new format for us, having only tried this style of tournament a couple of times, but we had grown this year by a full two teams worth so we were growing and things were good and all was right in the world.

To make matters even better we had 8-10 new players. Many of them were such brand new players that this was their first tournament ever.  A few had less than five games of 40K under their belt. This wasn’t entirely new for our one day events but is pretty rare for our team event which up until now was always a small turnout of normally the “vets”.

At the beginning announcements day one I talked to the group about there being a LOT of new players, let’s be helpful make sure everyone had a great game, etc. etc.  All going well in my brain, let’s get playing!



By day two of the tournament however we had an issue.  A number of the newer players came to me and said that they were really having a bad time and getting crushed every game and were literally completely unprepared for the type of lists they were seeing. One full team was going to drop out completely and the team captain was trying to convince them to stick around for the last two games.  They were going to leave even though there was over a grand in draw prizes to be won. Plus several were of the opinions that they wouldn’t be coming back to future tournaments because it was just too over the top.

Normally for our bigger tournaments such as our club championships I see lists beforehand to fact check etc. This particular tournament was one of the ones I play in myself, so did not want to see lists beforehand due to not wanting to have an unfair advantage with my own team’s list building.  Therefore I left it up to team captains to fact check etc.

So as I went through the field I saw a lot of optimized lists.  Riptide wings, Decurion necrons, Monstrous creature spam, skyhammers, etc. What made matters worse was not only were these new players facing rough lists, but they were getting crushed/tabled in a couple short turns, not ever feeling like they were “in the game”.

I took the team captains aside and had a very frank discussion with all of them about ensuring the new players had a good game and even though they can get all their points etc. they don’t have to be tabling people in two turns, especially if they’re brand new.  Just not cool.  We finished up the tournament, mended some fences with the new players, ensuring they had a good couple last games and thankfully the majority of prizes were won by new players, so karma helped out too.



Remember my ostrich maneuver above? Well that worked out in other tournaments as generally after round one, the competitive types were all playing each other anyways so the newer players or those with a fluffy list had to only endure a rough list for the first game if they hit an unlucky pairing. This time though, every team played each other. There was no escaping the rough lists, and the new players were just repeatedly being crushed in short order.

As it so happened, just prior to this tournament one of our long-term veteran players had been talking to myself and a few others about a comp system to rein in what we had been seeing up to this point. He developed a pretty decent system intended to curb some of our problem lists. Given I’m not a huge fan of comp, I was being super thorough and cautious about this, and a bunch of us were running lists through the system and trying to tweak it.  In my well-meaning ignorance I thought it wasn’t ready for this tournament as we just finished it the week before it, and it didn’t give a lot of time to people to prepare.

Most of this issue in my mind didn’t have anything to do with lists, but were more cases of sportsmanship or lack thereof. In my mind, you can still get full points for a game and have an exciting engaging experience for both sides.

I did not bring a soft and fluffy list to this tournament. I brought Necrons. Not Decurion or wraiths but even so Necrons aren’t an easy time. My team also brought good solid lists. We won the majority of our games. By all accounts we were some of the “competitive players” above.

We also had brand new players cheering and excited during our game with them. We drew against an all new player team. Hell, we even danced (as agreed upon before hand) when our ridiculous luck netted us a lychstar from the shooting of two venoms. Make no mistake that NEVER should have happened – we agreed to dance for our opponents if it did. And I’m an old fat guy, it’s funny when I dance. We had fun, win or lose, and I’m proud of my team for that. From what I understand, our opponents had fun too.

(actual picture from that game)


A turn two tabling isn’t fun for anyone… ever.  What could be done instead when you vastly outmatched your opponent?

I’ll give you an example:

Let’s say I brought riptide wing and my partner has Corpse thief claw. My opponents are brand new, never played in a tournament before and brought okay lists, but had nothing that was going to stop this many 2+ and 3+/4+FNP MC’s. No poison, only a few heavy weapons. You basically know when you look at the lists across from you (because you’re a vet and this isn’t your first rodeo).

If your opponent has to get tabled in 2 turns for you to win, that is not you winning. The outcome wasn’t in doubt. Move to your objectives, take out key targets etc. and explain why you are shooting what you shoot. You get the same points either way after all.

Maybe you don’t overcharge the riptides, maybe you don’t bother with the double fire from your formation. Maybe you let your warlord die and give up line breaker to your opponent because it doesn’t affect your score at all. Maybe you teach them target priority so they know what they should be shooting from the outset. Help them do their best to beat you (while letting them make their own decisions of course).  Not only do both have an enjoyable game, but the new player grows in skill and is likely to come back for a rematch in the future with this knowledge.

But regardless of how I FEEL this should be handled, it wasn’t in our case, and we were left in the position where new players felt that they shouldn’t come back.  Which is unacceptable in my books.

So pulling my ostrich head out of the sand, I talked to some of the other vets in our club and brought out this comp system we’d been tweaking to our local community and said let’s try it.  It might not be my ideal choice to have comp  but I needed to do something.  At least with this making a good chunk of points, those who wanted to win best overall would maybe try to maximize their chances with a better comp score. Win-win right?



So this isn’t my work, all credit goes to my buddy Tom (and I believe he took pieces of this from other comp systems he researched) but here is what we’re going to try:

Starting comp score for everyone would be 20.

-1 : Duplicate MC units in same FOC category. (Yes, a singular MC would count as a MC unit choice in this regard.)

-1 : Duplicate vehicle squadrons in same FOC category. (TROOPS dedicated transports are exempt up to Three, then are subject to the rule. And yes a single Vehicle would count as a Vehicle squadron choice in this regard.)

-1 : Each duplicate unit after the first two in same FOC category. (Troops are exempt unless if possessing a Rate of Fire above 2.)

-5 : Super Heavy Vehicle or GMC present in list. (This way a basic Imperial Knight list would start at a 15 by default and would be subject to other point drops as the list is constructed.)

-2 : A Formation is present in the list. This way it isn’t too punishing to make a formation because it’s fun to create flavorful themed lists that gain the benefit of a formation, but generally most are pretty much CADs with extra benefits tacked on.

-1 : Each subsequent Formation after the second. (So if you make a list with 2 formations in it you’ll only be dinged the -2 comp listed above for having a Formation present, this additional -1 for people with each Formation after the 2nd will help avoid abusive Formation spamming.)

-1 : A Fortification is present in the list

-2 to +1 based on judge’s discretion.

EXCEPTION: A Tyranid Tyrannocyte counts as the dedicated transport limit (same as a rhino) to the limits above of 3 and NOT an MC unless you exceed three in a list.

The Vehicle / MC spam being doubled down by two different comp hits was intentional as MCs and Vehicles are some of the more efficient ways to spam out high strength low AP shots, or in the case of Forge World can get pretty abusive.

So I’d love to hear your feedback on your experience, good and bad with comp systems and how they’ve helped/hurt your tournament experience.

Side note, be cautious about searching Ostrich memes at work. The internet is a very dark place.

Jack Shrapnel

I've been pushing little plastic people around the tabletop since 2004 and have long since sacrificed my disposable income to the Games Workshop Gods. I readily admit that I am completely addicted to 40k and Age of Sigmar (and WHFB before that).

I currently collect Stormcast Eternals, Sylvaneth, Ogors, Tyranids, Chaos Daemons, Khorne Daemonkin, Salamanders, Ultramarines, Blood Angels, Necrons, Space Wolves and Eldar. (I have a bit of a problem!)

I'm a converter of anything that strikes my ADD addled mind therefore my Eldar are Star Wars, my Salamanders Squats, my Space Wolves Angry Marines and my Ultramarines are quite understandably Smurfs.

View All Jack Shrapnel's Articles

  • I think you’re better off without comp, and just sticking to list approval, even if that means you approve lists in events you participate in. If you’re running the show then it’s safe to assume people like and trust you. I can’t imagine anyone would think you’d do anything unfair in approving lists when you play considering.

    As you said, comp just doesn’t work. Too many armies have ways around any comp system you put into place. Some armies take larger penalties than others with comp. The only way comp works is if it’s done on an army by army basis, and who has the time to write that?

    • jack shrapnel

      And that’s pretty much my perspective on comp as well. Some armies get nailed by whatever system you put in place, others can skirt through unharmed and it becomes a list building exercise in how to game the system. (for some people). We’ve got people on both sides of the fence now, and it’s being hotly debated on our local forums. I’m not exactly sure what the best course of action is, but I’m sure other local gaming communities have struggled with this issue as well.

      • We once did, struggle over it that is. We were once hardcore comp system abiders back in 5th edition. We ran monthly tournaments, which are casual, with a comp system. We began tightening up the comp system for our big annual events too. Then codex creep reared itself, and we eventually realized we were chasing our tail on it.

        Now, we do as you have done, we began approving all army lists for big events. We don’t run a comp at monthly tournaments now either. We do have a very simple comp in place for a big event in November: 1 Lord of War, 2 faction limit. Something to help out with the cheese, but not overly hurt composition either.

        There has to be human intervention in place for any comp system to work, no matter how lose, or tight, it is.

        • jack shrapnel

          That’s a good point Thor. Someone’s eyes should be on things no matter what. Any system, good or bad, is only going to do so much. And trying to keep up with an individual codex comp at this point is pretty overwhelming to even try and consider.

  • Tyler Provick

    *Shudders* I got clear of GW games a long time ago. This sounds like a nightmare.

    • jack shrapnel

      Well it was certainly a problem that had to be dealt with, however up until now we’ve been pretty lucky and it’s not really been an issue. Which is part of why we’re kind of at a crossroads now. Not sure can continue to just Ostrich this. Also not sure if comp is the answer.

  • Chaz Sexington

    You say every team played each other, so Swiss pairings wouldn’t work. Maybe the issue lies more in the format of having everyone play everyone?

    • jack shrapnel

      well part of the issue was it was a six game tournament (one of our two full weekend events per year) so it just worked out that every team had to play each other. During singles, or even doubles events it’s not nearly as much of an issue as we have enough participants that the newer players end up playing each other normally.

      • Chaz Sexington

        Aye, exactly. Maybe warn newbies about team tournaments. But how did the newbie teams fare against each other?

        • Jack Shrapnel

          They fared pretty evenly against one another and were even able to grab points off some of the harder but not over the top lists, so they did pretty well overall I think.

  • I don’t like comp. Too me it’s just changing one problem for another and people will just find another way around it.. Unfortunately most of the 40k tournaments here in Sweden all use the same crappy comp system and that were one of the reasons I stopped playing the tournament.

    In theory, comp can be quite good but I don’t think you can make a system that isn’t inherently flawed and then there’s no reason to use it

    I don’t know of they have a comp system for WHFB or AoS but considering how hard they have been pushing it for 40k, it wouldn’t surprise me.

    • jack shrapnel

      AOS really doesn’t require comp… the general’s handbook pretty much took care of all that with an official system. Until that release however, there were a number of fan comps being used. How does the system I posted above compare to your comp in Sweden? similar? If there’s any problems that keep arising from your system maybe I can learn some valuable lessons? (and not have to repeat them!)

      • The way they do it here is that more or less every option you take will generate a point value and the TO’s decide how much comp points you’re allowed to have in the army. It’s a very big project, the comp document is 86 (!) pages long.

        It’s written in English so you can check it out if you want to at:!AmMUQAO1RpOYhOEONi7KdfOo3JR13w

        I’m sure there are some good elements in it.

        • jack shrapnel

          oh man… 86 pages eh? that seems a little cumbersome!

          • Yea I agree. I guess they really want to try to fix everything.

            • It’s a fool’s errand though. Trying to fix everything gives you an 86 page document. Not only is it intimidating to anyone wanting to attend your event, you have to keep that thing updated. I sure as hell don’t want to update an 86 page document when a new edition of 40K comes out, or update 5-6 pages for a new codex. Never mind the fact that you just can’t catch everything because this game evolves way too fast.

              I admire their ambition and determination, but it’s just too much.

              • Absolutely, I agree 100%, it’s terrible. I don’t see how they can play test all the new books enough with the, as you said, the speed of new releases. And if they don’t update it quickly your stuck using the comp list for the previous book.

                • Jack Shrapnel

                  It seems way too much for us to even consider.

  • I play at the same shop as Thor, and have run a couple of our shop’s “big” events over the years. As Thor said, we used to abide by comp restrictions until the sheer size of the game (in terms of number of Codexes, allies rules, etc) made it an exercise in futility.
    We also discovered that players had a hard time keeping things impartial. If your army didn’t do well against masses of vehicles, you rallied against vehicle spam. If you liked running lots of monsters, you argued against FOC duplication hits. People felt personally attacked by the system, and we discovered that anyone with a large, diverse model collection could build around the system while new or casual players with limited model choices simply couldn’t play without rebuilding whole armies.
    We even tried giving “theme/fluff waivers” by which you could earn back lost points if you could write a little army intro that explained your choices. The story I always tell is of the player who justified every unit in his Space Wolf army being armed with multiple meltaguns because they had been stuck on a planet that manufactured melta weapons and fuel. Definitely an A for effort.
    Nowadays with maelstrom missions, comping out things like transports or specific units would make certain armies completely unplayable. Marines can’t take objectives on foot, Nids can’t compete without multi FMC, etc.
    We have to rely on players reining themselves in, and realizing that there aren’t big cash prizes up for grabs, just home made trophies and such at the big events. Social pressure tends to work out, since the real abusers have trouble finding games after they screw someone over a few times.

    • jack shrapnel

      Kind of the situation we’re in now. People are finding exceptions or ways in which the system is unfair to their particular build while not being “unfair enough” against other builds. Planet melta sounds like a very dangerous place to have a space wolf base :)

  • ming2005

    I’d say have a comp, and use it just as a “round zero pre-score” used to pair first round games rather than random pairings. That means the list builder can make the choice to bring their nastiest list at the risk of an opponent who did the same – wolves vs wolves and seals vs seals for the first round. Overall, I have no problem with a TO deciding how to run their event. Players just need to know it in advance. I think the best restrictions are to keep things to few sources, battle focused and not unbound, etc. – things that any faction can and should adhere to. Any great player can win with a simple CAD, any bad player would first whine about comp keeping them from winning.

    • jack shrapnel

      Great idea using it as a first round matchup tool.

      • You can also use it in all pairings. When we were hard for comp, and I ran an event, I had a comp score that I would pair people with. Of course this meant first round, but we used it in all rounds as well. It was first based on battle points, and second on comp. So, if you had 4 guys all with 80pts then the guys with closer comps would pair off. That kept your cheesey lists together, and your fluffy guys together in situations where points were tied up in pairings. It doesn’t fix everything, but it does help a bit.

        • That definitely mitigates the issues I’ve seen with it.

    • I’ve seen some places that tried this. The issue then becomes the second round. You end up with the competitive guy who brought a nasty list and got stomped and now has a chip on his shoulder matching up against the complete newbie who also got stomped and is already discouraged.

  • Imperial Guard can get absolutely brutal under this system while still maintaining a full 20 Comp. They’ve got such a wide variety of options for pretty much any role, and Combined Platoons are such great all-rounders (especially with even some minor buff support), that it’s really not a problem for them.

    Nids on the other hand, get screwed even harder than normal, since the one genuinely good Unit in their Dex is an MC.

    I also really dislike blanket penalties for Formations. The same hit for a WS Demi-Company or a Librarius Conclave as for an Ethereal Council is just ludicrous.

    • That said, I think something is needed. 40K just by the book is so ridiculous these days that it’s possible to create lists that will roflstomp newbies by accident, especially if playing something like Eldar, Tau, or Necrons.

      • Jack Shrapnel

        and hence our situation… how do we keep things “fair” when there is so much imbalance just in the books themselves – never mind if people are trying their best to min-max the most unbalanced books!

        • Short of basically re-writing several Dexes and chunks of the BRB from scratch, I think TO approval of Lists is about as good as it’s gonna get. I actually do have a few ideas for an “ITC+” system that I think could work to some extent, and would be easier for TOs, but it would still be far from perfect.

%d bloggers like this: