Let the Past Die: A New Structure for IACP Release Dates and the Approved/Playtesting System

The IACP Steering Committee is proud to announce that starting with Season 4, there will be a new preset release schedule for new content, as well as a new system for how we handle playtesting and competitive organized play. If you just want to see what the new system and schedule looks like, skip ahead to Our New System Going Forward.

For 3 seasons now, IACP has been creating new content and helping to support organized play for Imperial Assault in the wake of FFG discontinuing all official support for the game. When the IACP first began, a system of public playtesting and subsequent community approval was created to help engender a sense of transparency, balance, and community participation. This followed a horrible period in the game’s history of almost zero communication to the community and a completely broken and untested Spectre Cell card that was destroying the game for competitive players until it was finally nerfed after 9 months of dominating the tournament scene.

This system of playtesting and approval was working well when IACP was still a new idea that was formulating and gathering momentum on the side of FFG’s languishing OP program. Despite comments from an Asmodee employee that Imperial Assault is not over, FFG has effectively stepped away from the skirmish game for the foreseeable future, and now that IACP has taken center stage for the skirmish side of the game, the current playtesting and approval system is beginning to show its limitations.

For those that don’t already know, the current system can be summarized thusly: The Steering Committee designs and releases about 20-25 new or newly updated cards to the community through our Official Changes pdf document, which starts a season. Then we organize playtesting leagues that run for about 3-4 months, and we ask players to fill out feedback surveys at their convenience. During that time, the committee makes adjustments to the cards as-needed throughout the season, usually without warning. After about 4 months, a community vote is taken, and any card that gets 70% approval from voters is given the “approved” status in the Official Changes PDF document. Then another set of new cards are released, starting another new season, about a 4.5 month cycle.

Tournaments use a 2-format system, where organizers can choose to allow the new content that is still being playtested if they want to give players a more chaotic and novel experience, or they can allow only the approved IACP cards from previous seasons if they want to give their players a more “balanced and competitive” experienced with cards that have gone through the public playtesting period and had any potential brokenness worked out of them.

That 2nd part about how tournaments work is where a lot of the problems have now started popping up, now that IACP is pretty much the only tournament game in town for Imperial Assault (after 2 years of no updates, the base FFG skirmish meta has gotten pretty stale for a lot of people).

First off, the 2-format system is tough for a community that is already so small and can’t really handle being divided into 2 groups. Based on the feedback we’ve gotten from various sources, there’s about a 50/50 split between the people that want to play with the newest content and don’t mind it being a bit raw, and the folks that only want to play with things they know has been rigorously tested and balanced. The idea for the Approved format was to have a more balanced and competitive format, but the other problem is that the only cards that are allowed in an Approved tournament are cards from the previous season, meaning that there are likely already new cards that have come out that can’t be used in Approved tournaments.

This problem was being caused by our old playtesting and release process. As soon as we finished a playtesting period and had the approved vote, we would just release the next wave of new content, which never really gave people a chance to enjoy the community Approved cards in a competitive setting without then being distracted and feeling like they were missing out on the brand new stuff that was being released.

The next problem was that people were constantly being blindsided by unplanned card adjustments and season content releases. Though some folks are more adaptable and may even enjoy the challenge of adjusting to a constantly changing game, for others this is an exhausting and unpredictable process that makes them want to just tune out. It also felt to many people that the Steering Committee was doing too much micromanagement and not allowing the cards and the metagame to settle and not allowing the players to figure out the format for themselves before having things changed on them.

Finally, we found that there were big holes in our data collection that needed to be fixed. While we were getting good information from our playtester surveys about how people felt about the different figures in action, we weren’t doing a great job of capturing metagame data, like how often certain figures were getting played, which other figures they were getting played with, win rates for different combinations on different maps, etc. While this information by itself cannot tell you the whole story about whether something is balanced or fun to play, it was important data that was being left on the table and that we felt would be useful in complimenting the excellent qualitative data our player surveys were providing.

Our New System Going Forward

Going forward, seasons will now be 6 months long, starting with a 2 and a half month playtesting period, and ending with 3 months of competitive play after the mid-season approval vote. During the 2 and half month playtesting period, there will be 2 scheduled rounds of card adjustment announcements that players can look forward to.

Players participating in the playtest leagues will be asked to use the built-in game log feature in Vassal to generate a .vlog file for each of their games and upload it to an IACP Dropbox folder. This is a convenient way to track every players results and lists, as well as review games for problematic play patterns. Players that forgot to create a vassal log, or are using some other program to play their games like Tabletop Simulator, or an actual table, will be asked to submit their full lists and game results in writing as well as a brief post-game report. The steering committee feels that combining this greater detail in data-gathering with increased pre-release playtesting within the committee will allow us to shorten the duration of playtesting from 4 months to 2 and a half.

During this period, there will be 2 dates that players can prepare for in which the IACP will make adjustments to cards that need to be re-balanced. We will also share with folks any cards that we are concerned about but have decided to gather more data on before making an adustment. After the 2nd adjustment is made, if any cards are still causing problems during public playtesting, they may be witheld from the community vote and reimplemented in a later season. We hope that these planned adjustments, rather than unplanned adjustments that come out of the blue, will make players feel less blindsided when adjustments do come and allow players to better plan their IACP printing and preparation by knowing exactly when adjustments are expected to happen, and when they’re planned to stop.

Any IACP-sponsored tournaments held during the playtesting period will include the new cards from the new season with the knowledge that all new cards have gone through playtesting within the committee before being released. However, 3rd party organizers holding tournaments during the playtesting period may choose to allow only approved cards from the previous season if they wish.

At the end of the playtest period, during which new cards may have been adjusted up to twice, the entire community will be invited to vote for 2 weeks on the final iterations of the cards, much like what is happening for Season 3 right now. Each card that receives an approved vote from at least 70% of voters will gain approved status, which means the card won’t be changed in future seasons unless doing so is necessary to correct a drastic imbalance later on.

At that point, there will be 3 months in which everyone will be able to play with the community approved cards together. The committee will make no further changes to cards during this period or release any new content, so players will have a chance to explore and compete with the season’s cards in relative peace, forming a metagame and attempting to solve the format with no interference from the committee for 3 months. The committee will help with organized play and running premiere level tournaments for the community during these months, and encourage third party organizers to do the same.

Season 4 Schedule 

  • Jul 6 – Jul 31: Spoiler Articles
  • July 27th: Playtest League #1-of-3 sign ups
  • Aug 3: Season 4 Official Update
  • Aug 3: Playtest League #1 begins
  • Aug 31: Season 4 Update #1
  • Aug 31: Playtest League #2 begins
  • Sep 28: Season 4 Update #2
  • Sep 28: Playtest League #3 begins
  • Oct 19- Nov 1: Season 4 Community Vote
  • Nov 2 – Jan 31: Competitive Approved Play
  • Season 4 OP Schedule TBD
  • Jan 4 – 29 2021: Season 5 Spoilers
  • Feb 2 2021: Season 5 Release
  • Feb – Mar 2021: Season 5 playtesting
  • Apr – Jun 2021: Season 5 approved play
  • July 2021: Season 6 Release

So let’s address some things that this change brings up.

First off, we understand that a lot of you prefer 4 month seasons to 6 and have told us that 6 months is too long between changes. We are hoping that an increased focus on competitive play and that knowing the release date of the next season, along with spreading out season previews over 4 weeks will help to ease the pain of waiting for new content to come out. Even in its peak years, FFG was basically releasing their box expansions every 6 months, and unlike them we’re not getting paid to do this, and we tend to release more cards in a season than FFG was releasing in a wave. A 6 month cycle will allow the committee the time it needs to create and playtest fun and high quality designs while also handling things like community management and organized play. It’s important to remember that everyone on the committee is still a full-time employee or student, so hopefully you don’t begrudge us a couple of extra months so we can try and create the best content possible.

Next is the issue of how tournaments will be handled that occur during that first 3 months of a season while it’s being playtested. For IACP-run events, all tournaments that occur during the open playtesting period will include all cards on the Official Changes document, including cards that are not community approved yet. This is because we know that the new cards we put out will have gone through several months of playtesting within the committee before they are released, and even though that doesn’t mean they will be perfectly balanced before they hit the general public, they will be much more balanced than if we were just throwing letters and numbers under a piece of art and throwing it out to all of you first. For 3rd-party event organizers (which the primary author of this article considers himself to be) they may choose to allow only community approved cards during their event if they choose, especially if they are choosing to run a premiere level competitive event during the playtesting period. Organizers should clearly advertise whether their event is allowing non-approved cards or doing an approved only event. But ideally, we are trying to move towards a one-format system where everyone can play the same cards at the same time, and we hope that organizers scheduling events during the playtesting period can have some faith in the committee’s design and playtesting process and allow their players to play with the season’s newest cards. 

We hope that this new system will make Imperial Assault and the IACP project more enjoyable and more accessible for everyone. This is the culmination of the committee listening to everyone’s feedback and working together to come up with a system that we felt better served everyone who participates in Imperial Assault skirmish through the IACP. For some of you, this won’t be enough change, and for some of you this change will have no impact on how you already enjoy the Imperial Assault content created by the IACP. However we hope that there will be something in this change that everyone can appreciate, whether it be concrete pre-set dates for content releases and adjustments, shorter playtesting periods and longer periods of uninterrupted play time without the committee messing with the cards, or more robust data gathering and reporting during our community playtesting. We hope to hear your thoughts, questions, and concerns in the comments below, in Slack, and on our r/IACP subreddit.

Edited Banner Art by Marko Manev

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