Saturday 16 November 2013

How Far is Too Far? Discussion Topic

Something has been troubling me lately, and since we've very recently hit 250k hits I feel you, our valued viewers, should have your say.

For the last couple of weeks Crazy, TommyH and I have been playing a lot of the LotR system. What started on a whim has become something of an obsession, and with our first official tournament in just over a week we've been nitpicking our lists to make sure we're competitive. But that I feel may be the problem.

Now we joke a lot about 'breaking' LotR, but it's never our intent to do so. However a few days ago I posted on a LotR forum asking a rules query and got a very strong response. That response was that I was intentionally seeking to exploit a loophole and dishonoring the spirit of the game. Now you'd find this response anywhere really, this IS the internet. But what struck me was the volume of response. And what I've realised in further discussion is that our competitive meta-driven 40k thinking doesn't stretch across all the systems. This got me very interested in how different players approach ALL the GW game systems and made me wonder if the culture in 40k has taken a turn, if not for the worse, than at least down a path that this sort of gaming was never meant to take.

Crazy and I got back into the hobby by sheer chance when 6th Ed 40k had just been released. Being the excited young men that we were, we both immediately bought armies we liked the look and themes of, with no thought to competitiveness. This meant we had a bunch of fun games on our own, with lots of rules misunderstanding and breaking, before we became involved in the wider community. Now I have no idea what the 'competitive' scene was like before we began to get involved, but it wasn't too long after we did so before our gaming took on a more considered edge. We began to forget about playing lists with themes or stories, and began taking combinations that tread a fine line of 'fairness'. Soon enough Crazy had switched from his treasured DE to Tau, then from Tau to Eldar primary with Tau allies, and created his horrifying Serpent, WK and missilesides combo. I wasn't far behind, taking advantage of the Spawn Lord combos, and now having the option for White Scars grav backup. All of these things leave us in a good position competition-wise, but have we somewhere along the line missed the point of the hobby?

When we first met Ruby and 3 Colours I must admit we scoffed at their approach to the game. How could they just take armies that they 'liked the idea of'? Why wouldn't they take as many of the most powerful units they could and play to a specific strategy? We went so far as to try and give them competitive lists they MUST play. It's only now I realise how wrong we were to do so. It's not up to us or anyone else to tell another player how to play this game, or any game for that matter. And maybe it's time to think about how we play the game too.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not bemoaning the competition or any lack of success. Crazy and I have both won our fair share of tourneys, separate and together. And I certainly don't mean to tell anyone how to play the game (something we'll probably get letters about). But at what point do you look at your list and see a total of 4 unit types in an army of 60 models, and wonder if it's a bit strange? At what point does it become clear that the same group of a dozen people winning 90% of the independent tournaments are playing variations on 6 different lists? Exaggeration perhaps, but depressingly close to the truth.

I don't want to play an RP game where every model has a story, and there's no room for competition. But I'm getting dismayed at turning up to tournaments and seeing the common theme in every list is 'spam'. I'm getting tired of having to model my list in the same way in order to stand a chance of winning. Maybe I should just be avoiding competitive 40k gaming altogether, but am I wrong in feeling that this shouldn't be how it is?

How far are you willing to go to win a tournament? How far will you push the rules to get your way? How long will you spend thinking about unrealistic combinations to squeeze every shred of value from your special rules? When the tenants of the game encourage you to play 'in the spirit' (whatever that means), and goes so far as to tell you if you can't agree on something roll a dice, why are so many people so committed to the win that they'll literally throw a tantrum if they lose? I'm sure we've ALL seen it.

I know I'm being hypocritical in this, I'll keep making competitive lists for as long as the competition remains as it is, but I feel at this point that these questions bear thinking about.

So I ask you dear readers, how far is too far?

I do really want to know what you, the community, has to say. Please leave a comment below, and remember this isn't an attack, it's a discussion.

Make good choices.


  1. I've never participated in a tournament for 40k and never intend to. After reading all of the horror stories about how ultra-competitive everyone is at them, I'm quite fine with staying away.

    I take units in my list because I like them or because I like (or wanted to like) painting them. Sure, I look at the rules and choose what I think I can do well with to an extent, but when it comes down to it there are two determining factors to whether or not I'm interested in having a unit: cost and how much I think I'll enjoy painting it.

    As for actually playing, I'm fortunate enough to have several friends who aren't WAAC spam-builders. We all realized that those kind of armies look boring on the table, aren't fun to play, and aren't fun to play against. 40k is a game at heart and games are usually played for fun. Sure, there's room for competition to, but I think the 'meta' (a curious term considering it means "beyond," which seems to infer that it is beyond the game) is way too spam-happy.

    Then again, there is a very fine line between a themed army and a spam army with certain styles.

    At any rate, being so obsessed with winning that you'll throw a tantrum when you lose is definitely not ok. Disappointment? Sure, that's human, but anger and yelling? Not cool.

    1. There's more than one meaning to the word meta, what you're talking about is the original greek meaning or the English prefix. What this refers to is the US definition.

  2. I have to agree with Orzhova. I just don't do tournaments. I am curious to try, but at the same time, I'm more than happy to have my friendly games and leave it at that. I'm not driven to be competetive with Warhammer of either stripe. I am on a couple racial forums for Fantasy and there's a definite difference between Army List critiques/builds when it's for competition and when it's for fun.

  3. I've got numerous 'spam' lists, but most of them are themed uncompetitive lists. Not on purpose, but I looked at something and went 'oh! That'll be awesome to see on the table!'
    Yes I do have a Scars list that has yet to lose with bikes bikes and more bikes. But I also have a Bloodnoughts list that has never won a game. 'Spam' isn't a sure way to win games. It's the rulemongering that does it.

  4. I play local RTT tournaments a lot. I do win more than I lose, but I'm not in the leagues of the top players at the big events (big fish/small pond). For a while I was really into the 'ultimate build' type armies, but that pretty much stopped with 6th edition. Now I take a variety of armies to tournaments and a much more varied set of units in the armies.
    I don't win quite as much, but the games are waaaay more fun.

  5. Cheating is too far. Everything else with in the rules is fair game on one condition - that both players are truly playing to win based on the rules.

    I enjoy 40k most when I'm trying to win, so I like competitive play. Sure, I enjoy those epic moments when something cinematic happens and I will never forget my first tournament playing with a fully painted army. But nothing beats crafting a list and pushing as hard as you can to win (this includes pre-game prep too). The winning bit doesn't actually matter to me as much, and placing in a tournament is a measure of my development as a competitive gamer. For me the fun bit is trying as hard as I can to see how good I can get.

    There is a fantastic book by Sirlin called 'Playing to Win' (free on his own website, see link at the end). One of the fundamental points of the book asks players to look at what holds us back as gamers from playing by the game's rules, contrasting this against players who use a self imposed set of rules (e.g. I only play with X army, that would never happen in the fluff, claiming that something's not fair because they didn't make the effort to learn the rules properly, etc.) and then judging others for not following their definition of winning.

    For me it's really important to agree what kind/style of game I'm going to play with my opponent before the game starts. If it's a relaxed, low-powered game than that's cool (although I still enjoy hardcore more!). If it's an experimental 'I don't know if this is good or terrible but I want to give it a go' game then great. My favourite is still a 'no-holds-barred no-mercy given none asked hardcore' game. I'll add here that all of these can be done in a polite and non-confrontational way!.

    I will play anything really (still a strong preference for hardcore), but I want to avoid a situation where players do not agree on what 'winning' is.

    Competitive tournaments should be an environment where everyone has a common definition of winning (as defined by the basic game rules or tournament variations). In this situation we should be applauding anyone who earns their win fair and square. And then keep on trying to beat them next time!

    So I guess what I'm trying to say is that nobody really wins if you're not playing the same game. So check first!

    Thanks for the article. Excellent food for thought.

    1. Playing to Win by Sirlin:

    2. Great view on that. I certainly hadn't thought of it that way before!

    3. I'm with you mate. When I heard about inquisition, my brain went into "can I use it to have the winning edge" mode. My only army that comes close to themed is in fantasy or my Dark a Eldar Kabal (venoms + Ravagers).

  6. Thank you all for your input, I really appreciate the perspective on this issue. It's something I'll certainly have on my mind in the future.

  7. You've seen my armies.. I always put theme above competative strength / meta.
    I would attribute my rubbish win loss ratio to poor gameplay decisions rather than inadequacies in my lists.
    I find a lot of enjoyment out of working out strong armies, that are strongly themed & are competative (note: I don't consider working within the meta to be competative.)

    Additionally, the inclusion of sports & painting in comp scores does seem to go some way to offsetting metaspam.


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