Friday, 28 May 2010

Getting on my Soapbox - Competitive & Non-Competitive Play

I think it’s time I got this off my chest as it’s a subject which I keep reading about online, and there are some opinions which really “grind my gears”, they’re entitled to those opinions of course – but I think they’re wrong so it's time to get on my soap box.

Our hobby is a diverse one and plenty of people have different reasons for taking it up, let’s just quickly look at what I’d call the three cornerstone aspects.


I think it’s fair to say this is the largest factor for which many of us are in the hobby. Whether you play all out to win in tournament style competitive play or just want to play with some mates and have a laugh with a few drinks and pizza it's why we're here. Though I should highlight the two are not mutually exclusive, please keep that in mind.

Modelling, Painting & Collecting

Given it’s a game of toy soldiers (gasp) the other major aspect is the figures themselves, it’s quite perfectly acceptable to spend as little time as possible on your army (though some of us would say ‘why’ when your prepared to spend hard earned money on it), but it’s also perfectly acceptable to lavish time on it, to convert every single model and to paint them to the best of your ability – I think everyone can appreciate a good looking army on the tabletop even if they don’t wish to spend the time to do it themselves. Though of course alot of people are more in the middle of these two 'extremes'.

Background and Story Telling

This is another important part of the hobby that is often and easily overlooked, and without it you might as well be playing chess! Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to write a novel to explain everything in your army, 40k has a deliberately large universe which allows us to explain just about anything IF we want (and yet again of course you don’t have too). However for some parts of our community it’s an important aspect, one which can mesh with the collecting, modelling and painting of an army as a player finds a certain theme they like which is to them really cool, it can also mesh with gaming when it comes to special scenario's or campaigns.

So what’s the problem? The fact is that certain parts of the community feel that the game should be played for a single aspect and that anyone who differs should be looked down upon as ‘a poor sportsman’, ‘a scrub’, ‘beardy/cheesey’ or derogatively as a ‘fluffy player’. You may feel one aspect is best, that anything else is stupid, but what right have you got exactly to judge somebody else? None! Play as you wish, but you have no right to criticise someone for the style of play they choose.

Though I would add cheaters, (actual) bad sportsmanship etc is a different matter, and is a group who should be shunned by all.

Competitive Play

Aspects of competitive play are often looked down upon from some quarters, for example, building an army which excels at one particular function at the expense of everything else, the use of particular powerful units or combinations of such units which may or may take particular advantage of the rules (e.g. the often despised Nob Bikers with every model slightly different for wound allocation) and to a certain extent pushing the boundary of the rules as written (RAW) beyond what may be thought of as acceptable as far as possible to squeeze out an advantage.

Now if you can’t stomach that sort of play for one thing you ought to tournaments because they are normally all about this sort of play, if you do go along and dislike the experience keep in mind it was your choice, don’t moan about it.

However the fact is this is a game, and you are playing against an opponent to win. Even if you don't consider yourself a competitive player, YOU ARE, it may just be you just place a greater weighting on the non-competitive aspect as well.

Non-Competitive Play

Now apparently some competitive players can’t understand why someone would not play their ‘A Game’ all the time, or would handicap themselves with what in their terms are poor unit choices or utterly rubbish armies as a whole. It’s certainly true that some people do take ‘poor’ choices mistakenly believing them to be awesome, but there good reasons which are more personal.

The most typical I suppose is my usual reason, simply because I like the models and/or it fits the theme of my army (matching the other two cornerstones of the hobby). I’ll take the example of my FW Malcador Defender, in game terms it’s frankly pretty awful, it fulfils much the same roll as a Demolisher with fractionally increased firepower but it's slower, has weaker armour, is far more expensive and carries the possibility of taking half your army along with it when it blows up (which it will), I got into a debate a few months ago with someone unable to comprehend why I would take it, the answer is simple I think it’s a lovely model. I love concept behind it, it fits in perfectly with the look and feel of my army and lastly I didn’t buy it as an expensive paper weight, it may not add anything to how well the army works, in fact it detracts from it, but it LOOKS GREAT!

That whole concept can certainly be extend to single units, multiple units or whole armies however the owner should beware complaining about them, remember at the end of the day it is your choice to take them and nobody forced you, save that for discussion about how bad the game designers get it sometimes!

Another reason which is fairly typical is simply a player does'nt have the models he or she would need to build a competitive list, forgiveable surely?

A final possibility is that someone is literally challenging themselves, a competitive player who is taking a non-competitive list because using optimised list is kind of like taking candy from a baby. Okay, perhaps not the best comparison but it gives you the idea, after all to win with something which is admittedly terrible takes either a lot of luck or someone who really knows what they’re doing. I’m not one of those people, but I know a few who are.

Myself, I fall in between these groups, I'll always include units I like even if they're not great, but I will also include elements which are more useful - even when they don't fit right in with the army, I don't think in that respect I'm untypial.

In closing, because this has become a bit of a rant, don’t become like THIS. Here if I read this right we have Stelek a clearly Competitive player who has played someone who clearly is'nt for whatever his reasons may be, the result is one playing is moaning about Stelek and Stelek in turn is moaning about him, I doubt either of them would particularly want to repeat the game.

Such unhappy situations are EASILY avoided, use your head and talk to your opponent, make sure you find out exactly what your opponent wants out of the game first, if that doesn’t match what you want out of the game don’t play it whether it's because your opponent is too competitive, because you don't think they're competitive enough or whatever other reason, just find another opponent. This is supposed to be an enjoyable hobby where both players have fun, if your not gonna have fun playing a particular game then you have to ask what’s the point?

P.S - Oh yes, if you don't ask what your letting yourself in for don't moan about it, don't say what if, don't blame the dice, (and especially don't if you did know what you were letting yourself in for), we do all do it from time to time, but without actual good reason that is a very good example of bad sportsmanship. Even if it's true! ;)


Brent said...

I think this is a worthy soapbox topic, and I think you've hit on the primary cause of problems between players which I believe is the differing expectations brought to the table.

If one dude is playing his fun army on a hobby night and the other is testing his optimized tournament list, there are bound to be problems. Chances are nobody is having any fun.

Re: Stelek's article, I didn't take it that way, but I see where you're coming from. When I read it I didn't think he was the player but rather an observer of human behavior.

Still, perhaps he deserves the knock, 'cause we all know Stelek isn't a huge proponent of fluffy-gaming!

Good article - Brent

sonsoftaurus said...

Good thoughts, lays out the "middle ground" attitude pretty well.

I'm there with you I think. I spend a lot more time painting and modeling than actually playing, so you're d*mn right when I do play I'm going to break out the pretty toys. When building an army, I'll take the basic idea and adjust slightly if needed to keep it somewhat competitive - but at the end of the day those Vespid, Ogryn, or mass infantry instead of mech IG are still going to be there. If the theme I want to do ends up being extra-powerful, I'm not going to worry about that either. Get stomped by one army? Come back next time and I'll probably have one of the weaker ones.

While I may not be extra competitive during the army-building stage, once the game starts I'll do my best to win. Sometimes I may be coming into the game with a handicap, but I'm not going to play as a pushover.

I'm also fond of different scenarios and situations for casual play, even if I might be at a disadvantage there. Variety is the spice of gaming as well as life.

I'll do my best to give a good fight during the game, but the game and the experience itself is more important to me than the win/loss outcome.

I'll take an entertaining game with an army I like that ends in a loss vs. an annoying experience with an army I have no attraction to that ends in a win any day.

Mordian7th said...

Nicely stated, Col. Gravis - I'm solidly in the "non-competitive player" zone and have been since the inception of 40k - mostly that comes from the more RPG-styled 1st edition that has stuck with me over the years.

I've played in a couple tournaments over the years but just didn't find it to be to my taste. I'd rather play the game with like-minded friends who are in it for the story and the spectacle any day of the week. I read a number of blogs which are dedicated to tournament style play, and while I don't disparage them or think my style of play is somehow 'better', I certainly think that playing a hardcore 'Win At All Costs' type player like that wouldn't be what I would consider fun. Basically it boils down to 'try and find like-minded opponents', I suppose. Nothing wrong with either end of the 'Casual to Competitive' spectrum or any points between, but it seems that two players from opposite ends of the spectrum will likely not have a fun game when playing against one another.

Personally I strive to ensure the game is fun for both players, win or lose - and as a footslogger-guard player at heart, I'm usually on the 'lose' end of that spectrum. Doesn't keep me from enjoying the heck out of the game though!

Commissar Dave said...

I fully agree with you Col Gravis. I have been doing this hobby now for 15 years which I think makes me a bit of a veteran, and I have seen and done many things in that time. The people Col Gravis are on about I think are the people that have only been doing the hobby for a few years, so they have only just got into the hobby and are enjoying it as abit of fun. The other sort are people who want to win the big awards that GW and other gaming clubs produce, so they create the strongest and beardeist army they can. These sort of people like to test their armys out (rightly so) but it tends to be on the wrong sort of people which cause the problems that Col Gravis is talking about. Just remember people this is a friendly hobby that is for a very unique kind of people. The veterans among us will know who will be the best people to play against, get modelling ideas hints and tips, and create backgrounds for their armys games or campaigns. To that end we must encourage the younger members and teach them about the three pillars of gaming, and the hobby is just not about one thing. If they are strong in one asbect so be it but we must encourage them to look at the other two.

Anonymous said...

As a 'veteran' I agree with what was said and definately agree that finding like minded opponents is important. A lot of the people in my area are hardcore win-at-all-costs types and I let them duke it out since they take the competetive aspect too seriously for my tastes. There are still those out there who play just for the fun of it and are in it for the excuse to gather with friends.

As far as taking an army / units that are 'bad', I am one of those who will take them to give myself that extra challenge as I believe that good application of tactics will generally overcome (though the dice gods laugh at me at times even with good tactics). Anyways, the general message being that every type of gamer has there place is true, it is just a matter of finding those with like enough mindsets to be able to have an enjoyable time with.