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Be thee a sporting gentleperson?

Jeff dropped some truth bombs in his last post. They concerned sporting conduct, and I’d like to elaborate on the theme, not least of which because he wasn’t the only one to have an uncomfortable moment of self-realisation during campaign week.

We wargamers all like to think of ourselves as sporting players. No-one wants to be remembered as a game-spoiling spoontard, be they competitive or non-competitive. But if I’m honest, sometimes my enthusiasm ebbs when everything’s going wrong, or I bitch about the unbalanced rules for that thing Jeremy Vetock wrote that one time, or (and this is a particularly embarrassing one) I get more lively when I’m winning the game.

I’ve spent years honing my painting and modelling skills. God knows how many conversations I’ve had about tactics, and army lists, and all that jazz. One would have thought that somewhere amidst all those years, I would’ve sat down and thought, really thought, about the skill of being a fun opponent. Well, now that I’ve done so, it turns out I’m not quite as stridently awesome as I thought I was.

Keen to fix this, I have assembled a bunch of guidelines. Hopefully they’ll prove helpful for others as well. I’m actually quite excited about this; if I stick at it, gaming is going to get even more delicious.

Also, sorry if some of these seem obvious or patronising. They’re all inspired by real-life failures I’ve either seen or actively participated in, so clearly all of these are fresh news to someone.

Before the game:

- Make sure you and your opponent know what kind of game you’re playing before you start. Are the army lists competitive or story-based? Will you be using the rules as written, or the rules as intended?

During the game:

- The appropriate response to an abysmal dice roll is "nooooooooooo!"

- Laugh at your misfortunes. Chapter Master just blown his own hand off with an overheating plasma pistol? Laugh. Regiment failed its charge by an inch? Laugh. Battle cannon missed a barn door only two inches away? It’s actually pretty funny, and your opponent probably thinks so too. They just need your permission to laugh with you. If you can’t laugh, because the pain of gaming with little toy soldiers just cuts so deep, then be comically angry instead. Or comically something.

- Avoid being a starch-arse and be forgiving if your opponent forgot to do something in the right sub-phase or whatever.

- Commiserate with your opponent when something goes wrong for them. Unless they’re laughing, in which case, laugh along with them.

- Are the rules for one of your opponent’s units totally broken? Maybe, but don’t bitch about it to them – they didn’t write the rules. Much better to come up with a cunning way of dealing with said scary unit next time.

- Compliment your opponent when they do something you didn’t anticipate. Preferably in the form of smack talk. I.E. “You sneaky bastard,” or “clever girl.”

- Don’t give up as soon as you think you’ve lost; make a last stand, or start a fighting withdrawal. Better to be Leonidas in Hades than a wet fart in the night.

- To quote Jeff, "Allow your opponent to win without feeling bad for God's sake! I always thought I did this but on the retrospective evidence of my memory I did not. That is not cool."

- Conversely, enjoy your successes. If your opponent’s going to lose a game, they’d probably like to feel that they have at least succeeded in making you happy. Just be sure not to cross over into smug or gloaty territory.

After the game:

- Gentlemanly handshakes? Standard.

"Bloody good show, Mr Johnson. Your Necrons gave me quite the pounding!"
"You're too kind, Sir Nigel."

- Friendly trash-talk and claims of “I’ll get you next time, Gadget!” are of course obligatory.

There’s probably a lot more things that could go in this list. What can y’all think of?



  1. One of the few things I would add to the pre-battle bit is size up your opponant. Adjust the game to suit them if you can. Some of my worst outbursts have been from unpleasant surprises or unfamiliarity with rules that leave you defensive or embarressed. Let your tactics be the surprise, not the rules of the game or the army book.

  2. Interesting points made. The only one that I find interesting to debate is the competitive/ story based. What determines each factor, surely it's possible to be both?

    1. Oi thinks you're being a tiny bit sensitive there Messer Gareth. The only time Charlie even mentions competetive/story is to say that you don't want to be a game ruining tard whether you are either. The competetive label is the only polite one out there in the lingua franca which describes the player for whom what the army DOES is more important than what the army IS.

      Almost every other term i've seen doesn't work: Tournament player (not everyone tournaments), Hardcore gamer (urgh, manages to insult both sides), I've even seen "list breaker" as a term, urgh. I think competetive is a nice shorthand for someone who wouldn't sacrifice tactical advantage for a story based move. Whereas story-based player is a nice term for someone who cares more for the journey than for the destination.

      In this case, of course it is a spectrum, the internet hates shades of greys though (unless there are 50 of them apparantly) and divides everything into battle lines on divisive issues. Rest assured that at any time the Beard Bunker recognises three things:

      1) That ANY style of play is right, just make sure your opponant is having fun, if we all do that then no-one will ever have a bad game.
      2) That the fake Black/White, Competative/Story battleline is an internet phenomenon that does not exist in the real world.
      3) That while we would describe ourselves firmly on the story end of that swingometer we never, never use competetive as a perjorative.

      Hope that reassures.

    2. Absolutely, Jeff - my polemical days are behind me; all forms of gaming are cool so long as the people involved are having fun!

      However, Gareth - have we understood your question/issue correctly? I wonder if, rather than talking about a perceived attack on competitive gaming, you were actually asking if it's possible to play a narrative-heavy game in a seriously competitive way?

      It would probably be wrong to describe the two styles as mutually exclusive, rather, as a sliding scale. It's impossible to play a wargame without some element of narrative creeping in by virtue of the games' design! Every game has a bit of story and a bit of competition.

      I would argue there is, though, a relatively binary point - probably the mid-point of the spectrum - where a clear demarcation line exists.

      That line is the point where narrative gamers become unwilling to use or twist a game mechanic to do something which, while 'unrealistic,' will yield an advantage. An example from one of our games - and bear in mind I had no issue with you doing it, since I understood your play style before the game in question - was your Tyranids versus my Orks. You deployed your gaunts in straight L-shaped lines around your bigger creatures to make it impossible to charge the big dudes. It was a perfectly viable tactic, and completely fine within the rules. The distinction is that a gamer who favours story wouldn't have done that because the straight, geometric pattern of the deployment didn't look 'right' when juxtaposed with the organic, sweeping horde of gribblies that made up the army. What would the narrative gamer have done? Probably deployed the gaunts in swarming blobs, or at least a more randomly-shaped line, even though the efficacy of the strategy would have been diminished.

      Neither game would have been 'right' - one option is tactically superior, the other values imagery and cinematics over victory.

      In short: excellent question. On reflection, yes, I do think it's possible to be competitive and narrative at the same time, but that you couldn't be super-competitive AND super-narrative simultaneously - you have to sacrifice a measure of one to gain a measure of the other.

      What do you think?

  3. Yeah I wasn't being defensive :) purely wondered if you thought it was possible to play in a narrative and competitive way, and if a themes list could be both narrative/thematic and competitive?

    I also disagree with certain terms jeff, it's annoys me with the common slang, but I think it's used mainly as a way of separating blogs and styles of blogging, making it easier for viewers to find what they want

  4. OK, cool, well to reiterate: yes, I think it's possible, and indeed inevitable to a certain extent, as with any sliding scale, but that the polarised extremes are mutually exclusive.

    It would, for instance, be fair to say that many armies are both competitive and characterful, but that some armies are characterful at the expense of competitiveness and vice versa. Most people's collections end up somewhere in the middle, although as Jeff has said in the past, there is a vocal minority of overly-opinionated competitive types on the 'net who tend to try and polarise people's hobby.

  5. It's defiantly and interesting subject, I know of the sites you talk about, but k think they have their place. When people want to get into the hobby for a competitive reason those sites can help a lot, especially as they can help people not waste money, and as armies are only getting more expensive, this information can be very valid. However the sites that don't work are the sites that don't explain why certain units are not worth t for competitive play. Singularly saying a unit is bad doesn't help, explaining why is.
    This can help
    People start off well, not blowing money they don't have.
    Do you think that's a fair point? Or is that to black and white?

    1. I'm always interested by the concept of "wasting" money on a model, I only buy models I like, I want to paint them and owning them is part of the charm. How they perform in the game is obviously a consideration but I own dozens of models that have no point in any game I play.

      I think a part of my distaste for these sites is that they have appointed themselves the arbiters of "what will work" and is often presented without taking synergistic relationships between units or the psychological impact of deploying them. Loads of sites knock kommandos but I wouldn't be without them. I guess I dislike anyone telling someone that what they want to do is "wrong". These people cannot predict every eventuality and tend to measure their opinions against the current "meta" (a term I really, really hate). Most of us don't play strangers that often, so we work on units that will fight that opponant (charlie's death star of doom full o'nobz for example), not a hypothetical ideal opposition.

      I suppose if you consider that owning any model can be a waste of money then taking advice is a good thing. This is also the very essence of the difference between the two ends of the spectrum. I frequently want a unit because of what it is, to tell a story. I'll figure out how to use them later on.

  6. Ok maybe "waste of money" is the wrong phrase, but if your on a tight budget and your hobby is the gaming and playing, not building and painting, and you want to build an army to purely play, then this kind of advice can be exceptionally useful.

    However this advice has to be well informed, with reasoning and thought out.

    Like for an example your kommandos, you believe them to be an excellent unit, however others will differ. In 6th edition they've lost the ability to charge when arriving from reserve, the also come into play quicker, which means they can be isolated. Without particularly useful shooting on the turn they arrive they don't threaten much.
    So are they better than a mob of orcs? Situationally yes, they live longer (due to being cheaper) and won't be protected by kff. They pack less of a punch, as there are less bodies, which also means they don't survive as long, as they die at the same rate.

    However, does this opinion change your mind? No, you love them, and feel them to be a unit you wouldn't leave without. What I did there was tell you if that unit was right for a player interested in playing to a competitive level, gave reasons as to why they may not work, and gave another option. This is important to people who want nothing more than competitive play and the gaming aspect. Plus it saves them time and money they may not have.

    I'm not saying this is right or wrong. Purely that I understand why people post reviews of units and lists.

    You and I both know if you want to take a unit, you will, no matter what. Maybe because its a stunning unit, maybe because you like the rules, maybe because it fits you theme. Either way nothing will deter you, however someone who is all about the game won't take the unit


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