Wednesday 10 April 2013

Why I don't play at Tournaments.

Greetings Wargamers. Thanks for dropping by, get yourself a drink and have a seat.

I have taken recently to listening to Warhammer & 40K podcasts, and have found some that I really like. Cutting the list to a level that allows me to actually listen to them all has been tricky though. Too many feeds and you can easily find yourself with days and days of shows and not enough time to get through them all.

Currently in my list are:

The Dwellers Below (Warhammer Fantasy)
A Tale of Four Geeks ( Warhammer Fantasy)
Bad Dice (Warhammer Fantasy)
Garage Hammer (Warhammer Fantasy)
The Independent Characters (40K)
The Second Founding (40K)
SkaredCast (40K)
CanHammer (Warhammer Fantasy)

I recommend all of the above, and I get something good out of all of them.

Now I do enjoy listening to these in the car travelling to work and back, and they put out some great shows, discussing all sorts of hobby topics, but one thing many podcasts (and blogs for that matter) have in common is that they talk at great length about the tournament scene, what's coming up next, which events they are attending or running etc.

This is great, and I have no problem with tournaments in general. They sound like fantastic social and gaming events, but there is one thing I have realised about them. I used to think I didn't want to play in tournaments because they involved time and expense I couldn't spare, or because I still haven't managed to finish painting a complete army, or even that I am simply not a good enough player to be successful at an event. I realised while listening to all this talk about the various tournaments going on (Adepticon is the next really big one), the thing that puts me off is the lists that gamers take to events, hoping to do well and give a good showing.

The problem for me is this: broadly speaking, tournaments are competitive, which in itself isn't an issue. Wargames in general are competitive, one person is attempting to defeat the other. My perception of tournments (and as always, please feel free to comment and tell me how very wrong I am), is that these days, with such a comprehensive network of forum sites, blogs and podcasts, all talking about what they think the best lists are, my fear is finding that, in a effort to be competitive, gamers attend tournaments and are all packing very similar lists, varying by race more than by preference. This at least is the impression I am getting from listening and reading about the tournament scene.

Organisers may try and address this by running a variety of scenarios with differing victory conditions, and not knowing who and which armies you'd be playing against will also have an effect, but in many cases lists have been hammered so much and so publicly that the optimal allcomers tournament list is posted all over the internet. Add to this the various power levels of armies at the moment, again something discussed in great detail by the community, and you seem to end up with people who are experienced tournament players and organisers being able to predict with some confidence what races and compositions they expect to see dominate at an event. 

It's reminiscent of a well known fashion guru stating at the start of the season 'this is what's popular at the moment, what's "on trend", so this is what everyone will be wearing this season.'

Now, not all players are equal, and we of course have the dice to factor in (never discount the ability of the dice gods to spit on your well laid plans from a great height), so in the end, every tournament will have a winner who we would hope is the player with the best plan and the most consistent win record, but what is the likelihood that their list is different to the majority of other players fielding the same race at the event?

The point of all this ruminating about tournaments isn't to knock them or people who enjoy them: they are what they are and look like they are here to stay, and they add another facet to the hobby experience, which is great. No, the point is that I like to play my army the way I like it, which is a bit competitive, but equally fluffy and story driven, and this means playing with armies that are not the latest flavour of mean. As an example, I have been playing Vampire Counts since before they were Vampire Counts, and tonight I'll be using Ghouls for the very first time. It seems as though throughout the last Vampire Counts book, winning involved spamming Ghouls and not bothering with any of the other core choices, but that didn't fit my idea of what the army is meant to be.

I don't like the idea that I'm playing the same list as everyone else, and I'm not prepared to take the list that lots of other people are taking just because it's been determined to be the best at the moment. Other people are welcome to do this, and good luck to them, but it isn't for me. I feel happier going against the grain. If that means I win half my games playing the kind of armies I like, rather than winning all my games playing the same list as lots of other people then that suits me fine. I've decided I get more from playing in'the spirit of my army' than I would playing with what feels like someone elses list. I want to progress the story of my army, not rack up wins that mean less to me than the context of the games.

I guess that's why I'm not keen at the moment on attending any big tournaments. Maybe one day I'll have to give one a go and see if my perception turns out to be right or wrong. In the meantime, thanks for reading.

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