Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Rules of Competitive Gaming

Greetings wargamers and hobbyists. Today, you find me in my library. I am studying the conventions of wargaming. I don't mean 'wargaming conventions' in the sense of a gathering of gamers and industry professionals, I mean behaviour that is acceptable in the theatre of competitive tabletop wargaming...

I have wanted to write up my thoughts on what it means to be a competitive wargamer ever since I listened to a segment on a podcast about the subject, and in which opinion seemed quite split about the lengths a wargamer should go to 'assist' their opponent during a competitive game, and what our obligations are as gamers.

The impression I got from listening to the various view points was that there are two distinct lines of thought. The first deals with your opponent (remembering this is a tournament setting) committing grave tactical errors, either through inexperience playing with or against a particular army or armies, or through overlooking or forgetting to do something.

In my opinion, if a gamer chooses to play in a competitive environment, they do so at their own risk. 

If you lack the tactical ability to be successful in that kind of cut-throat engagement, then you will more than likely lose, but strategy and being able to use your army to best effect is your own look out and no one else's. Equally, you can't complain if you don't know enough about how your opponent's army plays, what it's strengths and weaknesses are, if you haven't taken some time to research your potential enemies before the event. A good general gathers intelligence before committing his (or her) forces to battle, to give his troops the greatest chance of success possible.

I think that we can pretty much agree that everyone at a tournament plays with the intent of winning, otherwise they wouldn't be there as a gamer, and no one can expect their opponent to help them beat their army by explaining what their failings are. That's the first line of discussion dealt with, nice and straight forward...

The second line of discussion seemed to illicit a more varied response, and it's on this point that I would love to get your views, because although it seems obvious to me how a person should behave in this regard, not everyone seemed to agree.

The line in question regards the breaking of game rules by your opponent and, in cases where you are aware of the rule breaking yourself, whether you should alert your opponent to the fact when their error works in your favour. Bearing in mind that there could be a great deal riding on the outcome of the battle, is it ever acceptable to knowingly allow a rule to be played incorrectly in order to help you win (or allow your opponent to lose, depending on how you look at it)?

The view of some people was that it is not your responsibility to correct your opponent if they aren't playing the rules correctly, and it works in your favour. A tournament is a hard core gaming environment, where no quarter is asked and none given. Gamers are playing to win, which means their opponents have to lose. Fair enough, sometimes mistakes happen and no one realises until it's far too late to do anything about it, and I also agree that you can't be expected to know every rule governing your opponents armies, but having said that, I think that to knowingly allow a rule to be played incorrectly, no matter the impact on the game, amounts to cheating.

Now if anyone thinks that's a harsh view to take, please let me know, but I think it's simple enough to explain like this: if you are playing any game competitively in a tournament environment, then you are playing to win that tournament, be it Warhammer Fantasy, 40K, Flames of War or Tiddly Winks. And the key is right there. In order to win a game, you first have to play the game, and the playing of the game is defined by the game rules.

You might be able to change the rules according to your tastes in the comfort of your own home or local club by agreement with your opponent, but not in a tournament where the rules that every participant is expected to play by are fixed. If you aren't playing by the rules, then you aren't really playing the same game as everyone else. If you aren't playing the same game as everyone else, how can you claim to have won?

If I am going to win a game of anything, I want it to be because I played it better and was luckier on the day, not because I allowed my opponent to play a rule incorrectly and give me an unfair advantage. Those are my thoughts on the subject at any rate, and I welcome any comments you might have.

Until next time, thanks for reading.