Thursday 5 June 2014

Games Workshop and Organised Play

Greetings wargamers and hobbyists, and welcome to the Hall of Battles. I could spend hours in here reading all the combat honours and action reports...

Today I would like to talk briefly about organised tournament competitive gaming and casual gaming. I have chosen to specify tournament gaming rather than organised play as a whole, because there are other kinds of organised play, like campaigns, which are not competitve in the same manner as tournaments, and tend to work very differently.

One thing I would like to say about it is an indirect response to a comment made by a host on a podcast I listened to recently that covered the same topic. The comment that was made, which I am sure was absolutely true for the speaker and their immediate gaming group, was that most gamers want to play tournaments. I personally have not found this to be the case when speaking to gamers, and in fact I ran a poll not all that long ago on a popular forum site asking gamers the following question:

What kind of games do you play?

1. Club/'garage'/casual gaming only?

2. Organised tournaments/Competitive events only?

3. A mix of both?

The result was about what I expected it to be. Out of over 90 votes cast, slightly more than half did not play any organised competitive or tournament games, about 45% played a mix, and only one voter said they played only organised tournament games. Does this reflect your gaming experiences as well?

So although we might hear an awful lot about tournaments and competitive gaming on podcasts, this taken in isolation might lead us to think that the tournament scene is bigger than it really is, it just happens that most podcasts I listen to are either tournament centric, or at least discuss them on and off. This is all fine and dandy of course, because tournaments are a popular part of the gaming scene, and tournament organisers and gamers both put huge amounts of time and effort into making them successful. Which leads me to my next point of discussion...

First, I will apologise in advance for what may sound like a rant, but listening to the '11th Company' Warhammer 40,000 podcast made me this way.

You wouldn't buy a 1.0 litre engine runaround and then complain that it won't win at Silverstone, no matter how many flame stickers you plaster along its bodywork, so why are a minority of players of Games Workshop games (primarily 40K - so there is a chance this might change as the new edition settles in, but the point stands) complaining that some games don't work in a tournament environment because the game and armies are not balanced?

Fair enough, we can hark back to the old days when Games Workshop did support tournaments in one form or another, but apart from their own local events run at Warhammer World, this is no longer the case. It's clear that the games aren't sufficiently balanced to allow straight forward no-comp tournament play without everyone ending playing one of a very small number of different armies because those armies are currently 'the shiz', yet some people seem to be implying that it's down to Games Workshop to fix this so that people can play what is intended (in its current incarnation) to be a dramatic but ultimately casual form of gaming as some kind of ultra balanced game that ensures that the general wins the battle and not the army. 

It is after all a game with multiple random elements, so the level of control a player has over what occurs in a game will always have its limits.

You cannot make a square peg fit in a round hole, at least not without making some necessary modifications to it first. So who's responsibility is it to make any game suitable for fair and balanced tournament gaming when the game doesn't necessarily play that way 'out of the box'? 

Well the answer to that is simple. Me. You. All of us that play and have a vested interest in getting what we want of a game. If the manufacturer has no interest in making the changes that you want them to make, then you have the freedom (with the proper amount of reasoning and productive debate and analysis) to make those changes yourselves. In fact the 'Big Rule Book' for 40K actually says that you should do this, that the printed rules are a starting point for us to build on in any way we wish to make the game what we want it to be.

I appreciate the amount of risk taken by organisers of large tournaments, of the financial outlay for running a big event and the awful consequences of making a substancial monetary commitment to an event that might fall flat and leave them severely out of pocket if it doesn't work out. 

I am not suggesting for one moment that they should have to just suck it up, but at the end of the day, the guys running an event have control, and have the power to make the changes they feel are necessary to address flaws with a rule, a unit or an army. In fact most tournaments already excersise that power when they think up 'composition' packages and their own considered scenarios for their event, all of which is intended to make the event more balanced, so why would an organiser not go a step further and simply change a rule if the majority of gamers agree that it should be changed?

In an age of instant global communication, where I can converse online with an endless variety of gamers and hobbyists at any time of the day or night, would it really be that difficult to ask the tournament playing community 'hey guys, I'm thinking we should change re-rollable 2+ invulnerable saves to a maximum of 3+ re-rollable, whaddya think?' Go ahead, put your rules pack out there and see what people think of it. If the problems are as pronounced as people seem to think, then surely any form of half decent fix will be welcomed?

Perhaps it would be too difficult and would be too great a risk for an organiser to shoulder, but I think I need to be convinced on that score.

Now although I hear a lot about the tournament scene, in UK, Australia and New Zealand, the US and Canada, I choose not take part in tournaments. They are just not an area of gaming that I am interested in. I play wargames because I love the narrative element, and the progression from one encounter to the next, which is not typically something I would expect to get out of tournament play, and given the stats that came back from the poll I talked about earlier, I am not alone.

Tabletop wargaming is a broad hobby encompassing multiple engaging and equally valid elements, so nevet let anyone tell you what form your enjoyment of the hobby should take. The whole point of this rant is to reinforce the idea that it is our hobby, not the manufacturers. They may take our money, but they'll never take our freedom (!) to make the games we play what we want them to be. For all the time people seem to spend waxing lyrical about how abysmal game designers are at their job, who's to say that we can't just take the advice already given and change what we want to? 

People might say that changing the game is ok within your own gaming group, but not across the entire community. Well why not I say? If enough people agree, it can work, all it takes is communication. We are already a global community aren't we? Why is ok to say a rule doesn't work but not be prepared to go ahead and change it?

Anyhow, that's me done for this post. A game is what we make it, because we are the gaming community. If Games Workshop has decided not to have involvement with with the wider tournament scene, then be bold and make the changes necessary to get what you want out of competitive gaming. There's no point waiting till hell freezes over and Games Workshop to come out with a tournament edition (they're just rumours!) because at least at the moment, it's not their thing.

Thanks for reading.