Monday, March 9, 2015

Tournament Gaming is Bad for Table Top Wargaming (I'm looking at you, 40k TOs)

Back in 2002, Jervis Johnson offered the wargaming world (specifically concerning 40k) a mea culpa for introducing and promoting the Grand Tournament (GT) style of play.  Writing in the Citadel Journal, Johnson states, “…the tournament style of play has its place, but it is a place well down on the pecking order of what constitutes a really good game.”  In a fairly scathing critique of tournament play as the "lowest common denominator" of the tabletop wargaming experience, Johnson offers an interpretation of top-end miniature wargaming as asymmetric scenario-based games and campaigns that leverage the fundamental strengths of tabletop wargaming.  These strengths-creative engagement by players in developing the world, and experiencing compelling stories-are what sets our hobby apart from all other games, with the obvious exception of RPGs.  Over the past few years, the 40k community in the United States has started to describe this style of gaming generally as "narrative" wargaming, though we have a myriad of different interpretations of what narrative wargaming entails.

While "narrative" wargaming is a fairly recent idea in the tournament-dominated world of US 40k events, it is hardly a new concept.  Anyone who has attended a Historical Miniature Gaming Society event in the Mid-Atlantic has seen the overwhelming draw of scenario-based narrative gaming.  The HMGS model wargame is run by a game master who develops the scenario, creates the force organizations, builds the terrain, paints the models, and referees the game.  Instead of a competition to identify the best player, as you would find in a tournament event, HMGS events are more a competition among game masters to see who can provide the best wargaming experience.  Judging by the size of HMGS events relative to the largest GT-style events in the Mid-Atlantic region, the HMGS model of narrative wargaming is far more popular than tournament-style gaming.

Some US 40k events recently have started to provide HMGS-style "narrative" wargaming experiences.  Adepticon, for example, will feature numerous hosted 40k games this year.  Other events in the US have attempted events billed as "narrative," but in reality they simply offer more of the same tournament gaming experiences within a narrative context.  The center of gravity for 40k events in the United States still rests squarely in the tournament. 

Why does it matter?

Tournament gaming is not as interesting as narrative wargaming.  With an absolute premium placed on fairness through balance and symmetry, tournament games are relatively bland affairs that give rise to meta lists and predictable game flow.  Tournament style games lack the spontaneity, surprise, and uncertainty of narrative wargames.  

Tension and uncertainty enrich a wargame immensely.  The classic example I will use is our local gaming group's use of completely hidden setup.  Imagine: you are an attacker moving your forces onto a tabeltop with no enemy models visible (the GM knows where they are).  The tension caused by this uncertainty creates a level of excitement unknown in non-refereed tournament games.  Such a mechanic is completely unfair, and thus could never be incorporated in tournament play.

This unfairness is kind of important, because the vast majority of wargames (40k chief amongst them) are not balanced.  Warfare is unbalanced-deliberately so-so why on earth should we expect a wargame to be balanced?  To attempt to provide a fair and balanced tournament experience using an unfair and unbalanced set of army lists is a little nuts, and as we see in the 40k tournament circuit, produces a lot of vitriol directed at the game designers, tournament organizers, and among the players.  I was at a large Mid-Atlantic 40k tournament last Summer and did not find a single player in the 40k GT who talked to me about their awesome games.  The conversation was dominated by complaints about getting stomped by cookie-cutter meta lists over and over and over again.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of tournament play can be found in the manner in which talented tournament gamers leverage and exploit game mechanics to produce innovative non-tactical ploys.  For a lot of tactically-focused wargamers, this exploitation can feel like a violation of the social contract intrinsic to the game, which often leads to hurt feelings on both sides as tournament gamers get labeled as "win at all costs" or worse.  This is not fair to tournament gamers.  They are not violating the social contract by optimizing their resources and exploiting game mechanics to win.  In fact, their actions uphold the social contract.  Remember that this is tournament play; players enter into tournaments in order to determine who is the best player under a set of uniformly-applied conditions.  If anyone is breaking the social contract, it is the tactically-minded player who enters into a tournament designed to identify a winner, and then lashes out at the winner, who played within the confines of agreed-to rules, for winning.  Hard not to call that sour grapes, or, in the words of bitter tactical gamers, "douchy."

This leads to the real big problem raised by tournament play.  Because the games are unbalanceable, and tournament play demands unachievable balance, the tournament focused culture of the US 40k community is fraught with negativity.  Nasty accusations are being thrown around the blogosphere placing blame on the GW Design Studio (Make balanced army lists!), tournament organizers (Ban broken army list entries!), “competitive” players (Stop being WAAC douchebags!), and “non-competitive” players (Stop whining and learn to love losing!) alike for the degeneration of the 40k gaming scene.  These accusations all contain valid points, but all fall well short of characterizing the cultural problem facing 40k wargaming in the United States.

The cultural problem rests in our fixation on tournament gaming.  Tournaments are designed to identify a winner.  We play tournaments to win.  Successful tournament gamers optimize lists and exploit game mechanics to solve complex problems and win.  That is exactly the right approach to successful tournament wargaming, and it is exactly why tournaments should not be the centerpiece of wargaming.  Tournament gaming places overwhelming value on winning, and that promotes a gaming culture driven by exploitation of game mechanics.

This is where tournament gaming starts to damage the hobby.  Our tournament fixation provides a largely negative experience base to under-gird the gaming culture.  It goes something like this: I check out a sample of the seventeen billion podcasts and blogs out there that tell me how to optimize my tournament list so I can most efficiently leverage game mechanics.  The message is clear-the correct force selection leads to success in GTs.  Because I, like the vast majority of wargamers, am an average player, I take my optimized list to my first GT and get stomped.  Clearly, I got my list wrong, so I go back to the podcasts and blogs and re-tool my list, go shopping for some more ridiculously overpriced models, and I get stomped again at my next GT.  When I'm not getting stomped at a GT, I am playing in my local gaming group, but because we are all focused on tournament success through list optimization and game mechanics, my gaming experience is loss, after loss, after loss.  The only guy I can beat is that one dude who refuses to update his Feral Orks list and has really bad dice.  This cycle of failure-driven motivation repeats itself ad nauseam, netting GW a lot of money as I keep heeding the optimization message, keep buying the newest and shiniest game winning models, and keep getting stomped until I rage quit the game, lashing out at GW, douchy WAAC gamers, and their scummy TO enablers on some public forum on my way out the door.  TOs and tournament gamers naturally respond in kind, and the discord deepens. 

As the 40k community in the US is starting to figure out, this is not sustainable.  Dissatisfaction with 40k has reached a fever pitch in the blogosphere as gamer patience (and money) runs thin, while in the background the podcasts and blogs continue to beat the drum that the road to GT success runs through list optimization.  This is the culture that must change if we are to get back to enjoying 40k as a fun activity.

The good news for 40k players is that it is not the game.  There is nothing wrong with 40k.  The problem is us and our nearly exclusive prioritization of tournament play at all levels from our largest wargaming events to local gaming groups. If 40k TOs would take the plunge and introduce true narrative gaming events-look to Adepticon to lead the way in this-they might simultaneously save a really neat wargame and increase the size of their events.  

So what's the solution?  

Keep playing in tournaments!  Seriously.  But make them a side dish that enriches your wargaming experience rather than the main event.  At the personal level, form a gaming group and experiment with true narrative wargaming.  Offer to GM a game and impose true hidden setup.  Give players mission tasks that do not specify victory conditions.  Make force organizations that support a tactical scenario, regardless of point imbalance.  Make beautiful terrain and set up tables asymmetrically so that side selection actually matters and the table top looks more like a battlefield and less like, as another member of our gaming group describes tournament terrain, "40k Paintball." 

But cultural change does not begin and end with local gaming groups.  Tournament Organizers: Go play in a hosted game at Adepticon or go to one of the HMGS events (Historicon is coming in July!) and experience true narrative wargaming.  I challenge you to add true hosted narrative war games (vice "narrative tournaments") to your events.  Offer prizes for the best GM and see what happens.  

In fairness, true narrative wargaming is not for everyone.  Some gamers thrive on the predictability and control that optimizing resources and leveraging mechanics brings to a gaming experience, and naturally prefer tournament gaming to narrative wargaming.  Unpredictability and uncertainty can push high-octane competitive tournament players so far out of their comfort zone that they cannot enjoy the gaming experience.  We have seen this in our local gaming group.  Fortunately for these players, the tournament scene is not going anywhere.

As I said before, none of this is new.  Historical wargamers have been enjoying the deep experience of narrative wargaming for over a century.  If the 40k GT community wants to soothe the discontent and advance the culture surrounding the game, we can start by prioritizing true narrative game play and relegating tournament play to a more appropriate spot in the "pecking order" of really good wargaming.

Wouldn't it be cool to enjoy playing 40k again?


  1. A rant 5 years in the making, ha, ha!

    Not quite the form I was expecting, but it's probably the right attention-getting approach to reach the intended target audience.

    40K is beset by tournament fatigue, its own overwrought weight, and competition by newer, fresher, lighter-weight, skirmish and squad-level games. But like you say, 40K still has plenty to offer, for like-minded players.

    I look forward to fielding my all-Kroot army against you one of these days.

  2. There is more to come, but this was timely. I spent Saturday hating life during a well run and very friendly Bolt Action tournament at Cold Wars. Confirmed for me the truth that it's not the game that is the problem, it's us. Tournament play absolutely brings out the worst game play in the wargaming experience.

  3. Man I love me some narrative gaming. Lately I have been pulling missions from the old (not that old) Cities of Death book. By setting forth a challenge to play in a specific setting (a city engulfed in war) with terrain mutually positioned for effect rather than balance, we build lists that suit the environment and a narrative starts to build. The game is being played competitively, but there is an unspoken agreement not to bring all that new nasty big stuff GW has put out. We just view it as "cheese" and unfriendly to bring to a game.

    I've always wondered by the big tournaments (NOVA, Adeptie, LVO) don't build in some of that. Why not create settings on their boards and make missions taylored to the terrain? There could be sections - cities, forest outposts (the likes of the imperial base on Endor). trenches, etc. Each with a set mission within those settings.

    Players then move from table to table and play games as they will. Competitive but inclusive of a setting that builds a scene. LIke from a movie.

    With some careful planning, players at the tournament all play on these settings once per round. So every one ends up wiht the same mission just in different rounds. Foster a culture of keeping missions secret and you'll get yourself a competitive GT of a different kind. This way you marry the two styles of play. If that's what you want.

    This of course entails a heavy investment in terrain building, painting and planning, but a group of passionate folk should make it work.

    Still, there could be a community call for terrain to help out.

  4. Tim,

    You are right on the money. Sounds like you have a great gaming group focused on top-end wargaming. I especially dig the fact that your games are highly competitive. There seems to be a perception among 40k TOs that narrative gaming=weak tea. That should never be the case. Narrative games have the potential to be extremely challenging-far more so than tournament games because players cannot rely on the set-piece plays and exploitative gamesmanship you see at tournaments. We should get our gaming groups together for a showcase game at an event someday.

    I think NOVA and the rest of the big 40k cons will eventually move toward true narrative events once the organizers appreciate the popularity of narrative wargaming in the larger wargaming population. Right now two things are holding us back. The first is what I rambled about above-namely our sad preoccupation with tournament play. You nailed the second one-the tyranny of time and money. Building high quality terrain for an event the size of NOVA is a huge deal and one of the (if not THE) chief considerations in organizing an event of that size. Since the GTs are not going away, this means that a new set of narrative terrain has to come from somewhere.

    But we are gamers, which means we are creative problem solvers. If we can just get our heads out of the tournament fog, we can figure out how to develop and resource large narrative events. Organizations like HMGS leverage the GM population to provide their own terrain. That might be a place for 40k TOs to start thinking about things.

    Great comment!

  5. To be fair to NOVA, I'd say that NOVA's narrative-style event roughly fits that middle ground that Tim describes. It features thematic terrain to inspire a movie-like confrontation, and the missions are at least couched in a larger context.

    Like I say, though, their narrative event is a move in the direction of a more traditional, HMGS-style event. There's still a gap to fill, and there's probably latent demand for it, which would only increase, once the community mindset, which is already shifting, picks up momentum to demand fresher game options at the large conventions. If they keep the event down to one round or maybe half-a-day, I'd be all over it!

  6. As a matter of fact, I did play a GM'd 40K game at Historicon last year. I happily took charge of the Gretchin unit for our 3-player team, and I also controlled the Ork Lootas. The objective was in the middle, so my Gretchin camped on the flank, taking pot-shots. I wanted to force a tough choice on the opposing team: deal with the Gretchin and lose time and resources to take the middle, or risk losing some meat, when they reached the middle. The opposition split the difference, and they suffered for it, losing a hero and some soldiers, and confronting our Dreadnought in the middle with a weakened force. I felt like I had made a solid, tactical contribution. With Gretchin! Fun times.

  7. I obviously think NOVA's narrative event is fantastic! I have some skin in that game, but at the end of the day it is still a tournament. Players love the event, the terrain is innovative, the context is super cool, the rules modifications and injects are mostly great, AND the game play is dominated by optimized lists and exploitation of mechanics.

    For my money the NOVA narrative is the best tournament experience available to 40k gamers in the Untied States (but I may be a little biased there). I'm absolutely confident that the NOVA narrative will continue to push the envelope of enriching tournament play with rule supplements, injects, and off-table player activities.

    The point of this post is that the larger US 40k community needs to take a decisive step beyond our tournament obsession to provide top end gaming experiences and shift the US 40k culture from negatively motivated to positively motivated. 40k TOs must play a leadership role in that culture change.

  8. I think part of what holds people back is the perception of narrative play as childish. and its like...uh...these are models of space marines dude. It seems childish to everyone else but ourselves, no matter how you play it.

  9. Yeah, ask my wife about my childish obsession with toy soldiers.

    Seriously, though, you raise an important point. I suspect that tournament play lends a perceived legitimacy to what we do, making it easier for organizers to establish large scale events. In schools, competitive scholarship sports are the center of gravity while intramural or club sports are not taken very seriously except by those who play them. Everyone wants to try out for the football team and boosters line up to ensure that the team has the coolest stuff, while the Gaelic Football Club has to lure prospective recruits with gimmicks and raise funds for equipment. I don't think this is a very accurate analogy, but it sort of illustrates the concept (and it's the best I could come up with on the spot).

    I will say that the historical tabletop wargaming community seems to have moved well past that stigma. Narrative play is far and away the king at Fall In!, Cold Wars, and Historicon. And yes-those conventions are all filled with a bunch (THOUSANDS!) of guys and girls happily fighting their guts out on wee little battlefields.

    Know what? Maybe it is the childishness of all of this that makes it so great.

  10. BTW, if you guys have a regular gaming group, I'd love to get involved. I'm in Bethesda, and recently our gaming group has shrunk considerably due to a number of factors. Like I said, I am mostly interested in odd-ball missions dug up from old white dwarfs, cities of death, 4th edition (actually had some pretty good missions) and the like. Got a Tau army ready to go, and DE army in the works.

    1. I'll let Steve know; regular Bolt Action GM'ed games are a common occurrence.

  11. Just a general comment from a NOVA perspective. The Tyranny of Money is at the least a very real concern when conventions are still growing, which even in AdeptiCon terms is the case. Most of the revenue required to not lose your shirt comes from events that can charge a reasonably high amount of money per player, because the square footage costs a lot per attendee. If we were to cut the cost of the 40K GT by about $20, for instance, I'd lose several thousand dollars.

    In the case of many of these one-off GM'ed narrative type events, where players show up to a table and play in one big game here or there, and not in a tournament or organized play experience involving a series of games, you can't really justify more than a couple of bucks (if that ... in many cases you just charge the con pass fee). This creates a real problem for tournament organization, especially when you are somewhat space restricted, because how much space can you dedicate to games that generate comparatively little revenue toward your target of not going broke. Additionally, these games are far lighter on pre-registration; folks sign up for the convention itself and then show up to play in the games.

    I would broadly disagree with the statement "tournament gamers/organizers are ruining 40k" as being something of a hyper-reactive statement bred from a lack of representation of so-called "True" narrative play. It's not something I'm sure I can take as being more than a way of helping couch the argument; this is especially true in light of the large number of people who DO thoroughly enjoy simply playing a cool game with friends. Not everyone wants *every* game experience to be oriented primarily toward recreating an authentic "feel" with a GM'ed type of experience rife with injects. In fact, I'd say *most* people want a little o' this, a little o' that, depending on how the mood hits them.

    One thing that's certainly true is this: there's rather obviously and absolutely a place for "true" narrative gaming (without wanting to get buried in the weeds of trying to suss out what the perfect definitions of things is) in the 40K organized play-verse. We just need the right quantity of time, format financial/registration structure, and attendee base to build it. That will remain a slow process, however, especially with the aggressive strokes GW has made lately at destroying the game from a "pickup" perspective. While it is ideally suited to tournament and narrative play where organizers can clearly structure just what exact version of 40K people should anticipate playing, it's very hard to get new people into a game that lacks any kind of real playability out of the box.

    next post continues

    1. On a personal level, 40K is ... for me ... very similar to just about any board game or even group-play video games (I don't mean online). It's an excuse to get people together and socialize. I'm competitive by nature, and don't have any real personal struggle with leveraging legal game mechanics or ... simply put ... "just playing the game." It remains a truth that I never played in tournaments or browsed the internet until after I played in my first RTT ... until that point, my 40k play was *Exclusively* with a social group on Friday nights while sipping whiskey. First tournament I showed up to, I crushed heads with my regular [and only] army and took first place, to the tune of "cheese" cries about the list I was using. I had no way of *knowing* it was cheese going into it, b/c no one in the group had ever called it that, and no one in the group ran inferior lists compared to it, and none of us browsed the web or blogged / etc. that time.

      It's been a fascinating adventure since, trying to understand a community that is always so very desperate to brand "classes" of players, especially when those brands often fall short of a meaningfully accurate definition of what I would consider the vast majority ... who all lie somewhere in the grey.

      I enjoy Steve's organized / GM'ed Bolt Action games/scenarios immensely, both the one I've played in and the one I spectated. I also enjoy playing a random game of 40k. I also utterly adore playing games of Malifaux on Monday nights.

      I think most people can find the joy in just about any game if the company is good ... and that can be found in all different playtypes. There's a reason the vast majority of 40K GT attendees give mad props to the sportsmanship, fun, etc., and come back year after year (despite apparently anecdotal evidence that they all just hate life in elevator stories). There's a reason the vast majority of 40K NOVA Narrative attendees give mad props to the sportsmanship, fun, etc., and come back year after year (despite tournament players apparently thinking narrative play is dumb?). We need more of all of it, because at the end, unless you're way too hung up on the extraneous BS, it's getting to goof off, drink too much, and have a great time with a bunch of strangers playing wargames for entire weekends at a time. The only sin would be reducing the variety of playtypes out there.

    2. As ever, Mike, you and I agree on nearly every point.

      I will admit to a certain amount of hyperbole in this post, but I think its degree is warranted to make the call to 40k TOs to take the lead in making a needed change in the 40k gaming culture. Right now the primary option for large scale 40k events is tournament play. As I point out, in other larger wargaming communities this in not the case. In fact, the inverse is true. And I absolutely agree that doing away with tournament play would be a mistake. We both point out that some people prefer tournament style play to narrative style play.

      I will, however, never accept that tournament style gaming supports the social aspect to the degree that narrative play does. In my (nearly 30 years) experience, tournament play has presented a series of parallel Statistics case studies with isolated pairs of opponents trying to out-optimize each-other. In narrative play, as we have seen in our gaming group, wargamers have large groups collectively working to craft a satisfactory gaming experience. In my opinion, that is a much richer social experience. BUT, as you point out, it can be more difficult to organize and resource a large scale narrative event like that than it is to organize a tournament. Looking at it from a NOVA perspective, Where would you put a narrative event? How many GMs would sign up to run games? How many players would pay to play? Unless you have a surplus of space and money (which no event has), these questions are tough.

      Which is why I challenged you and the rest of the major 40k TOs to consider true narrative gaming.

      It's easy for me to say...which is why I say it.

    3. I really think both of you need to better define what you mean by a "true narrative game" because it sounds like you are talking about different things. MIke, it sounds like you think narrative gaming is a single big-game the likes of which we saw at Games Days of old. and then Steve is talking about having GMs involved. Then I am talking about using hobbied-up terrain arranged like a movie set, and interesting GM involved, no backstory even (beyond what is included in the mission).

      Anyway, I must say that I do disagree with the main premise of the article - that tournament play, or the focus on winning, is bad for the community.

      This ignores the fact that there are two awards in almost every tournament that have nothing to do with game result - best painted and best sportsman. This also ignores the fact that many people enter tournaments knowing full well they have no chance of winning Best General, rather attend tournaments to show off their hard work, meet up with other gamers, and play 3+ games in a single weekend (when the demands of everyday life make that impossible otherwise).

      Sure there is some negativity about things, but often that is a choice of the players. When it comes to a gaming event, it really is my opinion that you choose whether to have a good time or not. Unless the TOs take shits on the tabletops, if you choose to have a good time, then there really is nothing the TO does to prevent that from happening. Maybe if your army gets stolen...anyway you get my point - as long as the basic trappings of a tournament are there (terrain, players, space, enforcement of cheating rules), you can have a good time.

      Sure there are folks who go into tournaments with the mindset to crush all opponents - that is their choice. In the end of the day, what did they really gain, material wealth? or the immaterial greatness of experience? That's something ANYONE, regardless of how optimized your army, how beautifully painted it is, can achieve if they simply choose to win it.

      I agree with you that I'd like to see more narrative in tournaments, though, and I think times are changing and we will eventually see more. After all, there are events at tournaments that are experimenting with it. NOVA's narrative, LVO's friendly 40k, adepticons...dont know what it is called.

  12. I think your first point is right on the money, Tim. "Narrative" wargaming is a term that we have been throwing around the 40k community like it means something specific with regard to playing style. In fact, I think we are all abusing the term since "narrative" does not describe what we are really after, which is a satisfying gaming experience from 40k. Instead of "narrative" gaming, my focus should have been on what makes a "successful" gaming community and how to get US 40k community headed in that direction, since that is really what I'm talking about.

    I do stand by my argument that the tournament-focused culture of 40k in the US is damaging to the community. By that I do not mean to imply that playing to win is bad. In fact, quite the opposite is true-in order for any game be satisfying, both players need to play to win. My intent was to point out that the dominance of the tournament in US 40k promotes a style of play at all levels (casual game to club play to GT) that rewards optimization and exploitation of rules mechanics over tactics. This style of play can be deeply satisfying to gamers who enjoy the strategy of list optimization and innovative problem solving, but it can also be equally dissatisfying to wargamers in search of a more tactical simulation experience. I believe this is a big part of the reason historical gaming conventions tend to be heavy on GM-led games and light on tournaments. Historical wargamers tend to want to use realistic force structures and actual tactics, and the kind of non-tactical ploys you see in tournaments degrades this experience.

    A perfect example of this (and the inspiration for writing this post) happened to me at Cold Wars a couple of weeks ago. I played two GM-led games. One was a draw and one was a loss. I played both games very hard to win and hated losing the last one, but both games were deeply satisfying experiences because the force organizations were realistic and the scenarios rewarded military tactics.

    Then, against my better judgement, I played in the Bolt Action tournament. It was a great event. The terrain was fantastic, the organizers were wonderful, the players were really fun guys, and the prize support rocked. It was a great tournament. Even with all that wonderfulness, all three of my games were terribly dissatisfying for me for the reasons I have already pointed out: unrealistic, optimized lists and unrealistic, non-tactical game play. When I applied military tactics, they were trumped by goofy army lists designed to take advantage of game mechanics.

    The only way I won was to exploit the mechanics of a tournament scenario. In that game, my opponent had a better-performing force (I brought a knife to a tank fight) and he wiped the floor with me tactically. He absolutely should have won, but because of the scenario I was able to pull a very creative and totally non-tactical stunt with one of my units and win. Had I not pulled that stunt, it is possible that both my opponent and I might have enjoyed the game, since everything else played out pretty tactically. That said, had I not pulled the stunt, then I would not have been playing to win, and so would have contributed to a less satisfying gaming experience for my opponent. Maybe not as much as my douchy game-winning move did, but lack of effort on the part of a player absolutely compromises a game.

  13. I will also stand by my statement that the tournament scene should continue. There are great tournament events out there and I think that the NOVA Open is first among them due to Mike's revolutionary win path pairing system. To date the most fun I have had playing 40k was in the bottom brackets of the NOVA Open GT. Note that I said GT and not the NOVA Narrative Campaign!

    You may not buy this, but my intent with this post was not to poke 40k TOs in the eye for wrecking 40k. I do not actually believe that tournaments are the primary culprits behind the negatively-charged US 40k scene. That blame, in my opinion, falls squarely on the caucaphony of blogs and podcasts for an unrelenting obsession with statistical list optimization. But, in fairness, their obsession is fueled by the desire to perform well in tournaments, and so we have a vicious cycle.

    My call is for 40k TOs to lead the way in breaking this cycle with serious investment in non-tournament wargaming events. The best example of that in my experience is GM-led games. Historical gamers have known this for...well...ever.

    1. Yeah I can see that. There are some things which really just seem odd to me. For example, whenever someone balances a land raider on top of a farm house and then measures line of sight from there I'm just like WTF?

      There is an element of abstraction in some games that really kind of casts this spell of "gamey" over the scene. Like I don't know if you remember what people called "wound allocation shenanigans" in 5th edition, but that is another example of a real gamey move.

      Its all subjective though, what might be perceived as gamey to me, might be totally normal to another person. Some people really like those kind of things.

      I played in the Adepticon team tournament a few years back. Nearly every opponent we had was trying to squeeze advantages out of silly game mechanics. Some were cheating even. We had more than a few moments of tension, but it never really stopped me from having lots of fun.
      I left the tournament thinking "what a bunch of lovable cheatin' bastards!"

      One thing I did notice is that social acceptance of fielding the most cheesiest units in multiples is at an all time high, the complete opposite of own personal view of what is acceptable.

    2. My response to your call it to step up and do it :)

      I enjoy your GM-led games ... and am excited to run one of my own with the Band of Brothers: Crossroads episode as inspiration. I don't have the passion to creatively plan and organize an entire weekend of them at the NOVA, however (or the time, not that any of us do these days).

      To the point, lots of people in the 40K community are *passionate* about tournaments, and have subsequently built a substantial scene by running them. It takes passionate leadership with the willingness to break paradigms by designing systems that will work both financially, functionally, and enjoyably. Your challenge is a good one, but it is misplaced in that it equates to challenging Roger Goodell to build a better flag football league. Flag Football is not less valuable than the NFL, and in fact is participated in by a dramatically higher # of players than the NFL is, but Goodell is fixated on his task running the NFL itself. Ignore the component of this analogy that involves professional vs. amateur ... my point is not to call narrative GM-led gaming amateur ... more that you are challenging those whose hands are full with their "first" passion to do something they are not nearly as passionate about as you are.

      The outcome can only be dissatisfying for you and those who seek similar.

      I can and will support you innovating the right course here, as you know, and the NOVA is a venue you can do it in. That said, the person who actually runs it needs to be someone who cares deeply about it. I enjoy GM-led and narrative gaming, but not enough to be that guy.

    3. I'm totally looking forward to the Crossroads game!

      Your NF(F)L point is well taken. This isn't a zero sum deal. It is additive and brings us back to the challenges of resourcing a large event.

    4. Note to Tim - I think most people know when you hit the "Cheese" factor in an open system. 2+ re-rollable stars and serpent spam and the like are no-punches-held lists.

      One thing that is problematic, however, is - unless the organizer mandates rather precisely what an acceptable list is, you will still get people who cry foul at lists that are in the "Grey" without being obvious cheese. It is incredibly difficult to figure out where the line is or should be, even though just about everyone can tell where it shouldn't be.