Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Being Gamist: I'm WAAC and proud of it!

I figure this title would get me some spotlight time, and to be honest, it's mostly true. If you have followed my discussion here on Struggling With Counts As or my email in to Mike Brandt, you're probably up to speed on my current mindset. For some more analysis, Bill and jay at the Gamers Lounge covered my email to Mike in their most recent podcast. I remember one of my points being misrepresented, but overall they were very fair and it was great to listen to it, even if they disagree with me. Mike also spawned a few discussion posts based on some of the same concepts I'll be going over, though he had a slightly different focus.

I have found in my discussions on this topic that I am in the vast minority in the hobby of 40k in regards to how appropriate it is to play and stretch the mechanics of the game without actually breaking the rules. This is known to some as being "gamey" or "gamist" and others could define it as "Win at all costs", and a large number of people seem to think the simple thought of taking this approach turns an otherwise acceptable person into a good-for-nothing schmuck.

In every game system I have played, I have had this same mindset. Most of those game systems have been much more properly balanced than Warhammer 40k, but not all of them. I tend to analyze the math behind the system and get a firm understanding of the core mechanics as my basis to the game. This usually doesn't take me very much time, as I have a quick ability to separate my previous experiences with a system and use the most current information without referencing any past information. If I am ever in doubt, I will look up the rule and interactions rather than assume it follows the same method of a previous version or edition, so I more quickly reinforce the proper ruleset.

Once I have the basic mechanics figured out, I look for synergies and advanced tactics, usually with great help from others in the hobby. I will take an idea someone else has presented, playtest it to figure out how and why it works, and then adapt that idea to a different purpose. I get a lot of joy from figuring out the system to such a level that I feel I have mastered it. I'm not completely there with 40k yet, but that has a lot to do with the massive number of armies and the large influence random chance has in any given situation. It's much harder to control your subset of calculations and odds in a game with so many dice rolls.

I assume many competitive players fall into at least a similar mindset. The goal in mastering the system is to test your own limits and find new options to enhance your ability to compete. Once a relatively solid understanding is met, you find the best tools for the job and accomplish your goals.

For me, at this point in my 40k career, that goal is to place highly at or win a very competitive event, such as the Nova Open. When I show up to Nova, I will be using an army list that has been fully playtested and that I have enough experience with to feel more than comfortable. Moreover, this list will be built using the ruleset (codex) I feel is best for the situation. If my models can accurately represent what is in the list, then that will be what I run (I will have prior approval of any counts as or other possibly questionable models before I show up to make sure I don't cause too much trouble).

My question to the community is this: why is actively choosing the most competitive, powerful, or just well-balanced codex considered to be done in bad faith in an event where competition (and thus winning) is the primary focus? When I show up to what is likely to be the single most competitive event of 2011, I am going to bring the hardest list I can muster and play it to the best of my ability. I will use every tactic and strategy at my disposal to bring myself to victory, as long as those tactics and strategies do not violate the rules in the main rulebook, codices, and tournament rules.

Now, just because I intend to play to win at all costs does not mean I won't be sociable or that I intend to cheat, belittle or bully my opponents. I have faced enough of that on my own to know I don't wish that upon anyone. I do expect, however, that if you show up to compete, you need to be prepared for any and all legal and valid tactic and strategies from your opponents. I do not condone cheating of any sort, and it is entirely possible to compete at a high level without being rude or bullish.

Often when reading some posts against a "gamist" mindset, I get the feeling that I am being picked on because the other party is lazy or insecure. This might not be the case, but it sure feels like it, much the same way that they probably feel I am trying to cheat them by using something new, unknown, or just plain powerful.

While I have not yet traveled very much for Warhammer 40k, this is definitely not the first game I have ever had the desire to compete at on a high level. I have been involved with many card games, and with one in particular I used this same mindset to take myself to the rank of 2nd at the world championship one year. While I haven't placed that high again, I continually placed extremely high at subsequent national, continental, and world events.

Adapting to the system and using the toolset that brings the most and best options is just second nature to me. It is who I am and I am not going to apologize for it. It doesn't mean I can't hold back or set something up for purely narrative or laid back play, but when I sit down to compete, I am going to do so to the best of my ability.

I'm going to make some more blog posts in this same vein, in an attempt to foster discussion and maybe push some changes in the current tournament system. Nova and BFS have already been shaking things up, so maybe the community is ready to step further in my direction.

My next post will discuss my personal opinion on counts as and how a gamist approach to that topic can really make things interesting in competitive play.


  1. Ray,

    Great blog post, and thank you for the mention of the podcast! Please shoot me/us an email and let us know where we misrepresented your point, I would love to rectify that.

    Now, onto the topic. To the question of "is it wrong to be highly competitive and have a Win At All Costs" attitude in the game. Not at all. Now, on the other hand I personally would not want to play that type of opponent over a long (or even middle) period of time. What your seeing is possibly 2 things in relation to the "push back" your getting to the WAAC attitude.
    1. There are a lot of people in this hobby (mini-war-gaming) who are not highly competitive.
    2. people who are caught up in the "controversy" and the "drama" instead of coming up with solid responses and ideas

    For myself, in my local community we have a highly competitive player who plays 40K and Malifaux. He memorizes the rules and is constantly analyzing things from a fairly competitive WAAC standpoint. I enjoy playing against him occasionally. Playing too many games against him creates an environment that is draining for me. I am not out to win every game. YES, mini-wargaming have winners a losers. They also have an opportunity for story and dynamic "scenes" played out by the models we use. This is really what I am looking for in my games. Now, do I enjoy a competitive game? Yes. Do I want all of my games to constantly require top performance and analysis? No.

    I will say that I look forward to your count's as article, it should be an interesting read. I do not think this article really covered the "count as" issue that has brought you to prominence, but maybe I am missing something.


  2. You are absolutely right, Bill. Not every game needs to be played at such a high level, and I am perfectly fine relaxing and shooting the breeze with my opponent in a casual setting.

    This post was aimed primarily at competitive play, where I feel I would be cheating myself if I did not hold myself up to the absolute best.

    My counts as article will go more into the issue I have faced recently. I simply felt a general outline of my mindset was the best place to start.

    As for one aspect of my counts-as argument being misrepresented in the podcast, I remember a statement about mixing different models in a squad (I think this was in reference to fire dragons and dire avengers for trueborn).

    My intention in the lists I would build is to be as close to the original Eldar structure as possible, so mixing of units would not happen. While I was looking at using Fire Dragons for trueborn with blasters, and Dire Avengers for trueborn with shardcarbines, both would never be in the same squad. I would use storm guardians with fusion guns to represent the Warriors with blasters so that the counts as is properly used across the whole army.

    The way it was mentioned in the podcast definitely sends a very different idea. While I don't think confusion in the game would play as huge a part as some have mentioned in these discussions, purposefully adding layers of confusion to the subject would be a bad idea.

  3. WAAC becomes boring. Everyone plays the same 3-4 power armies, decks (in ccg), or races when it comes to gaming in general. Competitive play is mostly dull with using a single line stragity to win most of the time. The "one trick pony" comes to mind (see 4th edition Iron Warriors or 3rd edition Uthwe point denial).

    While these armies are certainly powerful and nobody can really say you should not play these armies or use these tactics in such a way, I would argue the opposite of what you are trying to get at ray. You think this is challenging to you as a player, it is not. Just because you win at something, doesn't mean you are challenged by the opponent to win (again see 4th edition Iron Warriors or any numerous examples in CCG games we played that became unbalanced).

    The real challenge in the game, is bringing something that is unorthodox or your own design and beating down your opponent with it despite them bringing a power army. Taking advantage of an oddly worded rule show you only know how to explote a flaw in the rules. A cheap shot. Can you really win without it? Can you win without an overpowered/unbalanced army? The best tactician can (with some moderate even moderate-low roll of the dice) with a balanced army from an underpowered/normal codex/army list.

    However, that in mind, there will always be competitive gamers. Rogue traders countered this with having a sportsmanship and painting system to counter the uber angry competitive players from winning. I think it sets itself apart from CCG's in that respect to stem the tide. It forces people to play with a level of... legativity that is not seen in CCG's.

    Bear in mind ray, I never played SW:CCG or LOTR:TCG because I wanted to beat other players. I played for the challenge and the fun of it (how cool is it to play imperial vs rebel fleets in epic space battles or have jedi and sith duel? How about aragorn holding off a horde or uraki for frodo and sam to run to site 9?). I also play Warhammer 40k with the same attitude. I rather play an army I like playing/with a theme even in competitive play. Bear in mind, I can play on the uber angry competitive level, but I don't like it... gets really boring really quick doing the same thing over and over.

    My recommendation would be to find a happy medium between competitive army play, fluff, and what you like to play.

  4. Jason, you are saying some things that are true, but not things that are absolute for everyone. There are plenty of times I will throw down something goofy or not apply too much pressure in the game to get a more relaxed feel. These are things that are perfectly okay to do in a casual or league environment.

    However, in a competitive environment, to purposefully hinder the competitive mindset is counterproductive. The entire purpose of competition is to test one's strength and measure up against the competition when they are at their best. That is something i really enjoy doing. When I played Star Trek CCG competitively, the absolute best games I ever played were against high level opponents using high level strategies and tactics who ended up beating me in very close games.

    My final confrontation at the 2004 world championship is one such game. We had a best of 3 match and the 3rd game was down to the wire with combos, counters, mindplay, and skill tracking going non-stop. It's quite literally the best game of Trek CCG I have ever played, and it is a match I lost.

    Furthermore, these high level ccg decks and 40k army lists don't autopilot themselves. Some of them make target priority easier on you and/or your opponent, but special care must be taken based on placement of objectives, type of deployment, and the strengths of the opponent's army.

    What I WANT is to face opponents who are like-minded and play at that same level of tactical and strategic acumen. While I can enjoy 40k as a casual hobby, I personally will get more enjoyment out of overcoming the challenges inherent in fierce competition. You might find that draining, exhausting, or boring, but I thrive on that atmosphere.

    I'm not belittling your want and love for a casual atmosphere, but likewise you should accept that some people want more. We are different people and we like different things. It is not fair for me to hinder or make fun of you for being casual, and likewise the reverse is also true.

    For the past 3 years I have been playing Dark Angels in the various GTs and RTTs around Huntsville, and for 3 years I have gone basically 2-1 or 3-1 only to be outdone by people who have gone 2-2 or even 1-3 due to the traditional battlepoint system. (The one tournament where I didn't lose a game I got 2 ties, and I have only lost more than 1 game in a single event)

    (Continuing in the next post)

  5. You see, no matter how well one plays the Dark Angel codex, the disadvantages that lie within it cannot overcome the benefits of the newer codices. The 6 newest armies were designed for a game where troops are important and flexibility of tools in each FOC slot are the norm. Dark Angels and many other 4th Edition codices do not have that luxury, specifically because they were built for an older system.

    I have come to the realization that even when I WIN with Dark Angels, I get ranked lower because not all of the Dark Angels' shortcomings can be overcome with great generalship. The fact of the matter is that they are too expensive points-wise and lack killing potential and flexibility across the FOC. They have superior survivability to other space marines in some areas (mostly the survivability of their mech), but cannot bring the numbers or weapons to bear to capitalize on that in most games.

    So in a way, you are right: older codices can compete with great generalship, but only if the tournament system recognizes its merits. Scoring solely based on battlepoints (and ignoring actual win conditions) means many older armies simply won't rack up the points necessary to place high, despite claiming the majority of the objectives in each game. People who lose by a small amount but win by large amounts will score more points than those who win by small amounts, even if they have lost more games.

    That right there is one reason the Nova format appeals to me. We can get a true measure of generalship, at least based on the tools each person used that day.

    Having now done extensive playtesting with the various 5th Edition codices (buth by crunching numbers and using actual lists in practive) I can see OBVIOUS failings in Eldar and Dark Angels that will outright PREVENT them from winning when opponents with my same skill level use properly balanced army lists with newer codices. You simply cannot play well enough to overcome those shortcomings vs the kind of people I am expecting to face at Nova.

    If I only wanted to prove that I can go 7-3 and do better than most, you would be right. That, however is not what I want to do. I want to have a decent chance of going 8-0 and fight tooth and nail to get there.

    Each of the six 5th Edition codices gives me the tools and numerous different army lists and playstyles that I can use to get there. There is not "one list" that defeats all others. Things are simply that well balanced among the 5th edition codices right now. Any balanced competitive list played properly is going to have that chance.

    Is it wrong for me to hold this position going into the biggest competitive environment in our hobby?

  6. I actually enjoyed this post even though I'm a casual gamer. I recognize that there are WAAC players and you get that with any system, who really enjoy the full commitment and competition.

    What I liked about reading your thoughts is that you acknowledge casual gamers exist and can enjoy the game without being competitive.

    While I'm casual, I don't see a problem with being WAAC. There's nothing wrong with showing up to a competition with a strong list - if you're going to be competitive, then play competitively. If you show up to a tournament with a weak list and get pwned, it's your own fault, not the fault of the person better than you.



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