Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Gentleman's Game?

Whats in a game?

Do differing types of games make us play differently, and behave differently whilst playing them?

Does how you win the game, thus affect how you strive to play it?

Does it matter if you have fun actually playing it, or are we just there as an exercise in trying to win, not necessarily at all costs, but the win is foremost in our minds, and without that win, the game is less 'fun'?

Do we sit there staring at our man dollies, trying to figure out the exact stratagem that will hopefully work, at the same time trying to run over in our minds the probability of what the Dice Gods are going to do us as our little chance-cubes clatter across the table... their results lifting us in joy or sending us crashing to the depths of despair...

Does it matter if our opponent enjoys the game, whether they win or lose? Does how the game makes us play and thus act, affect this?

Come on Smithers - your move ol' chap...

Having a physical opponent introduces a social aspect to the game, giving us someone to interact with as we play the game. This then to me should be an important part of the game, as if it isn't important, then I may as well just play computer game against a faceless opponent, whether 'real' or AI...

There's a whole gamut of games available to play out there, some perhaps by their nature being more competitive than others.

Anyone who has followed this blog will probably know I've been playing a lot of Flames of War over the last couple of years, with probably an average of roughly a game per week. Sadly my win/loss record is not the best, despite my best efforts to learn the game, its tactics and try and mitigate my luck. (It really bugs me when people say you can make your own 'luck', by learning the odds and playing accordingly, hmm, I'm not so sure... if you roll one dice needing a 6 and get it, that's lucky in my book! If you roll two dice, needing either of them to be a 3 or more and roll snake eyes, then that's unlucky).

Flames of War, is clearly a tournament game. You typically win the game, by either capturing an objective (or conversely defending one), or breaking (destroying) your opponents force... However, how well you manage to do this, scores you points for the game, that then can be thrown into the tournament pot to see who's the better player overall over several games...

... and I think its this tournament mechanism that can lead to 'frustration'... not only can you beat your opponent, which is fair enough, but you can morally grind him into the dust by getting the best score too...

... or perhaps it encourages ridiculous do-or-die defenses, when the game is clearly already won by one side, the other guy stubbornly refuses to give up, in some Hitler/Stalin inspired 'not one step back' approach... perhaps the hopes of stealing a point off the opponent for the tournament score level, encouraging this playing style...

Not one step back!

I think its this aspect of the game that's perhaps getting to me, as I like the game for the most part otherwise - I like the look, scale, miniatures, and game play for the most part - a couple of things niggle me but I can live with them...

For me I think, there is clearly a point a which the game is won, most people can see this a mile off... a gentleman at this point would concede defeat and resign, he wouldn't keep playing on manically. Having offered up his resignation, I wouldn't expect his opponent to force him to play on, just so he can score more tournament points... so maybe the game and I are at odds? Its not my opponents fault, its the way the game is making him play?

When this scenario is played out repeatedly, game by game, week after week... is it any wonder the player who loses the most becomes more and more frustrated despite his best efforts?

When you play the same opponent with the same army repeatedly and keep losing, how long before the nervous tick develops?

Cartoon fun .. inspired by Larry Leadhead - thanks Larry for the laughs!

The reality is some players have a better gamer's mind than others, perhaps simply being more intuitive, quicker learners, better able to assimilate the requirements to pull off the wins repeatedly; the optimum force composition, tactics and probability to succeed in getting these wins.

This is clearly shown by the same names appearing at the top of the tournament rankings, with us other lesser mortals down the other end of the tables as also-rans, patsies and whipping boys...

So I do not deny there is a skill level here, probably not something I will ever have in abundance....

So perhaps to stay sane in a leisure time activity that is meant to be fun and enjoyable, and distract us momentarily from the stresses of real life and work, I may have to find a game that better suits my approach to gaming? Or perhaps concede I am simply not a good player generally, resign my gaming commission, hang up my dice, rulers and templates and simply paint for fun, and perchance become what GW and Mr Johnson et al, wants me to be ... a 'Collector'... Perish the thought!

Or perhaps the game can still be fun and enjoyable if approached in a differing manner, must we strive to beat and crush our opponent...?

I am not just poking the finger at FoW here... I assume other tournament orientated games have similar issues; WFB/40K? I suppose any game which score you points for how well you did or didn't do, will be affected by the problem...?

I cannot help recall the introduction of the Black Powder rules, with its 'Gentlemanly' approach to the game... with units not even having a points value... the whole thing being scenario driven... and played out for the fun of the experience of the game, with the winner or loser, almost not seeming to matter... it certainly seemed a more pleasant environment to game in...

I say, can you see where I dropped my die? Darned things over here somewhere...

Please excuse this cathartic ramble... there are times when one needs to clear ones head...

I think a gaming break over the Xmas period and an indulgence of painting simply for the enjoyment of it, thanks to Curt's Painting Challenge, is the way for me to chill out and to return to sanity...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year... Hope you get all the man dollies, paints and brushes you need to keep you smiling!


  1. i know what you mean. For example i defeat rex at most 40k games, but at fantasy i think he will oust me all the time. I think some people are just good at some game systems whilst others aren't.

    Its like the whole painting thing, some people are great painters and some arent. Its not something you can just do better.

    We find just relaxing and playing with units, not for what they can do but what they look like or the idea behind them. Being laid back or making mistakes for the cinematics can really make the game fun. For example my Japanese regularly face late and mid war opponents. The only way i win is because of night fighting. But my tanks cant hurt the enemy tanks, can bail them at best from behind. Its annoying but everyone gets a good laugh when my tanks (which are a quarter of the size of my opponents) are trying to bail out the enemy tanks in a futile attempt. Its little actions like that which make games a lot of fun, especially in a social setting.

    In my opinion it all comes down to attitude. A balanced laid back game is great and although sometimes those competitive matches are fun, its not worth doing at the expense of others fun.

    I wont be going to tournaments because i dont like the attitude i see there. The win at all costs, bending the rules or setting a high level of painting to win along with the super boring lists. Ruins the game for me.

    Is black powder any good, im about to by a pike and shotte army to use as empire but if it can be used for both systems that would be cool.

    1. The Black Powder / Pike and Shotte / Hail Caeser sets of rule are very enjoyable to my mind, though cater optimally to the larger scale game, however it can be adapted down and I have even heard of it being used for skirmish game scenarios...

  2. Don't get me started about tournaments. I haven't played in any serious tournaments in decades (only one friendly DBA tourney at a friend's house because someone couldn't make it -- I won by the way). As you suggest I didn't like the attitude or style of play that tourneys seem to demand.

    What I took to doing was to run tourneys so that others could play in them. That way I could enjoy watching the games without getting into that nasty "must win big" attitude.

    By the way, I have always found that multi-player games are much less stressful. If you lose, some of the blame has to fall on your partner(s) . . . and if you win, it feels just as warm but without a certain hardness to it. So you might want to try playing some team games . . . same rule sets, but with two or three players a side.

    -- Jeff

    1. You make a very valid point about the multi-player games - far less stressful

  3. I do not game much but when I do I am more interested in the person I am gaming against and having fun than winning or losing.
    Good post BTW, looking forward to the painting winter myself too
    Peace James

  4. I do think gaming brings the worst out of us at times. For some reason, FOW causes the most stress, whereas Empire of teh Dead and the Hobbit are a lot more relaxed. There is something about all the rules and tactics with FOW that both make it so appealing but also so competitive. My natural inclination is more towards painting and collecting - that is what got me into this hobby in the first place and what I fall back on. I have been a bit scared of going out into the tourny scene for FOW for the reasons you set out, but you know if we all entered these tournaments determined to bring back gentlemanly gaming then we might just have some impact on the way the game is played. So for that reason, I invite you to keep playing!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, and 'invitation' - I'll try and take you up on it! ;-)

    2. I agree FOW certainly takes itself seriously where games like EOTD are more chilled. I like to think EOTD creates a more casual mindset which puts fun and chivalry first and if you apply that to other games it might just work out ok. Of course because of this at we, "ahem," never have problems and only fun!

    3. Spitting the dummy seems a semi regular event around here now... which is now being measured by how FAR you can actually spit the dummy, this being rewarded in a points range determined by how much further your dummy went that your opponents...

  5. I am not a fan of Tourney gaming I've never been, but I did play in an Infinity tournament last year and found it refreshingly free from the winning atmosphere but that was do to the laid back nature of the majority of the participants. So I feel that its possible to bring back gentlemanly gaming but As Dan has said we may have to work for it.

  6. I'm more of a painter and collector these days and for me the games I do play I want to tell a story not so much a do or die thing.

    The key word you use over and over is Tournament or Competition and at the end of the day I feel that this attracts a certain kind of gamer whose sole purpose is there to have fun by winning rather than playing games that are re-enactments from historical events or a fluffy what if scenario.

  7. I stopped tournament gaming as this gave years of bad experiences, I now game for fun regardless of what I am playing and the type of game. I dont enjoy gaming with must win gamers and avoid this type as they rarely bring anything to a game except rules lawyering and bad attitude.
    I do spend an inordinate amount of time painting, and for me the games are about the look and feel of a period, with nice figures on good terrain and a bunch of similarly like minded mates so we can just have a good laugh and enjoy the games regardless of the outcome.

  8. The game being fun is important to me. Winning or losing does not necessarily make a game exciting or enjoyable to play. I think it is the interaction between those playing that brings the main meaning of fun to the game, whilst how well you play can then impact upon that in some cases.

    I think, however, rules also impact upon how fun a game is, such as the point systems that help keep the playing fields level. If a game is unfair, straight away, it is most likely you'll already not be quite that excited to play. Of course, where as, if its a scenario where of course the whole point is for one side to be heavily outmanned, then the whole excitement of trying to beat the odds, as you put across in different words, will then most likely be a source of enjoyment.

    To me, these are things that make it exciting playing with other people. However, playing on your own can be just as fun, as you try scenarios to test out tactics ect, or just have a good game by yourself. How hard or easy is it to beat someone who knows every move you want to make, whilst you know every move they want to make? :)

    It's a selfish view, but I think people should really always keep in mind that it's a game they are playing. It's not about winning or losing. It's about enjoying the game yourself, and also sharing that enjoyment with others.

    Interesting post here Scott. Nice one.

    I think the players need to have good attitudes though for it to be enjoyable. Naturally, if you're playing against a grouch, the only fun thing will be wiping the table clean of his models or teaching him to lighten up. After all, it's a game. Surely we didn't get into it just for the sake of winning every match?

  9. Very thoughtful post, Scott. I'm mainly a painter, and do prefer games like Black Powder and Hail Caesar because they do not require a points system. I have played WAB and a little bit of WHFB (as you know), but those were always in friendly, non-competive, environment. Well, I did participate in one tournament - the WAB GT earlier this year. But even this event was laid back and I was honored to attend as it was my first ever trip to Europe. So, long story short, I'm not a competive player and too old to start becoming one now. :) Enjoy your painting time for the Challenge. I'm sure it'll smooth out some of your current gaming woes. Best, Dean

  10. For me, it's about the fun element. I don't need balanced points games , I will play heavily outnumbered or unbalanced scenarios if they are fun or a challenge.

  11. Stirling Uni (Scotland) recently ran a games day at a local gaming store o look into the very points of your opening statement. Unfortunately due to family illness I never made it though!

    1. Interesting, I wouldn't mind seeing the results

  12. Great post Scott! Very thought provoking indeed. My 2c worth to add is...

    Nearly all tournaments are competitive by design so if people enter one thinking opponents will not strive to win they are kidding themselves. This is not to say they will cheat or be unpleasant company (though some may), it is simply that the point of the exercise is to win and win as well as possible.

    Personally I don't enjoy that sort of game and play solely for the fun of it and the pleasure of the company of real people (not an AI). I'm "guilty" of not enjoying a 6-1 win any more than a 6-1 loss and of pointing out something my opponent is missing to his advantage whenever I see it. That's just how I'm wired. Plenty of others are too, many of them bloggers it seems.

    Neither POV is wrong, it is simply what the individual wants from their hobby. Being rude, ungracious or eating all the biscuits, not THAT is simply not on. A gentleman would never stoop so low.

    1. Entering a tournament then this is well expected and understood... the problem lies in the nature of game and that even friendly games played beforehand all invariably become 'warm up' games for the next tournament and so tend to played in much the same frame of mind with similar outcomes...

    2. Oh and I do try not to eat all the biscuits ! ;-)

  13. Yeah, the whole tournament thing seems to always end up this way somehow. Just play for fun. I remember once a guy asking me why I didn't study Go to get better at playing it. This is when I was in college and I played Go for fun, not something else to study.

  14. I don't play very often (although I do have a game scheduled for 30th December) and what I enjoy is the visual aspect of troops strewn across the board - probably because I'm basically a painter. I find the gaming aspects quite stressful as I can never remember the rules as I never play them that often. The next game will be my first Pike and Shot one and I haven't played any of the Warlord rules yet (although I have them all!)

    At Guildford we play from seven in the evening so by ten it's unusual for a game to have been finished. When I have been there we often finish before a real resolution is reached leaving each side to believe that maybe they could have won on the next turn if they were really lucky. Everyone is happy!

    I would never play in a tournament. It sounds ghastly!

    1. Maybe that's the key - just get the game to that mid point each time, then stop and call it a draw - everyones happy!

  15. Fun first and looking good, winning is way down the list. Our games are usually 2 - 3 to a side , so always someone else to blame for any loss.

    1. Yes, again multi-players take the heat off and competition out of it...

  16. Great post mate.

    I agree, the social aspect is the most important. I recall hearing somebody on a podcast say "When two friends get together for a game, both are winner. The tabletop results just slightly tip the balance "

    If only we could collect all like minded gamers in one town.
    What an awesome club we would have!

  17. Good thoughtful post Scott. Liked the Paras Cartoon its definately accurate if you apply it to WHFB where Tournament events are most definately one sided with 2-3 particular types of army always top of the table. Consequently, there is a strong tendency for most of the field to play the same armies with the same metalists which I can't stand. I enter those events to play against different people, to see other peoples armies and to enjoy myself but did get turned off WHFB because you get disspirited having your army ground into paste every game by power players always looking to win big and for whom winning is all that counts. WHFB tends to get a lot of those unfortunately,

    I enjoy FOW tournament events far more because the games are always enjoyable regardless of the result and you see far more variety in what people take. While there are a couple of people in NZ who stand out as uber-FOW players who clean up at most events the 'crush them at all costs' ethos is nowhere near as prevalent in FOW as it is in WHFB in this country. I have been thrased numerous times but unlike WHFB where often you know its going to happen before you even choose table sides, in FOW it is more frequently 50:50 and is never 0:100. Consequently, I get more out of FOW than WHFB.

    In terms of why I play... I play because I enjoy the game (FOW & WHFB), like the models, love painting and assembling them and really enjoy the history behind FOW and the fluff that goes with 40k & WHFB (although 40k is by far superior to WHFB). Tournaments I enjoy but only where people are all focused on enjoying themselves and letting their opponents enjoy themselves. And I think as a gamer you have an obligation to ensure your opponent does enjoy themselves.

    The problem is a lot of people forget that its just a game and hence you get tournament players bringing the uber armies that win at all costs vs. my armies whose guiding theme is generally "Oh thats pretty I want to take it" even when I know its not what the interweb says is the 'best'

    1. Thanks for the reply John..., I have been nosing around the web and have begun to ponder the re-purposing of my 15mm WW2 collection, perhaps for something like the BattleGroup Kursk/Overlord series of rules sets from PSC... wondering if the lack of God-like control in a rule set like this, which has an over riding rule mechanic, relying on random numbers of orders per turn, thus may dilute the intensity of thought and action of FoW games? I am sure not one rule set is perfect, but may suit differing players - the Warmaster /BP/HC stable of rules had this kind of mechanic which I enjoyed in the past so may be more my style...? I probably wouldnt get many local games, as I doubt the rules are as widely used as FoW, but at the mo' that's not a concern...

  18. Very interesting post, Scott.

    As you know, I'm a visual gamer (and I use the term 'gamer' very loosely, as I don't actually get to play that much). For me, it is all about the look of the thing. I'm as happy as Larry setting my figures up on a lovely table, then doing nothing at all! Maybe I'm really a model railroader underneath!!!

    But even in the few very social games I play (including some memorable ones against you), I do have to admit to a frisson of delight if I'm winning; and a slight feeling of dismay if losing. I think it's only human.

    But overall if the game turns into a well-told story, then in the end it doesn't matter who played the winner or the loser - it is the fun of the story that counts in the end. So despite that slight feeling of dismay when losing, which I mentioned above, it is quickly overtaken by the enjoyment of the story-line that resulted in that loss - whether it was because of bad dice throwing; bad generalship on my part; excellent tactics by my opponent - whatever.

    But despite all that, I doubt I could really enjoy *every* week being hammered into the ground, and especially if the game has to continue to the last drop of your men's leaden blood.

    1. Thanks for your input Roly, ... its your last paragraph that seems to sums thing up for me... whilst don't lose every week, it must be fairly close! And even some games that I have won, I didn't actually 'enjoy' as they were an exercise in raw nerves till then, usually in scenarios where I am hanging on for grim death in a defensive scenario... its hard to get enamored by a victory that you won because you simply didn't die fast enough or your troops steadfastly refused to run away... there being little pro active part for you in that game...

    2. I had really hoped to have a fair handle on the game by now, and that I could manage to reliably win something like half my games, then I would be thrilled because this would then lead into the chance to run some grander campaigns with one game meaning something more in the context of the others, with some cut thrust, back and forth type campaign action... as it is, any campaign I try and do would probably just become a slow grind to my doom, so little point in even embarking in the first place...

  19. Wow, so much feedback here, I think most of what I was going to say is covered in the comments but here goes - some personal reflections:

    I'm totally with you on this one, Scott. I have taken a little rest from the boardgame group in December due to most of them being incredibly competitive. I like to win, but not that much.

    There is also a difference, in my opinion, between winning because one is a good player, or winning just because the other player is a bad one. Winning because one knows the rules better than the other player is not winning at all, IMO.

    It's just not fun when the rules lawyering begins - not that I am saying this is the case with your opponents, it is with a couple of mine, but sometimes I can perhaps also be seen as one, without even realizing it.

    But some games are still fun. I've tried to stay away when particularly "hot" games are on the table, to circumvent the major frustration/anger in an evening that should be about friends having fun and relaxation after crap-work. My gaming pals are mostly red, jobless leftist, though... that might explain their pettiness and jealousy ;D (he said, being *quite* jealous of you being able to get wargames in a LOT more often than I do).

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Llama, you seem to be on the same page as me... wishing you all the best of fun and tolerance with your gaming circle!


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