As miniature wargamers, we’re all familiar with the conflict between so-called “competitive” and “fluffy” players. The issue is especially big for 40k, for reasons we will see later, but can apply to any of the games we love. This bloody battle has been fought at the table, away from the table and online for many years now with no end in sight. Why is it that we can’t seem to all just get along?
I’ve thought a great deal about this lately and I’ve come up with a few thoughts that might help us to understand each other a little better. In the time-honoured tradition of science I am hereby presenting my findings to you, my esteemed colleagues, so that you may agree, disagree, or tear them to shreds!
First of all, we all know lumping players into the categories of fluffy/friendly versus competitive just doesn’t work. How much you enjoy fluff or painting models clearly has nothing to do with how competitive you are, or how much of a good sport you are at the table. Instead, I think it is more valuable to think of miniature wargamers as being strategy or re-enactment focussed. Bear with me here…
Strategists are in it for the fight. They are interested in finding out what would happen if they could pick whatever troops they liked from the 41st millenium, or a fantasy world, or history, and lead them in a simulation of a battle.
Re-enactors on the other hand are interested in imagining that their men (or bugs or whatever) are real fighters in a real battle. In other words they enjoy an element of role-playing in their game. There is a subtle difference between the attitude of a Strategist and a Re-enactor that I would like to show with an example:
Let’s say there is a unit of 10-12 Kroot and my 10 Penal Legion gunslingers have just outflanked onto the table edge nearest them. Assume that in this situation the best thing for my overall plan is that I simply destroy or harm the Kroot. What do I do?
If I am a Strategist I will bring my own real knowledge to bear. I will stay 20″ away from the Kroot and blast away with my assault 2 lasguns. The Kroot cannot reach me with a charge next turn and will only be able to fire 10-12 Kroot rifle shots and forego movement if they want to engage my boys. I’ll probably do some severe damage to the Kroot with no risk.
If I am a Re-enactor, I will instead put myself in the place of my models, like a role-player. My Penal Legion have probably never seen Kroot before. They don’t know that a Kroot is more dangerous than a guardsman in close combat. A combination of suicidal penitence and their explosive collars will lead my gunslingers to shoot first and then charge the Kroot. They may win the fight; they may not. They will almost certainly take more casualties than if they had hung back and blazed away.
And here, ladies and gents, we see why the two attitudes are contradictory: The Strategist’s attitude requires me to take the best tactical action possible in the situation. The Re-enactor’s attitude requires I take the worst. It is now easy to see why if you play with one attitude you would find the other baffling, stupid or unsportsmanlike.
So how did we end up with these two conflicting attitudes, particularly in 40k? Well, any game as old as 40k will develop a culture, and just like any culture, it will be slow to change. Rogue Trader had definite RPG elements and a rich sci-fi background that players were encouraged to immerse themselves in. Many of the earliest GW designers were clearly Re-enactors. You can even still see the Re-enactor attitude being encouraged officially, in the Forgeworld books and Jervis’ Standard Bearer articles in White Dwarf.
The thing is, a wargame ends in a win, lose or draw. An RPG doesn’t. You can’t “win” an RPG, except in the sense that you reach the end of the story. This is where the conflict lies, right at the heart of our hobby. 40k (and to a lesser extent other tabletop mini games) is a wargame with a culture of re-enactment attached. People come to the table with extremes of both attitudes, or both conflicting within the one person. No wonder there is name calling and misunderstanding.
But there is hope. At the very least we can stop insisting that one attitude is right and the other wrong. Indeed, we are all both. The most abstract game-breaking strategist still plays 40k rather than checkers because somewhere inside they want to be a Space Marine or whatever. Likewise, the true Re-enactor must face the fact that they are playing a game, not writing fan-fiction. It is not unfriendly or unsportsmanlike to be a Strategist, nor is it weak and stupid to be a Re-enactor. Unfriendliness and stupidity have to do with how you treat others, not why you play the game. I mean, you can always try out the other attitude whenever you like for fun, which is why all of us play in the end isn’t it?
So there you have it ladies and gents. Turns out we aren’t WAAC Jerks and Wussy Fluff Bunnies after all, just Strategists and Re-enactors.
How do you think RPG strategy and Warhammer strategy compare? Are you a Strategist or a Re-enactor?