Wargaming: Fairness and Enforcing The Rules

Enforcing the rules strictly isn’t a sign of a jerk – it’s a sign of respect. Here’s why.

A guest editorial brought to us by Josh Keal.

Just to give you all some background on me. I’ve only been playing war games for about a year. I come from a competitive card game background in Magic the Gathering. I have been to 15-20 competitive Magic the Gathering events across the country and I’ve competed in 100’s of local tournaments. I’ve been to events where 2500 players are opening packs of magic cards at the same time and it sounded like it was raining for 5 minutes (Grand Pre in Charlotte, NC). Competition can be a beautiful thing. I’ve always loved the rules and competing in MTG has given me an even greater appreciation for the rules.

It didn’t take me long to realize that playing Age of Sigmar by the rules as written was looked down upon in many circles. Knowing the intricate details of the rules in a competitive event while playing magic was considered to be a positive thing. Players were happy to learn and discuss rule breaking scenarios. There was a certain respect for the rules that superseded this idea that somehow the “enforcement of the rules took away from the fun of the game”. Playing Age of Sigmar was different.

I was watching a YouTube video about a player who had a poor experience playing against an opponent during Adepticon. His opponent was a real jerk. He allegedly showed to the table 30-45 minutes late due to a hangover. In MTG the rules are clear on being late to your table; if you aren’t there within 15 minutes then you forfeit the round and give maximum score to your opponent. It’s disrespectful to your opponent and to the players in the event. Showing up late for a game is rarely acceptable; do not do it. I would have called for the Tournament Organizer to give us a time extension or my opponent a game loss. In this case the player reluctantly agreed to play the game. The player allowed this opponent to make repeated “take-backs” on several occasions including unit placement during setup and movement phases. Ultimately, this player quit the game out of frustration.

We’ve all played him…

We’ve all had this opponent at some point. We often place blame on this person for being a jerk. The truth is that they probably aren’t great people, but there are some great lessons to learn from this scenario. How much differently would this game have played out if the player had just been assertive and enforced the rules?

I’ve found that players aren’t assertive enough in this community and that unassertive mentality is often confused with kindness. Effectively, players are being kind because they realize they are imperfect and hope that their opponent will be kind back. There are many players who take advantage of that kindness (especially in a competitive atmosphere).

I find my opponents getting upset when I tell them they cannot take things back (even early on in the event) or that they are doing things out of order. A great example of that might be telling my opponent that they cannot run a unit after they’ve moved the entire unit. You might be reading this and thinking that might seem ridiculous, but those are the rules and they must be followed. Players often accuse me of trying to “win at all costs”, and I believe it’s because they are used to this level of kindness that other players provide. Here are three major reasons why the rules are so important to me during a competitive event:

  1. Respect : We are expected to uphold a level of professionalism that is greater than normal during a competitive event. We’ve committed actual income to play at an event where large prizes potentially exist. We aren’t playing on grandma’s dinner table. We need to respect the rules and play the game properly. If you forgot to put down your Blood Secretor banner and decided to declare that it is your movement phase then you are not in a phase where you can place a banner and you will have to suffer the consequences.
  2. Balance : Enforcement of the rules maintains fairness. Your moral standard with regard to a board game is relative to you as an individual and the rules (although written poorly IMO and subject to some level of interpretation) are an absolute standard that we both agree to when we play the game. If one player does not share the same standard as the other and they both agree to play based upon some unwritten moral standard that both players just assume exists then one player will inevitably be able to make choices that the other cannot. This by definition is not fair.
  3. Self Improvement : Enabling loose play encourages poor gaming practice. When I am playing in a competitive event, I “suck up” my play mistakes and accept the responsibility of my actions. The pain or pleasure I receive when making good or bad plays reminds me to better myself. We learn from the consequences of our actions. If there are no consequences to our poor habits then we will take those habits into environments where they are inappropriate.

In every scenario there is a level of adherence to the rules that must be followed. A competitive event such as Adepticon should be at the highest level and your friend’s basement or dinner table might be the lowest level. The bottom line is that rules exist and should be used to respect the game, maintain balance, improve ourselves as well as others and (of course) WIN.

Keep on gaming everyone!

~How strictly do you enforce the rules?

Check out Josh’s YouTube channel focusing on AoS tactics

Check out Frontlinegaming.org for more great tabletop content!

  • Kostas Pap Gus

    “Effectively, players are being kind because they realize they are imperfect and hope that their opponent will be kind back.”

    I don’t give to my opponent even an inch, and I never ask my opponent to spare me one either! ..and now I know why, because I am perfect! haha! I am ready to join the Emperor’s Children!

    • Nathaniel Wright

      As a servitor, maybe.

  • Farseerer

    To me, there is an unspoken contact between myself and my opponent when we start a game to adhere as closely as possible to the rules of that game.

    I’m lucky enough to not have played a game in a very long time where my opponent got annoyed when I corrected him and I hope I never came across as irritated when someone corrected me.

    At the end of the day, to me anyway, it’s the rules and the complexity and tactics that they generate that separate wargaming from playing with GI joes in a sandpit.

    • ZeeLobby

      Well said. Pretty much in the same boat.

      • Farseerer

        What country are you based in m8?

        • ZeeLobby

          US, East Coast. u?

          • Farseerer

            Ireland. I guess a quick game of 8th when it comes out won’t be so easy

          • ZeeLobby

            Haha. Was planning a trip to Ireland this summer actually. I’m not sure how my wife would feel about me ducking out to play a game though… haha.

          • Farseerer

            Oh really? Visit the Aran Islands if you can, one of the most beautiful spots in the world if you get the weather. If you’re into hillwalking, I can recommend a few other spots as well

          • ZeeLobby

            Awesome! Once we get the dates down I’ll ping you on a thread. I just finished my last semester of grad school, so I’ve only thought about where we’re going, not what we’ll do when we get there, haha.

          • Farseerer

            Definitely do, I know this wee island very well and a lot of the lesser known spots are the better ones IMO.

          • ZeeLobby

            Awesome, thanks!

          • Muninwing

            if you do, write up a BatRep and post it to the lounge!

            then again, you and i are both EastCoast, so there’s an opportunity for a game… but i’m up in New England, so it’s doubtful that it’s a better chance.

          • ZeeLobby

            We try to make it to Da Boyz GT in upstate NY every year. The venue is awesome, food and drinks are great. We skipped last years because of the state of the game (though funnily enough they did have WMH there for the first time). But We’re most likely planning to attend again this year.

          • KingAceNumber1

            Where at? I’m mear D.C., might be fun to get some 8th with you sometime if you’re in the DMV area

          • ZeeLobby

            Yeah, near DC as well. Sadly the one store dedicated to GW products went out of business around me, and most of the public groups kind of evaporated as 7th trudged on, but hopefully 8th will bring it back locally. Games and Stuff is the store we frequented most before it died out (around the Baltimore/Glen Burnie area). It’s pretty awesome, 10ish tables, etc. Used to go to the battle bunker a lot when it was in Glen Burnie as well. But I’d make a trip into DC/Northern VA to get some games in.

            I’m really hoping 8th makes PUGs viable again. It was one of my favorite things to do.

          • KingAceNumber1

            Agreed about the PUG thing. I live in northern VA, Huzzah Hobbies in Ashburn is great (not sure of the drive for you) and we are all really looking forward to 8th. Friday nights is the general play evening for 40k, but its pretty barren until 8th drops. I can assure you it’ll be packed post-release, though.

          • ZeeLobby

            Looks like a tight store. If they throw a fair amount of events I can probably get my local crew to head down. I’m assuming G&S will throw launch events but I don’t know. They’re uber magic-heavy, so it’s usually on weird nights.

          • KingAceNumber1

            They’re really big on hosted events for most games. 8th is going to have tournaments and hosted nights out the wazoo as well as sales at the store from the scuttlebutt I have heard. You all are welcome to come join, we’d love to have more folks!

  • eMtoN

    Tournament setting: follow the rules. If you are playing in a tournament a minimum level of competence ( ie: knowing the rules for their own army and the game ) should be required.

    Friendly setting: when you see them doing something wrong – point it out. Help them understand what’s going on. If it continues then you have a choice – end the game, start being less forgiving or go with it.

  • ZeeLobby

    Eh. When I tournament I never ask for a take-back. If I realize I’ve made a mistake, I just work through it. I don’t mind giving opponents a freebie though. It’s pretty obvious when they’re trying to abuse your kindness, and when they simply just made a mistake.

    • KingAceNumber1

      To me the judge is there to short circuit arguments. If either one of us questions a measurement, a roll, whatever, I usually just grab a judge. Prevents the 10 minutes of discussion that usually results in a judge call anyway.

      • ZeeLobby

        Yeah. I mean they’re a great tool. There’s just this stigma surrounding the use of them I wish 40K players in general could get rid of. I notice it a lot less in other systems, but many 40K players think you’re calling the judge over to beat up their kitten, not short-circuit possible confusion. Haha.

        • AEZ

          If I have a discussion in a game I usually just call someone from another table over, put the rules in front of them and let them decide (not playing tourneys much) if after a review of the rules me and the other player still disagree.

          • ZeeLobby

            That works pretty well too. Harder to do in PUGs, especially in communities where people know each other. I’ve seen some pretty biased gang ups before, which is a shame (I was playing a different system a couple tables over, but felt bad for the guy). There’s always the roll-off solution, which is what we usually do at home. Or sometimes we’ll just pick whichever option will result in a closer game.

          • AEZ

            Yeah roll off happens too.
            a few games ago we’d placed about 1″ diameter objective markers. I’d positioned (after measuring, could’ve moved more) my unit at 2.9 inch thinking I’d get it… my opponent said the objective is a point and I should measure from the centre…. (so no objective for me). Called in another.. he was more into my view but said to roll.. which I lost. Its annoying since I could’ve easily moved 0.5inch if I’d known…

    • Muninwing

      fun story:

      last ‘Ardboyz event, i ended up paired against a guy… easily the worst opponent i’ve ever had. he had jammed feathers into hastily-drilled holes in secondhand Daemon Princes so they could be considered flying. his army was not exactly wysiwyg, and he was both bat at remembering and explaining the variance. and he had no idea about half of the rules.

      he would tell me that he was putting x unit in y place, because he wanted a cover save… but it would be really open and clear, easy view. i’d tell him that it was his business where he put his units, and he would complain when i could show him the line of sight. he shot at one of my units with a unit behind a fence, then claimed the fence blocked line of sight (and i reminded him that if he was going to take an advantage then it applied on both sides).

      it was a terrible experience.

      after every time he would misquote a rule, rather than argue i would look it up and show him. when he’d question me on basic stuff, i would have to show him. we got through less than three full rounds.

      but… the TO/Judge had watched the game. he saw how patient i was. he saw that i was right time and time again. when there was a issue (and i don’t think it was actually an attempt to cheat, but…) with exactly how many wounds had been done to his HQ, the TO sided with me, and it gave me a clear win.

      that year, another local store had gotten permission to run their initial round a day later. i checked with their TO, and was allowed to play a second time. but “that guy” had had the same idea. my one stipulation was that i didn’t face him in the first round, since i’d already squared off against him. he was the odd player out, and got a by — which he used to make paper smoke launchers and searchlights for his tanks.

      his third round was against one of the most fun, relaxed players i ever had the pleasure of facing off against (i went vs him in round 2). this guy got so frustrated at “that guy” that he quit and left. said he couldn’t take it. meaning that “that guy” had one minor loss and two massacre wins — going into the final round he would take first if neither i nor the other top scorer pulled off at least a major win.

      it’s what motivated me to finish strong. even still, the victory ended up being mine by half an inch. best game i ever played, and i still nearly lost it in the last minute.

      • ZeeLobby

        That’s an awesome story! I was once at a Games Day and was cheated by an older player when I was a kid. I didn’t know until after when I looked up his rules. That was pretty crappy, lol.

        The worst I ever saw was my friend playing his daemon army against another daemon player, and it was a textbook case of slow playing. The judges came and tried to get the other player to speed up, but he’d keep playing it off. In the end my friend only got a tie when an extra 15 mins would have seen him win. It was just ridiculous. Then the dude was bragging about it later to his team at dinner.

        That same tournament was probably my best game ever. Was playing SM/Tau highlander combo and went up against a D-Weapon spamming Eldar player + hornets. He was so confident he’d just roll me that he didn’t read the scenario well and didn’t realize it until turn 3. It was pretty funny watching him doubletake at that point, as I had played to the objectives perfectly. What’s crazy is that even with a late turn 3 realization, he still almost came back. That Eldar cheese man… Still, ended the weekend 4/5.

        There are some definite tools out there. Luckily, in my experience, they’re very few and far between.

        • AEZ

          Since I don’t play real tourneys I’ve neverseen people purposely do this. Last local tourney (aos) my gnarlroot list was pretty slow due to long command phase and last of 3 games ended up being quite a bit shorter then the first games due to starting a little late at the beginning of the day and breaks.. I was obviously going to whipe my goblin opponent if we’d played 5 turns, I’d have gotten full points in turn 4 (and 5 )… but my opponent had faster troops, got a few more points in the first rounds.. and the game ended turn 3.. lost by a point while I’d have had a BIG victory in turn 4 and probably tabled him turn 5.

    • Vachones

      I also never ask for a take back. It has to hurt to learn, if I screwed up, I need to learn from it.

  • GnomesForge

    Or just play with friends. Never needed anything but the rulebook that way.

  • memitchell

    “In every scenario there is a level of adherence to the rules that must be followed.”

    When you look around the game store for an opponent, and NO ONE makes eye contact, you’ll become dimly aware of what your “rules that must be followed” rule really means. Just make sure “rules must be followed” is an honest, earnest force for good, not a way to intimidate.

  • Richard Klepper

    I used to play all my games competitively, I have since grown past that and now play just for fun. I will do my best to play by the rules, and I expect my opponent to do the same, however mistakes will be made. I am not going to let a rules disagreement ruin the fun of a beer and pretzels game. I prefer to dice off for now, keep the game moving. And then lookup and discuss the rules issue over a beer after the game is over.

  • Drew

    I’ve never had a major issue, but I’m also fairly free with the “take backs” that I allow. If any reasonable person would have done something (like plant the Bloodsecrator banner in the example above), and my opponent realizes it right after moving onto the next phase, I have no problem with it.

    Usually it’s pretty clear when somebody goofed and when somebody is trying to exploit things. Though I’m sure the author of the article would disagree, my philosophy is that it’s just a game, and what you’ve really paid for by entering that tournament is a weekend of gaming, not a chance at a really big prize, so I err on the side of kindness when it comes to goofs. Unless I’m mistaken, nobody’s income depends on their victories in miniatures wargaming tournaments, so I’m not going to act like it does.

    I will freely caveat this comment with the acknowledgement that I’m the guy at the shop who when a WAAC player is really going hard to exploit rules, cheese out the system, cheat, or anything else distasteful, I just tell them in a friendly tone “You win, man- this obviously means more to you than it does to me,” and then I go find somebody more fun to play a game with!

  • Calgar

    I totally agree. In a competitive environment I am 100% a by the rules player. However in casual gaming I am much more forgiving, especially when teaching new players the game. I will however point out that even though I let them take the move back, that not all players will do so, especially in a tourney. New players can be expected to get things out of order, tourney players can not.

  • Keith Wilson

    making someone move then roll to run and move again … while going by the letter of the rule, is petty and pointless …..

  • AdeptusAstartes

    I had a poor experience with a friend of mine. We’d only ever played pick up games against each other, and they were pretty relaxed affairs, but we ended up facing each other in a competitive game and things went south pretty quick. I knew he had a reputation for loose play, but I didn’t ever expect to be on the end of it. At the end of turn 2, after inch-pinching and moving models from already activated units to accommodate the positioning of a charging unit, he declared his charge and went to move into contact. I told him straight up that he wasn’t able to assault, and explained how with 2 turns of moving, and one charge distance he would be out of range of my models, measuring from the back of my table edge to the front of my bases i established the charge was short of distance.

    My mate went on the defensive, and started to say the charging unit had run turn 1. So I showed him the casualties the unit had inflicted when they’d fired. So, he turned up the heat a little and asked if I was accusing him of cheating! I explained that I wasn’t, but if he completed the charge then I would be. At this point I started to feel a little embarrassed for him. We had a couple of spectators, some of whom were aware of his reputation, some not, but they were all smiling or laughing at him – which hadn’t been my intended outcome.

    That game was almost 4 years ago, and we haven’t played since. Take from that what you will. I still play to the rules and hold my opponents up to the same standard and my most memorable games are against opponents that never check a rulebook and I never have to double check their knowledge. I just didn’t expect that approach to define my friendships as it has.


  • bob82ca

    This is an interesting article written by “that guy”. War games are not MTG. MTG has tight design and game balance. 40k and AOS barely have any balance between the codexes. You go to the tourney, you have fun and show off your army, you try to win with what you got, and YOU BE A GOOD SPORT. This is just my opinion but if you min-max a cheesy list, that’s marks off for sportsmanship. If you make a big deal about a player forgetting his stupid warlord power (which is a no-brainer to use every time), then you’re just straight up being “that guy”. People that go to tourney’s with the mindset that it’s Friday Night Magic are what’s wrong with the scene. I’m not saying don’t try to win, but what’s to brag about if your opponent is a heavy underdog before any dice are rolled. Winning proves nothing when you’ve taken a Necron Decurion and your opponent is fielding Sisters of Battle. The author should switch to Warmachine if he doesn’t like the looks he’s getting/ or starts to see a trend that nobody wants to play them.

    • Randumbwon

      1) Labelling someone right off the bat isn’t nice. 2) You’re right about two game systems being different! 3) Now you’re telling someone how to enjoy themselves in a game; I don’t think you’d enjoy that if it happened to you. 4) With what you say and how you emphasize it you’re implying the author is not a good sport and impugning his honor. 5) Once again a poor label, which proves you took nothing from the actual post asking people to learn the rules to a game they play. 6) Saying people are wrong for enjoying the game a certain way is divisive and gives the impression you “know” how best to enjoy the game. 7) Noone mentioned bragging or underdogs except you. 8) Why are you making examples to back up a claim you brought up out of the blue that is irrelevant to the discussion? 9) It is extremely rude to tell someone they should stop playing a game they enjoy and spent money on because you don’t think they are enjoying it the “right” way or that he has no friends in 40k. I’m not sure you even understood the article because you’re writing from a very confrontational and illogical standpoint. You immediately go off on at least three separate tangents with degrees of relevance from strained to nonexistence to the topic at hand. Were I to offer advice to you, I’d say take a step back and rethink what you’re really discussing here so you can focus your arguments.

      I really enjoyed this article. It brought up several points that need discussed in the hobby and are somewhat ugly territory when done so. If you’ve never gone to a tournament there is no ingrained social agreement between new people and proper rules and etiquette go a long way towards the respect and fairness we all should have during any game.

  • Malevengion

    I have to respect the author’s point. If you’re going to play in a tournament where winning or losing really means something then bring your A-game. If you make mistakes that you have to take back or if you need to take sloppy measurements and “misremember” rules to win you should just go home. You’re not ready to play in a tournament.

  • dave long island

    “Know the rules”… Pffffftttttt…. Smacks of effort…

  • Rieks Visser

    Also coming from a ‘serious’ MtG background, I can relate. The rules are the canvas for the game, the baseline that makes each player equal. It’s the challenge for every player to build an army or deck that handles all challenges while dishing out damage. There’s a big role for sportsmanship, but the rules are the foundation for everything.