40K Op-ed: What IS the Role of Judges?

What is the real role of judges at major events?

Recently there was some drama at a major event. This is not the first, nor last time, there has been some sort of drama around a big event. From accusations of poor sportsmanship, to cheating, to illegal lists issues have come up in many many events over the years.

Now it is fair to point out that normally these issues only negatively effect a small portion of the event’s attendees. Most players get through events with absolutely no issues whatsoever. In addition, many of the issues are unintentional and honest mistakes. They often only get brought to light due to the increased scrutiny placed on the top tables. Still, issues do arise, and they do alter the results of major events. Because of this there has been a lot of debate about how to deal with cheating, slow play, illegal lists, etc. at major events. One thing that needs to be addressed is the role of judges. Lets take a look at a couple ways they can act in a game.

Judges As Arbitrators

Traditionally judges have taken a very hands-off approach at events. Judges are generally there to answers questions, settle debates and make rules calls. They tend to be reactionary rather than proactive in their work. Unless players call them over to rule on something they will stay out of a game and not get involved. Judges at most events do not watch games, and are not there to force people to play within the rules.

It is largely expected that players will self regulate and keep each other honest. If one player has an issue with something the other is doing, it’s up to them to call the other player out on it. It’s only if the issue persists after this that a judge would be called. While there have been cases where an event had a “problem player” that got a judge assigned to watch their games this is rare.

Judges As Referees

It is possible that judges could start acting more like referees. In many other games and most sports, the judges or refs are there to take a proactive part in the games. Their job is to the watch the games and call out mistakes, illegal moves and even unsportsmanlike conduct. This is a very active role, where a judge would be inserting themselves into games. While it would be hard to pull off, this kind of judging would help cut down on issues.

What if all tourny judges had to dress like this!

Not Enough Judges

One issue this more active type of judging would run into is a lack of judges. According to reports LVO, the most recent large event, had about 7 judges for around 460 players. That’s around 1 judge per 65 players. Now I personally feel that’s far too few judges no matter how you want to run your event. But in particular with that ratio there is no way your judges can do anything but address people who come to them. One judge can’t activly watch 32 games at once. You’d need a lot more judges to make it work.

Finding judges isn’t always easy ether. Good judges are knowledgable about the game, its rules, and are confident. Generally these kind of people are going to be good players. Good players that are going to want to play in the event itself. Asking 40-50 good players to judge an event is not only unfeasible but it could hurt the event’s attendance.

The Internet Judges All

Playing into all of this is the internet. With the rise of streaming many of the top games at events are watched by hundreds or thousands of people. All of these people are going to catch mistakes and errors the people playing the game are making. I’ve seen it happen in person as we streamed local events. Most of these errors don’t bother the players and are minor but are called out by lots of people watching. It’s easy to go from this kind of environment to thinking that tournament players are all cheaters. While the internet can catch a lot of mistakes, they can’t be judges, they don’t always have all the info and ultimately its not the place of the watchers or the people streaming to interject themselves into the live game.

No One Plays 40K Right

Looking back on the all of 40K I would bet there has never been a 100% correct game played. Not once. Every single game has had mistakes and errors, or players have misinterpretated a rule, or chosen to play it one way. 40K is a big complex and imprecise game. There is a reason they have a rule for dicing off on issues.

Most of these issues have no real effect on a game. Most of the time the players are fine with what is going on. Because of that it most likely fine if things aren’t done 100% correctly as long as the players agree on it. Oversight from the internet will never be a viable option.

A Good Solution

The fact is most players go though events with no issues. Many players never talk to or need a judge, and most that do might have a single interaction during the course of 5-6 games. That is fine. As long as players are having a good time it doesn’t really matter.

However when you start getting to the top tiers of events, with prizes and pride on the line, you do start running into issues. Up there you can get a lot of questionable play. From slow play to “forgetting a rule”, to outright cheating, it all happens. I think it would help a lot of events to have some very proactive judges watching the top few tables. These judges would interject into the game, with the job of keeping games moving and ensuring that the rules are followed. This would not only help with issues like cheating and slow playing (is there a difference?) but also help provide for a more uniform and balanced experience.

~What role for 40K judges would you like to see at big events?

  • Snord

    To judge, of course. They are the law…

    • Nyyppä

      As much as I agree, but they are far, far from being always right or even fair.

      • ZeeLobby

        Haha. Pretty sure it was a judge dredd reference (though yours may have been as well, damn internet).

  • Alex Peña Sevillano

    While the argument for not acting as referees is obvious. Using swiss system or similiar creates top tables, and the judges should be watching those while aswering to questions from other lower tables. This way, tournament deciding douchery is less likely to happen.

    • marxlives

      Or just don’t give money and/or prizes for those events. I think for Iron Gauntlet you get a trophy and basically bragging rights. You can crowdfund sponsorship but when people are not fighting for money or prizes the incentive for dishonest play really plummets and the sportsmanship goes up. I think you can have a tournament with money and prizes rather than trophies but I think those need to be invitational events only where you can actually have enough judges to handle the event.

      • Koonitz

        Before I comment, please note that I’d much prefer this. I’m not a tournament goer as a general rule, and the attitude of tournament goers (especially when prizes are at stake) is probably the biggest reason why.

        The other problem with removing prize support is that attendance tends to go down, as well. Some people would be more inclined to go if there’s a chance of winning something.

        Reduced attendance means reduced revenue. Reduced revenue means a higher chance the event does not turn a profit. If the event’s costs are in the red, it costs the event organizers money to run. They’ll be less inclined to run it, again. If the addition of prize support means the event is in the green, they’ll likely do that.

        It’s because of this I tend to be… accepting of tournaments that add prize support. Then again, I don’t attend them, myself, so it doesn’t affect me, either way.

        • marxlives

          The attendance for LnL, where Iron Gauntlet takes place, fluxuates but not in big swings. And 40k has an audience many orders of magnitude greater than Warmachine. That is not saying that there won’t be attendance dip, but if the event is planned around a con to bring in the normies then in the best tournament players will show up.

          From my personal experience with tournament players, the reason why is just that the best tournament players are driven by competition, a love of the game, and recognition. So if they can compete, enjoy the scene, and be recognized that is good enough.

          I mean the $4,000 grand in money is nice, but when you take into the cost of the game, the amount of time spent playing the game to be top tier, and the cost of going to LVO if you do not live in the area, anyone participating is operating a net financial loss and even the winner is breaking even…maybe.

      • Alex Peña Sevillano

        Couldn’t dissagree more. IMO it’s ego and lack of punishment what allows for unsportmanship. I’ve seen people play low on a charity event.

        Ofc without prices a chance some will take the game easier but some won’t.

  • Majere613

    Dress all the judges as Commissars. I’d suggest giving them all water pistols to ‘execute’ cheaters but in the US that could lead to an unfortunate misunderstanding.

    • euansmith

      “Honestly, I thought it was my water pistol and not my concealed carry!”

      “Oh well, that’ll teach him not play slow.”

      “Yeah, sic semper tardi ludio.”

      “Don’t sweat it, dude, it was a righteous kill.”

      • Apocryphus

        Trust me, it wouldn’t be an accident. 😛

      • HeadHunter

        This will, no doubt, be the funniest thing I’ll hear all day.

        • ZeeLobby

          Is it scary that on most days they come from Euansmith?

          • LankTank

            He is beginning to concern me. Isnt this site just for the bitter?

          • ZeeLobby

            Haha, there’s bitter ones, and fanbois, but they all eventually leave. The ones that stay have great discussions. Euan is one of those who can conceded a point while still having fun. Truly rare on the internet these days!

          • HeadHunter

            I really like the guy. If he lived around Pittsburgh, I’d buy him a beer.

  • I_am_Alpharius

    Judges? Referees? Arbiters? When you need any these for to play game of toy soldiers, then you’re taking it waaaaaay to seriously.

    “I would bet there has never been a 100% correct game played. Not once.”

    Really? You believe that? What a ridiculous statement.

    • Rob brown

      Not so ridiculous. In my experience the people most confident that they do everything right in life are usually the ones who have things wrong.

      As Warren Buffet says “put a cop car on anyone for 500 miles and they’re going to get a ticket.”

      • Muninwing

        if you play in a tournament, then you’re doing it wrong, apparently?

        the fact is that, while it’s just a game, anything can be played on a serious competitive level. it’s actually a logical fallacy to reduce it with the “it’s just a game” comments.

        i’m not actually terribly competitive, but i respect competition for what it is. the “it’s just a game” thing is crap, and it’s utterly useless to the situation as well.

    • Apocryphus

      The fact that there are 40k tournaments at all means the game is being taken way too seriously. Tournaments need judges, pure and simple, without them the entire event devolves into a bunch of adults acting like school children and arguing over little toy soldiers. Even just the fact that a judge could be called at any time is enough to keep most players honest, which is part of why they rarely have to be called.

      • Muninwing

        there’s a difference between “seriously” and “way too seriously”

        and while it’s a game, it’s also one that is fairly involved, and takes skill and knowledge. people who are good at such things might like to be able to see just how good.

        not sure why that deserves the disrespect it gets.

        • Apocryphus

          I have no problems with competitive gaming, and right now 8th is being built with the competative audience taken into consideration, so it’s more appropriate to have tournaments, but Warhammer (the overarching everything of both games) wasn’t designed that way to begin with, players started getting very serious about the game and the tournament scene sprang into existence, Slaanesh style. Now, more the point I was trting to make is if you’re going to play this game in a serious, competative environment, there have to be checks in place to keep everyone honest. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need judges, but we do, and it has nothing to do with taking the game more seriously than the level already required to play at tournament level.

    • orionburn III

      It’s a wee bit hyberbolic. I get the intent but it would be better to say X percentage of games likely have at least one mistake made.

    • Fergie0044

      I could believe that. Plenty of times after a game I’ve realised I forgot to apply some beneficial special rule, warlord trait, buff etc. And those are just the times I realise. Times that by two and I’m sure every game features a number of little mistakes like that.
      Of course it’s my own stupid fault, but it does lead me to thinking that the amount of times where i played my army 100% correct, applying every rule as it should be, would be very low.

    • ZeeLobby

      For 40K I’m in total agreement. When you’re a step up from army soldiers on the living room floor, it seems kind of silly.

      • euansmith

        Matchstick Guns do not lie! Pew! Pew! that guy’s dead!

  • orionburn III

    While I understand having judges act as referees may sound good on paper look to any sport and see how much love they get. There would be way too many times you’d hear claims of a judge playing favorite to one oponent, missing a call on one player but calling it on another, and so on. Having “referees” would do more harm than good. IMO if you’re playing in a tourney, especially at the top levels, you should be able to identify mistakes your opponent makes and catch them yourself. You shouldn’t need somebody to babysit your entire game. We all make mistakes (myself included at tournaments) and the majority make those mistakes honestly. Cheaters will always find a way to cheat.

    • euansmith

      Twitch feed every game and let community opprobrium act as the enforcement mechanism?

      • LankTank

        Have a twitch vote for the best player and the biggest tool.

        • euansmith

          Lets keep this clean shall we? No nobs and choppers on the playing area.

    • ZeeLobby

      Honestly I think it depends on how the system approaches judgement (or how well the rules are written). All I know is almost every infinity/WMH event I’ve attended, the judges have been greatly appreciated and even welcomed for the table to do a ruling. Not sure if 40K is full of cheaters or just whiners, but it’s the only game where I’ve had opponents get angry for calling over a judge for something questionable (usually they’re also receiving the benefit of said question).

  • Simon Chatterley

    I like to look at how Golf works as the perfect way to “police” an event.

    Caveat: I know this isn’t practical for a 40k event, more the dream I guess!

    So in golf (if you don’t know) every group has a walking referee with them. He is passive and does nothing unless promted by either slow play or when asked for a ruling. He’s not watching for cheating as the honour system in golf means players will often dock themselves (which won’t happen in 40k I wouldn’t think but hey, a man can wish). He will call players if they are slow playing and the whole group is collectively punished for this.

    A rules query when raised is dealt with and the answer respected and moved on with.

    I’d love the top 10 tables at all major events to have something like this.

    • ZeeLobby

      Maybe one day when robotic AI is up to speed. Heck, in WMH you can ask Alexa for unit stats, lol.

  • HeadHunter

    Having judges as active referees would mean one judge per 6 players, at least. That’s the tables to the front and back of you and to either side.
    As for the Internet? Streaming viewers may not be qualified as judges but perhaps they could bring issues to the attention of a judge. this would allow judges to referee more actively without standing over one table constantly.

    • euansmith

      Like a reverse of the line cameras at Wimbledon; where the line judges can ask to see the camera footage to see if a ball was in or out. In this case, the people watching the cameras would ask for a judgement from the Judge. I can’t help but think that, given the vagueness of GW rules and the nitpicking nature of some players, being a Judge would be a thankless task. Like being a Sunday Afternoon League soccer ref.

      • Rufus

        Amusingly one of the judges at LVO is a soccer ref. Takes a special kind of person I guess.

        • LankTank

          A glutton for punishment. Crack out the slaaneshi whips

  • benn grimm

    I’d like for them to not have to spend their time having to watch other people play and get a game or two in themselves.

    • euansmith

      Maybe all players could be required to wear body cams to keep them honest?

      • benn grimm

        As long as they are coupled with explosive collars..;)

        • euansmith

          “It was so sad, his first tournament, and he only went a couple of seconds over his allotted time, and suddenly, boom, his severed head is bouncing in to the enemy’s deployment zone.”

          “Well then, at least he got Line Breaker.”

          • HeadHunter

            In 8th Edition, decapitations do not scatter, however they must land at least 9″ away from the enemy’s head.

  • ZeeLobby

    Judges are great for any competitive system with well written rules that can be clearly dictated. They can be a great tool for better understanding a game and it’s complexity for both players at a table. That said, how they’re received depends heavily on the community and the system being played. Poor rules/players make a judge’s job difficult. Some systems/games are simply more judge friendly and accepting, usually because they’re just better written.

    • euansmith

      Having overhead lasers to project buff bubbles and movement arcs on to the table top could be cool; and to brand cheats.

      • Muninwing

        this is an amazing idea, i think… if competitive 40k got the same audience as football (or even just as hockey) i’d expect these kinds of resources…

        • euansmith

          “Well, we’re at the bottom of the fourth turn, and the big lad from Oshkosh is looking to burn a CP for time out. What’s your reading on the game, Ron Manager?”

          “Well, yes, isn’t it? Two lads. Kitchen table for a battlefield. Refighting the Drop Zone Massacre. Pop bottles for drop pods. Ooh, phraw, you know?”

          • LankTank

            More like “well, we’re at the bottom of the fourth turn, and the big lad from Oshkosh is looking to burn a CP for time out. What’s your reading on the game Tom?”
            “Well Bill, if he can just win this turn he can win the game. Just roll those good dice and win. If I had a game plan in this Bill, it would be to win!”
            Bill: “… uhm… yeah great insight Tom… heres our sponsor”

          • euansmith

            ROLL MOAR SIX, NOW!!! WIN LIKE BIG WINNER!!! WAAC DICE!!! THE DICE OF CHAMPION!!! value of your die rolls may go up and down. WAAC DICE!!! Inc does not guarantee your ability to win. game responsibily

      • ZeeLobby

        haha, yeah, i mean i’ve seen mobile games where you tap a unit, and it shows you like the bubble around them of their effective range, etc. It’d be cool projecting it on the table. It’d also remove all those “I didn’t know they could move there, or go that far!” moments.

        • euansmith

          Of course, the next step would be holographic armies and Wookies threatening to tear your arm off.

          • ZeeLobby

            Haha, and there is where I dunno if it’s too far… Taking away the model side of tabletop gaming kind of turns it into a videogame. It’ll be interesting if it’s attempted with Augmented Reality at some point.

  • Bakvrad

    You know, that there is never a perfect solution, when you realize, that even the Pokemon Videogame tournaments need judges – a game where you could imagine, everything is programmed and work as planed 😀

    Judges at Pokemon tournaments (card as well as videogame) get something you could call a Codex about how to handle specific situations. It’s nice if you can remember all ^^ anyway, it would be nice if such a rulebook for judges would exist for major events.

  • eMtoN

    Really, if you want to protect yourself in a major tournament then you need to know the rules. Not just for your army, but for the armies you are likely to encounter and the game system.

    I’m not advocating cheating as being acceptable in any format, however the player on the receiving end has no one to blame but themselves if they don’t know the rules being used/broken.

  • Davis Centis

    I agree, having judges coalesce for the top tables is a good thing to do. For very large events, you could say “Judges will be available to be called over on any issues. Additionally, the semi-finals and finals will have judges present to watch the games and issues warnings and potential disqualifications if those warnings are not adhered to.” or something like that.

    • TB0N3

      This, and the Commissar outfits are the best conclusions from the thread.

  • Muninwing

    had a great example of Judges getting involved as an important factor…

    played in a tournament once, and the single most frustrating player ever was my second-round opponent. his daemon princes had feathers jammed into them to represent wings, his stuff was dubiously WYSIWIG (obviously picked up a few days ago on ebay and fielded as-was), generally a mess. but his attitude was… i don’t know, bratty?

    he would misquote rules, as in claim that they were nothing like their actual use. he would force me to look up every interaction, and read him the text, sometimes more than once, so he would finally understand why he couldn’t do what he wanted to do.

    we got into an argument at one point because he told me he was going to move so he could shoot at one of my units — that was still out of LoS. i shrugged. when it was his shooting phase, i had him look for LoS, and he got mad because “you told me i could shoot at them!”

    another point was because he moved his defiler behind his rhino, saying that he was looking for cover… and i again shrugged and said “alright.” but in my next phase, i shot at it — because it was clearly not in the cover.

    another, we both had units in cover. apparently, his could shoot at mine, but mine couldn’t shoot at his.

    at the very end, i finally got enough wounds to kill his DP. he tried arguing that i’d done one less wound. the judge (and store owner) came over, and said “honestly, i’ve had to listen to your game for the last two hours. i’ve gotta side with (me) because he’s been right every other time, and he should get the points for being patient”

    • euansmith

      A “Most Patient Player” trophy would be cool.

  • Erich Schoenholtz

    Throw down your weapons and prepare to be judged…I heard that somewhere once…

  • fenrisful2

    Just mount a camera above every table, this way you can both get an audience from streaming the game.

    Then one judge watches a couple of these as a referee, while another judge goes to the tables and point out crucial errors.
    This walking judge could also be called upon as an arbitrator.
    Next game these judges switches roles.
    Stream audience could then also call out errors to the referee, in a chat something that can be done if the referee has got the time.

    The cameras could simply be webcams or phones on selfiesticks, nothing too fancy. The gaming tables could have sockets for selfiestick or simply mount them on or from the lamps.

  • LunarSol

    Two things are needed:
    1. Judges absolutely need to be more active on the top tables towards the end of the event. It’s just common sense.
    2. Players need to utilize judges more readily and come to see them as a public resource and not as a form of enforcement. Rather than spend any time arguing a rule, its best for players to call the judge immediate, get a ruling and play their game with minimal interruption. If there’s a question, an iffy measurement, anything, call a judge, even on yourself. Eventually that promotes an atmosphere where things never escalate and players rarely feel accused when their opponent asks for a judges assistance. This works out way better than the judge only showing up after communications have already broken down.