How to foster the type of game YOU want to play. No matter what type of gamer you are – there is a way!
A guest column by Dr.Bored
I’m going to break this up into a few sections, each focused on a type of gameplay within 40k. This is not a strict set of rules, but just a collection of tips to help guide you to a more positive gaming experience. I honestly do hope that this helps a few of you out there. My main goal, though, is that it cuts down on some of the ‘sky-is-falling’ mentality that seems to surround the game on the Internet.
Let me start by saying that each community is vastly different. The community I feel for the most is that which doesn’t have a large player base. If there’s only the two or three of you, it’s simply up to you to figure out what you want to do on a game-by-game basis. If you’re not good friends, it’s even tougher, since one might bring their competitive list, and one might bring their fluff list, and you just wont be able to see eye-to-eye. But, you’ve invested hundreds, if not thousands of dollars into the hobby, so you feel obligated to use it, right? I hope that the following can help you meet that compromise.
The Competitive Environment
I start with this because it seems like this is what gets people up in arms the fastest, and the easiest.
In my mind, the main way to foster a competitive, balanced environment is going to be to sit down as a group of players and pour through the rules. You will have to make concessions and sacrifices, but most importantly you will have to be mature about it. You can’t throw out the rules that benefit someone else’s army while fighting for the rules that benefit yours; that’s simply not fair, and it won’t foster a proper, positive environment. You will want to approach the rules from an overall standpoint, considering as many armies as you can. If you decide to change the Psychic Phase in some way, how does that affect armies that don’t have Psykers? If you decide to limit the way Battle-Forged armies are built, how will that affect those that want to bring certain combinations and formations? Will it hurt one army more than another? Is the ultimate choice fair to everyone, and can everyone agree?
It’s no easy task, and I feel for the Tournament Organizers that have to do much the same in order to keep their events alive. Feast of Blades, NOVA, and many more events have to spend hours pouring through possible unfair scenarios in order to create as balanced a game as possible, and it’s an uphill battle! 40k is not inherently balanced.
But, there is hope! If you can sit down and write down some house-rules in the interim, eventually the TO’s will start to release the rules they will be using for their tournaments, and then you can just use those! In many ways, your work will be done for you. Since those in your gaming group will be gaming and preparing for specific tournaments, those rules are what you should try to use.
In short, why worry about what the rules look like now? Most competitive events will hammer out their own set, and then you can use those, for better or for worse. There may still be imbalances and oversights, but I’ve only heard good things about TO’s as people. They put a lot of energy and time into their events to make sure as many people as possible have fun, and if there’s some grievous oversight, I’m sure they’d rather learn about it than let it create a bigger issue down the line.
So what can you do, right now, in order to foster a competitive environment in your gaming group? Well, the first thing you could try is to simply think positive. Don’t approach the rulebook thinking about what is or isn’t going to be broken or hacked or ugly or unfair. Approach it from what IS already good. The new rules for shooting and wound allocation by weapon are good, and build upon 6th editions rules. The clarification on Independent Characters not joining units with Monstrous Creatures is good, and many of the other adjustments were really needed for the game. Take what’s good and work with it. Take what’s positive and focus on that. Build from that. Worry about what’s busted later, after playtests, after learning the rules inside and out.
Remember, the update has only been out for a couple of days. I strongly doubt many people have had a chance to put in the dozens of games across hundreds of army configurations needed to make any solid statement that one rule is useless or not. In order to foster a competitive environment, I’d start with playtesting. Playtesting can be a positive, low-stress experience, since nobody is winning anything, and everyone is learning what works and what doesn’t. Make it low-stress. Ironically, make it casual. Let people bring what they want to bring, their lists from 6th edition, their lists from 5th edition even, let them work out what’s different, what points values don’t seem to be adding up, and what doesn’t seem to be mitigating their loss, and then encourage people to try new combinations that might work better. Come back to the table and try it again, with a different mission and a different matchup.
Once your group has a couple hundred games under its belt, everyone will feel more confident about how to proceed.
The Fluffy Environment
This is different from the ‘casual’ environment. I’ve found that ‘Casual’ is too much of a catch-all to describe the various layers of the hobby. You can be casually competitive! I used to be. I used to stick with one army and try to hammer out that one list to make it work in a competitive setting. It didn’t work very well, but that was how I approached the game.
This environment can be very rewarding to some players, and very frustrating to others. It doesn’t take much to tip the scales, or to get too invested in winning when, at the end of the day, you’re playing out a ‘fluffy’ game. There are a few players in my community that have armies that are very specific, like 2nd Company Ultramarines, and they refuse to alter their lists away from what would be canon to the 40k universe. They don’t have any qualms about fighting any kind of list, but they want to stick to their specific canon.
The fluffy environment can be difficult to foster. One competitive gamer can throw it out of wack as he takes the opportunity of a bunch of ‘fluff-lists’ to take his tournament-ready list and roll all across the other players. In order to keep this from happening, expectations need to be set up beforehand, and, as always, maturity will go a long way.
First, try to figure out what you mean by ‘fluffy’. Do you want to play campaigns? Do you want to stick by a specific army and list and strategy? Do you want to create your own history within 40k and play that out? Or do you want something above and beyond the rules laid out in the 40k game?
Campaigns and Leagues are great ways to ‘Forge the Narrative’, and also to get new players into the game. They add new rules and angles to the game you wouldn’t normally see, all with the flavor of meeting weekly or monthly like a roleplaying game, playing out points. The win today isn’t as important as racking up points in the overall game, and that isn’t as important as just having a good time. Some campaigns and leagues are very loose, and are just a certain day of the week where people play certain points games, with the points rising each subsequent week, while other campaigns have whole large maps, encourage fully-painted armies, and log the story as it plays out.
Organizing them, and making sure the rules are fair to everyone, can be a bit difficult. If you have an unbiased party, like a Game Master, you’ll be better off, as he’ll be able to quell disputes. If you don’t have a GM, the next best thing you can do is to come to an agreement with your community on how to settle disputes. The best way I’ve found to do it is to write the dispute down, roll a dice to see who wins it for now, and move on with the game. You can then come back to the dispute as a group and debate on how best to proceed from then on. Over the course of the campaign, you’ll probably end up with a collection of concise house rules that everyone has agreed upon, and this is a good thing! Clarifying things along the way and logging them will help the games move faster, especially as the campaign gets into higher points levels.
Another way to forge the narrative is to do away with the FOC altogether, and focus on the game as more of a roleplaying game. Many people treat 40k like a big, complex board game, but really, you can give a lot of character to individual models, and those individual models can then go on to forge their own histories, racking up kills or getting injured early on, only to come back with a vengeance. Organizing Kill Team games is a great way to do this, and it promotes all sorts of creativity, conversion, and use of models outside of what you would normally see.
As ever, many of these methods of gaming are ripe for abuse, so it will be up to you and your group to inject a positive attitude, and a level of maturity into the games you play. You can sway the way people build their lists by laying down expectations, but don’t be too harsh! Sometimes, people really just want to play with their new toys when a new Codex comes out, and you should let them do that. It’s a great way to learn how things interact, and how to work with them in a narrative game.
Fluffy games don’t have to be small either. Apocalypse is a fantastic way for everyone to get their big toys on the field, and to try out the crazy things they thought they’d have to wait for the next tournament to try. Letting people build whatever they want is very cathartic to many players. It lets them know that their investment in that Imperial Knight or that Revenant or those 9 Monoliths was worth it! Seeing those massive armies on the table is always a treat, and laying down incredible weights of fire while trying to hold lofty objectives can be a challenge even for normally competitive players.
And, of course, there are also other publications and missions, like those found in all the other books that tend to get ignored, like Cities of Death, Planetstrike, Escalation, and Stronghold Assault. The new Maelstrom of War missions are fantastic ways to inject some fluff into a game! Imagine a commander issuing new orders to your units as the fight progresses, and you, as the captain of your forces, have to figure out a way to make it happen. Instead of writing the Maelstrom of War missions off as being unbalanced and unfair, just play with them, and try to laugh it off when you get a bum draw of cards!
As rambling as the above may seem, remember: there are many ways you can foster a fluffy environment, and many of the keys are simply trying new things and developing a story. It doesn’t hurt to put a little emotion into a game, a little history. When your Black Templar lose against those pesky Tyranids, remember that the Black Templar can come right back to try to win the next objective, and forge their history across the gaming table!
The Beer and Pretzels Environment
This is a phrase used often to describe the ‘casual’ game, but it’s a bit more than that. Some will argue that this is how the game is meant to be played, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I do enjoy this type of game more than the others, but there’s a time and place, and depending on your community, this type of gaming may not be for you. That’s ok!
The idea behind the Beer and Pretzels game is to roll with the punches. Think about the people you would want to have a party with. Would you invite the guy that gets angry when he’s drunk? Would you invite the guy that destroys the place when he gets a bit wasted? Would you invite the guy that demands all attention be on him after he’s had a drink or two?
Now think of how the game would be with those types of people. Your angry-drunk wouldn’t be very fun to play against since he’d take everything way too seriously. The guy that loses control wouldn’t be very fun to play against as the game would just devolve into chaos. The guy that demands all the attention would probably spend all day talking up his army, and when he starts losing, would start complaining about how broken the rules are.
Those aren’t the people you invite to a Beer and Pretzels game. Those are the people that really, frankly, just need to grow up. It’s not to say that you can’t have fun with them, but there’s a level of immaturity there, and as I’ve said twice now, and I will say it again, maturity is necessary.
What this kind of game IS, though, is relaxed. So what if the Internet says that Mutilators aren’t very effective? You know otherwise, and you want to bring them, so you will, and that’s great! Roll those Mutilators up the table and see how far they can get through the enemy’s line. If they get wiped off the table before they do their thing, that’s ok too! Relax, it’s all just moving plastic guys across a table. No need to get so emotional over it!
Getting into that mentality can be a challenge for some, and if you notice one of your players getting too focused on the game, remind them to relax, crack a few jokes, hand them another slice of pizza and a beer, and laugh. Vent that steam. Shake off those emotions. Work with your opponent to have a good time, instead of against them to try to crush their army.
Fostering this kind of environment can be, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding. This is the kind of environment where lasting friendships are made, and when everyone is having a good time, that kind of feeling is contagious. If you do get that negative guy in your group, call him out. Let him know that his negative feelings are impacting everyone around him. Don’t attack him for it, just let him know, ‘Hey man, I’d appreciate it if you could relax a bit. Take a step back.’
Try to remember, there’s a time and a place for testosterone, and when it comes to the Beer and Pretzels environment, that time is not at the gaming table. If someone wants to proxy their entire army, that’s ok. If someone hasn’t painted a single shoulder pad, that’s ok.
The trouble you’ll find is when someone tries to take advantage of the casual situation. They’ll say, “Oh man, I can take this Unbound list of 9 Heldrakes, won’t that be fun to fight against?”
Be careful. If you say ‘No, that doesn’t sound fun at all, go home’, you’re thinking the wrong way. Instead say, “Sure, you can bring that… if I can bring a bunch of Devastator Squads and say they all have Skyfire for shiggles. Your Baleflamers versus my Lascannons, let’s see what dies first!” and then you have a game where both of you can have fun without crushing the other’s dreams.
Try to think about how to let your opponent have fun, but don’t gimp yourself for the sake of your opponent. It’s a game, and you should be having fun too, but not at the expense of your opponent. The best Beer and Pretzels games are the ones where everyone has agreed on what they’re going to do, and it doesn’t have to be a huge debate. It can be as simple as ‘So, we’re playing a 3v3 game where everyone brings 1000 points and we’re ignoring the allied rules, right? Ok? Ok. Let’s do this.’
YOUR Kind of Environment
If I haven’t touched upon your kind of game, that’s ok! You may want to play the game a certain way that other people wouldn’t think of right away, and that’s great! Please, share it with us! The way you can foster your kind of environment is by approaching it with positivity. Don’t shut people out, don’t shut people down. Inject maturity into the game, promote calm, cool, level-headed discussion where everyone can share their opinion, and then everyone works together to make a good experience. This can work between you and your brother, you and your son, you and your best pal, you and your whole community. When you approach the situation with a positive outlook, you’re going to get a better response, I guarantee it.
And, of course, be ready to make sacrifices. Not everyone will want to play the game you want to play, and you may have to play some games you don’t want to play, all in the interest of fostering friendship. That’s a good thing. If you can find some friends and go around the table playing each others’ games, you have a chance to learn a lot of new things, for everyone to have more fun, and to grow more mature as a result. If you lock yourself into one set way, one method of game, one list, way of doing it, you’re going to close yourself off to some fantastic ideas out there.
You shouldn’t have to give up your kind of game though. Talk with your community, your friends, the other players, figure out a way you can all have fun, and keep it friendly. Nobody’s feelings need to be hurt, nobody should be totally left out.
When someone is left out, they leave the game and the community. They go play something else with other people. Sometimes, that’s ok. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to cause a game to evaporate.
I want to see 40k thrive, and I think that it can do that if we can push for more maturity, and more positivity. I, personally, am not going to be participating in tournaments, or fretting about how broken something is, because I’m working to foster my community to embrace a more casual style of play, a more Beer and Pretzels style, but that’s just me. If you have a type of community that you want to be a part of, go make it!
I hope this helps people to put some perspective into our little game of plastic soldiers. Now go out there and play some games!