Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sportsmanship, Competitiveness and Gamesmanship

One of the topics I indicated that I was going to post on was Gamesmanship.

Tournaments in the Asia-Pacific region, both Fantasy and 40k, generally include some form of Sportsmanship scoring. Over the past ten years this has evolved from the “Popularity Contest” where you score a mark out of 5 depending on how well you entertained your opponent to the current iteration which is more a checklist of behaviours. The key thing with this is that in this latest system the default score is full marks and a TO will generally check up any dropped points to confirm validity.

The first system was fraught with difficulties and it was obvious some people used it as a method of punishing opponents who beat them. I remember being marked down by one opponent, who was known as the Twin Torpedo (regularly gave out scores of 0/5) because he felt it was ludicrous that Noise Marines could take “Infiltrate” – because they are noisy. Well, that was the excuse he gave anyway!

Anyway with the evolution of Sports scoring to the checklist system, pretty much all the shenanigans of the early system are history. As a TO and a player, you find that when people have to justify giving a negative mark they are pretty careful in giving them out.

In the past three years I believe I have only given out one negative mark for sports – and that was for slow play. The player involved was in a poor position and therefore actively limited the number of turns we got through. I deduct a sports point for slow play – and indicated to the player that I had done it.

So we have moved to a situation where expectations of sports have moved from entertainment to where they now are set up to only punish negative behaviour. It is now possible to be competitive (strive to win) without being unsporting (negative behaviour).

Which brings me on to Gamesmanship.

To me Gamesmanship is that area where you stray from “Competitive” to where you are threatening to become “Unsporting”.

I have dropped Sports points at one tournament in the past three years. At this event I had two opponents feel that my actions were evidence of gamesmanship.

The first instance involved a game (2nd Round) against a GW store employee. During the game he charged his Chaos Dragon into a unit of Wraiths. Without a magic weapon neither the rider nor the dragon could damage the Wraiths, who inflicted wounds and eventually ran him down. Nothing was said during the game, which I felt was really enjoyable. Over the rest of the weekend we ran into each other a few times and it was always cordial. After the event I found I had dropped three sports points and spoke to the TO to ascertain whether I was losing points from single or multiple opponents and - given the checklist system - in which areas [As an aside I would encourage anybody who loses sports to follow up with the TO, not as a witch-hunt but to see if there is a common theme. Obviously the TO can’t betray confidences/anonymity but he can provide feedback].

I found out that I had lost the points because an opponent had made a charge during one of my games and he felt I should have told him he couldn’t wound the models. In short he felt I was game-y and should have been more forthcoming. He was disappointed and felt my attitude was poor.

Now this situation is one where I feel in a tournament, I am being “competitive”. In this instance I don’t think it is up to me to point out the flaw in his plan. My opponent had a different view and so I took the Sports hit.

The second instance occurred in the last round of the same tournament. Here rather than a Sports hit, my opponent alerted me to my behaviour and spoke to me about how he felt it was gamesmanship.

So what was I doing? During my opponent’s turn I would ask him a question. It sounds innocuous enough however it occurred frequently enough that he felt I was deliberately trying to break his concentration. After a minute’s silence, I would ask him about one of his units or seek clarification on a special rule. My opponent felt that I was sufficiently seasoned not to have to ask these questions and that I was trying to distract him.

In my defence I will say that I didn’t realise the frequency with which I was doing it, the effect that it was having or that I was creating a situation which could be perceived as gamesmanship. Once alerted to it, I immediately understood that it could be a problem and have amended my behaviour accordingly. I am now extremely cognisant of not distracting opponents when deep in thought and will only direct questions where I want clarification during my own turn.

What is interesting here is the different issues and the approach my opponents took. In the first my opponent said nothing and then punished me – I would say unfairly. I will contend the problem was my opponent not my behaviour. In the second situation, my behaviour – although inadvertent – was the problem and it is easy to see how my opponent could see it as straying into the game-y or unsporting. Instead of sports hitting me, he spoke to me and I was made aware of the issue. As a result we had a discussion and learned a valuable lesson.

I know which one I think was the best approach.

So to wrap this up, I think we should always be vigilant as to whether our behaviour strays from sporting/competitive into the game-y/unsporting camp. I learned from the situation where an opponent alerted me to a perception he was forming and amended behaviour accordingly. Where I now see behaviour I perceive as game-y I will endeavour to discuss with my opponent. It is only when behaviour strays into the unsporting or cheating that I would reach for the Sports nerf bat.

So what are your thoughts on Competiveness vs. Gamesmanship? And the best way to deal with it when your opponent transgresses?


  1. This is interesting. I feel that in the wraiths versus chaos dragon situation, you are under no obligation to point out your opponent's mistake - assuming that it was made clear to him before the game what being ethereal meant. Having said that, I would probably have queried his decision. But I would have been doing so knowing that I was potentially throwing away a game-winning advantage due to my opponent's obvious mistake. In the past I probably would have sat quietly and let it happen, but I choose not to play so "hard" anymore. That is not to say that either approach is correct.

    I feel that the move to specific sportsmanship questions was a necessary one, for the reasons you have already stated. It may be that we don't weight these things enough, however. Losing one or two points over the space of a tournament is not a big price to pay for potentially ruining other players' enjoyment of the event.

    As for when I feel my opponent is trying to pull something, it really depends upon the situation. If they're trying to cheat, they're stopped on the spot. If it's some sort of insidious attitude problem, it's far harder to do anything about it.

    I also admit I'm not coming from a situation where I rely upon my opponent to explain most of the rules to me, so it makes my situation easier than someone who is coming in with less experience. Some players tend to exploit opponents like that, and I feel this is gamey and should be stamped out. Of course, the newer player will often not find out what was done until after the game, and even after their sports scores have gone in. Too often I hear of this and it's a frustrating thing.

  2. Well said.
    I've been on the other end of the wraith situation, my opponent let me make my mistake however he did point it out to me at the end of the game. I had picked apart his tyranid army over the game, but he still had 4 tiny units of guants and a tervigon on the objecive. I needed to kill 2 or 3 to win and I tried shooting the gaunts. Had I finished off the last wound on the tervigon instead, it is highly likely I would have won because of psychic backlash. It was my mistake though, and he won.
    Which I thought was perfectly justifiable, and I've never made the same mistake again. Learning and getting better are part of the fun for me, even at a tournament. I have no qualms about an opponent being comptetive, the challenge is an intergral part of the experience. Pitting wills (and plastic) against one another, I want my opponent to be trying to beat me. Overcoming that challenge is the essence of any game or sport.
    Communication can make or break sportsmanship. The pre game chat about terrain, asking if your oppononent has any questions and being open about your armies capabilites beore any dice start rolling helps alleviate dramas later. The post game chat about how things went, different ideas for tactics, and the inevitable bad rolling stories can help even a horrendous loss seem okay.
    Sometimes there are just people who are in the game for different things. WAAC. Fortunately I can only remember one player I didn't enjoy playing against, just have to move on to more enjoyable games because life's to short for bad wargaming.
    I really like the checklist system being used currently. Nice way to keep people honest and help the social side of wargaming flourish.

  3. Its a bit sad that a GW employee didn't know about Ethereal... :(

    I'm a firm believer in learning through mistakes. If you do it once, and get screwed for it, and you won't forget anytime soon. So I won't always (it depends how I'm feeling and quality of oppostion) point out people's actions. I also don't expect anyone to question my actions, or point out that they may be stupid either.

    The other issue about this is the problem of how your local gaming group plays on a regular basis vs some playing some guy from another gaming group.
    For example, Conga-lines: I don't have a problem with them, and regularly use them to my benefit, and expect my opponent to do so as well. However certain people disagree with this, and call it a gamey tactic. Am I wrong, or is he wrong?

    Agree with Ryan though. Always clarify as much as possible before the game starts to make the game roll smoother.


  4. I had a similar situation in a Fantasy game when I first started out.

    I declared I was firing a unit of missile troops with flaming attacks at a unit of Dragon Princes (back in the day when they were immune to flaming attacks). My opponent let me roll all the Hitting dice and all the Wounding Dice before bothering to tell me that they were immune to flaming attacks.

    Letting me declare the attack, knowing it would fail would have been fine. But to let me waste time rolling all the dice, and then tell me - that's pretty crappy.