Monday, August 4, 2014

Fun, the social contract in wargaming

There has been a lot of angst among the commentators on the US warhammer scene recently. It seems like Wood Elves are really shaking up their meta and are seen as "not fun" because they don't play "proper warhammer"

For those not familiar with the US meta, some points worth noting.

  1. they don't play watch tower in their tournaments
  2. they heavily subscribe to the "push it forwards" school of warhammer.
  3. tournaments heavily favour kills rather than win differential
So the high power Wood Elf army in the US is an all cavalry army with a big emphasis on avoidance and Wild riders to the flank. This approach creates situations very like ancient Rome vs the Parthians or Custer and 7th cavalry vs the Indians.

This is a hobby and we do this because we enjoy the collecting, painting and playing with our models. I think we have a social contract with people to behave in a sporting manner and be pleasant. I don't think we have an enforced agreement to play or design armies in a particular way.

To the contrary I think we have a contract to present a range of different tactical challenges so we all learn.

So do people like a variety of tactical challenges or is Warhammer all about smashing toys into each other like my son does?


  1. I'm with you John, and I saw a lot of this at Adepticon where my Skink Cloud truly broke the American "social contract" - at least in the Mid-West where we hear the most from the American scene.

    I only have my Adepticon experience but my perception is a lot of the American scene, despite drawing big numbers, is woefully underdeveloped competitively due to the dislike of scenarios, a bigger is better mentality which favours buses and deathstars over MMU/MSU and the desire for a big fight in the middle. This is reflected by reading American forums where lists are touted as being competitive that could never hack it in the rest of the world and the famous North American video bloggers who leave everyone else scratching their heads.

    Funnily enough though I do think a lot of the perception is because of the lack of blogs/podcasts from outside the Midwest, particularly the New England area where most of the US ETC team (who perform reasonably well) draw from.

    I fully believe you should bring lists and armies which play the way you want to play and expect others to do the same. If you choose to play this game competitively at tournaments, you've got to expect everyone else to be out there to win, not there to just let you push your toys at them and make fighting sounds.

    Just my 2 cents.

    1. Hey dont knock making fighting sounds!

      But yes, we agree to challenge each other and not be a right prat for 2 1/2 hours. Though in saying that I do believe there is a line that the social contract agreed shall not be crossed in terms of the type of army that one brings...we usually define this as "Comp" or "house rules". But if we take the social contract as defined from my experience if I was having a fun club game I wouldnt bring an Epidermus wall of nurgle list. Sure it creates a "new tactical situation for someone to react to"...but is that really what the social contract implies?

      I think the social contact is more subtle than "I challenged you with my mathhammered list of death" I think it can be situational based on local conditions/players etc.

      Sorry for the (50 shades of) Grey

      Joel v

  2. I suppose you also need to factor in who is complaining.

    Is it the previous top tier gamers getting butt hurt because their flying WoC Level 4 Death, Nurgle Daemon Prince can't catch them.

    Or is it the people that want to rock up to a tournament and test their tactical acumen and have run up against the exact same Wood Elf avoidance/wild rider flank list 3 out of 5 games?

    Not a particularly experienced player here but I can see where the tears are coming from in the second option.

    I play VC, I've played a wood elf player a few times and he is running a much more, agreeable list than the multi packs of Wild riders and trueflight arrow caddys. But either way its still annoying, slowly sauntering up the board with the majority of things and getting shot at the whole time. Or if I manage to get like something fast into them (Varghiests, Blood Knights (non optimal I know)), they just get flensed apart with all the re-rolls to hit and god damn ASF it can get a mite annoying.

    Also I just love..... how internet wisdom gives the WR mounts Frenzy, even if there is previous cases in FAQ's where mounts do not get Frenzy, but hey, if I was a woody player I'd probably be arguing for mount Frenzy also haha..

    Any way spiel/bleating over :).

    1. If someone rocks up to a tournament wanting to test their tactical acumen and is unable to deal with what is evidently a very popular and powerful build due to army selection and the way they want to play.....

      They're doing it wrong...

    2. I don't think Nick's point was about the ability to respond to it, rather than playing essentially the same game 3 out of 5 times.

  3. I suppose this is where the social contract comes in doesn't it.

    I could run 2 terrorghiests, huge units of zombies, a couple of level 4 necromancers (1 death 1 vamp, why not) with some extra support necros. Jam the field with huge wads of horded zombies and slowly, turn by turn scream everything to death as I crush it into a corner.

    I reckon I could build a good strong build around that and it would be effective. But at the same time I would readily understand why a person wouldn't be at all happy playing against something like that. I also concur it would be quite boring and wouldn't take it realising its a dick list.

    So this is when you also need to look at people taking the very popular and powerful build, so they can try and win with it which is great. But slowly wandering across the board while they multicharge you with fast cav that can avoid you and rejig for a next turn charge, while the entire time shooting you with arrows that always hit on a 3+ and have a crack and some form of 6 dice pain-train from death, shadow or light...

    I wouldn't say that army requires a whole lot of skill... walk backwards, shoot, run around the side.... wow!

    1. That's exactly what you should do! It plays to your strengths and answers a problem in the meta that you otherwise have. It's still completely beatable and has it's own strengths and weaknesses. It presents a challenge to MSU armies (how to slip around and redirect) but is vulnerable to other blender block armies. Not a dick list by any stretch of the imagination, just a reasonable reaction to a meta shift.

      So what you're saying is:

      Dear Wood Elves, Please don't play to your strengths because I don't want to play to mine? <3 Vampires.

      The problem appears to be that you have come with a preconceived notion of how you want the game to go which takes little account of your opponent's preferred playstyle and wanting to win, rather than an open minded attitude towards playing a competitive game. At the end of the day, I take the position that having fun is very much my responsibility and that I'd be a real sook for being sad about my opponent playing hard and to win.

  4. I'll play what ever someone throws at me, buck up and deal with the filth if I need to.

    More of what I'm saying is I choose not to take crazily unfun 'popular' lists as I believe we should both enjoy a game and I'm happy to give a bit with my list to allow that.

    It's more the issue with everyone leaping onto the bandwagon and taking similar lists. Then playing similar tactics and calling it fun. There is no fun trudging across a field and and trying to some how catch quick and jumpy elves.

    What army do you run good sir?

    1. So far this year I have taken gunline OnG, skink cloud Lizardmen, WoC, Empire, and High Elves to tournaments. I'll be bringing my flying circus Dark Elves to Call to Arms.

      The problem is that fun is subjective...

  5. Ah well there we have it don't we :).

    Takes certain 'strong' builds and relies on "The problem is that fun is subjective..."

    I imagine this argument will be a lost cause, but I find for me to have a 'fun' game it should be 'mutually fun'. If it is a white wash either way I generally don't enjoy it.

    But hey, if taking net-filth is your flavour of fun, go to town brosef :)

    1. I take no account of my opponent's enjoyment when list building, of that you are absolutely correct, and in return I expect no consideration. That said I strive to be a good sport, share a joke and have a beer afterwards with my opponents, and it's nice to have the same from my opponent; that's my social contract....

      If my opponent can't get past the list I'm running even if I'm being polite and friendly, the problem rests solely with them...

    2. Well no mate. If what you bring is in no way 'fun' for them I don't think it is fair for you to say issue sits with them. Maybe you should of taken a more 'fun' list to play against.

      'Fun' for you is bringing what ever you like and damn your opponent.

      'Fun' for them may be playing a 'fair' (so many subjective words rocking in this) game.

      'Fun' for me is taking a relatively fluffy list and going as hard as possible with it.

      'Fun' to sadist is jamming a screw driver down the ole snake's eye.

      As you said, 'The problem is that fun is subjective...' to which I agree.

      I was simply stating mate, that I wouldn't find it 'fun' at all to run up against a large amount of the same list, played the same way by different people all pretending that they are the ducks nuts for using a powerful that has no originality....

    3. What is fair about bringing a list which pretty much says "I am going easy on you mate, I always had little chance of winning/doing well"?

      It implies that you were not taking the game seriously and therefore his victory/loss and tactical acumen/(or lack thereof) for doing so is now worth less.

      I would rather come last in a tournament having tried my hardest with a list I thought would work because I played better players who were also trying their hardest to win instead of coming first in a tournament vs players playing fluffyhammer, who have handicapped themselves before the battle has already begun. To me at least this is fair.

      However if you do want to use all those fluffy models, perhaps a better way to go would be to make more noise about encouraging Swedish comp; you could even umpire a couple of tournaments to get the ball rolling.

    4. Not quite sure where your point is leading there mate.

      Lord knows I'll be taking a list I think is sufficiently powerful, while keeping within my self enforced limits and one that I've enjoyed modelling. I will then use that army to the best of my abilities to have a crack at the top area of the scoreboard. I won't play it softly, I'll do my best to ram it's strengths down my opponents armies throat and try to keep its weaknesses hidden well behind it's mother's skirts.

      I think where people have wandered away from is my initial statement of saying that playing the same avoidance list over and over is boring as hell. I wouldn't mind if someone rocked up with the most heinous list known to man, but it was like, zany if you will, like way out to the left of field and no one had thought of it before...Sweet. Beat my arse good sir.

      But running up against the accepted best build for a certain army multiple times would be boring as sin.

  6. I thought that was another Nick B commenting when I first read these comments. I am retreating from the roof as we speak.

  7. I don't think there are suddenly a lot of wood elf armies dominating the US scene. So I don't think there is much chance of running into them 3 times in a 5 game tournament. Some Us commentators have ascribed the wood elves as "bad for the game" because they don't play block hammer.

    People have built multiple terrogeist and other screamers lists. I've certainly seen 3 on the table. A list like that might struggle against Orcs or combat elves. Witch elves or corsairs would smash zombie blocks and 4 bolt shooters might discomfort a terrorgeist or 2.

    Skew lists often don't win tournaments because they come up against another list which is the counter to their list. Tournament lists are usually designed with a number of plans against different opponents and types of army.

  8. Nice post John. As to everyone else's comments I understand both sides. Personally I bring the models I want to play but do modify my lists knowing that my fav models and builds will often get destroyed by the existing meta. My only issue with the meta tournament wise is when you see 5 ppl with the same army and essentially the same list. I like to see lots of variation at events but also don't have an issue with ppl bringing hard as nails lists. The social contract extends to not ruining ppls day through bad sportsmanship and rule bending etc. But I wouldn't want ppl to "weaken" their lists just to make things easier for me. Play that 3 terrorghiest list if you want I don't mind I'll play it and enjoy playing it as long as yr not a dick and I get to kill at least one of them. I find one sided games depressing and unenjoyable but that's on me not my opponent.

    1. "My only issue with the meta tournament wise is when you see 5 ppl with the same army and essentially the same list." Dwarf players then :P

      Joel v

    2. Haha, ironically dwarfs now have one of the most balanced books in the game!

      Which is good news in itself. :) Take out the runelord with the anvil, a couple of special characters, bolt throwers and, perhaps, gyrobombers, and there is nothing that will not see tournament play.

      If one actually looks back on the 6 Dwarf lists at the horned rat they are all quite different.

      Dwarfs will always have infantry, war machines and anti-magic, all that differs are which infantry, war machines and anti-magic and in what quantity. You do not see Brettonians leaving their knights at home :p


    3. It's hard for Bretts to leave their knights at home when they must take a least one unit.

      Bravo to Dwarf players for trying something different. Now we just need to explain what the movement phase is or introduce scenarios that actually force people to move into the centire of the table or heaven forbid the enemies deployment line.

    4. Yeah some interesting scenarios and objectives would be fantastic, it would really get people to bring more balanced lists. As long as our dwarfs were allowed to bring gyros and strollaz! Otherwise still takes us 4-5 turns to march into the other deployment zone :)

  9. Have to disagree with you Joel. The dwarfs of Karak Manawatu field very different lists and we all have very different approaches to the game.. Thane Richards goes for qwirky msu lists, Thane McCrae has more balanced lists and I go for March up and throw dice lists. Of course Karak Switzer does refuse to leave its castle still. But dwarfs also have fewer options than other books. My comment was actually more about the etc and international scene where quite frankly the lists are just BLAH. Locally at least in Wellington things are really varied as ppls approaches are all different. That's one of the things that makes the local scene down here so good competitively. But I do take yr point

    1. I'll agree with John, you could say that there are 2-3 popular builds for most armies, How many Dark elves are using Helebron and Morathi and Witch elves went from being kept in secluded temples to stalking every battlefield.

      Chaos has been on a massive recruiting drive for candidates for the role of Daemon Prince, no previos experience required and no stronglt held religous beliefs preferred.

      International lists have evolved to fit their Meta and if you don't play scenarios and focus on VP points collected then every army and unit gets evaluated on that basis. With a narrow meta only a limited selections of units and armies make the cut.