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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Principled Defense of Counts-As

One of the favorite topics of the month (well past month now) has been counts-as. We've had a few articles addressing it and even one ready for posting on BoLS (that's a can of worms!). I know you may be sick of it by now but there are a couple more to come which raise some excellent points. Hope you enjoy this in-depth and intellectual look at counts-as!

I would like to begin this article by mentioning five things:

1. I ran over this article multiple times to remove the random sniping and low-blows I wrote in before I sent it to Kirby. If you want me to be bothered to read it, please be civil as well. I've got too many things to do to waste my time punching through rudeness to get at the meat of a response, and while I understand the power dynamics at play when it comes to politeness, I remind you we're talking about playing with toy soldiers here – if you want to make an argument about politeness-as-hegemonic, go make it in an arena that matters. I realize I've made some snippy comments in response to various comments in the comments section. I can only offer in my defense that random posting on my part tends to be more ill-considered than an article I work up three drafts of.

2. I'm going to use 'you' to refer to a person who opposes counts-as in general. This is a broad category of people, and an individual reader may or may not agree with various claims the fictitious 'you' makes. The point isn't to create an opposition figure, it's just a writing device I'm using for the sake of convenience and readability. I apologize if it puts you off.

3. I want to qualify my position: I'm not saying that all counts-as is good. I'm just arguing that the position that it's all bad is incoherent, demonstrates a lack of engagement with the background, and demonstrates poor sports(wo)manship. Basically, I'm arguing that if you want to refuse counts-as, you ought to have a better reason than 'it's counts-as, and thus bad.' Put another way, the arguments commonly made against counts-as are actually applicable to armies that aren't counts-as as well.

4. I'm really very long-winded, and I studied philosophy, which didn't help with that. I ask for your patience.

5. I'm going to sneak in a fifth – I'm from Canadia (and not a linguistic prescriptivist), so don't harangue me about spelling some words with -ise and others with -ize.

Let's begin.

The validity of refusal.

Firstly, I would like to establish one very salient point. When it comes to casual pickup games, nobody can force you to play. You (and I, and everyone else), always has the simple right to turn down a game. We do this for many reasons: maybe I don't have the time, maybe you've got a headache, maybe the person on the other side of the table realizes during setup that they forgot an appointment. Maybe I don't like playing against Marine armies because I find playing against moving bunkers boring, maybe you don't like my counts-as army. Any of these reasons can, and will, have reasons behind them. Ultimately, those reasons will have reasons, and so on until you get to a point where you just believe the foundation is important. We're also very unlikely to actually know the foundations for any of our reasons to have other reasons unless we do some very serious thinking, and even then it's pretty unlikely.

Anyway, the point is simply that you can always say no to a game, in casual circumstances. It might, in some circumstances, be reasonable for someone to ask why you said no, and you might even have a good reason for it. It doesn't really matter though – a game is not really a game if the players are coerced into it.

Now, this isn't entirely true in some other circumstances. Namely, organised play (be it a tournament, league, or campaign), and regular play with people you know. I'll set aside the latter, since, with friends, you'll hash out what you do or don't want to do anyway. If you play with the same set of people, you'll all have to come agree on some level about the conventions regarding all aspects of the game, and modelling/fluff interpretation is one aspect you'll have agreed upon.

In organised play, however, you've made a commitment to both the organisers and the other players that you will play the games you're scheduled to play. The onus lands on you to inquire about what is or is not permitted at the event. I hate to throw aesthetic issues to the dogs of public opinion, but in this case there's no other solution – if you don't like X aspect of the game, then you'll have to find or create or drum up support for an event where X isn't permitted. We do this all the time. Almost all events deny proxies, most demand assembled figures, some demand painted figures, and so on. I see no reason to mandate that organisers do or do not demand the restrictions of their choosing. I also think this is true for comp events, but hey, you don't have to play in them if you don't want to. Obviously, this depends greatly upon the size of the organised events and the scope of them regarding players. At some general open tournament for a given region you'll just have to deal with the fact that you'll be scheduled to play some games that you won't enjoy, for a whole host of given reasons.

This is where things get messy. There are things for which reasonable people will let you off the hook at games. Accidents, injuries, emotional/physical/financial/social troubles, and so on. But asking to get off the hook because you don't like the colours the enemy army is painted in seems pretty shady, if the event organiser hasn't stipulated that the behaviour is not permitted. We'll see further on a case for why opposing counts-as specifically in situations like these is not only unreasonable (which can be debated depending on the contexts of the players), but not actually a coherent argument (which, despite claims made by certain postmodernists, is not context-sensitive).

The argument from confusion.

Perhaps the most common argument that even defenders of counts-as are willing to give ground to is the claim that counts-as is confusing. Now, let me be clear: I don't think confusion is conducive to a fun game.* It's poor reasoning, however, to think that counts-as = confusion. Confusion = confusion. Think of the counts-as armies you've seen proposed on 3++. How many of them say 'erm, the storm bolters are all meltaguns, the plasma guns are assault cannons, and the scouts are arco-flagellants' or some variation? None, frankly. Conversely, in casual games, how often have you played against someone whose veteran squads are represented by the same models as tactical squads? How many bog- standard and entirely decent Codex Marine players don't use squad markings? Moreover, how often does someone say 'sorry dude/lady/other, all the plasmas are meltas because I'm not going to break my figures because GW switched from 4th to 5th\?

All of this is just to point out that confusing things are confusing. If someone puts down red terminators with Egyptian themes and crackling lightning on their polearms, packing two bolter barrels, and tells you 'hey, I'm using the Grey Knight codex, and I can explain the Codex to you', what makes you think I'm going to think you're so stupid that, out of pity, I won't addle your brain with force weapons and stormbolters that are, well, force weapons and stormbolters? Honestly, you or I are much more likely to be faced with that one chap who has 2nd edition Guardian weapon platforms mounting plasma cannons starcannons, and is too incompetent at modelling to pull them off and put scatter lasers on. (Hint: that chap? It's me. And no, you don't have to play me.)

*I also don't think my opponents are incompetent buffoons. I expect that anyone who can be bothered
to get through the rules and learn to play can also remember some details about their opposition (ie,
all the Night Lords with Giant Bat Wings use Sanguinary Guard rules). However, I'm entirely willing models are using. to clarify, repeatedly and at great length, what I'm doing on the table when I do it, and what rules my

The argument from modelling.

This is the fallacious claim that 'counts-as armies look terrible.' In a similar vein to the above, I'd modify it to 'terrible looking armies look terrible.' That's really all there is to it. Some people are good at modelling/painting/converting, others are not. On this note, actually, I'd like to call on those who favour counts-as to can the victim mentality too. There's very little I like about cases where people who agree with me on a statement using bad arguments to support it. It's simply not going to be the case that a counts-as army has any modelling-quality relationship to a non-counts-as army. Where I am, most of the armies are nicely painted, some are heavily converted. Mine are neither, whether it's counts-as or not. (My fat sausage fingers and I would rather spend time grumbling on the internet than practice at modelling, I guess?) The arguments you might launch about counts-as armies (whether in favour or against) on modelling grounds are really arguments about modelling.


That's part one guys from Guestivus, there's a part two coming! A much more detailed and intelligent look at counts-as and I hope to see some good discussion generated from it again!

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