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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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Guest Article: Walking the line: Competitive and casual gaming

By Sethis

I am, at heart, a competitive gamer. I wince when I see people fielding Tri-Las Predators or five Tactical terminators in a Godhammer Land Raider. I die a little bit inside every time someone puts Tau down on the other side of the table to me (joking! Mostly...), I enjoy tweaking my lists to get the most out of them, checking the net for new builds and adding/removing units to make them fit my collection while still following the ideas they are based upon. I have a fair interest in math-hammer and enjoy working out optimal units based on it, which seems to work reasonably well for me. I have great fun at tournaments even if I don’t place particularly well because that’s when I play against other top-end gamers.

You might now be asking “Why are you talking about casual gaming at all?” and the answer is simple – the club I go to every week is incredibly casual. A few of my friends and I have been trying to filter competitive lists into it by process of osmosis for the last few years, but it is still very slow going. To illustrate, one of the better lists has 30 Sternguard in it, all with Combi-Meltas. Ultramarines are common (and not played by children either) and even the most cutting edge codices are generally played with units that “look cool”. There is no unit spam, no 8-Razorback/6-Hydra/9 Venom lists. Even outdated tourney lists like Lash and Nob Bikers don’t get played. Consequently, my tourney Mechdar are still undefeated (although there have been draws) in the last three years against anyone but my friends. There are a handful of players with decent armies, but there are also masses of people with bad ones, and playing the same four people gets boring fast.

This leads me into the main body of my post: How to play casually, competitively. Wait, what? Yep. There have been quite a few arguments over the old internet about casual versus competitive, the pros and cons of nerfing your army deliberately, taking bad units, letting people win, teaching new players how to improve and so on. Everyone has their own view on the best way to play with our toy soldiers, and that’s fair enough. This is my personal opinion.

1. Bad players learn nothing from being massacred. Even if you explain step by step why it happened, someone you tabled by turn 3 is not going to be receptive to criticism, explanations or a lecture on army composition. Human nature just doesn’t work that way. However someone who only lost narrowly (by 1 objective to 0, 1 kill point, whatever) will be much more likely to listen if you mention something like “You know, Long Fangs are better with 4 missile launchers rather than 1 of every weapon”.

2. People will not alter their collections overnight, or because you tell them to. It is their army, and their money. Likewise, people will absorb lessons much more easily if it is delivered in small doses. Telling someone to go out and buy 6 Razorbacks accomplishes nothing. Suggesting that “Your 10 man Grey Hunter squad could use a Rhino, and hey, since you’re getting a Rhino you may as well get the Razorback kit for the extra weapons...” might actually make them buy one the next time they consider adding something to their army. A week later you might see the new Rhino and mention “You know Las/Plas is actually pretty good, and really easy to convert...”

3. The casual player does not have an exclusive responsibility to “catch up” to the competitive player by buying more/better models. The competitive player also has an equal responsibility to “drop down” their army a bit. Instead of thinking “Damn, got to nerf my list with some crappy unit” then you might be better served by thinking “Hey, I’ve never used Guardians before, how can I fit them into my list, and how do I think I can use them well?” You can pick up a squad on ebay (where non-competitive units tend to be cheaper and more available) or something and see how well you can make them perform. See it as an excellent opportunity to try out a unit you’ve never used, give it an interesting paint job or convert it somehow, and then roll it out on the table. Minimal investment is a plus, because you’re hardly going to be using them in every single game.

4. No-one has fun if one player whitewashes the other, unless you’re the kind of person who enjoys clubbing seals and who should therefore be safely removed from the gene pool and shot behind the barn for the good of the species. By having the casual player “play up” and the competitive player “play down” a more balanced result can be achieved, and more fun can be had (which is why we play games, right? For fun?). By adding a squadron of War Walkers to my Mechdar, removing a Fire Dragon unit plus Serpent, adding some Guardians on foot and removing a Falcon (basically making the list slightly worse) then my opponent gets to build a kill pile that is more than one or two Wave Serpent turrets and the odd unit of Fire Dragons. Likewise, his dead pile isn’t 7/8ths of his army by turn 5.

What I need to make clear now is that I am not recommending that you play badly, or let the other guy win, or write a 100% terrible list. What I am suggesting is that you take the time to place yourself in deliberately more challenging situations, which you must then play competently to get out of. This sharpens your own skills outside of the tournament scene – you learn to use units in different roles than you might normally, or play in a style you don’t often do (mech, hybrid, foot, whatever). Pick a unit that is “bad” but you always loved the fluff/miniatures for and try to make it work to the best of its ability. Take three different heavy support choices instead of the same one three times. Here’s the important bit: All the time you are doing this, keep helping other players develop their skills, their army list, and their tactics. A bit at a time, every week. Claiming that you have no responsibility to approximate the level of your opponent is openly admitting that you are an elitist dick, regardless of how much “advice” you try to unload on them during the game where you win by 17 KPs to 1. Your games will be closer, more challenging, and more fun for both of you, and eventually, you will both be better players than you were. I’ll reiterate: This is just my opinion.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to painting my new Daemon army...

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