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Friday, July 20, 2012

Self-imposed Restrictions - The Competitive Player

Hello, Nikephoros checking in.  Most people who consider themselves to be competitive gamers, whether cards, wargames, or video games and so forth have heard of and read the articles by Sirlin.  They are justifiably classic and well worth the time to read.

One of his topics was the difference between competitive gamers and “scrubs.”  Most people associate the term “scrub” with bad players or newbies or some other pejorative concept.  However, Sirlin defines it differently, in a way that I think is very illustrative, especially in regards to our hobby.

He says, "A (Scrub is) player who is handicapped by self-imposed rules that the game knows nothing about.  The scrub would take great issue with this statement for he usually believes that he is playing to win, but he is bound up by an intricate construct of fictitious rules that prevents him from ever truly competing. These made-up rules vary from game to game, of course, but their character remains constant."

This applies to so many 40k players who consider themselves “competitive.”  Myself included in that.  I am 100% guilty of setting artificial rules for myself. 

For starters, I will only play with painted models.  This means that any lists I take for a tournament have to be settled far in advance, and leaves very little room for last minute changes based on new information.  This is probably the result of an OCD thing, but I would rather play a suboptimal list than play an army with one unpainted unit sticking out like a sore thumb.

Secondly, I will only play Codices and units that I find aesthetically appealing.  In relation to the painted unit concept, if a unit or army doesn’t look cool, or isn’t fun to paint I will have a great difficulty playing them.  I think this particular precept is applicable to most 40k players: we all play the armies we play because we like the ‘cool factor’ of the models, paint scheme, or simply the feel of the army’s rules.

Third, I really enjoy symmetry in my lists and I will go out of my way to play a list that has a symmetrical aesthetic.  This means no random one of units and no allies that appear out of place.  In 5th Edition, this wasn’t a big deal, since maxing out your FOC with the best units in your codex was usually the right thing to do.  In 6th, it appears that choosing not to play allies results in a sub-optimally competitive list for the vast majority of armies.  Frankly, I would rather play a suboptimal Space Marine list than playing a list with, say, Eldar allies that stick out like a sore thumb.

These rules are entirely self-imposed, and judging by Sirlin’s standard, it means I could never be a truly competitive wargamer.  The player who, in the interests of playing the best possible tournament list, is willing to play unpainted units, or play with armies that he doesn’t even like, with allies that appear out of place will always have a built in advantage going into the tournament.

And I’m OK with that now.  I realized that while I do get a great deal of pleasure in winning in a competitive setting, I’m willing to trade a win or two in order to play a list or army that I love.  My net happiness at the end of the tournament will be greater if I go 6-2 with an army I enjoy than 8-0 with an army I hate.  It did take some introspective thought to get there, but once I did I was able to make peace with that and be happier in my knowledge that while I am still trying to play as competitive as possible, I’m not doing it in a way that will compromise my overall happiness.

Since I feel like the artificial restrictions and self-imposed limits are something that a lot of wargamers have, I imagine it would help others to think about that topic introspectively, and perhaps reconcile in their head the competing desires to win and to play an army they completely enjoy.  Or conversely, to decide they want to be truly competitive; determining which self-imposed limits are holding them back which they never considered, and removing those mental blocks.

So what camp do you fall into?  What self-imposed rules have you established for yourself?  Are you happier playing one way or the other?

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