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More About What’s Wrong With Winning   by Kenton Kilgore
Jungle Guide Patrick Eibel has been ruminating on “competitive play” in 40K, and he’s got me thinking as well. If you haven’t read Patrick’s editorial, please do so. I share his dislike for certain styles of playing, and I’d like to elaborate a little, because the subject has been nagging at me lately and fueling some discontent of my own.

First off, I still firmly believe, as I stated in my original article oh-so-many-years ago, that people have a right to play the game any way they want to. However, you, I, and everyone else also have the right to not like how certain people play. There are some folks who highly value winning over every other aspect of the game, and I usually do not enjoy playing against them. I refer to these players as “hyper-competitive.” 

Stop Me If You’ve heard This One Before
What is “hyper-competitive?” The stereotypical hyper-competitive (HC) gamer:

  • Only takes certain units in their army; 
  • Does statistical analysis to find the perfect size and weapon configuration for each unit; 
  • Runs the same army list every time; 
  • Uses the results of their games to refine their army with an eye to maximizing efficiency; 
  • Devotes scant hours to painting and even less to creating unique “fluff;” 
  • Parses rules to discover advantages for themselves and stipulations against their opponents, even in the face of what appears to be “common sense” and the “spirit of the game”; and, 
  • Abandons an army once they’ve mastered it, claiming that they’re “bored.”
If any of those characteristics of the hyper-competitive gamer sound familiar, well, it’s probably because you have some of them yourself. I know I certainly do. In discussing competitiveness, it’s important to acknowledge that we all make some effort to win, and almost all of us, deep down, would prefer to win rather than lose. Where I think the HC folks go wrong is the degree to which they take their hobby.

Remember the 2007 New England Patriots? They won all 16 of their regular-season games, won two playoff games to reach the Super Bowl—and just about all football fans outside of New England cheered when the Pats were upset in the last few seconds of the championship game by the New York Giants. Why was that? Because the 2007 New England Patriots were colossal douchebags whose competitive spirit knew no boundaries. They ran up the score in several games, they often did not punt or kick field goals on 4th down even when they were way ahead, and they taunted opponents. For whatever reasons (rage at being accused of cheating? Compensating for letting the Colts come back in the previous season’s AFC championship game?), the 2007 Patriots were hyper-competitive, and to most football fans, they became bullies and villains.

Wanting to win is not a bad thing; playing to win is not a bad thing. All NFL teams—and all 40K players, if they’re honest—want and play to win. As the 2007 Patriots showed, however, being a dick about winning is a bad thing. But what “being-a-dick-about-it” means is different for everyone. What Pat and I and possibly you consider to be “hyper-competitive” (and thus, bad) is, to some people, standard operating procedure, no big deal, just part of the game—even something desirable.  Bear that in mind.

Why Hyper-Competiveness Is Wrong
With that out of the way, here’s why I think being hyper-competitive (however you define it) is a Bad Thing, and no, it’s not because my poor little feelings got hurt and my fragile self-esteem was crushed by having sand kicked in my face by too many mean, evil powergamers.  As a matter of fact, I used to be hyper-competitive, but now I am definitely a “social gamer” who views 40K as an excuse to hang out with my friends, have some beers, and enjoy a good time.

Hyper-competitiveness can be bad for one’s mental health. I don’t think all HC gamers are head cases, but some of the ones I’ve met seemed to have issues. As I stood across the board from them, watching them get worked into a lather over a silly game of toy soldiers, I wondered what was going on in their heads. Why was winning the game so important to them? Did they not like me, and saw the game as a way to “get” me? Did they have perfectionist issues, so that they couldn’t tolerate failure in themselves? Did they need to prove that they were smarter than me, or more manly? Or was it something else? Everyone likes to win, but some folks are a little too invested in winning.

As for me and my HC days, I can remember acting like a total d-bag in many games, of stressing out and saying (and doing) things that I regretted later. It was usually a pride thing for me, or sometimes it was just because I didn’t like the person I was playing against. In any event, it wasn’t good for me, and I had to dial down the competitiveness.  40K is a lot of things, but it’s not worth losing patience, peace of mind, and friends over. 

Hyper-competiveness is a dead-end. Pat mentioned it in his article, and I’ll elaborate on it here. If your goal is to build the most efficient killing machine of an army you can, you’re not going to take Grey Knights, you’re not going to take Thunderfire Cannons, you’re not going to take Ripper Swarms, and you sure as hell are not going to take Eldar Guardians. 

You are going to load up on special characters and lots of vehicles and “Yes, please!” on those very expensive Elite units—and then you’re going to find that you’ve come to a list-building cul-de-sac. Sammy said, “There’s only one way to rock,” and similarly, there are only so many ways to build a “killer army”—and all of your hyper-competitive buddies know it and probably have one just like it. “Be different,” Master Gamer Ken Lacy once advised, and you’ll better your chances of winning—but how can you be different if you’ve painted yourself into the same corner as all the other hyper-competitive guys?


My gaming motto is "Win With Style." The Kurindans have style down, but winning? Not so much.

Recently, I’ve been angsting over some of my armies. My Kurindans look cool, but in their last game, they didn’t kick tail the way I thought they should. Neither are my Dvergar the steamrollers I thought they would be (they pretty much got their tin butts handed to them in the last battle of the Wolf King campaign). I spent a lot of mental energy geschwitzing about what to do to make my guys “more competitive” and “better optimized”—and you know what?  I finally concluded, “To hell with that noise.” Who cares if they aren’t as “good” as they could be? It’s a game, a ridiculous one at that, and I have better things to think about. 


The Dvergar: modeled after the Pittsburgh Steelers but play more like the Cleveland Browns. Oh the shame!

Hyper-competitiveness doesn’t make you as cool as you might think. You slap down your 50 Nobz on warbikes (an extra 20 thanks to your two Warbosses, also on bikes!), all of them with power klaws and Waaaugh banners and Feel No Pain thanks to their PainBoy tag-alongs. You bring this pewter-and-polystyrene terror not because you love Nobz, or even bikes, but because the buzz on the Internet is that Nobz + Bikes = AutoWin, damn the costs in points and local currency. You expect me to wet myself in fear at the sight of your army, and then, after you ream me, you anticipate me gushing over your tactical acumen. 

No, actually, and it’s not because I think I’m so badass that I could defeat your pimped-out Horde uv Zoomy Deff with two units of Scouts and a Whirlwind.  If you fielded 50 FNP Nobz on Bikes, you’d most likely crush whatever I brought in two, three turns max—but you wouldn’t impress me. You see, I don’t think you’re the Sun Tzu of 40K because you can build a one-trick-pony army that will probably be invalidated by the next version of the rules and wind up on eBay or in a landfill a few years from now. If your loins get all rigid whipping up and whipping out such a hardcore HC army, have a party, but don’t expect me to clap like a wind-up monkey for you. If you want to show me with what a great player you are, why don’t you take what you’d consider a “sub-optimal” list and win with THAT?

Some personal perspective: for years, my Dark Eldar were chumps, constantly slapped around by other armies and players. Then I fully-discovered the heinousness that is the webway portal, and I started bitchslapping other people’s armies—not all of them, of course, but most of them. After a while, I wondered if the success I was having was me, or was it just my dirty little trick of popping open webway portals upon folks who didn’t know much about them? Was I a good player, or did I just have a good gimmick (one, by the way, I suspect will be totally negated by the new codex). 

Ultimately, I decided it was the gimmick. When the new codex comes out, I’ll concentrate less on nasty tricks and more on being a better all-around DE player.


My Dark Eldar whooping up on some Grey Knights--thanks to a cheap trick

The game’s not built for hyper-competitive play. No matter what edition you’ve played, the rules for 40K have always been a mess. The designers like to make excuses about how they can’t possibly come up with rules that cover every situation, but I think that’s deflection on their part. What I think is actually the case is that the rules for 40K are designed for casual gaming, where if a question comes up, the participants can agree on a solution using common sense and sportsmanship. Once you get into a tournament or hyper-competitive situation, though, you’re treading on dangerous ground with the rules, because at that point, you’re asking a pony to be a draft horse: it just can’t hack it. 

A Few Words About the Other Extreme
I’ve busted the balls of the HC gamers for a while, but, at the same time, I don’t agree at all with folks who pretend that wanting to win is the Eighth Deadly Sin. I’ve read on forums where people say that they won’t include certain units in their armies because their opponents don’t like them; that you shouldn’t build an army list that your opponent won’t appreciate playing against; or that you should make the other person’s enjoyment of the game your highest priority . Man up, already! If you play that way, then the “K” in Warhammer 40K stands for “Kumbaya.” 

What are we supposed to do—read the other players’ minds? Let them pick out our armies for us? Who died and left me in charge of someone else’s feelings—I mean, aren’t we all grown-ups here? I can’t imagine Pat saying to me, “Gee, I know you hate how my Lootas shoot your guys full of holes, so I took Gretchin instead.” I know sure as hell that I’m not going to tell him, “I know you hate Land Speeders, so I only brought one instead of three.” Fielding a deliberately unwinnable army and claiming not to care about how it fares on the table does a disservice to most opponents, who expect a reasonably competitive game.

What To Do About HC Gaming
“Reasonably competitive”—that’s the Phrase That Pays. There’s a big middle ground between maxxed- out, one-trick pony armies and the flaccid 40K equivalents of Air Supply. I can’t define for you what it is, but I know it when I see it, and suspect you do, too. When gaming, you don’t have to choose between acting like uber-douche Tom Brady or wimpy former Prez Jimmy Carter

But what if you like playing hyper-competitive? Well, if that’s what you and your regular sparring partners like, go for it. It’s not for me anymore, but you paid your money for your army and your rulebook, and you should play how you want. However, if you know you’re hyper-competitive,  the decent thing to do is to let the people you intend to play against know your playing style, and ask them if that’s all right with them. Some people, like Pat, understandably don’t appreciate having their less-than-optimized army grabbed by the throat and curb-stomped. Warning them ahead of time lets them either politely decline or gives them the opportunity to pull out their “kick-you-in-the-oompa-loopas” list. 

If you’re a casual gamer and you’re approached for a game with someone you think might be HC, again, the thing to do is ask what style of play the other person prefers. If you politely decline, you won’t waste your time or the other guy’s playing a game neither of you will much enjoy.

Or you can do what I often do, which is just blow off the outcome. Many times over the years, I’ve played friends whom I hesitate to label as “hyper-competitive,” but who definitely play very well and definitely play to win. I never expect to win against them, and I am rarely disappointed (they usually trash whatever I bring). Instead, I merely enjoy their company (they're great fun to hang with), learn some tactics, and revel in whatever small victories I can pull off (“Ha! It’s the bottom of Turn 2 and I still have figures on the board!”). 

Did We Really Need Two Articles That Said Basically The Same Thing?
Probably not, but just having the one article posted here seemed to be too much like a voice in the wilderness.  There are plenty of websites whose audience is the HC crowd, providing opinions on building killer army lists and perfecting tactics. Even if you are not HC, these sites are useful to visit so that you can learn how “the other side” lives. Meanwhile, we here at the Jungle will continue to be the voice of dissension. 
 

Comments? Send them here.

Posted October 2010

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Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle