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What's Wrong With Winning?
Ferndock Creel: I don’t like playing against Sam.*
*Editor’s note: “Sam” is not his real name.
Kenton Kilgore: Why don’t you? What’s wrong with Sam?
FC: He plays to win.
KK: Don’t you?
FC: Well, yeah, but Sam ONLY plays to win.
KK: What do you mean?
FC: All he cares about is winning. He doesn’t give a s*** about the fluff or anything.
KK: I don’t get it. What’s the big deal?
FC: Take a look at his army list sometime.
KK: He plays Blood Angels, right?
FC: Right. The last time he and I played, he had a Chaplain with the Death Company and everybody had jump packs.
FC: For his two Troops, he had 10 Scouts in two squads of five.
KK: Not what I would do, but okay.
FC: For Elites, he has two squads of Assault Veterans.
FC: He’s got six Land Speeders with multi-meltas. All of them. And for Heavy Support, he’s got three Predators.
KK: Annihilators, or Destructors?
FC: It’s a bulls*** army.
KK: In what way?
FC: That’s not what a Blood Angel army should look like.
KK: Why not?
FC: Why not? Dude takes the cheapest, smallest Troop units possible so he can buy Assault Vets and Speeders and tanks. That’s bulls***. No Blood Angel army would look like that. Don’t you think he should have some Tac Marines in there, somewhere?
KK: Well, if I was playing them, I definitely would. Let me ask you something: what did you have?
FC: I played Eldar.
KK: How’d the game go?
FC: I kicked his ass.
KK: So, what’s the problem?
FC: It wasn’t a very fun game.
KK: Why not?
FC: Cuz he didn’t put any thought into his army. A real Blood Angel army wouldn’t look like that.
KK: There’s no such thing as a “real” Blood Angel army.
FC: You know what I mean. Would the Blood Angels really send out an army of some Scouts and Assault Vets and Speeders and tanks? That’s bulls***, and you know it. Plus his miniatures look like s***. They don’t have three colors on them. It looks like he just spray-painted them red. No detail work, no basing, nothing. He doesn’t even have a name for his army: when I asked him, he said, “They’re just Blood Angels.” Doofus.
KK: How long has he been playing?
FC: Around three years, I think. Long enough to know better.
KK: Ah. So…lemme see if I understand. He ‘min-maxes’ his army, he does minimal painting, and he puts no effort into any kind of story or “fluff” for his army.
KK: So that’s what you mean when you say he “only plays to win.”
KK: Okay, now that I fully understand what you’re talking about…why is that such a bad thing?
FC: Are you high?
KK: Seriously, so what?
FC: It’s no fun to play against him or his army.
KK: So, you were bored when you played against him?
FC: Not really. I mean, it was kinda fun when my starcannons ate his Death Company.
KK: So it’s not like the game was a total disappointment. At least you got to smack him around for a while. I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of winning big.
FC: That’s cuz you don’t “win big” very often.
KK: Bite me.
FC: Seriously, though, I liked winning, but he had a boring army.
KK: Well, there’s no rule that says you have to have a “cool” army to play. I mean, maybe that’s all the effort he wants to put into the game, ya know? Maybe he’s just into it for the victories and can’t be bothered with all the painting and “fluff” and happy crap like that.
FC: It just pisses me off that I go to the trouble of painting up my army really nice and I bring a balanced list that represents the Ulthwe craftworld, and Sam can’t be bothered to do anything with his army.
KK: Well, just because you want to put a certain level of effort into your army doesn’t mean that everyone does, or has to. Some people—especially painters—view 40K as art, some people view it as a hobby, and some people just view it as a game to be won or lost. They see it as not much different from Monopoly or Risk or Clue, you know what I mean? You wouldn’t paint the game pieces that come in the Monopoly set, would you?
FC: You mean like the car and the shoe and the thimble? Hell no. They’re just tokens.
KK: Well, I bet Sam feels about the same when it comes to painting his Marines: “Why bother? They’re just tokens.”
FC: Okay, but they’re not “just tokens.” They’re a big part of the game.
KK: You and I believe that, but maybe Sam doesn’t agree.
FC: Well, it’s bulls*** to play with barely-painted minis.
KK: Different strokes for different folks. If you really don’t want to play him anymore then don’t, but let the guy play his way if that’s what he wants.
FC: Don’t you think that he should put some effort into his army so that his opponents will have fun competing against him?
KK: Why is it Sam’s responsibility to make sure his opponents “have fun?” If I play you and start kicking your ass—
FC: —Like THAT’S ever gonna happen—
KK: —am I supposed to suddenly stop playing well so you can “have fun?” Am I supposed to check with you ahead of time to make sure you like how my minis are painted, so you’ll “have fun?” I hate the whole idea that you have to read your opponent’s mind and bend over backwards to make sure they’ll “have fun.”
FC: So you think it’s okay to act like a dick when you play?
KK: Did I say that? No. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect someone you play to show good sportsmanship. But “good sportsmanship” doesn’t mean I have to cater to your every whim. I think you can have shabbily-painted minis and “only play to win” and still be a good sport. They’re totally separate issues. So if I play by the rules and don’t be an asshole and beat you, you’re just gonna have to deal with it. And the same applies to me if you beat me. Playing to win isn’t an inherently bad thing: it’s only bad if you cheat or act like a dick.
At its core, 40K is a competitive game. This isn’t Dungeons and Dragons, where we all roll up characters and work together to beat the bad guys, folks. When you get down to it, 40K is not much different from chess or checkers: two guys compete, one guy wins, and the other loses. Lots of people like to focus on other aspects of the game, like painting and converting and socializing and writing “fluff” and designing interesting scenarios, but you can’t get past the fact that in the end, you count up Victory Points and someone walks away smiling.
“Playing to win” is not poor sportsmanship. I’ve been honked off a few times during or after certain games when it just seemed like the dude across the table didn’t care about anything but beating me. But once I calmed down, I realized that I was being silly: after all, didn’t I want to win, too? Of course I had. So why should it be okay for me to want to win and not the other fellow?
“It’s not ‘winning’ that’s bad, it’s how some people win,” you might say. Well, that leads me to my next point, which is….
You can win and not be a dick. I’ve played plenty of games where I’ve gotten my butt thoroughly kicked but I had lots of fun anyway. And yes, these were against people who “min-maxed” their army lists, who had shabby paintjobs, and who made no effort to personalize their armies. The games were fun anyway because the people I played were friendly, respected me as an opponent, knew the rules, and were as quick to cheer my successes and empathize with my failures as they were to their own. I was happy to play those people and would be glad to play them again, even if I knew ahead of time that I had no chance against them.
Conversely, there are people I’ve beaten the stuffing out of that I would never want to play again. Why not? Because they whined, they tried to cheat, they argued ridiculous points, they talked trash, they made snide comments, or they were so hyper-competitive that the whole game was very stressful.
Ultimately, I think it boils down to….
People don’t have to approach 40K the same way you do. The sense that I got from “Ferndock” was that, basically, he was annoyed with “Sam” because “Sam” doesn’t play the way “Ferndock” does. “Ferndock” wants his opponent to have a balanced list, a well-painted army, and some creative investment in his army—just like he (“Ferndock”) does. “Sam,” apparently, can’t be bothered with that: he just wants to roll some dice, move some figures, and kick some tail. I think that either approach is fine, and I wouldn’t insist that my opponent revise his army list or go back to the painting table just to suit me.
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© copyright Kenton Kilgore, January 2005
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