Social Gaming (Playing well with others)

By Marcus T.

My first exposure to miniature gaming was in middle school. Chronologically, this took place around 1992-1993.  At the time, I was dabbling in tabletop RPG’s and assorted video games.  Then I went to my friend Jon’s house and it all changed.  He mentioned some game that his older brother was playing in the garage, and we ventured out there before long. The  were  just setting up a game of Warhammer 40,000 2nd Edition. (the game is currently on it’s 6th iteration)  The scene was like something out of a movie.  At first I thought I was looking at some crazy uncle’s elaborate model train diorama.  The table was easily 8 feet in length. At the end closest to us were rolling hills covered in light forestation, leading to a river winding through the table half.  Across this crystal blue ribbon was a forward firebase brutishly dug into the lovely green of the riverside, allowing the imperials a commanding view of anything coming down the valley.  I say valley because the other end of the table rose to a sub-alpine forest at the base of a mountain that rose two and a half feet above the base of the table. In miniature game terms, this is friggin huge terrain.  Not to mention it was a navigable mountain, with switchbacks and a plateau on the far side perfect for an artillery park. (the player on that side of the board actually used it as a launch pad for his myriad jump troops)

I want to set the scene here as it is pivotal in understanding this hobby.  Following my eye popping first look at the table, I was delighted by the quality of their models.  Closest to me was a fellow I came to know better over the next few years, Seldon Norman.  I don’t know if he is still around but I blame him for my miniature wargaming bug.  He used a combined force of Imperial Guard and Blood Angel Space Marines, versus the brightly colored Eldar warhost belonging to my friend Jon’s brother (name lost to the ages).  The table was immaculate, the models were all lovingly painted, and a fantastic story was unfolding in front of us. The cinematic quality of the battle was palpable. A hobbyist’s dream.

20 years later, my favorite thing about that Saturday afternoon is not listed above.  I’ve come to realize that the most memorable quality of that game was the courtesy and consideration of the players.  They agreed to keep army lists secret from each other, trusting that there would be no threat of cheating and waited excitedly to see what the other would bring to the table.   They even took turns leaving the garage to allow the other to deploy his troops in secret. I recall one instance where Seldon pointed to a copse of trees and exclaimed, “YOU HAD SNIPERS THERE THE WHOLE TIME???”  His delight at being cunningly outmaneuvered matched his dismay at what was about to happen to his troops.   There was no trash talking or aggression other than friendly banter and polite reminders if the opponent forgot to move a particular unit.   They helped each other to provide the best game experience possible.   Not for a moment did they consider winning by taking advantage of the other or using some strange loophole in the rules.  Neither fielded armies that would be considered weak, but they were not powergaming.  They used very well rounded, sensible forces that fit their play-style AND fit the spirit of the games background.

Looking back it seemed that they were fencers, politely engaging in a friendly match interspersed with sips of tea and a jaunty British accent.  They were totally committed to destroying the other, but would never sacrifice mutual respect to do it.

What the hell is the point of this you are likely asking at this point.  Well I’m glad you asked.  Since that fateful day, there has been a development in the gaming world. I’ll call it “Competitive Jack-assery (CJA)”.   This is condition, marked by excessive internet research, over indulgent dice calculations, and in severe cases cheating has become more prevalent in the modern gaming paradigm.  Perhaps it’s the demographic.  Are the cases of CJA happening because the average age of the gamer is getting younger?  Is the immaturity of youth to blame?  Perhaps it is the game developers allowing and even encouraging competitive level tournament play.

We are slowly forgetting the point of games like Warhammer.   At no point should anyone feel the need to cheat at a game like this. What exactly would the point be?  At least in major sporting events there is money to win.  At the tournaments my group regularly attends, there is a box to check on the scoring sheet for each game that if marked indicates that you had an enjoyable game with a noble opponent.  This shouldn’t be on the paper because EVERY GAME should be enjoyable and had with a noble opponent.

The OBJECT of miniature wargames is to win, defeating your opponent and scattering his forces to the four winds.

The POINT of miniature wargames is to have a good time, engaging a fellow hobbyist in a mutually enjoyable match.

It is also important to know what to do if, despite your best intentions, you find yourself at a table with someone suffering from CJA….but that is a story for another time.

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