Thursday, 20 December 2012

From the vault: Judicious Rulings

A discussion on WargamerAU prompted a friend to ask me what had happened to an article I wrote a long time ago on the club website (it was 2006, apparently). Seems like a good time to dig it up again...

A standard game of Warhammer is between 2 players. However, sometimes there are more than 2 people influencing the outcome of the game...
Recently a player was telling me about a game of Warhammer that he had watched at the club. This game was between two regular opponents, one of whom had always won in the past. Naturally everyone was expecting the same result this time round, but this time things turned out differently. The game was close, and at a critical juncture in the game, a bystander pointed out to the underdog that he was calculating his combat resolution incorrectly. As a result of this revelation, the player went on to record a historic victory. It also upset the eventual loser of the game, who felt that the game had only been won because of outside intervention. Was the bystander right to point out the underdog's mistake?

Am I obliged to correct my opponent when he applies the rules incorrectly, thus disadvantaging himself? Naturally I would point out the failure to apply the rules properly if it disadvantaged me, because then it becomes "cheating", whether intentional or otherwise. But can you call it cheating when getting it wrong penalises yourself?

I suspect that it is all a matter of perspective. On the one hand, you could say that the rules are there to be put into action, and any failure to do so is really a failure to play the game properly. If you follow this philosophy, then players are obliged to point out breaches of the rules (or failure to calculate combat resolution properly), no matter who they disadvantage. Equally, bystanders could feel free to point out the error without fear of arousing a player's ire, as the rules are there to be applied by everyone.

On the other hand, you could argue that applying the rules properly is one of the challenges of the game. There is a degree of skill involved in knowing how to adhere to the rules in order to prevent yourself from being at a disadvantage. Comprehensive knowledge will allow you to best use the rules to your army's advantage, prevent your opponent from hoodwinking you, and potentially exploit your opponent's inferior knowledge (entirely legally, of course). It is the responsibility of a player to know how to play by the rules, and the onus is on them to prevent opponents from cheating, rather than from cheating themselves.

The differences between these two arguments are largely competitive. The first attitude supports a level playing field for both players, thus providing for what will hopefully be a balanced game. The second attitude favours the stronger (or more knowledgeable) player. It is a competitive stance, placing the responsibility on each player to effectively defend himself from being beaten by the rules, or their lack of knowledge thereof. Survival of the fittest and the like.

You might argue that the second stance is one that is well-suited to tournament play, whereas the other is better placed in a "friendly" environment, such as at a club, or at home. Normally the atmosphere of these environments is different, and the stated aim of the game is potentially different, too. Sometimes it might be more difficult to decide which atmosphere you're really playing in - you might be at a club, but playing a very competitive game, or you might be at the tournament to enjoy yourself, meet people, and not necessarily to do well. What do you do then?

It is worth noting that pointing out when a player fails to apply the rules properly is not the same as telling them what to do. Whatever the player does within the scope of the rules should be their problem, and outside intervention would normally be inappropriate. It is entirely possible to play by the rules, but play very badly. This is a skill-related issue that few would bother to argue.

I would prefer to embrace the stance that rules are there to be obeyed, whether it is in your favour to do so or not. I see no real problem with pointing out to a player that he has miscalculated his combat resolution, and would like to think that I would not be too upset if a bystander did the same for my opponent. If I manage to calculate my own score incorrectly, or am using a rule in the wrong way, I would like to know (even if I do end up losing the game as a result). I might be frustrated because of it, but it will be the result that disappoints me, rather than my opponent's (or someone else's) intervention itself. I think there is plenty of scope for outplaying your opponent while you are both applying the rules as they were intended.

This is all well and good, but in the heat of a tensely-fought game, will I remember to hold to this resolution, rather than smiling inwardly when my opponent robs himself of his chance to win when he messes up his maneuvering through poor application of the rules? I don't know, but I will certainly try.

Well, there you have it. I'm pretty sure these days I no longer wonder whether to correct my opponent when they get something wrong - I'll correct them regardless. So in some ways, I've won a moral victory over my more sinister past self. It doesn't really clarify the proper etiquette when you're a spectator, however. That's a far more grey area. Certainly in a competitive environment, I think you need to step back and let the players sort things out for themselves. Making yourself do so if a player keeps making "mistakes" that favour himself could test your resolve in this matter, however. If you really think someone is being dodgy, I guess that's where the Tournament Organisers should be involved.


  1. Haha, is that picture implying something?

    1. No, not specifically. That game had a lot of spectators, but they were not so much interfering as witnessing Dave's recurring shame...

  2. if you let your opponent miscalculate a result to their detriment, when you KNOW the proper result.. you are a cheat, plain and simple, you are cheating and not applying the rules correctly.. this shouldnt even be an argument. If you do this you are a cheat.

    1. Absolutely Noaksey! If you know the result, then you are a big fat cheat because the combat resolution involves two parties and MUST be calculated correctly! Totally different if your opponent forgets to charge as you can't assume every unit was going to charge or not, so that's up to the individual to remember.

    2. When your opponent is applying a rule incorrectly it is your duty to point it out no matter whom it may harm. To do otherwise is to cheat. In a friendly game environment it is everyone's duty to get the rules right. (It SHOULD run the same way for tournaments as well.) If bystanders point out to your opponent that he is miss-figuring that shouldn't bother you. Win the game with your skill and tactics - not with your opponents ignorance of rules minutia.

      That said - I HATE kibitzers who vulture over a table pointing out things like missed charge opportunities or other tactical possibilities which are overlooked or un-thought of by players. I also HATE being forced to ARGUE rules with game-vultures who are not playing the game. Go play your own damn game and leave me alone!

    3. I agree I absolutely despise it when bystanders point out things I could of done better!

  3. I totally agree with the above comments.

    It sounds as though the more experienced player was taking advantage of the 'underdog's' naivete. Although the player should endeavour to be familiar with the rules, I feel that, even on the tournament scene, the more experienced player should be educating the weaker player, not only on the rules but also in fair play.

    What is worse is when a player is using a rule that is in his army book and is using it incorrectly and in an unfair manner, although this could be either unintentional through misinterpreting the rule, or deliberate. In this case, you can't expect every player to be familiar with all the rules in all the army books, and most players would take the other person at their word, rather than waste time (not to mention questioning their honesty) checking the ruling if it sounded a bit dodgy.