On Army Sportsmanship and the gaming Philosophy of Astronomi-con

Posted: April 5, 2015 by Lord Commander Militant of the Imperial Guard in Uncategorized

Okay – something to consider when building Astronomi-con armies etc.

Astro is an event which strongly encourages and supports not just winning games but also painting, army lists, sportsmanship and play which is themed for the 40k universe.

In reality – we can only make just so many rules with the current rules set without making things impossible to understand.

Army Sportsmanship was intended to deal with exactly this issue. What it is asking is ‘Is this army something you would see in the 40k Universe?’ ‘Is it fun to play against or simply something designed to blow the opponent off the table in as little time as possible?’ Etc.

Really – what it’s asking is – is this army fun and appropriate to a game which Forges a Narrative?

At a local Astro some time ago we had a fellow show up with an army which had Necrons allied with Nurgle Daemons. Lots of flying croissants and plague zombies with Helldrakes added in. The player is a good guy but the army? Can you imagine reading about such an army in a piece of 40k fiction? Not only did it take what were, at the time, pretty much the most powerful models from those ‘dexes which would compliment each other, but there was no theme of any kind other than ‘I want to win games’.

And he did win a lot of games. He also got hammered by Army comp sportsmanship and was very upset by it. He seemed to think ‘This army is legal and therefore everyone should be fine with it – people gave me a bad score because they lost.’

No, they didn’t. They did EXACTLY what they were supposed to do with Army Sportsmanship.

The difficulty was that this particular player simply did not agree with the core philosophy of what Army Sportsmanship is about. He expected a good score and was very annoyed that he didn’t get one and truly couldn’t understand it.

This is a difficult thing – and in truth it’s why I’m writing this. The player in question is a good guy – but he has a certain philosophy of gaming that some folks (and I am one of them) don’t share, which is ‘any kind of army is okay as long as the rules say it is and everyone should be okay with that’.

The thing is – while lots of players ARE okay with that, a lot of other players are not, and playing armies of that sort – armies which don’t Forge a Narrative, armies which are simply not fun to have on the other side of the table etc. – these things ruin their enjoyment of the game.

I was chatting recently with this same fellow when I ran into him at the GW store and in that conversation I had a real epiphany about this as he pointed out something I hadn’t realized myself. I’m a family man. I have a partner, an 8 year old daughter, a house which I often need to repair or renovate, 2 cars, a full time job as an Auditor for a multi billion dollar corporation etc. That makes me BUSY. My partner likes to spend time with me. So does my daughter. My work and home and other logistical stuff like my daughter’s school and extra-curricular activities all eat time like nobody’s business.

As such, when I make the (considerable) effort to set aside time for a game I want to ENJOY that game. When I go to a multi-day event that is an even bigger investment of time and resources. If I have a bad game – that is a significant portion of my very limited entertainment/relaxation time squandered, gone and which I won’t be getting back.

Why is that important? Well if I had lots of time and played lots of games, one bad one now and again wouldn’t be a big deal – but I DON’T. EVERY game is precious. Win? Lose? That doesn’t matter. I don’t need to win. What I need to do is HAVE A FUN GAME. Having my army blown off the table without my getting to do much of anything – that isn’t fun. At all. It’s a waste of my very limited entertainment time and I resent it. In fact I resent it a lot MORE than others might, because that time is so much more limited for me.

So – what has all that to do with Army Sportsmanship and selection for Astronomi-con?

Well, we have often said that Astro is ‘the tournament for people who don’t like tournaments’ which is kind of true. But really what that means is ‘it’s the event for people who don’t like certain KINDS of tournaments – namely those which have become increasingly common over the last few years. Ones in which armies are powerful and consist of strange alliances and mixes of troops and the like all designed to win as many games as possible to win.

That’s a fine attitude for those playing games which have very tightly constrained play – like Chess or something. No one is telling a story in a Chess game. Or Go. Or Checkers. Or Poker. No one feels particularly attached to the right hand knight on their chessboard or has written stories about their experiences and the like. No one is going to argue about how a Knight can move or if he’s in range etc. That’s all very well defined.

But in 40k a lot of us do all these things. I have probably a dozen short stories and a novella featuring the exploits of characters in my Imperial Guard Regiment. I have spent hours ripping apart and combining models and figuring out the best rules sets to use in order to reflect those stories on the table top. When I’m playing my IG, I’m telling a story. In a story, sometimes the good guys win, sometimes they lose, but if it’s not a good scrap, it’s a boring story.

Astro draws those kinds of players. A lot of them. Family men, executives in business, doctors, police officers, EMT folks, you name it. People with busy lives who want to enjoy the story of their models. Yes, it brings in a few others too, but the scenarios, terrain scoring systems and philosophy – these things cause a disproportionate representation of these kinds of people at our events.

So – when they arrange their force on the table, they aren’t setting up a game of chess where it’s all about getting a checkmate. They are trying to live a 40k fiction story through their miniatures. THAT’S why folks were so upset by the Nurgle/Necron army of doom.

Funny thing is – I think if the player had done more to ‘sell’ the concept – something like Necrons corrupted by the Dark Mechanicum or some such, the concept would have been a lot more palatable. I’m pretty sure his score would have been better. In fact I’m positive about it. Imagine the modelling opportunities of an army like that! But he didn’t and his opponents didn’t like it and some, sadly, were a bit intolerant about it. I probably would have to admit to feeling a little that way myself, much to my regret.

I wrote all this to give you some idea of what Astro is meant to be and to help folks who are putting together armies realize what might happen with Army Sportsmanship. Remember, your opponent may be a busy guy or gal who cares a lot more about a good game than about a chess match victory. If you do your best to give that to them – even if they lose, they still will appreciate it. In fact, some of the best games can be losses – as long as they are fun.

And when both players have fun, you both win. Regardless of the outcome on the tabletop.

  1. Ahriman says:


    Firstly, I wanted to say thanks for running these tournaments. They’ve always been a highlight of my year. Hanging out with people interested in 40k and its painting, gaming, and hobby aspects has always been blast!

    I agree with your sentiment. The new Force Org and Allies Chart allows for some pretty ridiculous combinations that destroy many narrative and fluffy aspects of the game. People in my area have been bringing up Eldar+Daemons pure summoning, GK+Daemons, Tau+Nids shooting spam, and other pairings that make little to no sense story-wise.

    These list changes have been in response to a shift in the game initiated by GW in 7th. They’ve allowed much more creativity in lists by: letting armies ally with anyone else (even come the apoc), incorporating Gargantuans and Superheavies (Knight Titans especially), and introducing formations that vastly change the FOC or the power level of the army itself (i.e. Nid’s Leviathan, Titan’s Adamantine Lance, Necron Reclamation, or Tau Firebase Support Cadre).

    The Combined Arms Detachment along with Bound vs. Unbound armies also makes for a bit of a conundrum. Which of these make for a balanced game that includes a narrative element? Unfortunately I’ve found that none these do quite enough. Here’s an example of a Bound army that is relatively fluffy, looks cool, and is painted well, but I would never want to play against (not fun) http://bit.ly/1GC31MB That’s a 3++rerollable Gerantius, 4++rerollable behind, with a ton of missiles, strength D cc, and large blasts. This type of list annihilates any notion of creating a narrative 40k fiction through my miniatures.

    The problem I find when I’m playing a fun game with friends of mine is the lack of internal balance between codexes. You can bring an incredibly fluffy Tzeentch army of Fateweaver, 4xHerald of T., and Pink Horrors and your army will be very strong! Same thing goes with Eldar with 5xWaveserpents and 2xWrathknights, or Tau with 9xBroadsides and 2xRiptides. These lists all say to me ‘I want to win games’ at the same level as the Evil-Croissant hybrid and yet all of them are completely fluffy. Should I give them a very low Army Sportsmanship score? There are other codexes that (without severe list tailoring) cannot compete against those fluffy yet strong armies, regardless of what they take. Here are some good statistics on current army win percentages: http://www.torrentoffire.com/6499/the-meta-meets-2015 This unbalance makes forging a narrative in a game very difficult if the two armies facing one another are so unbalanced right from the get go.

    Finding that balance between narrative, fluff, painting skill, and competitiveness is a tough feat to accomplish, but I am looking forward to it for sure!

    Thanks again.

    • As always what is ‘fluffy’ is open to at least a certain amount of interpretation. Tau with 9 Broadsides in a 1500 point army? No, that’s not fluffy. Not from where I sit.

      A 1500 point army represents a ‘skirmish’ in the 40k universe. It’s not even a company level action (which is what you find in, say, Flames of War). Even for inexpensive troops like Astra Militarum/Imperial Guard, you’re unlikely to see more than a single platoon of troops. There might be two – but that won’t leave a lot of room for anything else.

      9 Broadsides? That’s a battalion level asset. So are a pair of Riptides. Most times, save for very major battles, those types of assets are split up in support of various objectives across the battlefield. You might see them together for a major push, but that would also have a lot of other things directly around it to support it. Without those, it starts to look like what it is – a very slanted army designed to blow opponents off the table in no time flat. Mind you – it might struggle against a Green Tide army etc.

      Just because something is all one faction – that doesn’t make it a ‘Narrative’ army. Eldar, for example, don’t have a lot of Wraithknights. The act of becoming a Wraithknight pilot is extremely destructive for an eldar, essentially ending his life. It’s akin to becoming an Exarch so, once again, these things should be rare, particularly in a platoon level action.

      One needs to think fairly deeply when forging a narrative and let me tell ya – when you meet a force which acts like a leafblower on your army, it’s probably not particularly themed when you really start to consider the realities of the army and culture it’s part of in a great many cases. Probably not quite all, but in a lot of them it won’t be.

      And if it is themed but un-fun to play against – well that’s the OTHER part of Army sportsmanship. It’s not just theme – it’s also how much fun it is to play against and if it fails that sniff test it still doesn’t deserve a good score.

  2. Players simply need to keep themselves in check. Codex abuses are a temptation – but the person that makes their army list is ultimately responsible for the army they put on the table. Hence the Composition scoring, and Army Sportsmanship scoring categories.

  3. Mike says:

    I have only attended two of your events. Both times playing Nurgle. Both times scoring exactly what I figured I would for sportsmanship.

    I’ve also had many discussions with my friends about astro and the list builds they continue to design with your tournament in mind. Most of those discussions end with me saying to myself “why bother going? If you don’t intend to conform to the comp system at all” or “what’s wrong with a fun fluffy list outside of your normal play pattern?”

    I have a good friend now that is building an IG tank division. Something that I do see as fairly fluffy/realistic that gets eaten by comp and would probably get destroyed by some for sportsmanship.

    I myself am playing tyranids now and I am finding it difficult to find a list that I like, fits into comp restraints ( I figure 16- 18 pts reasonable), can compete in the environment, and survive/perform well in your scenarios all while enjoying what I am playing. For me my list needs to hit all of those standards or I am not comfortable.

    By the way I did play against the list/player you mention above. My list although fluffy that year, exploited a set of rules that was available to me. We had a glorious battle, we even played through lunch embroiled in our conflict. I will have to say that was the most fun filled game I had that year. I did score him high for sportsmanship because of it. Sometimes though I wish we would have ended that game on time so I could have bettered my tournament standings, but that’s my competitive side speaking.

    For me when it comes to astro I think if people would attempt to follow the same or similar rules I lay out for myself. The event would be more relaxed.

    I also recently realized that once the word tournament enters the conversation people start thinking of the most vile lists they can construct. I suggest using the term “event”. People seem more willing to try something new, fluffy or just fun at events for some reason.

    • We’ve had more than a few armored battle groups and the like over the years. They don’t do too badly comp-wise as a lot of their stuff classes as ‘troops’.

      The issue that they tend to have is with model objectives as there are so few models with a ‘hand’. It is best to make sure you have an Armored Fist squad or three with your tanks to pick up boxes etc. for an army of that sort!

  4. James Cosby says:

    I totally agree. . . I’m a father of 2 young kids and don’t get to play very much. I use my limited play time to run tournaments for a local club. Small stuff, just 8-16 guys. .. And I’ve actually used you guys’ missions for a few of the events. They’re great: I think the flavorful missions go a long way in weeding out uber-competitive players, as they tend to want predictable, minimal rules games.

    For the small events like I run, I actually don’t think it’s a problem to have a vague 7th edition 40k ruleset. It makes a wide range of lists possible. And for us, the “small town” culture takes over and there’s intense social pressure to not be a win-at-all-costs player. The club’s group description, the introduction letter, the individual tournament descriptions, and the update emails all say “tournaments are casual and new player friendly”. Still, new people show up from time to time with face-smashing lists. But that’s ok. Most of these guys are genuinely nice, and I have a good time with the conversation even if the game is completely one sided. But every single one of these players have either left the club or lightened up. If they leave, I guess they are players that are most engaged by a super high level of competition. And that’s something that we can’t really offer. If they stay, I guess they had a good time like I did, and want to try stuff they couldn’t try in a more competitive environment.

    You guys have the unenviable task of trying to translate a game club type atmosphere to large events. For what it’s worth, I think you guys do a very good job. The only problem is that the normal social pressure the WAAC player receives on a smaller scale over a long period ends up getting quantified in a aggregate two day sportsmanship score. Naturally, a low score would make most people defensive. Especially if they are a nice guy and they feel as though the score is a reflection on their perceived quality of character. I know I always get a little defensive about my painting scores, and that has nothing to do with a perceived character flaw. I’m curious, though: did this player come back? And if so did he lighten up the next year?

    • Not so far, but he’s a good guy regardless. I can understand his frustration.

      Perhaps it’s not the right kind of event for him (no event type is universal) or, perhaps he will decide to give it another whirl. There is no way to know.

      Either way, I respect his choice completely. (I quite like the fellow, to be honest)

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