Thursday, 8 March 2012

Soft Scoring in Tournaments

Soft scoring in tournaments irritates me.

There I’ve said it – shoot me down. What particularly annoys me is when “sportsmanship” scores are used to determine overall ranking.

Now I need to “declare an interest”. I’ve attended 2 tournaments this year so far where I would have been top Tau Player, but for sportsmanship scores. I’m not complaining about those tournaments. I knew sports scoring was included before I went. I paid my money and made my choice. What I’m complaining about is sports scoring generally. The “principal” of the thing if you will.

The whole point of sports scoring is (I assume) that it encourages sporting behaviour. Well let’s think about that for a moment. As far as I can see there are broadly 2 elements to “sporting behaviour” - how much “fun” you had playing your opponent and sticking by the rules. My contention is that sports scoring is irrelevant in both cases.

Take having fun. It’s a tournament. By definition a competitive setting. Sure you go to have fun, but is it really something which should determine who wins the tournament? Shouldn’t the best general, with the best list win rather than the best at improvised comedy?

And why is somebody’s definition of fun more valid than mine? Personally I hate the overly loud gamer who shouts “Waggha” at the top of their voice, and tries to turn the game into some sort of weird roll playing experience. Other people love that. I love to play tight games strictly by the rules where both players are trying to use every trick in the book to crush their opponent. Fluff be damned. Other people would hate that. Neither position is right or wrong, it’s just different. The problem is, if I get to vote for best sporting player or best game or some such nonsense, my view is imposed on everybody!

I guess the point is that votes for best game, or most sporting player is too subjective. It imposes on everybody your view of what is good about the hobby. And your view isn’t right, it’s just different.

And that’s even before we get anywhere near people agreeing to vote for each other to boost ranking. I have never personally come across this, but it must happen. But even if it doesn’t, it shouldn’t be allowed an opportunity to happen. Sports scoring – or “favourite opponent” voting allows it to happen, whether it actually happens or not.

Next take “playing by the rules”. The big problem here is that I think sports scoring, or best game scoring actually stops people objecting to bad play (to use a neutral term rather than “cheating” which is not really what I mean).

Let me explain. I once played a game against Tyranids. A genestealer army. He outflanked his genestealers. I made sure my Kroot wall was 18.5” inches from the board edge, so even with a 6” fleet roll he couldn’t get me when he came on, giving my Deathrain Flamer suits a chance to hose the ‘stealers. He came on, moved 6, rolled 5 for his fleet roll and made it into combat!

Now, I’m a pretty easy going sort of chap. I think (hope) most people enjoy playing me, but I just can not let this sort of thing go (it’s a personality thing I’m afraid. I’m a lawyer by profession, and I just can’t abide not following the rules…a bit sad I know, but there it is). I always, always call people on rules issues, Now I’m not always right, but I always check, and if I’m wrong I apologise profusely and move on.

So, in this tourni there was no sports scoring and I didn’t think twice about pointing out the mathematical impossibility of that assault. To be fair the guy hadn’t done it deliberately, he was just a bit sloppy, and a bit casual with his measuring. He apologized, and moved the ‘stealers back.

But what would I have done if there was a chance he might vote for me as his best game? Or worse, vote against me as unsporting. Would I be so ready to call him on the sloppy movement? Perhaps not.

I think the risk that somebody will hit your sportsmanship score might discourage people from calling their opponent on rules queries. If that’s right it just makes things worse.

So what do you do about TFG? Nothing. You just play the guy, call him on all his nonsense, call over judges if you need to, and if not just move on. Never lose your temper, never be sarcastic, always be polite, but don’t be intimidated. As you move through life you meet idiots. The world is sadly full of them. But you can’t avoid them and hoping that sports scoring in tournaments will stop idiots being idiots is silly. The only thing that stops idiots being idiots is somebody saying to them – “mate you’re an idiot, stop it”.

Now sometimes it’s hard. I’ve had people swear at me, throw things at me, walk away from a game and not come back, accuse me of bringing an overpowered army (Tau!), and all sorts of silly stuff. But you can’t let that phase you. The rules are the rules and if you do not play by them you might as well be 4 again lining up toy soldiers and pinging rubber bands at them (… actually that sounds kinda fun!). And you can’t let the bad guys get away with it.

And I know it’s just toy soldiers and I’m taking this way to seriously….but think of it as a metaphor for life in general. You really can’t let the bad guys get away with it…..!



  1. I agree that sportsmanship/favourite player scoring should be something completely separate from whatever determines 'best player' (in terms of who wins the tournament) - and painting scores should also not play any part. Only battle results should.

    The whole 'favourite player' thing is always goin to be subjective and even when it's not affectingthe 'best player' results it can still have an impact because as you say it can mean that to avoid upsetting one's opponent one accepts things that are actually against the rules.

    I've had that sort of issue twice this year.

    Once against a chap who swore blind (and informed me that with his vastly greater tournament experience he was almost certain to be right) that a flat-outing stormraven could not use potms to fire its weapon. Not having the faq readily to hand and feeling somewhat pressed for time, I agreed to do it his way for the rest of the game (which pleasingly I still won, narrowly). After the game he checked the faq on that and a few other trifling matters which I had also let slide and he readily acknowledged that I had been right on every point and he apologised. Now why didn't I stick to my guns during play? Partly to speed things along, partly because I was fairly confident of winning anyway, but mainly because I really didn't want to create any ill-feeling. We're pretty good friends now, which is nice. But in this instance sportmaship score had nothing to do with it as there wasn't a sport score. I just didn't want a mid-game argument or to involve a referee in a situation that felt like it was going to ruin an otherwise amicable game.

    Second was against a guy who had a vehicle destroyed and couldn't get his whole squad out without one being within an inch of one of my models. This was trickier as there was a sportsmanship prize that I was fairly confident that I was in with a shout of winning, the game was kill points and the squad concerned was his toughest and contained characters (so he'd probably not have won the game). Now I had no chance of a top three place in 'best player' even if I won this game (I'd probably have finished 5th), so there was actually a good reason for me to let it slide (a prize for 'best opponent' being better than nothing). So I let it slide.

    Now I don't think this guy was consciously cheating, he was a decent-seeming bloke, but he seemed quite stressed about how quickly my army had got up in his face and so was flustered. I think he made a genuine error. Really I should have pointed it out and (I think) had I been in with a chance of a top three place I probably would have done. But this game was essentially insignificant - neither of us could get top 3... so letting it slide seemed the friendly thing to do. He went on to beat me handily as his strong squad wiped out my deathstar after some lucky reserve rolls brought on his more shooty units. But here's the thing... I may have also let it slide because of the dangling carrot of the sportsmanship prize. I don't think that at that point it was actually a motivating factor for me consciously, but with hindsight it was the smart play. So it's actually possible to manipulate 'best sportsman' scores when really one should probably always be striving to play by the rules as they are writ. Another reason why 'best sport' is not necessarily a good thing.

  2. This is exactly what I'm talking about. At my last Throne of Skulls we were playing Dawn of War. My opponent deployed 2 tac squads and 2 rhinos. I explained that he couldn't do this. The Rhino counts as a troop choice, and he had deployed 4 troops choices. Much wrangling ensued, and after calling over a judge sanity was restored and he deployed correctly. Bet I didn't get a "best army" vote for that game! If I had been playing the system I might have ignored it and moved on - that would have been the wrong thing to do.


  3. It's hard though because tournament organisers quite rightly want to encourage good sportsmanship so as to avoid the rather unpleasant spats that can sometimes occur when either the rules are unclear or someone has forgotten or misunderstood them (or in very rare cases actually tries to cheat). I think the problem is that often people fall into two camps... those like myself who in games with strangers are tempted to let such things pass if it looks like the other person might get upset, and those who have so much 'invested' in not losing face (not whether they win or lose exactly but on how their ability to play is perceived). The former will often let the latter get away with things that do actually spoil the game (the game being something distinct from those playing it in this sense).

    I don't think there's really a good solution unless every game has an impartial umpire (who actually knows the rules and FAQ inside out like case law). I do know that when I play people who are completely above board and who embrace the true spirit of friendly competition, there's never a problem even when things are questioned. In general though argument and rules-lawering are best done between folk who know each other fairly well. Between strangers it will always be potentially fraught and tournament games are often between strangers.

    Having had the good fortune to play both of your co-authors in competition recently, I'd like to say that they exemplify exactly the sort of person who plays in a friendly-competitive manner and with whom it's hard to envisage having a cross word over rules.

    And what's really tough I think is when someone is perhaps using a codex with which one is unfamiliar and exploiting that fact when claiming what may or may not be done through special rules.

    I love the idea of sportsmanship scores and suchlike but I think you're right, voting on favourite opponet or favourite game will always be open to a certain amount of abuse. And even when it's not abused it can be unfair. There was nothing to choose for me between Bede and Greg at Throne of Blades in terms of 'favourite opponent' yet I could only vote for one of them. So one undeservedly lost out -- something else that makes a nonsense of the way the thing's decided.

  4. Having thought about this a bit more, I wonder if the problem of encouraging sportsmanship might be better served by a system that penalises those who argue for incorrect interpretations of the rules rather than trying to reward those who are 'fun' to play against.

    Suppose we penalise those who get the rules wrong (not when we are unsure and talking things through but when it gets to the level of you saying 'X' and me saying 'Y' and so one or both of us will be wrong).

    So asking a question (eg 'can your stormraven fire a weapon even though it flat outed?'), quickly checking the FAQ and agreeing that it can would be fine.

    But arguing with the answer would then lead to a situation where one or other player must be wrong. And the player who is could then suffer a penalty to their score. There's no subjectivity required there: if you encounter a rules dispute and your interpretation is wrong, you get a points deduction and that happens each and every time. So those who rules-lawyer correctly are fine, those who do so incorrectly are not. Because it does not penalise the asking of questions, but targets those who are arguing something that is incorrect it avoids disadvantaging those who are unsure of codex-specific rules or FAQs.

    The only downsides would be that it might need more referee arbitration in order to resolve differences, and fixing the appropriate penalty to inflict would be somewhat moot. But if a win was, say 10 points, a deduction of 2pts per incorrect rules assertion might be fair?

  5. . Problem I see is, when does a rule discussion become a rules disagreement? It would be very easy to couch a rules argument as a rules discussion.

  6. Surely it becomes so when one begins to argue something that is contradicted by rule or FAQ. That's why I think it'd need more referee intervention, but the fact one could only be penalised for being wrong, as there'd be no soft-scoring sportsmanship element, would mean people wouldn't be worried about standing their ground if they knew they were right.


    'I use potms to fire my stormraven's melta' (it flat outed in the previous movement phase)

    'Can you do that?'

    'Yes. It's in the FAQ' (hands FAQ and points to the relevant entry - a player should at least know his own FAQ reasonably well).

    If an argument then begins you'd have to get the ref over (but wouldn't you anyway even with sports scores at that point?) but there would be no possible sanction against the player who was correct in the rules, unlike now. I think the argument begins when evidence is presented and contradicted.

    There's still the case of genuinely moot points, which slack rukles writing does mean happen sometimes, but there's no good answer to them really.