How to be a good sport at 40k (Part 1)
Warhammer 40k is a social game, but even the best of us can act like immature jerks. How can you be a good sport and avoid being TFG (“That Effing Guy”)?
How to be a good sport and not a “TFG”
Warhammer 40k is a hobby and a game, but also a shared social experience. When you play 40k, you spend hours physically standing across the table from another player. As players we should feel a responsibility to make it a positive one for both players. This does not mean you don’t play to win. It’s a game after all and there is a “winner” and a “loser.” But you don’t have to take it so seriously that you end up sucking the fun out of the experience. No one I know gets paid to play this game, so why act as if there is anything more than pride on the line?
40k and sportsmanship
Every game can have problems with poor sportsmanship, but 40k does seem to be more prone to it than others. 40k has been around a long time and has a lot of rules with some confusing interactions. Players, especially new ones, miss rules all the time and unintentionally “cheat” when they don’t mean to. I sometimes still forget that I jinked with a unit and will fire at full ballistic skill on my turn. Longtime players can also mix up rules, mis-remembering a rule from one or two editions ago. 40k is also not balanced according to the points cost for each unit and some armies have some really tough units and combinations that can take newer players by surprise. A new player, (and even some players who have been around a while), also won’t have experience playing against the incredible variety of units in 40k. It this combination of a long history, complex rules, diversity of units, and unbalance for points costs that can lead to difficult and frustrating experience.
Contrast 40k with the game of Warmachine. In Warmachine, the rules are extremely clear and tight, so there are very few rules arguments that occur during a game. Some players will even use laser pointers to eliminate model movement questions! There are fewer units, so there are not as many surprises during a game. And one of the rules of Warmachine is to “play like you have a pair,” so it actively encourages aggressive, competitive play. It is a game, so it has its share of sportsmanship problems, but no player getting into Warmachine should be confused as to what kind of game it is meant to be.
40k is very different from Warmachine. One of 40k’s rules is that if there is a rules argument, the players should simply roll off to determine who is right. The designers assume that the players will act friendly and civilized and both work hard to create a fun game. A term used often with 40k is “Social Contract.” But what is a social contract?
The Social Contract
Go ahead and Google “social contract” if you like, but make sure you dust off your long-forgotten knowledge of philosophy if you want to really get into the weeds with this. To keep it simple, a social contract is an agreement between people to give up some of their freedoms for the mutual benefit of a group or a society. In 40k terms, what this means is that you as a player have to give up your ability to act however you want in order to ensure that both players have a good experience. Because 40k is a game that allows you the freedom to play any kind of game that you want, you have to ensure that both you and your opponent are on the same page before you begin. You have to have a conversation with your opponent, and that means talking about your army lists
There are two extremes of army lists in 40k: the casual or “fluffy” list, and the super hardcore competitive list. Any player can do some research and play testing and come up with a tough competitive list and, if they have the funds, go out and buy all the models and field a very strong army. Conversely, some players have more casual lists, either because they don’t have the time or money or because they like to build lists around themes and use self-imposed limitations on their lists. Most players have army lists between these two extremes.
I myself typically have tough army lists, but I have a few narrative rules that I follow and I won’t field unpainted models, so I won’t ever field the most competitive lists. Well, except by accident, I worked for over two years on an Eldar Wraith list that was never top tier in 6th edition. Then the new codex dropped, and suddenly I’m packing D weapons all over the place!
With this diversity in army list building, it’s very easy to a player with a competitive list to steamroll a player with a more casual list. Both lists are legal by the rules of 40k and both are the same points level, so no one is cheating. The problem is that the players did not have a conversation about the armies they are bringing to the table. A short conversation about what each of you has in your lists and what kind of game you are looking for goes a long way to smoothing out any ugly experiences. Different players have different ideas of what is fun, so make sure you both are on the same page and want the same game experience.
Events and Tournaments
The social contract and pre-game conversation is different when attending an event or tournament. A good organizer will set up the point limit, put in any army list building restrictions, publish the mission packets, and have an FAQ in place to address rules issues. The description of the event is also a clue as to what you can expect. Some events are meant to be more casual or narrative events, so taking a hyper efficient tournament list to such an event is never a good idea. In an organized event, a social contract is already in place and the conversation has already occurred for all the players. Although some players shy away from them, I would encourage everyone to seek out an event that seems compatible with their preferred method of playing 40k. You will get him some fun games of 40k, learn a lot about how your army plays on the table, and meet some new people that share your passion for the game.
So you are either playing at an event or have had “the conversation” with your opponent. You are both on the same page regarding the kind of game you want to have and have lists that are roughly equal in level of competitiveness. But this is just the first step! In our next article, we give you things to do and not to do in order to not be TFG at 40k.