How to be a good sport at 40K (Part 3)
If you play 40k long enough you will have a difficult time with another player. What is the best way to deal with these situations?
In Part 1 of this article series, we talked about having a conversation with your opponent to make sure you both agree to the same kind of game experience. In Part 2 of this article series, we talked about what you can do to be a good sport. If you have had the conversation, (or you are playing in an event), and you are following the advice we gave, then you should be prepared for a fun game. But what happens when your opponent has other ideas?
Etiquette and Sportsmanship
It can be unpleasant if your opponent is breaking some of the unwritten etiquette rules of 40k, but I have found that you can still play through a game despite this. You can and should politely ask them to do things like roll their dice properly or pay attention to their movement, and most players will do it. New players may not know the proper ways to play and even experienced players can get a bit sloppy sometimes. Breaking etiquette in 40k involves simple behaviors that are easy to correct and coach.
It can be a worse experience if your opponent is acting like a poor sport. Players who do things like asking for mulligans but refuse to give them, or get visibly upset, or whine incessantly, or obnoxiously celebrate every dice roll in their favor, can be very difficult to play against. If you are at an event there is not much you can do in this situation except remain neutral and play out the game. If it’s a casual or pick up game you have the choice of whether to keep playing or quit. I would keep my composure and play out the game, but I would think long and hard about setting up a game with that player until they figure out how to be a better sport.
Player CAN become better sports. Sometimes a player can have a poor reputation and not know how they are coming across to other players. Those who care about the game will care about their reputation, it may just take someone to coach them and help them out.
I have found that the worst experience is playing against someone where the integrity of the game is called into question. These can be players who nitpick seemingly every action you take. These can be the “rules lawyers” who constantly ask to see the rules and/or stop the game several times to argue. These can even be players who downright cheat. What is the best way to deal with these players?
In every game of 40k you can expect to be questioned about something you have done, and usually it is justified. I make mistakes when I play and I appreciate being politely told about them. A player who nitpicks your game is someone who goes way beyond this to the point of questioning almost all of your actions, legal or not. They insist on verifying every dice roll, question every rule, and will be very particular about your movement and unit coherency. What they are doing is not technically wrong, but it makes for a long and difficult game. It puts you on the defensive. You may start to question yourself and start focusing on small actions and miss the larger tactical view of the game. It also shows a lack of trust from your opponent.
Why do some players do this? Typically it happens in the beginning of the game and it usually because they themselves are on the defensive. Nitpicking is a way for them to ensure that you are playing by the rules. If you have never played them before they may be on the lookout for cheating, intentional or otherwise.
If you are a newer player you may not feel confident in your actions or the rules, so a nitpicker can be pretty unnerving, especially if they catch you on a rules mistake. Over time you will develop more confidence with the rules and know that what you are doing is correct. During the game, if you keep your composure and are very clear with what you are doing and take the time to explain your actions, a nitpicker will typically settle down as the game progresses. By the middle of the game, you may find that can finally start to enjoy your game.
Finding out your opponent is cheating, either during or after a game, is one of the worst experiences you can have at 40k. That said, it’s extremely rare to find an opponent who is blatantly cheating at 40k. Those kinds of players eventually get caught and are quickly ostracized from gaming groups. What is much more common is that a player is simply making a mistake. They may have misread or forgot a rule, they may be new to the game, or they may be remembering a rule from several editions ago.
When you think that your opponent is playing a rule wrong, you should simply politely question what they are doing. Assume that either you or they are mistaken about a rule and by bringing it up you are hoping to clarify that rule for yourself. You don’t want to nitpick everything they do and ask about every rule, but you don’t want to let something go if you genuinely feel something is wrong. If it’s a rule that you don’t know from an army you don’t play and you are suspicious that is being played wrong, you can go so far as to ask to look up the rule or to see their codex. Keep in mind that this should be a last resort; you can really cause distrust by doing this!
Playing in Events
Most of the rules issues you encounter with 40k are handled pretty well when you play at an event. All events should have an FAQ, which resolves most if not all of the rules questions that can come up in a game. This eliminates much of the “rules-lawyering” and arguing that can occur during a more casual game of 40k. During an event, you also have access to judges that can resolve all rules disputes. If you are playing in an event and feel strongly about a rule and it has the potential to win or lose the game, you can always call a judge over. Just be prepared if the ruling does not go your way.
Note: I strongly suggest that all local communities adopt an FAQ used in major events. An example of a popular one is the ITC FAQ. Some of what is listed in these FAQs are in effect changes to the rules, and your group may or may not want to use them. But as a framework to play under the FAQ writers have done most of the heavy lifting for you, thereby freeing you up to play games!
Being a mature 40k player is to realize that a big part of the appeal of 40k is the shared social experience. When you play this game, you are playing in the same physical space with another player, with models that you have both built and painted. If all you want to do is win games, then you are missing out on what makes the hobby great. Ask a so-called “hardcore tournament player” what they enjoy most about 40k and they will say the friendships they have developed over the years.
At the end of the day, I’d rather be a player that other people want to play against than one who wins every game. Do your best to model good gaming behavior and sportsmanship and give your opponents the benefit of the doubt. That does not mean that you cannot question things or point out mistakes, but be calm and polite about it and don’t assume your opponent is intentionally cheating. The question that should be asked at the end of every game should be: “did we both have a good time playing this game?” If the answer is yes, then it was time well spent.