Thursday, September 17, 2009

A versus B, The Soft Score Dilemma

Recently I have been reading alot opinions and editorials about Tournament Sportsmanship and Soft Scores on various blogs and the more notable websites out there. I've been talking to a bunch of different people privately via email the last few weeks about the subject .I know I've touched on the soft scores before right after Adepticon and its own controversy, yet the topic lingers on as more and more events happens and we continue to hear about conflicts over the same issues. I wanted to take another moment six months later to revist this issues with a bit more clarity.

Lets start with the big pink elephant in the room, that I don't see getting addressed much. Which is when it comes to miniature wargaming, there have always been two types of players and its been this way since I started fooling around with miniatures over 30 years ago. For easy sake of references lets call them "A" players and "B players, of course they'll will always be people who are some of both, but the people who cause the conflict are always rooted in one camp or the other.

"A players" see wargaming first and foremost as "a game" and a game they want to win above all else, sure they like the miniatures, they may or may not like the rules but like something enough, whether it be the models, the fluff, or just the other people playing, to want to be involved. "A players" see winning as the most important thing, the challenge for them is how to outsmart their opponent, work the rules and win the game, everything else is secondary.

"B players" see miniature wargaming as a "Craft" (notice I didn't say "Hobby") They like the models, the back story, etc...They don't care too much about the rules as long as when they play the game they have fun. First and foremost, B players just want to build stuff, they want recreate what's in their mind and in the books on table top, they love to slave away painting hundreds of troops and fiddle with their models into the long hours of the night. B players don't see this a chore, but believe it or not, see this as great fun.

Allot of this is all common psychology Left Brain/Right Brain stuff, but within the context of the miniature Wargaming hobby, A players and B players really can't survive without each other, in fact they compliment each other, its often the A players planning and running events while the B players are building the Tables and Terrain, of course it's more complicated than that and while I am a self described B player, I have no problem filling the role of an A player if need be. The problem arises when you get everyone together and try to score a tournament. Everyone immediately turtles up into either the A camp or the B camp.

Lets now throw Games Workshop, the biggest name in the Miniature Wargaming Biz into the mix. They have awesome stuff that everyone wants, and enough games and rules to suit just about everybody. GW HQ is well aware of "A" versus "B" but want to sell as much product as possible to everyone they can so they write rules that try to appeal to everyone and will help sell lots of models. Even though they know their rules are always in a state of flux and are admittedly open to a little bit to much interpretation, they promote "A" and' "B"'s as a group hobby putting everyone together and hosting Grand Tournaments that are designed to appeal to any and everyone.

Here we are in almost 2010, Games Workshop is massive and wargaming as a hobby is a multi- billion dollar business worldwide. However Games Workshop has dropped their Grand Tournaments due to hard economic times and the success of independent tournaments and full blown hobby conventions that celebrate their product and they don't have to pay for it. The problem is without the GW figure head to look to for guidance-The good people who run independent tournaments and conventions start getting pressured by the A players and B players to cater to each own individual needs- it's constant struggle of pushing and pulling.

Nowhere is this more glaringly apparent than when it comes to competitive tournaments. The "A players" covet their wins and battle points, while the "B players" relish in racking up those controversial soft scores. The route of the "soft score" problem is this- "A players" feel slighted because they feel the "Best Overall" award should go to an "A player"- the problem is that Soft Scores, (Painting, Sportsmanship and Composition) are the bane of an"A players" existence but weigh majorly in choosing the "Best Overall" player. So "A players" spend their time between tournaments on message boards at your Favorite FLGS trying to marginalize soft scores so they can also win the big enchilada..because you know Best Overall, sounds alot better than "Best General"

"B players" of course feel "Best Overall" should go to a B player and "Best General" is the "A player" award, "B players" don't care about the best General Award, they care about being appreciated for the hard work they put into their army, that they can be good sports and that they'd never put an army on the table they'd wouldn't want to play against themselves. It's not that "A players" don't also have some of these qualities, they are just secondary to winning.

Of course this is all semantic bullshit, why not just change the names of the stupid awards and add a few more to appease both sides?...sounds easy right?, but it's more complicated than that. Because "A players" kind of want to be like "B players" and vise versa. "A players" say "damn I sure wish I could paint like that B player, and "B players" say "Damn I sure wish I could win a few more games like that A Player". "A players" want both pieces of the Pie..and they want to be able to win it their way- by crushing the opposition. "B players" want to be like A players too, they want to win some games. They just want that other stuff (the soft scores) to help them score better than the "A players" who they feel don't try as hard as they do. So both players want to be like each other to an extent but also want to keep eachs own self centered motivations at heart.

So how the hell do you make "A Players" and "B players" work together in a competitive tournament?, that's the tough question everyone seems to be addressing. The problem is if you cant get past the basic premise I've laid out here- you are just beating your head against the wall. In part 2, I'm going to revisit Painting, Sportsmanship and Composition and look at it as a new model to hope to try to bridge the gap for 2010.

Until then fess up are you an "A player" or a "B player" say so in the poll on the top left.

And don't worry I have more of my "B player" pretty pictures of various things coming soon.


thereandblogagain said...

Great commentary John. I can totally see your A vs B categorization; however its funny as I find myself firmly in both camps. I absolutely hate losing when I play in competitive tournaments but I totally relish all the soft scores. Deep down I think I'm a B type player (that's how I voted) since the "craft" side is what drove me into the hobby. However, I absolutely love competing for that Best Overall prize against all the Best Generals out there.


RonSaikowski said...

B for sure... and I love the challenge of using a B army as well.

Nice post.

Carl Woodrow said...

If I was anymore 'B' I would practically be 'C' ;)

Good read John, pretty much agree with all of your observations. There 'should' be room for both but from my experience (as a closet soft score junkie) the push to marginalise the weighting for painting in the UK GT's a few years back is what turned me away from them.

Very nice post though.

Dverning said...

I sit like my blood type, pure AB+. I'm an "A" in that I win games and believe tournaments are all about winning. I really enjoy and do well at Ardboyz.

I'm also "B" in that I believe in soft scores and will spend dozens of hours on a single fig. Sculpting and modeling is my primary love for the game; playing is just a bonus.

I think the problem with Sportsmanship runs deeper than just these camps tough. It's so... tenuous, subjective. At least with an aesthetic like painting or composition, you can set some rules. "Are there conversions or squad markings?" or "Does the list take over 25% in a non-Troops choice?" are easy set rules. "Would you play them again?" or "Did you have any rules disagreements" are not.

Plus those soft scores are all judged by one person, so at least bias will be applied evenly. With sportsmanship, it can be as random as the draw. I've tabled people and walked away with full Sports, only to do it again to someone else and get none. The person deciding how good a sport you are is changing every game.

Anyways, cheers for a good read.

Squirrel_Fish said...

Great article - I feel like you're definitely on the trail of figuring out why people behave the way the do when it comes to wargaming.

I'm an all around player. I enjoy being able to win games and out think my opponent, but I don't do it at the sacrifice of my vision of the game (you will never see me running a full on Seer Council or Nob Bikerz or whatever other broken unit you can name). I enjoy all aspects of the hobby - that's why I'm still playing.

Jonathan said...

I blame tha Intrawebz! It seems to me that this sort of thing really didn't get that much press 5 years ago. People went to GTs and RTTs with eyes wide open, and there were no real surprises that WFB and WH40K were hobbies above all else. The existence of soft scores reinforced this fact.

However, the fairly recent explosion of demagogues on forums, the lack of direction from GW, and now blogging about ultra-competetive 40K seems to be the driving force in all this nonsense. Maybe there needs to be a separation between 'Ard Boyz style tourneys and GT style tourneys.

John@Plastic Legions said...

Thanks guys..Ill try to hit some of the points you raise when I do the solutions piece in the next few days.

@Jonathan- nice three sentence sum up of what's exacerbating the problem. blog added!!!

Felix said...

The A player's dilemma: GW's game rules have never been tight enough to run pure Type A tournaments.

The B player's dilemma: there are no set rules for a pure B players' exhibition (or army fashion show).

Raptor1313 said...

I'm a bit of both, to be honest.

I mean, when you get into a competition, you want to win. Don't lie; A and B are both types of competition. A competes on scenarios and the battles; B competes on paintjob and the like.

B is easily more nebulous. It's a bit more subjective, as it's art. I'm one of the guys that's not that hot at painting, but it's decent and I'm workin' on it.

The one note I've got on paint/theme scores is that you can comission painting. Not everyone goes that route, but you can certainly pay for a well-painted army. Then it's the question of fairness; it's really someone else's work that's winning the prize for you. I don't claim to have an answer for this, but it's an issue.

The other note is that in terms of scenarios, poor design can skew the results. We've all had the stories where we brought what's generally considered a balanced army, and then the scenario was like "You Lose."

I think it's fine to run 'hobby' tournaments; just point it out ahead of time.

If we're counting Sportsmanship as a soft score...phew. That's a whole 'nother can o' worms that's been discussed elsewhere.

I have to say one thing that irks me, though, is folks being anti-competitive. Is there something inherently wrong with trying to win? It's almost a slur to say 'He's trying to win at all costs!' Now, if we're talking like 'I will quote obscure rules and/or try to bend things into my favor border on cheating' then yeah, that's bad. But there's nothing that says you can't be well-behaved, bring a nicely-painted army, AND have a tweaked out killing machine.

I think, though, in terms of names, the 'Best Overall' is a bit of a misnomer. Albeit, it depends on the way poitns are, but if it's just highest overall score, then you could theoretically combine a solid performance and solid paint job, not be the best at either, but still get 'best overall.' All I'm saying is that it sounds funny to me, but call it what it is: highest score overall.

At any rate, it's good to see folks talking about this; blindness, ignorance and/or censorship of issues is never going to do the community any good.

Tim Kulinski said...

John, a great post, very thought provocating. I myself am a self proclaimed "B Player" to the core.

I play games for the social aspect, so the win or lose it matters not to me, I just want to have a good time hanging with good friends.

Now I can bring out the "A Player" when the time requires it, but it's not that often.

Don't get me wrong, when I play I don't throw a game, but I don't play like a cutthroat either. I just play the game.

So all I have to say is play the game the way you want, have fun and remember it's only a game people!

ZeroTwentythree said...

I would probably lean towards B.

However, as has been a recent topic of my rants on the LGS forum and one of the tournament forums (Marauders) I don't like putting comp scores into any sort of total, in spite of bringing pretty lightweight armies.

(I do like the idea of some sort of cap on the extreme WAAC armies, though.)

My own plan would be to get rid of the "overall" winner and have two or possibly three "equal" winners:

Best General
Best Appearance
Best Sportsman

Sportsman is hard to quantify and judge (no one is going to play every opponent, so who can judge?), so could probably be eliminated if a tournament organizer didn't like the concept.

ZeroTwentythree said...

I don't know if I clearly expressed it, but I believe that the hobby really does have THREE aspects, all equally important:

1. The visual appeal.

2. The game playing/rules.

3. The face-to-face competition and social aspect.

I like the concept of rewarding all three. But I like doing it in a fair way.

eryx-uk said...

I voted B but I would say I am a C player. I don't care all that much for the hobby side of it though I do paint, and I am not an A player as you describe them.
For me it is about playing a fun balanced and friendly game without the cheese and powergaming that I see so very often.

John@Plastic Legions said...

Eryx, that's interesting perspective
I can't think of anyone I've met that isn't attracted to either ultra competitive of gaming (type A) nor the craft (type B).For my purpose of developing tournament scoring however you'd be (type B) with an emphasis on comp and rightly chosen. Thanks for commenting.

Conspyre said...

I am a (somewhat unsuccessful) Type A player. The rules are what they are, and frankly, I'm insulted if someone doesn't show up with their best, because unless I'm trying to run some kind of wacky theme army, that's what I'm doing. That said, I run tournaments trying to limit the kind of damage a WAAC player can do, because that's not the only thing in the hobby, there's also painting, and modelling, and not being a total dick. The hardest part that I've found with running tourneys that weight painting and sportsmanship (I don't score Army Composition, because I have never seen a method that isn't total bullshit), is that the typical douchebag player (no paint, probably playing Chaos Marines) kinda freaks out when they're running their score in their head and find out that they came in 5th and not 1st because they scored miserably on Sportsmanship and Painting. The usual response is along the lines of "suck it up, cupcake", and while I do enjoy making those folks sad, I do think that it's important to be VERY CLEAR in tourney advertising exactly what is being expected. I have lamented the loss of the 40K GT simply because it doesn't seem like there is a tournament for me anymore- the Adepticon Gladiator is all about running units that don't really belong in standard 40K games, and 'Ard Boyz doesn't have any paint requirements. If anybody hears about a 40K or Fantasy event that both requires paint, and doesn't punch players in the junk for playing armies that are actually competitive, let me know!

Jwolf said...

I put myself down as an A player, since I'm clear that I wouldnot build and paint the guys if not to play the game, and that I've played many games without having any cool guys to make.

That said, I've got a lot of the B-side going. I don't like to play with unpainted stuff on either side of the table, and I take pride in doing good work in my painting and conversions.

At BoLSCon we had similar stacks of prizes for painting and for gaming, and kept them largely unrelated. I don't feel that we have a perfect system that everyone should adopt, but I think our system is very fair to the gamers and the hobbyists alike.

ahschmidt said...

The last tournament I was at, I overheard a player complaining about the way that the painting was scored. His comment was that the judge was pandering to the "Jen Haley" crowd... while I can't be sure what this guy meant exactly by this, I have to think that the subjective layer that occurs after the check list - "did you paint the base, did you use 3 colors, did you use shading...?" was what was bothering him. I played against this guy in one game, and he had a mega-tuned up Space Marine army, and was very good. I came away with a feeling that he felt that he couldn't compete with some of the other armies there in terms of painting, and that would affect his ability to get the 'best overall'. The thing that bothers me about this is that if you limit paint scoring to being purely objective (in context of the main score), than it simply becomes a policing exercise to limit how many people don't show up with primer armies, and little else.

John@Plastic Legions said...

Good example Aaron, that's why "best overall" needs to be re-defined and there needs to be two paths to get there one for "A" players and one for "B" players, I should get to my second part of this article this week.


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