Monday, September 12, 2011

Tourney Style: Slow Play versus Playing Slow in 40k

As a tournament judge at the 2011 NOVA Open, I had the nearly unique opportunity to observe upwards of 800 games of 40k being played across 2 days with 200 players. The NOVA format this year was 2000  point lists playing 4 games per day over the course of two days. Granted, as one of five judges I was not able to dig too deeply into any specific game. Rather, the goal of a tournament judge is to passively monitor all games being played and (more importantly) to be a visible presence available to adjudicate any issues that should arise.

Having said all of that, here are a few of my observations regarding slow play and the notion of using a 2000 point list: 
  • There isn't a huge difference in model counts from 1750 to 2000 points; a horde army is still a horde army at 1750 points
  • Playing slow (as opposed to deliberate slowplay) seemed to be more of an issue with folks who didn't know their armies well
  • Having to refer to a rulebook frequently slows everybody down; this includes pulling a judge into a pedestrian rules question that is part of the core game mechanics
We did actively monitor any tables that we considered deliberate slowplay to be a potential issue. We did have some complaints of playing slow that really did just turn out to be inadvertent (see above for reasons). However, I don't recall a single instance that we decided a player to be slow playing on purpose. We even went so far as to discuss this with a players' opponents after the game ended and still did not come away with a verdict of slowplay.

This issue really seems to be one of learning how your army works and getting your playing time down to 2 hours per game. As a foot guard player, I struggle even at the 1750 point level to get a 2 hour game in and have had to practice that aspect accordingly. At 1750, the core of my army does not change. It still consists of a 45 man infantry platoon, backed up by tanks and a company command squad on foot. Going to the 2000 point level just lets me add in a chimera mounted vet squad and take an additional tank in one of my squadrons.

I have seen very few instances where the composition of a horde/foot slogging army radically changes from 2000 to 1750 points. The same problems of having to move many little figures around the board are still present. If you can't get your play time down to 2 hours (and be sure to try with both 2k and 1750 lists - you'll find its almost the same time) then you may want to take a different army to a tournament.

My personal experience from the NOVA was not that the number of models on the board dictated speed of play, but rather the facility with which a player was able to decide movement and move those figures into position. Ability to use your army and play within the constraints of a tournament window is all part of tournament play. Like everything else in this hobby, there is a social contract that exists and if both players hold up their end, then tournament play can be competitive and fun for both sides.


Pete W said...

Really interesting to hear a judge's perspective on a subject that can be contentious at tournaments.

I think that the concept of practicing your army and playing style to make sure you are inside the time limits is something that's overlooked. I know that I didn't consider it properly when I went to play in some tournaments and it probably affected my games somewhat.

Tim said...

Jeez, the capcha for this is "stanks" how appropriate.

I gotta agree with ya there. Only slow pla I run into is when someone doesnt know their army well enough.
Nice to hear your reflections...

eriochrome said...

Interesting that only 5 judges for 100 tables. Pretty hard to really monitor what is going on in 20 tables at once.

I cannot imagine that players with 100 plus models on the table are likely get to 6 turns in only 2 hours.

Hudson said...

Good post. Yeah I ran into a game where my opponent held things up for quite a while trying to figure out if he could pull a multi-assault off (I knew that he couldn't) Ended up with three judges at our table explaining the mechanics to him... In the end, he couldn't pull it off and he got a bit bitchy (imho) to the judge.

In the end though, most slow play I've run into is due to ignorance/distraction rather than folks being deliberately slow.

Morgrim Dark said...

5 rules judges was not enough for that many players. As I said, our roll is essentially passive and to make sure we are visible to players when they do have a rules question.

Of course, we could always use more staff for next year (hint, hint).

I do encourage people to talk to a judge if someone is playing slow in a tournament. Couch your question in terms like, "I am concerned that we won't be able to play to turn 5." or "It's one hour in and we are only at the bottom of turn two."

When I heard these types of things, I would swing by the table and gently (or not so gently) encourage the player to play faster. This takes the onus off your as that person's opponent and prevents an escalation of a tense situation (i.e. tournament play).

Rushputin said...

As an interesting converse: 2.5 hours: not nearly enough time for 2,500 point Fantasy games that involve significantly fewer things to move (more models, sure, but they're in units on movement trays). Of five games, I think only one of mine made it to Turn 6 (though it's been a few weeks, so I can't recall for sure). I had all of 9 individual things to move around each turn. I'll come back to this in a second.

On the 40K side, I don't think y'all allowed for enough time. I know the schedule was intense, but I just don't think two hours is enough for 2,000 point games. Mike's said several times that the majority of games ended "on time:" I don't know if that that means they didn't bleed over the schedule ("Finish this turn") or if they ran to natural conclusion. I think he definitely needs to track stats on that next time (Did you finish on time? Run the natural course of the game? How long did your game take? etc), if only to back those claims up.

Y'all (at least you and Mike) have made the claim that an extra 250 points doesn't mean all that many more models. While I'm not interested in disputing what is an isn't a reasonable increase in models (because you're probably right; 5 more terminators isn't that much): more is more. More points = some degree of more models = more time required. Maybe not a great deal more time, but I feel like you need stats to back up any claim that the extra time required is insignificant.

What's more significant is the what sort of extra models those 250 points buys you. If it's just more bodies in a blob: no, it's not going to drastically increase your play time. After a point, you're just shoving models around in a heap. An increased number of vehicles is different, however. Facing, positioning is much more important than with infantry. What facing will you present? Are you getting cover? Where are your weapon arcs pointing? They behave a bit more like units in Fantasy, where just shoving things around isn't something you can get away with. See: my inability to see Turn 6 this year.

I'm curious about numbers in vehicle spam lists between 1750 and 2000 points. You take two more tanks. Do other people take more?

Anyway, rambling quite a bit. tl;dr: I really think you guys need to track this stuff and drop stats along with these claims. There's no way it can't help.

Morgrim Dark said...

Rush, it seems like the question for you is more whether 2 hours is enough in general to play a game of 40k. I have seen people struggle to finish 1500 point games in 2 hours.

2 hours may not be enough time in general but with NOVA this year we needed to get 4 games in each day in order for the bracketing to work. There has been talk of going to a three day format but that would really cut down on the possibility of any other gaming events.

I do think that asking whether 40k at 2 hours is feasible (at anything above 1500 points) is a good question. When we game local (pick-up and such) the more relaxed games clearly take longer.

Tim said...

@Rushputin, I tend to agree with you there. the difference between 1750 and 2000 means some tough choices while writing your army list. Quite often it means the loss of some sledgehammer unit or something along those lines. Not going to speak for Mike, but in our discussions about it, he's stated that the game gets more balanced between codices at 2000pts. Especially for the older ones. From my perspective as a Tau player, I feel it can help level the playing field. At 2000 points I am able to bring 6 broadsides which I can use to destroy vehicle spam. At 1750, I struggle to get 4 into the list and that makes a HUGE different for my army. the 2 extra railguns means a lot. Most of the older armies are like this, they hit a sweet spot at 2000 pts. I'm not an expert on all the 40k armies, but I can see why Mike prefers 2000 pts.

G Red said...

Crunch the numbers, guys. Say it takes you 6 seconds to move each miniature, which is a reasonable rate when you include measuring distance moved and checking cohesion, yes? Say that you have a 50 miniature army. It will take you 5 minutes to finish movement. The same goes for your opponent. So 10 minutes per turn to move. Over 6 turns, that is 60 minutes, one hour for movement, out of 2 1/4 hours, thus leaving 1 1/4 hours, which is 6 min. 15 sec. per player per turn to do everything else. And then there is the tyranny of deployment. This cuts into the 2 1/4 hour limit too, does it not? And it takes time too. How fast do players deploy their miniatures? The fact that some players completed their games at all is remarkable, to me anyway. Even an extra 15 minutes to the time limit does not help much, since it only gives each player a whopping 1 minute 15 seconds more per turn over 6 turns. Can you complete a turn, on average, in 11 minutes 15 seconds? or even 12 minutes 30 seconds? Or more probably less, once the time taken for deployment is subtracted from the 2 1/4 hr total.

The ideal solution, as suggested by the guy with the best looking Skaven army which I have ever seen-- also the smallest. Correlation? :) -- is track this stuff, to time people as they play 'tournament style' and get an idea of how long it should take, per turn, and per game, at a given points level. Adjust the GT format accordingly. Perhaps specifically design scenarios/missions that are 'competitive' and completable within 4 turns, maybe 5, and not necessarily the off the shelf stuff straight from the rulebook. At the NOVA, I did see that the Warmachine/Hordes players had many empty boxes of those chess clocks. Wonder how they were used-- the clocks, not the boxes. And their applicability to other gaming systems, hmm. Perhaps slowness can become a non-issue. Oh for the day:)

Morgrim Dark said...

@G - I would only question your figure of taking 6 seconds to move a single mini. Only speaking for myself, I will specifically measure the first line of troops in a big squad then basically eyeball the rest (using the tape occasionally to make sure I am not over moving). It probably takes me two minutes to move a 40 man blob squad.

Again much of this gets back to how experienced a player is with their army. No question that horde armies are more labor intensive but it you have everything set out in squads beforehand, deployment is fairly simple and if you have practiced mass movements then the Movement phase should be less problematic

I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the best-looking Skaven army I have ever seen!

All of this is anecdotal of course. We should try to time some games with Mike and crew running various foot-based armies to get some quantifiable results.

Casey Campbell said...

One thing I've found, and this may be unique to me, is that I am able to play my Tyranid army much faster than my MSU Dark Eldar Mech Spam list.

My DE had a lot more individual pieces to move and since facing is so important it took a lot more time for me to get everything to work out. I also try to plan out my movement phase before I start to physically move models and getting everything sorted out for 12 vehicles takes more time than whatever random-bad Tyranid army I take.

Random Game Length is such a huge part of 40k and any game that doesn't end because of it, or because of tabling I guess, should be considered to have not ended naturally.

If you're going to make 40k into a competitive game, and I think it can be one, I think you need to make sure that one of the most important elements of the game is able to happen.

I'm just saying this as someone that almost quit 40k totally because of games ending early and other nonsense at the NOVA last year.

G Red said...

the 6 seconds estimate is from personal experience, and mainly from 4th ed. with different cover rules. Two minutes for 40 guys is fast though, 3 seconds per mini. Wow ,I am impressed. The solution is simple though-- stopwatches for observers. Do we call it stat-hammer?

Rushputin said...

As pleased as I am with my Skaven...I don't think it lends me any particular insight into how long games of 40K should and can take. :)

@Austin: I totally get the schedule being a driver here. I feel like there's that magic triangle (along the lines of "Fast, Good, or Cheap... pick two"): Eight games in two days, enough time to finish games, or 2,000 points... pick two. But I get it: it's not easy.

Anyway, you keep coming back to things like "Again much of this gets back to how experienced a player is with their army." While I don't disagree that experience with an army speaks to their ability to play it in a timely fashion, there are two problems with falling back on that: 1) I feel like the expectation should be that players should be allowed to finish their games. Not everyone showing up is super-hot shit at 40K, and you should plan to accomodate those people as well. 2) Your ability to finish a game is greatly impacted by your opponent. If you've mastered your army... and your opponent hasn't mastered his, that makes it extremely likely that you're not going to be able to finish your game. Sure you watch for slow-play, but there' deliberate and unintentional slow-play.

@OSH: I've never tried doing much competitively with my Tau, but my experience with my other armies has shown me that the difference between 1,750 and 2,000 is one of hard choices. I feel like I never have to make difficult decisions about what to include at 2,000, but at 1,750, there's a lot of agonizing over my unit selections. That's why I really prefer it.

@G The more I think about it, the more I really, really like the idea of chess clocks in a situation where the schedule is as tight as it is here. I recognize that it's probably impractical, but still.

Morgrim Dark said...

I definitely don't mean to say that folks must play faster (or require more experience) to play in a tournament. My suggestion is that people who had horde or foot-based armies need to practice movement within the given time constraints.

Gameplay like this is absolutely a social contract and you can definitely get dinged inadvertently if you are paired up against someone who plays slowly because they haven't had the experience to play faster.

As far as points go, I think I will do a post about the new 40k "sweet spot". To Tim's point (OSH), Tau's sweet spot is 2000pts... as a Tau player I would agree. If you make the assumption that 2000 points was a sweet spot for most 4th edition armies, then what would that spot be for 5th ed armies? You see a general points reduction across the board for 5th ed books (overall about 15-20% depending on the army). All things being equal (which they rarely are) the new sweet spot might be at 1750 to 1850. But I am still not sure this would get hordier players to that 2hr 15min mark as I don't think you'd see a drastic reduction in number of models even at the 1750 mark.

TL;DR I don't think its just the players experience; it's that plus points plus game time plus attitude that determine whether one finishes or not.

HAGAMAR said...

Chess Clock... WHY NOT ? I mean really why not... you decide, you move, you shoot & punch the clock... What would be so bad about it to have it setup at a big tournament... Player that took more time to play gets better strategy on the table and the player that use less time gets a +pts in something for the ending game.

I'm not a fast player at all... I simply like the game for what it is and I'm mostly the type to call a pizza and take breaks to grab some beer when playing at home. Then again ill always push to forget the 6 turn rules and go for the last standing man on the table... Total Extermination !!! What can I say I like to know who in my army is the tuff one that will survive till the end if at all...

I for one would not care to know that my opponent is a better practice man in W40K. I would simply like to know that the game we play was fair for both in the end and the best strategist player have win the game. If time was an issue then I guess I would not feel it wrong if my opponent gain an advantage for playing faster. This would throw me the fact that I must play faster so I can get that extra +pts to help me out in the end game score.

The clock in a chess game don't have a real value else to know if you took more or less time than your opponent and being a mind trick to see if you can think fast.

"Could a Judge take a look at the clock and see that one of the player took 35mn more to play and simply give 5mn to is opponent to finish is turn before calling the game off ?... Hell yea!!!"