Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tourney Style: Presence and Present-ability of a Judge

One of the major roles of a tourney judge is to simply be available to answer questions and arbitrate rules discussions. However, there is often a sense of reservation that players seem to have when deciding whether and when to grab a judge. I completely understand this mentality as oftentimes a judge may not be close at hand and you as the player have to decide whether your rules question is worth stopping the game and taking the time out to grab a judge.

Clearly access to tournament staff in this situation is crucial. The easiest response is to make sure there is enough staff on the floor that players have easy access to them. However, this does bring up several critical issues of protocol (read: present-ability) that tournament staff must be aware of in order to best support their players.

Visibility - judging staff should be clearly demarcated as such. Typically this means wearing some recognizable article of clothing (bright shirt, silly hat, trained monkey, etc.) that enables players to know who to approach. At the NOVA this year, we had the problem of the staff wearing black t-shirts (due to a situation outside of our control). BLACK T-SHIRTS!! Really... black is absolutely de rigeur for gamer geeks - I personally own at least twenty black t-shirts (various bands, other gaming events and so on). Black shirts for tournament staff guarantees a level of anonymity amongst any niche gamer crowd. Next year NOVA tourney judges will be rocking some brighter colors - perhaps a pleasant plum or a rosy red that should help players track us down.
Next Years NOVA Staff Outfit
Accessibility - more important even than visibility is how accessible tournament staff is during games. Gaming is a social hobby and many gamers are either too polite or too shy to actively disrupt a game by taking ten minutes to track down a judge. To that end, tourney judges have got to be constantly circulating throughout the crowd - letting people know they are there and are actively interested in dealing with rules issues. Many times someone would simply tap my arm to ask a quick question just because I happened to be walking by and I was able to quickly resolve the issue. This is exactly how it should be. I want players to feel comfortable enough that they can grab me for a brief confab rather than feeling like something unfair is happening in the game but not being comfortable enough to stop the whole thing for a clarification.

Ultimately, in a tournament of larger size (say 100+ people), judges are mostly forced into a more passive role of monitoring tournament play. However, by making an active effort to circulate amongst the game tables, to see and be seen by players, and by affecting an approachable demeanor, judges can help make even the biggest tournaments a fair and enjoyable experience - even for those players who are not fully comfortable with the rules or lack the fuller understanding of opposing armies that veteran players often have.

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.