Friday, 4 February 2011

Fluff gamers vs Competitive gamers - a BOLS editorial response

A nearly-finished Dark Angels Dread
that was sitting on my desk.

BigRed just posted an editorial on BOLS which makes interesting reading - you can get to it here:

It makes interesting reading, and the message seems to be 'lets all just get along' which I heartily endorse, but I do feel the analysis is somewhat lacking. Interestingly, I was in the middle of writing a piece for this blog about the same subject, so I've folded that material into my response which I'm posting here for your perusal.

I'd be interested to hear what people think on the matter...


Dreamwarder's Response.

I strongly agree with the sentiment, but strongly disagree with the analysis. I would guess Kahoolin is a 'strategist' from reading this, since he doesn't really adequately represent the thought processes of the 're-enactor' (terrible name), at least not as I understand it.

Firstly, calling fluffy gamers 're-enactors' only serves to make them seem more stupid. How can you 're-enact' in a science fiction wargame? Or a fantasy wargame for that matter?

A better term would be 'storytellers' - as it's the story of the game that is more important to fluffy gamers. This doesn't mean they are any more or less strategically adept in their playing than a 'strategist', it just means that telling a good story is more important to them than winning.

My 1st Edition hardback Rogue Trader.
Hands off. 
You can try and make a link with RPG gaming if you like, but that would be as fatuous as saying that all 'strategy' gamers take their inspiration from CCG gaming. Sure, some might, but it is by no means the sole influence. Local play style is probably just as important, as is the context in which one was introduced to the game in the first place.

I played Rogue Trader when it first came out and loved it, but not because of any percieved RPG elements, but rather because it was a wacky skirmish game with good battle-simulation rules. The detail was impressive, and allowed for a style of cinematic storytelling through wargaming that was reminiscent of playing with star wars figures, only with RULES and DICE (bear in mind I was 11 at the time).

As 40k has matured, it's scale has grown and with it the rules have streamlined. It's now a fully fleged wargame rather than a skirmish game, and with that some of the detail has eroded, but it has still retained its 'cinematic' feel for me, and when I play some part of me that is still 11 years old rejoices.

The Realm of Chaos books owed a lot to
RPGs (and John Blanche's odd mind)
When you look at how 40k is played by the designers and their mates you can still see this strong influence of narrative gaming which has very little to do with RPGs but a lot to do with enjoying the story told by beautifully painted models and scenery - it enables the gamer to fully visualise their fantasy world and immerse themselves in it. As I've grown older my painting and modelling skills have improved along with my terrain making. My friends and I are now in our thirties so we don't have the overactive imaginations our 11 year old selves had, but we have awesome looking models and terrain to help get us back to that place of creating great stories with our games.

Contrast this with what seems to be the norm on the American wargaming scene where you see a very different sort of play-style. Lots of in-store gaming with frankly pretty basic terrain and a focus on 'net-list' driven min-max style gaming that takes its cue from games such as Magic the Gathering. The focus is on beating the other player rather than enjoying the ride, and who can argue with that since the ride is nowhere near as pretty, at least when compared with the gaming tables of the Perry Twins where Jervis gets to play most of his games.

The 40k Compendium. Arguably the first step
on the road to codex books, army lists and
'game balance' - such as it is.
When I started in the hobby, I was still at school, and GW's in the UK didn't have great facilities for in-store gaming, plus they discouraged kids my age. Then the 90s came along and kids were actively encouraged, but I still played most of my games with friends at their houses. We weren't great with the rules and 40k and Fantasy were the first wargames we had ever played, but we loved fighting battles with our spess mahrines.

Contrast this with the introduction to the hobby of most American gamers, the bulk of whom seem to have got into the games in adulthood, and have transferred from other games (such as Magic-the-Gathering-type CCGs) As Kids growing up in the UK there was a strong element of 'playing with star wars figures' in how we shaped our battles, we just got to roll dice to decide who died. For US gamers coming to 40k fresh from CCGs, competition is everything, and finding a kickass combo of units that no-one else has spotted is the heart and soul of the game.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I can understand how these two very different styles of play have polarised, and why a highly competitive style of play is more dominant 'across the pond', or why a more fluffy style is more dominant in the UK (particularly amongst GW designers) but I don't think you can break down the difference in play-styles to the lone factor of 'some wargamers like to RPG it a bit' - there are many factors that have influenced the way the game is played, and I think the trans-atlantic divide has created a disproportionate focus in the states (and consequently online) on the competitive side of the game, which has led many US-based critics to lambast the GW designers for not playing (and designing) the game 'their way'.

Personally, I hope the GW designers never change. If you want a well-balanced, tightly written competitive wargame then go for warmachine or hordes, but if your inner 11 year-old wants to play at star-wars figures again, then the privateer games just won't cut the mustard. You'll need to go to good ole' 40k.


  1. As one across the pond who first was exposed to the GW Hobby from my FLCBS, my experience was similar to yours, except I was the only one in my RPG group who was interested in painting minis, so I really didn't get into the hobby until my 30s.

    Frankly, I think you exaggerate the competitiveness of American gaming due to the fact that you seem to get your info from blogs. Blogs are the domain of the hardcore gamers who devote time to talking about plastic soldiers. The casual gamers who are more interested in fun don't run blogs or contribute as much in the blogosphere because they're doing other things.

    To sum up, the people on the blogs talking about winning 'Ard Boyz take up a lot more blog-space than their numbers, and it will draw everyone because most people don't want to get their butts kicked in after spending a lot of time and money building their armies. Because gaming resources are often limited (gaming tables), having competitive gamers has the adverse affect of making people have to become more competitive.

    It's like in the 80s when you went to the video arcade, if there was someone playing a game that you wanted to play who was good, you would have to get good or wait until no one would play the game. He would insert a coin, kick your ass and any challengers, and then have the game for himself. Just the way the world works.

  2. You make a good point - and I heartily agree that the blogsphere is dominated by competitive players. Sadly, it's those gamers who seem to speak with the loudest voice, giving the impression that they are in the majority, where in reality the 'silent majority' of casual gamers are GW's core customers.