All’s Fair In Love and War

So you know what this is right?


Well this week’s blog is probably going to end up with me opening it. Although the internet has done a cracking job of getting to it before me …

The background of this article is a X-Wing Miniatures Games tournament in the USA. Fantasy Flight Game has a fairly serious organised play system and recently changed the rules of their systems to allow two players to agree to draw their game without playing. It just so happened at a regional event the top 8 players all agreed to draw their games. The side effect of this was that the player in 9th place now had no chance of reaching the knockout stages and it is fair to say there was a degree of controversy, especially as one of the players taking the draw was the current World Champion.

The after effects of this spread across the internet and chat forums (which of course resulted in a well-judged and balanced conversation with no petty mindedness or name calling).  And it has forced Fantasy Flight into a very quick rethink of their intentional draws idea.  But the crux of the argument was about sportsmanship. Were the actions of these eight players “fair”?

nerd rage

Rather than rehash old ground, I don’t want to address this single event. Instead I want to look at the question of fair play and being a “good” opponent, which really should be a simple matter but often ends up being much more complicated than that.

Sportsmanship is a fluid concept and one that can sometimes be pushed around. What is one person’s belief in “the right thing to do” doesn’t necessarily translate into someone else’s. I have also encountered players that may have forgotten to do something and insist that the other players should allow them to correct their mistakes on the basis that it is the “sporting” thing to do, even though that opportunity may have long passed.

Much of it comes down to how you view the game and this may be different in the setting in which you are playing. I have experiences of both social and competitive gaming, and I do play differently in each one. This is not say I would bend the rules to win, but in a social environment I would point out very silly moves and give people opportunities to go again or correct obvious mistakes. If I was playing with my children, I would bend the rules a little or fudge dice in order to make it a bit more fun for them as well. In a competitive game, I would remind people about something they have forgotten to do or clarify something that isn’t clear on over the course of the game. However, a mistake in a move or a play is something to attempt to turn to your advantage. I would not expect my opponent to allow me a “do over” if I did something moronic either.

Fair play

However, I do not believe that it is my automatic right to expect the same of everyone. As I explained early – fairness means something different to each player. Some people may see my style as too generous – if it is a competition, then my only responsibility is to play as well as I can, not help my opponent in any way. A professional sportsman would not give the opposition a helping hand, so why should I?

Likewise you will have someone who sees my position as overly harsh. We are ultimately here for a game – a fun experience. In order to do so, everyone must have a chance to play to their fullest.

I am not suggesting that either approach is right or wrong – just different. And provided that the game is played within the rules, then it should be fine.

The real issue for me comes when either the rules are transgressed intentionally or the game is played in an anti-social manner. I have seen people playing games where they have purposefully cheated in a number of ways. This is not the same as making an honest mistake (although too many “honest” mistakes are fooling no one), but deliberately ignoring rules or interfering with the proper running of a game. Anti-social play is being sullen or unengaging, even going to abusive or aggressive. The fact that this is a game gets forgotten in something that can often reflect badly on both individuals.

A very memorable tale in relation to this was from my days of playing competitive Games Workshop games which resulted in me being one of two players representing our local stores in a gaming event. We both travelled to a neighbouring store to play off against their “champions”. When we met our respective opponents we both went to our own tables and set up. It was clear from the start when setting up our armies that my opponent was going to have to perform some kind of minor miracle to win. However, we got on with it and actually had a really enjoyable experience despite the fact that I won quite handily. What ruined it was the other two champions almost yelling at each other across the table as the disagreed about almost every single action taking place. Of course when that game finished, the two of them were in a foul mood and barely said a world to one another as they cleared away. It made the car journey back a “delightful” experience.


So what am I saying in a very roundabout fashion?  I guess my point is this.  Sportsmanship and fair play is our own personal view.  Mine is pretty simple – stick to the rules and always invoke Wheaton’s Law (ie. Don’t Be a Dick).  You viewpoint may differ from mine and that’s fine – but don’t try to impose your own standards upon me and accuse me of being a bad sport because if I don’t concur.

I guess that leads us back to what started this rant of mine – the X Wing Regionals event.  Were I in the same boat, would I do the same as them?  Probably not.  I am there to play games and anything that means I play less games doesn’t really interest me.  Do I judge them for taking the action they did?  No – the rules were clear from the start and you cannot judge someone for using a rule you all signed up to at the beginning.  And if you don’t like the rules, then maybe the game or event isn’t really for you.


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