What counts as a “real game?”

The discussion on my recent post about the new Sisters of Battle codex taught me something  I hadn’t really known about myself – when I play 40k I think of the games I play against my friends as the “proper games” and games I play in tournaments (and pick-ups against strangers at clubs) as training, and not really counting as real games.  This is because to me the history of adapting and learning against a particular opponent, coupled with the relaxed atmosphere of hanging with your mates brings so much more depth to a game.

Games in competitive or formal environments on the other hand tend to be standardized in format and lack context.  You meet someone, adjust to their personality (or not), play the game and move on.  I go in competitions not to win (although I try my best) but to learn and gain experience so I can unleash new tricks on my friends when we meet to play a proper game.

I can understand too though that people could think of competition games as proper games, and casual games as training.  We have some pretty decent prizes these days after all.  This recent article on Bell of Lost Souls discusses such an attitude and whether it fits what GW games have historically been.  I don’t think it does.

I guess also that if you go in competitions all the time, or play regularly at a club, the opponents may become your friends and rivals, and then you get the depth of having regular sparring partners and playing for the belt.  But most of us do not regularly make the top tables, so this situation is actually pretty rare in reality.

So what do you think?  Do you think casual games are the real games, or do only competition matches count?  Or are you a freaky sword-saint of Warhammer who never trains, but instead treats every game no matter what as the real thing?

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7 responses to “What counts as a “real game?”

  • Capn Stoogey

    I’m with you 100%. I’ve never been a tourney player, or even played more than a game or two against someone who wasn’t a good mate, but I really do enjoy trying to adapt and out think a regular opponent for the next game. As you suggested, playing someone regularly gives you so much more opportunity to try and learn their style, and adapt your own to counter what you think they might bring to the next battle. In essence, you feel much more invested in your army, and are playing your opponent as much as you are playing their army, leading to a great, intense game! 🙂

  • Von

    Funny you should mention this: I was chatting to some of the lads I play Warmahordes about the impossibility of getting a casual Warmahordes game in around our way. Everyone is always either preparing for a tournament, or learning a new faction; there’s very little of that “roll up with the stuff you know well and just have fun with it, without worrying about the whys and wherefores” stuff going on. If it’s tourney prep, there’ll be hard lists and an expectation of, if not the A game, at least the B game; if it’s learning, there’s worry about making sure the learner gets to do stuff, use their rules and implement them. The constant rhetoric about ‘upping your game’ that circles around the system is… well, it’s not not fun, but it does make it hard to find time for relaxing games. I don’t know if either kind is ‘real’ but I do worry about not finding a system with a prevailing trend toward casual play. WFB used to be like that, but now I’m worried…

  • James S

    @Von, yeah there are definitely ways to approach miniature wargames besides with an eye to the prize. They aren’t kick-boxing after all – they can be creative, escapist activities as well as exercises in raw skill development.

    And as you pointed out you can’t play a casual game with an army you know well against a regular rival if all you do is train up for competitions or learn new factions. There’s a whole way of playing that is left out of that equation, and it happens to be the way I consider the Proper Way (for me).

    I’m curious, how does campaign play fit into the Warmahordes scene? Does anyone do it?

  • Thor

    For me every game is a ‘real game’. The games I look forward to the most are the ones against opponents I’ve never played because it’s a true test of skill. By that I mean I don’t their play style and nuances so I can’t rely on my knowledge of my opponent to aid my game play. When you play someone repeatedly you get to the point where you can predict their next move and plan accordingly, and likewise for your opponent regarding you.

    Though fun playing your buddies you always play and drinking a few beers, it’s often not the best way to improve your own skill set. Which circles back around to why you’re playing to begin with. I’m a casual-competitive gamer and enjoy both sides of the game. You’re obviously a casual player and so I can see your point of view. As you said, there’s also the competitive gamers who treat every game as a warm-up and practice for something bigger.

  • Frontline Gamer

    Oooh good topic. I think a ‘real game’ is what you want it to be. I agree with Von wholeheartedly with regards to HoMachine here in the West Midlands. Sometimes I just want to put my RoS down on the table and play a game. But the amount of times people ask you to play this list or that list as prep for tourneys really turns me off the game. I have however found a smallish group now who just play HoMachine in that sort of lets put it on the table and play way. Nothing wrong with been into tournaments or purely fun gaming but most of us are in the middle ground i think. We’re competitive to a point (we play to win but not at all costs) but we do it also to have a laugh with friends / bitter rivals. 😉

  • James S

    @Thor, what sort of games you look forward to the most is a good way to put it. I can see what you’re saying, against a new opponent you have no prior knowledge to fall back on, so I can see why that’s exciting. The downside for me is the lack of depth – there’s a limit to how many mind-games you can play against an opponent with no larger history between you. Plus less beer 😉

    From reading your blog I like your attitude, it’s competitive but you always take care to remember it’s a game not a real war.

  • James S

    @Frontline Gamer, yeah, most of us are probably in a middle ground. I’m a bit more casual than many who bother posting about the hobby on the net, but I think that could be partly my age. I played Rogue Trader when I was a kid so I have trouble seeing 40k as a serious wargame 🙂

    I’m keen to try Infinity with a bit more of a cut-throat attitude, but I’ll still be playing against my mates for fun. Maybe I’ll go in a tournament next year if I get my act together.

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