The 10 commandments of competitive wargaming

I find myself inspired by this post on the Privateer Press forums, but I think his commandments are too narrowly focused so I thought I might make my own set of commandments, which like the ten original commandments aims for a broader set of guidelines, though this will deal less with lusting after your neighbors wife,  and more with moving around little metal men in a competitive setting.

  1. I shalt not make excuses when I lose.
  2. I shalt not make excuses when I win.
  3. I shalt study my every game.
  4. I shalt always plan for failure.
  5. I shalt have no other gods before probability.
  6. I shalt never give up.
  7. I shalt remember that wargaming is a social event.
  8. I shalt smite the rookies.
  9. I shalt not take back.
  10. I shalt remedy my malodour.

These commandments will not make you a tactical genius if you weren’t already born as one, but they will make you a better player, a more pleasant opponent, and most importantly they will help you grow and function in a community that now includes more than thirty countries worldwide.

1. I shalt not make excuses when I lose!

This will rub some people the wrong way, but when you lose it’s your fault no matter what, because the second it’s not your fault you categorize the loss as unavoidable, and that will not make you a better player. Instead of making excuses that might even be valid, you could be considering what to do differently the next time that situation comes up, which might just prevent the next game from ending the same way.

Nope… it’s denial, now quit it.

In addition to making you a better player, you’re actually training your brain to handle losses more constructively as well, which is great because when a human being loses a game, his brain kicks into gear trying to explain the loss, which leads to one of two possible outcomes. Either the brain decides that the loss was unavoidable due to external circumstances, or it decides that the consciousness should spend a fitting period of time berating itself for being such a dumbass.

2. I shalt not make excuses when I win!

As opponents we can be tempted to console people by telling them that their dice sucked or the match-up was horrible, and it’s a nice gesture but it doesn’t help them much (even if it’s true) because you’re basically telling their brains to categorize the game as unwinnable, when you should be trying to help them understand why they lost, and hope they return the favor at a later date when they trounce you right back.

I find that the best way of doing so is to ask an opponent who just got flattened what I did wrong in the game. This not only distracts him from his loss, but also makes him feel better about the game as a whole, and makes him consider the game from a less personal angle, allowing him to see things he might otherwise have missed, and it doesn’t hurt that you often learn a thing or two in the process.

3. I shalt study my every game!

Most players tend to study the games they lost trying to figure out why it came to pass, which leads to the old saying ‘you learn more by losing‘, but if you’re dedicated and study your wins as well, you will learn even more by winning. Figuring out why you lost is great, but figuring out why you won will lead to more wins in the long run.

This applies to everything from spiked dice rolls to opponents forgetting their own rules, and in every case you need to decide if you actually won by doing something right, or simply by doing less wrong than your opponent. There’s no shame in winning by doing less wrong (it’s how I win most of my games), but it’s important to realize the difference.

4. I shalt always plan for failure!

I see so many games being lost because players simply don’t consider the positions they’ll be in once their ‘guaranteed’ win falls through, or their opponents spike dice rolls like crazy. In any game that relies on chance, the main objective should be to avoid do or die situations at all cost, because the dice WILL fail you at the worst possible moment.

Interestingly enough this leads right back to commandment number one, because most people I see making dice based excuses for their losses, ended up losing because their dice tanked in the middle of an almost guaranteed do or die attempt, which could have been avoided by planning for that unavoidable failure.

5. I shalt have no other gods before probability!

I’ve had people complain about the dice failing them, and then frown in disbelief when I try and explain to them that they had roughly one in fifty chance of actually making their plan work. I’m pretty damn far from being a math genius, but most of these basic calculations are piss easy, and you don’t even need to be exact to make it work.

Spend ten minutes memorizing a relevant probability chart, and after the first game with a cheat sheet in hand you’ll be ready to kick the training wheels and do these calculations on the fly. In time you won’t even have to actually do the calculations, because you’ll simply know the probabilities by heart.

6. I shalt never give up!

You should never concede a tournament game, or even a friendly game unless you have somewhere else to be. This is a game of dice, and conceding removes the possibility that the dice will favor you heavily that turn and save your bacon, so no matter how bad it looks you should always force your opponent to actually finish your off, because stupid mistakes and unlikely dice rolls are part of the game.

The second part of never giving up is more subtle, but once you consider a game to be lost you tend to play as though it had already come to pass, which increases the likelihood that it actually has. Never actually give up on a game, because  games are won and lost against all odds every single day.

7. I shalt remember that Wargaming is a social event!

I don’t care how good you are at the game, because everyone will judge you entirely on how you behave. This means that most people won’t care that you’re right about some rule if you’re being an ass about it, and it means that you are responsible for your opponent having a great time, even if it’s the final table at a huge tournament.

In most major tournaments this also makes you responsible for the other players during breaks, because we all come there to have fun and he just lost. This can mean chatting about the game, buying him a beverage if it was a particularly nasty game, or maybe just commenting on his excellent paint job / T-shirt / hair / whatever.

8. I shalt smite the rookies!

Another of the more controversial commandments, but this is something I had to learn the hard way myself. Obviously this doesn’t mean stomping someone in his/her first game, but once he/she understands how the game works you need to take off their training wheels, and do your very best to smite them.

The kicker in this commandment is, that you also need to remember commandment number 7, which means you have to make sure that he’s having a good time while you’re kicking his face in, and commandment number 2 which means that you should both be learning something (if you’re not being a teacher you’re most likely just being an asshole here).

9. I shalt not take back!

Even in friendly games you should stand by your moves and mistakes. If you play without take backs you train your mind to avoid mistakes like the plague, but if you constantly correct the mistakes you make and thus avoid the consequences, your mind will simply continue allowing those very same mistakes.

The other side of the coin here is, that in tournaments you get to deny your opponents take backs as well, because if you play clean they have to as well, and if you’ve been training to avoid mistakes and they haven’t, then you’ve got a massive advantage from the very beginning.

10. I shalt remedy my malodour

It seems obvious to most people, but in a hobby such as wargaming we inevitably encounter a few people who fail to realize that personal hygiene is paramount.  There’s really nothing we can do about it, except making sure that the person being encountered is not actually us.

Bring some deodorant, a toothbrush, a towel and shampoo. I can’t tell you how rancid the smell becomes in poorly ventilated rooms stuffed with gamers unless everyone does their part,  and at most major tournaments you should be able to find a shower somewhere (befriend a local player and borrow theirs if there’s none on location).

Thou shalt follow these commandments only if thy feels like it!

These are not commandments they’re guidelines, and if you don’t feel like smiting the rookies (or they don’t feel like being smitten) then there’s no need to actually do it. These guidelines are what I think makes a player and community grow, both tactically and socially, but there are massive cultural differences across the world, so take these guidelines as they were meant, and tweak them to your own needs.



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12 Responses »

  1. This was surprisingly difficult to write, so any comments are appreciated.

  2. I really like these, and if I would have written down 10 gaming commandments it would probably be the same ones. I’m gonna share this with my gaming club, because I know a few players that ignore some of these. At least they are always trying to fulfill number 7. :)

    Great as always Lamaron. I think this is the first time I’ve commented on one of your articles, but I ALWAYS read them. They are always helpful and interesting. :)

  3. An inspiring read actually, both your version and the original post. It’s a rare occasion that I actually find myself pondering my qualities as a player and how I can improve beyond merely tweaking this or that ‘unbeatable’ list.

    Honestly I might have a slight tendency for arrogance – no funny remarks now, please ;) – and I regularly just shrug my shoulders and blame dice if a game suddenly goes down the drain, instead of evaluating why I actually allowed the dice to do so in the first place. I also like talking smack and sometimes forget that not everyone appreciates it, especially just after losing a game.

    Food for thought; most definitely.

  4. Succinct and on point, well done. Most of these are good guidelines for near any collaborative/competitive event. Particularly point #10, I recall one league where a participant deliberately ignored hygiene to dissuade close defending. Very anti-social.

    There is theme tension worth asking you to elaborate on, and that being the aforementioned collaborative/competitive cleft. You rules are exactly that: norms to be followed in all circumstances. The difficultly arises when people participate for motives other than competition.

    Some people play to participate in a friend’s/partner’s/spawn’s hobby. For them, the social element is primary, which as you noted makes the “Thou shalt table the rooks” commandment counter to their interests. Others play because they are primarily modelers, and seek an “interactive diorama” experience and public adulation.

    The main point of this is that people approach the hobby for different reasons, and clinical dispatchment culls the flock (I’m thinking of your pDenny article.) Perhaps I can recommend an amendment to the commmandments; “Thou shalt recognize why your opponent plays and respond accordingly.”

    • Interesting amendment, though logic dictates that your opponent should be doing the same, which means that perhaps the commandment should really be about balancing and communicating both players expectations instead?

      • I agree. In my own practice, I assume tournament participation at any level means competitive motive, in which case your commandments are valid. For social gatherings with miniatures in the local community, I discreetly sound out my fellow players through simple questions (how did you get into the hobby, pick your faction, etc…). Most times I get a pretty good feel for what kind of player I’m facing, and looking at their list usually cements the impression. A list says an awful lot about the mindset of a player, and a little polite conversation rounds that out well.

        I do this because driving off people from the hobby hurts it as a whole. I’d happily grant honest mulligans all day to the enthusiastic painter who just wants rules to play with his G.I. Joes. I’ve often found those hobbyists become the backbone of a meta, pumping out models and terrain, and keeping the group fresh. These guys often buy models and field them “’cause they look awesome!” and expand ideas and matchups. Tabling them repeatedly because they can never get the hand of excarnate+bile thrall threat range, or always forgetting to reave Fury, makes the game no fun for many of them.

  5. A nice list of guidelines to follow for competitive wargamers. Good food for though too, addressing issues that often crop up in a gaming community. I’d like to add that for commandments 1 and 2 it really helps if players are emotionally unaffected and objective about the game during the post game analysis. Games tend to build up strong emotions within the players and these easily color player analysis during post game review.

    It is not wrong to attribute a bad match up or really bad dice rolls as factors contributing to a large extent to the loss of a game. Sometimes these really do happen and have been known to mess up games (an example I’ve seen is a troll warlock passing 7 tough checks in a row, that was statistically unlikely and did cost the other player the game). As you’ve written, the most important part of becoming a better player is analyzing both losses and wins, an objective analysis that takes into account the various factors as a whole (such as dice, terrain, tactics, list building and matchup) is probably one of the best ways of analyzing a game after the dust has settled.

  6. I really like this, Lamoron.

    I’ve seen some variation of the “Rules for Wargamers” article/thread pop up in various places dozens of times over the years, and usually they mix some good advice with a lot of silliness and aren’t all that helpful. Your article is focused and cohesive; I will definitely be sharing it with my group.

    Although I must say, as in all these lists, the “hygiene” one seems a little forced, since that really belongs in the more general Ten Commandments For Interacting With Any Human Under Any Circumstances. I guess it simply can’t be said enough times.

    Regarding the divisive #7 Commandment, I think a re-wording might be considered, but the basic idea is important and should stay in. This list is obviously focused on the competitive gaming crowd – notice that only 2 of the 10 commandments are of any interest to the casuals and hobbyists. What makes this a good list is its tight focus – don’t dilute that too much.

  7. Yes, I think that would address most concerns. Perhaps “The Ten Competitive Wargaming Commandments” or something like that. And then maybe add a line or two to the intro to make the point that you don’t just mean “competitive” as in the national/international tournament scene, but indeed anyone who is serious about improving their game.

    Of course it doesn’t have to be “Competitive Wargaming” specifically; Any number of other word choices could work.

  8. Im just impressed with the verbage used here. Lol. Teo and lamenon im sorry my phone keeps auto correcting and ive given up. Anyways i feel that from reading this, you really get the overall concept of competitive gaming. I play magic the gathering and played warhammer for 14 years n just made the switch. Teo made an excellent point by being able to assess a persons basic core values with simple conversation. Ive been doing this for years and surprisingly most cant deal with an unexpected surprise. This game is a million times better than warhammer. Thank you all for existing, i enjoy the articles immensely. Big shout out to LAMORON. haha got it that time. Please continue spreading the good word.

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