Leading up to the World Championships (Worlds), I thought it would be good to spend a little time talking about how I would like to treat my opponents and how I’d like them to treat me. As I’ve noted in the past, competitive gaming naturally can get emotional. People spend large amounts of money and put in numerous hours of practice to prepare for an event like Worlds, so it’s not surprising, rather it’s expected that some players will be emotionally charged. At the same time, casual players are also likely to show up, looking to eat pizza, drink beer, and just talk Star Wars. While this is perhaps obvious, I think it’s important to explicitly state that there aren’t separate tournaments for these players – they all play together.
Which brings me to what I’d like to reflect on this week – what can you do to make playing with your opponent as enjoyable as possible? My assumption is that most people don’t really give this much thought before an event. After all, we generally self-select the people we spend leisure time with, so naturally the likelihood that we annoy or offend one of those people is low.
However, we need to recognize that this is not the case in a tournament setting – you are playing with people you haven’t met and frankly you know nothing about. Now, I think we tend to trick ourselves on this front at a subconscious level, reasoning that because our opponent likes Star Wars, board games, and Imperial Assault, he or she must share our other traits as well. We all know that’s not true, but I think it’s important to explicitly note this because in the middle of a game, your opponent may do something that irritates you and it will probably be difficult to reason: “oh yeah, my opponent doesn’t know of or share my irritations, thus he or she may not realize that I'm annoyed.”
Therefore, I want to spend the rest of this article laying out some “rules” for being a conscientious participant in an Imperial Assault tournament. I don’t anticipate that everyone will agree with these points, but I’ll at least put forward what I find to be some of my preferences.
RULE 1: Be prepared to play before you start your first game.
In many situations, failing to meet someone’s expectations can be a good way to poison a relationship right off the bat. If you are showing up to an event, by the time the first match starts, you essentially should be in a position to set your deployment cards, figures, and Command cards on the table in front of you. If you need to build a map, you should also have the tiles and the map sheet ready before you sit down (there’s only three maps). Now, I think these are things I’d like my opponent to be ready to do in all scenarios, however this is even more important when attending a tounament. It’s not a big deal if you and a friend only get to play two games instead of three because you both came with incomplete lists/ Command decks – you won’t have that luxury at a tournament. There are well-defined time limits for every round and the longer you take to set up the less you are playing. Show up organized and ready to play.
RULE 2: Introduce yourself and learn about your opponent. Within reason.
As I stated in the beginning of this article, tournaments feature players from all walks of life, thus you need to be careful about how much conversation you engage in and the content of that conversation. I find nothing wrong with an introduction and a little small-talk as you set up. I find this behavior to be well within the social norms surrounding gaming in general. However, once the game begins, be mindful that many players want to concentrate on the game as they play. This isn’t a hard and fast rule (I will yammer for a full 60 minutes if you engage me at a tournament), but just be mindful of how your opponent reacts if you’re trying to engage him or her in conversation during the game. And, in contrast, if you’re being engaged in conversation but would like the other player to refrain, it’s much better to be up front about it than to let it go on. I don’t think many players will be offended if you politely apologize for not wanting to talk and focus on the game.
Then, be mindful of the topics you converse about. In addition to the ones you already know (politics, religion, etc.), I find it smart to avoid asking questions about other players’ lists and/or games. Someone may have lost every game that day, and bringing it up may just put them in an unpleasant mood. Some players are touchy about sharing their strategies and may be offended by you asking how their list works. Overall, most people are happy to get to know you and talk about anything, but be mindful of topics that may cause frustration to your opponent.
RULE 3: Know the rules of the game. If you don’t, be prepared to address the rules you don’t know.
Knowing the ins and outs of every rule in this game will make your tournament experience go much smoother than it would otherwise. It will do the same for your opponents. That said, there will always be rules that are fuzzy for players, so it’s important to have a plan for how you’re going to address those situations. First, if you’re new to the game and are worried that you don’t know all the rules, you should tell that to your opponent before the game starts. Let him or her know that you’re learning and that you’re sorry if you make any mistakes. I have never seen a veteran player respond to this opening in a bad way, and I expect you won’t either. Second, if there’s a rule that you don’t quite understand but would like clarified, call a tournament organizer (TO) over and ask about it. Don’t bother the players next to you (unless they offer). TOs are there to answer questions and you should use them. And finally, never feel guilty for asking a TO to come over and answer a rule question, even if your opponent is sure they understand the rule.
RULE 4: Be clear, concise, and timely during the game.
In some ways, this rule is a combination of many pet peeves into a more proactive prescription: don’t slow play, don’t ask to take back actions/decisions, don’t make unclear actions and/or decisions. I think each of these scenarios deserves a little attention.
Slow play: There is no set duration that qualifies as the “proper” amount of time to take your turn, and I won’t pretend to have some system to help. I find that if my opponent is genuinely in the process of making a decision, then I’m pretty relaxed about the time it takes for that decision to be made. However, if my opponent appears to be purposely delaying the game, then I recommend contacting a TO and asking for guidance. This is a hard issue to address and ideally it won’t be a problem for most or any players.
Take backs: We all occasionally do something during the game that we look back on and say, “I shouldn’t have done that.” Now, that can happen within minutes of taking an action, or within seconds, and I would wager there is an inverse relationship between the time that has passed and likelihood that your opponent will allow a take back. That said, at an event, your opponent has every right to deny you the ability to take back a taken action, a played card, or a declared attack target. On top of that, I would argue it’s rude to even ask for a take back, as doing so puts your opponent in an unfair position. So, do yourself and your opponent a favor and don’t put yourself in a position to need to do a take back in the first place.
Unclear decisions: At any given time, there are a multitude of actions and decisions available to a player. Therefore, it helps the game progress quickly and cleanly if you make it very clear what and how you’re going to do something. For instance, are you moving three spaces via Captain Terro’s Mounted ability? State that to your opponent. Are you attacking a target? State the target, declare the required range, the dice you're rolling, and then go through the stages of attack (rerolls, modification, spend surges) step by step. Playing like this may be overkill in a casual game, but in a tournament setting it clears up any ambiguity about the state of the game and helps players remember any abilities or cards that need to be played at specific times, avoiding future conflict.
RULE 5: Forget missed opportunities but don’t forget to maintain the game state.
Even though this is officially spelled out in the Fantasy Flight tournament regulations, it doesn’t hurt to state it again: if you forget to play a card or activate an ability at its specified time, the opportunity is gone. Similar to my discussion with take backs, you shouldn’t be asking your opponent if you can rewind the game so you can fix a missed opportunity. However, it’s important not to confuse missed opportunities with maintaining the game state. BOTH players are responsible for maintaining the game state. Any mandatory abilities or triggers must be accounted for whether it helps or harms you. If for one reason or another you and your opponent have let the game state fall into an irreparable place, call a TO.
RULE 6: Win and lose with grace.
Basically, every game you play is going to end with a win or a loss. That said, there are obviously different circumstances under which these can occur, and I think it’s best to prepare for those before showing up. I’ll try address them from feeling best to worst.
You won a game that you feel you deserved to win: Ideally, this is how we’d like every game to end. If this is the case for you, be mindful of your opponent’s demeanor. It may be appropriate for you to say good game, talk strategy, or shake their hand. Or, it may be appropriate for you to say nothing. Read the room. There's nothing wrong with being proud of yourself and celebrating with your friends, but it doesn't need to happen in front of your opponent at the table.
You won a game that you feel you deserved to lose: I find this feeling rather rare, as generally we all succumb to confirmation bias that tells us that if we won, all the actions we took were in furtherance of our victory. However, occasionally you may feel that you “stole” a game, and in that case I think it’s best to refrain from apologizing about it, mostly because you have nothing to apologize for. Imperial Assault has dice; i.e., every game contains an element of chance. Follow the advice for the “feel you deserved to win” section.
You lost a game that you feel you deserved to lose: Another rare feeling I find among tabletop players, but I occasionally feel it and it provides a real opportunity. In terms of decorum, there isn’t much risk – if you feel this way, you’re already willing to concede to your opponent that they played the better game, so there’s not a lot of risk of making things unpleasant (also, they’re already feeling good because they won). I think the best thing you can do in this situation is see if they’ll talk through some of the points of the game where you made a mistake. Of course, be mindful of your opponent’s time (there isn’t much during a tournament), but this is a good opportunity to show someone respect even in defeat.
You lost a game that you feel you deserved to win: Clearly, this is the worst and most toxic attitude to have after a game is complete. I don’t blame players for having it, as I recognize that losing isn’t pleasant and it’s worse when it feels as if a game came down to an element of chance. Thus, it’s difficult to be graceful in this particular situation. Work hard to overcome this feeling. I don’t want to leave the tournament remembering you as the guy that threw a fit when he lost a game and you don’t want to leave the tournament being remembered that way. As already stated, Imperial Assault has elements of chance an every so often you will need to humble yourself to that part of the game.
RULE 7: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
I couldn’t really make a set of rules about decorum without citing the golden rule – and it’s the golden rule because it is meant to encompass all those norms of human decency that aren’t enumerated in the rules above. Use your head. Be a player that your opponent will be happy to see again. When asking for advice on this article from a friend, I received a response that I think exemplifies this rule:
"I’ve played a lot of competitive [games] the last two years and you run across players who hold you to every minute rule, no bending whatsoever. There’s two truths to that: they have every right to be that way and they are not fun to play with." - Brett Pidde, Imperial Assault Hawaii Regional Champion
When it comes down to it, we’re all at the tournament to have fun. Be fun.