While most gamers enjoy playing games for fun, there are some of us who like to make things a little more competitive, especially with two-player games that require you to put together a deck of cards or a group of miniatures. It’s one thing to win some casual games where nothing is on the line, but to win a tournament is a completely different kind of flying altogether. Every win is huge. Every loss is potentially devastating. And you’re playing against people ostensibly at their best, all there to challenge themselves and see if they have what it takes to win the whole thing.
But as competitive as these tournaments can be, there’s still some basic decency required. In the end, we’re playing a game after all; it’s not a matter of life and death. So no matter how fierce the match or how great the possible reward, you try not to take things too personally. Or seriously. And you certainly don’t cheat. Sadly, some people do feel the need to win at all costs. For them, winning is all the matters. It’s all destination, no journey, and if they have to bend rules within an inch of their lives or split hairs on minor technicalities to get their way, it’s worth it, even if it makes anyone they play against absolutely miserable. And some have no qualms about flat-out breaking the rules if they can get away with it. As if flying little plastic spaceships around is that important.
We had a tournament for the Doomtown: Reloaded card game on Sunday, and while no one cheated, we did have an incident that shined a light on the whole idea of competitiveness and fairness. Now usually in any kind of tournament where you construct a deck or squad beforehand, it’s a given that you play the entire tournament with that same deck or squad. Sure, there are some formats where you can switch or add, but for the most part, you dance with who you brung. Except one of our players didn’t realize this, and played a game with a different deck. We didn’t realize this until he was already halfway through the game, and time constraints made it impractical to start over. He ended up losing the game, which seemed to make it a no harm/no foul situation; he would just go back to his original deck for the next game, and on we’d go.
Only some players had a problem with this. In their view, he’d committed a major violation, no matter how innocent a mistake he’d made and without malice it was. It didn’t matter that he’d lost the game; that he’d played it at all was a disqualifying offense. And never mind that it wasn’t explicitly stated beforehand that he had to use the same deck; it’s right there in the official tournament rules, which he should have been aware of.
The only thing is, it wasn’t right there in the official rules. Nowhere in the pages of rules posted online did it specifically say you had to use the same deck throughout a tournament. Only that you had to bring the necessary pieces to play by the rules set forth for any particular tournament, including decks and/or deck lists. This made it a little harder to bring the hammer down on the guy. How could we roast him over the coals for something we’d assumed was a hard rule but which we couldn’t find in the actual rules?
To complicate matters, he went on to beat me in third round with his original deck. This left me, him and another player all tied with 2-1 records at what should have been the end of the tournament. Now what do we do? We could play another round of games, but what if we all won again? What if we all lost? And, worst of all in some people’s minds, what if the errant player ended up winning the whole thing, when in their opinion, he shouldn’t have still been in the tournament at all? What was supposed to be a fun afternoon playing cards was turning into a weighty debate over rules and intentions and consequences, which didn’t promise to be fun for anyone.
Before things ground to a halt, I threw out a suggestion. While what that player did was indeed against the spirit of the rules if not their letter, I didn’t think it was fair to throw the book at him. But I also didn’t think it was fair to give him a shot at wining the whole thing. There had to be consequences, but not so severe the guy would never want to play with us again. So I proposed we let his record stand, but that he not be allowed to play for the tournament championship. That would allow a head-to-head game to determine the winner, it would let our errant player still be recognized for winning two games with his legal deck, and it would hopefully satisfy everyone else’s sense of fair play.
Which it did. There were a couple of grumbles here and there, but in the end, it simply wasn’t a setting or situation that seemed to call for unbending strictness. The player accepted third place gracefully, I ended up losing the final game and the nifty sheriff’s badge I would have won, and everyone made sure it was understood that next time, unless you heard otherwise, use the same deck.
It’s these kind of things that make me thankful for the group I game with. Because I’ve heard and read about other groups for which this would have been a major scandal, with recriminations and threats and unpleasantness hovering over things for weeks. All over a game with ghost cowboys and evil clowns in it. Come on. We’re all adults playing games. And nothing related to a game is worth that kind of angst.
Except how damn close I came to winning that stupid badge…