Someone on twitter (The Eternal Wargamer) asked a fantastic question:
Here's a question: why do some players want to try and play 40K & Fantasy competitively when even GW say they're not designed that way?
Well, I’m not a particularly competitive player – still no flyers in any army, for example (though thats more down do smallbabyitis interfering with hobby time!), but it did make me think quite seriously about the hobby. I haven’t played fantasy in over a decade, so this really refers to 40K!
40K is, in many ways, a broken game. I find it fun and entertaining, absolutely love the models, and really enjoy playing it if I get the chance with friends or at the Overlords gaming club. It’s still pretty flawed though! It relies on a point system to match up armies as standard, and the point system is a nonsense, really. If I pick 1500pts of close combat Tyranids, and my opponent picks three flying heldrakes with flame weaponry for anti-infantry work in their army, the two lists are not equivalent. I can’t hurt some of his troops at all! 1500pts will not give an equal match against 1500pts, unless both lists are pretty much identical. Some armies, particularly marines, end up with identical units costing different amounts. There’s an argument that the synergies within an army are taken into account when costing individual units to explain this, but a large part of this is down to the lists simply favouring newer models so GW can sell more! Its solid business practise, even if it doesn’t help the game in the longer term.
Now, for a friendly game down the club (or in my case, with Leonidas or Saint Aidan), thats not a problem. You can take that into account and work out good match ups, or build custom scenarios that are supposed to be unbalanced (like a small force of marines holding a pass against a Nid horde, which was fun after watching 300!). But competitively, that can’t work particularly well. If someones out to win, they won’t give up an advantage to make it a more fun game. One problem is that all it takes is one person in a group being a little more competitive, buying the latest models for advantage rather than just liking them, and you end up with anyone who plays him losing … unless they buy the latest models and work out a competitive list too!
Its not even as cut and dried as that – as an example, Saint Aidan loves heldrakes. Not for advantage – he loves the model, loves assembling them, loves it soaring over the battlefield. I don’t have flyers – so I’m playing at a bit of a disadvantage. Asking him not to use his favourite models is taking the fun out of the game for him!
Some people start to get a bit confused here, talking about fluffy lists, and competitive lists, and how you can have fluffy competitive lists. A fluffy list, to me, is simply one that follows the rich background that surrounds 40K. Its a list where an Imperial Fist force is geared towards a siege assault, or an Iyanden force is largely made of ghost warriors, or a Farsight Enclave force that doesn’t include ethereals and limited tanks. Of course that can be competitive – it often isn’t. I don’t really care about the fluff in this analysis (I love the fluff in 40K, don’t get me wrong – its the main reason I read so much Black Library and stick with the game!) – I’m just looking at the difference between those who have to create competitive lists, optimising their armies effectiveness, and those who play for fun, with models they particularly like or lists based purely on the background rather than worrying about effectiveness.
Essentially, unless we’re willing to rewrite chunks of the game through custom scenarios, house rules, or are pretty relaxed about losing regularly, the very game system forces us toward newer models and a competitive nature – and most people hate to lose ALL the time.
If the question means why do we play GW at a tournament level, well, I don’t, really! But I understand why people would – if you are competitive, it gives you an opportunity to show how good you are. If you aren’t, its an opportunity to meet other gamers, show off your models and painting, and have a fun, hobby based day out. Either way, you probably don’t want to spend the entire day being thrashed, so a reasonably competitive list is pretty much going to be needed.
Is a little competition bad? Not if it forces us to excel. I’m lucky that I can just enjoy my gaming with the models I have . I don’t think I’d like to play with someone who feels that the real fun is the win, not the game. Still, without fixing a very broken points system for match ups – Warhammer is never going to be a good vehicle for genuine fair competition. Fun, yes, but all a competition will show is an element of guessing from rock, paper, scissors style armies (and unit types), and a fair chunk of money to field the latest models, with some tactical skill to use them. It won’t show the better general.