Judicious Rulings

Recently a player was telling me about a game of Warhammer that he had watched at the club. This game was between two regular opponents, one of whom had always won in the past. Naturally everyone was expecting the same result this time round, but this time things turned out differently. The game was close, and at a critical juncture in the game, a bystander pointed out to the underdog that he was calculating his combat resolution incorrectly. As a result of this revelation, the player went on to record a historic victory. It also upset the eventual loser of the game, who felt that the game had only been won because of outside intervention. Was the bystander right to point out the underdog’s mistake?


Am I obliged to correct my opponent when he applies the rules incorrectly, thus disadvantaging himself? Naturally I would point out the failure to apply the rules properly if it disadvantaged me, because then it becomes “cheating”, whether intentional or otherwise. But can you call it cheating when it is a disadvantage to do so?


I suspect that it is all a matter of perspective. On the one hand, you could say that the rules are there to be put into action, and any failure to do so is really a failure to play the game properly. If you follow this philosophy, then players are obliged to point out breaches of the rules (or failure to calculate combat resolution properly), no matter who they disadvantage. Equally, bystanders could feel free to point out the error without fear of arousing a player’s ire, as the rules are there to be applied by everyone.


On the other hand, you could argue that applying the rules properly is one of the challenges of the game. There is a degree of skill involved in knowing how to adhere to the rules in order to prevent yourself from being at a disadvantage. Comprehensive knowledge will allow you to best use the rules to your army’s advantage, prevent your opponent from hoodwinking you, and potentially exploit your opponent’s inferior knowledge (entirely legally, of course). It is the responsibility of a player to know how to play by the rules, and the onus is on them to prevent opponents from cheating, rather than from cheating themselves.


The differences between these two arguments are largely competitive. The first attitude supports a level playing field for both players, thus providing for what will hopefully be a balanced game. The second attitude favours the stronger (or more knowledgeable) player. It is a competitive stance, placing the responsibility on each player to effectively defend himself from being beaten by the rules, or their lack of knowledge thereof. Survival of the fittest and the like.


You might argue that the second stance is one that is well-suited to tournament play, whereas the other is better placed in a “friendly” environment, such as at a club, or at home. Normally the atmosphere of these environments is different, and the stated aim of the game is potentially different, too. Sometimes it might be more difficult to decide which atmosphere you’re really playing in – you might be at a club, but playing a very competitive game, or you might be at the tournament to enjoy yourself, meet people, and not necessarily to do well. What do you do then?


It is worth noting that pointing out when a player fails to apply the rules properly is not the same as telling them what to do. Whatever the player does within the scope of the rules should be their problem, and outside intervention would normally be inappropriate. It is entirely possible to play by the rules, but play very badly. This is a skill-related issue that few would bother to argue.


I would prefer to embrace the stance that rules are there to be obeyed, whether it is in your favour to do so or not. I see no real problem with pointing out to a player that he has miscalculated his combat resolution, and would like to think that I would not be too upset if a bystander did the same for my opponent. If I manage to calculate my own score incorrectly, or am using a rule in the wrong way, I would like to know (even if I do end up losing the game as a result). I might be frustrated because of it, but it will be the result that disappoints me, rather than my opponent’s (or someone else’s) intervention itself. I think there is plenty of scope for outplaying your opponent while you are both applying the rules as they were intended.


This is all well and good, but in the heat of a tensely-fought game, will I remember to hold to this resolution, rather than smiling inwardly when my opponent robs himself of his chance to win when he messes up his maneuvering through poor application of the rules? I don’t know, but I will certainly try.

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