Sunday, 1 April 2012

Sunday Sermon: Do we need referees?

Now that's what I call a flamboyant referee!

EDIT: Just to make it clear right from the offset this Blog is me asking the question, not prejudging and saying we do, after SinSynn raised a concern. Rather than let it lie, I'm mking things clear. Fact is I haven't been to a tournament in a while, so I'm going on a few complaints I've received recently. In my own experience I found tournaments to be fine and in the main cheat free when I did attend them. Just want to know what people think now.

This thought has resurfaced recently after conversing with some highly disgruntled gamers I know via various means. Many felt they had played somebody recently at a tournament who were to quote one of them 'seriously taking the piss'. Now this thought originally occurred to me about two years roughly, while having a discussion with a couple of people who had just attended a HoMachine tournament. Now both were seething, and I might add rightly so, at a number of things that they, and indeed I, would consider to be cheating, or at the very least unsportsmanlike behaviour. One of them basically said he could stand bad organisation of a tournament, even bad comp and missions. Hell he even accepted at some point he was going to come up against bad match ups he could do nothing about, but... he could not abide flagrant cheating. Lets be honest here, any half decent human being would feel the same way I'm sure, cheats suck ass! Whether it's loaded dice or elastic tape measures, it's all just a bit lame. Even more so when you consider we're pushing little toy soldiers around a board. Seriously? Cheating?

Do not argue with this man. He is right. That is all.
So what is the solution to this? Well I guess that depends on where you encounter the cheat now doesn't it? When I was at university I came across such a startlingly obvious form of cheating I called the guy on it in front of everyone. It was at our university club. What was he doing? Well two things really, the first and most obvious were his dice. He had two colours the red ones rolled high and the blue ones rolled low, suspiciously so. Any way me being good at stats worked out he was having unbelievable luck, although to be honest any idiot could've worked it out they were that badly disguised, so I asked if I could use his dice. He got really defensive about it and I remembered thinking "hmm I don't need to be a psychologist to see he's hiding something". The other thing was pre-measuring in a game that didn't allow pre-measuring. He had 4 pieces of metal rod on his side of the table he thought I couldn't see. He'd lean next to them and then lean on the board. Now if he'd asked me before the game if we could pre-measure, because he was crap at ranges I'd have probably said yes because it was just a fun game... supposedly!

However, it started to get really quite annoying, so I called two friends over to see what they thought before I called him on it. When I did he got exceedingly aggressive, which was dumb because I'm a big bloke, about 6' 3" and he probably made Kylie Minogue look like an Amazonian warrior. But I'd called him on it when I'd got hold of his metal rods and what turned out to be his clearly and very badly concealed loaded dice. that taught him a lesson about going to the toilet mid-game! With the evidence literally in hand he confessed his sins. I packed up and said I don't play with cheats. Thing is neither did anybody else, so he never got a game again I don't think at the university club, or at least not to my knowledge as he was the year below me. So if it's at a club or a local shop you can just refuse to play them pack your stuff up and walk away. This is whether they're openly cheating or you just don't trust them, which ultimately is your decision and personal choice  I'd suggest. So I'm not talking about that sort of situation when I ask if we need referees. But, what happens when we have disputes that are at organised events, and you had no choice whether to play the cheating scum bag across the tabletop from you?

Are match referees required? Now, I don't mean the two or three guys you see running around an event like blue arsed flies trying to deal with every issue that crops up. No, I actually mean a referee who is designated for that game or maybe two tables next to each other? Someone to keep an eye on things and keep people honest. I'm genuinely not sure whether we do or not, or indeed if cheating is as rife as some people I know have claimed it is recently. The truth is though that in some game systems the rules are so bloody ambiguous that the rulebooks alone just aren't good enough to provide a solid and unambiguous framework for us to play our games clearly. Where this is the case what are the possible solutions open to us? The first and most often used option is the small cadre of 'officials' that most tournaments seem to have organising events, and to use them to make 'rules decisions'. For those sorts of genuine rules disputes I think this works fine. For things like loaded dice etc. I'd suggest this is quite frankly more than adequate too. But what about the sly cheating? Moving miniatures that extra inch to get the charge in or blatantly lying about dice rolls? How can somebody who didn't witness that sort of cheating adjudicate?

It seems to me that for many tournament goers who have contacted me and answered my questions on this topic to give me a picture of what's now going on... it's these little niggly transgressions that grate on people nerves the most. I want to be clear here though and say I'm talking about hard nosed tournaments here, where the players are going out to prove they're the best gamer that weekend or whatever. Where people know they're going to play strictly competitively, in these sorts of environment are we now at a stage where we need to see more referee's? I'm honestly tossing this one out to you guys because I've had brief chats with a number of tournament gamers not only here in good old Blighty but also across the pond in the good old U S of A and they have all said something needs to be 'done'. It seems some people are getting so fed up with these minor transgressions adding up and being unable to do anything about it that it is ruining their own enjoyment of tournaments.

Just remember that referees can get it wrong sometimes... erm... all the time!

As many of you who read this Blog will know, I haven't attended any tournaments for quite a while. This is mainly because I just can't face going somewhere and spending and entire weekend playing game after game anymore, but also because I didn't like how it made me approach the hobby. Now I never became a cheating scum bag, but I did become 'that guy' with 'that army' and I started feeling guilty at the faces filled with abject despair across the table from me. So I have to admit that I am currently unaware as to what it's like out there now. when I was gaming at tournaments I'd say I very rarely came across flagrant cheats, and the minor transgressors made up 1 in 10 gamers at most. Honestly I never felt it was that bad, and most of these people who moved figures a bit too far etc. were mostly harmless. But, has it now gotten so bad with some gamers that something needs to be done about it at certain types of tournament? So I'm asking you lot a few simple questions:

  1. Has niggly cheating at tournaments got to such levels that more needs to be done by event organisers to counter it?
  2. And if so, simply put, what more can be done to stop it and eliminate it? Because the suggestion of match referees seems pretty overly 'intensive' to me.
  3. Or is it just part of the package that this kind of crap goes on? Does it come with the territory and do you just have to suck it up?

On this one my fellow gamers I'm going to defer to you lot. The floor is yours. Peace out!


  1. I haven't been to a tournament in several years for some of the same reasons. The attitude for some gamers is that unless they get caught cheating, it doesn't count. They don't call it cheating they call it "technique" and pride themselves at their skill. A friend, a die hard gamer from back in rouge trader days, has quit GW games completely after a particularly bad tournament experience a couple years ago. I decided that going to a tournament and having a bad time is not what I want. I would rather spend my money on new models than waste it on a bad day of gaming.


    1. Honestly I haven't really come across really bad flagrant cheating ever at any tournament. I've come across 'fast dice rollers' and those with 'elastic tape measures'... but as I said I've recently had an influx of email requests for me to cover this issue. I have to be honest, having not attended many tournaments in recent years I really wasn't aware there was an issue. So genuinely just out of curiosity reasons I decided to throw this article up to see what other's with more experience of them think. I'm genuinely intrigued to hear what everyone has to say...

      Was that hint too subtle?

  2. I'd probably be too reserved to call him out on it, though this balances nicely with often being too reserved to play, much less enter a tournament...

    1. You see this is my fear for this article, I get the distinct impression I haven't attracted many 'tournament goers' as readers and thus I'm not going to be able to get any feedback on this perceived problem.


      Does this mean I'm going to have to do some investigative journalism at some point to find out if there is an issue with cheating, or to get a perspective on it myself? I hope not as quite frankly I'm getting too long in the tooth for this whole tournament thing I think.

  3. I stopped playing malifaux for reasons of win at all cost gamers. The last two malifaux Gt's i attended killed it for me. Things were happing in games that should not of happend. The fun had gone and it was win at all cost. And without a full time ref at each table its hard to police so to speek. Cheats have and allways will be in our hobby. From crafty gamers gaining an extra inch, to full on ruke benders. But when you have paid to have a fun day of tournament gaming and mr cheat turns up meh. Not for me. Great read again mate.

    1. Yes Mofaux was one of the games that many of the disgruntled tournament gamers mentioned... a lot!!! Warmachine was rarely mentioned except when in conjunction with elastic tape measures and rapid dice rolling and pick ups. I guess there's little in that game that you can argue with rules wise. However, it was WFB and 40k unsurprisingly given their relative size to other games that garnered the most complaints. It seems I might just have been lucky not to encounter such cheats that often... yeah I've had a lot of shy tournament gamers email me after this article has gone live. Turns out many do feel it's an issue!

  4. I've never played in any tournament and don't play against 'powergamers' on a regular basis, so I can't really make a judgement on this. The only time I felt being cheated in a tabletop game was by the guy who introduced me to the Warhammer hobby. He used to roll his dice really quick, picked them up faster than anybody could look and then mumbled "I rolled [insert ridiculous number here] hits/wounds". A friend of mine made the same experience and we simply decided not to play against him anymore. Also, he did explain the Warhammer rules to us wrong, so that they'd always favor his army.

    In friendly games at our local 'club' (i.e. a bunch of guys meeting every week to play, paint and complain about work and women ^^) I haven't seen a lot of cheating. And a lot of the cheating that happened was actually just not knowing the rules. So that doesn't really qualify as cheating either. When a game situation needs a ruling, then there's always somebody around who does know what to do. If not, a (unloaded) dice roll is helpful too ;-)

    Sometimes I feel being cheated on, when I don't know the special rules, e.g. for a certain army, and I'm totally surprised by it mid-battle. Well, maybe I should whine less and play more, then I'd know more of the rules. But in our friendly games, we generally explain special rules to each other before the game anyway.

    Fun fact: The referee booking two players from St Pauli and Mainz at once (first picture in the article) was banned by the DFB (German Football Association) for several games in 2008. He was accused of putting himself in the center of attention, instead of the game itself (the media loved him though ^^).

    1. Oops, double post. My browser has fooled me with error messages. Please delete :-)

    2. Don't worry about it Blogger appears to have been having a hissy fit with the 503 Errors this past two weeks. I personally think it's to do with the enforced switch over to the new Blogger platform in the background. Just don't hit refresh or resend. Highlight the URL and hit return, that sorts it out for me! I'll delete the repeated comment below.

      Klaus it's very rare you'll come across cheating in a club situation I find. It's only when we move into competitive tournaments where the shift on focus moves to winning as the ultimate goal where this behaviour seems to come out. I guess in all competitive pursuits the temptation to cheat to gain an upper hand is just too strong for some. Sad but true.

      As to that ref, I've actally read a fair few stories on him over the last few days and I have to say I think he's utterly bonkers. But, highly entertaining! lol. :P

  5. I play at every tournament I can get to. At least one or two a month.
    In the last year, I've pretty much switched from 40k to Flames of War. Honestly, the Flames crowd is WAY more relaxed, but either way I never encountered a single 'genuine' cheater, in either game.
    I don't need to go to a tournament to find 'win at all cost' types- I can find THEM at a grocery store.
    'Excuse me, I was here first,' you know the type. They're everywhere.

    In all honesty, it's posts like this that help perpetuate a bad image for hobby tournaments. I have NEVER failed to have a good time at an event. Period.
    In many ways, tournaments are a celebration of all that's good in our hobby. Community and good games.
    Only people who attend regularly seem to understand this, however.

    1. I can't imagine going to one or two a month I would be exhausted, you sir are a "Man of Stamina"

    2. When I was a young whipper snapper I used to do 2 or 3 tournaments a month. I was however quite lucky that I lived near two venues that constantly had tournaments going. Its just not in me anymore to do that sort of schedule, plus I'm not sure if it was I'd want to. I've developed other hobbies too such as... erm... sleeping in on weekend and drinking cups of tea. I also now quite like reading Sunday newspapers... oh God I think I might be middle aged!

  6. "In all honesty, it's posts like this that help perpetuate a bad image for hobby tournaments."

    SinSynn, I'm going to take issue with that statement. In the article I state that when I attended tournaments I didn't find cheating a problem. I also state that I don't have much recent experience so I asked questions, and asked my readers to let me know what they think. To tell me whether it's an issue or not. I never said it was one way or the other. I've opened the floor up to you guys who do go to tournaments.

    The reason I stopped going to tournaments if I'm honest is because I started to take my gaming way too seriously and I wasn't enjoying. Again I make that clear in the article, I don't think I ever got to the WAAC stage as some people seem to call it. But, I do know that I became that guy that people hated to play against, in short I knew at times I totally ruined other peoples experience, and actually I wasn't enjoying it that much myself.

    I always remained friendly but that will only get you so far when you're tabling people at games sometimes within two turns. I personally didn't like the hobbyist tournaments seemed to bring out in me. I know I have a highly competitive streak to me and it's not always a pretty thing. I personally think tournaments are a good idea as it broadens your gaming circle but for me the time commitments coupled with me devolving to an utter ass-hat means that it's just best for me to steer clear of them

    In short I'm perpetuating nothing, the only example of flagrant cheating I used was actually at a gaming club NOT a tournament and I clearly stated so repeatedly. Dude please don't put words in my mouth or attribute opinions too me I haven't said. By all means take apart things I have said, but this sermon was about asking you guys what you thought, not about me saying what I thought. Hence the question in the title and the repeated questions throughout the article.

    Still love you dude!!! :P

    1. Hey Frontline.
      Sorry I took so long to reply. I'm having computer issues.
      I love you too, dude- this is not an argument.

      However, I would ask you to re-read the first paragraph of your post.
      Also, statements like this:
      'It seems some people are getting so fed up with these minor transgressions adding up and being unable to do anything about it that it is ruining their own enjoyment of tournaments.'
      are just untrue from my perspective.

      Like I said, I actually attend LOTS of tournaments, and when I read a post suggesting that there should be a referee for every 3 tables to stop 'cheating,' I can't help but think it reflects poorly on tournaments.

      You know yer my dogz, but really, dude, if someone new to the hobby were to read this, what do you suppose he'd think?
      Tournaments are big fun?

    2. SinSynn I have re-read the opening paragraph and as a scene setter I think it's fine. In the case of the HoMachine tournament and what was going on... they'd both played cheats. Sorry simple as that! Different cheats I might add, but both not filling out damage boxes properly and when they called refs over they couldn't sort it out because it was their word against there opponents. That's cheating.

      As for somebody new to the hobby reading this, I'd expect them to see I've been balanced and actually asked whether this is a problem, because I'm not sure if it is. I'd also expect them to read this:

      "when I was gaming at tournaments I'd say I very rarely came across flagrant cheats, and the minor transgressors made up 1 in 10 gamers at most. Honestly I never felt it was that bad, and most of these people who moved figures a bit too far etc. were mostly harmless."

      So I say my own experience is different to what those who have complained to me have been saying. That's why I asked if it was others experience. I personally found sporting behaviour was common. Hell the example of cheating I used was from a gaming club, and I made that clear as well. I think you've mis-read this as I think cheating is rife and all tournament gamers are douches, when what I was actually saying is... some people have said it's a problem. Is it? I wanted to hear more opinions on it, so I asked for them. That's all! :)

      PS. I know about the PC, I read it on Facebook. Hope you get it sorted.

  7. I have encountered cheating. I don't let it get to me. Once I didn't know until afterwards but it hadn't mattered as I had still won. To be honest I think it also depends more than a little on your depth of field and where you play.

    "It’s tough at the top. It’s tough at the bottom. But in between you could use them for horse-shoes."

    Say in a 6 round tournie I will; usually win 2 lose three and draw one placing me at the top end of the bottom third. Its those players perpetually ranked at the top of the middle third that get nasty. They are the ones who resort to the sneaky tricks, gliding tape measures and obscure interpretations of the rules as seen on white dwarf 303 the Hong Kong Edition while playing with their French Daemon Hunters codex as it gave assault cannons an extra pip of AP (true story bro).

    I have always shut down any cheating or confusion promptly and in a friendly manner. It's really no big deal to call an umpire or whatever - I always say there are so many rules never hurts to double check.It has never affected Sports scores either so if you see something and you think that's not right, call it out your opponent may GENUINELY not know better.

    We should be leery of labelling cheaters we save that for certain Australasian players who use mercury dice...

    Great post and very timely I am just staring prep for my one and only annual tournament.

    1. You see now that's closer to the experiences I used to have when I was attending tournaments. I can honestly say I've only come across what I'd deem 4 clear cut cases of open cheating, and 3 of those were in supposedly non-competitive environments. Two were in clubs and one was in a local shop. Only once did I encounter clear cheating in a tournament. The swine kept putting 'deceased' miniatures back on the table. I had noticed it and had politely asked if he had removed all casualties on a few occasions. I sneakily asked the two guys on the table next to me to confirm he was doing it as the bugger was quick. They kindly did and both called him on it while I was down at miniature eye level trying to work out LoS. He was disqualified when some of his previous opponents were asked individually if they felt anything untoward had happened in their games with him. They all reported similar stories. Silly really as he was a good enough gamer not to need to cheat.

  8. I think impartial referees improve damn near any wargame in damn near any context. Having someone there to do the rulebook flicking, remind players of the turn sequence, call the cocked dice and insist on the re-measurements where needed... that'll keep things moving and smooth troubles over no matter what, surely?

    1. I think so Von, and I have often performed this function myself. Especially when helping two inexperienced gamers learn a new game I've introduced them too. The issue for me is a logistical one. In an ideal world you'd be able to have two thirds of gamers at a tournament playing at any one time while the remaining third refereed the games going on. It might lengthen tournaments in on the one hand, but it would solve many issues quickly and fairly I feel. I wander if it would be possible to sell the idea though? I'd personally hope so, but you never know with these fickle carbon based life forms!!! :P

  9. I'm not really qualified to comment as I have no experiance within a formal tournament environment but am pretty shocked that cheating's considered a problem. I can imagine kids in a gaming store might bend the rules a bit but given my experience with wargamers I've found that most tend to be friendly types that generally appear fairly honest, perhaps I'm just being naive but I'd have thought cheaters would be in the minority and soon put in place by other attendees.

    If cheating really is an issue then the only solution would appear to be referees on each table. My initial thought was that this would be impossible to organise; getting sufficient numbers of volunteers with enough of an understanding of the game system to act as referees would be a challenge to say the least but your suggestion of match ups being staggered so that attendees could fulfill this function is a good one. One potential problem is that a lot of gamers are introverted sorts and some don't know the rules as well as they perhaps should so there may still be some issues in terms of getting disputes resolved but it should so the blatent cheating if not the rules queries.

    One other potential problem with having an increased number of referees present is the effect it could have on those that play fairly; many people will find it intimidating to have all of their moves under increased scrutiny which will greatly impact their enjoyment of the experience and may cause them to consider whether or not they want to participate in future tournaments; additional referees may be a way to catch out the minority but might have a negative effect on the rule abiding majority and the tournament as a whole.

    I'd suggest that another way to try and discourage any potential for cheating is to make it clear that it's not acceptable and to encourage those who feel that their opponent isn't playing fairly to pick them up on it; once someone has been pulled for cheating they're likely to be under increased scrutiny and therefore less likely to try anything. Obviously this approach relies on people not to needlessly accuse anyone and everyone of cheating and to maintain their manners and common decency whilst going about it; generally, everyone just needs not to be a dick, but then again I guess people not adhering to that philosophy is what got us here in the first place...

    1. TBH Hendie I was pretty shocked that a number of people contacted me around the same time from different parts of the globe to express frustration at what I would term sly or niggly cheating. Maybe I'm just way more relaxed about such things than they are and am more willing to let what I often term over exuberance slide.

      In terms of solutions to such things if there was considered to be an issue then yeah, I think being clear on what was considered bad form at events would be the first step to empowering gamers to self police their games, which for me is always the preferred option.

      I would however be really interested to see how a referee scheduling like I suggest would work in a tournament. I actually think if people knew this role was expected of them they'd act more responsibly and would probably take the time to learn the damn rules properly and avoid many silly rules disputes in the process by actually learning the rules.... you know who I'm talking about, yeah you at the back stop hiding buddy!!! Read the damn rules!!! :P

  10. I am a regular tournament player. I could also be classified as a 'Power Gamer' but then again, if you dont build broken lists in Warmachine, you are doing it wrong :)

    There is nothing wrong with being competitive, there is noting to be ashamed of going to a tournament to come first. There seems to be a 'feeling' on the boards and internets, that going to win is somehow a douche-like thing to be doing. I do not go to a tournament to come second, and I dont think that it makes me a bad person.

    There is a vast difference between wanting to win, and cheating. I dont think that people should confuse the two. Unfortunately they seem to be linked repeatedly.

    Is cheating an epidemic? No. Are referees necessary, well that comes down to the games sytem. Is there wiggle room for interpretation? If so, a TO whose word is law, is a good idea. If the rules are tight, then it shouldnt be necessary.

    As a TO of many tournaments, his/her word should be enough to settle any query. At the dozens of events I have been to & run, thats all the TO is generally required for - to settle a query. Not an argument. So that is all that is required in most cases. The danger of introducing referee's is then you get people playing against the referee as much as the opponent. Professional fouls if you will. If you dont get caught by the ref then is doesnt count sort of attitude. We need to avoid this at all costs. I think our community self polices far better than any ref can or will. People who are d1cks, tend to be ostracised, and socially evicted from gaming groups and communities.

    1. "There is nothing wrong with being competitive, there is noting to be ashamed of going to a tournament to come first. There seems to be a 'feeling' on the boards and internets, that going to win is somehow a douche-like thing to be doing. I do not go to a tournament to come second, and I dont think that it makes me a bad person"

      This gets a thumbs up from me, as does this:

      "There is a vast difference between wanting to win, and cheating. I dont think that people should confuse the two. Unfortunately they seem to be linked repeatedly."

      I touched upon these themes in another of my Sunday Sermons called WAAC vs FAAC:

      I have no issue with somebody turning up to these sorts of events with the express aim to win. In my experience I just didn't personally like the person I started to become at such tournaments, I wasn't enjoying what I was doing to others. I've done the whole taking none optimised armies things and that was fun for a while trying to get them to work, but as you say... in games like Warmachine that's not exactly fun! lol. :P

      I'm really glad actually that both you and SinSynn have actually come out and said it's not a problem. I'm not going to accuse some of my friends of being whinge bags because I'm sure what they say has annoyed them has happened, but I'd like to remind them that they also have the ability to play those sorts of tricks against these sort of dickish opponents too. When in Rome and all that.

      When I was initially attending tournaments I found it a huge amount of fum. I really, really did. But I've just changed as a person and my priorities are very different now. I still personally feel that tournaments are a vitally important part of the hobby and that games developers should pay close attention to supporting and learning fro such events, because if they did they'd make their products stronger for the rest of us.

  11. i just wanted to say, for anyone reading, that to imagine that cheating is widespread would be very, very wrong. i started attending tournaments in the UK about 18 months ago, and i have been to 12 now as far as i can remember, most of which were two day events. that is around 60-70 games of 40k.

    not once i have i encountered cheating in a game against me. only once i have i seen anyone accused of it, and that was a debatable account of slow playing. i am a member of group described above as one of "those players perpetually ranked at the top of the middle third" and as such i play the same sort of players regularly. i never have a problem because those are the guys who really, really know the rules. the only time i have rules issues is with guys lower down the ladder who don't play that regularly (which is fine, they are not cheating, and are happy when the rule is clarified).

    in fact i have seen a lot more exemplary behaviour than bad. the best example was when someone got a rule wrong, leading to them winning the game, and only found out an hour later. they were so mortified that when informed that they had the TO to reverse the result. they could have said nothing and no-one would have known. this was someone with a chance of winning, incidentally.

    1. "when I was gaming at tournaments I'd say I very rarely came across flagrant cheats, and the minor transgressors made up 1 in 10 gamers at most. Honestly I never felt it was that bad, and most of these people who moved figures a bit too far etc. were mostly harmless."

      That's a quote from the article, and what you seem to be saying Atreides would certainly seem similar to my own experiences. As I also said I've actually encountered more outright cheating outside of tournament situations than in them. I was just compelled to raise the issue as I'd had a lot of emails (16) on this issue over the last 4 weeks or so.

      I always like to listen to what various readers are telling me about their hobby experiences and to try and reflect them in my own output. However, I just didn't feel able to comment on the current situation as I haven't experienced it, and I have made it clear that it's not been my personal experience historically.