Fairness and the Rules


A guest editorial brought to us by Josh Keal.

Just to give you all some background on me. I’ve only been playing war games for about a year. I come from a competitive card game background in Magic the Gathering. I have been to 15-20 competitive Magic the Gathering events across the country and I’ve competed in 100’s of local tournaments. I’ve been to events where 2500 players are opening packs of magic cards at the same time and it sounded like it was raining for 5 minutes (Grand Pre in Charlotte, NC). Competition can be a beautiful thing. I’ve always loved the rules and competing in MTG has given me an even greater appreciation for the rules.

magic logo

It didn’t take me long to realize that playing Age of Sigmar by the rules as written was looked down upon in many circles. Knowing the intricate details of the rules in a competitive event while playing magic was considered to be a positive thing. Players were happy to learn and discuss rule breaking scenarios. There was a certain respect for the rules that superseded this idea that somehow the “enforcement of the rules took away from the fun of the game”. Playing Age of Sigmar was different.

I was watching a YouTube video about a player who had a poor experience playing against an opponent during Adepticon. His opponent was a real jerk. He allegedly showed to the table 30-45 minutes late due to a hangover. In MTG the rules are clear on being late to your table; if you aren’t there within 15 minutes then you forfeit the round and give maximum score to your opponent. It’s disrespectful to your opponent and to the players in the event. Showing up late for a game is rarely acceptable; do not do it. I would have called for the Tournament Organizer to give us a time extension or my opponent a game loss. In this case the player reluctantly agreed to play the game. The player allowed this opponent to make repeated “take-backs” on several occasions including unit placement during setup and movement phases. Ultimately, this player quit the game out of frustration.

Cope, like Mel does...wait, that would mean getting drunk and making anti-semetic comments. Maybe not!

We’ve all had this opponent at some point. We often place blame on this person for being a jerk. The truth is that they probably aren’t great people, but there are some great lessons to learn from this scenario. How much differently would this game have played out if the player had just been assertive and enforced the rules?

I’ve found that players aren’t assertive enough in this community and that unassertive mentality is often confused with kindness. Effectively, players are being kind because they realize they are imperfect and hope that their opponent will be kind back. There are many players who take advantage of that kindness (especially in a competitive atmosphere).


I find my opponents getting upset when I tell them they cannot take things back (even early on in the event) or that they are doing things out of order. A great example of that might be telling my opponent that they cannot run a unit after they’ve moved the entire unit. You might be reading this and thinking that might seem ridiculous, but those are the rules and they must be followed. Players often accuse me of trying to “win at all costs”, and I believe it’s because they are used to this level of kindness that other players provide. Here are three major reasons why the rules are so important to me during a competitive event:

  1. Respect : We are expected to uphold a level of professionalism that is greater than normal during a competitive event. We’ve committed actual income to play at an event where large prizes potentially exist. We aren’t playing on grandma’s dinner table. We need to respect the rules and play the game properly. If you forgot to put down your Blood Secretor banner and decided to declare that it is your movement phase then you are not in a phase where you can place a banner and you will have to suffer the consequences.
  1. Balance : Enforcement of the rules maintains fairness. Your moral standard with regard to a board game is relative to you as an individual and the rules (although written poorly IMO and subject to some level of interpretation) are an absolute standard that we both agree to when we play the game. If one player does not share the same standard as the other and they both agree to play based upon some unwritten moral standard that both players just assume exists then one player will inevitably be able to make choices that the other cannot. This by definition is not fair.
  1. Self Improvement : Enabling loose play encourages poor gaming practice. When I am playing in a competitive event, I “suck up” my play mistakes and accept the responsibility of my actions. The pain or pleasure I receive when making good or bad plays reminds me to better myself. We learn from the consequences of our actions. If there are no consequences to our poor habits then we will take those habits into environments where they are inappropriate.

In every scenario there is a level of adherence to the rules that must be followed. A competitive event such as Adepticon should be at the highest level and your friend’s basement or dinner table might be the lowest level. The bottom line is that rules exist and should be used to respect the game, maintain balance, improve ourselves as well as others and (of course) WIN.

Keep on gaming everyone!

Check out Josh’s YouTube channel focusing on AoS tactics!


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

25 Responses to “Fairness and the Rules”

  1. Mark perry April 15, 2017 7:14 pm #

    Great read!

  2. Dayone916 April 15, 2017 9:14 pm #

    Thank you for actually stating what so badly needs to be said.
    Thank you for not being scared to speak up despite probably having to suffer the never ending onslaught from the fluff bunnies.
    As someone who also comes from a competitive magic background (albeit much longer ago) I very much relate to the observations of the community.
    I truly wish it would get better.

    • jkeal April 16, 2017 4:49 pm #

      Thanks for taking the time to read it. I do take a lot of flack for having this perspective, but I expect it. That makes things a lot easier.

  3. Blight April 15, 2017 9:41 pm #

    I can get behind everything but the running thing. It’s functionally identical to roll the run before you move and then use the full distance as it is to use normal move then add the run distance. So long as they don’t run twice or move somewhere that they couldn’t have moved before the initial move I’d say not to make a deal out of it. Pretty much anything else though…

    • Joshua D Keal April 16, 2017 4:43 pm #

      Hey Blight, it’s Josh (the writer). I understand your perspective, unfortunately those are the rules. There are lots of people who would agree with you on your level of leniency and there are lots who would not. This is precisely the problem. The issue is that your perspective has to do with your relative moral code which is unfortunately not supported by the rule book.

      Forget about the issue of Balance for a moment and consider this perspective as well. First off, I would only enforce this type of rule in a high level event where I would expect experienced players to have practiced their army ahead of time. In this environment, commitment to an action is considered a skill. If I commit to movement and move my entire unit and then discorver that their is a better play if I run my unit after I’ve already moved it, then it’s unfortunately too late. I should have been good enough to consider that play ahead of time. I then must accept the consequences of my actions and remember to play better in the future.

      • Jural April 17, 2017 3:48 pm #

        I am not clear what scenario you are referring to here.

        1- Scenario A- Your opponent moves a unit and then asks “do you mind if I just do the run move now?”

        2- Scenario B- Your opponent just adds run on to regular movement by either telling you he will do It or by just doing it, and expecting you to be OK.

        I see absolutely nothing wrong with this IMHO. It makes the game faster, and if you are somehow upset by it, you can always say no. If your opponent asking a question like this bothers you, I think it says more about you than him.

        Scenario B is much more annoying, and I think it can be a problem. Especially if you make a point to clarify with the opponent and they keep the crap up.

        Honestly, I’m not really bothered by most things, as long as the opponent clearly recognizes his mistake, omission, or proposal is not strictly kosher and leaves it in my hands to determine the outcome. And this includes not being a jerk if I say no! It’s a social game and working around these minor issues in a friendly manner is part of the social aspect of the game, whether you are at a tournament or on Grandma’s kitchen table.

        • Jural April 17, 2017 3:49 pm #

          I meant to say- I see nothing wrong with Scenario A…

          • josh April 18, 2017 7:43 am

            1. Counts as models do not break the rules as long as you know what they are ahead of time and they are distigushable from other models your opponent has fielded.

            2. I agree with you, there are moments where techically the rules allow you to perform an action but the model is just unsually shaped or whatever. This is all within the rules.

            3. Running after movement has to do with commitment. If you’ve moved the unit, it’s done.

            4. You are allowed to roll saves for individual units in mass. If there are different damage amounts for different attacks, just use different colored dice to differentiate.

            I have no problem with my opponent asking me if they can take something back. I usually respond with, “Sorry, the rules state that you needed to do this thing at a certain time. You’ve made it clear that that time frame has passed.”, there are scenarios where I would change that answer (example: if my opponent hadn’t finished moving the entire unit and decided that they would just run it instead, in this case it makes sense to me because the action taking place hasn’t been completed yet).

            The only one that has to do with commitment to a decision is the movement one. You declare that you’re moving or running the unit. You move or run that unit. The moment you finish, you’re committed to the choice that you made.

            So, say for example, your opponent targets one of your units with a spell, rolls successfully and then insists he targeted the wrong unit. Is it ok to take that back? If you answer yes, then you’re being consistant with your comment that suggests it’s ok to run after moving. If you say no, I would argue that all of the rules are just as important as one another. We need to follow all the rules to maintain equality. If we can all pick and choose what we think is important, then we are all playing different games.

          • Jural April 18, 2017 9:48 am

            Thanks for the response! I think we mostly agree, which surprises me 😉 I also think we aren’t talking about the same movement and run rule!

            In the case of moving, I may be unfamiliar with AoS, so I was talking about 40K. In 40k, you move in the move phase and then run in the shooting phase (in lieu of shooting). Sometimes people ask to bundle both moves together (which I don’t mind typically.) But there is no commitment after moving to NOT run. So maybe we are disagreeing because I’m thinking 40k? Apologies for the confusion.

            There is no game system where I would (typically) allow someone to target one unit, roll dice, and then instead target another. Every once in awhile there are extenuating circumstances (two units close together, an IC is in one unit but appears to be in another and causes confusion, and it’s my fault for not modeling well, etc.) where I might consider, the key reason typically being that my actions unfairly led to some confusion.

            I remember once playing a tournament with a painted and unpainted Hive Tyrant and my opponent was targeting one thinking that he was my warlord. Both were in range. He killed it and it wasn’t my warlord… long story short, I did allow him to change because when push came to shove, I considered I might have flipped which one was the Warlord when I explained at the beginning.

        • josh April 17, 2017 6:03 pm #

          I chose this case as an example because I knew that some people would agree and some would disagree. I wanted to facilitate discussion. In both scenario a and b your opponent is attempting to break the rules. In one case, they are doing it without asking and in another they are asking for your permission.

          Does commitment to our choices become part of the skill in playing a game?

          • Jural April 17, 2017 8:32 pm

            In my mind, it is perfectly acceptable for an opponent to grant most requests in any situation in 40k. For me the important points are mutual agreement and impact to the game.

            For example, I may allow all of the following (with advanced notice):

            1- counts as models (Your cultists are a Necromunda gang? Your plasma guns are actually non GW modifications? You left your Demon Prince at home and are using a Hive Tyrant? Tell me ahead of time and fine)

            2- Protecting delicate models- (OK, your beautifully converted model with standard clearly fits in this terrain, but there is risk of damaging the model? Or he clearly can get into melee but you don’t want to damage the model because my Khorne models have a lot of sharp edges? Make a proxy or we will agree the model is somewhere)

            3- Running after moving (Unless I see a competitive advantage, fine)

            4- Rolling saves en masse instead of 1 by 1 for a uniform unit (I can’t actually remember if this is allowed in the rules anymore.)

            But regardless of what I allow or don’t allow, I just see no harm in asking.

            I don’t see what any of this has to do with commitment to our choices.

            I don’t (usually) allow players do a move, then do it over. Or to make rolls they should have made in previous phases (oops, forgot to check for reserves… oops, forget my “It Will Not Die”.) But even in those cases, I have no problems with an opponent who clearly states that he has made an oversight and requests permission.

            Maybe the issue is that I really have desire to be kind or nice to my opponent? I could care less if the opponent raves about me and buys me drinks, or if he wants to wait for me afterwards to have a brawl. Confrontation doesn’t intimidate me, and people getting mad at me because they aren’t good at pushing toys around a table is a good story at the pub later!

            I expect that if I really cared about my opponent’s thoughts of me, or was afraid of confrontation (indeed, just disliked it,) I may feel differently.

            But the way I see it, there is already a ton of interactions at a 40k table (we innocently disagree on the rules, we are running low on time and need to make a strategy to finish, a rule is simply unclear.) So the confrontation and interaction is already part of the game. And it’s one of the skills the best players have mastered.

    • Threllen April 17, 2017 8:10 am #

      If I’m just playing with my bud, I wouldn’t have a problem with him doing something slightly out of order (like running after moving), but I think it’s important in a competitive environment to maintain the integrity of the rules. It is possible that someone could gain an advantage/disadvantage by doing things like this out of order even if they play it as just a “slip of the mind.” But, more importantly, allowing grey areas or bending of the rules can only serve to bite you in the butt later.

      Let’s say you genuinely forget to do running with movement and your opponent says “that’s fine, you can just do it now.” What happens when later he ‘forgets’ to do something and does it out of order but you’re not comfortable with him breaking the rules? Now he’s going to be mad at you because he let you do something out of order but you don’t want to let him. Now you’re stuck in a situation where people’s feelings can get hurt because players have different opinions about what level of breaking the rules is ok and what level is too far. Or trying to determine if someone fudged the rules on accident or if they were secretly trying to game the system and take advantage of your kindness. It’s just easier to say “the rules are the rules, sorry,” and move on.

      • josh April 17, 2017 6:06 pm #

        Well written rules allow us to take responsibility for our actions. They keep us from blaming our opponent for our mistakes and instead force us to improve ourselves. This falls directly inline with my 3rd point “Self Improvement”.

        • Jural April 17, 2017 8:35 pm #

          I do agree that taking responsibility for your own errors (of omission, or misinterpretation, etc.) makes you a better player!

          The first step in becoming a good 40k player is to stop blaming your list, your dice, your opponent, etc.

          But on the other hand, a battle between two top tier opponents where both parties agree to some minor concessions? I just don’t see any harm in that!

          Not saying anyone else is wrong, hopefully that’s clear. It’s just where I’m personally comfortable.

          • josh April 18, 2017 7:27 am

            It is ultimately up to you and your opponent to agree on a percieved balance. However, here is the counter point to this. Say for example, you enter a tournement and you repeatedly make concessions for specific rules with your opponents that other players do not make at their own tables. Say everyone is making unique concessions at every table. How could you detirmine who is the most skilled player if everyone is effectively playing a different game?

          • Jural April 18, 2017 9:55 am

            One answer might be that more skilled players get more concessions out of their opponents while giving up fewer concessions and maintaining the status quo 😉 But that’s just a flippant comment, I don’t believe it!

            Honestly, I agree that if you are really trying to see who is best, liberal concessions in any round can sway the determination of “best”. I would say it rarely effects the last round or two, but it certainly can be a difference between who makes those rounds!

            40k at least is always a little muddy in determining who is best though, and I think it all works out in large samples.

            A game like Blood Bowl or Chess I feel is much better at quickly making a solid ranking, and as such I am much less tolerant of concessions in either of those games

          • josh April 20, 2017 6:31 am

            Exactly, it becomes difficult to detirmine who is the best if you’re making conssessions. I also understand that GW’s rules writing could be better, and simpler games that require less rules writing are better suited for tournement play. However, we love 40k and AoS and some of us want to play that competetitively. 🙂

  4. Tom April 16, 2017 7:18 am #

    You’ve got some really great points here, and I think this article addresses an ongoing tournament problem. There very much is a warped sense of kindness that pops up from time to time. You’re right that assertiveness could have a positive impact. But this is not necessarily so. Respectfully, I’d disagree on a few points. Many members of this glorious hobby of ours are irredeemably introverted. As a practical matter assertiveness might be asking too much.

    Second, many of those who are assertive, aren’t particularly socially adept. Some say they “call it like it is” while I suppose it’s apparent they’re simply crass.

    Third, as a game/hobby, we must assume, at least on some level, there is an aspect of each player intending enjoyment. Is the game enjoyable in the atmosphere you describe? Or rather is it enjoyable to some and not others? But this point makes a real mess of things, because what this hobby “should be” is a hugely opened ended question. Some people play for fun, some play for competition, some show off painting, and some are just there for the fellowship. Perhaps the fun players are better suited for grandma’s basement, or a local tavern league. And, maybe you’re right, and it should be like MTG. To some extent I do agree. My concern however leads me to the Fourth point.

    Standardization of rules enforcement is an absolute mess (and I don’t mean this to critize GW, they’ve made the game they wanted). What i mean to say is that even if the rules were strictly followed, the distance between theoretical rules and actual game play is too big to cross. The table is three dimensional. Models are not uniform, but differ greatly in poses through manufacturing and conversion. Genuinely strict play would most certainly require a referee. That is, unless, opponents were friendly, and assisted one another in cover saves, side armor shots, etc., in accordance with the spirit of the rules as written. This, however, is difficult in a world of strict competition. But it’s not just the realities of actual game play–it’s also the fierce practicality of remembering all the rules. The rules are now so broad you could conceivably have a player that doesn’t even know all the formations for his own army. Moreover, even if you knew the all the rules there are massive interpretation issues. Even if you disagree, and say the rules are clear and we should apply judicial cannons of construction to derive the proper interpretation just as the supreme court might do, we still have a real problem. The problem is that GW’s FAQs are direct evidence that a huge amount of people don’t understand the rules–even if they faithfully read them and did their best. So, enforcing a code on the rules though helpful in some respects, isn’t enough.

    Now I realize I haven’t suggested a solution so here we go. I suggest your article is correct in substance but not form. That is you are right, but only partially so. The issue being it applies to some but not all players or games. Thus I’m not suggesting what the game “is” or “should be” but rather that such a determination be made at each game and at each tournament. Players should know what they are getting into before the game starts–however they want to play the game they can play, so long as it’s clear before hand. Therefore, each tournament should express unambiguous expectations, with examples (10 min late = auto loss). Each player should be expected to read an abide by these expectations (not like some internet user agreement). In this way it isn’t sloppy play or strict play that presents a problem, it’s a gap in expectations. People need to know what they’re getting into, but they don’t and that’s the real problem. You could say tournament standards are common sense (and I’d tend to agree) but common sense isn’t common because we don’t have common experiences. At any tournament you could see a 15-year-old new to the game, a 35-year-old father of 3 with extremely limited hobby time, a 23-year-old boozehound with a slight haze about him, and so many other combinations. I don’t want to see all these crazy people excluded from tournaments because they feel unwanted. Instead the hobby “should be” inclusive, and I think with better established expectations we can do that while still establishing a competitive format.

    Thank you for your time.

    • josh April 16, 2017 5:47 pm #

      First off, I’d like to say. Thanks for taking the time to write this out. I know you put a lot of time into it, and I’m happy to respond.

      To your first point, you’re right. In fact, I’ve experienced this in every geeky hobby I’ve ever participated in. There a tons of people who just aren’t very assertive. What about them? In some ways, this is an empowerment piece. It’s a reminder to those who have a difficult time with asserting themselves in a situation where their opponent is taking advantage of them that “following the rules” does not make you a jerk in a competitive setting.

      To your second point, you’re also correct. I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with people who just don’t know how to properly engage you when they see that they think is breaking the rules. Being an assertive person myself, I rarely have an issue with these players. I’m usually able to defuse the situation and try to figure out what they’re telling me.

      To your third point, you’re right. I think GW needs to cater to all aspects of the hobby. The atmosphere I’m describing is not enjoyable to some people, however there are plenty of competitive players that don’t really care to join into the narrative aspect of the hobby. This is not to say that either side is right or wrong, instead they are just different. A high level competitive tournament is not the place to bring your narrative army (unless it’s actually competitive), and a narrative event is not the place to mop the floor with your competitive army. Context is important. I do not think strict rules enforcement should be applied to all aspects of the hobby.

      I agree with you with you on the fourth point (somewhat). Standardization is much more difficult in 40k because the unit rules aren’t public. In Age of Sigmar, everyone has access to the rules. I agree that GW could do a better job on consistent rule’s writing. However, I’ve seen large steps of improvement on the AoS side that are super promising. I don’t think it’s as far away as you believe it is. We still have FAQs and what-not, but I can’t name a tangible game that doesn’t. Rules improvement is a never ending process in a game where new units and options are always being added.

      I even agree with you on your conclusion. In fact, my article agrees with you, “In every scenario there is a level of adherence to the rules that must be followed.” This suggests that context is important. However, one thing I failed to mention in my article is that, “I don’t want to see anyone excluded.” I wish that I had mentioned it.

      Thanks for the read.

  5. Peteypab April 16, 2017 6:10 pm #

    Yeah, it really is a good read. Reading this article is what inspired me to have Josh on Chapter Tactics as a guest. Even though he plays Age of Sigmar he has a lot of good insight in the competitive scene.

  6. Happy_Inquisitor April 17, 2017 6:59 am #

    A thought-provoking read there which is a good thing.

    Coming from a background of competitive chess I have a rather different perspective, if the game needs assertiveness in a competitive environment then it is probably just not well suited for competitive play, or tournaments are lacking the rules and structures to make it so. What I see happening and which has pretty much pushed me out of competitive play is that too many players do not understand (or want to understand) the difference between assertive and aggressive behaviour.

    To be honest I find your characterisation of “high level” play rather amusing by comparison with any proper competitive game of skill but if that makes you feel good then carry right on 🙂 Personally I would not judge a narrative game to be “beneath” a game at a tournament but if you want to be judgemental in that regard that is your perspective.

    • Josh April 17, 2017 1:04 pm #

      Thanks for the read.

      I agree with you on the difficulty some players have with differentiating between aggressive and assertive behavior. This is something that comes with practice, but I disagree with you when you state that if a game requires a level of assertiveness in a competitive environment then it’s probably not suited for competitive play. All games require some level of assertiveness. We need it cooperate to hold eachother accountable to the rules to maintain balance.

      My wording for “high level competitive” has nothing to do with placing story driven play above competitive play or feeling. In fact, the term high-level is strictly for comparing low level competitive play (your basement table ) to high level competitive play ( a national or international tournament style setting ). I would consider narrative play to be on a completely separate axis of the hobby. You cannot compare the two. They are in many ways different games.

  7. Marandamir April 17, 2017 12:51 pm #

    This was a great article and one I very much agree with. It’s rare for people to understand that honoring one set of rules but not others is problematic and causes inconsistencies and confusion. The concept of a ‘moral code’ is an interesting way to phrase it but in truth its really just your opinion on what rules you think warrant enforcing with rigor and which don’t qualify. Like alot of people will allow players to take back minor move order infractions, but nobody is going to let you count 4s as hits when you need 5s 😛 The question is why not? They are both rules that are in place and defined in the rule book. Why is the ‘to-hit’ rules more important than the ‘movement’ rules?

    This article explains that the rules are equally important and both should be adhered to, and he’s right. Playing clean helps remove sloppy mistakes and keeps the game consistent. Plus, it gives an edge to the player who does practice and play clean. He won’t make mistakes and his opponent may in competitive play and one mistake could change the result of the game.

    “Never interfere with your opponent when they are making a mistake.”

  8. Josh April 17, 2017 1:14 pm #

    I do not interfere with my opponent unless they are breaking the rules. There was an excellent / controversial discussion that ended up disqualifying a player in an international magic the gathering tournament where the opponent kept forgetting rules that would have won him the game. At the end of the game the player told the opponent how they could have won. A judge over heard the conversation, the player that had knowingly allowed their opponent to break the rules was disqualified. Competition is a co-operative effort. I follow the rules and help you follow them as well when you break them.

  9. Good job April 18, 2017 6:23 am #

    Good post, keep

Leave a Reply