Hello, 40K fans! Last week’s interview had a lot to digest, and I’m still accepting questions for the follow up to come in the next few weeks. While that percolates in our minds, I wanted to shift the focus onto a different topic that’s been on my radar for Matched Play in the new edition of 40K. So, yes, this is a bit more of a game-focused discussion, but it also has to do with the current state of gaming philosophy in Matched Play. Still counts, right? Also, check the Tactics Corner for more great articles on gaming in 40K!
Paint scores. The bane of competitive gamers across time. Art, so subjective and unquantifiable, has finally snuck its way into mainstream competitive 40K. Whatever shall we do to combat this menace? Forgive me for speaking dramatically (and not a little sarcastically).
For those who might be a bit confused, I am referring specifically to this lovely page in the Matched Play book:
What this drama is referring to is the “Battle Ready” standard laid out on page 12 of the 2020 Chapter Approved Grand Tournament Mission Pack. What it means is that for Matched Play missions, players who satisfy the requirement of a battle-ready paint job get 10 points towards their score. That means that 10% of all potential points in a game are determined by whether or not “your models are fully painted with a detailed or textured base.” (Page 12). Since most games don’t score up to 100, that means that it is going to be more than 10% for most games in terms of an actually achieved score.
The Sky Is Falling!
I’ve seen a fair amount of frustration around this topic from players who don’t like how “paint scores” sneaked their way back into competitive play. I’ve got to be completely honest here – I find the criticisms of this standard to be overblown, I find concerns about this standard to be unfounded, and I find its critics to be unconvincing. Some of the criticisms come from close friends and long-time local community members. Some of these also come from internet groups, YouTube videos, and other competitive sources talked about drama online related to this topic. It’s not too hard to find, and it’s even easier to find people who actually like this change. Still, online debates continue on whether or not painted armies are important enough to 40K to matter in a competitive setting.
This debate is fundamentally a question of game ethos and design philosophy. To GW, what does being a good matched play/tournament player mean? Whatever it means is quantified in the form of points scored in a mission. The accumulation of as many points as possible is the aim of a player in a matched play scenario. So, the question of how players accumulate points becomes the manifestation of the game creator’s philosophy by determining the methods through which a player can accomplish his/her goal.
This is also the foundation of the broad social contract that applies to matched play at home and tournaments as laid out in the GT mission pack. Can we just take a moment real fast and just appreciate that GW has taken the time to more clearly formalize a social contract in this way? No one can say that GW doesn’t have a right to formalize it, either. This is especially true because we have been asking them to do this for a while.
So what does this design philosophy for matched play games exactly represent? It means that to master Matched Play 40K you need to have 90% gaming skill, and 10% hobby skill. 10%. Not 20%. Not 40%. Just 10%. That 10% is considered satisfied by a realistic and achievable hobby standard. No grand conversions or peerless painting skill required – just a minimum, baseline effort to get the entire army painted.
That means to those who use GW’s standard (and those who don’t are third parties applying their own spin to the standard) that this then becomes the ethos the community is trying to live up to and this is the goal we are all competing to attain mastery of. This standard consists of 90% player skill and 10% for a painting standard out of 100 potential points. It’s not even 10% to the person with the better paint job… it’s 10% to each player who satisfies this very achievable requirement. It’s not even a ban on players who don’t meet this standard, or a model removal policy (which I would still expect for some of the larger, more expensive event experiences). I think it is also very telling that these aren’t “bonus points.” These points are fundamentally integrated into each Matched Play mission – further cementing these points as a core fundamental idea of matched play.
It’s also easy to score. Is this army fully battle-ready with painted bases? Check yes or no. It doesn’t take a lot of time to calculate and it doesn’t take away from any gameplay time. It’s a simple yes/no. The owning player also has complete control over the completion of their army. From a competitive standpoint, one of the reasons that the “Recon” secondary was so popular in 8th edition ITC was because it was generally something that the owning player could control that wasn’t stoppable by the opponent (in most cases).
We have a lot of standards in this game. We have a standard of ethics (don’t cheat), a standard of manners, and so on. A minimum paint standard is not so much a drastic deviation from the concept of having baseline standards, and it isn’t something that makes the game worse.
Every game is an investment for more than just yourself – you’ve committed to spending at least 3 hours with the person across from you. It’s not such a hard ask to make it a halfway immersive experience. A minimum paint standard reward of 10 points that you just get no matter how good or bad you are at the game isn’t really something to complain about.
Here are some paraphrased versions of the criticisms I’ve heard so far (and yes, these come from real people):
Not everyone gets the same thing out of 40K. Some of us like to just game and don’t care about painting. We shouldn’t have to be forced to paint our models so we don’t lose our games!
I can accept that people get different things out of their hobbies. I don’t play videogames on their hardest settings, for example, because I have little time for videogames and don’t like to spend time on difficult things without adequate reward. I like having a challenge, but beating my head against a wall is no fun for me.
Of course, keeping with that video game analogy, would you feel like you were ripped off if it was missing a key part of the gameplay? Like, say, color? Now some games artistically choose to live in a grayscale environment or use color sparingly, but that’s a developer choice and usually serves either the core narrative or gameplay mechanics (i.e. Hollow Knight). Imagine a game like God of War (2018) where developers felt it wasn’t necessary to add color to the game because a small minority of gamers are only interested in the gameplay challenge, or are colorblind. To more closely align with the analogy, what about a game like Fortnite. Does every player who spends money on their characters have to accept a loss of color because it isn’t completely necessary for gameplay for a small minority of players? After all, you don’t “need” color to play video games. Who would take that critique seriously? Sure, God of War and Fortnite would work if they were PS1-level Laura Croft polygons in black and white, but would they be better that way? Could you really argue that decreasing the quality of the aesthetics for the sake of only what is necessary to play games enhances the game?
Should a game company change its entire ethos to satisfy the demands of those groups of people? After all, it is the developer of Warhammer 40K who has decided that being good at 40K means in part that you have to have a painted army.
So if you want to prove that you’re good at 40K then you need to paint your army. Even so, you can choose not to and just not take the 10 points – it doesn’t disallow unpainted armies. I’m sure with your epic dice-rolling skills you can score enough points to make that 10 points not even matter. I mean, if you’re sure enough that your gameplay skill is at that kind of level.
I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. Why should I be held to the same standard as someone who does? I shouldn’t have to lose a game I won because of 10 stupid painting points.
Yeah, not everyone is indeed equally skilled at everything. For the life of me, I have a hard time with complex mathematics. I struggled to get the B and C grades I got in college-level math. Programming was the same way for me. Some people in my classes just “got it.” I had to struggle for every line of code I wrote. It felt unfair. Isn’t it unfair that if 10% of competency in a job is determined by a baseline understanding of a subject, that if I apply for that job without competency or even a minimum effort in that subject, that someone who does at least the bare minimum gets 10% more consideration than I do? After all, why should the most capable person at accomplishing the task win the job?
Maybe we should expand on this concept and just give bonus points to players in each game if their ITC score is lower than their opponent’s because they don’t have a competitive bone in their body. They just aren’t as interested in tournaments as other people and aren’t competitively talented. Asking them to try and play like everyone else deserves a handicap, wouldn’t you say?
The painting half of the game is invading the gaming half. I don’t demand that you play a game of 40k where you gain points towards armies on parade, and the reverse expectation should also be true.
This one is easy. Your fundamental error here is that the two halves of the game were not part of the same whole. Painting has ALWAYS been a component of the 40K hobby. The separation between the two halves was an arbitrary decision on your part. Perhaps there was a time where there weren’t enough 40K players to get together to hold a tournament without allowing to bring unpainted armies, but those days are long past.
Also, anyone who has participated in Armies on Parade knows you don’t gain points. It’s a pageant and a popularity contest. It also has nothing to do with Matched Play. At all.
I suppose we should resign ourselves to settle for your low standard of play experience because of what you do or don’t demand over something that the game designer put in their game.
I don’t think that the victor of a game of dice should be decided based on who looks cooler while throwing the dice.
First of all, as long as you shower and wear deodorant regularly, I don’t care much how you look when you roll the dice.
Joking aside, that would certainly sound reasonable… if the game company had not decided for you what the standard for victory entails. You do, of course, remain free to set your own standard for play, but the onus is on you to get people to show up…
…if you like events full of not a few people who aim low and love the flavor of the month, anyway. Hopefully, they don’t ruin it for everyone else who paid for the experience advertised on every box of models and in every rulebook for the game – a game of painted miniatures.
That’s another thing to consider. Every unpainted model in a game is a failure to deliver on an experience advertised on every box. Inasmuch as the game is now supported by GW more, part of what they are selling to us is a game of painted miniature battles. For that reason, I think that even RTTs should follow this standard if they are going to charge an entry fee.
I shouldn’t lose a game because a hobby track guy can highlight his models better.
The standard is “Battle Ready,” not “who has the better paint job.” It doesn’t matter whose highlights are a micro stroke finer. Highlights aren’t even really necessary using the contrast method.
I also love how “hobby track” is used as a derogatory term here. How patronizing can you get? There is something wrong with this person’s fundamental assumption that their interpretation of the game is better than whatever “hobby track.” Like the effort that it took to compete on not just the gaming but also the painting side is some kind of step down or worth less of an acknowledgment.
By the way, if you are losing to “hobby track guy” by within a 10 point margin then you just might not be as good at the game as you think you are. More likely, you can’t handle that not only can someone be as good at the game as you are (or better), but they can paint well too. Perhaps you shouldn’t have underestimated someone because of his/her paint job.
It’s classic “Khaine” and Abel. Cain hated Abel because he was successful, and succumbed to resentment instead of changing his own behavior.
Your argument is invalid. Paint your models. Change your attitude. Prosper.
This is only going to discourage new players from playing in tournaments! What about people who are testing new things in their lists and don’t want to commit to making something until they know they want it?
The first assumption in this assertion is that matched play is only about tournaments. It isn’t, though now it includes a lot of tournament concepts. Why? Because it is easier to have the way to play spelled out and decided instead of having to figure it out yourselves. This makes matched play convenient for pick-up games. Even so, why would a new player automatically be coming to a tournament anyway? What exactly is a new player? A new tournament player? Or a brand new player to 40K? What’s going to appeal to a garagehammer player interested in trying out a tournament? The answer is not grey plastic. What is going to inspire a new player unsure about his/her painting skills? The answer is going to be people with painted armies who are doing their best regardless of skill level. What’s more encouraging to an unsure painter than seeing someone else who struggled but still finished painting his/her army?
Considering the ways to play, it takes a bit of ego in the competitive collective unconscious to assume that not only is competitive 40K the main way to play, but also the default goal of everyone who enters the hobby. It isn’t. Tournament gamers are still far, far outnumbered by our friends playing games at home who we should want to join us. In my opinion, the attitude of competitive gamers is a greater deterrent to newer players than having achievable hobby standards is. Let’s look at an example. If you look at the LVO over the last 4 years, the paint standards have only increased, and so has the player attendance. If this concern were true, wouldn’t player attendance decrease because of the painting standard driving players away? I’ve judged the LVO championships for years (including this particular game), and no one has ever told me that unachievable hobby standards made them less likely to play – critiques boiled down to either other players’ attitudes or game balance issues.
That’s the reason I never got into Magic cards. I remember paying money to attend my first 40K event (the 3rd edition Black Crusade campaign). After paying money to be there, and having my army set up against a chaos player in my first ever game against the traitors, I was appalled at the behavior of the Magic players who came in. While over at the other end of the table resolving some rolls, I came back to find that my deployment zone and many of my models had been shoved aside to make room for two (quite smelly) Magic players’ games. After refusing to move when asked, I had to go to the store manager, who asked them to move. They did, but they took the opportunity to move some of my things and hid them around the store. I haven’t spent a dollar on Magic cards because of that experience, and I won’t. I don’t care how good the art or the gameplay is, I don’t want to waste my time with people like that. Yes, I know that “not all” Magic players are like that. I’m sure that all you experienced magic players reading this will tell me in the comments exactly how the Magic community is full of paragons of sportsmanship and hygiene, but that’s not the point. Attitude, behavior, and presentation all matter. Standards are not gatekeeping (if done properly) and enhance the experience, and even give players a goal to aim for. How is this bad?
With that out of the way, I fail to see what part of a battle-ready standard precludes players from testing out things that aren’t ready yet. You can play any game still with your unfinished unit, you just don’t get the 10 points. If you are practicing at home or against people who agree outside of events to act as if it was painted then you have no problem, either. Testing really is a non-issue. Acting as if this is unfair to enforce even at a three-round tournament level also sends a message that the players’ time means less because it’s a smaller event and that they shouldn’t be able to enjoy 40K as it was meant to be played unless they travel somewhere and want to spend a ton of money. This protestation acts as if striving for a gaming culture where people continually seek to improve all aspects of play is a bad thing that will make the game less appealing to new people.
I know better than many how life gets in the way of your hobby goals. Believe it or not, COVID 19 has been the least disruptive life event that has interrupted my hobby this year. That said if I went to a restaurant and ordered my meal and the chicken wasn’t completely cooked then I wouldn’t consider that meal finished, and I wouldn’t want to eat it. I also wouldn’t accept an excuse about it either because the chef got distracted. Let’s be clear that not finishing your army isn’t going to give someone salmonella under normal circumstances (I don’t know your life), but the comparison still makes sense in that we don’t accept incomplete things for what we invest in in the vast majority of cases, at least certainly not things that are intrinsic to the experience of that product. Like it or not, the completeness of your army is part of an experience that others invest their time and money into, particularly when there are entry fees.
The instances where we do accept a finished product (such as incomplete video games at launch that require massive patches day 1 to make the game playable) consistently cause us grief as consumers. I remember waiting for 2 years to go by to buy a video game because it took that long for patches to fix the characters’ faces so they would not turn inside out and become floating eyeballs with dentures.
Painted armies on tables with painted terrain will absolutely encourage new players and maybe even inspire them, assuming your attitude about it doesn’t discourage them.
Paint points in a tournament event that requires skill are idiotic beyond comprehension. GW shouldn’t put paint scores into my competitive games so they can sell paint at gunpoint.
(I’ve been saving this for last because it is my favorite since the person I am paraphrasing has spent tens of thousands of dollars getting an army professionally painted)
As a tournament judge, I can’t wait until I get my official GW gun that I can point at people’s heads forcing them to paint their minis or die. I’ll be the Lord Commissar of Paint, and with my trusty technicolor laspistol, I will shoot all who run away from their hobby tables and swim in the profits of my newly-purchased stock in paint companies. Surely the 10 points are worth dying for! And, of course, it must be GW paint ONLY. After all, there are no other companies that make and sell paint. Oh, wait, there are? I guess I’ll have to taste test them to be sure. I’m pretty sure my insurance covers whatever the consequences of that are…
This argument is (of course) hyperbolic and ridiculous. We’ve established before that GW gets to decide what skill in Matched Play 40K means, not you. We’ve also established that you can still play at the loss of those points, and if your skill is so great and if gameplay skill is so paramount to your perception of what winning means then your skill should certainly eclipse the need for those 10 points anyways, at least until you can drop another ten grand on getting someone skilled at painting to do it for you for whatever it is you want to be painted next. That’ll teach those tyrannical paint pushers a lesson about what having real skill means! I mean, can you hear what you sound like?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see a problem with commission painting your miniatures. I have some very close friends who make or supplement their living significantly because of this. Of course, they are painters of superlative skill, and many of them are extremely competent wargamers who win Best in Faction awards for both gameplay and painting skills in the ITC. You know, because it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Forgive my sarcasm, dude. I just think that your message here is a bit disingenuous because it sounds like you are claiming some kind of victimization for having to have painted miniatures in a hobby about painted miniatures. Even worse, you are claiming some kind of tyranny exists to force you to paint “at gunpoint” when your participation in the hobby is completely voluntary to begin with. You’ve spent more money on getting models painted in the last five years than I’ve spent on the entire hobby my entire life! Who exactly is oppressing you? Forgive me if you truly are more concerned about the ‘plebs’ who are around you, but I doubt that very much.
Or is it perhaps more likely that you simply protest the game acknowledging what has been understood from its presentation right on the box and right in the rulebook for the entirety of its existence – that this is a game of painted miniatures, and you just don’t want to paint. Fair enough. You don’t have to. You just have to accept the score limitations that come from your own reticence to do so. Those of us who don’t chase the meta have understood this for a while – that sometimes doing things the way you enjoy means that you aren’t always going to be able to compete as well as others. I suggest you take this lesson to heart.
An Ongoing Conversation
Well, that was cathartic. Did you feel called out? Do you feel like I’m wrong? I’m sure you’ll let me know in the comments below.
If you found this interesting, please check out my page Captain Morgan’s Librarius. This is the space where I test these ideas in their first drafts, and also talk about all the other parts of the hobby that I enjoy from painting, community, gaming, and all the rest. My Facebook page is also the best place to converse with me about this and many other topics in 40K. I post regular hobby progress updates there, like this miniature I recently worked on:
I also have a YouTube channel for video versions of some of these articles. Likes and shares are appreciated. I hope you enjoyed this week’s read, and I’ll see you again next time!
ALSO, REMEMBER I AM STILL ACCEPTING QUESTIONS FOR DR. NAHUMCK
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