Sunday, 21 August 2016

Time Matters - Trying to please all of the players all of the time

Recent tournaments have raised an issue that is never far from a topic of conversation at such events; how do you ensure every player gets a fair and equal amount of time to play their game?

Above: Timed Guild Ball games, from left to right, Matt, Dan, Joe and Mike.

A normal pick-up game at the club or around a friends house is a relaxed affair, but with the pressures for tournaments to finish games on time, so that rounds begin promptly and the venue is vacated on schedule, you cannot be so flexible with the speed a which results are finally reached. 

Obviously there are ways around the problem, but each has drawbacks. Having spoken to a few people recently here are some thoughts.

1. Ask players to ensure that they finish on time. 

This approach needs a TO to be an effective manager of their participants, and for players to be disciplined in keeping to the schedule. On the first point, at the risk of being critical, it is obvious that each TO has a different way of doing things, and it is very clear that on the day they have a lot to manage (rule adjudications, round match ups, lunch preparations). But, unless the TO keeps a strong reign on proceedings, the day can very quickly get beyond them, and players find themselves having to forgo the awards ceremony so that they can catch their last train.

We would all agree that we are always very grateful for a TO and their efforts in making our hobby happen. But, in the cut and thrust of gaming, who amongst us can say that we haven't played in a game in which time has just flown and we have been left struggling to finish. A TO really does need to keep an eye on things, especially with games on the top tables or involving some players, who for arguments sake, we shall describe as more thorough when playing than others*.

Above: Mike awaiting Joe's next Shogun move.

2. Drop the dice once the time has elapsed. 

The TO's weapon of mass destruction. Asking players to just stop where they are in the middle of a game is never going to be a popular decision, and will probably leave one or more players disgruntled for the rest of the tournament. 

A more reasonable approach is to allow players to end the game at a point where they have had equal turns. But this could lead to a delay that the timetable doesn't allow. So perhaps the answer is to .......

3. Allow some contingency within the day's schedule.

This is the approach most used by the TO to keep everyone happy. Giving some wriggle room time between rounds, and using some of the lunch break, allows the TO to calculate the pairings for the next round and await the scores from the slow coaches. 

A friend of mine goes to the annual Nova tournament in America. And because the event happens at a hotel venue, where everyone stays over a weekend, they have the luxury of allowing games to run into late evening or even the small wee hours. 

Above: Mike now waiting for Dan to place a Guild Ball widget.

4. Reduce the number of points for each persons army so that their are less things on the playing surface.

This seems to be a reasonable approach. The recent Drop Zone Commander tournament, Critical Engagement, took this path, using 1000 points instead of the standard 1500. Our club's own 40K tournament, Mayhem, also went down to 1000 points. This does allow the opportunity for either more time per game or more games in a day.

However, some armies in some games do struggle with a smaller points allocation, in that they achieve more by weight of numbers (Orks in 40K, for example). I can hear some players complaining that their army reaches its peak effectiveness when it is allowed to have access to certain units and formations. As with all the points raised in this post, not everyone is going to be happy, whatever the approach taken.

Above: Tim waiting for 'Cautious Cates' to move. An energy drink helping him through it.

5. Introduce a clock so that each player gets a fair and equal amount of time for their turns.

This, in its most basic format, is what competitive chess players have been using for ages. Of course I did once belong to a chess club, but I cannot talk to you about that. 

Timing works for some games, Guild Ball (and, I understand that it is also used in Warmachine and Hordes). In most other games this can be a challenge as both opponents can be operating in each other's turn. 

Infinity N3 is an example which you wouldn't necessary think of when using the clock. It is famously a game where 'it is always your turn'. However, Rob, one of the gamers from the Hydra Club in Tunbridge Wells and the Totally Crit podcast (shameless name drop) is a proponent of timekeeping in N3, and said to me recently, 'in Infinity, the opponent only has the ARO decision to make - shoot or dodge. The only time that things can become delayed is when deciding what ARO to decide to take in close combat'. 

Having now played in a Guild Ball tournament myself, I think that timing can work in most games, because it does focus you on finishing the game. Using the clock does have one intrinsic problem though, remembering to hit it when your turn, or action, is over.

Above: Vital thinking time required for Dan in a game of Spector Ops.

*6. Slow play.

There. I have said it. Tournament players talk about it, although, no one admits to it being them. The problem is that for some players the phrase 'slow play' is one step away from accusing your opponent of playing slowing for advantage, or, to take this to the extreme, to accuse someone of cheating. 

Of course, I am not going to say that this has never happened, and in my experience (admittedly, from the bottom tables, slow play is usually happens because, either, a game has some very complicated moments that require additional time to reach a conclusion, players are just inexperienced in the rules, or someone is unable to adjust their usual club playing style to that of a tournament game - I once played someone in a tournament in Plymouth who insisted in putting their dice back in their dice bag every time they got them out to roll them! Half way through the game, unable to keep quiet any longer, I said, 'Would it not be quicker if you left you dice out on the table?'. To which he said, 'yes it would', And still kept putting the dice back in the bag!!). 

I can easily accept however, that some players are very eager not to make mistakes, and just want to take more time. The problem comes when, because the game does not finish, someone will feel that they have been wronged and does not get their allotted turns to achieve the maximum possible victory points.

Dealing with slow play is probably the most difficult thing for a TO to have to deal with. I envy you not.

Of course there is no right answer to time keeping in games but all of us should be mindful of the need to try our best to get a result in a game fairly and on time. There endth the lesson.

Happy wargaming to you all.



  1. I don't envy tournament operators either.

    I guess I play fairly slowly - usually around the bottom tables - as I'm learning the game as much as playing it. And playing against other similar players it seems fine - Even with only 1000 points, one of the games at the recent OB tournament I think we only got to turn 3 or 4. But both of us enjoyed the game and learned a lot.

    That said, I will play quickly when I know my opponent is keen to get through the game, perhaps because they have more at stake in the tournament rankings.

  2. Totally agree AD. Knowing where you both are in the tournament rankings and knowing if it is the fun and enjoyment of playing, rather than winning at all costs, will allow you to decide whether finishing the game on time is paramount. I think it is important to bear that in mind when you take the decision to enter an event.

  3. I'm beginning to get the feeling you think I'm a slow player...

    1. No. Not at all. It's just when I was looking for pictures to illustrate the post you appeared in a few suitable shots. It's just coincidence I tell you.

  4. I actually think in dropzone you'd be good timing your turns. Not having a limit, but if at the end of the 2:30 the game isn't over and someone has has a significant (to to decide...) amount of the game their opponent should be awarded VPs.

    I think most of the frustration comes from the paranoia that you're being cheated somehow rather than the game actually being a bit slow.

    A good read.

    1. Sounds good. The timing issue doesn't decide the result but does effect the margine of win or defeat. Good work. Your second point is also well made. It's all in the mind you know.

  5. Great read as always Alex.

    I'm very conscious that I'm a slowish player, particularly with systems I'm still getting to grips with (looking at you DZC), and I'm actually a little reluctant to enter tournaments where I know my inexperience could cause issues such as timing, etc.

    I think there's a variation on #4 above; there's a responsibility on players to bring an army that is sympathetic to the time limit set for each game. To me that means;
    1) Bring an army appropriately sized (don't bring a horde list to a game that needs to play out in an hour...)
    2) Be familiar with your army. Know your armies rules, and practice with it before the day.

    1. Totally agree on all points. With regard to being reluctant to attending tournaments, there is no reason against saying to your opponents that you are inexperienced with the game and making your position clear to them. They should be reasonable enough to appreciate that you are going to take a little longer in make decisions. A bit like driving a car and you approach a learner driver. One of the things about tournaments is the learning opportunities it gives you in such a short period of time.

    2. I don't think you should let your concerns put you off going to tournaments @Bryan P.

      DZC is a very friendly scene, and the tournaments I've been to have been very friendly for beginners like me.

      Alex is right, it's all about setting expectations with your opponent - as well as being conscious of your own limitations.

      So if you know your opponent needs to get through the game on time, and needs the tournament points, then you owe it to them to play as quickly as you can, even if that means not thinking through what you're doing: just accept that you're going to make mistakes and have fun seeing yourself being outplayed.

      You'll soon end up playing other inexperienced players in later rounds, who are more likely to be willing to do the same thing, or play slowly along with you. Either is fine as long as you both are happy.

    3. Good points guys. The DZC scene does appear pretty friendly to me so perhaps I'll just jump in on a tournament.

      It would be the excuse I need to finish painting my UCM as well!