First Questions in Tabletop Tournament Organization

A local Infinity player is looking to start organizing tournaments and asked if I have any notes. This is a rough cut of the most basic questions and topics I can think of that should be addressed in initial planning of a tabletop gaming event. Much of it is not specific to Infinity, 40k, or even miniatures wargaming.

Venue

How many players can you accommodate?

  • How much space do you have available at your venue?
    • In addition to the playing surfaces, each player needs some adjacent space for their models not in play, dice, tokens, templates, books, etc..
      • Infinity: Standard 4’x4′ match is ideally played on a 6’x4′ table, giving both players side table space.
      • 40k: Standard 4’x6′ match is ideally played on a 4’x8′ or even 4×10′ table.
        • Reasonably common for 40k players to bring carts and stands for their armies and accessories, especially with notice of table space being limited.
    • Other solutions might be possible.
      • E.g., Redcap’s has custom built wargaming tables with space underneath the playing surfaces that players can use. For the biggest events we have used the full surface of every single table for playing.
      • Some other venues use stools or benches for side tables if they don’t have enough table surface.
  • What size army lists will you permit?
    • Infinity: 300pts of Infinity requires 4’x4′ playing areas, 200 pts requires 2’x3′, etc
  • What are your COVID policies and protocols?
    • Many venues are limiting participation to better foster distancing.

In addition to the space, does the venue have a sufficient quantity of sturdy enough tables?

Local organizers: If necessary and we can coordinate logistics, I have a stash of ~8+ suitable folding tables that can be used. They’re from hosting PAGE events back when there were no gaming shops in the city.

Schedule

What’s your schedule going to be?

  • What times do players prefer?
  • What hours will the store support?
  • How many hours do you need?
    • Need about an hour before dice start rolling to get boards setup.
      • Players will arrive, unpack, get settled in this period as well.
    • For each round need however much time is permitted, plus wrapping up, making pairings, etc..
      • How quickly can you turn around updated rankings & pairings?
    • Need additional 30–60 minutes after conclusion at minimum to wrap everything up, tear down boards, pack up, and clear everybody out.
    • Depending on time of day and length of the event it’s not at all uncommon to incorporate lunch/dinner/etc breaks into the schedule.

How long will each round be?

  • What size army lists will you permit?
    • Larger games mostly take longer in general, but it’s definitely not a linear relationship.
  • Are your posted round time limits a dice-down hard stop or a point after which final actions or the last game round are played out?
  • Infinity: Typically ~2 hour rounds.
    • Historically Infinity was supposed to be very fast to play. Full size tournaments might schedule 75–90 minutes matches.
    • Realistically, in modern Infinity and in our player community, you need to budget 2hrs per match for 300pt games.
  • 40k: Typically ~3 hour rounds.

Registration

Is there a registration fee?

Can players register in advance? How?

Must players register in advance?

How will you get the word out about the event?

  • Not worth worrying too much about putting in a special effort on this unless you’re advertising at least 2 weeks in advance.

Prizes

Will there be prizes? What are they?

  • For Infinity tournaments you can get a prize pack for official ITS events, but it’s a hassle to acquire and pricey for what it includes (see below).
  • Many players might be willing to donate merchandise, models, terrain, etc., to a prize pool.
  • And/or have a registration fee and put it toward store credit prizes.
    • Big plus of this, and the main reason we have a $5 entry fee for most Redcap’s Infinity tournaments, is that it sends at least some money toward the store.

Format

What type of event will it be?

  • Is it a tournament, casual play, a narrative event, etc?

If a tournament, what’s the format of the event and missions?

  • What are the scoring metrics? What is the ranking formula? What is the pairing algorithm?
  • For Infinity, is it ITS or not, and if so is it official ITS or not?
    • Official ITS event, registered in the system and everything.
      • Plus side of this is it provides a small level of advertising via people looking for events on ITS, and maybe attracts people who are interested in having games count toward their ITS rankings and not so interested in organized play otherwise.
      • Costs $7 for a virtual code to register the event in ITS. Some people might have codes they can give you.
      • An ITS event prize pack w/ event code is like $40 and takes a long while to ship. Unless it’s changed recently, distributors don’t carry them, so the shops can’t get them cheaper or quicker.
    • ITS format, but not an officially registered ITS event.
      • Uses the ITS tournament rules, missions, etc., with which players are familiar, but is more low-key and doesn’t require an event code. ITS rules & mission packet has a solid writeup in detail of how everything is supposed to work—table sizes, pairings, etc..
      • Downside is results don’t go into players’ rankings.
      • This is the most common style of Infinity event at Redcap’s.
    • Other mission pack and format.
      • Not sure what the state of things are in N4, but in prior editions there were a large number of alternative missions packs.

Execution

How will you conduct the scoring, ranking, and pairing?

  • For even a few players you realistically need software to make sure everything gets calculated correctly & quickly.
  • There are a variety of apps and software available, both free and commercial, for doing tournament pairings.
  • Infinity has a couple options

Will you print out score cards, or players just verbally report?

Will you print out mission packs, and if so how?

  • Don’t underestimate the cost & time involved in this for large and/or complicated events.

Terrain

Do you have or how will you get access to enough terrain for all the boards?

  • Note that the terrain in many shops is geared toward 40k, which often doesn’t work well for Infinity (too much open line of sight, pieces too big, etc).
  • It’s common for Infinity events for players to bring terrain and setup boards. Just gotta make clear in advance they should do so.

Local organizers: If necessary and we can coordinate logistics, I have a good amount of terrain for Infinity and 40k in addition to what I’ve donated to Redcap’s.

Objective Markers

Do you have or how will you get enough objective markers?

  • Players can work something out on the spot in a pinch, but don’t usually carry enough suitable objective markers on themselves all the time for all missions. With advance notice though they can generally bring enough.
  • Some players might be able to provide, either by having on hand or making, a large number of objective markers.
  • Poker chips will also work well and are cheap.
    • Make sure to announce before matches begin whether they are to be played as silhouettes or non-blocking markers.

Local organizers: If necessary and we can coordinate logistics, I might be able to provide a number of consistent 3D objective markers. Redcap’s Infinity and many 40k events use a box of markers I made.

Space Marine Detachments

Earlier I wrote a quick walkthrough about army list selection in Warhammer 40,000 8th edition. Unfortunately, aspects of those rules demonstrate again that 8th edition is very good, but neither as slimmed down nor formal and clean as it has been hyped to be.

The issues crop up from the new incarnation of Objective Secured, which enables models selected as part of an army detachment with uniform faction to trump other models for control of objective markers.

Preview of Objective Secured rule from the upcoming Chapter Approved.

Copy & Paste

To begin, there isn’t really a rule for Objective Secured. There’s a rule for Objective Secured, Defenders of Humanity, Knights of Titan, and so on. All the different codexes are coming out with the same rule under different names, e.g., the Space Marines’ Defenders of Humanity. Meanwhile, to maintain some parity for the factions that don’t have a codex yet, GW previewed an Objective Secured rule to be included in the upcoming Chapter Approved supplement giving that ability to all of those armies.

This copying & pasting is strange and unfortunate. Defenders of Humanity made sense at first when the ability was initially presented to be a unique Space Marines advantage. The presumption was other codexes would then arrive with different but similar abilities. But it turned out they all just have the same ability. Note that the abilty per se isn’t the problem. Diversity of abilities would be interesting, but also harder to balance. It’s the presentation of this universal ability that is problematic. Even minor carve outs such as for Fabius Bile and Fallen being compatible with all the legions and thus not breaking the faction uniformity of Chaos Space Marine detachments don’t merit copy & pasting the entirety of the basic idea into each book.

To look at just one issue, because there’s no universal term, the rule concept can’t be expressed in as simple and formal a fashion as before. E.g., to paraphrase previously:

Models with Objective Secured trump models without Objective Secured for control of objective markers.

Instead the new rules have to be worded in terms of trumping models with “a similar ability” because they all have different names. What does “similar” mean? In practice it’s understandable, but it’s not as formal as it could be.

All this duplication under different names is unfortunate but a hallmark of this edition, a consequence of “streamlining” the game by eliminating common text from the core rules and main rulebook and instead pushing it out to numerous copies in the codexes and datasheets. If all the factions are going to have this rule, there should just be one straightforward universal rule. That centralization would reduce the overall volume of rules and text, foster understanding, be more formal, and prevent errors from creeping in over time with successive copying.

This is also another example of how GW went to all the trouble of introducing a keyword system, but isn’t actually using it well. Objective Secured could easily be handled more elegantly and formally by granting units keywords if their detachments meet given conditions and wording the ability around those keywords.

Ambiguity

More critically, these rules contain ambiguities in their prerequisites. For example, Defenders of Humanity relies on the definition of a “Space Marine Detachment.” The other books are structured similarly. As explained below, that definition isn’t 100% unambiguous on whether or not a Space Marine Detachment can include multiple chapters within the codex, e.g., Salamanders and Ultramarines. It is explicit that Space Wolves and the other variant codexes are not included.

Beyond Defenders of Humanity, this ambiguity also raises rules questions about stratagems. Those listed in the codex are unlocked if you field a Space Marine Detachment. So must you field a detachment drawn from a single chapter to get access? Or would a detachment comprised of any mix of Space Marines suffice?

Mixed Chapters

In defining a Space Marine Detachment, the codex provides a list of chapter keywords which a “Space Marine unit” might have and then says:

A Space Marine Detachment is therefore one which only includes units with one of those keywords.

By far the most natural reading of this treats “with one of” as simply requiring each unit to have a faction keyword from that list, essentially grouping the last clause as:

… [units with one of those keywords].

The wording doesn’t actually make a binding to a single chapter keyword across the whole detachment, it permits a selection per unit. A detachment made up of Salamanders and Ultramarines would indeed quite obviously “only include units with one of those keywords.” Note that units can each only have one of the keywords in the given list, so “one” doesn’t instate any additional information as compared to, e.g., “any,” and is a more natural wording anyway for a selection of that type.

So in that straightforward reading, a detachment of mixed chapters would receive the benefit of Defenders of Humanity.

Single Chapters

Alternatively, a somewhat strained but plausible reading interprets “one of those keywords” as containing an additional stipulation that the units all share the same keyword from that list. It puts more meaning into the “one,” depending on how you look at it either adding an unstated “which must be the same for each unit” or grouping the last clause to the first clause:

A Space Marine Detachment is therefore one which only includes … one of those keywords.

In that case a Space Marine Detachment may only be comprised of “one of those keywords” and mixed chapters won’t receive the benefit of Defenders of Humanity.

A more complete definition under this reading would be, for example:

A Space Marine Detachment is therefore one which only includes units with one of those keywords, which must be the same for each unit.

Or, better:

A Space Marine Detachment is a detachment comprised solely of Adeptus Astartes units, all with the same <Chapter> faction keyword.

Intent & Practice

In trying to resolve that ambiguity, the intent is impossible to decipher from the text alone. Certainly it would be most traditional for a “Space Marine Detachment” to be comprised of a single chapter. However, it would also be quite reasonable and not at all out of line for Defenders of Humanity to apply to any mix of Space Marines. Chapter Tactics, which is explicit about being available only to uniform detachments, would then be an extra benefit for selecting units entirely from one chapter and strongly encourage that traditional makeup. The latter would be a more interesting structure and create somewhat more list building decisions, so it could easily be the intent.

In practice this ambiguity doesn’t matter much. The benefits of Chapter Tactics are so considerable and the ability to mix factions between detachments so flexible that there’s little reason to not field single chapter detachments. In theory though you might, e.g., if a future codex had weaker Chapter Tactics equivalents but strong characters from different chapter equivalents that you wanted to combine in one detachment but still be Objective Secured.

Next Level

As with the previous examples of textual (as opposed to mechanical) shortcomings in 8th edition’s rules, right now these generally aren’t actual problems due to the freshness of the duplicative copies and the competing interpretations of the ambiguity being obscured by the in-game strength of one. But they create openings for problems, particularly as the game evolves. With each new book there’s a chance to introduce a real error while pasting in its copy of Objective Secured. At some point there might be a real reason to field a detachment of mixed chapters/legions/dynastics/etc. and face real questions about what buffs it would receive.

The elimination of Universal Special Rules and other centralized concepts no doubt minimized the number of pages in the main rulebook. But it necessarily expanded the cloud of text replicated throughout all the books, with identical rules under formally and often even textually different symbols. Objective Secured and all its variants such as Defenders of Humanity are a prime example. That unnecessary inelegance and volume of text is unfortunate, a product of over-minimizing and false simplification.

The ambiguity in defining Space Marine Detachments isn’t hard to see and the definition trivial to improve. So it highlights that although much improved, Games Workshop’s ongoing reviews of 40k material are still very limited and non-technical. The playtest group is still too small, coming in with too many shared assumptions, not analyzing the language or mechanics formally enough, and sharing too much extra-textual context and intent to catch all possible interpretations and other potential issues. It is a much longer discussion for another day, but for a such a complex technical system (the game) and with such a large, diverse, and disconnected audience implementing that system (players worldwide), large scale public review is strongly warranted. That could be done in an efficient fashion to minimize burden on GW’s end, and, as other games as well as GW’s own recent public rules releases (for both 40k and Age of Sigmar) have demonstrated, in such a fashion that it wouldn’t hurt sales.

To take 40k to the next level of elegance and excellence, the design process should:

  • Focus streamlining on minimizing overall rules volume and duplication, rather than superficial main rulebook page count reduction;
  • Continue to expand the scope, diversity, and extent of peer and public review.

40k 8th edition is very good. But it could be even better with minimal effort and cost.

40k 8th Edition Isn’t Any Less Messy, But Could Be At Least As Great

There’s rightfully a lot of buzz around 40k’s 8th edition even among people not currently engaged with the game, e.g., among the X-Wing crowd here, and I’m hoping we can recruit fresh new players into our local community. So this morning I sat down with the leaked rules to be prepared to run demo games at a release party tomorrow.

Literally almost instantly one of my biggest fears about this edition seemed confirmed: The rules are at times sloppy and inadequately specified, a casualty of mistaking shorter text for streamlined gameplay.

By absolutely no means is that to say they’re unplayable, broken, or won’t be fun. I’m looking forward to the edition and think it could be great. But we shouldn’t go into this new era of Warhammer 40,000 with unrealistic expectations that the game is suddenly free from significant open rules questions, let alone balance issues.

Coherency

The example that leapt out at me immediately is unit coherency, one of the core concepts in 40k and one distinguishing it from many other types of miniatures games wherein models act individually or in strict formations.

7th Edition

Here’s how 7th edition defines coherency:

… once a unit has finished moving, the models in it must form an imaginary chain where the distance between one model and the next is no more than 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically. We call this ‘unit coherency’.

Main rules on coherency for 7th edition.

This is a fundamental mechanic of the game that’s simple in essence but surprisingly somewhat tricky to capture fully. As such its main rule gets an entire page in the 7th edition rulebook (pg 19). In addition, there is an earlier note explaining the intent that “Units fight in loose groups with gaps between each model…” (pg 9), and special provisions for vehicle squadrons (pg 79) and independent characters (pg 166).

This 7th edition definition is already not ideal. What is an “imaginary chain”? That’s not a formal game term with any precise meaning. The rule relies on the reader’s understanding of an intuitive concept. That’s problematic on its own, but then the two “X” formations given as permitted formations exacerbate it by not actually fitting a typical natural idea of a chain as a single linear sequence of links, e.g., a necklace or lock. The definition relies on an intuitive understanding that isn’t applied in a totally clear and straightforward fashion.

In contrast, you could define coherency simply and unambiguously with plain text like:

A unit is in coherency if for every pair of models in the unit a sequence can be listed from one to the other of models in the unit each within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of its predecessor.

Or, spelling out some of the implications just a bit more:

A unit is in coherency if for every pair of models in the unit they are either within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of each other or a sequence can be listed from one to the other of other models in the unit each within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of its predecessor.

Both of these definitions are intuitive, unambiguous translations from formal graph theoretic terminology, in which you would concisely define coherency via:

The graph over models in the unit with an edge between every pair of models within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of each other must be connected.

Regardless of these more clear specifications, the text and figures in the 7th edition rules get the concept across solidly and concisely: Models in a unit are supposed to move and fight in close proximity. If you came to the game knowing nothing about it, you would quickly understand that models in a unit cannot be spread all over the place.

8th Edition

Here’s how 8th edition defines unit coherency:

A unit must be set up and finish any sort of move as a group with every model within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of at least one other model from their unit: this is called unit coherency.

Coherency rules in 8th edition.

This is a short, concise rule. But consider this unit of four brave 2nd edition warriors divided into spread apart pairs with the paired models each 2″ apart:

A unit of 4 models in coherency under 8th edition rules.

Assume they deployed that way or properly moved “as a group,” all at one time rather than switching between units. The pictured unit is then inarguably in coherency under 8th edition rules. To quote: “Every model [is] within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of at least one other model from their unit.” All of the models meet all of the given criteria. Yet there’s that 12″ gap in the unit completely against all previous concepts and rules of unit coherency.

That gap could be arbitrarily wide, and there are a lot of reasons you might want some configuration like this. Just off the cuff: You could take a unit of heavy weapons, divide them up into pairs, and spread them all across your deployment zone so that you have a mini-fireteam positioned on each shooting lane. This generally would not have been a particularly helpful before, but in 8th edition all the models can target different enemies so it could definitely be useful. More problematic, you could take a portion of a unit and put it in an essentially unreachable location so that it effectively can’t take wounds. Such near invulnerability could be very powerful if a model or models are providing an ability, stat, buff, or acting as some kind of battery for the unit.

Personally I don’t think this is the designers’ intent, it’s just too big a change to the feel of the game and too awkward. Granted there have been substantial changes made in this edition, but none of the official previews have flagged this as one of them. Regardless, absent official FAQ or errata, intent doesn’t matter, because you could argue it either way. Consider interacting with a newcomer to the game:

  • They set up a bunch of Devastators spread across their deployment zone.
  • You say they can’t do that.
  • They ask you to show them the rule saying they can’t.
  • You claim the designers intended for units to fight close together.
  • They ask you to prove it.
  • You say it’s always been that way.
  • They point to any number of rules that were “always that way” and now aren’t.

Maybe the designers do now intend for models of a unit to be able to fight off in pairs because at least as long as they have a buddy backing them up they’re able to operate semi-independently? It would be scarcely “crazier” as an intended change than independent characters not being able to join units.

So, now what to do? For better or for worse this updated rule potentially changes the game quite a bit, reducing one of its differences from skirmish games. A configuration like this is completely against previous ideas of coherency so most players with even minimal experience are going to think it’s wrong. Having units all over the board will definitely slow games down. Worst of all, it will be extremely frustrating if someone tries to exploit what is probably an inadvertently granted ability to hide away a battery or ability-granting model while other elements of its unit operate elsewhere.

Casualties

Here’s another problem circling 8th edition coherency that doesn’t require anything but a very possible outcome in very traditional and straightforward play: What if a unit takes casualties such that it is no longer in coherency and cannot get back into coherency in a single move? This is not uncommon, for example, with any decent sized unit that loses models in the middle of a stretched out line, and there is no rule forbidding or preventing a player from allocating wounds in such a way.

Previous editions had a simple paragraph of text explaining that the unit had to try to move back toward coherency as best as possible at each opportunity to do so. Rules-as-written in the 8th edition text though, that unit is immobilized. If a unit “must be set up and finish any sort of move as a group with every model within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of at least one other model from their unit” then it cannot make a move that ends with it out of coherency, plain and simple. There is no other provision to move given, so a unit that has its coherency broken and cannot restore it in a single move is thereafter stuck.

Units getting immobilized like this doesn’t seem like anything that would be reasonably intended. It’s very non-intuitive, frustrating gameplay, not explicitly described, a major change, and not a previewed one. Presumably most people will play as before and move toward coherency as best as possible. But then: Do you have to advance, or is it enough to just move? Previous editions explicitly noted that you had to run as well if you were out of coherency and could not restore it in a move, but there is no such note about advancing in 8th and it would not be absurd for someone to not assume such.

To that point about assumptions, what if you’ve never played before? How do you know what to do when coherency breaks? Being stuck clearly isn’t going to seem right but the straight rules text doesn’t let you move or provide other guidance, so now you’re putting your game on pause to deliberate on what should happen, potentially consult forums, and so on. A chunk of the time savings gained in speeding up the game just got burned up, and that’s for a very simple question with immediately likely answers.

In sum: Many people will simply say “Don’t be that guy, just play the obvious way and don’t exploit the rules.” But why shouldn’t I play to win within the given rules? And what if you’ve never played before? Who decides what’s obvious and fair? That obviously should be and largely can only be Games Workshop, but as they have so many times in the past, they’ve abdicated that role on these example questions.

Streamlined

Many people think of ambiguous and unclear rules as problems mostly for tournament players. But that’s entirely wrong. Despite the various communities with their own FAQs and such, tournament players are the most prepared to mitigate and obviate these kinds of issues. Playing with strangers and in a competitive settling quickly exposes rules misunderstandings and uncertainties, forcing their resolution. Tournaments also have the people, structure, and impetus to develop and disseminate FAQs as needed.

Casual players don’t have any of that. They’re on their own, encountering problems ad hoc and coming up with ad hoc solutions, and then potentially hitting entirely different solutions when they do go play other people, even casually. What happens to people at home playing 40k the first time unit coherency is broken and they have to figure out what to do next? Their game just stalled as they work it out. Worse, what about some young newcomer who builds a whole army strategy around breaking up their heavy weapons into mini-fireteams and then shows up at weeknight open gaming only to be told that’s not how the game works even though the rules don’t actually forbid it and they have no a priori way to know that? That’s going to be devastating.

In order to play games quickly and with strangers possessing their own set of assumptions and experiences, you need clear rules, regardless of how competitive or casual the match. Ambiguity is detrimental to the experience of all types of players.

I’m all for streamlining games. Being able to play games quickly is one huge positive. Clear and concise rules with an underlying elegance often also yield more strategic depth. But note in this area at least that nothing has been streamlined, the rules are just marginally shorter in text. The original coherency rules were two short, clear paragraphs that adequately captured a simple mechanic even as they could have perhaps been made even shorter and more clear. Instead, now there’s almost as much text as before, the game is no simpler, and a number of additional questions are generated even with only cursory investigation. Frustratingly, this isn’t even a space saving issue—there’s plenty of whitespace on that page immediately below the rule that could have been used to define coherency just as well as before or better.

Maybe I’m way off base and despite all indications the new coherency rules are indeed intended to permit splitting up units into pairs. But how to act when coherency is broken seems like an outright omission. It’s a straightforward one so probably it won’t be too much of a problem. But these are non-trivial, completely unnecessary problems that did not exist before and come up within the first minute of reading the new rules, literally in the third paragraph. How many other similar issues are there going to be in these “streamlined” rules? How many of them are exploitable to distort the game? Even setting aside Games Workshop’s track record on these kinds of issues, encountering such questions so quickly at minimum warrants some skepticism about what else will come up in the rest of the rules once read in depth and on the table.

Play

One of the risks in simplifying a game design, especially in revamping a large, complicated ruleset, is over-streamlining. Miniatures games are complicated. It’s often very difficult to spell out intended mechanics and behaviors in a short, simple way. There are many edge cases that need to be covered, and people come at rules with a broad spectrum of assumptions. Simply cutting text is not the same as clarifying and speeding up the game. Just a few more sentences here—carried over from previous editions, no less—would have averted non-trivial potential for confusion and abuse.

Despite the observations in this post I’m optimistic about this edition and excited about the enthusiasm around it. I think it quite likely to turn out really fun to play and a huge boon to 40k. But we should not be over optimistic that it is magically free of open issues or not already, even before release, in need of FAQs and erratas. There are multiple reasonable indications to the contrary and it would be completely appropriate to assume so of any essentially new ruleset for any game. Rebooted 40k also may not be intrinsically more suited than it has been in the past to either competitive or pick-up battles, as opposed to play in small, repeat groups that develop a shared consensus understanding of the rules.

The good news though is people have made all those viable in past editions. So, yes, we’ll probably still need to hammer out FAQs and complain about balance and construct missions to address various issues and so on. Eighth edition could and should be great, but just as with past versions I also think it’s going to take work. The real question then becomes: Is this a better basis from which to do that work? I think so, and I certainly hope so. We’ll start finding out tomorrow!

Update

This post discusses a few concrete examples of duplication and ambiguity problems cropping up as the codexes and supplements come out.