Stop slow playing!
A plague has writhed the landscape of competitive 40k for thousands of years. A mysterious force that’s impossible to pinpoint but always seems to linger about. In a lot of ways it’s like porn: defining it may be hard, but you definitely know it when you see it. I’m not talking about the ass cracks spilling out from fat gamers when they sit down (that’s a problem for another time). I’m talking about the illusive villain, slow play.
What is slow play? Slow play is when one player intentionally OR UNINTENTIONALLY slows the pace of the game and garners an advantage from it. This can be done in a myriad of ways ranging from taking extra long when thinking about where to put a unit, taking their sweet time rolling dice giving it a solid 10+ more shakes than it really needs, measuring out the movement of every single model in a 50 man blob to be “more accurate” etc… There are literally thousands of ways to slow play.
Why is this a problem? Well in 40k some armies inherently start out strong with lots of board control and accrue a lot of points early on things such as maelstrom and what have you, while others play the long game and try to wait for their opponent to run out of steam to accrue all their points with end game objectives. When games end unnaturally early it creates an abnormal skew which heavily favors the former army type. This is just one of the fundamental issues with slow play. Another common issue is one that is created by the tournament scene. Some tournaments use a hard dice down policy in order to ensure they stick to their schedule, meaning when time is up the round is over. The end. Needless to say it’s easy for the player with top of turn to effectively gain an extra turn by slow playing just enough so that time runs out while his opponent is beginning his turn.
These are obviously bad things.
Why can’t we just punish slow play to prevent it from happening? Well because it’s really hard to catch slow play in reality. Often a person doesn’t report slow play until it’s much too late for starters. Take this example: Bobby and Sarah are playing a game and Bobby is slow playing a lot. It’s top of turn 3 and there’s 30 minutes left in the round. No bueno. Sarah goes to the judge and is like “Bobby is slow playing me, we’re on top of turn 3 and we’ve been playing for 2 hours!” From the judges perspective there is virtually nothing he can do. If he just assumed Sarah was telling the truth and punished Bobby it sets a precedent that you can get away with anything. What if Sarah had been slow playing Bobby the whole time and then went and told the judge Bobby was slow playing her and the judge blindly penalized Bobby? That’s just a bad road to go down. So without any validated proof there is basically nothing the judge can do to help Sarah at this point.
TO’s are not blind to this issue though, as stated earlier this has been a problem with competitive 40k since the age of the dinosaurs and the birth of Brad Chester. A common method that’s been used in tournaments before is penalizing both players for not reaching a minimum turn (usually 4 or 5) which ends in a mutual loss. The problem here is that scores are self reported so players can just lie and say they reached turn X to make the minimum. In 13+ years of gaming I’ve never once seen two players report a mutual loss to time. Another method is when the round timer reaches a certain point (20 minutes typically) both players split the remaining time chess clock style. At the very least this ensures that the game doesn’t end with someone not getting a chance to play their turn unless it was their fault for squandering away their precious limited time.
So now that I’ve spent 681 words talking about what slow play is and why it’s basically the common cold of 40k here is my proposed solution. Chess clocks! Ok wait, before you tar and feather me for even making such a vile suggestion hear me out.
Here’s how it would work. In a 2:30 round, you give each player 1:10 minutes on their clock, leaving 10 minutes for things such as pre game rolls, deployment, potty breaks, judge calls, beer runs etc. The essentials. So at the start of turn 1 Bobby’s clock starts ticking, he can do whatever he wants now. If he wants to measure every single conscript to be “more accurate” go right ahead. If he wants to roll his dice 1 at a time to create suspense, be my guest. If he wants to spend 1 hour thinking about where to put his terminator squad feel free! You get it. When Bobby’s done with his turn he pushes the magic button and now it’s Sarah’s turn. Sarah can take her sweet time doing who cares what. And when she’s done with that back to Bobby.
So what happens when you run out of time? Well there are a lot of ways to go about this and most are valid. In chess you just lose for example. At BFS which used chess clocks on split time as mentioned earlier you simply couldn’t make any more actions. You were simply a dummy who had models and had to roll saves occasionally. If that meant your opponent got to take 11 turns in a row that’s cool, you shouldn’t have run out of time. I find this makes more sense in a game where score matters as well rather than in chess where it’s a binary system of win/loss. Reason being it doesn’t screw the whole tournament when suddenly Sarah gets a max point win and bumps some guy out of top 16 in what would have been a super minor win if Bobby hadn’t run out of time.
Now now I’m sure you have a ton of “but what ifs” in regards to chess clocks so let me try and preemptively address those. A common counter to chess clocks is things like players doing things on their opponents turns, making saves, fighting close combats, and the worst culprit: soulburst. In order to counter this you as the player have the right to pass the clock back to your opponent on your turn for actions that he is taking on your turn. Meaning when Bobby soulbursts in the middle of Sarah’s turn Sarah can give Bobby the clock so he’s wasting his time and not hers. When Bobby is done with the soul burst he gives the clock back to Sarah and she continues as normal. Same goes for things such as combat, saves, etc…
But wait! Won’t that get really annoying for things like saves when you have to pass the clock back and forth every 4 seconds to resolve things like basic shooting attacks? It sure would. You also have the right as players to NOT switch the clock for menial irrelevant amounts of time saved. There is really no point in passing the clock so your opponent can roll 2 saves, pull 1 model and pass the clock back. It IS your right to exercise this ability but I highly recommend you act like a reasonable person and don’t. It would quickly become a hassle and set a bad tone for the game. Chess clocks work much better when people are reasonable about when to pass the time. Especially when you consider that all those 1-2 second actions will easily balance out over the game as you both have to make them. If you want to spend your overall round time drinking beers and relaxing go right ahead, but understand that you’ll be using your time to do so. That’s not really an issue for those players who can relax and enjoy themselves at a normal pace (I’ve never really had issues finishing games and we all know how I play 40k) it’s just a matter of playing efficiently. At the end of the day it is up to you and your opponent to decide what kind of game you want to play, fun and relaxed vs hyper intensive to some in between; this system is solely to enforce some fairness.
What happens if I forget to pass the time back to my opponent and he takes his turn on my time? Sadly there isn’t much that can be done here. Just suck it up really. It would have to be your responsibility to pass the clock to your opponent. This may sound like a real issue now, but as people play with clocks it’s very easy to make it a habit to check the clock frequently (which you should always be doing anyway) so even if you do mess it up it shouldn’t be too long until it’s recognized. There’s also a bit of honor system here where it falls on your opponent to keep you honest too. But the real bottom line here is be better.
So there’s my spiel on why chess clocks are the way of the future in competitive 40k. Stop slow playing nerds.