Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pure Irony - Rules Interpretations

I think it is important to start this post off with a couple disclaimers and acknowledgments. I fully expect that some of my readers, specifically those in my local play group, will take offense to this post. To those readers, I want to point out that its not you, its me. Next, I want to acknowledge the pure irony in writing a post about "whiny bitches" actually makes me (in some ways) a "whiny bitch" as well. Next, it is important to disclaim this post is more of a stream of consciousness post to get some of my thoughts on the subject out there as opposed to a well constructed argument for or against something. And lastly, at the end of the day I respect all of your opinions that contradict mine, your all entitled to your opinions no matter how wrong they are.

(see what I did there, trying to make a joke and lighten the mood?)

Perhaps its the stress and anxiety of the holiday season that's upon us, and perhaps its just my broken way of approaching games. Its even possible that I have actually matured over time and grown past the childishness of rules lawyer-ing. I have been increasingly annoyed lately with a trend in rules interpretation for games that I have seen.

Why is it that when a rules is interpreted, players always look for ways to "break" the rule set or gain an advantage or just be contentious?

It seems to me that if there is a way, taking war gaming in general, for a rule to be interpreted that makes the game:
  1. Less fun for the opponent
  2. Makes a model/unit be percieved as "over powered"
  3. Can cause extensive arguments about language
then that is the interpretation that many players will jump to, in stead of giving the rules the "benefit of the doubt". It almost seems that gamers look for reasons to argue and become frustrated with their games instead of looking for reasons to enjoy their  games fun. I see some of this in competitive attitudes, and even more-so I see this attitude in internet discussions about gaming in general. Funny enough, I see this attitude play out regularly in some of the local play groups I watch and/or participate in.

I am doing some personal reflection on this to see how much I have also contributed to this phenomenon. Most likely I will be as deeply implicated in what I will term "Whiny Bitch Syndrome" as any other gamer. Come on now, I have a blog and a podcast, so I must be one of the worst offenders, right? (see sarcasm in last sentence for those who missed it) Sarcasm aside, I do not like this trait and endeavor to minimize or remove it from my own gaming personality. I am trying to understand why gamers as a whole (or at least my perception of them) prefer this approach over an alternative.

What are the alternatives you ask? What a great question. What is gamers were to give a rule set the "benefit of the doubt"? Instead of constantly looking for ways that a rule can be "twisted" or "broken" or interpreted to reduce the fun for ALL players of the game, what if we assumed the rules were written to make the game MORE fun for all players. What if when we looked at a rule and had the reaction of:
  • "Wow, that rule seems out of line with common sense" 
  • "Wow, I can really take advantage of this" 
  • "Wow, that will certainly start an argument"
  • "That rule is stupid and I am going to quit playing because of it"
we instead think to ourselves:
  • Thats probably not whats intended, is there a way this makes sense
  • My interpretation would reduce the amount of fun my opponent has, could this be interpreted another way to increase both of our fun
  • I'm just trying to be argumentative, let me take a breath and see if this makes sense in a way I don't have to argue about it
I know its sacrilegious to pick up a theme that the infamous Jervis Johnson (ala Games Workshop fame) runs with, but whats so wrong with just agreeing with our opponent before the game to how things will be handled for maximum fun? What wrong with siding with an interpretation (in game no less) that benefits our opponent because that would make the game play out in a highly cinematic way. Even worse, what if we interpret things in a way that gives a benefit to our opponent because the game is fun and arguing about a rules interpretation reduces everyone's fun in the game?

To use another cliche, "Why can't we all just get along?"

Do any gamers out there notice that in the majority of cases, rules are interpreted by the game developers to NOT overpower single models / units in games? Have any of you noticed that, more often that not, when something happens in a game that makes you (and often your opponent) react with:
  • What the hell, now that rule interpretation just doesn't make sense
the developers tend to FAQ/Errata against that rule interpretation?

Lets be fair as well, rules developers are people too. More often, they are gamers, and sometimes they make mistakes. I believe that games developers try to make their games "balanced" which typically means that when a model / unit has a rules that could unbalance the game, that unit / model is given a drawback or weakness in the rules that brings it back into balance. When that is missing, your probably reading too much into the rules. In addition, I believe that games developers try to make their rule-set easy to understand. I believe that more often than not, if the rule is highly complex and confusing to understand than your reading WAY TO MUCH into it. You just might be TRYING to complicate the rule for some reason.

  • Do you, Mr/Ms Gamer, really believe that the rules developer tried to make the rule system over-complicated and hard to understand? 

  • Why can't we step back once in a while and assume the developer was trying to use the simple understanding?

In conclusion:
  • If your reaction after reading a rule is close to "HA HA, I got you... this screws over", your reading it wrong.
  • If you could interpret a rules as complicated or simple and your choose complicated, your doing  it wrong.
  • If you have even the slightest thought of "I can get a huge, unbeatable advatage with no disadvantage from this rule", your interpreting it wrong
  • If you read a rule and think "Now this can't be right, I bet this will make a great internet discussion", your probably right, but what your really looking for is an internet argument
  • If the rule makes the game LESS fun for EITHER player, you are misunderstanding the rule (possibly on purpose)
 Ok, enough rambling.


  1. Hey - just wanted to comment to give you a different perspective.

    First, I agree completely with you about some of what you're saying. In the particular case in question, assuming the rules worked the way they were being said to work to create an unkillable model is the acme of foolishness. Nobody was in disagreement about that - even the person who brought it up last night said, "Better use this model quick before they errata it." There's no question it was a mistake in the wording of the rule. The majority of the people in the store were not going to allow anyone to play with the model other than the way it was intended.

    However, it was a good thing it was brought up, both in the store and on the Wyrd forums. Wyrd was unclear in the rule. The intent was pretty clear, but the wording did not back up their intent.

    In the case of the Desperate Merc, it was clear what the intent was, but in other cases it's not always so clear. What could be the clear intent of an ability to you may clearly be intended to work differently to me. How do you determine who is right? Our only way to determine what the developers intended are the rules that they wrote or what they say on the forums. If the rules are unclear, it does come down to a, "Yes!" "No!" kind of argument.

    For example, there was a spell that was relatively easy to cast and would cause a lot of damage to all models around a single model. By the wording of the spell, it would also cause damage to the person who cast it. I assumed that was the intention - doing 3-4 damage to everyone around you, while only taking 3-4 yourself seemed like a fair trade. My opponent said that it did not do damage to the person who cast it.

    Going by your conclusion, it seems like the spell not doing damage to the caster but doing decent damage to everything around it (enough to outright kill a lot of models) does seem like a "HA HA, I got you... this screws you over" kind of ability. Both ways seem just as simple as each other. It seemed to me to be a huge advantage to dish out 12 damage over three models with no drawback to the model doing the casting. And it made the game less fun for me, knowing that I couldn't stop it.

    But in the end, I turned out to be wrong in the ruling. It didn't do damage to the caster too.

    In the end, I believe if there's an error in the rules, whether it's obvious (Desperate Merc) or not, it should be brought up and corrected. Once that's done in an official capacity, there can be no more argument about it. The rule is set in stone at that point (until it is errata-ed) and there will be no more discussion about it in game. Better to get the rule questions squared away. Who knows? It may turn out that the "overpowered" way is precisely how it was intended.

  2. I, as always, enjoyed reading your perspective, and have to agree with most of it. Most cases, the rules aren't as broken as the individuals trying to take advantage of them.

  3. Funny enough Mike, the Desperate Merc situation you are talking about is not the sole or even primary reason for the post. I will admit, I had to go back and scan my own post to see if I had used that example, specifically because I thought about it while writing. Its an easy example of what I am talking about but too specific to support the reason I wrote the blog post.

    I am genuinely looking at the larger picture. While for me this has hit hardest around Malifaux lately, it is certainly not exclusive to Malifaux. The lately in the last sentence is the largest qualifier, as the same thing is true for 40K as reecently as a couple months back.

    Let me provide another example:
    A couple months ago I put a post on a local club forum talking about how the strict rules interpretation of the new WHFB 8th edition rules made it so it was impossible to lose a game. In my post I even stated how I was posting this to draw attention to absurdities that I found amusing, wanted to share the "joke", and was not making an effort to "get over". That thread was picked up and I received several private messages pointing to how I was being Cheesy and rules-lawyer-ing. I then saw several points of the same discussion in other situations (at a tournament and on-line) where the same point was argued.

    Our game last night (Malifaux that is) was actually a great point for my own thoughts that went into this thread. I watched as you were able to (with your crew) utilize the rules to drop your entire crew onto my crew, in combat, and push the game. While I watched it happen my reaction (as you commented after) was "That was cool, I can't wait to play that crew". I did not run to a rulebook to try and interpret the rules to keep you from doing that. More importantly, it was a fantastic "Cinematic" moment and I was able to take enjoyment in:
    1. How cool it worked out
    2. How happy you appeared to be in how it worked out
    Arguing or nitpicking the rules at that point would have really ruined the game, I think. In many situations, I just see more arguing, nitpicking, and rules lawyer in situations like this than enjoyment of our games.

    As another example, the LOS rules in Malifaux come to mind. I see the ideal situation being the way all my games went last night. When the question of LOS came up I explained the current and future option for how it is being ruled. I then gave my opponent (both you and Dan) the options on how to play it. Then we moved forward in our games, in agreement. There was no need to interpret the rules in one fashion or another, or even argue them. It was just ok, because the game was fun for both of us. Even if you had chosen a third option that was still providing fun for both of us, that would have been ok as well. My worry was about having a fun game, not arguing a rules interpretation.

  4. You were pretty careful not to bring up a specific instance, so I just ran with the Desperate Merc situation because it seemed the most obvious one that you and I were involved with recently.

    And I agree with you 100% that rules in question should be resolved before the game. Your comment about the Malifaux LOS rules is the perfect example of that - you brought up the issue before the game, gave options, we picked the rule set we wanted, and then moved on. Easy as pie, and meant there were never any questions about whether someone could see someone else. I prefer a more fun, easy-going environment too.

    But to the point about resolving rules before the games begin, this is where I feel so called rules lawyers become valuable. They can spot the unusual interactions just from reading the book and get them resolved long before the game even starts.

    In my opinion, there are two kinds of rules lawyers - those who use their powers for good and try to get the rule system language tightened up by shining a light on the inconsistencies, and those who use their powers for evil and try to take advantage of those inconsistencies until someone else brings them up.

    But overall, great post, and I'm enjoying the discussion.

  5. And this is why I don't play in tournaments. Too many people only care about winning, not how much fun their opponent is having, or even if they are having fun. I like winning as much as the next guy, but c'mon.... it's all about rules tweaking and list building. No game is going to be 100% balanced (white has the advantage in chess!), so I don't blame the rules writers as much as some do.
    Its why DBA is my favorite game, and why I've been leaning towards historicals (not FOW, because that's just as bad).

    reminds me of something I heard the other day at Huzzah... "Warmachine tournaments are very cutthroat".... that sounds like fun...

    Josh C.