Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Authorage; Tourney Style: On Passive-Agressive Judging

Attention readers - I'm blessed by a large staff of fellow NOVA volunteers, and a large group of friends.  To a degree, I'll be hosting guest author writing from among that and other groups, to help enhance the quality and readability of the blog, and increase the amount of quality mateiral for you all to read on a daily basis.

A guest post by Morgim Dark of
There are two very broad stances when it comes to judging a gaming tournament, specifically when the game's mechanics and ruleset are somewhat loose (i.e. Warhammer 40k). At the NOVA Open this year we tried both differing styles of judging, and the results were interesting.

Active Refereeing
The first style is actively refereeing a game. This style is very uncommon on the tournament gaming scene as it does not lend itself to larger, Grand Tournament-style events. However, the NOVA Invitational offered us the perfect opportunity to engage in active judging given the small number of players involved and the amount of prize support on the line.

Simply put, active judging is where staff actually get involved in the game itself, closely monitoring the play and ensuring that each player plays as close to the rules as possible. This may include correcting over-movement, proactively clarifying a rule, or even determining movement itself as in the case of a multi-unit assault. 

Active judging is difficult as each table judge may have a slightly different take on the rules, have varying levels of experience, or even have a biased view of certain participants. NOVA staff did their best to level-set expectations through a comprehensive FAQ, well-informed judges and a strong, overall tournament judge. Still, even those measures can't guarantee the exact same experience with active judges across multiple tables.
You have a problem with my ruling?!
Passive Judging
The second style is passive judging. This style is far and away the most common and lends itself to a gaming system that is part hobby and part competitive. Passive judging relies largely on the players to know the mechanics of the game and be able to resolve issues at the table as they arise. It also assumes that when a player has a concern or question that cannot be readily resolved they will actively contact tournament staff for resolution. 

Passive judging does require active involvement from the tournament staff but not at the same intimate level as active judging. For example, if I overhear two players resolving an issue with a dice roll, I would not jump in to correct the situation. The players have decided on an amicable resolution with no need to pull in a judge - all the better within this style.  More importantly, if you only jump into the games you hear things from, the field is inherently unfairly judged as a result.
And everyone left happy!

Moreover, in a tournament of any real scale, judges cannot be everywhere at once and certainly do not have a full view of every game being played. For example, I overheard two players discussing Jaws of the World Wolf and one mentioned the power killed several Crisis Suits. Given that Crisis Suits are normally a subset of Jump Infantry this should not be possible. 

However, I held my tongue and approached his opponent (the Space Wolf player and a friend of mine) and asked whether he really used the power on Crisis Suits. In fact, the Crisis Suits referred to by the Tau player were XV88s (Broadside suits) which are not Jet Pack enabled. Had I said anything at the table, I would have blundered into a situation in which I had no prior knowledge (i.e. that Jaws had targetted Broadsides) and just confused the game for the players.

I have heard and do understand the frustration from GT tournament players who would like judges to take a more involved role. But at the level of the NOVA GT (200+ players), any more direct involvement in games would be ineffective at best and game changing at worst. That is not to say judges should not be accessible and there are certainly ways to ensure that tournament staff is approachable. 

In Summation
In the final analysis, 40k as a tournament game does rely on the social contract between players - judges are really there to ensure consistency across all the games being played and to monitor for any egregious abuses of said social contract.

For more insight on tournament style check out my other NOVA entries over at - Morgrim Dark


  1. Mike thanks for letting others use your blog as a sounding board and Morgrim thank ye for the post!
    Although my personal tourney experience is very limited, (just 3!) I've come across many situations where a judge call was not necessary and answered amiably with a dice roll or re-reading the rule book. An interesting thought to consider is that those most likely to be considered to necessary for active judging, are also those least likely to need it. I.E. top tables at a tourney, the judges are probably not actively needed, both players are most likely on top of their game and watching their opponent like a hawk. It seems active monitoring might be more important on lower tables to keep inexperienced players from accidently or otherwise cheating each other.

  2. As a follow up, thinking back, I have had one or two opponents who attempted to rules bully their way into an advantage. (i.e. An IC w/ grenades does not give grenades benefits to the squad, rules and FAQ say they do). I think the most important thing is to make sure there is an active judge presence available and visible. It provides that level of comfort that the social contract mentioned above can be enforced if it breaks down.

  3. Honestly, I think it would help all to have a clear list of "When to Call a Judge / When Not to Call a Judge". I think every player has a different expectation of what a judge does and is supposed to do, so spell it out through examples, again and again.

  4. Food for thought. Well written, and honestly assessed.

  5. A good read for sure. Having just run a tournament this weekend in the NOVA style (16-player RTT), I can see even at that small level the differences in judging styles, with just two judges there.

    While the rounds were going I was patrolling the floor to make sure I was available for rulings most of the day, and usually only came in when asked. We only had a couple small rules questions, so that worked out pretty well.

    One thing i was very keen on, however was people pulling out a rulebook to get an answer to a question. When I saw a rulebook out, I made sure to go to that table and check the situation and deliver a ruling. Would you consider that appropriate, or maybe a bit too active, since the players were likely to find the answer on their own?

    My concern was having the act of looking up the rule take time away from the game. We were running an hour and a half for each game at 1500 points. That's usually enough for most of our players to finish games, but it's short enough that spending 10-15 minutes looking up a rule can take a huge chunk out of game time.

  6. Ray, as a TO it is ultimately up to you to decide how involved you want to get into rules discussions. I would simply caution you against involvement that might change the outcome of the game.

    Personally I encourage players to resolve things on their own. However, at NOVA there were a few games were time was a factor so I did take a more active approach in helping players look up rules and the like.