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Caledonian Deathwatch Network

The Scourge of Slow Play

Our biggest home-grown tournament (Dark Millennium) has just wrapped up for another year, and as far as I know fun was had by all and there wasn’t any major drama. This is exactly the sort of scenario that we like to see as Tournament Organisers, because the last thing that we want is for everyone’s fun to be ruined by players using the timekeeping rules to their advantage.

Although we had no issues at Dark Millennium, the question was posed to me several times, from several different people in the run up to the event:

“What’s your plan to deal with slow play?”

Admittedly, I have been one to take a passive approach to slow play historically. I always make it clear to players who attend my events, that the impetus is on them to put their hand up and make me aware of the situation – after all, it’s very difficult to apply punishments retrospectively with no hard and fast evidence to consider.  Generally this has been a successful tactic for me – and I can honestly (and happily) report that the instances of this happening at my events is extremely small, and perhaps over 6 years of running events I can only recall 2 or 3 major dramas.

So why this article?

I was speaking to my good friend Dave Calder (who contributes on this website under his “Embrace Your Inner Geek” pen-name) about his experiences at the Las Vegas Open this year. From my brief discussion with him, my understanding of their application at the event was that everyone who seemed to be on course for a 6-for-6 record was required to use them (as were the people who eventually made the top 8 cut). I assume that these were the rules which governed their application (taken from the Frontline Gaming website):

Open source chess clock rules for Warhammer 40k Tournaments


One interesting thing to note about this article, is that it was last updated on March 2018. If I am not correct about this please feel free to let me know, but my suspicion is that such rules were formalized by Frontline as a result of the 2018 LVO Tony Gripando / Alex Fennel debacle. For those who don’t recall (or weren’t aware), Alex was essentially “baited” into a RAW rules “gotcha”, as he tried to make up time spent by Tony during his first turn. This swung the game rather unfairly for Tony, and he went on to win the game (losing in the final to Nick Nanavati).

Chess clocks have always been a discussion among the 40k competitive community, but it’s my opinion that the demand has never been higher for them since that particular moment. I played years of 6th and 7th edition – and while Slow Play was 100% a thing in these days, I genuinely don’t remember the clamor for clocks and time management being as strong as it is right now. This is something which surprises me, because I think 8th edition is ultimately a more streamlined game, and there are less rules to remember in order to complete the battle.

My personal opinion on clocks, is that they are bad for the game. I know that this is going to be a controversial viewpoint, but stick with me while I make my case.

The first thing that I think needs to be considered, is the comparison between the “elite” and the “non-elite” players. What I mean by this, is that if you sample the attendance figures at the LVO (let’s for argument’s sake imagine we have 1000 attendees), there are realistically about 50-100 players who have a realistic chance of winning the tournament. Even if you adhere to the “only people on a winning record get saddled with the clock” methodology, you’re going to be forcing this extra mechanism onto players who have turned up to the event to have fun and enjoy themselves.  So often, the players who “make up the numbers” get overlooked – but in reality they should have a bigger voice in how these huge tournaments are run. There wouldn’t be any Nick Nanavatis to aspire to, if there weren’t huge tournaments for these players to win.

Secondly – the biggest argument I’ve seen for the clock is “horde armies need the clock in order for the game to be fair”. I disagree strongly with this statement. I know a few players here in the UK who have used over 200 models in their armies, and they finish their games on time in 90% of cases. I recall one game in particular at another event that I ran, in which the players brought a combined total of over 400 models on the table, and still comfortably finished within the 3 hour time limit. One of the biggest  40k misconceptions is that the horde player takes the majority of the time in games. In my experience, I’ve actually found that the opposite is true, and it’s often their opponents who are deciding on a plan of attack, and not realizing how much time they are consuming as a result of this.

Thirdly – I think that the clock actually adds an uncomfortable degree of micromanagement (and potential for gamesmanship) to the game that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Consider the following scenario below between Alpharius and Omegon:

  • Alpharius shoots 10 bolters at the plaguebearers, then rolls to wound. Clock goes to Omegon
  • Omegon rolls his saves. Then he rolls for Disgusting Resilliency. Clock goes to Alpharius

Seems simple enough? What if you decide to use a stratagem during this sequence of events? Such as a command re-roll? Or Endless Cacophony? Who’s time does this consume? Who’s clock does it run down? This is one very basic example, but there are some more complex examples in the game that would make such clock alternation challenging and confusing.

I am an experienced player, and I can tell you that in games that I have trialed a clock, I have forgotten to hit my button in every single one. I can also tell you that as an experienced player I have genuinely finished about 99% of my tournament games comfortably within the time limit. What’s to stop an inexperienced player from forgetting as well, and perhaps losing 10-20 minutes of time that they didn’t realize they had lost? Is their opponent now obliged to “give” them that time back? Or perhaps looking at this in a way that is more sinister – perhaps their opponent HAS noticed this, and neglected to mention anything? I’m sure that this isn’t as common as i’m suggesting, but the possibility definitely does exist.

I also think that the added pressure/presence of the clock is something that could potentially kill the social or fun aspect of the game. Want to stop and take 5 minutes to admire that bitching conversion your opponent has created? Who’s clock time gets spent for that? Again, that’s just one example, but its something that very forcibly makes 40k take a step towards “professionalism”, and away from being “a fun hobby that we sometimes like to compete with each other in”.

I do recognize that time management is absolutely an issue in 40k – one solution which was floated to me (which I do think has merit, and I have used it at the European Team Championships in the past) is turn/phase logging. At that particular ETC, we were provided with “Time Sheets”, with which we were given space to log what time (as in 15:10 PM) a particular phase/time was completed by either player. On the face of it, this may not look radically different to using a chess clock, but it has the added advantage of allowing a tournament organizer to review time spent by a particular player or army.

For example, if you notice that player A is taking a long time in his opponents charge phase – you may observe that he’s a Tau player resolving a lot of overwatch. Not ideal, but you’d then see that that player is taking next to no time in their charge or fight phases. You have the loose framework of the time management aspects, without the added pressure of “remembering to hit the button”.

That’s just my suggestion, and i’m sure it’s going to cause some debate or disagreement. I’d be very keen to hear what the thoughts of the community are on this. It’s a hot topic, and one that I don’t think will be going away any time soon.


EDIT – Our Contributor Dave (otherwise known as Embrace Your Inner Geek) has written an article outlining the opposing  argument in favor of clocks, which can be found here.

One Response to “The Scourge of Slow Play”

  • EYIG says:

    Suffice to say for now that I disagree. I was at first against clocks, even to the extent that I was debating whether to go the the LVO at all. But I decided to go, and practiced with the clock. I played 3 of my 6 games at the LVO on a clock, and it was fine. In fact it was good! Liam has asked me to write a response to this from the perspective of somebody who has used clocks, and I will.

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