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Using Chess Clocks – it’s the Future !

Liam asked me to write a response to his article on Chess Clocks in 40k. Why you might ask? Well, I used them when preparing for the LVO, and in three of my 6 games at the LVO, so I have some experience of using them “in real life”.

I have to say, I was sceptical. After LVO 2018, when Frontline Gaming announced that they would use clocks at LVO 2019, I wasn’t impressed. In fact, I was so unimpressed I decided not to go, simply because of the clocks. However, over the year I mellowed to the idea and started to use them. I’m now a “fan”. IMO Chess Clocks work well for 40k, and I suspect they are the way forward. They take a bit of getting used to, no doubt, but all my games where I used them were fine.

So, first I’ll state the case for clocks, and then try and address the concerns raised in Liam’s article.

The Case for Clocks

Everybody has had a tournament game time out. We all know how frustrating it is to have a game finish on turn 3, before it really starts. Slow play has been with us for years. But let’s be clear – I don’t mean deliberate slow play. That’s cheating, and is usually best dealt with by a judge, or the TO. That’s not the main reason to use a Chess Clock (although it also deals with that issue). More generally what I mean is people just playing slowly – maybe they’re inexperienced with their army, or with the rules in general, or maybe they want to chat or “think” too much, constantly second guessing themselves, or remeasuring range for the 4th time (I know, I know, I’m guilty of that!!). 

But here’s the thing – tournament games are timed. If they weren’t, tournaments, logistically couldn’t work. Most games are 3hrs long. And it matters that you get to the later turns of the game in those 3 hours.

Games of 40k are designed to take between 5 to 7 turns. The game we play in turns 2-3, is quite different from the game in turns 4-7. Different “styles” of army perform more effectively at different times in the game. “Alpha Strike” armies are designed to win in the first 2 turns. Armies with lots of, relatively fragile bodes, can dominate the first few turns, before they are “degraded” by their opponents. On the other hand some armies are designed to play more effectively in the later turns, by, for example, reserving most of their fire power until turn 3, being more resilient and outlasting their opponent, or by hiding and being more mobile in the last few turns.

Essentially this is why we need to “finish games” – to give all armies a chance to perform as they were designed to perform. 

Using Chess Clocks forces players to treat time as a resource, which is equally allocated between them. If you need to get to the last few turns to have your army perform to it’s full potential, your opponent can’t thwart that by playing slowly. If you need to hit hard in the first few turns, and hold on for the last few, you need to think about time management during those first few turns, because you’re opponent will get his turn 4 and 5. You both have the same amount of time and it’s for you to allocate that time as befits your army.

The key is treating time as a resource that the players allocate as they see fit. And it’s not just on the table top. You also need to consider time allocating when building your army. Can you get your game finished in 1hr 30mins  if you bring 200 cultists … and move all of them …. and shoot them all…. and fight with all of them? 

And that was the key concept I had to get my head round – that time is a finite resource, just like points, and chess clocks place the expenditure and allocation of that resource fully in the hands of the players. 

But most importantly, while you spend that resource on the table top, you allocate the resource when you build your list. Considering whether you can finish a game is as important at the list building stage as when you come to move your 200 cultists. 

So, that’s the case for clocks at its most basic – they regulate the allocation and expenditure of a limited resource fairly between the players. However, Liam also raised a number of more practical issues.



Liam’s first point was that only a small number of people who attend events have a realistic chance of winning, so why saddle everybody else with the burden of chess clocks. I would suggest that there are 3 counters to that argument.

First, while I had very little chance of winning the LVO, I still wanted to finish my games and feel like I had a “fair” allocation of time. I played 2 games against horde orks, both on chess clocks, and we finished both of them. If my opponents hadn’t been on the clock would we have….maybe (even probably) but being on the clock made sure that we did. Not finishing games is just as annoying in the bottom third as it is in the top third.

Second, the argument assumes that playing with a clock is a pain … it really isn’t once you get used to it (a point I’ll come back to). In fact, I would suggest that playing with a clock takes quite a bit of stress out of the game as you don’t need to work about whether you’re playing too slowly, or whether you’re getting your “fair” allocation of time. The clock tells you.

Third, the way it worked at LVO is that if neither player wanted to use a clock, that was fine. So if you’re out of the running, and your opponent agrees, take 3 hours to play 2 turns….!

Having said that, I do kinda get what Liam means – it kinda feels like you’re taking things too seriously. But, you know what, I spend hours (and hours) preparing for tournaments, not to mention hundreds if not thousand of pounds on models, travel, accommodation etc. Is it too much to expect that I get to play 5-7 turns of a game? Maybe we should take things a little more seriously….it is a tournament after all. We take everything else reasonably seriously (points limits, matched play rules, list checking, TO rules calls. etc), why not time? Why is ensuring that each player gets the same amount of time to play their game a step too far?


Horde Players take more time

Nobody cares whether a horde player takes longer than a Knight player, the point is that both should get the same allocation of time. A chess clock doesn’t ’t know whether you play Orks or Knights, it just ensurers that you get the same amount of time to play either army. If the horde player has 300 models and finishes in time, great. If the player with 4 Knights takes too much time to think (god knows why, if there is any army that requires little thought, it’s a 4 Knight army!), then they time out.

So the argument isn’t that you need Chess Clocks so people who play hordes hurry up, rather it’s that you need Chess Clocks so that everybody has the same amount of time to play their army, whether it’s a horde army, of 4 Knights.

Does this penalise hordes …. maybe, but we go back to time being a finite resource (because of the practicalities of running a tournament) and the fundamental unfairness of an unequal allocation of that resource. Bottom line – if you want to play a horde army in a tournament, play it fast, or take a different army.


It Doesn’t Work

Here the argument is that, because there are numerous interaction between players, the clock just doesn’t work. 

To be fair, it did take me a while to get used to using a clock, and in particular flipping the clock onto my opponents time when they are doing something in my turn. But you get used to it, and it soon becomes second nature. 

Liam also talked about “complex interactions” during the game. The key to getting this to work is the fundamental rule of using clocks – you are responsible for your own time. It’s your job to flip the clock to your opponent, and if you forget, it’s on you. 

So to take Liam’s example – Alpharius shoots his bolt guns, rolls to hit and rolls to wound. The clock is flipped to Omegon who rolls his saves. It’s then flipped back to Alpharius to shoot his next unit. However, if Alpharius forgets to flip the clock, that’s his problem, the clock runs down his time while Omegon rolls his saves. You are the master of your own time. 

Potentially this may disadvantage inexperienced players. But then again, inexperienced players are disadvantaged by lots of things in a tournament game – poor army construction, lack of rules knowledge, lack of tactical awareness etc etc. In fact, a lot of these “disadvantages” are what lets a good player win. Where do we draw the line? If you want to readjust the balance between an inexperienced player and an experienced player should the experienced player play 200pts down, or play with a comped army? Of course not …. so why draw the line at the advantage given to a player more experienced at using a chess clock?

Fundamentally, using a chess clock is just another skill that a player who wants to win a GT needs to acquire, just like knowing your rules. The question is whether the advantage of a fair allocation of time outweighs the “hassle” of getting used to playing on a clock. IMO it does.


It Excludes Social Interaction

This is the only argument with which I tend to agree. Being “on the clock” does focus the mind and you tend not to indulge in chit chat. To be honest, that doesn’t bother me. Anybody who plays me knows I’m kinda intense when I play, and I focus on the game. I’ll chat with you afterwards, and before, but when I’m playing, I’m playing. You’re at the tournament to play a competitive game of 40k, after all, IMO you’re not there (during the game at least) to chat about your lives, your kids or your opponents army. That’s for later, in the break or in the pub, not for the gaming table. 

I know some people disagree, and that’s fine. Using a clock is only compulsory if one person wants to use it. If your opponent is happy to have a casual “chatty” game, go for it. If you and your opponent don’t care, then nobody else will.



So, there you are, my 2ps worth on the subject of clocks.

  • Clocks ensure a fair expenditure and allocation of a finite resource – time.
  • Players need to consider allocation of the resource at the list building stage. Don’t bring a list you can’t finish games with.
  • It’s easier to use a clock in practice than in theory
  • If both players are happy not using a clock, that’s fine.

Chess clocks are not as hard to use as you think and, in my opinion, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

Try it!


EDIT – The original article discussing the opposite opinion of chess clocks can be found here.

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