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Friday, June 3, 2016

Bolt Action - What is this PowerGaming thing Anyway?

I have been playing Bolt Action for around four years now and this has been the only game system that I have actually played competitively in events. During this time I have been an active member of not only the Australian community but also the international one, primarily through ye old Facebook. I blog about the game, I podcast about the game and I talk about the game with people around the world on most days. A consistent point of contention through-out my time in every forum of communication has been the dreaded PowerGamer (dramatic music Dum Dum Daaaaa).

From almost the very moment I became engaged outside of my small group of garage gamers this PowerGamer, this beast, this monster, this horrible destroyer of all things fun, has been thrown around and whispered about in dark corners of dank and smelly conventions and chat rooms. At the start I was given pretty good guidance on how to spot a PowerGamer, they would be the ones frothing at the mouth whilst stomping some poor kids face and brandishing the winner trophy in one hot dog stained paw.

Officially a PowerGamer was described by those less prone to exaggeration as myself as someone who  took all the best units and exploited loopholes in rules to win at all costs, almost exclusively ex -40k players or so I was told (I have never played 40k so I am sorry if anyone is offended). I was a little confused by this when I first started. Were they not operating within the rules as written? Are they bringing unlawful units? The answer to both those questions was no, the explanation given by all the wizened elders of the community was that it was not in the spirit of the game as if that was an end to the debate.

Spirit of the game. This is an interesting notion and one that intrigues me. Who is the arbiter of what is the actual spirit and where is it written down? Is this not a game between two people, who are by the definition of the game engaged in a competition? If both players had access to the same units and rules and one person lost, is this not a fair contest? Is the spirit of the game to have a desire to win but not to do so if it upsets your opponent? Rather lost and confused, a natural state for me, I made like a Zebra and blended into the herd in an attempt to work out what was really going on.

After some time I became more aware of what people were talking about regarding powerful units that were the mark of a PowerGamer. Vehicle flame throwers come to mind and were essentially phased out, leaving it easy for me to actually spot a PowerGamer because apparently they loved them and would field entire units of the beasties. Next up were hordes of HMG jeeps pinning out all the tanks (tools of a PowerGamer for sure), multiple Russian ATR's (PowerGamers weapon team of choice) and cavalry (POWERGAMER)!

Now I had never actually seen any of these units being abused or overused, however the internet forums and facebook chats were full of anecdotal evidence of stories of a some mate playing some bloke who got his face stomped in by 6 HMG jeeps and how this would destroy the game, Warlord Games FIX THIS NOW! Players were hyperventilating and smashing keyboards in their enthusiasm for coming up with theoretical combinations of units that were so overpowered that it meant an instant win and if anyone took it they were win at all costs PowerGaming filth, destroying their fun. Not many people I suspect had ever actually taken any of these combinations to an event, or been allowed to by a TO, but that did not seem to stop the labeling of them as the ultimate evil.

Up to this point, with many events behind me, I had yet to actually spot this mythical demon PowerGamer. Maybe they were changelings, a wolf in sheep clothing, because everyone I had met had been great guys, who'd played for fun. Sure, many played to win, in fact I do not know anyone who played to lose,  but all the lists were vetted by TOs and I had made a bunch of friends in the process. I had been completely tabled on numerous occasions for various reasons, primarily because of my below average generalship, but I never encountered this win at all cost master of the 7th circle of hell.

The next thing I came to realise was that things had changed slightly. Now the most powerful units had basically been poo-pooed by the community and certain combinations outlawed, everyone was on an even footing. A new internet definition of what is a PowerGamer came to light. The non-historical gamer of DOOOOOOM.  This was a new twist. The goal posts were changing and now PowerGamers were those who did not strictly adhere to a perceived factual order of battle. These would be the guys who would play a Chaffee in a USMC list or Assault Rifle wielding Germans in a D-Day setting. These horrible people were tromping all over history in an effort to win at all costs!

This again left me feeling hollow. Was not this game more of a Hollywood movie rather than a documentary? Was this not a silly argument as it could be reasonable argued that you could write a ridiculous list with multiple flame weapons and big HE based on a historical unit? Were the events I was participating in an open event where gamers could bring any legal list? Players were enthusiastically coming up with theoretical unhistorical combinations of units that were so overpowered that it meant an instant win and if anyone took it they were win at all costs PowerGaming filth destroying their fun. Returning to my natural state among the Zebra herd I continued on bemused as ever.

I was beginning to think though that I was another step closer to being able to identify a PowerGamer. They would use all the powerful units, that whilst legal were uncool. They would not be 'historically accurate' lists even if they could be based on a historical unit. They would not be in the spirit of the game, a spirit that had been defined by an unknown yet all powerful entity.

After four years of this game I had an epiphany, first was that I had found a way to put epiphany into an article and second was that the label of 'PowerGamer' is so prone to individual interpretation that it has become a completely worthless term. It is so reliant on personal bias or the way that a particular community plays that anyone who does not play the game their way is labelled as a PowerGamer. That face smashing, mouth frothing, trophy wielding, hot dog eating PowerGamer  is a figment of our imagination in our community, a monster under the bed to be used to keep everyone in line.

My opinion is that we need to stop narrowing the definition of what is fair play otherwise it will lead to everyone playing the same thing in the same boring manner.  We need to lighten up and accept that people play the game for different reasons and in different ways, and if that does not agree with us then we need to be flexible and make sure the expectations of an event or game are clearly known well in advance. I agree that some units need to be restricted due to the actual over powered nature of them but there is a limit, once we reach that limit, and I believe we did some time ago,  we need to stop labeling players as PowerGamers for taking legal lists so long as they are a good opponents and play the game in a polite manner we should all get along and enjoy ourselves.

This is just an amusing look at this issue and to hopefully generate some discussion, no offense was intended and I respect the way everyone plays the game and in particular all the PowerGamers out there (wherever you may be).

"Patch has been playing wargames in Australia for around 4 years, primarily in 28mm, but has recently started in the realm of 15mm with the introduction of Team Yankee. Focusing mainly on painting, his skill as a wargamer can best be described as if he was part of a group exploring a planet he would be the one wearing the red shirt"


Judson said...

Love it! Hallelujah! Preach on, Brother Patch!

Judson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ancientsociety said...

"That face smashing, mouth frothing, trophy wielding, hot dog eating PowerGamer is a figment of our imagination in our community,"

Except for those of us who have had the misfortune to play against such gamers. My interpretation of this article is that the author has had the good fortune to not encounter these types and hence has dubbed them a figment of "the community's imagination". No offence, but he should consider himself lucky and not dismiss the criticisms of those of us who have encountered such poor sports.

"My opinion is that we need to stop narrowing the definition of what is fair play otherwise it will lead to everyone playing the same thing in the same boring manner. "

I would counter that it's the opposite - "power gamers" generally play the same or very similar lists in the same boring manner. My favorite games have always involved gamers who were playing historically accurate lists, which means they often utilized under-used units in a new and unique manner.

Patchimus Prime said...

Nicely put and you are right in that I have been very lucky so far with my community it seems!

John Stiening said...

I think this article misses the point. Power gamers have traditionally been players whose attempt to win comes at the expense of their opponents enjoyment of the game.

Anthony 'Anfernee' Mason said...

I have spoken to enough historical gamers who need to play a simulation of an exact event that happened 70 years ago at the expense of their opponents enjoyment of the game, to know that this is not the sole domain of the powergamer. We are all different and get enjoyment out of achieving different things.

John Stiening said...

totally agreed Anfernee. I'm lucky enough to have avoided simulation games. In the US I have seen the abusive lists you've mentioned. From recce Stuart MG tank lists that swarm units like a pack, to special forces fins, every broken list has happened out here. What has helped our community is trying to emulate yours. Social pressure along with the .net rules have gone a long way towards keeping the environment fun and somewhat balanced.

Lord Rao said...

Judd? Juddd? Judson MacCaull? Is that you? I thought we lost you.

Judson said...

Naw, just another fake tribute joke account.

Hazed 100 said...

I started collecting bolt action 28mm stuff about a year ago,bought the books and started to learn what I could about the game Intending to join a club later.I know a fair bit about Germany and ww2, extensive book collection etc
If you know your history and stuck rigidly to it surely the games will be utterly dull. You effectively re enact you dont use your own ideas as soon as you do something u want youve "ruined the movie" right? I know that's the extreme but it does illustrate we need to allow experimentation. I really enjoyed experiments with panzergrenadiers and trying 10xassault rifles but cost and army flexibility has meant I now tend to use 5 or 6 with mp44s and set others (2 to 4 men) with rifles as "fodder" against that first attack and use saved cost to bolster other units with panzerfausts or their own mp44s etc. I dont see this sort of thing powergaming just fun experiments
Thing is I ve only played mates so guess competitions would be different
You often see similar loop hole exploiting on video games and its called Gaming the game and that can stop some playing especially new players. That's not good for our hobby so I think the answer is a few sensible house rules to stop abuse but to keep experimentation alive too.
multiple flame tanks sounds annoying to play against but surely there's always countermeasures? Saturate them in HE, use ranged fire with some holding set up to block routes etc. Surely that's the whole point of playing?.
Just my 2 cents (OK half a rupee :) )

ahschmidt said...

Ancientsociety and I are in the same local community and we are pretty lucky that almost everyone is excellent to play against. There are people out there who can be miserable to play against. They aren't interested in sharing a good game with you, competitive or otherwise. Attitude is a massive part of this which isn't really captured here. Someone who gets very touchy about the actions you are taking, second-guesses every action you take, and won't have a civil discussion if some confusion about the rules come up. This is part of what people think of when they think power-gamer. Getting trounced by a rock solid list isn't the end of the world for most gamers if their opponent was fun to play with. Luckily our community has next to nobody in it who behaves this way. I have encountered some unfortunate types in 40k, WHFB, and Flames of War games, but those encounters were far from common. BA is a simple and elegant game, this is a big part of why you don't run into a lot of drama. For the most part there isn't much in the game to exploit or generate contention, in my opinion. Again, we also have a great local community! Go Chicago Bolt Action!'

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