Teri is a GW Tournament Circuit event organizer, super geek and fan of fluff (or fluff girl, if you will). She can often be caught nerd-raging on her blog, ThatTeriGirl.com.

Anyways, here it is!

Throne of Skulls: The Baby That Got Cut in Half

I spent last weekend in Las Vegas. In a room with about 200 men and less than a dozen women. Not the Vegas experience I imagined myself having – girls like me rarely expect to be playing in Throne of Skulls. It was an amazing weekend of gaming and one of the funnest tournaments I’ve ever been a part of.  I rarely get a chance to play and to be able to play 5 players whom I have never played from all corners of North America was a true pleasure.

Best parts included the fact that food was delicious and plentiful (as those who know me know that my event mantra is that low-blood sugar is the devil to fun games). It was as fun and relaxed as any event in Vegas hosted would be (I showed up to watch the awards presentation in my bathing suit because I was hanging out in the pool as they were tabulating results).

It was an exceptionally fun time.

I should, however, say that I didn’t qualify to attend. I got an invite because I organize GW circuit events (2 this season, just because of the timing of the things).  Moreover, I think my events, with the possible exception of Astronomi-Con, are the least competitive events of the circuit. They are pretty much a soft-scoreapalooza, where soft scores are approximately half of a player’s total score and I also utilize a composition modifier on battlepoints.

Clearly, I’m no Reece Robbins, or TastyTaste – any gal who shows up to Throne of Skulls with a 72 Firewarrior, completely unmounted, all infantry Tau list certainly isn’t playing to win.

That doesn’t mean I don’t know the game, or know how to run events. I’ve run 3 major local events – the first being a split event that was an all-generalship side (formatted in a similar way to Nova Open) and a narrative side – an ‘Ardboyz tournament before Ardboyz was conceived. The subsequent events were narrative events because a) I more throughly enjoyed running narratives story-driven events and 2) because ‘Ardboyz now existed, I had the space to run a soft, fun, community-building event.

I’ll say it outright: baby seal clubbers aren’t usually welcome to my parties.

And so they stay away – because I make it clear that my event isn’t for them and they won’t be attending the types of events I like to run as much as I won’t enjoy having to host them. I make it clear in my event mechanics, in my player’s pack and in how the top players at my event end up winning that you need to be more than a good general to take home the top prize – you need to be a killer painter and one hell of a sport.

The intention of my events is clear and consistent.  Everything about my event, from how I promote it, to how I describe the event in my players’ pack makes it clear that this is a narrative event (I don’t even use the word tournament).

And I think that’s the first and biggest problem I had with Throne of Skulls. The intent was simply inconsistent. Here’s the line that stuck out to me (and apparently everyone else  who took offense to it):

… it’s worth underlining that our games are intended to be played in a spirit of friendly competition, where winning is less important than making sure that everyone has a great time. Throne of Skulls reflects this, which makes it rather different to many other tournaments.

And therein lies the problem. The Throne of Skulls format does NOT reflect this. The following line in the player’s pack reads:

You can help maintain this friendly spirit by not striving for success at the expense of an opponent’s enjoyment.

But there’s nothing beyond those words to either impose that value or incentivize it for players. Think of it like the wishy-washy phrasing  of the Space Wolves’  Sagas – where its is clear that these benefits SHOULD have drawbacks, but there’s nothing to hold a player to upholding those drawbacks.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Throne of Skulls system, here’s a quick run down:

1) Players play games. Wins are worth 3 points, draws are worth 1 and losses are worth nothing.

2) Bonus points are awarded based on “best game” votes. A player with 1 vote gets 1 extra point, 2 points gets 3 extra points and 3+ points gets 5 extra points on top of points earned from winning/drawing.

2) A player’s score is compared that of all other players with whom he shares a codex. The top player of that codex after five games is the winner and has a chance to win top overall.

3) Top overall player is the player whose individual score has the largest margin over the average of the other player’s scores within his codex.

4) A measure that was being calculated were Skulltaker points – essentially Victory Points garnered only for completely destroying a unit. This metric was only used to measure generalship, but did not at all factor into one’s overall score.

A lot of competitive generals, including Reece, have pointed out that the “vote” system and the comparative scoring really adds in too many random elements to truly appeal to competitive players, who want to test their metal straight up against other players who want to do the same – the nebulous aspects apparently put them off.  And I can see why.

On the flip side, for players who aren’t conqueror-style gamers and are, like me, participants and enjoy the social aspects of the game, it too is problematic. Notice that there are NO SOFT SCORES WHATSOEVER. So how can you expect players to want to not beat each other over the head and win at all costs if they’re being rewarded for doing just that?

I want to have fun games, be inspired by unique builds and tactics and actually play the game – let it come to the end of the game, where a single dice roll determines the outcome.  There’s something incredibly EPIC about that.  I’d rather not show up to a table where the game is already decided outright before the end of the first turn.  I still saw at least 5 Mech-Vet spam Guard lists, and many an all-mounted Solitare-style Eldar.

Looking back at the format, you ultimately have a system that encourages players to take the most unsporting list they can within their codex, so to put themselves  above the other players of their codex. Goatboy it up, gentlemen – breaking the game is just so in this season.

Moreover, there were some GODAWFUL UGLY armies present – some were even barely built (I nicknamed him Mr. “Dark Eldar vehicles don’t need crews to fly”.) There were some amazing looking armies that didn’t get voted in the top 3 best painted that should have been rewarded or recognized in some way for really investing in their armies – they got nothing. The two gentlemen I attended with who garnered 2nd and 3rd Best Painted Army votes (along with a few other painting awards) also didn’t get any sort of meaningful bump from the voting system, and here’s why:  The Best Game votes  usually go to players who were the most losing – which makes sense given that you wouldn’t want to jeopardize your own chances at the top prize by unintentionally giving extra points to someone whose score is similar to your own.

Here’s one more kicker: there’s no sportsmanship awards whatsoever- caring about your opponents didn’t earn you any brownie points unless you lost.  Best general (measured using Skulltaker points) got recognized, Best Painted (at least, in the eyes of the staff) got recognized, but because there was no mechanic to score sportsmanship (even it if was a system used completely separate from one’s overall standing, like the opposite of Skulltaker points) it simply wasn’t recognized. Even Nova Open uses a system to at least notify judges if a game has gone awry as opposed to if a guy is just a total douche.  Call me old fashioned, but I’m one of those girls who believes if you’re selling an event intended to be in the spirit of the game and played for fun, you really should have sportsmanship.

There’s been a lot of talk about how ToS just doesn’t satisfy competitive gamers, but as a true hobbyist,  the format also completely overlooked those of us who play for other reasons than flat out competition.

Games Workshop tried to compromise too much on both ends with Throne of Skulls – instead of choosing one or they other, they cut the baby in half. And really, none of us wanted the half of the dead baby we got.