A Gentlemen’s Guide to Competitive 40k – By Alex Fennell

Hooray! You’re off to a 40K tournament. Maybe it’s your first, or maybe it’s your 50th. Maybe you’ve yet to win a competitive game, or maybe you’ve got so many trophies your name is spoken in hushed whispers when gamers gather at local stores.

Ask yourself: What type of player do you want to be?

Do I want to win at all costs? This is not an article about that. I can’t help you there.

There’s currently a pervasive thought that the top players at 40K tournaments are mostly out to win by any means they can, and that the winner of a big GT is usually the guy who screws over his opponents the most. Understandably, this kind of image is one that dissuades people from coming to events. While the majority of people who go to events are there to have a great time, meet up with friends and push little models around, it is true that in recent years there has been some kind of drama surrounding the players at the top tables. That’s not a good image for our hobby, and to show people that it doesn’t have to be that way, Nick asked me to put together the following article.

This is an article about playing well and being a decent human being (a Gentleman, or Gentlelady, I suppose) while doing so. Not about how to win. The two are not mutually exclusive, and it is certainly possible to do both at the same time. At the risk of self-aggrandizing, I should know – I’ve done it.


Why Should Anyone Care How I Play?

Good question. 

1. Playing decently usually equates to less stress. Tournaments are generally stressful enough with time constraints, the pressure to do well, and making time to eat and drink, so anything which makes for a stress-free game has got to be good. 

2. Do you care about your character/reputation? Ours is a small community, and it doesn’t take long for word to get out that ‘Player A’ is terrible to play against. If I have to point out why you don’t want that reputation then you’re probably not reading the article. 

3. If you’re playing decently, your opponent will generally return the favor. So, you might give them a mulligan at some point during the game, and they may well give you one in return. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve offered to let my opponent go back and shoot with a model that they meant to or to take the feel no pain saves that they forgot. They may just tell their friends what an awesome and cool person you were, which is fine as well (see point 2, above). If you give them a take-back and they don’t let you have one later, well you’ve got the moral high ground, and that’s something.

4. What goes around comes around (back to the reputation thing). If you are known to be a good player who happens to be a decent human being at the table, people will enjoy playing you, and you’ll have your stress-free game. You’ll help make their tournament experience just a little bit better, and if it was their first tournament, you’ve given them a reason to come back.


Your Mindset

You’re about to spend 2 ½ – 3 hours a few feet away from someone who might be a complete stranger. This is time you’ll never get back, so have a quick think about how you approach the game. 

Option 1 – This person is a roadblock on my way to winning the tournament, and I need to win to ensure my path to 40K glory marches on unimpeded. My priority here is winning the game, and I’m not too concerned about whether my opponent has a good time or not. There’s nothing wrong with this (except maybe you’re taking this game a little too seriously), but this isn’t the article for you.

Option 2 – I’d sure like to win this game, and I’ll do my best to try and make that happen, but I’m not going to go out of my way to make things miserable for my opponent because that is neither big nor clever. In fact, given that I’m about to spend a few hours of my life playing a game with them, I’m going to try and have a good time, and hopefully, they have one as well. Assuming you’re still reading, here are some easy things you can do to make the game go well.


Give your opponent no cause to doubt that they’re getting a fair game. If they think you’re screwing them over somehow, it doesn’t matter how personable you are or how many times you offer to get them a glass of water; it’s going to be a bad game, and if the tournament has a sportsmanship score, you’ve just blown it. Know your rules and have any rulebook and associated FAQ to hand so you can show your opponent what’s going on should they ask. Remember, your opponents at a tournament may not know your army as well as you, so be prepared to show the rules that you are using. Keep a consistent cocked dice roll policy. Personally, if it’s not flat on the gaming surface, I reroll the result. Some people try and balance another die on top of the slightly cocked one, which is also cool. Whatever you pick, keep it consistent.

Roll all your dice in the open and slowly enough that your opponent can keep up. Your opponent may not care that he can’t see all your rolls all the time, but it’s a great habit to build. Similarly, take your time separating hits and misses from the pile of dice you’ve just rolled. Typically most tournament games can feel rushed but take it easy – trying to speed your way through can leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth if they think you’re picking up too many hits, even if you’re not.

Don’t slow play. Make every effort to move the game along at a reasonable pace, but see the comment about rolling dice at a moderate pace. You and your opponent should both get enough turns in the game to feel that you’ve actually both played not ending the game by turn 2 or 3 when things are just getting interesting. Sometimes getting a lot of turns in just isn’t possible if you and your opponent both have high model count armies or both armies are active in every phase of the game. In this case, just do your best, and there are things you can do to help your opponent – separating hits from misses with dice rolls is one.

Playing the Game


Playing nice doesn’t mean that you have to let the other person win. It doesn’t even mean you have to take your foot off the gas, though you may want to think about that if your opponent has no chance of winning, and you can achieve victory without crushing their hopes and dreams. I mean seriously, that doesn’t impress anyone.

It also doesn’t mean that you have to give your opponent take-backs or that you can’t capitalize on a mistake they may have made, though you probably shouldn’t laugh at the error and make them feel bad (unless they’re a good friend of yours and they’ve got it coming for all the times they’ve beaten you in the past). It’s okay to point it out after the game as something they might learn from if they play an army like yours again.

Neither does it mean you can’t question rules that your opponent is taking advantage of. There is nothing wrong with asking your opponent to show you in the rules how they are doing something or if they mind just explaining the thing that just happened. It’s also perfectly fine to get a judge to come and give a ruling on something when you and your opponent cannot agree on how a rule should be played. Tournaments have judges for just this eventuality, but once they’ve given their ruling, that’s the end of the discussion. If in your mind they’ve categorically made the wrong call, then that’s where the tournament organizer comes in, and they make the final decision.

Decide on whether you are comfortable playing the game by ‘intent’ or exact measurements. An example here would be if they tell you they intend to move a particular unit so you’ll need a 10″ charge to get to them in close combat. I’m fine with this, as I feel it speeds the game up, but it’s also perfectly okay to play by exact measurements. Pick one way to play and stick with it.


Helping Your Opponent

This is by no means necessary, and you can have a great game that’s fun and friendly without helping the other person once. However, for reasons given a little later, I typically try and help during the game if I think my opponent would benefit from making another decision. Keep in mind: it’s always worth asking in advance if they’re okay with you giving them advice. In my experience, just about everyone will say yes, but you never know.

Giving advice could be as significant as deployment. For instance, your opponent’s deployment means they’re not going to have much of a chance at winning the game. I was playing at a big GT last year, and my opponent didn’t deploy very well out of concern for what my army could do. After checking if it was okay to give advice, I pointed out they’d handed me the win (and explained how the game would unfold) and asked them if they’d like to reset things. They did, and we ended up with an excellent back-and-forth game that I only barely won — a much better game than if I’d have won without really rolling dice.

It could also be something minor, though, as forgetting to fire all models in a unit, or if they move on to the psychic phase, having forgotten to move a unit.


Why Should I Help My Opponent?

You don’t have to. You can have a perfectly good game of 40K without correcting mistakes along the way, and at the end of the game, you can shake hands on a well fought out battle. You can help make your opponent a better player. We tend to learn how to be better when we make mistakes, and by pointing out errors as they happen during the game, you can help your opponent improve right there and then. If you win the game, you’ll feel better that you helped your opponent and still managed to pull out a victory. You’ll know that you won because you either outplayed your opponent or were just plain luckier, rather than winning because they forgot to move a model or that they should have been rolling additional saves for a unit.

Our hobby is ultimately a pretty small community, and the more people that play the game, the better. By helping someone out, they’ll hopefully take that knowledge back to their local store or club and pass it on to others.


In Conclusion – Have a Good Time

At its very core, 40K is a game. Lives are not on the line, and neither are vast amounts of money (okay, so sure we’ve all spent untold wads of cash on this hobby, but even the most lucrative prize in the game won’t put a dent in that expense). Some of us can get a little carried away, though, and lose perspective of that. Ultimately, don’t you want to have a good time when you play?

To that end, I always try and make sure I’m having fun. With any luck, my opponent will pick up on it and have fun as well, but at the very least, then I’ve had a good time. People often ask me why most of my armies are painted pink with flowers, and the answer is straightforward. It makes me smile.

Hopefully, this article will encourage people that it’s entirely possible to do well at a tournament and still have a good game with every opponent. If you’re reading this and you see me at the next event, maybe we’ll get to play – I’m looking forward to a good game.

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  1. Are you gonna to volunteer more about this topic? I can tell you may be reluctant to share some of your unpopular thoughts, but I for one, enjoy reading them!

    1. We value sportsmanship incredibly highly and we will definitely be covering the topic more in depth in the future!