Beards and Fluff

After a terrific stint of games over the last weekend, I've been catapulted back into 'game' mode, rather than just 'pay GW and paint' mode.  And over those games, the issue of 'beardiness' has come up.  Let's look it up, shall we?

beardiness |bi(ə)rdīnis|
the characteristic of being beardy; unfair or unsportsmanlike gaming: he had the beardiest army list ever.the trait or habit of selecting units based purely on characteristics, stat lines or rules rather than with reference to an army's fluff: having that many terminators in a 1000pt game is beardyORIGIN unknown (possibly Swedish, or Low Gothic).

Seems pretty comprehensive.  Let me give you a real-life example.  A recent game as a first-time visitor to a club pitted me against a young Necron player (about 10).  He'd 'forgotten' his codex and army list, but some of the more 'interesting' interpretations of the rules included:
  • A Monolith that 'cost 60pts' and 'had 16 armour all round'
  • Multiple Nightbringers
  • Squads of Scarabs, that had double wounds 'because they are on bigger bases'
  • Necron Lord with +5 wounds, 'because I paid five extra points'

And so on.  Now, you can argue that the rules violations were down to genuinely not understanding the rules.  I didn't argue, and let him get away with most of these (briefly, before introducing him to Instant Death, a la Demolisher cannon).  But there seems to be a general impulse among young players today to go for the biggest guns, the best stat lines, the nastiest special rules.  And GW play up to this, with new armies (especially Necrons, I feel) with some very uber models.  Their motivation is clear: nasty models sell better.

But why do the kids like it so?  Now, I'm not entirely innocent of this myself as a Guard player, with my plethora of Ordnance weapons and S10 artillery ... but at least we have hordes of T3, 6+ Sv Guardsmen as well.  There is an element of playing the game to win, I accept, and everyone needs some big guns.  There seems to be an arms race to get the nastiest guns and just blast your opponent to smithereens.  Most uncool.

And then we come to beardy gaming.  As readers of mine and Headologist's blog will know, we pride ourselves on being fairly sporting players.  In our most recent battle, this extended to H letting me move a command squad (after forgetting to do so in the movement phase).  This extra move allowed a passing Land Speeder to come in range of a Plasma Pistol, and it was duly blown up.  He basically killed it himself; very sportsmanlike.

This boils down to a question we asked each other before the game.  Should you show your list to your foe before, or after the game?  We came to the conclusion that to show it after the game meant that the only reason you were doing so was to prove that you hadn't been cheating.  To show it before implies a degree of trust between players, and it was summed up nicely in the 40K rulebook as well.  The game isn't a card game, where you save some trump card up and blindside your foe with it.  It's a game of skill, and ultimately luck; you win by outmanoeuvring (and out-dicing) your foe, not smashing him to bits with special rules and expensive special characters.

I'd be interested to hear what people's opinions are on this.  Am I going to far?  Is it 'beardy' to take Terminators in a patrol clash game, for instance, where they probably wouldn't be used in scouting actions in 'real life'?  How important is winning, and how do you best win the game?  So many questions!

This has ballooned out of control really, from what was supposed to be a quick post.  I'll cut it short here to allow for discussion and comment, I think.  Back to normal rations by Friday I think, when my Naval Boarding Team bitz will arrive from FW...

This is the sort of thing that happens when I'm left unsupervised with Paint after doing a 40K-themed Kitchner poster.


  1. I'm quite lucky, my Beard comes with a handy bit of elastic so I can slide on over my head. I put it on for tournaments and take it off for playing with friends or casual gaming at the LFGS. I say the real problem stems from a lack of self control, there is no real harm in playing both ways as long as you know when to do it. I've seen guys bring their forum list and do every possible thing short of cheating at a casual game just to win, I've never understood that attitude. You could say it's because they will do anything to win, but I think some of stems from a desire to ruin what could be a fun time for others. I've also seen people bring a real fluffy ham-stringed list to tournament and get stomped, they usually react one of two ways, they accept their thrashing understanding that they chose an army based on the background or their chosen story, or they whine and complain about how everyone is against them or they have a weak army book. The later shows a lack of sportsmanship, while the former shows a genuine enthusiasm for playing. I'm not saying one way is better than the other but knowing when and where you need to bring the beatstick certainly makes for a better gaming experience for everyone.

    1. I think that is an entirely fair point, and hits the nail on the head - neither of us go in for the tournament-style games, but I agree with you point completely, at a tournament you expect a competitive style of play and act accordingly. For me the enjoyment comes from a careful balance of fluff and competition. It's not a role-playing game but neither is it a system entirely orinetated towards tournament play (but lets not get ino that one). It hovers in the middle ground that I enjoy, and fortunately I have fellow gamers who mostly enjoy the same approach.

  2. I'm a "Fluff at all costs" sort of player, and feel that the game ought to be entertaining for both opponents regardless of who wins and loses. That said, yeah, I personally wouldn't take Terminators in a 'recon' game from a fluff perspective, but unless the rules explicitly state something like "No saves better than 3+" or "No Invulnerable saves" (common in those sort of skirmish-level missions), then I wouldn't have an issue if my opponent showed up with Terminators. One must rely on the points values to balance things out in those instances.

    In our home games, we usually exchange army lists before the game and even go so far as to discuss potential army list ideas with our opponents while building the lists themselves. Refusing to show an new/previously unknown opponent the list until afterwards smacks of beardiness and would make me distrustful of whether their list is actually legitimate, or if they're trying to pull a fast one in the interest of winning in an underhanded manner.

    Regarding the 10y.o. opponent, that's not really beardiness, but I'd hesitate to call it cheating either. Personally, in that case I would have said "well, we can play a game when you have a written list and the codex/rules to hand" and avoided the whole issue. Of course, there's a bit of leeway given for really young opponents like that, I'll admit my gaming group consists of players most of whom have been around since at least 4th ed, and several (such as myself) who have been involved since the RT era back in the late 80's.

    A recent example from my own experiences - we attended a narrative campaign weekend event in England, and my lovingly converted and painstakingly painted Heresy-era Thousand Sons army proved to be built in a rather uncompetitive way, and my W/L record for the weekend was an abysmal 0-7 (getting tabled in turn 2 or 3 on 4 separate games), yet I went into it with a positive, lighthearted attitude and every game was full of laughter and was a blast for both me and my opponent. Granted, my next army is going to be a heavily assault-themed World Eaters army so they are going to be by their very nature a bit more nasty on the tabletop! :)

    To me, the most important rule is to have fun. If you're not having fun, then something's gone awry.

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Likewise, I will often cause myself additional problems for the sake of fluff, but generally don't have a problem if someone else decides not to. I would much rather have an ejoyable game for all involved that I happen to lose, than a game where I win but neither played enjoyed it. Our recent battle report on the blog is a good example of this, I lost in a very close game but it was irrelevant, it was tooth-and-nail all the way through, we both played in a fluffy way, and the events of game added to both of our (rather exceesive) continuing fluff

    2. And the Tempus Fugitives lot are just down the road from myself, I have been very tempted to some Heresy Era Thousand Sons myself. That's my sort of "tournament." I'm hoping they might do the Age of Apostasy at somepoint...

  3. Thanks all! Yes, one thing I got from reading those is how tournament games are far more competitive; I've never played any tournaments so I sort of skipped over that aspect. Mordian7th, that's probably the best way to handle opponents like that, especially younger players who might just not understand the rules properly and expect an 'Xbox' style game. And Chris, you pointed out that specimen of player, the fluffy player who still whines about never winning - the fluffy beard. May be a teeny bit guilty of that one myself...

  4. I have to say, I enjoy how much the word 'awry' seems to be used on this blog.

    I like to field a fluffy force for combat patrol games - in fact in every game I play I always like to field one whole platoon in its entirety regardless of mission of opponent...that's just how I envisage they'd fight.

    The termies wouldn't be a problem for me at all though - maybe they just know something of importance that the foe doesn't! They always seem happy enough to beam themselves onto space hulks, anyway...

    What I like to field is what I call a '3rd Edition' force: a bit of everything - platoon, tank, hellhound, sentinel, griffon...y'know.

  5. I have found with Imperial Guard that fielding a force that resembles a fluff company is really quite effective. You have a large number of infantry who can whittle down enemy troops and hold objectives, support squads that are good at destroying vehicles especially when paired with the orders system, some tanks and artillery for killing those hard targets like terminators, and Commissars that keep the line in place at all times. This style of army building works well with most of the codices, but falls apart immediately if someone doesn't play along. It only takes one guy mathhammering to ruin everybody's day. Like I said you have to know when and how to play, fluff gaming for fun and power gaming to make sure at the top of the heap at a tournament.

  6. Silly me, I thought the topic of "beardy gaming" was about SAGA and Dark Ages wargaming. Actually this is a most humane and lively discussion among interesting chaps, the kind I would like to game with.

  7. Thanks all!

    @Drax: that's a good point, one I'll have to try myself. In 'real life' most Guardsmen don't know what's round the corner and would have to fight with just their normal loadout, or standard platoon.

    @Chris: yes, I think that links in with Drax's comment as well, that we Guard can rely on our normal platoon because it is so much more flexible (and larger) than other armies' single-squad troop choices. Heavy weapons, assault weapons, characters, we have it all. That said I think the key point remains about having elastic on the beard for friendly/tournament games as you say...

    @mad padre: thanks, padre! Even if you find yourself on a blog about a game you don't normally play (as I often do), it's the discussions on sportsmanship and fair play in which we find common ground. Probably why it's so strong among the wargaming community, even across different systems and games.


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