We just had our weekend of the store’s Heavy Gear “Slow-Grow” league, and response was phenomenal!
Week One Overview
his past Friday (2013-02-08) was the first evening for the league, and we had NINE people show up! For the sake of transparency, it should be mentioned that two of the nine who showed up didn’t play but instead just watched some games. I’m also counting myself in that total –which is totally legit as I came to the store on my evening off and actually got a game in as well! (But I think the game I got in might be better fare for a post on its own …possibly part of a “work in progress” report?)
Sure, nine players sounds pretty small potatoes, but in a store that feels absolutely packed when there’s a dozen people playing miniatures games in the store, nine people is pretty awesome –especially for a smaller game like Heavy Gear.
The Challenges Facing A Gaming League
The biggest challenge when running leagues is continued attendance: so many league and campaigns peter out just before or just after hitting their stride. More accurately, the challenge given the organiser lies in the balancing act of ensuring player participation while simultaneously not cultivating a culture that instills in players the feeling that winning is all that matters (unless of course the league’s goal is all about finding out which player is the toughest and meanest at playing with their action figures; if that’s the case, then the challenge is simply keeping everyone playing).
I’ve seen it time and time again throughout the years working with GW’s games: people who aren’t new to a system play in these start-up leagues alongside people who are new to the system; the established players make lists and play their games with a very much “business as usual” attitude …which tend to utterly destroy the new players’ armies and ultimately punish them for taking perceived sub-optimal troops in their lists and for making mistakes during games.
I’m a firm believer that the essence of games –and ALL play in general– is providing a safe place where one can make mistakes; this is where “fun” comes in: essentially, you’re not made to feel bad if something you attempt doesn’t play out as optimally as you hoped. That line of thought is a little idealistic, I know –of course to some people, I’m completely out to lunch and quite beyond being a simple idealist in thinking that games are strictly for fun.
Going back to the challenges faced by leagues, I have it in my head that if new players are forced to game in a way they don’t like playing, their desire to continue showing up for league play will diminish as the league goes on. I’ve seen it where the hardcore gamers inadvertently chase away all the “scrubs” just because the new players didn’t think being outclassed by their experienced opponents and getting utterly defeated week after week after week was very “fun.”
So that’s what I think I’m up against: I need the league to be engaging enough for players to keep coming back every week while also ensuring the league isn’t effectively telling the players that “only winning matters” …which is why I think granting points and recording official standings for winning or losing games is one of the worst ways to keep (most) new players involved in a league for its duration.
A lot of this was already posted on the store’s Facebook page, the Calgary Gamers Forum and the Calgary REGIMENT‘s discussion forum back in January, but I’m including it here for the sake of completeness and having all the information in one spot. And really, with this league, I’m just running with a ball that’s already in play: the league was actually thought up and initiated by a few players who were just getting into Heavy Gear and thought that a “painted models only” league would be a great way to accomplish two goals by its end date:
1 – COMPLETE ARMIES
Each participant would have a fully painted, tournament-sized army Heavy Gear force of 1,000 points by the end of the league (March, 2013).
2 – RULE LITERACY
Each participant would know the game’s rules so that games would move along fairly fluidly IE: they would be well above having just a basic grasp of the rules and would be ready to play in a tournament environment (timed games etc).
I decided that the Heavy Gear League days should be both Fridays and Saturdays, with the hopes of better accommodating people’s’ schedules; and instead of armies increasing in size weekly, we agreed that starting with essentially one-squad armies and increasing the army size by roughly one squad every two weeks would set a brisk enough –yet relaxed enough– pace for players to paint up their models.
As was mentioned above, to ensure that everyone has tournament-sized armies that are fully painted by the end of the league, ALL league games must be played with fully painted and based models. (And for our purposes, fully painted means three colours and no primer showing; model bases must be textured. In the case of sculpted resin bases, those bases must be be fully painted.)
Starting February 8th, the size of armies playing in the league will start at 300 points. Every two weeks, the points values of players’ armies will increase as seen below:
300 pt. Forces – Runs from Friday, Feb. 8th to Saturday, Feb. 16th.
600 pt. Forces – Runs from Friday, Feb. 22nd to Saturday, Mar. 2nd.
900 pt. Forces – Runs from Friday, Mar. 8th to Saturday, Mar. 16th.
1000 pt. Forces – Runs from Friday, Mar. 22nd to Saturday, Mar. 30th.
Because the league has stricter-than normal parameters, I thought it would be appropriate to have prizes for those who commit to the Heavy Gear League. The prizes will be supplied by Imaginary Wars (thereby making it so there’s no entry fees involved with being in the league) and will be awarded for players’ participation.
There will be no tracking of player victories or awarding league standings based on army performance.
Every time players game on a league day (and of the appropriate points level for that week), they’ll earn a raffle ticket; at the end of March, the store will raffle off a few cool items as a way of thanking those who participated.
As a second level of prize, the store will give a points bonus for the store’s “Imaginary Dollars” points reward program to the top three players who play the most games during the league. (The total pool of points to be awarded will be determined by how many people are active in the league.) Obviously, to track who plays the most, we’ll need to have league standings –which, yes, I generally eschew, but these standings will be based strictly on the number of games people play each week.
As I saw with the last escalation league the store ran (for Warhammer 40,000), there were just over double the amount of small games played in the early weeks than there were larger games in the final weeks. I fully expect a similar dynamic to play out in this league –and it makes sense: smaller-sized armies means shorter games …means more games get played. In later stages, larger armies …longer games …fewer games get played. This dynamic works directly against fixing the challenge of keeping players involved through to the end. I mean, after several weeks of constant gaming, players need only show up once or twice just to spend that evening watching other players’ long games and unable to play their own game before deciding there’s little point in making the effort to show up.
To (hopefully) combat that, we’ll be doing two things:
1) players can play Heavy Gear on any day that they like (providing there’s a table free to play on, of course) –they’ll also likely have to arrange that game with another player on a non-league day rather than simply show up unannounced and expecting to get a game in.
2) players will be awarded more points per game as the size of the armies grows: this makes it so that the people who play many games early on will not have an unfair advantage against those who only play a game or two each week, the whole length of the league.
It should be noted that League Standing points will only be awarded for each full, four-turn game played at Imaginary Wars (so at home games totally don’t count) and they will only be awarded for games played at that week’s appropriate points level. Points will be awarded according to the points limit set for each period as such:
300 pt. Forces – 1 League Standing point per game played.
600 pt. Forces – 1.5 League Standing points per game played.
900 pt. Forces – 2 League Standing points per game played.
1000 pt. Forces – 2.5 League Standing points per game played.
With the first half of the first 300-point week now done, here’s how the League currently looks. Yeah, the standings look a tad meager right now; but these standings reflect only one night’s gaming so far; though it was a BUSY Friday night of gaming, there was plenty of room for players to get games in on Saturday. I think if our pool of players come down to the store across both days, a good deal of players will stand to earn more league points.
Because I was busy helping out the store on a busy night and then later on, getting in a game of my own with Heavy Gear, I really didn’t get many pictures of the League’s first night. However, I did get one photo from Friday night –and another photo from a game being played the next day (though only two people showed up for the League’s first Saturday of gaming).