Let's face it, deep down we are all winners, especcially when it comes down to playing with our little soldiers. Nobody likes to enter a battle knowing in front they will be the turkeys in the proverbial shoot... unless they are the kind of people with special intrests. Or followers of Slaanesh. Or Halfling coaches. Or commanders of the belgian army during world war 2...
But you get the idea, we all like to have a balanced game, and have a fighting chance even if the odds where against us.
When I was young (and this is counting back in decades nowadays), and just entered the world of club life and gaming, it was an often heard mantra that fantasy games played competitions (club championships, tournaments etc...) while the historical guys tend to use long (boring when your 14) campaigns. Until something else came on the market:
I know I have been referencing to Flames of War a lot in recent posts, but it has done for the 'hobby' quit a lot, in not the smallest that it opened world war 2, and as a result historical gaming, to the wider audience. Gone are the days in most clubs where the young guy not playing fantasy was an exception, just as that 'old bloke' playing warhammer at a tournament used to be.
No, following the succes, and the opening of the market to the younger people, more companies have jumped on the bandwagon and released historical miniatures for the masses, like Warlord for example with their ECW range, the ACW of the Perry brothers etc.
Plastic kits changed a lot in this direction as well, as now the production cost was dropped (a little) and the 16+ models a box (yes, even GW had this in times gone by, when their plastics where full regiments instead of detachments) making big armies affordable.
So that sets the scene of the comparison I'm going to try and make, and what direction I'm going to try and steer my 'old guy' career in. This is once more purely an opinion, completely subjective and from an egocentrical point of view. No hard numbers, no hard facts, just a compilation of things I've seen in my 20 years of wargaming. And not comparing to simple loose one vs one games, this is about the purpose for 'club' or 'group' gaming if your joining a circle of people having a go at something we call our 'hobby'....
Tournaments tend to bring out the best in people, but also the worst. On the one hand, you got all balanced armies, and on paper at least everyone starts on an equal footing. Of course, things like skill, adaptiility to battlefield situations, and even pure 'army list compatibility' come into the account afterwards, but at the core, we have two players with two equal points armies from the same game system.
Add to this the talent for the 'soft scoring' like painting and converting, and one needs to be in the top tiers of all those things to actually win or score big at those tournaments. An unpainted army with all big wins won't beat a gorgeously painted army with all small wins... and rightly so!
People often argue that a tournament should only be about the best player, well, I think this is wrong. A tournament is the epitome of competive play in a said hobby, and other things are part of that hobby as well. Most scoring systems allow to not be punished to hard by having limited paint skills, as long as it is all painted, assembled and based, you'll usually get only around a quarter of the points (usually equalling an extra battle in total values) less then the eye candy forces. Someone who just chunks down some shiny lead and plastic, never having heard of concepts like 'glue' and 'paint', will end up with a battle behind in points. And as such lose any chance for the top spots even with a winning streak.
I know of at leastv two players who can turn out gorgeously painted and converted armies at an incredible rate, but are the 'easy pickings' everyone wants to play against in championships because they, well, just aren't good generals and provide quick bonus points.
That brings us to the bad part of tournaments. There are players out there that field painting service armies (for those soft points) and have opened every nook and cranny of the rules and their army lists, not caring about the 'in character' part, just to get the maximum advantage and top winning percentage rates.
This is fair game as well for me, Barcelona isn't going to send Messi onto the pitch with wrong shoes either in order to get a maximum ratio out of him. The problem though is when these people face the examples I mentioned before meet across the face of battle, it becomes a bloodbath and at least one of them won't have fun. Especcially is the other party is a windbag boasting load how good he was...
The benefit though in this is with the Swiss system that has been adapted to most tournaments, if your a social player comming to a tournament just to play someone else for a change, they tend to be out of your reach after two or three rounds, as you start to fill out the midfield while they storm for the top tables.
One final sidenote for the benefit of a tournament: it only lasts a day, a weekend at the most, so it is easier to plan in then a campaign who tends to run for several weeks on fixed dates.
No, perhaps for those people, instead of entering club championships it might be a more viable option to enter the other sort of large group gaming instead: campaigns.
Now, again when I was young, a campaign was in terms a series of sessions of DnD and it's narrative story. I remember sessions where it turned in more of a boys night out, more beer bottles being emptied then villagers saved.
But then again, club life opened my eyes on this part as well, and it all evolved into playing long historical, either real, what ifs or completely fictional, campaigns. The problem with a good campaing though is like with a good role play session: you need a capable dungeon master / campaign organiser, willing to put in effort to make games intresting (not necessarily balanced) for all that participate.
It wouldn't be the first time that a resident Viking player organises a raid on your village, and your out-qualified and outnumbered by a factor immeasurably. Turkey shoot feeling remember... The trick for a campaign, where unbalanced battles and special scenarios are more the rule then the exception, is to give at least everyone a fighting chance or a benefit in the long turn. For example, lasting 7 turns against innumerable odds gives the player the chance to pull in a larger and better force then the opponents force of this game, for the next. Effectively turning the tables around that way, leaves both players in the position of the turkey and yet still gives way the feeling of 'why was I standing here all night being slaughtered?'.
Unfortunatly, campaigns, more then tournaments, have some factors that can cause a major drawback.
First off, you will need said umpire, who will be needing and willing to invest a lot of his time outside the club to set up engagements, spin more tales in the narrative, and think up a lot of 'why's' of certain battles, as player questions will be comming in a flood.
Secondly, there has to be a dedicated player group. Many campaigns have stranded because players lost intrest in a game or period after a few turns, and move to the next shiny. Okay, occassionaly Real Life can throw in it's ugly ass and cause problems for the schedule, but that is rather exceptionally on the big numbers basis.
Thirdly, and this might sound harsh, but having one or two 'win at all costs' tournament mind set players can kill campaigns quickly. An umpire can get demotivated by constant naggering about 'but the rules say...' as those players don't tend to accept the story tellers words as law if the books say differently.
So what should be the ideal mix one should strive for? A player that can freely switch mindmappings between 'playing to the win' to 'playing for the enjoyment of all' but I fear this classes under the mythological creatures like Bigfoot, the Yeti or the Sober Irishman.
No, I think every player should have a stand before the mirror and ask himself what he likes the best, then focus on those things instead of 'game hopping'. Campaigns are no place to 'test' your newest tournament concotion, just as an 'in theme, historical / character accurate' army will only get slaughtered at a tournament and you think it is unfair because that is how the army is supposed to be played!
But where does this all leave me? In the middle? Leaning towards campaigning? Or go for blood in a tournament?
I'm afraid in my current situation, I fall drop down in the middle somewhere. I can't free up the time to play, let alone organise, a campaign anymore. So I guess I'll have to settle for one or two loose battles in the comming year if I get lucky, join in a weekend long event with the TSA ACW weekend 2014 (rumours are it's going to be Cedar Creek) and actually see to join a tournament IF one is nearby, like in the greater Anwterp region.
Without going for blood, but well, just settle with a place in the midfield and hope to meet and play against, well can't say new players', some players.
Because in conclusion, let's summerise the benefits I see on both formats of grouped play.
Tournaments: short dedicated time span needed, chance to meet new people
Campaigns: long time assured play, within the comfort of regular opponents
Just decide now for yourself what you like, I tend to word it as followed: A Tournament is a steamy one night stand with gorgeous twins, but the Campaign is that girl that takes care of you the rest of the time...