Saturday, 3 March 2018

Dealing with Slow Playing at Tournaments and Dice Rolling Apps

As you’ll have seen on our previous post HERE, Dad’s James and Rich visited the Warhammer World 40k Doubles tournament in early February. We went with the focus on having fun but winning and so did a lot of prep beforehand, not much gaming as we were struggling for time, but a lot of other prep including getting solid strategies for each of the missions, planning out all the stuff we needed to remember in sequence for a turn (See below for our own cheat sheet for our army) and even pre-deployment. But in all this prep time, in the few practice games I did get, I noticed that neither myself or my opponent were getting through the turns quickly enough - one game didn’t get past turn 2 as my opponent spent 75mins on his first turn! This could totally ruin our chances as we have found throughout all of the editions in 40k that the Astra Militarum (our army) always get stronger the longer the game goes on. The amount of units available and the options that the army has means that turn 5 has always proven to be crucial to the Astra Militarum for securing a victory.

Now our tournament was at 2,000 points with a strict 2.5hrs on the clock. This would mean an average of 15 min turns per team and that excludes set up time. We knew from experience that if you spent 30 - 45 mins each on turn 1, you were unlikely to ever get to that magic turn 5 (even if there were fewer models to deal with for the remainder of the game).

To tackle this, we did a number of things, including seeking advice on the Competitive 40k Facebook Group and Reddit. We have collated these thoughts and our own experiences and have listed some of the processes we put in place during the tournament and our opinions on some other time saving ideas below:
1. Know the missions inside out
We had researched the missions in detail, knew exactly how each was deployed and won and had all this summarised on a reference sheet (HERE). This saved a lot of time as we could avoid all that messing about finding the mission in the right book, and then slowly reading through lots of irrelevant text to get to the details. None of our opponents knew the set up as well as we did, which I also think gave us an edge in the games. I strongly recommend doing this not least if, like us, your best chance of winning is to make it to turn 5 or beyond! I think our speed here probably saved around 10 mins at the
start of each game.

2. Get deployed pre-game if you can
Most of the 5 games on the weekend we managed to get set up before the clock started, or at least be well through set up before countdown had begun. All but one of the games had plenty of dead time preceding it, more than enough to find your table, shake hands with your new opponents, have a bit of social chit chat “how far have you travelled?”, “do you know we are terrified of Tyranids?”, “who wants a beer to get started?”. And still there is time to go over the mission, put objectives down and start deploying. On at least 2 of the 5 games we had done all this before the countdown started.

3. Putting ourselves on a timer
James and I talked about how we would do this and came up with a tactic to manage both ourselves and also to set the expectations of our opponents at the right level. After meeting and greeting and the usual pleasantries, we would explain that as we were playing Astra Militarum and as a large model count the army can be a bit slow so we were going to time ourselves and limit our turns to 20mins. If we got through turns 1-3 in 20mis we knew we could finish 4,5 and 6 in less time. We were at pains to say we didn’t expect this from our opponents - and we really didn’t - but it did set the tone and make it clear to the other team that we were trying to get through to turn 5 at least. I also think it set their minds on playing at a reasonable speed too.

4. Dice rolling Apps
Ahead of the tournament, I had begun to get frustrated with the volume of dice I was rolling. Over a
game I estimated we were rolling 1,000 to 2,000 dice. Largely because we were using punishers in our list. But also because of first rank fire, second rank fire, having 60 guardsmen with Lasguns all of which need to fire multiple times etc. Now don’t get me wrong, I love rolling dice, it's all part of the fun. But when you’ve rolled 49 dice for your Leman Russ Punisher (incl Heavy Bolters) and you are short on time, it gets a lot less fun. I started to estimate how much time it takes to roll those dice and across a game I think between FRFSRF, two Punishers and some Infantry Squads, we were spending up to 30mins just rolling the dice. Including everything from finding and counting 49 dice, rolling them, fishing out dice from terrain or under models, re-rolling 1’s, removing all the misses, rolling rounds, re-rolls on wounds (heirloom of conquest or strategems), then handing over to the opponent to roll saves (and of course many opponents want to use their own ‘special’ dice which they then have to find etc). 30mins of precious game time that I don’t feel was adding great value to the experience. So, we did something that seemed controversial at first. We got a dice app – the official Games Workshop App called ‘Assault Dice’.

This App uses a physics engine to actually roll 3D digital dice. You can pre-load it with the number of dice you need for punishers or an infantry squad and get down to the number of wounds in less than 30 seconds. All in all it saves about 20mins per game – for us, it is literally the difference between finishing at turn 4 or 5.

We only used the dice app for 19 dice rolls and above, for everything else we used normal dice. I had tested it out beforehand in some games at my local Games Workshop store and people were pretty relaxed about it. At the tournament we asked all our opponents in advance and they were cool with it, other than in the final game where they said they “didn’t trust it and wanted to see the actual dice rolled”. That was no problem and we didn’t quibble. However, there was some serious irony to this as we were winning at turn 4 and had 10 mins left on the clock, we were playing our turn as quick as we could and they were getting a little grumpy and pressuring us to roll through the dice quicker as they could win at turn 5! I really had to bite back a response about the dice app – but that was really just the game 5 tiredness kicking in on both sides.

My view Is that I would rather spend my time doing something tactical or strategic and getting through at least 5 turns than watching 20-50 dice hit the table multiple times. In a pressured tournament environment and when the tables get quite cluttered, I really don’t see it adding a lot of value. Indeed, the dice app itself is quite fun to use as both teams would stand around it watching the dice settle. Incidentally some of our opponents began using our dice app for their saves after the wounds had been caused as the game went on which saved even more time!!

5.Chess clocks
Lots of folks seem keen on chess clocks and I can see the logic there, but for me it’s a little too clinical at my level. Perhaps for the top 16 at the ITC in the US, or its peer in the UK. But I think it can get in the way of the spirit of the game for the level I play at. I would be really interested to give it a try at some point though or to hear from a major tournament that has tried it. I felt the same about dice apps at first, but I actually love it now and who knows?

6. Know the rules and your codex
I think if you are playing at a tournament you should know your own rules, the grey areas and the generally accepted approach to those. James and I hadn’t had the opportunity to practice much, so we made up for this by studying all of our rules and their grey areas and by writing out cheat sheets (you can find ours HERE) with all the stats for our units and weapons. These we laminated and kept handy throughout the weekend. Saving time thumbing through the codex for the right page. Other than that the best advice is just to practice against different armies and write notes afterwards about what rules you learned and keep a summary of this as things to remember when you are in the tournament. We did this and built it into our phase-by-phase tactics.

A good example of this are the Astra Militarum orders. These need to be done at the start of the shooting phase and so anything you want to order has to be done first, then you can shoot everything else. Technically (and this depends on how strict your opponent is), if you do this out of sequence you then wont get to shoot anything with orders so it is crucial to remember this each turn.

Another example is the psychic phase. This sounds silly, but as our psykers are generally just providing extra cover or making it harder to hit stuff and they are easily forgotten. Our cheat sheet meant that by following the turn sequence during each game we only missed the psychic phase once (idiots) in all the games we played – easy to do under pressure.

7. Think on your opponents turn
Once the opponent has completed their movement phase it should be fairly obvious as to how their turn is going to play out. You should be immediately strategizing about how you will react in your own turn and be 80% there in terms of a plan, just waiting to see the outcome of shooting and assault before you are fully ready. By the time you get to your own turn you should have a fairly solid plan in place and know what you are doing so you can just get on with it! During the tournament we were pretty good at making decisions and then acting on them. Our philosophy was that it's always better to make a decision and then go for it 100% rather than to be unsure and half carry out a plan. This is one of the beauty of doubles games too - if you are procrastinating one of you can force a decision to be made and get on with it!

8. A game is a social contract
A game of 40k is a social contract between the teams. It would be interesting to write this down sometime and see what is expected in a game in terms of behaviour – playing in a way that allows us to get to turn 5 is an expectation of mine. I totally understand that sometimes working out the right thing to do and how to maximise the benefit of a turn takes time. Equally, I expect us all to have an eye on the clock and be respectful of each others time. We try to make this clear, by talking about time pressure with opponents before the game starts, in all 25 turns we played over the weekend, I can only think of one occasion where I felt I needed to say “we need to hurry up here guys so we can get another turn in each”. This was a result of all the work James and I had put into managing the games with our opponents and putting our expectations out there at the beginning. 

9. Discuss the last turn before the game starts
Often the turn 5 can see each team leaping onto objectives or making a final charge in a last ditch throw to win the game. When there is 10 mins on the clock left, I think its only fair to offer 5 mins each to both teams. The best way to approach this is to talk about it a turn or so in advance so that everyone knows the score and has agreed to the process. Also if you know that you have 2 turns left rather than 1 you will use your army differently for those turns. I have definitely played a game years ago when our opponent said “there’s not enough time for us both to get a last turn in so lets call the game”, of course that meant they would win. On that occasion we were being ‘gamed’ by more experienced tournament players and since that time we have always been at pains to say at the outset we would split the time on the clock to allow both teams a fair go at a short final turn. 3 out of the 5 games we played over the weekend there was 10-12 mins left on the clock and we all decided that we would play another turn each. All of these games were in positions where 1 team would have won before playing the extra turn but all were close and all teams were sporting enough to give it a go with a last turn which was great to be a part of.

So there you go, a combination of all of this meant that we never looked back on a single game and thought “one more turn and we could have won” (well that’s not entirely true, but we lost focus in one of them and James can fill you in on that story!). Our army always seems to get stronger the longer the game lasts. It is very durable and in most games we ended the game with double the points left on the table when compared to our opponents, even more on one game.

Ultimately these games are supposed to be fun, and the tournament itself can offer clues as to the form of unspoken social contract that exists. For example our tournament was semi-competitive as it offered serious points for the quality of your painting and ‘best game’ votes. The most points available were for winning, but I would say the balance was only 60/40 in its favour. Notably, the team that won every game out of the 87 teams playing placed c.30th in the rankings because they had failed to score any best army or best game points. As for us you'll find out how we placed in future posts but you may think that with all of the time pressures and conditions that we put on our games we might not be fun to play against. Actually we're pretty relaxed and friendly guys (even if I do say so myself!) and it seems that people appreciate us being up front and talking (in a friendly way) about potential issues and what we should do before they happen. Because of this I would say that 4 and a half of our games were brilliant, both in sportsmanship and closeness of the game and our opponents agreed as we game 3 out of 5 favourite game votes over the weekend too.

So good luck and let me know of any more ways to avoid slow play or just have great games with your opponents and definitely give the Assault Dice app a try if you are rolling fist-fulls of dice - it's well worth it!

Rich – A blog about Warhammer 40k and the Horus Heresy by four Dads


  1. LOVE the blog! Playing AM in my first tournament Saturday and KNOW I'll bee the slow guy... hopefully this will help me make it to turn 3...lmao (and kinda sad). Gotta start somewhere!

  2. Thanks for the comment buddy, have you managed to practice much? Make sure you are ready with cheat sheets and know the missions inside out - even if you can’t practice you can do all that ahead of time and it’ll make a big diff on the day.

  3. Great blog (I’ve now signed up to it).

    I will expand on my comments that I made on twitter:

    The “randomness of computers”, while it may be large as some point the sequence will repeat itself.

    I previously worked for a vibration company and some tests were a “random test” (see: for reference).

    At the time the most random waveform we could apply was for 18days before the sequence did repeat itself. This is generally limited by computing power. Most testing we needed was for a few hours, so the order of magnitude was about 100 times more than most tests, so it was deemed acceptable.

    The point is that as some point the “sequence of dice rolls” will repeat itself. I appreciate this is semantics and it is probably after 1 million rolls so in reality you may never see it, but the principle is that it can.

    Another issue is the app itself and how reliable is it. I also appreciate that yes you can get “dodgy” dice (my ogre failed bonehead 8 turns out of 10 in blood bowl yesterday) as much as a dodgy app, but I think there is still a bit of a trust issue with software being reliable.

    Personal I love to see loads of dice flying across the table. My friend had to buy a baseball mit to fit in all the dice he needed for is ork boyz assault rolls!!! So much fun.

    If roiling dice is taking too long that brings me on

    Games not finishing in the time limit

    From the rule book, it says a 1001-2000pt game will take 2-3hours. I assume that means that 1001 will take closer to 2hrs where a 2000pt game will take closer to 3hrs. I’m not sure if this includes set up time such as choosing power traits etc. The game you were playing only allowed 2.5hrs for 2k so already it will be rushed to what the rule book says.

    I noticed that you only manged to get to turn 5 in your games, but the game is designed to potentially go to turn 7. So you need time over the weekend to play potentially 35 turns not 25.

    There is only a few ways to mitigate this.
    1. More time per game, but this will be limited by the event and venue. But WHW could do it with an early start and late finish on the Saturday, giving players 3hrs a game
    2. Less points. Points creep has gotten in to the game over the years I have been playing. It started with 1500pts as the default army size for event. It has crept up to now 2k being standard and added in the fact unit costs have reduced at the same time then armies are a lot bigger to manage. I like 2k as it does allow you to bring a lot more toys, but I think 1500 is far more challenging for a generally to get a well-rounded army.
    3. While I wouldn’t want to see this, I have seen in the past army size restrictions to a number of models. I don’t like hard arbitrary limits on people playing with their collections. One of the most fun armies I have ever played against was 180 boyz and Ghazghull, “boyz not toyz” I was told.
    4. Chess clocks. You mentioned this, but I am not sold as some armies say knights can have 4 models and other armies will have nearly 200 models in a 2k game. How do you make that fair? All it would do is make people bring small elite armies, so they don’t run out of time. In chess you both start with the same army. Also, how do you stop people wasting your time when they have to roll/do something in your phase?

    But this brings me on to my final point (at last I have got here) of deliberate slow play. To me this is plain and simple cheating. No different to elastic tape measures, “dodge dice rolling”, “forgetting” negative rules specific to your army. And people need to be called out on it.

    Events are a different beast than playing at home and while you pay lots of money and you want to to be fun it must be understood that you need to play the games to conclusion (7 turns) and therefore to get on with it. Normally when I play events I just get on with the game for the first 2-3 turns and only when you see you have lots of time left do I start the hobby chat. My hobby chat games that I have at my house normally last for 5 hours.

  4. Thanks so much for your comment - really interesting stuff.
    Firstly about the computer programming - you're absolutely right on all counts and it probably won't affect a game negatively as you said about the dice repeating. The official dice app from GW is physics based rather than a randomly generated number which makes it very different from all other dice apps that i've found - and i've researched a few since the whole discussion was brought up!! Theoretically there is no random numbers generated and so it should be exactly the same as real dice - but hang on to that thought until my next post which is on the way!!! As for rolling dice - I love rolling dice it's one of the things I love about the game - but when the time taken to do it (in certain instances - rolling more than 20 or so at a time) affects the game negatively then I draw the line.
    It's been interesting listening to people's responses across the various forums and the main issue is trust in the dice app - people can't see it roll and so don't trust it! Again hang on for the next post!!

    Very interesting about what you say about the rulebook, points limit, time limit and 7 turns. Absolutely correct and I never really considered this. Basically we need 3 and a half hours for a 2000pt game and there is no real reason why we don't play at this time limit - I guess that tournaments have dictated this limit to fit games into the day.

    I prefer 2000pts to any other as it means that you can really combine units together. 1500 is too limiting in 8th edition and it still provides enough "I wish I had just a few more points" sacrifices to still be a challenge tactically.

    Totally agree with no to army model count and chess clocks. I love the sight of a tyranid swarm or an ork horde as much as a Custodes team. They are flavourful and cinematic armies and really at to the gameplay.

    Great points and some more food for thought, thanks for the conversation!