Monday, August 7, 2017

Playing By The Rules - Intentions and Reality

It pains me to write another article on the state of the game, but we have ourselves a teachable moment here.  So today we are going to talk about the recent drama over the very rules that govern how the game we love is played.  Before I go any further, the views expressed in this article are my (Biggs') views, and they aren't necessarily correct or even the views of the other members of this website.  With that in mind...

We Have A Problem

It is a relatively minor one in the grander scheme of things.  That problem is that the rules of Armada are not always as clear cut at they may appear.  This is not a new problem - we have been dealing with this in one way or another throughout Armada's game play.  How each individual incident has been dealt with however, has been quite different.

The very first oddity that was discovered was the curious case of XI7 Turbolasers and the Advanced Projectors.  XI7s stated that you couldn't suffer more than one damage on "hull zones other than the defending hull zone" while Advanced Projectors allowed the defender to choose "more than one hull zone to suffer damage" when a redirect token was spent.  In this incident, FFG was emailed and the response ruled that XI7 turbolasers didn't specify "only 1 damage on all hull zones" other than the defending zone, so you could theoretically move 3 damage around with the redirect token.

The FAQ that came out just before Wave 2 corrected it the other way.  Now you could only move a single damage to any hull zone you wanted.  The "cannot" took precedence, even if the rest of the card was inconclusive.

The next oddity was with Advanced Gunnery, specifically how it played with Gunnery Teams and Slaved Turrets.  Proponents of Rules as Written (RAW) game play said that because Slaved Turrets had a "cannot" in the card text, a Slaved Turrets equipped ship was not allowed to gain the benefit of Advanced Gunnery's objective ship.  It then followed form that logic that Gunnery Teams also locked a player out of using the benefits of Advanced Gunnery, making one of the best Red objectives terrible for fleets with Imperial Class Star Destroyers, and making Slaved Turrets terrible for MC80s.  Rules as Intended (RAI) proponents instead argued that this could not be the case.  Why would such a bad upgrade card be released in that case?  And we had been playing for almost a full year with Advanced Gunnery and Gunnery Teams, which the interaction had never been a problem before.

What Do I Mean By RAW / RAI?

Before I continue, I need to discuss the difference between the Rules as Written and the Rules as Intended.  In a perfect world, the two would be identical - one in the same.  In reality though, they frequently are at odds.  Rules as Written are what the rules, the cards, official statements, all say must be done.  They may not be easy to see, but every player theoretically has access to all the same information, and should come to exactly the same ruling when all the information is looked at together.  Rules as Intended meanwhile, is what the rules SHOULD say.  They are what the developers wanted to happen, rather than what the rules specifically state should happen.

Again, these should be exactly the same thing.

Except when they are not.  Perhaps the developers didn't expect a player to be able to do what they are able to do with the rules written a specific way.  Maybe they just screwed up how a card is written, and if it was applied with a strict reading of the rules it does something completely at odds with the developer's game balance.  The problem is, no ordinary player is able to know what precisely the developer was thinking without that developer actively telling the community.  They can only guess as to what the original intent was.

Anyway, back to Advanced Gunnery.

Back to the History

Advanced Gunnery was ruled according to strict interpretation of the Rules as Written.  It disappeared overnight in all but the most strict Ackbar MC80 lists, as no Imperial would be caught dead with a Gunnery Team on their ISD.  Players began to expect from the previous 2 rulings that Rules as Written was the law of the land, and would more or less carry the day in Armada rule discussions.

Then came the great Jamming Fields debate.

So, at one point someone remembered that upgrade cards were optional to use.  Probably inserted into the rules so that a forgotten upgrade wouldn't immediately end the game if you realized you haven't used it yet, optional use of upgrades did funny things to Jamming Fields.  Namely, it meant that as long as your squadrons were hiding in a Jamming Field, they could ignore the drawback when they were shooting, but get full benefits of it when they were defending.

This was not the way the upgrade was intended.

Fantasy Flight fixed this with the game's first Errata of an upgrade card (previously they had Errata'd some objectives).  This once again matched Rules as Written with Rules as Intended, and established once more that RAW was the law of the land.

Enough History, on to the Teachable Moment

Let's get to the present day.  Rules as Written has been the mantra of the Armada community for a long time now.  Debates in the rules forum center around the Rules as Written - and debates only really seem to take place when there are multiple interpretations of the rules, when you can read the rules and come to 2 or more perfectly valid conclusions.  Really, the only ruling that was even slightly off RAW was the Rapid Launch Bay ruling, which required multiple FAQs to be playable and wound up being something that not a single player thought of.

Fast forward to today.  RAW is the law of the land.  "IceQube" - Q, a 2 time US Nationals winner has agreed to Marshal for the US Nationals, forgoing a chance to hold onto his title for 3 years running, because the current Marshal has released a ruling that isn't supported by the rules in any way, shape, or form.

Q is a play tester, and frequently talks with not only FFG developers but also tournament officials from FFG's Organized Play.  Q, more than anyone excluding the developers themselves, knows what the Rules as Intended are.  After all, they were the rules that he would have played by, while testing the upgrade cards and ships out for that wave.  He also knows that the RAW is not how he had played Admiral Sloane.  He even said as much by starting the discussion that lead to the disastrous ruling by the previous Marshal.

Q decides, putting aside the community consensus that Armada has been and should continue to be a RAW game and knowing that the community already circled the wagons in opposition to the previous Marshal's ruling on Sloane, that he will release the ruling that Sloane will play RAI instead of RAW.  Needless to say, he got some backlash for this ruling.

I cannot say that backlash against an RAI ruling wasn't warranted.  We had a RAW game, where to change things to RAI required an Errata, or at least a lengthy FAQ that explained why the actual ruling behaved according to RAW.  Players could relax knowing that if they went to a tournament the Judge and Marshal would rule in the same manner, no matter where they were and no matter what the level of tournament.  It provided for a stable, equal playing field for quality competitive play.

This was being taken away.  If Q was going to rule based on how he believed the card should read, how could we predict the way any ruling would go?  I told him, at the time and privately, that I disagreed with his ruling, but that I would support him publicly for the good of the game.  If anyone had the ability to do a RAI ruling that wasn't an employee of FFG themselves, it would be Q.  It was important to have everyone on the same page for US Nationals.  In the grand scheme of things the Sloane ruling wouldn't change that much, regardless of how players have said that Sloane being played with Q's ruling would be "horribly nerfed" or that RAW Sloane was "incredibly overpowered".  It's literally only makes a noticeable difference if you roll exactly 2 accuracy results (1 or 3 doesn't really matter) and more than 1 damage.

But it wasn't the right call.  This is our teachable moment, where we look back and say "yes, that was the wrong decision."  Q should not have made the call against RAW, even knowing what he knew.  I should not have supported that decision, because maintaining RAW as the gold standard for all tournaments, especially Premier events, is more important than the game being played the same way that play testers played it.

We need to play Rules as Written.  We need our Marshals and Judges to enforce Rules as Written.

And perhaps most importantly, Rules as Written need to be accurate, robust, and Intended.  Simply put, we need FFG Organized Play to be able and willing to make difficult rulings available to us before major tournaments, and they are timid when it comes to doing so.

Here's another teachable moment that I hope is taken to heart.  FFG Organized Play has learned the wrong lessons from the X-Wing fiasco, where they released an FAQ / Errata a month before a major tournament.  Players complained that they had been left out of the loop as some of the bigger names had gotten wind of the change in advance, and were practicing lists different from the ones which had been affected by the FAQ.  FFG's takeaway from this was that they should not release an FAQ or weigh in on any significant rulings before major events.

That was the wrong lesson.  FFG should be aggressive in establishing rulings before major events, so that it is not incumbent on the event Marshal to make the rulings on the spot.  Q, while his ruling was incorrect, did the right thing by communicating the ruling to all players he could reasonably reach well in advance of the tournament.  In comparison, what have we heard on the rulings on Wave 6 questions for GenCon, the "even more Premier" North American Continental Championship?  Crickets.  We were lucky that FFG was willing to weigh in on this ruling, and I hope that they continue to do so before major tournaments like Worlds, or Regionals when they start up in November.

The Final Teachable Moment

The last thing I want to talk about is the public vitriol we are seeing on the forums, and in our local Facebook groups.  We should not be having this much anger and hatred being displayed against our own, for having opinions on plastic space ships we push around a table in our free time.  None of us are getting paid for this (full disclosure:  subscriptions to Steel Squadron HQ means I am technically paid for this, but I use the funds to buy prizes for writing contests within the community).  This is something we do for fun.

I've talked at some length how we should strive to have the best community in gaming, and I fully understand that this goal may be a pipe dream.  Nevertheless, it is a goal that each and every one of us should strive for.  And that means we have to respect the rest of the community here.  Even the ones that get on our nerves.  Especially the ones that get on our nerves.

At the end of the day, I don't want to be across the table from someone that hates me.  I want at best a friendly rivalry.  The joy of playing my best against someone who is doing their best as well, and no matter the outcome someone who will shake my hand at the end, say "good game", and lie to me that familiar, comforting lie when they tell me I lost because my dice weren't hot.  We have to be better than this.  And I'm not just talking about the discussion with Q, I'm talking about a bigger trend we are seeing in the community.  We have to be better, we have to do better.

And someone better set up a breakfast for GenCon.


  1. For my own part; I came late to the party, having long since tired of the a-holes and the (even more common) players with big opinions, but perhaps not so great insight into the rules - RAW or RAI.

    While I didn't agree with the ruling, that wasn't what bothered me personally. It was the lack of explanation for why one would deviate from RAW (although it could be argued that Q's ruling was also RAW), and the not-so-subtle hints that Q had access to secret FFG intel.

    That's just not a very good/smart way of handing things. It almost had to come back and bite him. And it did. In a very nasty, completely unwarranted way. We've had some bad 'debates' before, and this one ranks with the worst of them. Perhaps THE worst.

    More than anything, what I take this away from the debacle is: "public vitriol".

    From which followers: there are a lot of a-holes on the FFG forums. A-holes who not only spew vitriol during the debacle, but are happy to keep spewing it after the entire thing is over and buried.

    If feel my fading interest in posting anything useful in the forums fading even more.

    Green Knight

    1. What was secret about his access to FFG? His name is in the credits for wave 6.

  2. I'm sorry, can you explain what the ruling actually was?

    1. Final ruling was as follows:

      If you use Sloane's ability to spend an accuracy to spend the defender's defense token as the attacker, the defender cannot spend that token as well. They can, however, spend a similar token.

      So, for example, if you have a TIE Fighter attacking Biggs and it spends an accuracy token to spend one of his two Brace tokens (from Green to Red) he cannot spend that same token. He could however spend his other Brace token to get the Brace effect on defense.

    2. And that's Qs ruling that everyones complaining about?

    3. Qs ruling was the ace could have still used the red brace. The one that sloanes ability had exhausted, although it would mean that it would b discarded if it was red.

  3. Thanks for this Biggs!

  4. Related news, someone IS setting up a breakfast at GenCon:

  5. Awesome insight and well written, as I have come to expect form you guys. Thanks!

  6. And to put it all in context. I have a 16 day forum ban for telling Undying to "piss off" in that thread. Undying joked that I might get a ban for that....

    How was that post the problem one in that thread? Its just silly and actually quite sad.

  7. "But it wasn't the right call. This is our teachable moment, where we look back and say "yes, that was the wrong decision." Q should not have made the call against RAW, even knowing what he knew. I should not have supported that decision, because maintaining RAW as the gold standard for all tournaments, especially Premier events, is more important than the game being played the same way that play testers played it."

    Biggs/Matthew, I have to say that I think this paragraph is in poor form and unfair towards Q, as well as the other people playtesting the game. It is in poor form for several reasons, but the foremost reasons are your accusation that Q should not have made this decision despite being encouraged to do so by other playtesters and even yourself. At the very least, I would encourage you to acknowledge that you made a mistake in recommending this action and would have recommended the opposite now.

    Second, I disagree with you that Marshals, Judges, and TOs need to steadfastly require strict adhesion to RAW for tournaments. The reason is that RAW can be inherently self-contradictory when cards are not clearly written to have a single outcome or narrowly defined set of outcomes. Marshals, Judges and TOs should be ruling to ensure that the intent of the card as it is written is the end result in all applications of the upgrade. When properly written, this will always be RAW. When improperly written, the appropriate judges must be ready to act in the interest of the players and participants. This is why in many Vassal tournaments we ask judges with experience to settle disputes by releasing a preliminary FAQ, so that players can have a set of consistent expectations regarding the intended function of the upgrades during any given match.

    The goal of a TO, judge, or Marshal in any competitive event should be to maintain a consistent, stable playing experience within the rules of the competition. usually, this will involve maintaining RAW. When the appropriate person becomes aware of a situation where the RAW does not consistently give the intended result, it is the duty of that person in authority to resolve the situation so that the upgrade can be consistently applied for the duration of the event.

    1. Thank you for your input.

      I disagree that the paragraph is in anyway in poor form and unfair. This is not a discussion about who is to blame, but a discussion about what we should take away as lessons for the future. We know only now, in hindsight, that the decision made was the incorrect one. How can we be mad at anyone for doing what they thought was right at the time? If you think that this article was in any way attacking Q, a personal friend of mine, then I ask that you read it again with the knowledge that I am trying to increase our collective understanding of what happened and how we can improve our community going forward by looking and correcting mistakes made, not by assigning blame.

      As far as a mea culpa, in the paragraph you quoted, I stated "I should not have supported that decision..." Again, this is not about assigning blame, this is about things we can learn from this event. One lesson to be learned is that we should all support what is good for the game.

      As to your third paragraph, related to Marshals (the only ones capable of making a ruling per Tournament Documents - Judges are not empowered, and Organizers assume the Marshal duty if they do not assign a Marshal). We have seen now, first hand, how attempting to rule by intent does not work. Literally the best possible person to make a RAI ruling outside of FFG staff (whose rulings would be by default RAW), and it wasn't the right decision. In Vassal Tournaments we release FAQs that adhere to RAW. I mean, Dras pretty much writes them. In some specific situations we may require that our Marshal make a decision on a peculiarity of the RAW, but we simply CANNOT accurately judge the intent of a card such that it flies in the face of RAW. That is unfair to the players who enter a game with knowledge of what the rules say should happen.

      Here's the thing, the RAW will consistently give the same result. Input to Output. Whether that is the intended result is something that we literally cannot know. Just like we cannot know if the wording of Sloane relating to RAW was the same for the play testers, and they screwed up RAW when playtesting thus creating this entire conundrum, or if it was originally worded differently to be consistent with Q's idea of RAI and FFG changed it before release, meaning that playtesters could not know the actual RAI because FFG may have changed their intent between playtesting and release, or FFG just blundered with their rewording.

      The big takeaway though is that we can learn from this.