Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Most Important Thing

When my son was very young, he once asked me "What's the most important thing dad? Winning or having fun?"
"Having fun," I said, “definitely having fun.”
"Well,"  my son replied, "Austin says winning is the most important thing."

Austin was my son's best friend and our next door neighbor's boy.  Austin's mom was a gym teacher and the epitome of the saying "Just win, baby!" She never missed an opportunity to tell strangers that she'd been on the women's bobsled team and she even had an Olympic torch to prove it!  It came as no surprise that Austin had his mom’s attitude on winning.
Flash forward 10 years.  In my first Field of Glory tournament, I brought my Carthaginian army and lost all my matches. Amongst my mistakes, I didn't bring or buy anything to eat that day, thus learning that Mountain Dew is no substitute for food. If my last opponent had offered me a bag of fries, I'd have gladly thrown the match. As it turned out, there was no need to bribe me into losing since I was capable of doing it naturally.  I went into the match with a headache and I couldn't concentrate, much less remember whose turn it was.  Another "L" but at least I learned the importance of packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

I headed into my second tournament in the spring of 2011 with high hopes.  I was fielding my newly painted Gauls with 12 bases of cavalry and 12 bases of Light Chariot.  More importantly, I was also fielding 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I read the rulebook and I practiced pushing Gauls to get a feel for them.  I was ready for a breakout performance. My first game started well but ended with my opponent squeaking out a victory with his Mid Republic Romans. In the second game, time ran out just as I was about to deliver a chariot charge to the rear of a Dominate Roman battlegroup. If I had broken them, it would have put me on top.  My third game was against the top player in our club. He sacked my camp on turn 2 with a light horse flank march and my morale burned to the ground along with my camp. The highlight of the match was when my opponent exited to the bar and returned with 2 beers.  12 ounces of domestic tap briefly lifted my spirits but even alcohol couldn't obscure that I had no answer for his 8 bases of archer-armed heavy chariots.  6 tournament games, 6 losses. 

I was in a terrible funk.  What was the most important thing-winning or having fun? Is it possible to lose all the time and still have fun? I knew when I got home, my kids would ask "How’d you do dad? Did you win?"  On account of my upbringing, I wouldn’t be able to lie or even fudge the truth. I’d have to admit that I'd lost…again. When I told the story of how close I'd come to winning, that merely earned me an "oh, dad!" from my daughter.    

I sulked for a long while.  Short of actually winning, nothing soothes the burn of a tournament flame-out like painting a new army.  I shelved my Gauls and started work on a Later Ottoman Turkish army with Janissary, firearms, Serbian Knights, a sultan and lots of beautiful light horse.  Could THIS be the army I’d been looking for?  Hope was rekindled as I researched the Ottoman Empire.  Hours were spent painting and prepping a more beautiful, mobile, shooty, and terrible army. This could be the army I'd been looking for.  This could be a WINNER! 

And then I remembered, someone needs to sit down with my son and update our talk about the most important thing.  The only question is, would he be more receptive to hearing it from me or  his friend Austin? 


  1. Monty,

    Very good post! You bring up some really interesting points on competition. I think the question that was asked by your son is a great life question, needs to be looked at closer. I think you are right: Having fun is more important than winning. The other question you are discovering is: "Can one have fun when not winning?"

    To preface -I don't do wargaming tourneys. I prefer historical scenarios and campaigns. Armies in tourneys tend to be optimized forces, and not really too much of a reflection of "doing what you can with the troops you have." Generals down to squad leaders have to deal with not having the an adequate force to do task X.

    I wargame to explore history, I enjoy painting, and I like getting together with my buddies. I like a good tense battle. I don't go out of my group too often though as the fit with my group is good. Tournaments look like they could be fun, but are not really my thing, and only one person in the group has every done any. For wargaming, I don't look to it for competition, it's more recreational and, to me, relaxed.

    My competitive experience comes from adult soccer. If I were to give a newly forming adult team a piece of advice, it would be; play with your friends for fun (everyone is welcome, regardless of skill, possibly losing a lot), or do everything you can to be competitive (including cutting people who lack skill and practicing.) The middle ground, I have found, is not really an option for a team, as not everyone will be happy.

    There are some people want to win and do well all the time, and others who just like going out for a kick around, hanging out with the gang, and getting some exercise.

    I have played on very competitive men's and co-rec teams and loved it. The interplay of passes and movement, made by people with a good level of skill, to me is one of the great things in life. I also play on a team of friends that are not very good. That team celebrates small victories like a string of passes, or not being scored against in a half. It is a different sort of fun seeing my friends improve and support each other positively even in defeat. Both levels of play are fine with me and enjoyable. I just have different expectations for the game.

    I think that's what makes you post very interesting and poignant as you are exploring the issue of victory and fun.

    In soccer; To me, winning is fun. Winning is fun. I never want to lose. And I want to win with style. I have put a lot of preparation into soccer to try and achieve that goal. The question is, can one have fun not winning. At one time, I would have said NO (for soccer anyways), but I now have found it's very dependent on my expectations.

    In gaming, I don't have those expectations to win like I do for soccer. I don't seek out competition outside of my group. That seems different from you. You are seeking competition beyond your immediate gaming group and the new challenges that will bring. It looks like your expectations winning/fun are evolving!

    I look forward to reading about your future tournament endeavors, painting projects, and battle reports.


  2. Dave:

    Thanks for your very thoughtful reply. Your observations are dead on and there's fodder here for a couple of posts! Our group has branched out and at the last 2 ReCons, we ran scenario battles instead of tournaments. Still, there are things about tourney play that I really like:
    *Getting 3 games in against 3 random opponents and armies.
    *By the 3rd battle, its a "last braincell standing" event as I'm mentally tired.
    *I like to see all the different armies.
    *So far at least, it all ends with a handshake and "good game."

    Even though I like Field of Glory, I'm itching to branch out and try something new. A new ruleset, a new period, a new project...bottom line is it must be fun!