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The Pass or Fail Method of Tournament Sportsmanship Scoring

The Pass / Fail Method of Tournament Sportsmanship Scoring

Why score Sportsmanship?

Since 1999, in playing regularly in competitive leagues and tournaments for Warhammer and Warhammer 40k, I have seen and tried out several different methods of scoring Sportsmanship. Subjective ranges (1-3, 1-5, 1-10), forced ranking (rank your opponents from favorite to least favorite), checklist scoring based on questions about behavior (was my opponent on time for the game? Did he measure accurately?), etc.

In my experience most systems tried work okay; the main purposes of every system are the same: to communicate to the players that good Sportsmanship is expected of them, to reward it (there is often a Best Sportsmanship prize), and to penalize players who are nasty and unpleasant to play with, preventing them from winning tournaments while ruining their opponents’ fun.

What’s wrong with Sportsmanship scoring?

Every system has its flaws, and no system is perfect. Every system is capable of being misused; such as when a player scores a perfectly-nice opponent badly because the player scoring has a bad attitude or feels vindictive after a loss. Or “Chipmunking”, in which a player attempts to cheat/manipulate the event results by scoring dishonestly, marking good opponents low regardless of what those opponents deserve. One can eliminate those problems by eliminating Sportsmanship scoring, and some tournaments do that, but in my opinion you then run the risk of allowing people who are actively unpleasant to dominate your events. I believe the phenomenon of Chipmunking is talked about more than it actually happens, and most players are honest about their opponents, but many are lazy and don’t want to invest more time & consideration into filling out a score sheet than they absolutely need to.

The 1-5pt and 1-10pt scales are prone to a lot of problems with people interpreting and applying them differently, especially if they don’t bother reading the scale on the score sheet (which happens a lot). Some players automatically award maximum scores; some default to giving the maximum and only mark down from the top if something was really wrong; some people try to be really honest and mark most opponents in the middle of the range, but wind up inadvertently penalizing perfectly-decent opponents when half the field is defaulting to giving opponents top scores.

Forced Ranking has the advantages of creating separation in tournament rankings, and of preventing a player from giving all opponents false bad rankings, but it forces people to mark some of their opponents low even if all their opponents were good, and doesn’t stop a Chipmunker from just giving the lowest ranking to their opponent who’s doing the best overall.

Objective checklist systems are decent, although they usually include some subjective questions, so cannot be truly objective. They do wind up making most of the points available even to a jerk, and make the players take time checking boxes over relatively small matters like "did my opponent show up on time" or "did he measure accurately", which I think are fine questions, but are rarely checked “no”, and overall wind up being more ink, time, and work than is really necessary. Forced ranking Pass/fail gets to the heart of the matter, and is quicker and simpler for everyone.

What’s the actual mechanic?

It's pretty simple. On the score sheet, or as a separate piece of paper (or printed on the back of the score sheet) is just one question. Something like the following, though the phrasing is important, and you want to be careful composing it so it's as clear as possible:

"Did my opponent's attitude and/or behavior make the game an UNpleasant experience, overall?"
Note to the player: Please be sure that your answer is based on your opponent's behavior as a person, not on their army, and certainly not on who won or lost. Thank you!

The thinking behind this question is that we don't want to quibble over minor details, and we're not penalizing people based on their armies. This is about whether the person was unpleasant to be around and to play a game with, and ruined the fun of the game overall.

Each downcheck a given person receives reduces their total tournament points; by a very small amount for the first check, increasing progressively the more checks they get. The idea being that anyone can have a single bad game; it may be an innocent personality clash, or it could be that the person checking the box is "chipmunking", and this minimizes the impact of a "chipmunker" or a single innocent personality clash.

The exact point deductions will depend on the number of rounds and the total possible available points.


Let's consider a five round tournament and a three round tournament, each with a similar scoring system: 5/10/20 points for a Loss/Draw/Win (or similar); 20pts possible for painting (or 12 for the three round event, to keep the same proportion), and the Sportsmanship points- deductions for downchecks, and +1pt for each Favorite Opponent vote you get. So in the 5 round event that's a total maximum of 100pts for battles, 20 for painting, and 5 for Favorite Opponent votes, making 125 total for a perfect score. For the 3 round event you'd be looking at 60 available for battles, 12 for painting, 3 for Best Opponent votes. Maximum total of 75.

In proportion with the above numbers, in a 5 round event the organizer might set the penalties at -2pts, -5pts, -10pts, Disqualification, and Disinvitation. Let’s look at those and discuss what they mean.

1 check (-2pts). There is a small deduction for one check, as we assume that MOST people checking a box are doing so honestly, but we don't want to cripple a person for one downcheck, as it might be a relatively-innocent personality clash.
2 checks (-5pts). This is a more significant handicap, being the difference between a loss and draw, or a great-looking army and a more average one, but not crippling to the player's total score. Which is appropriate as it's more likely that the player is actually being rude or unpleasant somehow.
3 checks (-10pts). This is the equivalent of one of his Wins turning into a Draw; again, he may still place well, but at this point more than half of his opponents say they actively disliked playing against him.
4 checks (DQ). Disqualification means he can't win any prizes, no matter what his points total is. 80% of his opponents giving the downcheck means it's practically guaranteed that he's being a jerk.
5 checks ( Disinvitation). In the case that every last one of the player’s five opponents thought he was being a jerk, in all likelihood he is the kind of unrepentent jerk that you don't want coming back to the tournament next year. So he's asked not to come back next time.

How about a three round, single-day tournament? In proportion with the numbers for the three round event, the organizer might set the penalties at something like -2pt, -5pts, Disqualification.

1 check (-2pts). As above; small deduction for one check.
2 checks (-5pts). This is a mix of 2 & 3 on the five-game format; we don't want it to be a horrible penalty, but at this point MOST of the player's opponents have reported a bad game, so it should be felt.
3 checks (Disqualification). Every one of the player's opponents found him unpleasant; but it's a one-day event, and perhaps he just had a really bad day, so he's free to try again next time. Hopefully he'll be in a better mood.

How About Actually Rewarding Great Sports?

Good question. Many tournaments also like to recognize players who are particularly enjoyable and fun to play with. You (hopefully) know the type- the guys who never lose their smile and good attitude no matter how bad the dice turn. The guys who take a beating with a smile, or make YOU smile and enjoy it while they're kicking your butt all over the table.

An excellent and (IMO) perfectly functional system is the one I mentioned above- Favorite Opponent votes. Each player, at the end of the event (along with their final game's results sheet) indicates which of their opponents was the most enjoyable to play against. You can make this a fixed 1 or 2 tournament points per vote as in the examples above, or if you really want Sportsmanship to be a big deal, you could also make it award a progressive number of points like the bad sport downchecks subtract. Either way, to award Best Sportsmanship prizes simply subtract downchecks from Favorite votes, and award the highest score. In the event of a tie, Battles is a popular choice, the idea being that if two guys both were fun to play against, the guy who managed to be so while winning more is probably the more fun of the two.


In closing, I offer this system to other tournament organizers as the best option I’ve seen or been able to come up with. I think it’s one of the most resistant to tampering and one of the simplest to use, both for players and organizers.

If you have any feedback on the system, suggestions for adjustments or alterations, please feel free to PM me, to comment in the forum thread, or to start a thread in Tournament Discussions. If you give it a try I’d also love to hear how it goes. Best of luck, and happy gaming!

Ragnar Arneson AKA Mannahnin


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