On March 15th of 2016, Fantasy Flight Games released new tournament rules documents for all of their games. These new documents included a lot of cleanup and standardization across all game systems – formalized roles for all participants in an event, clear definitions of core concepts and event types, and removal of a few silly draconian rules (such as the total ban on ship modifications for X-Wing). These are all good things. But unfortunately, a very bad thing came along for the ride: Intentional Draws.
The concept of an intentional draw is relatively simple: two players matched up at an event can agree to a tie game, rather than playing the game out. Seems pretty harmless, right? But when you look at the tournament structure and game scoring for these events, you see where it leads to underhanded tactics and poor sportsmanship.
All FFG tournaments start with multiple rounds of Swiss pairings; similar records are paired up, avoiding duplicates. Swiss pairings are considered the best way of finding the top players of an event where time does not permit a full single elimination or round robin structure, because the top players are paired against one another round after round. In a pure Swiss setting, an intentional draw is generally tantamount to resigning (except in extreme cases), because the number of rounds is set such that the leader at the conclusion of Swiss is undefeated.
But FFG events don’t stop after Swiss, except in events with low turnout (16 or less for X-Wing’s “Basic” event structure, 8 or less under “Advanced”). Immediately following Swiss, there is a cut to the top X players (based on attendance) for a single elimination bracket. This cut usually corresponds directly to a tier of prize support, so even if you’re guaranteed to lose the first round after the cut, players still want to make it in.
So going in to the last round of Swiss play, several players have something major on the line. Let’s take a look at how a hypothetical X-Wing tournament would run under both the Basic and Advanced structures. For the sake of simple math and minimal edge cases, we’ll assume a nice even number of 16 players show up (4 rounds of Swiss under either format), and that no modified wins or natural draws occur.
Let’s label our top 8 players after round 3 “Player 1” – “Player 8”. Player 1 and Player 2 have perfect winning records up to this point. Player 2 has been squeaking by all day with the smallest full wins possible in each game, walking in to this game with a 336 total Margin of Victory. Player 1 has been stomping folks all day, and has a near-perfect 560 point Margin of Victory.
Example MoV’s for our other hypothetical players:
Player 3 – 488
Player 4 – 488
Player 5 – 450
Player 6 – 440
Player 7 – 425
Player 8 – 415
Consulting our Basic tournament structure, listed above, there won’t be a cut to a single elimination bracket in this event, instead the standings after 4 rounds will be final. While it is guaranteed that one or the other of them will win the event, Player 1 and Player 2 have huge incentives to take a draw here. Player 2 doesn’t feel like he can win that game, and a draw guarantees him 2nd place; that one tournament point puts Player 2 out of anyone else’s reach. Player 1 stands to gain nothing by not accepting Player 2’s offer, as he is also out of reach of the other players, and wins the Margin of Victory tiebreaker against Player 2. An Intentional Draw is now the “right” play for both players.
Meanwhile, if Player 1 and Player 2 don’t take that draw, 2nd place is up for grabs. A loss for Player 1 could push him down as far as 4th place, as Player 3 and Player 4 are still in striking range of his Margin of Victory with a potential gain of 200 points in a round. And something like a 0-100 loss for Player 2 risks knocking him down as far as 11th place out of 16 with his poor MoV.
Now, looking at the Advanced tournament structure, things get uglier. Going into our 4th round, there are exactly 8 players with at least 10 tournament points from having a record of 2-1 or better. Anything other than a loss locks them in to a spot in the single elimination bracket.
But going back to our breakdown from above, that’s only going to happen naturally for 5 out of those 8 players, 3 of them would drop to a 2-2 record. With 6 players at a 1-2 record coming in to the 4th round, 3 of those players will win their game – meaning Players 9-14 would normally have an outside chance to continue. But he insertion of the Intentional Draw rule says otherwise. Players 3-8 have zero reason to play their games, and instead they can shake hands and turn in their score sheets for 1 tournament point each. It doesn’t matter that they could be caught if everyone played their games out; they were lucky enough to be in the lead, so they get the ability to cut the competition short and say that only the rounds that they already did well in count.
How can this be, you ask? Surely this isn’t really allowed???
The Intentional Draw rule, as written, is currently left open to interpretation. There’s a really interesting reference in the rule pointing back to the section on Unsporting Conduct.
“Collusion among players to manipulate scoring is expressly forbidden” – That seems to be exactly what Intentional Draws are, manipulation of scoring. Proponents of the rule argue that the judge’s presence prevents the term “collusion” from applying here, as the agreement is not made in secret. I’m not sure if I want to laugh at this attempt to lawyer the rules, or ask the player to make sure it isn’t secret by announcing to the entire room that they feel they have the right to decide how long the event runs, and that they’re cutting it short because they’re winning. Cowards.
In case you can’t tell, this rule upsets me greatly. The exact impact on scoring is a little different for each FFG game, but the general effect is still the same – players have an opportunity to advance their position in a tournament by choosing not to play a game. This is asinine, elitist, and exactly the opposite of the old worn out and downtrodden concept of “Fly Casual”.
I’ve seen multiple circumstances in this tournament season where my day could have been ended by a handshake on a different table, where I could pass either player (or at least one of them) had they lost but I couldn’t do anything about a draw. Even worse than that, I dread the idea of having tell a player at one of my events that they had a chance at making a cut, but someone else decided that they didn’t like playing fair. Let’s say that was this hypothetical player’s first tournament where they were doing well, and might have a fighting chance to win it all that day – if someone locks them out via Intentional Draw, they might never show up for another event. So I’m fighting this rule as hard as I can.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve tried really hard to get clarification from Fantasy Flight Games regarding how they intend this rule to be used, and why it was added. I’ve used the contact form on the FFG web page. I’ve reached out to FFG Organized Play on Facebook, and by direct email. I’ve also emailed individual employees at FFG. None of these have been met with any response whatsoever. If, by chance, you happen to be one of the recipients of those messages and didn’t reply, please know that I’m very angry with you.
Meanwhile, a small number of players are claiming that they will not attend the X-Wing Regional Championship I’ll be hosting later this month, because I had originally made it clear that, pending feedback from FFG (see previous paragraph) I would not permit Intentional Draws while I had the ability to interpret it as Unsporting Conduct, because that’s exactly what it is. This stance has since been forced to soften by the usage of Intentional Draw at the Hoth Open, despite the fact that I still have no clear guidance from FFG. Before my stance was changed, I was accused of being a horrible TO for taking this stance. I was told to go play Hello Kitty games since I can’t stand “true competition”. I was told that I should be reported to FFG for this. I was told by folks with absolute zero control over the matter that this would be the last tournament I ever run if I don’t permit Intentional Draws. Nobody seems to understand that I don’t benefit from this in any way beyond knowing that my players, both local, visiting regularly, or coming in for the only time I’ll ever see them at a tournament won’t get screwed over. Gee, that makes me SUCH a bad person.
To my great dismay, I’ve been told that the Intentional Draw rule was invoked by players during the last round of Swiss at the recent Hoth Open event at Adepticon, and the request(s) received permission from FFG officials. I don’t know the precise details, but that gives me no room to interpret the rule as only applying to a Father/Son matchup in round 2 of 8 of an X-Wing event (Because no family conflict happens in Star Wars), or anything along those lines. As a result, I may have to reverse my stance and permit them, under great protest.
Just don’t expect me to disclose anyone else’s current scores, nothing says I have to arm you with the information to make an informed choice about this crap.
And don’t expect me to ever agree to one when I’m playing. I don’t care what I’m risking by not taking your offer; as soon as you utter those cowardly words, that match is to the death.
– The Tabletop General