Your Thoughts on Our Tournament

18 May 2014

photo 2I spent the last 4 days at a gaming festival/convention called Geekway to the West, and I had an incredible time. As an introvert, conventions aren’t my thing, but there’s something about Geekway that fosters such a warm, welcoming environment that I didn’t feel my normal introverted instincts kick in at all.

Oh, before I go any further, this entry isn’t about Kickstarter at all. I just have something on my mind regarding something that happened yesterday that I’d like your thoughts on as peers, gamers, and readers I respect.

One of the highlights of the last 4 days was a Euphoria tournament we hosted. It was free to enter and had a grand prize of $150. It wasn’t a teaching tournament–it was specifically to test a competitive environment, so only people who already knew how to play Euphoria could enter.

We ended up with 24 players. Everyone participated in the first two rounds, switching tables after the first game. Then the top 5 people who had earned the most points in those rounds earned a spot in the championship game.

Overall, the tournament went really well. All of the tables had 4 or 5 players, and Euphoria moves quickly at those player counts. We finished the entire tournament (including bathroom breaks between rounds) in exactly 3 hours. Also, most everyone seemed to have fun. We weren’t sure how people would respond when there’s money on the line, but I saw a huge amount of sportsmanship, players helping other players, and players forgiving innocent mistakes.

There’s just one rub, and it’s what I’d like your thoughts on.

photo 3Last night I got a message from one of the participants in the tournament, someone I met yesterday. He said that he had a good time, but he had some constructive feedback to offer regarding a few of his fellow participants.

You see, a few of my friends played in the tournament, as did my brother, who had flown in from Seattle to attend Geekway. Leading up to the tournament, I debated whether or not I should allow friends to play in the tournament.

My conclusion was that if I randomized the seating positions, there was no way for me to show bias to any player, including people I knew. My friends and brother had no inside information about the game. A few of the friends helped me playtest Euphoria during development, but there were participants who have played Euphoria and studied Euphoria strategy more than they have.

Basically, there was no possibility of favoritism or nepotism, so I was comfortable including my friends and brother in the tournament. Given my friends’ generosity of time from playtesting and my brother’s expensive trip to St. Louis, I didn’t want to penalize them by excluding them from a game they greatly enjoy. So I let them play.

However, I could tell from the constructive feedback that the one player wasn’t pleased that those playtester friends and my brother were in the tournament. It’s quite possible he wasn’t the only one who felt that way, and it’s certainly a fair criticism. It almost doesn’t matter whether it’s right or wrong that my friends and brother were allowed to play–what matters is that it impacted that player’s experience in the tournament, which I would have preferred to have been a positive one.

But he is just one guy, so I’d like to hear your thoughts as well. Here are a few options/solutions I’ve considered if we run a tournament in the future (which is likely):

  1. Do the exact same thing–allow anyone to enter the tournament, including friends and family.
  2. Do the opposite–don’t allow friends and family to enter the tournament.
  3. Allow friends and family to enter the tournament and play in the first two rounds, but don’t let them participate in the championship game.
  4. Allow friends and family to enter the tournament, but put them all at the same table so only one of them would advance to the championship game.

What do you think? I should mention that my brother and one of my playtesting friends made it to the championship game, but neither won the grand prize. Congrats to the winner, Nicholas Ho!

(Also, I want to thank Kim Euker for hosting an even bigger Euphoria tournament on Saturday in Sioux Falls that attracted gamers from four different states. She put a ton of time and effort into the tournament, going as far as to make chocolate authority stars as handouts for all players. Thanks Kim!)


54 Comments on “Your Thoughts on Our Tournament

  1. I didn’t participate in the tournament (too much to do, too little time,) but I really don’t feel as though there’s any unfair advantage of friends/family being there and/or in the tournament if it’s not a teaching tournament and (if you’re judging,) you have a co-judge to help arbitrate any games they are in. Seed them normally and let them play. It’s not as if you’re making obscure hand gestures to coach when to start a building from across the room. :-P

    Just my two cents.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Morgan. I totally agree that if there was an element of judging, friends and family wouldn’t be allowed to enter. This seemed different since the winners were determined purely within the context of the game, over which I have no impact.

  2. I don’t see why it should matter who participates in a tournament. Did they potentially have more experience with the game that could help them? Maybe. Would any other person who has played the game more have an advantage as well? Maybe. Unless the tournament is the first time any of the participants had seen or played the game, there is going to be some degree of people having a potential advantage due to experience. The fact remains that those people with more experience still had to play the game and the other competitors had a chance to outplay them.

    The thought that someone shouldn’t be allowed to play in a tourney because they may beat me seems a bit silly. The tournament being free to enter makes it even more so. That’s my thought anyway and I wish I could have been involved with a tourney like this.

  3. I agree, “there was no possibility of favoritism or nepotism.” Feel free to remind any critics that I made it to the top 5 having played only 2 games of Euphoria previously. Also feel free to not reveal how poorly I did in the final match.

    “Hey, someone has to lose the game. May as well be me.” –Dustin Robb

    1. Well said, Dustin. The winner of the tournament said he had played Euphoria 19 times, while you and my brother had only played a few times. It shows that skill isn’t necessarily tied to experience.

  4. I would say that letting them play is fair, but maybe offer a brief, although descriptive, disclaimer explaining the situation. Sometimes, in big games or weekends like that, gamers can become tired or distracted enough to miss the logical and otherwise obvious truth that even friends of yours would not have an advantage in the game. I’m sure a simple reminder would lay to rest most misgivings. If not, then declaring that friends and family cannot win the jackpot, although may participate, should dispel any remaining misgivings.

    1. langnaippe4u: That’s a great point. It’s possible the one player found out about my friends’ participation midway through the tournament, and it might have caught him at a bad moment in the game. I like your idea about mentioning that at the beginning of the tournament so it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

  5. I voted for prohibiting friends and family, but that’s out of an over abundance of caution. For a friendly tournament without massive prizes, this sort of thing is probably fine. It just depends on whether it’s critical to be perceived as completely above even the appearance of favoritism… which is eventually a requirement at major tournament level play, but probably not required at this level.

    1. Michael: Thanks for your thoughts. I wonder if friends of Magic players are allowed to participate in Magic tournaments. That’s pretty much the biggest gaming tournament out there, and I would greatly suspect that everyone but WoTC employees are allowed to enter. As for their families? I don’t know. But friends? Almost certainly allowed to play, don’t you think?

  6. Choice one. sounds like someone was a whiney brat and cant just have fun for what it was. what did he think he was at, the million dollar texas hold em table? CMON people relax and have fun.

  7. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong at all with letting family/friends play. What should matter is, who can play the game better? Logically speaking, just because someone is a family member or friend of the game designer, doesn’t necessarily mean that person can play the game better. Anyone has a fair chance at winning the game, which should be based on their knowledge of the rules, their understanding of the strategies, and their experience playing the game. If someone wants to be involved in a tournament for a game, it is probably reasonable to expect them to have played the game before, or at least have a good understanding of it. To me, the whole premise of this issue is irrelevant, as I don’t see anything unfair going on here. There will always be someone that blows things out of proportion, but looking at the poll results it’s clear most of us agree you didn’t do anything wrong.

    1. Outer Limit: I tend to agree with you there–skill in a game like this has nothing to do with someone’s relation or connection to me. Heck, I lose Euphoria all the time! :)

  8. Jamey thanks for sharing this with us.
    I do not see it as any sort of a problem, because the tournament was free to enter.
    I wonder if the public was aware that ‘experienced’ players were taking part in it?

    If anything, I would personally prefer to play against these ‘experienced’ people as I would expect much better experience. Also if you enter into a tournament of any sort you expect people to already have some previous experience, if they have more the better the tournament.

    One way of dealing with this that would satisfy all (though unlikely) is to have a separate table/tournament where the ‘experienced’ people are not allowed. Then have another table/tournament where they are and use it to your advantage to gather more fans.
    I believe there is many fans out there which would even pay for the opportunity to play and chat with people who helped to create the game, which as we all know was an immense success.

    All the Best.

    1. Konrad: Thanks for your thoughts. I did make it clear to players that it wasn’t a teaching tournament–everyone had to already know how to play Euphoria. Though I didn’t make it as clear as I could that friends and family were participating (the family was obvious from my brother’s nametag, but the friends were not as obvious).

      I like your idea of finding a way to include new players in the tournament as well. I don’t think they could learn quickly enough to participate in the championship (the experienced players finished games in 45-50 minutes, while a teaching game could take 2 hours), but at least everyone would feel welcome.

      1. That was my intention to make all feel welcome.
        I would see these two as completely separate events, the teaching tournament and the ‘regular’ tournament, both ending with a final match.

        Additionally, this would entice the new players to try your game. Since they should also have a chance to win a price which in this case should be the game itself, since they are new there is a big chance they do not have it yet. Even if they have it they would have a perfect gift to make someone happy.

        Thanks for sharing this with us again.
        This gave me a lot new ideas to advertise a product, as you can read :)
        All the Best.

  9. Even certified WotC judges may play in tournaments.
    I have not heard about employees. Although, for legal reasons the employees and families might be barred from competing.

  10. I personally don’t see the issue with it, this being more a friendly tournament rather than some very competitive event. It is probably worth taking into account that most companies when running competitions and events exclude family members from them, to avoid this sort of thing happening. If the event is being publicized as a Stonemaier Games event then you might either want to make it clear from the start that family members and friends are allowed to compete, or as mentioned above that they are unable take part in the finals. I’d say this is probably best to cover yourself and avoid anyone being able to question your integrity or the companies. Its a sad fact that we live in a world that there some people out in it that like to shout loudly and publicly when they decide they have been wronged in some way. I know that this person in question didn’t do this and took the sensible route of contacting you with their issue, but this is something that could potentially blow up into an ugly PR mess with a noisy troll attached.

  11. Considering how much the game is altered by what markets are in play, and what recruits everyone drafts (IN SECRET), I don’t see how people’s relations to the designer, would make any difference. I can ONLY see this being a problem, if the tournament is also the launch day(thus friends/playtesters, have a leg up).

    I voted to have all friends/family at a table if possible. I ONLY did this, because I feel it makes it more fun for those who already know each other. We played a settlers tournament a few weeks back, and got to sit at a table for round 1, with friends of ours. It made a great way to start the tournament. It was also the only game the only game I got under 9 points(of 10). Either way, a free tournament, should be free to all; Not some.

    Board games are about including everyone, not just those we feel are on a level playing field.

  12. This being a very chance-based game, I don’t know that friends/family should be excluded…

    If they were going to be concerned about that, what about someone who plays with their gaming group daily? Should they be excluded?

    Normally family/employees are excluded from contests because they’re not allowed to win the prize, not because of their “advantages”

    1. kemn: It’s actually interesting that you mention the chance-based elements of Euphoria. In the 10 games that preceded the final game, a number of players lost workers to the knowledge threshold. But in the final game (presumably the best players were at that table), not a single player lost a worker. It made me think that there isn’t all that much luck involved if you strategically keep your knowledge low and selectively retrieve workers.

  13. Excluding friends, family and play testers from a tournament just because they may have played the game a lot is like excluding a pitcher from a baseball game because he practices all the time. That is the point of competition. Work at the game or activity until you improve your chances. All the people at the tournament had the chance to purchase a game and had obviously played since it wasn’t a teaching tournament so I see no unfair advantage.

    1. Board-Dom: I like that analogy. :) And I think that’s fair–all participants had equal opportunities to play Euphoria. Perhaps the difference is that many of them didn’t have the opportunity to play Euphoria with me, but I don’t consider that much of an advantage at all.

      1. Often I think designers aren’t great at their own games because they only see the way they think it should be played where an outsider will see a different approach that is often better.

  14. In a game like this, i don’t see a reason F&F couldn’t participate. they had the same resources and information as everyone else. as you stated, they may have even had less! its not like you gave them a promo that said “you need to place 2 less stars to win” or an overpowered card in anyway. This is probably my biggest pet peeve in gaming, we do this for fun. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten completely blown out in a game but the people i played it with made it fun, no matter how bad it went. Getting to play 2-3 games of euphoria in a day would be prize enough. $150 would just be icing on the cake. I’m glad it went well Jamey!

    1. Michael: I like what you said about the focus on fun. I really wanted the tournament to be fun for everyone, and it was interesting to see how a competitive environment changed that (or, in this case, it seemed to barely change at all).

  15. I don’t see anything wrong with allowing anyone to participate in terms of advantaging one player over another, however the simple fact that you’re conducting this poll suggests that, regardless of whether it’s “right,” there is always going to be some potential for player discomfort or the perception of impropriety, regardless of the actuality. When you are the public face of an organization running a public activity, there is often value in erring on the side of caution.

    1. That’s a fair point, Keith. Do you think some of the solutions the other commenters added would help–specifically making sure that all players knew up front (before they even signed up) that friends and family might participate?

  16. Jamey,
    I also voted option 1. I played the first game with your brother and it didn’t bother me at all, and he was a nice guy too! I enjoyed the tournament a whole lot, and I’m glad your friends and brother could enjoy it too!

    1. Josh: Thanks for weighing in as a participant, and I’m glad you had fun. My hope is that friends (and family) will add to the fun of playing a game, especially since they feel personally invested in it.

  17. Yes, I think foreknowledge of who is allowed to participate would go a long way toward quelling any discomfort. On the other hand, at the moment when it becomes apparent to the crowd that the person to whom you’re handing $150 is your brother, would that be 100% comfortable for everyone? It’s hard to say, but I do I think your openness and the fact that you are liked and trusted augurs well for things going smoothly. Again, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with allowing anyone to participate, you just need to have some risk tolerance for the chance that, despite any precautions you may take, things could go a little sour.

    1. Keith: That’s a great question about handing $150 to my brother. I’ve thought about it, and if he won, I would be proud of him and would pay up without any regrets. For a game without any element of judging or opinion, I have no impact on who wins and loses, so if he won, it would be purely due to his own skill. My hope would be to foster an environment where everyone else had fun even if they didn’t win.

  18. I would rank them according to plays a table with 10+ plays, 5-10 plays and 1 play for the first round. Then I would do the second round as random.

    My first 3 games I was still working on strategy and wondering if I needed to worry about the markets or try other strategies.

    Btw While I was walking around Geekway I was noticing Euphoria being played ALOT. Congrats on the successful tournament. I am sorry that I missed it. There was too many games and not enough time. Although while stoping by to teach a game, I did end up becoming the sixth player.

  19. Absolutely allow friends and family to compete! There’s no reason to exclude them – they don’t have any advantage by merit of being your friend or family member. I mean where do you draw the line? Shall I complain because a non-friend, non-family member of yours is just very, very good at the game, having played it 100 times? Can I request he be disallowed as well? That’s ridiculous.

    And it’s not like this is a high stakes $250,000 pro tour like Magic has. Though even if it were, I’m not sure it’s inappropriate for your friends, family, and playtesters to play.

    You might consider banning certain Followers though (the ones that are strictly better than all the rest) ;)

    1. Seth: Thanks for weighing in (and it was awesome to see Eminent Domain at so many tables over the last few days!). That’s a good point that it’s not really fair to draw any lines based on experience–the whole point of the tournament is to see who is the best at Euphoria, so if a player has played it a bunch, it makes sense that they will do better (regardless of whether they’re a friend, family member, or stranger).

  20. I agree with the overall consensus that allowing friends or family to participate in a tournament is probably inadvisable under many circumstances, but in a board game tournament where the outcome is decided by game mechanics there’s really no real harm in letting them play. As long as there’s no judging involved and matches are arranged randomly, I say the more the merrier! As a participant I’d also much rather have more people playing in the tournament to expand the fun factor and competition, rather than have to worry about whether the tournament is going to only last an hour because we have 2 tables.

  21. As one of the participants, I needled you a little about your brother playing. However, it certainly did not upset me. You can’t be the best if you don’t play the best.

    I’m still upset at myself for my misplay in the first game, which cost me at least a point and therefore a finals slot, but I’m glad you had very experienced players there to play against. If you run a similar tournament in the future, I hope to make yor playtesters feel like they are in a dystopia. :)

    1. Eric: Thanks for your feedback. You were indeed so close to the final game! I’d love to run more tournaments in the future. Euphoria works particularly well because it plays so quickly, but a two-round Viticulture/Tuscany tournament could work as well.

      1. Speaking of which, if you ever want to run a tournament at Board Games at SWIC, send me an email. I’m not sure it would be worth your time unless we advertised it, because we’re not that large (yet, hopefully), but we certainly have the room and time.

  22. Hi Jamey,
    As a game designer who hopes to hold tournaments of his own games in the future, I have constantly thought of this question of whether to allow my friends (read: playtesters) participate in the tournament. I will play the devil’s advocate for the sake of conversation and insight, against most of the sentiments expressed here that “playtesters should not matter in a tournament”.

    I agree with all other replies that mentioned playing the game for a longer time, a luxury afforded to the original play testers, does not mean that they are better players at the game. However, the way it “can” be perceived by other participants is, “Since they have been exposed to the game longer, they might have an advantage.” This perceived advantage will only diminish with time. The longer the game has been out, the less your playtesters pose to have an advantage.

    I propose a 5th option for your consideration. It is announcing to the participants that playtesters are also in the tournament, but they will not affect the ranking of the other players nor will they be eligible for the prize. This would mean, should your brother play and rank first, he may advance, but he will not take up a spot preventing an ordinary participant from advancing as well, nor will he be able to win the prize. This way, your family and friends can play, but not have other players feel uneasy.

    1. Jonathan: That’s an interesting alternative. My friends and brother weren’t playing because they wanted to win the money (they just wanted to play–at least, that was my perception), so that could be a possibility.

      The bounty idea is interesting too. :)

  23. I enjoy playing games with the designers and publishers. Having play testers, friends, and family doesn’t bother me. And, I think it helped. Your brother showed me some moves that I did not know.

  24. Your poll lacks the option I’d choose in a heartbeat: Let friends play, but not family (or let them both play, but do not let family compete for the prize). This is standard contest entry practice – no family, no employees. I think you could argue that excluding “friends” from anything is pretty nebulous, and while playtesting experience does offer them some insight, so do many other things that could offer advantages to others. As for the ban on relatives, it’s more about perception than actual advantage, but nepotism, thus defined, is a pretty powerful perception you should be willing to inconvenience yourself to avoid.

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