I love playing in tournaments. I am a super competitive person, if I play a game or sport I play to be the best I can be. The 40k tournament scene provides me with an outlet for that competitive side of my personality but tournaments provide me with something even more important. Experience. Experience is what makes playing in tournaments for 40k, Fantasy Battle, Warmachine/Hordes, Flames of War, Magic the Gathering, Poker etc. worth the investment of time and money. This experience is why I always suggest that new/returning players play in a few tournaments. Let's look at why tournaments can be so beneficial to New Players.
Tournaments are a great way for new players to learn the game for several reasons.
1. You get 3+ games in a single day, any teacher can tell you that using a skill several times will increase comprehension of that skill. Gaming is a skill and getting the chance to practice it several times in a single day will aid in your ability to learn and retain the game's mechanics and subtle nuances better than playing a casual game once a month.
2. Your opponents will more than likely be of a high caliber. The competitive nature of tournaments will draw the best of the best. Playing the best means you will have a high chance of losing but the knowledge you can gain from them is exponentially greater than the information you learn from playing someone of lesser ability.
3. Tournaments draw large numbers of players and this draw can add diversity to the normal gaming group. Diversity not simply in terms of player types/skill levels but in army selection and composition. Playing against the same armies week in and week out will stagnate your game and give a new player "tunnel vision". Tunnel vision is dangerous because it makes players fall into a state of over confidence, it is the big fish little pond syndrome found in some smaller gaming communities. Tournaments will draw out of town players and non-traditional players from the surrounding communities providing you with more experience.
4. Tournaments can provide you with the chance to share ideas on the game with people who you don't normally see or play. You can meet and share ideas/experiences with not only your opponents but a myriad of other individuals involved in the event providing you with a greater learning experience.
Now that we see how tournaments can be beneficial to new players let's look at what new (and veteran) players should do to prep for a tournament.
1. Prepare the correct attitude for the event, if it is your first tournament don't go in expecting to go in kicking ass and taking names, you'll set yourself up for disappointment. Rather go in with the attitude that you are playing first to win and second to learn. Winning should be first in your mind to insure you play to your full potential but second, only by inches, is having a learning attitude. Be a sponge and absorb all the knowledge you can from your opponents.
2. Decide on a list at least a week in advance and play test it against as many different opponents and armies as your schedule, and sanity, will allow. Make any changes you feel necessary but try to nail down a list you are comfortable with early on in the play testing process to get experience with the list.
3. The night before the event be sure to re-read the codex/army book/card entries, special rules, psychic/magic/feat abilities, and wargear entries for every unit you will be using in the tournament.
4. Re-read the rules you know get you into trouble. Every new player has issues understanding some rules more than others. If you feel weak with assaults get out some figures, dice, and the rulebook the night before and practice it on your own! If you can't get it on your own ask a veteran player before the tournament begins to walk you through how something works.
5. Get a good nights sleep, don't do what I have done too many times to count and go on a marathon painting run until 3 am just so you can use a certain unit. Also don't do what I have done and go out to a bar the night before with your friends and roll home at 4 or 5 in the morning.
These rules apply to and should work for any tournament you are going to. It applies, of course, to 40k, Fantasy, Warmachine/Hordes, Flames of War, Magic the Gathering, Catan etc. But it also applies to Poker, Golf, Flag Football, Soccer, Softball, paintball and anything that has rules and a competitive nature. Most important of all is to keep an open mind, open eyes and ears, and to be as "sponge" like as possible through out the tournament. If you are going to make the commitment of time to play in a tournament then make the most of it! See you out on the tournament scene!