Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cheezy vs. Fluffy

I've been seeing alot more 'rants' about the hobby these days, and I wanted to get back into it.  I know most of you said you wanted to see more hobby, and it's a comin', make no mistake.  But for this article, I'm gonna rant.  Ok?  Ok. 

I used to have this discussion all the time.  Until I started running game shops, I didn't know this phenomenon actually existed.  But having dealt with literally thousands of gamers and half-a-dozen communities, I've become fully immersed in the culture.  In fact, I've become so entrenched in the gaming world that I've even had to define this debate myself.  It's called: 


Now I know this topic has been discussed to death all over the blogosphere and unlimitted number of forums.  But I find that most people still don't clearly understand the difference.  All too often people perscribe the two concepts to being similar, or being adversarial to one another, or (in some rare cases) simply discount the topic altogether.  But I'll get to them later.  In the meantime, let me be very clear and simply define the two terms.


This is the part of this theory that invites the most controversy.  People get upset when their armies are called cheezy, and some people even resent the fact that people would use that term.  The common defense I hear is "If it's in the codex, it's not cheezy.".  That makes me laugh, considering the definition.
Cheezy is a term used to describe any unit, army, or special ability that is effective in the game.  More importantly, something specifically becomes cheezy whenever it's OVERLY effective, especially when compared to the rest of the codex.  A player makes a cheezy decision when they include a unit or special rule that they believe will be very effective on the tabletop.


This is the part of the theory that invites the merciless.  Anytime a cheezy player hears the term 'fluffy', the derisive terms and general disrespect comes out.  Too often, the tournament gamers (also known as the vocal minority) believe this to be the weaker side.
Fluffy is a termed used to describe archetypical or exemplified examples of an army.  More specifically, when a player chooses a unit or special ability because 'every xxxx army would have one', then they've made a fluffy choice.

And there is the definitions.  I know they're not complicated and terribly comprehensive, but they don't have to be.  This is my wisdom after years and years of regulating this debate.  And there are a few very important things that people forget, and that tends to lead to the friction in the gaming world on this topic.  Let me tell a quick story to illustrate my point:

Not too many years ago, I was running a game shop full of tournament gamers.  Although I'd done a fantastic job of populating my game nights with newer recruits who appreciated the hobby the same way I did (in my later years, anyway), my weekends were still chock full of the hard-as-nails power gamers.  Alot of people had a problem with them showing up and putting a negative spin on alot of the game (I was one of them, and always will be.  See my post of 'Remember the good 'ol days'), while the power gamers had a major problem with the 'lack of competition' that I was creating.  This inevitably led to a massive community war (at least of words) that lasted for months and months and months.  It spread from my game shop to two of the local game shops in the area, and then eventually into the largest gaming club in the US.  Although everyone on every side was very adamant about their points-of-view, every weekend we all got together and gamed anyway, if only to debate some more.  Finally, after what seemed would be a cordial cold war forever, a couple of groups and I had the opportunity to really sit down and hash this issue out.
Now let me tell you, there was no beer or drugs.  There was no 'safe zone' or police escort.  This situation could have ended really badly, especially when you consider the people involved.  At the time, it seemed like a good idea.
Luckily, the group stayed civil and, after some time, I delivered what would be the biggest ruling in the history of the game world (or not, but it was pretty huge at the time for the area).  Of all the arguments heard, here are the greatest ones amongst them, in no particular order:

1.  If the game were meant to be played fluffy, it would be a board game.
2.  Cheezy is just what people say when they can't win.
3.  Fluff is just an excuse to stop people from taking what they want.
4.  So being cheezy is the same as having the money to buy anything you want?  That seems unfair.
5.  Winning IS fun, so cheezy IS fluffy.
6.  How can cheezy and fluffy exist?  It isn't in the rulebook or any white dwarf I've read.
7.  Tournament players can't be fluffy?  I disagree completely.

All of these things are true and false.  They work off the basic understanding that 'cheezy' means good and 'fluffy' means bad.  And that's why this debate is so rough everywhere across the gaming universe- it's a fundamental misunderstanding. 

I presented my conclusion to the community at the end of the debate.  I said this, very simply,  "A cheezy player picks things from his codex based on how well it'll do in the game, and a fluffy player picks things from the codex out of a sense of background or storyline."  In that most simple of terms, everyone was speechless.  There was no refutation because they are fundamental truths.  And they are fundamental truths that must be acknowledged if we are to get along as a gaming community.  And with that, we all agreed and moved on with our lives.  On fellow, well-known as a cheezy gamer and hateful of this whole debate, even agreed happily with our conclusion and finally accepted his lot.

"But his army is so cheezy that it makes the game no fun!"  That's an argument that I've heard and even used myself. 
"But my army IS what this army would take; I wasn't trying to be cheezy."  That argument makes all the fluffy players angry because they can't defeat it. 
"Why would they put this in the codex if they didn't want me to take it?"  This argument, especially to a sales manager like myself, is rock-solid.  You really can't call someone cheezy because they take something from their book.  You have to look at why they chose that item.

Let's look at an example of a cheezy army: 
Chaos Space Marines force with a Demon Prince, Sorcerer with Lash, three units of Obliterators, and las/plas Marine squads everywhere. 

Now let's look at a fluffy army:
Iron Warriors with a Demon Prince, three units of Obliterators, and las/plas Marine squads everywhere. 

Notice how they're the same, with the exception of one thing:  the reason for including the units.  The Chaos army has obliterators and lash-armed sorcerers because these things are undeniably awesome on the tabletop.  However, the Iron Warriors take almost the same things because that's actually how Iron Warriors are organized.  Does that mean that Iron Warriors are NOT cheezy?  Gods no.  All it means is that the motivation behind a person's army list is what determines the 'cheezy vs. fluffy' label.

I typically make fluffy armies.  My armies are always filled with troops and led by captains of obviousness.  The choices I make for the armies lists are very typically based on a Black Library novel I read or an imagining I've had.  Every once in a while, however, I make a good army.  My Black Templars are an example of that.  I didn't choose a single item in that army because 'it's what BT would do', I chose the units because I wanted to win a tournament.  That made that army cheezy.  Ironically, I've won ALL of my tournement trophies using fluffy armies, just proving how much I suck. 

the only form of 40k I can win
Whenever I taught the Academy and recruited new gamers into the hobby, I made sure to highlight this debate and asked people to decide where they wanted to be in it.  Despite the flak I would recieve, those players typically and happily chose cheezy, which was fine with me.  Most importantly, it allowed new recruits to truly identify what the hobby was for them.  I am (these days) a fluffy player, and don't need to go the game store every week to prove myself.  Alot of people like me just sit at home and paint.  Many others ARE cheezy players and really want to be in the game shop playing games and testing their skills.  Ain't nothing wrong with that either.  But it sure would be nice to know for sure what we want outta the hobby, right?  And really, that's all this is about.

The debate on this is over.  I have declared that the topic is real, the debate was rich, but the answers are clear.  The cheezy vs. fluffy debate is little more than people really trying to find out what the hobby is to them.  Choose stuff to win games, and you want to compete in the hobby.  THAT'S cheezy.  Choose stuff because the models look cool.  THAT'S fluffy.  Do both, and THAT'S that hobby.


  1. I always look at it this way - at the end of the day, the "fluffy" guy has an army that looks really nice painted, has ideas about conversions and themes, and can write their own background stories about their commanders and the heroic campaign their army took part in.

    The "cheesy" player won a dice game.

    Seriously though, I don't have a problem with the tournament crowd. It's just not the aspect of the hobby that interests me the most.

  2. Great article man. Hey that's why I play Space Wolves so everything in the book is cheesy and fluffy ;)

    PS: This Taj from the Milwaukee GW btw

  3. Wow Jay, well put at the end. I couldn't agree with your logic more.

    I always viewed a cheesy as when someone would build a list with something that is obviously over powered and it was picked not to have fun but to mercilessly win. I guess winning in fun, but why would people want to play against someone who isn't giving them a entertaining balanced game.

    I stopped putting Grimgore in my Orc Army because Tim would simply avoid the whole troop set. It was pointless to have, and it wasn't even fun for me to win with because it was a pre-determined fact. (We realised this when I scored 7 Str7 ASF hits on his dwarf lord in a challenge, that game was when we agreed to make sure it was fun before over powered )

    I don't like games were it's not fun, there will always be a loser in the game, but both players should have fun. Otherwise why should we bother?

  4. Well Jay you have done it again, very well put. I know that I started as the fluffy player, then graduated to the cheesy for a while and now I think I am a good dmix of the two.