Author's note - this gets rambly, but I want it kept as it is ... so I'm not going to go back and retweak it ... hopefully a little discussion and sharing can be elicited.
Warhammer 40k is neither won nor lost entirely on the tabletop. The interactions you have with your opponent are often complex, often important, and often overlooked.
There are plenty of players out there who say they are never even fazed one bit by their opponents' commentary ... that they're a stone, or even some who refuse to talk in games. Here's a hint - they're all liars. Everything you do and say is important in a game, but is there a limit to what you SHOULD do and say?
Let's look at a few scenarios, and these will necessarily be simplistic - the subtleties of mastering social interaction as a gaming tool are far beyond the relatively simplistic presentation of a web article ...
Your opponent is pondering whether to rapid fire or charge one of your units with one of his. He doesn't necessarily have to SAY anything - you know it's on his mind by his body language, his commentary, his pauses or timing of doing other things first, the way he glances at the board ... everything is important to watch. You poker players know what I'm talking about - everybody has tells, and most 40k players (even "good" ones) aren't even thinking about sharing them.
So, what do you do? Me, I'll say *SOMETHING* ... I might point out what that unit is going to do if it doesn't get charged, or I might point out what I'm going to do to him on another part of the board no matter what he does, or I might say something like "and now they die, sorry dudes - that was the plan for you," whatever suits the situation and the opponent, and whatever sounds most ... well, obvious and simplistic. I certainly don't want to seem smart, but I also don't want to seem like I'm forcing what I'm saying just to get an advantage. If you can't be subtle, don't try! By saying SOMETHING, you guarantee an impact upon your opponent. So, whatever you do, do not say something that will influence him for his benefit. Regardless, if what you say influences him even in the smallest ways to his detriment, you're positively impacting the game in your favor without relying on a dice roll to do it.
The "comedians" in this situation are the high and mighty folk who think they are so slick, so brilliant and so above the curve that such things have NO impact on them. Sorry, guys, you're not that good. The very act of trying to have it NOT affect you ... causes it to affect you. The changes in blood pressure, thought pattern, reaction instead of proaction ... these are all working in the favor of the person starting the sequence.
OK, so in this situation, however (and in the others I'll hit on), when is it too much, and when is it unsporting, and when is it wrong? Is there a "wrong" or a "too much?"
Playing head games, making small comments, these can be done without treating your opponent with disrespect, and without forcing your opponent into a corner or uncomfortable situation. "Bullying people off their games" is a common activity that is an extreme spin off from this. Calling them on every full movement, making them re-measure everything, bitching about single dice that spin off out of sight (even when they clearly didn't try to have that happen), and generally being an obnoxious douche ... that's not playing head games, it's bullying. It will work on some people who are too timid to fight back, but it invariably speaks less of you. Too much of a "good" thing, as it were. Getting someone so busy defending his actions that he forgets his game plan or abridges it is not the same as subtly worming into his head and watching him change his game plan of his own volition.
So, what are we talking about here ... manipulation? Maybe. If you've followed enough of my articles, you probably know that I HATE being at the mercy of dice.
I love the movement phase - the ability it has to completely change and determine games without relying on dice at all. Similarly, it should be unsurprising that I have a love of trying to master the social interaction of the game - again, no dice. Connecting with your opponent competitively, and socially, changes everything - win or lose you're having fun with a "new friend," and winning and losing becomes more than just "target priority" (that lower tier level of game play that I abhor).
Another important component to the social interaction, and really to play in general is Taking a Hit ... but, after this quick hit about it, I think I'll give it another article altogether ....
In short, however, it revolves around the disturbing rise in "Alpha Strike" armies in this game, and my general distaste for them. When you go to a tournament, how many of you are busy trying to prevent being harmed in a game? Don't take this too literally - you should ALWAYS be trying to make killing units in your army as difficult as possible for your opponent, but how many of you think alpha strike and reserves are the approaches of choice to try and avoid getting harmed AT ALL? Your list is bad.
As the game becomes more balanced across codices (and slowly, but surely, it is), and as players more and more join the "competitive" wave that's going across the country (not in a negative, WAAC way, but in the "I'm willing to build a competitive list and play in tournaments" way), you're going to be facing lists that in every way can and will hurt you. They'll crush your units, blow up your tanks, mess with your mobility and threaten your day. How are you reacting to that? For a bigger article, no doubt.
To this article ...
Ponder what you do socially to assist you in the win.
Ponder what you do socially to connect with your opponent on a level that will ensure the game is fun for YOU whether or not you win.
We've all heard of and even many of us seen games between "hardkoarz competiturs" where the two opponents say almost NOTHING. My games with Alex Fennel and Andrew Sutton at the Battle for Salvation Semi-Finals and Finals were full of laughter, conversation, and gaming at all levels - between our words, our actions, our movements, and our dice. For this, they were better and more fun win OR lose.
I'm a competitor, I guess - and this applies to anyone I wind up playing. I noticed this in my game with Alex. The more you do - using the rules and head games and social interactions and everything - to try and win the game (without being a dick or a bully about it), the more I respect you and the more I'm motivated to do the same. Moreover, the tighter and more competitive the game gets, and the more rewarding it becomes for BOTH of us as it comes down to the very wire. While not quite a "Never give up, never surrender" message, it's a message on what makes a game great - not guys shoving models around, rolling dice, and going "aw shux I guess we'll call it." But, instead, to me ... those "bottom of the 9th 2 outs and runners on base" games, where both players elevate, compete, fight it gritty and nitty, but still smile and laugh their way along - recognizing that just like in ANY game (vs. a sport, or a job), if you're not having fun you're "doing it wrong."