Thursday, November 4, 2010

Head Games in a Tournament Setting - Bully40k, Taking a Hit, Other Important Notes

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."


  1. Game Theory and Sportsmanship. Topics near and dear to my heart. +1

  2. ...and this is why I still read you, nearly every time you post.

    Mike, you have a way of treating a subject that makes reasonable discussion possible where others would have just created flame bait.

    Personally, it messes with me more when someone is an absolute brick. No talk, no banter tends to get under my skin in a way that even bullying cannot. I hope it doesn't affect my actions too much, but it does change my reactions a bit. Where I'd let a nice guy or a chatty guy get away with a little flub here or there (like a do-over), I'm less likely to let that happen from a bully or a brick. It was never a conscious choice for a long time, but someone called me on it, and I've noticed that it's true.

  3. Yeah unfortunately there are people like this who make the game so unfun to play .


  4. And this is why I think I'll never be a ultimate top tier competitor. I'm about as unsubtle as anyone can be and my moves are pretty obvious.

    One of the better generals in the Seattle area, Zen, has beaten me more than anyone else, and its due almost entirely to his ability to push my buttons and lure me into stupid decisions.

    My emotional connection to the game is probably my biggest weakness.

  5. It's not true Fluger is a cold robotic type player he would just as soon slit your throat than let you have any advantage in a game. J/K Fluger is fun to play with.

    @Mike I loved the post. Great read. Mike do you think you could win a GT without playing SM SW IG or BA?

  6. "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.""

    Word. I've only called one game in the last six months and that was an absolute 'I might be able to figure this out if it was casual and I had space to walk away and think, but it's the last round of a timed tournament and I can't plan my way out of this and execute in six minutes' affair. Almost all the others have either panned out as I'd predicted and offered a learning experience, or surprised me, and that's cool.

    I agree, as well, that there's nobody who's above this sort of thing; even the stolid, intense types have adopted that persona as a means of coping with the pressure of system and opponent, and of projecting a kind of 'why can't I break you!' effect towards opponents who use gamesmanship themselves. (I have no idea if that's valid psychology, but it seems to make sense).

    Personally, I have no kind of poker face whatsoever; far too much the roleplayer/storyteller/drama teacher to manage that. Hiding the tells doesn't work for me, so I do my best to throw out some noise into the signal, a bit like your "sorry chaps, but you're in the list to die". Never mislead on a rules interaction - don't say you're running when you mean moving - but always, always, disguise your intentions.

  7. There are definitely similarities between high-level games of Magic, 40k, and WSOP - it does come down to reading and influencing the other players. There is randomness with the dice or card draws, but those probably cover at most a 20% swing in the game. After that, every percentage point counts.

  8. Lackeylsk - Dakkadakka forumNovember 5, 2010 at 7:24 AM

    I really do like this article. I have actually recently been introduced to warhammer 40k within the past year. Had a lot of friends playing for a long time and one night they needed an 8th player.. made me play and I am stuck. I love tactics, the competition, but Like you said it is all about having fun.

    Winning or losing neither matter when you play this game as a hobby. I am building a Nid army and other then having to hand make 1/3 of the codex I am still absolutely excited about getting to a point to where I can start going to tournaments. I have been competitive all my life.. I think I am going to love the tournament scene. But if you come a crossed those that are not in it to have fun.. it does take away from what it really is... just a game.

    I just gotta find some good tournaments around Kansas City, Mo. hrmmm any advice... or jjust check a game shop?

  9. Come to the NOVA Open ... :)

    Oh wait, MO ... no idea; look around for game shops, groups, clubs, etc. Get to know people, ones who play the same way as you ... be affable/sociable, and look for more than just semi-strangers to game with. The most competitive guys I play with are also some of my closest friends. We go out drinking, socializing, weddings, yatta yatta ... it's not just 40k.

  10. Lackeylsk - Dakkadakka forumNovember 5, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    Yeh I have quite a few friends that play. I am not afraid to meet people and play with strangers. Social is the only way to be.

    Just wondering if any big tournaments are around this way. Is there any sites that tend to post some of the major tournaments or larger tourneys.

    Not sure how they typically run overall.

  11. Tell me, I can eat your pudding...

  12. @Lackeylsk - This summer I'm putting on the Bugeater GT up in Omaha, just a 3 hour drive away.

    Based on Mike's format, too. I hope you can make it up!

  13. Lackeylsk dakkadakka forumsNovember 6, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    @ Tim.. I may very well do that. I should have some things squared away around then and hopefully be able to have a decent Toury army built.

    I have friend that lives in Omaha so I know I could have a place to crash.

    Keep hitting me up on it. Find me on the dakka dakka forums and I will send you my email.