Conventions in Gaming – Losing


Hopefully this post does not come across as a list of excuses for why I lost the Warhammer Fantasy game I played against Gribblin on Saturday. Among out gaming group I am said to have a reputation for not taking losing well, I hope that it is different from not being gracious in defeat. Sure, I’m not a great fan of getting my butt whooped but I’d like to think that I can at least not be a total tool about it, we’ll see if anything from my compatriots confirms or denies this in the comments section.

No matter how experienced you are, nor how beardy your army may be, the time will come when you will lose a battle. This may be down to a poor decision you made at some critical juncture, excellent play on the part of your opponent or a desertion by the dice gods where the fickle strands of fate conspire to frustrate and annoy. Sometimes, it may even be a combination of all three. There are some players who enjoy large streaks of wins or those who seem to never lose, however, they will at some point have experienced the emotional lows of seeing your carefully chosen force of Elves/Goblins/Atomic Supermen crushed into the earth either during their early days of playing or during the time they were learning to play the army that now rules with an iron fist across the tabletop. As much as we hate to lose (or take it on the chin in the case of some players) losing is inevitable when the games we play actually do have a large element of chance built in.

In many ways you can actually contemplate that losing is far and away more valuable than winning. Yes we all like to come away from a game having won, for some it is the sole reason for play, whereas others take their enjoyment from the game irrespective of the result. I’d like to think that I fit in the middle ground here, I don’t play exclusively to win and am happy to have fun games and hence will create army lists that are challenging but also do not need to shave three times a day. So, why then is losing sometimes better than winning. Let’s take a look;

Our games aren’t just about pushing little pieces of plastic or metal around, heck we all buried enough army men in our youth beneath the sand to be guilty of war crimes, things have moved on since those heady days of carefree existence. Tabletop games allow us to expand and use our intelligence, we play the part of generals marshalling our forces across battlefields far and wide. Within our world we are Napoleons or Sun Tzu’s. As losing tends to come a lot while we are learning a game you can extrapolate some valuable points from that time. When we win we generally rejoice in having beaten our opponent, hopefully we do not gloat (apart from some good natured taunting of course). However, when we lose we replay the events of the battle and analyse where we believe that we went wrong. Yes, sometimes the dice just happen to hate you some days, but that doesn’t mean that you can roll over and blame a loss purely on the vagaries of fate. Even in such circumstances where it may be easy to say you were cheated you can still learn valuable lessons if you are willing to look over all the moves that were made, targeting decisions, what your overall plan was etc… It is in defeat that we all become better players. If one were to win every single time you played then you would learn little about improvements you could make. Yet, when soundly thrashed for any of the aforementioned reasons you sit back and take stock of what happened, looking to reduce the weaknesses and enhance your strengths, making changes to strategy for the next time you see that opponent across the battlefield.

Now, the really good gamers also do this kind of analysis after a win. It may be easy to revel in the highs of victory but there is always room for improvement, was that spell lore ideal for this game really, was that magic item load out as useful as you thought, does that unit really perform as well as it needs to? These are all questions that can be asked to either player at the end of a game and both should be looking at things to up their game for the next time. This may sound horribly hardcore, but I don’t believe it is. Most humans have a drive to get better at the things they do, this doesn’t necessarily extend to all spheres within a person’s life, but if you’re getting thumped time after time in a tabletop game you’re going to want to get better in order to experience victory and hopefully some miniature revenge on the guy that’s been doing the thrashing.

If you’ve got someone in your gaming group that is not given over to humility when he wins then administering a good kicking (across the tabletop please, no physical violence encouraged here) the next time you meet may well turn out to be all the sweeter and hopefully he will learn something by that defeat too.

It is when we are forced to wallow in the crucible of loss that we can really find our feet with our respective forces and while this can be a metaphor for life as well, learning from your mistakes is always a valuable skill and therefore losing a game every once in a while is no bad thing. I applaud those who play for the enjoyment they get from a good game spent with (hopefully) good friends, I had a fun game despite getting thumped. So, until next time, I have some army books to pour over…. next time Gribblin………….next time…..

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