Tag Archives: Sun Tzu

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…..

Conventions in Gaming – Terrain

Sun Tzu in his critically acclaimed, nobel peace prize winning, magnum opus “The Art of War” espouses that the greatest of Generals use terrain to their advantage in order to win battles and by doing this it is possible to win a battle against a more numerous enemy. We’ve all seem movies or documentaries from the ancient world whereby Phalanxes line up opposite each other and then go at it, but even in battles of yore such as the famed Thermopylae terrain was used to great effect to reduce the impact that the Persians outnumbered the Greek forces opposing them.

So it is with our tabletop games, whereas there are those armies that would love to have a battlefield devoid of any terrain in order to have charge/fire lanes available to them it is not only unrealistic but actually takes a lot of fun out of the game. Even games like Uncharted Seas which take place on the oceans are not devoid of terrain, an island or peninsula can dramatically alter the ebb and flow of a game as well as increasing the number of strategic options available to a General. How you utilise the terrain in order to provide cover or interrupt line of sight can have a large impact on how emerges the victor once the dust of combat has settled.

However, just as good terrain placement can produce an interesting and fun game, so the opposite is also true, a game with bad terrain placement can actually decide a battle before the first turn starts and can mean that one side, if not both, end up playing something that is dull and boring. Something along the lines of you’d rather spend the time you just played by volunteering to be the patient for a Dental student’s first root canal and they’ve run out of anaesthetic. I’d like to give specific proof of this for a game I had around three years ago that still sticks in my memory for all the wrong reasons. OK, this wasn’t a typical game, but still, things could have gone better. It was around the time when Hordes was coming up for release. We already had some stuff for Warmachine in our gaming circle and decided to take a two Warpack starters from Hordes up against one appropriately sized force from Warmachine. So it was that me trying out Legion alongside Trolls went up against a sizeable Khador force. I can’t remember the details behind how we went about setting up the terrain but I remember that our Khadoran opponent just placed a line of building that separated the battlefield in two halves with a small gap in the centre. We were playing a caster kill game and I know that I wasn’t happy when I saw the terrain, it very favourably suited the Khador stuff and I know that I should have said, “no, we can’t play like this, the game will be purely dictated by how that terrain is placed to the detriment of the game.” However, I held my tongue and we played the game, and yup, we got spanked. Not because we were bad players but because the terrain was that horrible the game ran exactly how I knew it would and nothing we could do compensated for that. I know that real life battles aren’t always fought over ideal terrain, one side normally has an advantage, but we’re not talking real combat here, we are talking about a game that is supposed to be fun for all players, this wasn’t.

Therefore, whenever I set up terrain before a game, or when I setup during a game opposite my opponent I always try and make the placement fair for both sides. I actually have pretty good luck in ending up on the side of the battlefield that I want but still, I don’t want the odds stacked in my favour before the first dice has been rolled. In Warhammer 40,000 I like a decent amount of cover to protect my Orks approach (to be honest though there are enough bodies in those units to provide a kind of cover all their own) while Servitob’s Space Marines love nice open fields where they can see and shoot anything approaching them. A balance between the two provides us both with options in how we deploy and move our forces and advantages that we can exploit in bringing the armies to bear.

Games like Warmachine and Hordes also have spells and actions that allow you to create your own terrain, this is when you can obviously try to stack those odds in your favour, but these things don’t tend to stick around the entire game and are therefore carefully balanced. Usually you also have things to counter those kinds of abilities in some flavour.

We use terrain to give variety to the otherwise bland tables we fight across, they add colour and extra options that we need to factor into our plans. They also add to the fun of the game and if you are the one that uses the terrain to your advantage, so much the better. Just as Sun Tzu taught that terrain use is a major aspect of battles, so it should be with us, whether home-made or bought from a store using terrain to spice up the fields or setup specific venues is a great way to keep the hobby fresh and interesting. I’ve been fortunate enough to have bought a lot of terrain recently. The new stuff that Games Workshop is producing is of really good quality and I have a 64 litre storage box full of the stuff with more on the assembly line. As the possibility of a Planetstrike 40k game looms for Saturday I will tonight be putting the finishing touches to my Skyshield Landing Platform, I then have a Bastion to assembled that I want to convert with all manner of Orkiness. It’s having little things like this that helps to motivate me while playing. Terrain is something I feel I can never have enough of (that and Ork Boyz) and I am always willing to fork out some green on pieces I like the look of. We should never take our terrain for granted, nor see it as a necessary evil. Properly used terrain is as much a part of the game as the models in our army and in fact, if you really plan out your battles, terrain is another unit in your army if used correctly, in most cases though it won’t deep strike and lay waste to stuff!

Hopefully the next time you stare across a war torn battlefield, before or after a game, you can have a new found appreciation for those hills, craters, fences, ruins or whatever you have. Things would be a lot more boring without them.