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How to win games without losing friends - a basic guide

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Introduction

'For every person who wants to teach there are approximately thirty people who don't want to learn – much.'
Sellar and Yeatman

In this ever-expanding article I will pontificate on tactics in a manner where I pretend to know what I am talking about. I will call it knowledge, but feel free to call it pretentious! I'm going to concentrate on Imperial Guard, but with various discourses on the enemies and allies of the Imperium thrown in for illustration.

Gaming Philosphy

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?'
- Jesus

'Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.'  - Bill Shankly

I  want to talk to you for a moment about competition and winning, a controversial topic, but one which should be confronted. I want to deal with two related questions: Is it okay to want to win? Is there any point playing if the goal isnt to win?

The group who ask the first question, can believe that any attempt to be competitive should be frowned upon especially if it is too effective.  Winning for the sake of winning is right out, expecially if the army resembles something posted on warseer.  The important thing is the fluff, and the modelling and the painting.

The group who ask the second question can believe that the point of the game is to play it, not to spend hours poring over books and figures and paints.  They choose their army based on effectiveness not prettiness.

These two groups of people sit in opposite camps sniping at each other, each thinking the others are inferior to them. Such a dichotomy exists in every club including ours, although fortunately the PCRC are very friendly about it (most of the time).

The problem as always lies in the embracing of the extreme. Most religious philosophies encourage a balance to be sought – e.g. yin and yang. When that balance goes wrong, we all recognise it as wrong (e.g. fundamentalism).  The same is true of gaming and I would argue that you will not get the most out of your games unless you seek to avoid both camps and seek a balance.

On the one hand if you do not desire to win then you deny your opponent anything more than a showcase battle – is it not better to roleplay the battle or create a diorama instead? Or put your models in a glass case? On the other hand if you want to win at all costs then why play at all? Any victory will taste of the ashes of your friendship and defeat will highlight how pointless the battle was as anything other than a tactical learning experience. Winning at all costs should be reserved for competitions with money at stake or actual wars.

In my opinion, the ultimate battle experience is where your goal is to win but within defined restrictions. These restrictions come in the form of principles rather than laws, they are internal rather than external and they will occasionally mean that a game is lost, but that's okay. In the long run they will benefit everyone and if everyone plays by them then everyone starts from a fair footing. 

These principles are based on friendship and community and examples of their use are:

1. Play the game as the rules intended – this will stop your opponent thinking he was cheated.

2. Avoid employing negative psychology (see below).

3. Avoid sniping at an opponent if he naturally falls into the camp opposite to yours (e.g. more or less competitive).

4. Win and lose gracefully – Losing should hurt at least slightly and winning should feel good. If not then see my notes on extremes above.

5. Maintain a friendly level of conversation throughout the game. The person currently winning could reaffirm how lucky he has been – this takes the edge off a little, even if it is lying sometimes.

6. Both players should use either general armies or tailored armies. Terrain should be mutually agreed.

If you want to win at all costs you are reading the wrong article: Go and visit Dakka Dakka or the best winning website I have ever read: David Sirlin's site (www.sirlin.net) If you do not want to win, then stop playing games and stick to collecting and reading. If you have destroyed your desire to win because you lose too often – then shame on you for chickening out!

The rest of this artcile will deal with how to win within the above highlighted self-imposed restrictions as well as general tactical advice..

Denial of Use

'Please nerf rock, it is too powerful. Paper is fine. Sincerely, Scissors.' Wisdom of Warseer

I won my first local 40k Tournament using this tactic, and it has served me well. Combined arms in 40k gives you enough flexibility to respond to any threat and so on the whole this strategy will tend to work well. However, the principle of 'Paper, Scissors, Stone' means that this concept can be manipulated to your advantage.

By presenting your opponent with only one type of unit to shoot at you deny him the full use of weapons that he has paid points to use on another unit type. In the tournament I used only infantry with Sv5+. All high AP weapons were points-ineffective against me. Autocannons (and even to an extent heavy bolters) were overpriced when used against my forces. Offensively, I carried a mix of weapons to neutralise any threat and naturally brought them to bear on units which could cause me the most damage – such as fast close combat units with a large number of attacks, or large template weapons with a low AP such as Whirlwinds. 

I was Scissors with a paper, rock and scissors arsenal. Even if I had faced a 'rock' force tailored to kill my cheap AP5 shooting units then I could rest assured that a force which was skewed to defeat me would fall to the other armies. This means I could afford to lose to anyone who did this.

With the cover rules of 5th edition, this tactic has fallen in effectiveness a little. However, the general principle remains intact..

Predictability

'Scientists are the easiest to fool. They think in straight, predictable, directable, and therefore misdirectable, lines. The only world they know is the one where everything has a logical explanation and things are what they appear to be. Children and conjurors--they terrify me. Scientists are no problem; against them I feel quite confident.'
Zambendorf, Code of the Lifemaker by James P. Hogan

When creating your army list you may decide to simply make one and not change it, or you canbuild in flexibility. Either way, if you know your opponent you can either prepare by changing your army list or by using your standard list effectively. You can prepare using a bit of guess work on your opponent.

A quick note: Do not be fooled into thinking that your opponent whose army list changes is a better tactician if yours doesnt.  A better strategist perhaps as he has rigged the game (using fairly written rules) in his favour by balancing his army against you.

Some opponents are more predictable than others.  People who are desperate to win are often (but not always) even more predictable.

What will your opponent take.  If this was 4th edition last codex eldar then you could probably rightly assume that he will take three underpriced wraithlords.  His predictability allows you to gain the upperhand for you can take three squads of ratling snipers in response for example, respond, win.

He knows he is playing against guard, he takes a whirlwind and a heavy bolter devastator squad for deep cover, you take a callidus assasin or DS stormtroopers to take it out, respond, win.

In the same thinking, behave unpredictably.  Apologist is particularly good at that.  Why are you moving all of your guard forward?  Guard dont move they sit and wait, wait a minute you just took all the objectives!  Respond, win. 

Redundancy

"No plan survives first contact with the enemy" - Lord Macharius

Another Apologist inspired tactic.  Its simple really:

Always take 3 units to do one job.  Preferably task one unit with multiple possible redundant jobs.  Thereby you confuse your enemy and stop him from taking out whole units as he distributes his fire trying to create a weakness.

If you have a devastator squad for anti tank then that is a dead squad.  If you have 5 guard squads for anti tank then you will probably still have half of them by the end of the game doing the job they were tasked with.

Spread risk, concentrate fire.

Mobility in 5th Edition

"When Solomon said there was a time and a place for everything he had not encountered the problem of parking his [car]. "
-Bob Edwards

Mobility is the most potent weapon in at least 2/3 of 5th edition games if not more.  It is no coincidence that all recent, new and rumoured codices contain fast vehicles, trukks, falcons, landspeeder transports and the rumoured Valkyrie for guard.  Firepower causes casualties, mobility wins you games.

Why? The need to get your troops on objectives is so overriding that a point has finally been reached when you can actually use elites and heavy support choices as distraction or fodder.  These units are still essential but only for clearing off objectives and killing your opponents troops choices.

I played a game aganist Eldar recently where I had killed his troops choices by turn 4, limiting his best choice in the game to a draw.  He killed almost my entire army exept for a lone chimera with a troops choice inside which avoided death, popped a few smoke launchers and sat on a free objective in the final turn.  I won the game.  If it was VP or KP, then he would have won by a very clear margin but it was not and this is why mobility won.  I actually used my leman russes as cannon fodder.

Killing is only important in objective games where it achieves the aim of clearing objectives for your troops choices and the sooner this is grasped, the more games will be won.  This is incidentally why it is important for as much of the rest of your army to be mobile as possible - to protect objectives and your troops choices.

Psychology

"All warfare is based on deception. There is no place where espionage is not used. Offer the enemy bait to lure him."

-Sun Tzu Tun, The Art of War

There are several websites out there offering advice on how to win using all sorts of clever psychological techniques.  This is fine for tournament play but not fine where you still want to be friends with the person you are playing at the end of the game and so I am simply going to gloss over tactics that involve this.  Examples include: some sort of non friendly intimidation or luring a player into making a mistake by hassling him for time.

Beards and Bad Psychology

The first thing I am going to say though ironically will not help your game at all but will make it more fun for everybody.  Do not try to win the game using rules which feel counter intuitive, avoid at all costs.  Examples of this include:

1. Finding loopholes in whether something can claim an objective

2.  Complaining that everything your opponent takes is 'beardy' until he takes units which you can kill

A quick note on 'beardy'.  I believe this phrase is used more often by someone who doesnt like losing to your armies unit choices than to a tactic which is genuinely unpleasant.  I would save such slander for moments when games are genuinely killed by a tactic and ruined (eg first turn charges), over an objection to a unit type (eg the old 3 wraithlords tactic - see predictability)

3. Abusing rules which were meant for one thing to do another thing which is frowned upon by the rules. eg in fantasy using guess weapons to fire into close combat (skaven excluded).

I do not feel like I need to list anymore, if you are into this sort of thing then the key is a change of attitude, NOT an adherence to a new set of rules with some new loopholes.  Winning through the self imposed limitation of retaining friends and having a good game is so much better than just winning.

Good Psychology

"A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. Though effective, appear to be ineffective. "
-Sun Tzu Tun, The Art of War

In the above quote, dont forget that the reverse is also true.  Much can be won on the basis of assumptions.  Make a gigantic huge demon prince or ork warboss, buy him a little bit of protection and nothing else and use him entirely as a distraction.  Big him up before the game, lament every wound he takes and ultimately let him die.  He wasnt important and he was cheap so while your enemy was concentrating fire and moving to react to him, you were busy taking objectives and winning the game.  The incompetent appears competent.

Trust me in the heat of battle I am much more tempted to shoot a true scale marine than a regular one!

Similarly make your effective units small and subtle and spring them as a trap when you are ready.

Imperial guard command squads geard up for combat.  What!?! you say? Theoryhammer says they are overpriced and innefective, nobody takes them!  Many a game I have won by using my command squad to scout or counter charge in a way which is completely unexpected and sometimes game winning.  (Colonel Martial has I dont know how many jetbike kills due to them moving in to gun them down and not expecting counter charge).

My one caveat is that you will have just wasted a load of points if your opponent knows what you are doing and is psychologically aware so be careful.

Finally, given an equal choice, try to shoot your opponents favourite unit.  If you succeed then he may go on a revenge spree and forget about the objective.  If you are feeling particularly nasty (possibily a bit of a gray area tactic), then encourage him to roleplay his race a bit.  Orks dont hide, Nids dont care about objectives etc.