Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chess Lessons in 40K

Or how I'm trying not to be a douche while gaming.

Inspired by the BoLS post by goatboy in which he talks about having fun with the game, I started thinking about my own flaws when it comes to tabletop gaming. For the record, I really like goatboy's posts on BoLS and look forward to them. He's got some great things to say about the hobby and seems like he's found a way to balance competitive playing with having fun.

Huh. Seems like I forgot about that hilarious leaping ability.

In my own personal gaming style, I know I've got some ways to go before I'm that guy that people love to play against. I think I'm a good, fun player and a decent host, but I do have some faults and I'm really trying not to indulge in them! One of my faults is that I participate in the metagame-disruption tactics without even meaning to do it. For example, when an opponent makes a move that not only surprises me, but I think is less than optimal, I'll make a sound like "huh." It comes so naturally that until a friend called me on it, I didn't even notice I was doing it! Once he pointed it out, I could see how it was rather obnoxious and metagame-disruptive!

I think the habit comes from my youthful days of playing on the chess team. In competitive chess, you'd keep careful notations of a game with every opponent so that later you can go back and review what you did right and where it all went terribly wrong. In addition to the game tracking, you'd also apply short hand notes next to a move, like "?" or a "!". The "?" represents a move that really threw you off (though it can also mean bad move) and you can't see why your opponent would do it. The "!" was when your opponent pulled a brilliant move that you didn't see coming and ruined your day.

When playing chess with teammates/friends, I'd say "huh" and note the "?" in the tracker. Actually, more often than not, they'd do it to me as I was an average player that made lots of mistakes. It was just a verbal signal to the other player that I might ask about this later so try and remember the why. The critical step is that you didn't interrupt the game to ask why...you're supposed to be playing competively!

The practice was all about learning how to be a better player by learning from your opponent's thinking. I'm by no means the best 40k player ever, but I am competitive (some might say "really" competitive!), so I try to optimize my moves on the board to win the game. If the person across the table does something that throws me for a loop, I can't help wondering why and I have trouble suppressing the urge to be all like "What are you thinking here?". That's when the "huh" sound pops out and I participate in the metagame disruption! My friends understand that signal to mean "bad move, sucker," so they second guess their next move or they feel thrown off (or just write it off as Cawshis being a douche again!).

I just want to say that I don't mean "bad move, sucker!" It's more "what's the plan here? I figured you'd do something else!" Imagine a battlefield and the Space Marine captain is getting signals about enemy troop movements and he sees the latest report and he thinks "What is that damned Farseer up to? What did I miss?" I'm just trying to get into your head to determine your next step. And, also, to be honest, sometimes I'm also thinking "gosh. that's not what I would've done in your shoes…why'd you do it?"

I wonder what's the best way in a friendly game to make it so that you can exchange these "?" or "!" moments in play without sounding like you're being critical or mocking?

Charging these Tau was AWESOME!!! They barely Fight at all!

It's easy to remember the "!" moments. These "!" moments are when both sides of the table are all like "that was awesome!" and you celebrate them right away or talk about them while packing up. They're one of the reasons why we play 40k (along with the strategy and hobby fun!). I don't think any friendly game group has trouble talking about the cool stuff! Amazing rolling. Unlikely victories. Neat tactics. That's the next best part about a day hanging out playing 40K with friends!

What worked for the Tau doesn't work for the Orks.

But how do you bring up the"?" moments in play? Do you ask at the end? Do you ask while playing and give the player the opportunity to take it back? How competitive do you keep a friendly game (by not asking), but still allow for opportunities to learn how to play better (by asking)? Is every friendly game an "open game" where all moves are discussed? Do you set up "learning games" with friends to try out new army configs or units?

I don't have the answer, but I'm sure now that going "huh" in play isn't the way to do it! How do you talk tactics and strategy in a game without infringing on the fun of the competition? Do you separate the two types of game and make it clear? What personal flaws are you working on to ensure gaming with friends stays fun?


natsirtm said...

Nice article, I keep thinking I should make notes during my games, it would serve multiple purposes - helping me or my friends get better, make it easy to write up batreps, not forgetting vital things as once you write down "I'm an idiot.. blah blah blah" it's probably much easier to remember. Good read, two thumbs up!

Andy said...

Nice post, i'm fairly new to the gaming so i enjoy the debrief at the end because during the game i'm to busy thinking rules. Once i get the rules clearer i'm sure the tactics will improve.
I know the dice have a lot to do with your luck but you still want to limit the "?" moments.

eriochrome said...

I have asked the questions in the game during friendly games and made suggestions during mind move if I think the opponent is doing something less than optimal for them. I am hardly a top level player so sometimes they continue on while sometimes they follow my suggestion.

I do not do that in Tournaments since those are supposed to be compatetive

sovietspace said...

That was a really interesting post, I love the concept of '?' & '!' moments. I know exactly what you mean, and thats a really good way of describing it!

To answer your question, I tend not to have a problem with visibly showing when I've seen a '?' moment. I think thats helpful for me; it gives you opponents no clue as to what you thinking, and it also disguises your own thoughts of (as you said) 'What the hell have I missed!!?'.

However, post-game, I always think its really good to discuss what both you and your opponent thought went well/wrong. Even in really competitive play its a good idea. How else will either of you learn otherwise!?