Quirkworthy’s Ramblings: New & Shiny

This article reprinted by kind permission of Ravage magazine.

Whether you play board games or miniature games, if the system you are using has a battlefield or board to fight over then it shares a common set of stages of learning. In broad terms there are three steps, though their edges are blurry and they blend into one another.

Step 1 – the Novice

When you first play a new game it is all you can do to follow the rules. You make mistakes and forget things, and work out afterwards what they were when you re-read the rulebook or talk with your friends. You need to work out the odds of each step carefully, and you worry more about getting the rules right than planning several moves ahead. Depending on the learning curve of the game this period may be one game or a dozen.

Step 2 – the Gamer

Assuming that you continue to play the same game then you will gradually learn the subtleties. After a while you won’t need to calculate the odds, you’ll just have a feeling for the balance of power in an area of the board. In reality, I think you are still calculating, it’s just that you’re now leaving it to your subconscious to do the maths. Of course, you will now be able to work out the rules very quickly if you want to, but what interests me is the feeling or intuition you have gained.

Step 3 – the Veteran

When you play a game for a long time you learn to read the battlefield/board instinctively. You can tell at a glance the balance of power in an area, and trust your sense of what is likely to happen to be right most of the time. You may count the hexes or squares and calculate the odds carefully when it is a close call, but a large part of your strategy is likely to be based on a feeling for where you are weak and where you are strong. This frees you up to think several moves ahead and to construct elaborate plans. You are now so familiar with the rules that you don’t really think about them as rules any more than you think about gravity when you throw a ball.


Use the Force

Oddly, I’ve found over the years that one simple trick can really help understand the game situation, but almost nobody does it. People go through these 3 steps and get really good at their chosen game(s), but then they stop. And for all its skill, it seems that for everyone I have met and discussed this with, there is one thing that the subconscious is rubbish at: turning things upside-down and seeing things from your opponent’s point of view.

For some reason, when you glance at the board, your instinctive judgement is based solely on what you see from where you sit. I suspect this is due to the fact that you spend the whole game sitting on one side, and your subconscious has learned this as the only viewpoint. But there is another.

Stand up, walk around the table and look at the game from the other player’s perspective. Imagine that their force belongs to you. How does your side look now? Again, it is a case of degrees, but far more often than not you will find that a position that you thought was weak may look impregnable (so you can stop worrying), and another that seemed strong may look sievelike and frail (so you can start worrying). Whatever the case it’s unlikely to seem the same.

Sceptical? I’m sure you are. Try it though, and see what happens. After all, it only takes a few moments and it can’t hurt. I’ve suggested this to many people over the years, and whether they were new to gaming or a seasoned veteran of the tournament circuit they almost invariably said they saw things about the game that they never noticed from their own side of the table.

Personally, I find this fascinating, and because it is a subconscious thing, it is somewhat magical to suddenly get a reappraisal of the game from someone (yourself) whose instinct you trust.

So your homework assignment today is to give this a try for yourself. Any tabletop figure game or board game with a positional or “battlefield” type of play area will work, eg Chess, 40K, Dust, Dwarf King’s Hold, Flames of War, etc. It will work better sometimes and worse in others, but it will work.

I look forward to hearing how you get on.


By the way…

Have you ever swapped sides in the middle of a game, just for fun? How did that feel? Was it strange playing against a side whose secret plans you already knew?

Do you listen to your subconscious (your intuition) when you play? Is it more often right or wrong?

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13 Responses to Quirkworthy’s Ramblings: New & Shiny

  1. I often take a lot of photos diring my games of 40k. Although I seldom think about it from a tactical point of view I have often noted that my army looks more menacing from my opponents side, even when I feel I’m being thrashed.

  2. wachinayn says:

    A fantastic advice. Simple but powerful.

    Sometimes what we do is write “kind-of” battle reports in which every player comments on the battle from the viewpoint of the opponent, not him/herself. It’s incredibly refreshing, and an eye-opener.

  3. Willem-Jan says:

    Interesting idea about walking to the other side of the board indeed, particularly with games that require long setup procedures. I rather feel this is generally down to the type of war- of boardgame being played. Larger, regiment-level rule sets are general set on allocating a board side to a player, which is quite often the place you’ll be stuck most of the game as stuff slowly creeps towards the middle.

    Smaller, skirmish-level games seem to invite this kind of behavior a lot more. Most likely out of necessity as there is a lot more precise maneuvering and aiming going on. Games like Mordheim, Mercs, Necromunda and, by the look of things, Deadzone much more invite and even require dynamic player movement. With all the skirmish level games out there that require scenery filled tables miniature gaming might actually become a health activity ; – )

    Switching sides mid game is also interesting, heck I think there might even by a full game hidden in that concept alone. Balancing wins, losses and moves, has a certain chess-like feel to it. Can’t say I’ve actively done this during games (besides switching sides/armies for a second go), though back with the old gaming group we did regularly trade games mid session during the GW’s Storm of Chaos period.

    Quite fun to have 8 people gaming with their own force and than mid-game being challenged by being randomly re-located to another force getting only 5 minutes to brief the new commander of the current situation (though armylists were exchanged the week before the event). Not something I would recommend to everybody, particularly the competitive crowd, but it makes for a very fun tactical change of pace.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I’ve changed sides mid-game a few times in the past, usually when teaching people new armies. When they feel that something is unkillable or entirely useless the easiest way to show them is to put the boot in the other foot 🙂

  4. Rolex says:

    I think that about 1/3 of the decision I make when playing BB are based on what I think my opponent thinks and on how I forsee his future actions.
    A good part of my play and most of my talking is aimed at conditioning his tactical choices in some way.
    My opponents say I use “Jedi Mind Games”.

  5. ph3brickid says:

    Oh no! Where was the blog post for the 21st Jake? 😉

    I’m sure Ronnie’s keeping you busy- he did another QnA on the kickstarter comments this evening. Don’t worry he didn’t add too much to your work load….
    Though the idea of an ‘AI’ deck for a players vs the game was mentioned and Ronnie seemed to like it. 🙂

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I know, I missed one. Not doing so bad overall though, and have even posted twice on a few days.

      I’d already pushed a solo set on him so this is all as expected. Ronnie did, in fact, tell me I didn’t have to do it as it would be a massive heap of extra work, but I want to do it properly. No point in half measures.

  6. sho3box says:

    Jake, have you ever read “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell? It about how powerful the subconscious is when it has the correct information and frames of reference available, plus some of its blind spots. It has a lot of relevance to steps 1-3 and 4 above.

    I find that since I read the book a few years ago I constantly think about aspects of it in relation to gaming and when gaming. Its a good read. Its not a self help book or anything like that, just in case that might scare you off (it would scare me off)


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