Hacking the Cortex: Tempo, Tempo.




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I’ve been thinking a lot this week about “my playstyle”. “Playstyle” is one of those elusive concepts in gaming that you hear a lot, but is often difficult to pin down. It was only this week that I actually figured out what mine was, even after years of playing to that style in CCGs, Wargames, and basically every other kind of game that would allow it.

The problem with nailing down my playstyle was that there was an apparent contradiction in it. On one hand, I love to play highly aggressive decks/lists. I like to blitz opponents with fast moving, low cost, low value troops – hence Cryx. But at the same time, my other favourite kind of build is hard control – Deneghra2 being a prime (or epic, aha) example. In discussions of playstyle, aggro and control are generally considered to be polar opposites. But I’m a psychologist, I’m used to being presented with apparent opposites and figuring out what their common thread is (Nature and Nurture, anyone? The common thread is Selection, by the way). So I set to work trying to figure it out.

And of course, it was obvious when it hit me.

Both of those styles are, at their core, about dictating the tempo of the game.

How have I missed that for years?

I’m always quick to talk about how good blitz/swarm strategies are all about tempo, but it somehow eluded me that my love for hard control came from the same place. In a nutshell, nearly every list I build is about dictating to my opponent the way in which they need to play the game, and the pace they have to do that at. Deneghra dictates that the opponent overcommit or lose on scenario, and even when they choose option A, you blunt their assault with a feat that says “no progress for you this turn.” The Bane Rider based lists I’m playing around with at the moment are about presenting threat to the enemy’s half of the board and saying “I dictate when and where the first kill happens.” Swarm lists dictate tempo by forcing the opponent to start killing early, which impacts their ability to get a grip on the board space.

Tempo’s one of those difficult concepts to write about. Even with diagrams and pretty pictures, it’s difficult to explain to someone – it’s one of those things that has to be demonstrated, and even then, people don’t always see it. In a wargame, it’s even harder to see than in a CCG, as tempo isn’t actually just about time in a wargame – it’s about space, too. If you can control the space your opponent has available, you also dictate the actions he can take. If you jam up the board, he has to take time (attacks) to make space, and then take run actions to get into that space – but a good swarm doesn’t allow the second thing to happen. If you threaten a time walk, the opponent needs to take up space to prevent that tempo loss from costing you on scenario.

Knowing this about my playstyle has given me something new to focus on. I’ve had a good year of improvement in my game, and I’m eagerly looking for that next level up. I wasn’t sure which aspect of the game I should focus on next, but I think “Trying to develop a good, explicable Theory of Tempo” is going to be it. Writing out my thinking on “the mental game” throughout this series was hugely useful in improving it in myself – you don’t really understand something until you’ve had to explain it. And so, in order to improve on something I’ve been unconsciously good at, to bring it to the next level, I feel I need to figure out how to explain the elusive concept of Tempo.

Bear with me, the next few weeks are going to be rambly, as I develop my thinking on it. Hopefully it’ll end with a definitive article that actually explains the concept well enough to teach it to someone.

Know Yourself, and Go In Swinging (like a pendulum)

I_Avian/ Anthony

3 thoughts on “Hacking the Cortex: Tempo, Tempo.

  1. If its a help at all, look into a few historical definitions of tempo from a military perspective – Clausewitz and Soviet doctrine are a decent start. COL Boyd’s OODA loop is also a good place to look to understand the impact of tempo. US military theory since the late 80s has focused on disrupting the enemy’s decision cycle as a strategic form of tempo. Currently defined by the US Army, tempo – The relative speed and rhythm of military operations over time with respect to the enemy. (ADRP 1-02, ADRP 3-0)

    It seems a simplistic definition, but it leaves open a wide latitude of ways to implement the concept of disrupting decision cycles in order to maintain a position of relative advantage.

    Basically I’d guide you to an understanding of tempo which focuses upon your ability to frame your opponent’s decision making process.

  2. Bam, he’s back! My ears are all perked. I play Skorne, so this is probably weird to say, but I’ve been describing my style as “setting the tempo” for quite some time. I don’t have any control casters and minimal denial options, but I do have a very well-rounded set of model choices, so when I go about trying to control the tempo of the game, I don’t have the fallback of “pop feat, screw you!” or “an endless horde of cheap, dangerous models” which I think gives me a different look at the tempo theory of play. I completely agree that setting tempo is all about dictating choices. A friend of mine (who is a much better chess player than I, and a quite clever warmachine player, though certainly the only Cryx player I’ve ever heard say “Skorne OP!”) told me once that winning chess is often about dictating your opponent’s actions – if you know what they are going to do, you can plan for that choice, and then defeat it. Anyway, rather than write my own article in the comments section, I’ll toss some gristle into the mill.

    How do you consider positioning (yours and opponent’s) when trying to set the tempo of the game? What do you consider your key “tempo pieces?” What’s your fallback; when your opponent has a choice you didn’t see? Sometimes your opponent has all the answers or can set the tempo better, what do you do when you’re on the back foot?

    Looking forward to this series of articles!

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