Part 3: Playing Different
It’s been a great week, everybody! This weekend just gone we played a team tournament at the local games shop in Dublin. The two Republic of Ireland WTC Teams, along with Team Northern Ireland, played against three “Mercenary” teams from the Irish meta. The atmosphere was fantastic, and I think it was the biggest tournament we’ve had in the shop. I’ll tell you one thing, a surefire way to ensure that you will take responsibility for your behaviour at a tournament is to write a series of articles on sportsmanship on a blog which most of your friends will read! Not willing to be branded as a hypocrite I naturally had to take my own advice, and I had a ball. As well as that, I went 2-1, which is my best tournament record to date!
Now I’ll admit that I was back to playing my Kreoss1 and Kreoss3 lists, with which I have months of practice, and as we’ve discussed before it’s easier to stay positive when you win a few games. But the determination to stay positive helped me to see my way to a win in my last round, and to keep my head up when an unwise quarter-of-an-inch movement brought an assassination crashing down on my head in the second round. The extra element that a team tournament brings was a help too, it mitigates your losses to know that your loss could be part of the overall strategy, and it keeps you from preening when you know that your win is just one and your team needs your support.
So as we’ve discussed before, the mid-to-low tables are not the traditional home of great sporting attitudes. Whether it’s because there is less expectation of it in Warmachine and Hordes as a whole, or because the pressure to avoid last place makes people focus on their gaming rather than their attitude, there is a definite slump that goes once you lose your first round. Let’s look at how I think such a slump could be avoided. Some of the stuff below is going to be pretty critical, so please remember I apply all this advice to myself as well and I don’t consider myself an expert in good sportmanship by any stretch of the imagination!
Watching The Things You Gave Your Life To Broken – Keeping Chipper
First things first, my advice is not going to be: “it’s just a game, so it doesn’t matter”. Let’s not beat around the bush: it is, and it doesn’t. But that’s not my advice in this instance. If you’re in a tournament setting, you want to do well. There are players who come along to tournaments who do so just to play some games and have a laugh with whatever ridiculous thing they’ve brought. Those are not the players who need any advice in how to be good sports. Usually those players are the ones who bring a bit of brightness and fun to the lower tables, the sole beams of sunshine in an otherwise dreary landscape. But the majority of players would like to end up in the top 10, or at the very least not to end up in last place.
Fact is, somebody has to end up in last place, and it could be you. It’s been me once or twice, and in the past it wasn’t a great feeling. But at SteamStorm I had enjoyed every one of my games, and even though sometimes I played like an absolute donkey it was still good craic. I attribute that to the great atmosphere of players from all over Europe coming together and being determined to have a good time. At your usual weekend tournament at the local game shop it can feel like there’s a stratified order of the playerbase and some people are just in that bottom half. Hopefully the exact order shifts around a bit, because nobody wants to lose all the time. The important thing to remember though, is that tournament rankings are about how you performed that day, not the player that you are all the time. Divorcing your sense of self-worth from how you perform in a tournament is the first step towards adopting a more relaxed attitude and making the games you participate in a better place for you and your opponent.
So how do you keep cheerful when you’ve been losing all day. Some people I’ve seen adopt a “fuck it, it doesn’t matter so let’s just muck in” approach. This seems affable enough at first but it often devolves into “why are you being a stickler about this, it doesn’t matter” response, so the player’s sense of underlying gloom is not well-masked. I would prefer it if the approach was “okay, so we’ve both lost a few games, let’s have fun with this and play a good game”. Let’s make the lower-ranked games less of a desperate scramble to avoid last place and more of an opportunity to play someone on your level who enjoys the game as much as you do. Enjoying the game on its own merits as I discussed in the last article, rather than as a way to rate yourself as a player of the game.
There’s a piece of advice that sounds like something your mam would say, but it’s very true: “If you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing at all”. Muttering under your breath, cursing your dice rolls, celebrating your opponent’s poor luck, is right out. It takes a level of awareness, but if you can think back on the last ten minutes of play and everything you’ve said has been negative, maybe it’s time you should take a short break in the fresh air. Or just take a deep breath and assess how annoyed the game is making you and dial your emotions back a notch. The dice probably aren’t out to get you, they’re little polyhedral bits of plastics which you have no control over unless you’re cheating, so let them roll and take it on the chin.
If worst comes to worst and you’re across from an opponent with a face like someone shat in their breakfast cereal and they’re being gruff or rude or whatever, remember the most important thing: You’re there to have a good time, and nobody should take that away from you. If a game seems like an ordeal, remember it’s only two hours of your life, after which you will hopefully have a better opponent or at least be able to have a relaxing pint. At least if we start to build a better play environment at the mid-to-low tables then having a better opponent may be a hope rather than a grim impossibility. Let’s see some smiles and enjoyment of games rather than the accustomed tension and irritation!
Filling the Unforgiving Minute – Altering Your Behaviour
Now that we’ve covered the question of attitude, it’s time to look at how we can proactively be better sports and more pleasant opponents when we play Warmachine and Hordes. Some of these are general ideas about being a good opponent, and some are specific to Warmachine. I wanted to make these separate to playing the game so a lot of them are about how you should behave when you’re not the active player. There’s plenty of advice elsewhere on how you can play the game better, so here’s some advice on how you can be a better opponent!
Treat your opponent like a human being – If you’re in a shop, and you go up to the till, you meet the shop assistant’s eyes, exchange pleasantries and thank them for their help (maybe I’m making assumptions, but in Ireland society has not broken down past this point yet). This is the base level of interaction that good manners demands, for what is probably a thirty-second interaction. If you’re playing a game of Warmachine against someone, you’re in it for around two hours. At the very least, learn the other person’s name! I think the rock-bottom of interaction between two players at a tournament should be an introduction if you don’t know each other already, a rudimentary chat about how the day has been going so far, agreement over what the terrain on the board is, and then list selection and all that stuff. And please please please wish them “Good luck”. Something I’ve overheard people at SteamStorm say was “May your dice rolls be average”. I get it, but it seems to have a churlish element to it!
Pay attention – There are so many distractions in this crazy modern world of ours, the average person carries about three of them on their person at all times. But for two hours at a time, your attention should be on your game. However entertaining the games right next to you seem, be polite and keep your focus on your own. I’ve had games where I have had to interrupt conversations between my opponent and a third party to announce things in my own turn. Your opponent and you are in this game together, it should be a shared experience you both enjoy.
Allow for error – Our minds are fickle things, and in an atmosphere like a Warmachine game where there are so many elements to juggle and remember at times the things which we mustn’t do get mixed up with the things that seem like a good idea. How many times can you target the same model with Stealth before it will finally sink in? How long before your warcaster finds themselves attacking a Hero’s Tragedy’d model even though your opponent reminded you of it not twenty seconds ago? Try not to jump down your opponent’s throat when they do something like this. Certainly don’t add extra rules to the game which don’t exist, that impose extra penalties on your opponent for targeting un-targetable things, for example. How good will you feel about a win if it resulted from your opponent making a silly mistake that you made more costly for them, rather than your own good gameplay?
Remember that they need to feat too – This is specific to Warmachine and Hordes, but I suppose it applies to any once-per-game ability. The feat is usually the most important thing a warcaster or warlock can bring to the table, and it’s often pretty obvious when it should happen. Things have been lined up, everything looks like it’s about to kick off. All they need to do is to activate the central figure of their army and say the word “feat”. But how many discussions (I hesitate to say arguments) result from the opponent not hearing the word? Often in this case the phrase “I didn’t hear you say feat, sorry” is trotted out as if it’s an excuse. Pay attention during the warcaster’s activation always. It’s not up to you to remind your opponent to do what is important, but it is your responsibility to listen and attest to what happened in your game. This goes for everything, but the pivotal effect of the feat makes it the most important. If you can be confident in what your opponent did say, then the game will go smoother.
Act like an honest player – It’s easy to get over-excited and start to rush things, particularly if you’re pressed for time. But Warmachine is an open-information game, where everything is supposed to be clear to both players. Announce what you’re doing, give your opponent time to react or at least absorb what you’re saying. If they have Shield Guard, Defensive Strike, Counter-Charge or whatever else they’re going to want to use it, or at least feel like they had the chance. When you rush or gloss over things, it puts your opponent on the defensive and they’ll think you’re taking advantage of them. There’s very little interruptive elements in Warmachine and Hordes in comparison to other games, so try to be aware of what’s in your opponent’s list and don’t make it look like you’re hoping to pull the wool over their eyes.
Remember your opponent is (probably) not a cheater – It’s hard to remember sometimes that just because the player across the table from you is doing their level best to destroy your army and undo all your plans, that this does not make them the enemy. You’ll want to question their every move, you start to suspect what they’re doing. This is the moment when reverse-charges happen, when it’s gone past the point of no return but you have players bickering about where a particular model was, and of course they both remember it was somewhere else. Your opponent will pick up on this, and react back, and soon things will spiral into tension and aggressive behaviour. Trust me, if your opponent is actually the sort of player that would take advantage, you’re likely to know well in advance of playing them.
Stop asking for takebacks – Making the transition from casual to tournament play freaks a lot of people out. Suddenly everything feels like it’s on the line (that self-imposed pressure again) and every little mistake is bitterly regretted. It’s a great temptation, when you realise that you’ve made an error, to ask to change it. Being on the receiving end of a request like this is enough to cure any impulse to do it yourself, I hope. If your opponent makes a mistake in Warmachine you will profit from it, plain and simple. If you’re watching for it, you’ll start to feel a rising sense of relief when it happens and being asked to relinquish that is awful. Take a note from chess: once your hand is off something it’s done. The order things happen in this game is very important, so remember that and don’t expect your opponent to forgive error. And for goodness’ sake, if you do request and are given a takeback, allow your opponent one if they make a mistake! I’ve heard at least one story where a player got a takeback, forgot it and then denied a request later on in the same game. That player won the game, remembered what had happened and felt awful afterwards. Just cut out the whole awkward question!
Give your opponent some credit – Believe it or not, there is no such thing as autopiloting lists in Warmachine. Positioning, proper timing and game knowledge are all crucial to winning every game. However powerful the army they are playing, the player still has to employ skill or they will lose. Nobody only wins a game just because they brought X or Y to a game. Also, nobody wants to hear your sour grapes right after a game, so be pleasant about your loss, shake their hand and go vent somewhere else if you really need to.
That’s all I can think of for the moment, I hope I haven’t repeated myself or stated the obvious too much. I’ve really enjoyed thinking about this topic and seeing everyone’s feedback, and hopefully it’s gotten people talking in your local meta like it has in mine. In an Internet-based community like ours it’s easy to let negativity rule the roost, but it seems like there’s a rising tide where people want to enjoy themselves and enjoy this game rather than sniping. Let’s keep the ball rolling on that, I’d love to hear any further suggestions people have! Goodbye from me for now, and good luck!