On Need v. Want, and Creating Good Adversaries

WEEK IN REVIEW

Another round of delicious gaming last week. Lots of Uchronia, MagBlast, NexusOps, Citadels, Small World, Quirridors, Thurn & Taxis, and of course, Ascending Empires. Taught a couple games, including Citadels and NexusOps. If you haven’t played Citadels, you really should try it out. A great 2- or 3-player game. And NexusOps is a great skirmish/dudes-on-a-board style game.

High on my list of good things from last week was being beaten by a new player to Ascending Empires. I was very happy to see such leaps and bounds in his game play. I shall have to play harder against him next time, and perhaps focus on knee-capping him as early as possible.

BEING DEFEATED IS A GREAT FEELING

First, there’s nothing finer than a player that wins a game, and that player isn’t you. They were able to read into, thwart, or outright ignore your strategy. That is key to moving forward – recognizing you didn’t make good decisions for the context. And being beaten is a clear way to acquire that knowledge – one would hope your adversaries would exploit your move.

Second, I am not angry when another player wins. If anything, I try to thank the player for revealing a better set of decisions within the context of the game environment, learn what I can, and move on. Of course, sometimes games are intense, and a trip into some fresh air and a chat is always a good way to disconnect with any frustration you’re having towards yourself or others.

THE SECOND CONCEPT OF COMPETITIVE GAMES

          Take what you need, not what you want.

In the throes of defeat, ask yourself: Did you take what you needed, or what you wanted?

In most direct competition games, you fight over stuff. Resources, territory, fake money, etc. The only fight that matters is the fight where you lose less stuff than your opponents. That is the core of ‘need’ driving game play. If you take actions that put you behind your adversaries in terms of points or position, stop and ask if this is what you need to achieve another step towards victory, or are you simply getting emotional and want to teach a lesson (I am totally guilty of this from time to time).

Wants are things of ego, and in my experience, they have no place in a competitive game environment as they are tainted by that ego and the drive to protect the ego. Fuck ego. All that matters is playing to win, and driving yourself and your adversaries into a deeper, more nuanced play.

Need, however, is complicated to understand, and can be confusing depending on what’s at play. I would define need, then, by saying it is the single best action you can take now that will move you closer to victory, and/or move your opponents further from victory. Hopefully, you can achieve both in same act.

MIRRORING STRATEGY

When you’ve shown an adversary how to pull off some kick ass move, or explained a synergy of rules, you should expect them to use those mechanisms against you, in game. This is the essence of creating good adversaries. And you as the experienced player should thank them when they pull off that awesome move, or make that awesome shot, and it directly changes your next move. The moment that that happens is when you can sit back and put a big grin on your face – for you have helped to create a better adversary.

There is a flip side to this coin: I’ve had players get pissed off when I use their tactics against them. Mirroring/copying is a great way to learn how to play a game. Your adversaries should be ready for any in-kind reply. If they are not, then your reply should encourage them to think about you as a more dangerous adversary.

AE Cult Talk – Aggressive Ramming

Speaking of mirroring strategy, I had a 3-player match last week where I rammed 10 ships off the board with only four of mine (over the course of several rounds). It was a tactic employed against me to great effect a few weeks back. So I took it and made it part of my toolbox of strategies. Using a pair of constantly in-orbit ships stationed within striking distance of my adversary’s home world, I was effectively able to negate ships launched into formation (2+ ships launched into orbit touching) from that home world with ramming and superior position. (see diagram)

From the positions shown, with two flicks, you could 1) align your ship to maximize the ram, 2) knock multiple ships off the board. It was a hugely successful tool that game, but only because my adversary continued putting ships into orbit. I don’t expect the same results next time we play.

DO NOT LOSE THE LESSONS OF FAILURE

In any direct competition game, implementing the same strategy over and over that didn’t work is a great way to lose. But its a clear advertisement for what is not working. Learn what didn’t work. Use that against your adversaries by not making the same exploitable mistake.

I have been incredibly guilty of stubborn-borne game play – continuing to repeat the move only to watch it continue to fail. Its in those times I need to remember to LET GO.

In fact, its in this very vulnerable place, to remember that it is not the time to get angry. Its a time to move yourself closer to victory – even if that means closer to victory in the NEXT game, because you have learned the hard lesson now. When you’re pissed off and you’re beaten into a corner, start asking questions about the game environment, and start learning where your strategy went astray. While losing a game, you have a great opportunity to try something different, even risky. What have you to lose if you’ve already lost? Luck doesn’t always favor the bold, but it doesn’t hurt to learn your limits in the risk-free environment of losing.

Often times, we put our anger on the other players, especially the player clearly winning. Instead, start watching what they are doing, and attack their flow. Screw with their plan, and you force them to think in smaller cycles/increments. Making moves that force your opponent to think short term will take their attention away from mid- to long-term strategies being employed, and this is especially useful in games that allow direct interference (or politics, unfortunately).

NEXT WEEK

More to come, hopefully a review/analysis of Citadels, and more nuances of gameplay.

Peace and good gaming!

Stressed out Bitching, and some stuff about Games

SUMMARY OF THE PAST TWO WEEKS

Life’s treadmill has been set at a brisk, full out Zombies!-Run-for-your-life! pace since two weeks ago, hence the absence of any game-related nonsense. As it stands, the whole concept of writing anything, other than this pathetic explanation for a complex set of relationships and emotional ties, and all that blah blah blah blah, [This is seriously boring the shit out of me.]

FUCK IT, WHERE’S THE SHIT ABOUT GAMING

This is where my internal producer has stepped in, gone to commercial where you see some fancy faced man getting an orgasmic shave from the MACH 3 OMEGA! Now with NEW WORMHOLE MICRO ABRASION HAIR REMOVAL technology!!!!

Its epic, but I don’t care. Moving on.

ON TO THE BIT ABOUT GAMING

Yes, the gaming. I have been expanding the Cult of Ascending Empires since last I had the gall or grit to write. I think grit. ANY way, back to the CULT.

I have a couple players that came back for more Ascending Empires last week, from the previous week’s teaching game.

I started the initiates off with a demonstration of a great opening flick – a double strike (your first ship hits your second ship) and sends both into the orbits of two separate planets. A beautiful, and completely doable opening shot, even for initiates. I showed one player how to perform the strike. He started practicing, then the rest of the table started practicing. I stepped out back to have a word with the store owner, and after about 10 minutes, I stepped back in to find them still practicing. (loved seeing that)

So we started the game.

ON MAINTAINING THAT VULNERABLE COMPETITIVE SPACE

When playing competitive games, we can forget that we are consenting to enter and help create a vulnerable play space with our adversaries. When we make it about just ourselves, we forget its an interplay of multiple people. In order to grow as a player, you both need to show your adversaries no mercy (as the rules permit) and request that they do the same with you.

That assertion means you have consented to not being angry and not being a dick to other players. You can get angry with yourself, that’s cool, but not really towards the other players. These are your friends and fellow gamers. Be nice, but don’t forget to turn their worlds to ash!!!

THE ONLY RULE IN A COMPETITIVE GAME

With that said, there is really only ONE rule for competitive gaming:

If you can do it, do it.

Said another way, the onus of defense is upon the defender, not the attacker. Its the brutal truth of most competitive games. If you leave a weakness to be exploited, you are obligated not to get pissed off about it (unless you’re pissed at yourself).

A Note About Scrubs

I know exactly the kind of adversary who cannot handle a particular level of aggression. They are the type to get a sour look on their face when you attack them, or when you do something unexpected in the game environment that forces them to think differently. Then they complain about it, cry unfair, force you to get the rule book out. Its a disaster of bullshit whining.0

Make no mistake, this is lazy, rigid thinking. I have totally been guilty of that type of thinking. Whatever you want to call it, its a transitional state of mind for new gamers. And hopefully when they are done complaining about how unfair it is to play the rules to your advantage, they will realize their mistakes, and fix them. Otherwise, don’t play with those types – they will only move you away from better play, and into some bullshit system of honor that isn’t even remotely in demanded in the rules.

The rules don’t say “BE GENTLE”. They say, “THIS IS HOW YOU BLOW SHIT UP.”

I have run into the most rigid, scrub thinking in resource management games. A great attack strategy in a resource management game is to take something to stop another player from advancing, and planning on using it the next round to gain points yourself.

Holding someone back IS a form of attack. Sometimes just over-consumption is a form of attack. They are terrible tactics to employ in life, but amazing tactics within a game environment.

Ascending Empires is a game of managing failure – you WILL miss shots, and they WILL be crucial. By becoming more efficient in other ways, you can negate the impact of such failures, but at the end of the game, its the players that failed the least, and managed their rules/technology bonuses the best, who are in the best position to win.

In many ways, Ascending Empires demands certain principles of play. If you can stall or prevent another player’s growth activities, do it. Its a brutal lesson, and Ascending Empires specifically allows that level of interference by your adversaries. That means that the game is just as much about keeping what you have as it is taking from others.

MAINTAINING THE VULNERABLE SPACE

There was some heated moments in the last game. E. preyed upon the opponent that could least resist him, A. in this case. A. really bit back, called unfair. I reminded her that she must defend her worlds in order to keep them. Then I showed A. how to ram more than one ship off the board at once. Which she proceeded to do several times against E.

A. came back to the game, if nothing but to cause havoc for her assailant. And E. (who is a long time player, and protege/annoying younger brother to myself) was given another complication to flow around.

The other two players, JP and S., got into a crazy turf war. Many rounds of fighting and posturing and launching and attacks. There was a moment where JP verbally jabbed at S. for missing a crucial shot. It was harsh. S. was fumed, and I agreed – it was time to say something about why this space is important to keep vulnerable. So I did, and JP apologized, and it was full on kick ass time until game’s end.

Great fun on my part, hopefully everyone felt the same. Definitely was intense.

CRITICAL OBSERVATIONS

Two in total.

First, S. missed her crucial shot (mentioned above) by about a 1/16th of the length – it was a LONG shot, and she was very accurate in a critical moment. Precision comes with practice, but this was by no means anything other than tight, competitive game play. Again, a reason to maintain that vulnerable play space.

Second, everyone at that table missed out on the extended run of the JP vs S. turf battle. We all know what missing a shot like that entails – the world in contest goes BOOM. What we don’t know is how much more stretching of the strategy there would have been as JP and S. continued to fight over it. There’s a loss for everyone when something like that happens. That’s why its so intense, and why we must remain cool about it.

It was a rewarding teaching session. I am very much looking forward to a couple of very dangerously minded adversaries in the future.

I am looking at you, JP and S.!

WHY I WANT TO WORK THIS CONCEPT

For me, competition is not about destroying opponents so I can feel great about my fractured ego. That is the providence of children, that level of jealousy and viciousness leads to people not wanting to play a game with you.

I want to help create GOOD adversaries. Then together we can become great adversaries. That means teaching sessions with patience, and keeping in mind my own idea of this vulnerable place within the competition. And guiding it back there when it goes astray. Don’t know about anyone else, but I love the concept of a safe place to push creative and strategic envelopes.

Looking forward to teaching more games.

And thanks for reading.