Stop Reacting, Start Acting!

You are in the presence of wargaming greatness. Really.

Okay, maybe not. But perhaps you’re in the presence of gaming competency. And that’s probably enough for this post.

Feel like you’re constantly sitting down to two-player wargames and losing badly? You’re in luck; I’m here to encourage you, dear reader, to switch things up a bit. Stop staring at the rules, trying to find a loophole. Quit complaining about how the dice are against you. Man (or woman) up and start winning some games. “But how?” you might be asking yourself. It’s simple. Stop reacting and start acting. This might seem a trivial piece of advice, but understood properly, it will make you a winner–in board games anyway.

I find the wargamers who consistently win have two key talents. The first is that they are good at assessing the circumstances in the game at any given moment and acting in such a way that their opponents feel forced to respond directly. The second is that when they are pushed back on their heels a bit, they respond to pressure in a fashion that actually turns the tables on their opponent. These two strengths combined mean that their opponents feel increasingly stressed out as a game goes on, they make bad mistakes, and they eventually lose.

So, how do we become winners? Here are three tips that I’ve received over the years that have helped me to hold my own in wargames:

  1. Have a strategy and be willing to change it: Sitting down to a two-player game, it’s easy to spend a few moments looking at the setup and your resources in order to determine a certain path to pursue. Equally important is reassessing that strategy every turn. Ask yourself, “Is this still a viable path to victory? Does it need changing? Does it need to be abandoned?” Otherwise you end up sending good resources after bad.
    Example: In a recent game of Manoeuvre, I decided to make a hard drive for the left side of the map where there was some nice terrain. When my opponent occupied it first, I slowed down the tempo, stayed out of his range, built up a strong hand of cards, and took the positions from him.
  2. If you’re losing the initiative in one area, focus on another: This is not to say you should abandon certain areas of a game if you think you’re losing. But you need to be willing to accept setbacks in one area in order to make gains in another. Devoting some resources to another area of the board will force your opponent to consider it. He will start to doubt himself.
    Example: In Twilight Struggle, you as the U.S. player quickly realize you’re getting beat in the Middle East. Instead of throwing everything at the region, you accept that you can’t wrestle back total control for the time being. Instead, you shore up what gains you have made in the region and start quietly placing influence in another region, let’s say Africa. Now your opponent gets to divide his attention between his baby, the Middle East, and your push into Africa. “What’s he doing over there? Is there something I’m not seeing?” your opponent starts to think.
  3. Execute a riposte when you can: A riposte is a move in fencing. It’s an offensive attack delivered immediately after you successfully parry an opponent’s attack. The intent is basically to catch your opponent off guard because your response is so quick. Some gamers tend to be cautious people–they fend off an attack by their opponent, but they follow it up by moving very slowly. I find that the moment after a successful defense is exactly the right time to play a little fast and loose and take a risk. Execute a counter-attack, open up a new offensive somewhere. In short, double your opponent’s sense of frustration over his failed move by pushing him back on his heels a bit.
    Example: In the World at War series, I find that the best time to take new territory is immediately after beating off an opponent’s assault. Take out a few tank platoons, but then take a new position. Move closer to the objective. You get the drill.

Got any tips of your own? I’d love to hear your comments!

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4 Responses to Stop Reacting, Start Acting!

  1. Joe A says:

    I was just thinking to myself that it had been too long since MoV had posted something.

    I am a very much new comer to war games, but one thing i have been thinking about is a SWOT analysis that’s used in business can be used in boardgame situational analysis as well. SWOT being strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats–basically a way to inventory your position. When I actually use this technique I’ll write up a worthwhile post.

  2. Joe says:

    Nice list John. I would add a couple.

    – When in doubt, act quickly. Trust your instincts. The pressure it puts on your opponent more that evens out the mechnical mistakes that come with it. The perfect move is overrated. When you don’t like the game situation, taking slow deliberate turns may tip your opponent off to your weakness. Remember that they can’t possibly know how bad the situation looks to you. While you stare a the board, you are allowing them time to plot ways to make you even more uncomfortable. (Do note that if you catch yourself with analysis paralysis, you are probably in react mode, not attack mode) Hurt your opponent’s confidence with quick, decisive action. It also doesn’t hurt that your example might make them feel rushed to react in kind. It is better to get comfy with the fast pace.

    – Losing a battle? Isolate small areas of the game where you have superiority (if they don’t exist, time to maneuver into some) and bring superior forces to the fight. Chip away with offensive minded concepts where possible. I have been able to claw back from many tight spots by with a series minor aggressive moves. This window opens often, as many people play defensively with a lead. It’s not always a major campaign that will win a game. Besides, there are levels of losing. Go after it, make them earn the win, it’s fun trying to turn around a seemingly hopeless stuation.

    • John says:

      Joe (not Joe A), I think your first point helps me articulate a bit more clearly why I tend to prefer wargames over most Euros. In a lot of Euro games, you are taking actions to get a machine to work at its most efficient level. But being aggressive and making a suboptimal move almost never confers a benefit of any kind. In war and strategy games, aggression often pays off if your opponent overestimates the threat your move presents.

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