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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

So You Want to Be a Contender: Sun Tzu's Advice on How to Be a Better General

Will my Germans see Rudel's shadow?
Or will we have 6 more weeks of Russian Winter?
By Eric "Mr. Mathtastic" Riha

You've finally decided to do it. After months of contemplation and practice games, your gaming buds have goaded you into attending your first Flames of War tournament. Thoughts of "Fresh Blood" and "Easy Points" swirl through your head. Fellow gamers point and laugh at your last place finish, as an 8 year old walks by and slaps your miniature tray out of your hands - you wake up in a cold sweat and realize it's "Just a dream..."

It's time to take that anxiety and turn in into action!

Whether you're looking to attend your first tournament or your forty-first tournament, the following article aims to help get you out of last place and into the winner's circle (or maybe just not-last-place) - and we'll even let Sun Tzu help us prepare! (Ed: Here, follow along with a free copy of Art of War!)

"Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete." 
~Art of War, X. Terrain, Article 31

In this article, we'll talk about how to prepare for a Flames of War tournament by knowing "Heaven and Earth", Ourselves, and Our Enemy - and translate that knowledge into victory!

Heaven and Earth (aka The Rules!)

"These six are the principles connected with Earth. The general who has attained a responsible post must be careful to study them." 
~Art of War, X. Terrain, Article 13

In Sun Tzu's Art of War, "Heaven and Earth" relate to the conditions - weather, time, terrain, etc. - that govern a general's actions in the field. These conditions are immutable; they cannot be changed by the general and tactics must be adapted to fit. In the Flames of War universe, the V3 Rulebook becomes our Heaven and Earth. The rules provided cannot be changed and table-top tactics must be adapted to fit. As such, we must be careful to study them.

How many times have you heard or said to yourself, "Aww, if I had just remembered about rule X-Y-Z, the game would have been totally different!" or "We completely forgot that Breakthrough ended on or after turn 6 - I would have won!" or "We completely forgot that immobile gun teams can't ambush within 16" of my tanks!"

As terribly boring as it sounds, the only way to be sure you know all the rules is to read the rulebook.

Yep, the whole thing.

Cover to cover.

No, I don't think she plays Flames of War

No sass talk either.

My recommendation is to read the full thing about 3-4 weeks before the event - but mainly before submitting your army list for the tournament. This helps reinforce anything you may have learned from your previous games, and also eliminate any false conceptions before putting together your tournament list.

Then read it again 1-2 days before the event, specifically focusing on missions, mission objectives, any tournament specific rules, and how they all relate to the force you are bringing to the event.

Know Yourself

Chances are you already have a list in mind for the event, or at least a rough idea of what you want to run. This will often be constrained by model availability, so you may not have many options.

Never the less, it is still important to look at our proposed list within the constraints given by "Heaven and Earth". If I defend in Breakthrough, how will mobile reserves affect my list? When I deploy half of my platoons in Encounter, will I need to wait until reinforcements arrive to make a push across the board? How should my combat attachments or HQ assets be assigned? Should those assignments change depending on the mission? How many shots can my army list produce? How severely will my list be affected by large swings in dice roll results?

We also need to take a long look at the arsenal section for any of our list components. These should be known by heart - no exceptions. Your EasyArmy arsenal cheat sheet is good for verifying things with your opponent, but you won't be able to perform the "in combat" tactical calculations necessary if you don't know how good or bad your stuff is. You might think you can sneak a look at your cheat sheet, but it's rather difficult to complete those calculations in a timely manner.

Special Rules for warriors or lists should also be fully understood during this process. It is very likely that you will need to explain those rules to your opponent in at least one game during the tournament. The last thing you want to do is spend precious minutes of game time to look up the rules, figure out how they work, or possibly even explain them incorrectly to your opponent.

"All warfare is based on deception." 
~Art of War, I. Laying Plans, Article 18

The goal on these first two parts is to know rules, the tournament and your army list inside and out. As Sun Tzu mentions, all warfare - even with our little army men - is based on how well we understand the information governing the fight.

The rules and your list are the two easiest parts to understand. The rules and tournament conditions are available to everyone, and your list is of your own control and design. It would be foolish to enter battle without knowing these two things as well as possible-

-because the next part is the hardest thing to know.

Know the Enemy

"In respect of military method, we have, firstly, Measurement; secondly, Estimation of quantity; thirdly, Calculation; fourthly, Balancing of chances; fifthly, Victory. Measurement owes its existence to Earth; Estimation of quantity to Measurement; Calculation to Estimation of quantity; Balancing of chances to Calculation; and Victory to Balancing of chances." 
~Art of War, IV. Tactical Dispositions, Articles 17-18

I'll be honest, I was a little floored when I read this. I've been through the Art of War a few times, but never really picked up on the significance of these lines - especially in the context of our little game of army men.

In taking what we know from the rules and tournament conditions (Earth), Sun Tzu advises us to Measure and Estimate the Quantity of our opposition, use Calculation to determine our Chances, then Balance those Chances to bring Victory.

My Translation: Math, Math, Math, Math, Math, Math, Math, Math, Risk Mitigation, Win.

We start this step by analyzing the constraints of the tournament, and use them to develop a number of potential army lists. Some might be similar to what you want to bring to the event, many more will likely be similar to what others are bringing. It behooves us, then, to go and search out lists that people have posted online or discussed or talked about or 'what's hot in the current meta', and bring those to the analysis table. We are essentially gathering intelligence here - both from internal and external sources.

The next step is to begin analyzing the lists individually in the context of the event. If we know there will be a mission with mobile reserves (or if you don't know, always plan on it), how will the initial deployment look when attacking or defending? If I deploy half of my platoons on the board, can the list remain an effective fighting force? What are the strengths and weakness of each army list? Where do its vulnerabilities lie?

"So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak."
~Art of War, VI. Weak Points and Strong, Article 30

After a thorough analysis of possible opposing lists, we now must ask ourselves the hard question: Can we take the components of our list and use them to avoid the strength and strike at the weakness of our enemy?

How well can my 3x Pak40's engage a platoon of 10x T-34's? Do they need additional support from my Marder platoon, or can they handle it on their own?

How likely is my platoon of 2x Tiger I's to make it through defensive fire if I launch an assault against a pinned ARP platoon?

When I defend in No Retreat against a company of 7th Armored Division Shermans, what platoon should I put in Ambush? Do I have enough shots to shoot around the Jumbo and deal effective damage to the platoon?

"Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose."
~Art of War, I. Laying Plans, Article 26

It is through knowing these three things - Heaven and Earth, Ourselves and Our Enemy - that we leave luck to the dice and nothing else.

So the next time you hear someone say: "Aw, he just got lucky. I would have had them if...", think long and hard about whether that was truly luck - or if their opponent had simply done their homework.

"Eric Riha is a total jerk and probably doesn't want to hear your comments, but I guess if you wanted to leave some, you can drop them off in the WWPD Forums."

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