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Monday, July 25, 2016

FOW: Pushing past the wall, Pt 1

We've all been there. We learn the rules, well most of them - that Flames of War rule book is LONG - we paint our models, we build our lists, and we keep losing. The other guy is putting kill rings on his tanks' barrels, while our tanks are smouldering hulks on the battlefield of dreams.

After recently relocating across the USA  from the country’s midwest to the far west coast of North America I received an email from a fellow player out of my old area - one at my skill level and time involved in the hobby - grousing about his inability to get out of a slump of losses, I had to ask myself if this was normal? Have most of us been there? In a broad way, I’d say yes. 

We all plateau in just about any endeavor. I’ve been there and done that. Perhaps I should make up a t-shirt with a smouldering wreck of a tank, and the words of wisdom: “I play miniatures because I love to see my AFVs smoking in the morning…” 

The smell of the other player's burning hulks is always enjoyable, but when it's your own tanks turning into smoking wrecks more often than theirs, you might have hit a plateau.

How do we push past this plateau of frustration at our stalled skills and tactics? How do we become better players? 

From my own experience, and from talking with other players, I believe this has both a psychological aspect: tired of losing? and strategic aspect: what are the mistakes we keep making?

In this first part, let’s tackle the psychological aspect.  A couple of losses can shake confidence in your abilities or strategy. There’s no easy way to push past this, without coming to the realization that there are a vast variety of factors that are influencing how often you win or lose. Some are random (die rolls, mission selection, terrain), while others are situational (your opponent’s skill level, list composition, tournament limits on types of lists or mission, etc). 

I look at those learning experiences as a time to check out those "what if" ideas I have - can my trained infantry get into an assault against 8 shots of defensive fire?  What happens if I double that unit?  Should my tanks assault into a building?  What better time to take big risks and find out if they work. -- Chris Fretts

I always try to remember that there are too many variables to place the blame directly on my skills, or lack thereof. Instead, I try - not always successfully - to adopt the attitude that any game is a learning experience.

If you're having one of "those games" it might be a good idea to storm the building with your tank to see what happens. If you don't have much chance of winning, use the opportunity to learn a process, or try a different option to explore its ins-and-outs.

The strategic aspects are really the most important, and least easy to focus on when that feeling of despair starts creeping up on your confidence. Breaking down the situation with each game, and evaluating the whats and whys of what went wrong can help you begin to understand how to get better.

Help the Newbies
...You sometimes have to let someone charge a unit of unpinned HMGs with their infantry just so they know not to do it again. -- “Scottish” Dave Cuthbert

The first time we are likely to encounter The Wall as a player, is moving out of the newbie phase. The players in my old home group back in Indianapolis welcome the newbies with a few low point games, helping the newbies get our figures on the table, and dice rolling. Dave spent time helping me construct a list based on what models I had painted, or at least glued to bases and primed. He then spent a few training games walking me through the order of battle, coaching me on what to move first, where to go with that unit, when to assault vs. when to go to ground or dig those troop in.

Sometimes you learn the hard way to make sure you pin the HMGs before assaulting them.

Eventually I scored a win against my mentor. I was jubilant, confident that I could play with the big boys. Until the next week, when I bravely faced him again. David shifted his training a bit, and, from from then on, he let me make my own mistakes each step of the way. As I watched my active tanks turned into smoking wrecks, he explained why I shouldn’t do what I just did. 

After the humiliating 6-1 loss in turn three of that game, I realized just how easy Dave was taking it  in those training games. But, hearing my mistakes explained in a cheery foreign accent made it all less intimidating.

The experienced players in our club were pretty good at sensing when someone was still in their “Baby Seal” phase. They wouldn’t club the new players senseless at first go. They would work with us, often coaching from the sidelines as we played a more experienced opponent: “You might think about how easy those are to hit, if you put your  artillery in the open. Can you give those immobile guns cover somewhere?”  

Hitting the Plateau

I have always looked at this process as encouraging new players to stay with the game and see what it can be as well as helping to  build better opponents.  I want to be challenged in my games to become a better player myself.--Chris Fretts

Eventually, once we get past the beginner phase, and start learning to hold our own, we start to hit that plateau. We’re winning one out of every four games or so (even against players of moderate skill levels) - if we’re lucky.  Frustration rears it’s ugly head. When this hits, and dejection sets in, we need to step back and start asking Why

Not Why me? - but, rather, what has changed, or needs to be changed. Why do I fail to capitalize on the good parts of my army list/movement/deployment/terrain etc?

"Scottish Dave" Cuthbert schools fellow Able Kompanie member Rob Spoon on what not to do in a game.

Comments from the Able Kompanie green shirt players always include the idea that to get better as a player, we have to play more often, not less often. When I hit that plateau of being tired of losing, my first inclination was to take a few weeks off. But Andrew Hopson from Able Kompanie points out, “You probably have to stress that they need to play regularly.  You can't drop in once a month and expect to win.” That was my observation as well. Too often I’d elect to be odd man out if we had odd numbers of players. Being a nice guy and sitting one out is a nice gesture to your gaming buddies, but take turns. If you’re in the slump, not playing won’t help you get past the plateau. You’ve got to play if you want to become a better player.

The Killer Dice
Step back and look at what you are asking of your "stupid dice" - Can you really expect a good outcome of three AT9 tanks in the open firing at the side armor of a King Tiger (SA8) needing sixes?  A good understanding of the chances of your die rolls can sometimes work wonders in your gameplay.--Chris Fretts

The first thing we all love to blame is our dice. You know of, or might even be, the player who has the “lucky dice” that you allow no one else to touch, and must be kept in the velvet lined bag, carried aloft to each tournament on a satin pillow. But, when the dice go cold, you’re slinging them across the gaming hall in frustration. “Stupid dice!”

Be careful of what you ask your dice to do for you. Attacking a SA 8 Tiger with an AT 10 gun doesn't favor the attacker.

Superstition may well play a role in what you prefer, but are your dice truly random? If you haven’t seen the post on Warseer about Warhammer dice vs Casino dice, give it a read. If you’re convinced, shell out some dough and get casino dice like I did. Amazon has them in packs of five for about $13 USD. Be warned, you may still get a clunker. Out of 15 dice, I had one purple die that was a touch off square, and liked to roll ones. That die got tossed in the trash bin to make sure it never hit the table again. I don’t need my dice working against me with more ones than normal - all I ask is for randomness. I want an equal chance to roll a SIX as to roll a ONE. So I bought dice that, for the most part, maximize the law of averages.

Or, if you want to use your special dice in the special bag, on a satin pillow, go ahead. Just spend some time rolling them to see if they seem random. But, remember, no matter what, random number generators of any variety, dice or electronic, will give you the dreaded one when you really don’t need it. I’ve lost way too many Brits with sticky bombs because of ones showing up on my casino dice.

Stupid Dice!

Despite how much we want to blame the dice, there’s probably some other reasons we’ve plateaued. This is when we need to step back and start looking at what we do, how we play, and try to figure out where the problems lie.

Part 2 will look at the tactics and strategy side of overcoming the plateau.

Troy recently relocated from crossroads of America, and home of Able Kompanie – Indianapolis Indiana in the USA — to the “Western Front” of North America — Los Angeles California. He is a long time gamer, having dabbled in almost every type of gamer-crack. His small claim to fame is editing a Forgotten Realms supplement, “FR-16 The Shining South” back when TSR still existed.

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