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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

FOW: Pushing Past the Wall, Pt 2

Players in any game of strategy will eventually hit a plateau of skill and luck. In Part 1 of this series, I looked at some of the psychology that a new player routinely faces, as they move from “Baby Seal” level games, into more serious and competitive play. 

This piece will look at issues that may affect players of any skill or experience level. I asked the member of Able Kompanie in Indiana to share their thoughts on the rough draft of my articles. I’ve included their thoughts as quotes throughout the series.

Your troops
Are you playing the same old list? Any decent list will need to have certain key elements in it. An infantry list will need some sort of anti-tank asset, as well as some way to pin opposing units. Look at your list. Do you always take 10.5s? If you’re a German player, can you save a few points by switching to Nebs, and add use the extra points for another platoon of infantry, or upgrade a tank somewhere?

Playing a force with random motivation and training, such as the Italians with the 8 Million Bayonets rule, requires that a player think through tactics and more "what ifs" than when playing forces with set properties. What if I roll poorly for their skill? Will having them in the open AND needing to roll to dig in on turn one affect their survivability into turn two?

Deployment: Are you losing before turn one? I’ve seen too many of my own games suffer because I wasn’t thinking of what my opponent was likely to do during his deployment. Will my portees or armoured cars be safe if he gets first move?

List Building
This is so important - every list has strengths and weaknesses to varying degrees.  Learn to play to a lists strengths and figure out how to cover for its weaknesses.  This can only be figured out through multiple games hopefully against different lists. -- Chris Fretts

One problem I had early on, was adding the latest “New Shiny” to my list, playing it once or twice, and then abandoning it after I lost a few games. Once I added a pair of 8.8s to my German infantry lists, I noticed that I rarely shot at anything with them. My opponents were dropping smoke on them, and then staying more than 16 inches away. I dropped them from the list, before I learned to use them effectively. Had I kept them in the list for a few more games, I probably would have learned to place them better, and shift from wanting to get shots off with them, to denying choice movement routes to my opponents. Learning that not every asset on the table needs to fire to be effective is a difficult lesson to learn. But, once I picked up on the idea of the 8.8s being an Area Denial asset, I learned that I could funnel the action to where other assets were more effective.

It's not always How Big Your Gun is, but where you place it. When you break out the big guns, are your opponents likely to smoke them? If so, where can you deploy to make life rough for your opponent's force? Even with a smoked 16 inch range?

Another common trap of list building is constantly shifting lists. Playing a bunch of lists you’re not entirely comfortable with, swapping between them on a whim, and never learning the ins and outs of one list with its variants (mortars instead of, or in addition to 25 pounders?), can seem like fun. But, you’re probably not learning the best use of each asset, and which assets work well together in various missions. Try sticking with one specific type of list for multiple games. Only after you’re comfortable that some unit has routinely failed to hold up its point value should you begin to look for options. Decide if there is some other factor that isn’t crippling the list.

Mission Tactics
Players must know the missions. Knowing key points from each, such as when the objective(s) goes hot, number and type of ambushes,what sort of reserves, and move order (Cauldron) can really help. -- Andrew Hopson

If you’ve played long enough, you know that occasionally the combination of a randomly rolled mission, the terrain on the board and list composition between the two players totally favors your opponent’s list, and you’re going to get hammered because of the dynamics of what the forces are, and how they’ll play in that particular mission, on that particular table.

The mission isn't just about deployment. When the the objectives go "hot"? How do you win? Better question: How can you lose the game even if your opponent doesn't take an objective? Do you know your mission.

This is a good time to dissect that mission and the lists. Is this a rare occurrence for those particular lists to face each other? Or, are these factors common? If so, that mission will probably always hurt when those combinations come together. Instead of dropping the list you lost with, look at small changes to your list. Can one asset or platoon be tweaked? Do you need to switch to a breakthrough gun on a tank? Do you need to have extra infantry instead of a four tank platoon? Playing again with minor variations instead of wholesale list rebuilding lets you work through strategies and learn the ins and outs of that type of list. Search out the various forums and blogs. WWPD has several posts on the ins and outs of specific missions. Read those as appropriate before your next game, and request to play a specific mission as a training game.

If one mission in particular is tripping you up, don’t be afraid to ask for a rematch with that particular scenario. Or get another player to bring their list to the same table, and try your base list again. But, keep in mind, that eventually you’ll find the one combination of table (terrain), opponent’s skill, list composition, and mission that is the Achilles heel to your list. Learning how to mitigate the damage in that situation is still a viable option.  Learning to lose with minimal losses can help your standings in a tournament setting. In friendly play, it’s usually more interesting to have a close game and lose, than lose by a grand margin. 

As I covered in my Iron Sharpens Iron piece, dissecting the battle is a great way to learn. Having skilled fellow players work through the ins and outs of what worked and what didn’t work can help. The caveats here are to remember that everyone has their own style of play, and their own favorite list compositions. What works for them, may not directly translate to your list. But, you can learn how other players think and play during these times.

When time permits, talk over the game with your opponent, like Jessie Sheaffer and Garrett Hunter are at a GenCon tournament. Go over the what ifs of the game: what could I have done different on deployment, reserves, movement, etc.

Learning to lose
As I mentioned in the first part of this series, your opponent’s skill level will play a big role in how often you win. When you’re playing against opponents who travel to a lot of tournaments, opponents who are exposed to a wide variety of playing styles, and opponents who have a few green Master’s shirts in their wardrobe, you’re likely to be on the receiving end of a lot of learning. In my own case, this was daunting with the guys back in Indianapolis. I finally grasped that I wasn’t going to win easily against any of these players. 

I shifted my mindset from I want to win to I want to challenge them. This mindset helped me enjoy the game better when I did lose. Along the way, this past year, I noticed that I’m starting to win a bit more. I’ll occasionally sneak in a tight 4/3 win against one of these top ranked players. 

We love it when the burning AFVs are on our opponent's side, but we can learn to make them work for every one of ours that turns into a flaming wreck.

That attitude of I want to challenge them, instead of a strong desire for winning makes those occasional victories even sweeter. 

Someday, I’ll have one of those green Masters players shirts in my wardrobe. But, for now, just knowing that I can occasionally win against some of the green shirt brigade makes up for all of the learning experiences I had along the way. 

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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