Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Better Playtesting: Play Aids and Analysis

In this installment of Better Playtesting, I thought I'd go into a few minor things you can do to sharpen up your technical play.  Some of these are things I touched on in the previous articles, but explored a little more thoroughly.

In all my years of gaming at tournaments, I have had tons of people object to using play aids.  Way back in the days of yore, I played a Necropotence deck at a major tournament.  Without going into detail, Necropotence prevents you from drawing a free card per turn as is normal in Magic.  If you are under Necropotence and you forget, and draw a card anyway you just cost yourself a game loss, or possibly a match loss depending on the level of judging.  I noticed in my playtesting that I instinctively went to draw my card at least once in every match.  In some games I managed to stop myself before I picked up the card from my deck, in others, I failed to do so.  My solution was to put a penny on top of my deck.  Whenever I'd reach to draw a card I'd see the penny and stop.  Problem solved.  Except play aids are illegal in tournaments.  So in the tournament, I put Necropotence itself on top of my deck.  Also illegal, so I was told by the judge do to zone issues.  So exasperated was I that my only solution was to physically put my deck as far to the side of the table we were playing on that I couldn't easily reach it without changing my sitting position.  That worked, and was legal.

What could have worked better?  A pad of paper.

Never in my experience in Magic or especially 40k, did an opponent ever object to me keeping track of life totals/kill points/game summaries for battle/tournament reports on a pad of paper.  In fact, in Magic you are encouraged to keep track of life totals on paper since dice can inadvertently roll and you could have a discrepancy.

My solution to the Necropotence issue should have been to write "Don't Draw!" at the top of the sheet.  That wouldn't have qualified as a play aid but it would have been device enough to work.  So how can you use the pad of paper in 40k?  Take important notes.  Get in the habit of consulting your notes at the beginning of each turn.  I'm not saying to write complicated plans, just quick reminders.  "Roll for Reserves."  "Turbo-boost bikes."  "Ignore the Killer Kanz."  "The Raider on the far right contains Incubi."  Any note like that can be incredibly beneficial to you.  

I would always attend a tournament with a pad of paper in hand, if for no other reason than keeping track of kill points or victory points.  In every tournament I've seen, people always try to count these totals at the end of the match, and in the rush there are inevitably errors.  If you record the points as they happen it will make your life easier and eliminate a major source of cheating.

In playtesting, analysis of losses is huge.  It doesn't help to say, "he was lucky."  Or "if he hadn't made those 3 armor saves he would have lost."  The chance that you played technically perfect, and that you made the precise correct tactical moves in every decision is minimal.  Even the best player makes tons of mistakes, even if they are so minor as not to even register as mistakes.  

Thanks to digital cameras, we can go back and re-create the battlefield from 3 turns ago.  Or from a game 3 weeks ago.  How many times have you said, "if only I had focused fire on the Rhinos turn 3 I would have won"?  Maybe you would have.  Put it to the test.  Break out your digital camera and set up the board exactly as it was at the top of turn 3 and replay that game from that point on.  Did it change the outcome?  Why or why not?  If it did change the outcome positively you just learned a valuable tactical lesson that you can apply to future games.  If it didn't change the outcome, it is time to analyze a little bit deeper the cause for your loss.

It can be potentially more valuable to your playtesting data to replay the same game 4 times from turn 3 than to play 5 new games.


  1. pad of paper- awesome.

    However, at least NOW, in MtG- ANYTHING (other than the players themselves) that "directs a player's actions" can be counted as illegal in some tournaments. (Crappy Judges are suck.)

  2. Rather than dork around with Vassal, I do rough playtesting on graph paper. It's not really any more difficult than point-clicking every model around on Vassal, which I get tired of *very* quickly.