Thursday, April 21, 2011

Better Playtesting: Experience and Tournament Prep

Welcome back for another article about improving the quality of your playtesting.  With the summer months upon us, there will be a lot of big tournaments coming up, and a bit more free time (for most of us) to get games in.  As I've always said, playtesting scientifically is your best bet for preparing for an event and making sure you have the best list available.

Previously, I focused on using your playtesting gauntlet to tune your own list to be a strong all-comers list.  However, running the gauntlet to improve your own list is only half the benefit: the other half is getting the experience playing against other competitive lists and learning their strengths and weaknesses.

Let's talk about some of the pitfalls (and how to avoid them) you can run into if you fail to playtest again some of the more popular lists out there...

If you have fond memories of this, you're as old as me.
  • Failing to identify the threats in an opponent's list.  Yes, we all know Hydras in IG lists are very strong, in general.  But you have a dual Land Raider Vulkan list.  The Hydras are not the threats you need to worry about.  You need to be much more concerned about the melta vets who can kill your raiders, and the infantry blob who can swamp your TH/SS terminators.  That is an obvious example, but the match ups get more subtle.  Let's say you are playing against Space Wolves who have a couple 10 man units in Rhinos and 5 man units in Razors.  Which do you target first?  Is the answer that obvious?  I think that knowing the correct answer is important, and you won't know for sure until you've played the matchup several times.
  • Rules interactions.  It's important, ofcourse, to know all the rules for your own army.  It helps to know the rules in other armies too, because you never want to say, "Oh wow, I didn't know they could do that..."  How many times do you suppose the guy who wins Best General at major tournaments is surprised by how a particular unit works in an enemy army?  Also, interactions between your rules and your opponent's is important.  Say you have a power that can be used offensively or defensively.  99/100 times you use it offensively.   What about that one particular match up where it helps to play it defensively?  Will you know when the time is right to play it that way?  
  • Allowing your opponent to cheat you.  Briefly, your opponent can't cheat you if you know you're being cheated.  If your opponent figures out that you don't have a clue how his army works, he may play honestly... or he might not.
I've spoken at length about technical play and how to improve it.  But technical play is about remembering to do the automatic things, the type of book keeping tasks that aren't directly related to tactics or strategy.  Better playtesting will improve technical play, but it will also sharpen your decision making ability and judgement.  So what benefits do you get from scientific playtestings?

  • You can base your decisions on experience, rather than assumptions, or internet theory.  "Orks suck."  Yup, they do.  Until you get your ass kicked by Orks at a tournament because you didn't test against them and assumed you'd just stomp them.

  • Closing the book.  A player who doesn't playtest might still have enough skill to make all the obvious choices when playing.  But obvious choices don't win games.  If I realize my opponent is playing "by the book" I will have no trouble predicting his next turn, and I'll be able to game him.  The obvious decision is not the correct decision 100% of the time.  When to deviate from the obvious decision is important. 
  • Identifying who is the gunline and who is the beatdown.  I've spoken about the importance of making this identification often.  Sometimes it's easy.  Orks are usually the beatdown against a shooty IG list.  But other times it's muddy.  Grey Knight Purifier Psyback list against Mech Blood Angels.  Who, exactly, is the gunline and the beat down in that match up?  It isn't at all obvious.  If you make the correct identification before your opponent does, you will go a long way towards winning.
  • Failing to press your advantage when you're ahead, and knowing when to throwaway a unit when you're behind.  Human nature is to get conservative when you're winning by a lot, and when you're losing by a lot.  40k does not reward this thinking.  Despite alpha strikes and critical mass, comebacks from a bad start happen.  They happen a lot, especially when good lists are involved.  If you get ahead, you need to stay ahead.  This means sticking to your plan.  If you're the gunline, don't suddenly switch to beatdown because you got far ahead.  Don't change your target priority away from his mech because "he only has 2 of his original 10 vehicles left."  Those 2 remaining vehicles can turn the tide if you let them.  On the other side of the coin, after taking heavy losses human nature is to get conservative and try to play ultra-defensively to maintain what you do have.  This doesn't often work.  There are times when you have to say, "OK I'm getting smoked, and next turn is going to be bad too, but if I sacrifice these two units, I can regroup with the rest and come back."   Essentially, those two sacrificial lambs can save the rest of the flock.  If you try to save all of them, you might not save any of them.
I'll do part 2 of this article tomorrow where I'll into tournament specific preparation, because succeeding in a tournament is different than just winning games of 40k.

1 comment:

  1. Another great article. Your last point is where I see a lot of people at my FLGS fail. I see so many people expend resources on a lost cause instead of making a tactical retreat to conserve the rest of their army and make a concerted push.