Monday, December 12, 2011

Better Playtesting: Controlled Tempo

How often have we heard the following story…

“I had the game more or less under control.  The judge yelled out ‘last turn’ and in order to get the last turn in my opponent and I agreed to play very quickly.  On the last turn, he was able to grab an objective from me and win the game.  Had we not played that last turn I would have had it.”

Where did this hypothetical player make his mistake?  Most people would say that he messed up when he agreed to play the last turn; after all, had he said, “nah we won’t be able to finish,” he would have won.  And that’s a perfectly valid answer to the question, but the proximate cause of his loss was more than likely the change in tempo.

Control tempo, don't be controlled by tempo
Pace of play is crucially important, and often neglected in playtesting.  Most tournament games take place at a medium tempo/pace of play.  It isn’t hurried speed turns, but it also isn’t a laid back casual pace where a single 2k game might take a whole Saturday afternoon.  Therefore, most people would be best advised to practice games at a medium pace to better replicate the speed of decision making that you will be under at the event itself.  This is fairly common sense.

I would definitely advise you to go one step further and play several games before you event at a sped up blitz round pace.  I’ve touched on this before, but there is a reason why Chess experts play Blitz matches in order to hone their decision making.  Not only does this sharpen their decision making processes under pressure, but it gives them the ability to dictate the pace of play with confidence.

This might be considered gamesmanship or unsportsmanlike by some, but it is true that most people will play at the pace of their opponent.  If their opponent is playing quickly and with a sense of urgency, they will subconsciously speed up their own play.  Most people do little to none blitz practice.  A player looking to generate an advantage might begin to play quickly (a skill he has practiced) to see if his opponent (who hasn’t practiced it) will match his pace.  If he matches the pace, the player has given himself a tremendous advantage in the game.  If his opponent doesn’t respond to the change in pace, the player can just go back to his medium pace, with no loss.

Now that isn’t friendly gaming, it’s tournament gamesmanship.  Come to your own conclusions about how and when to deploy that tactic.

But even if you don’t use that skill ‘offensively’ you can- and should- still hone the ability to play quickly for the inevitable times when you need to squeeze in another turn before time is called in the round in order to grind out a victory.  You might not be gaming your tempo for an advantage, but you can certainly practice it so that you’re never placed at a disadvantage. 


  1. That makes a lot of sense. I find I often play quickly anyway because I tend to think about what I want to do in while my opponent makes his moves. So that by the time its my turn I know what everything is doing.

    Plus I play guard so I usually just sit there and shoot anyway... :)

  2. Regardless of how you use it, you need to know how to speed play otherwise you have games ending on Turn 4, etc.

  3. Good article. Knowing your timing (will it go to turn 5? turn 7?) is an important part of the game, if a somewhat meta one.

  4. Well spoken Bruce. I don't like playing Warmahordes at speed but if I'm going to any sort of event you can be damn sure I'll be playing under very tight timed turns. If I can play a turn in seven minutes I know I'll be able to have a brain fart and still play it in ten or twelve.

  5. Good points, good article. We could all do with a little blitz training before a tournament. Maybe combined with abusepuppy's playtest gauntlet for a 'get your army tourney ready' bootcamp kinda thing? :p What I hate most about tournaments is purposely slow-playing opponents, using armies designed to do well early in the game, who want to drag out their early turns so the game will finish by T4. Any tips to speed up their play? Well aimed insults? Well timed reminders? Well placed tickles? Or is it a classic case of 'adapt or die'?

  6. @thalenchar Check my archives and let me know whose idea the playtest gauntlet is. ;) Not that its an original idea since MtG players have been doing it forever, but yeah.

  7. :) Just mentioned AP's version because he wrote an article on it 10 odd days ago. The idea of using this blitz training during playtesting is intriguing, though. Must try it out!