Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Having a better game of 40K- or, 'how to not get Dreadsocked'

I thought it might be worthwhile to do a post on gaming, specifically having a good game. In both social and tournament game settings you are relying on the person on the other side of the table to engage with you in order for the game to happen. It’s what could be described as a ‘social contract’ between both parties, and this is what (in theory) drives the gaming part of our hobby- the interaction with someone else who wants to partake in 40K.
So, when we are trying to define a good game, what makes for a bad one? The things that I might not enjoy about a game may differ somewhat to the next person, but from years of experience I’ve been able to generally define a few things in particular that seem to rub people up the wrong way- these are the things you hear about in-person or online, the gripes and grumbles relating to things that people do (or don’t do) when it comes to games. So, I’ll throw a few of the main things out there, as well as my own personal take on how to alleviate these problems. Rectifying issues like this can really help to make your gaming a lot more enjoyable.

Whether you’re gaming in a tournament, your local game store (LGS) or even in a social setting there is almost always a requirement to keep to time- getting enough turns in before a round ends or before you or your opponent need to leave being examples of such strictures. Nothing sucks nearly as badly as trying to get a full 5 or 6 turns in only to get 2 or 3 (or even worse, your opponent gets one more turn than you, and it costs you the game!). So what causes this? Well, here’s a quick list of things I’ve encountered, and what I try to do to resolve them.

Exploring every possibility

I don’t want to point fingers (okay, so I will) but a lot of Eldar players used to do this to me all the time. Could be different now, as they appear more resilient with the new codex, but I used to complete my turn and then sit there watching them agonisingly scratch their chin, umm and ahh, start pondering that if they move this forward, they can shoot here, then this unit will support, and this will provide covering fire, but what if this unit can’t make it into close combat… and they then start their entire ‘intricate battle dance’ sequence in their head again, seeking The Path of Pure Win. This is not only reserved for the pointy ears, I’ve seen Space Marine players do it as well, and it’s mainly infuriating after they’ve done it turn after turn after turn. I do understand that some armies are inherently trickier to play than others; Eldar for example have always strongly relied on the synergy and co-ordination of units for maximum effect, but that alone shouldn’t excessively extend the time taken to complete a game.

I forsee the future- this should only take 40 minutes per turn to work out....

My advice here is to try and think about your overall strategy before the game starts, have a good idea of what to try and accomplish, then as you are watching your opponent take their turn, start formulating the tactics and movements you are going to undertake when your turn starts. Don’t wait for your opponent to finish before thinking, be pro-active and have that idea in place. A side effect of this approach is that you are instantly moving your units the moment your opponent says they are done with their turn- this can actually un-nerve some people. They start wondering what your master plan is/ why you are so quick and confident? This can cause people to actually deviate from their own plans and instead react to your actions and movements; therefore you are the one who is controlling the flow of the game.  

Dice rolling

In your army each unit will have a maximum number of shots or close combat attacks to make, and often with differing weapons. Add into Precision shots from Characters and Sniper weapons and you end up with a stack of different rolls to be made.  So here’s the thing- set in place at the start of every game (mention it to your opponent) how you’re going to do things. For example: when my Terminators are shooting I say to my opponent: “I will use these white dice for the assault cannon, these red dice are my storm bolters and these green dice are storm bolter shots for my Sgt to see if he gets a precision hit.” My opponent then knows that when I declare shooting for my terminators that’s what I will use, and I hopefully don’t need to cover this off again (though it doesn’t hurt to reiterate a few times during a game).  And keep it simple like this. Firing all boltguns? Use all the same size/ colour dice, every time. Shooting with your IC from these units- use the same colour dice every time (ie, IC shots are all with green dice). Simplifies things no end.

Further to this is actually having enough dice for the job at hand; you should be able to pick up enough for the entire squad shooting or combat all at once (within reason of course), so roll em out! After this point though some people choose to pick up the hits and immediately roll to wound, whereas people may want to move on to the shooting attacks from another unit (on the same target), and resolve all those, then roll all accumulated hits together- neither way is quicker, so whatever works for you is fine.All shooting attacks should be resolved on a unit-by-unit basis. It is a better idea though to ‘pull out’ the misses/fail to wound dice for transparency issues.  I’ve had people dump a tonne of to-wound dice in front of me and say ‘oh that’s 21 wounds’, when there is no way they could have counted the actual number in that time (perhaps I’ve just played some unscrupulous types?). In short, speed things up on the rolling side, but make the time to play fairly and openly regarding your rolls.

As a final note, the dice you use. You’ve spent hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of dollars on plastic crack from GW, please just throw a small amount at some decent dice that A) have rounded corners, and that actually roll, and B) come in at least one vaguely uniform colour for doing bulk rolls. Saying to me that the ‘blue dice are for plasma shots’, and you’re rolling 25 dice with three types of blue dice in there- not fun. And dice should roll, not drop on the table without changing their facing at least once. Maybe it’s just me, but its not ‘dice rolling’ unless the dice actually roll…
Stuffing around

I’m sure we’ve all played someone who does this- call it slacking off, time wasting, ignoring the game at hand- its all the same. Whilst this is not so much of an issue in a social setting it can really upset some people at tournaments. I’ve had games with people in both casual and tourney settings where they (or I) have turned up late and we’ve cracked on, gotten objectives set, deployment done, and ground out 5+ turns without feeling overly rushed at all. Conversely, I’ve also had situations where we are ready to go on time but my opponent stuffs around, talks to the people around them and generally doesn’t seem to care for the timing restrictions that can limit your gaming. I remember that a gaming club I used to attend years ago (late 4th edition 40K) that had a load of guys to play, yet getting a full game in was almost impossible inside 3 hours even at 1500pts. My opponents would spend so much time rabidly talking about randomly off-topic subjects - or even worse, walk away from the table all the time to interact with other people. This eventually drove me away from playing with these guys, and for a time really soured my view on the game as a whole. 

To quote Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (Full Metal Jacket)- “What the hell are you doing soldier!?  You’re here to kill your enemy dead, not to shoot the breeze with some jerk about what their mother wore to church on Sunday!”

There’s not much I can really say beyond referring to my previous comment on the ‘social contract’ you have with your opponent- you have agreed to play this person, and they are relying your interaction with them to play and (hopefully) enjoy the game. I’m not saying you should ignore everyone around you, but- you are there to play 40k aren’t you? So play 40K. Try to be mindful that when you get there you need to get your army on the table and then moving through the motions to get the game to completion- this is what you’re here to do, not to discuss the intricacies of world politics. Don’t be a soulless robot – even if you are playing Necrons - but try to keep on topic and focussed on the task at hand.

As a small final note, the whole ‘walking away from the table’ generally won’t happen as much in a tournament scene, as paying to attend a competition usually means people are there to game, first and foremost. However, what you do see at tournies a bit is that yours or your opponent’s mates may have finished their game and wandered over to watch the end of your game.  This is not a drama, unless this suddenly derails you or your opponent because they now want to talk about anything and everything or try to be a backseat general. It’s fine to be polite and interactive with people watching your game, but focus on what you’re there to do- to roll dice, engage in the wonders and horrors of the 41st millenium and maybe even win!

So ends my little rant. You may be fortunate enough to not have to deal with these kinds of things, or alternatively you might be guilty of these tendancies. Im not trying to turn the world on its head here, merely trying to bring some more awareness about the small things in a game of 40K that can annoy or upset, with the goal of helping people have games with less confusion and more enjoyment.

As a final note, thanks to my mate Alan for his input on this- two perspectives helps to make for a better position when writing up an article of this type.



  1. Most of my recent games have been online, which can present different problems. I've had difficulties with connection, played against opponents not used to Vassal, played against opponents who are above ym skill level, and the biggest problem I have is when facing a alist I cannot refer to personally.

    With that last one, I am refering to a game against a random person via Vassal, who used an Iron Warriors of the Horus Heresy list against me. Had it been a Real Life game, I would have felt more comfortable with the situation, as I'd be able to look through my opponents codex/army list with greater ease, online however I can't do that.

    I find it interesting that most of what you've said I already do. I plan during ym opponents' turn, I allocate dice to specific rolls, I focus on the game at hand, with the only conversation deviation being with my opponent, not some onlooker.

    1. I suppose then Narric that we are quite alike then- I wrote this from the perspective of what I could do to make things flow easily (if not quickly) during a game. Im yet to play any Vassal games (I have a pretty horid connection, so unlikely) but I can definately grasp what you're saying- the 'real life' aspect makes it easier to get a reading on what type of army you are facing.