Friday, May 31, 2013

The Running Man: Training to Compete

Imagine for a moment the now famous and oft parodied training montage from 1976's Rocky. Sylvester Stallone pours his whole being into becoming the best there ever was, going above and beyond, working to exhaustion. He stands at the top of that staircase, weary yet triumphant...he is finally ready.

Now, forget most of that. Training to compete at a tabletop Wargame is nothing like that. Replace all that hard physical labor with crumpled FAMILY SIZE bags of Cheetos and spent 2 Liter bottles of Mountain Dew, still sticky with the last drops of syrup drying in the summer heat. Instead of  a buff, chiseled Stallone, a bleary eyed Average-Joe sits in the corner, scribbling a list under the flickering desk lamp. The light flutters in an out, much like his consciousness at 5AM. He should really get that fixed.

It's a lot more like that.

Now, before I write a novel for my introductory statement, let me introduce myself, assuming anyone from the distant reaches of the web reads our blog. Name's Scott, but this is the internet, so call me Zeth. Though you'll probably just grow to know me as "That Guy Who Rambles a Lot."

I started playing Warmahordes about a year ago now, and it is my first true Wargaming experience. I was expecting to just enjoy it as a regular old hobby, but I knew it wouldn't last. I used to dabble in competitive play at StarCraft BroodWar and various fighting games (Tekken, Soul Calibur, those sorts). I tend to be a completionist when it comes to most games. When I find a game I really like, I tend to dive in and metagame hard.

So naturally when I started to get into this game and my fellow Thralls came to me at Huzzah, our FLGS,  and said "We're going to get you competitive. We've got an idea," I knew the jig was up. It was time to stop playing and start training. So how does one go from casual to competitive? Well, I'm hardly qualified to talk on the subject, but I can share some of the things I've done to improve my play over the past few months. It seems to be working so far based on what fellow gamers have told me anyways!

For me, the first step was to play. Play a lot. When I'm not playing, I'm thinking. For me, the first step to getting better is knowledge. Not just knowledge of my faction, my models, and the special rules associated with them, but also everything the other factions can bring to the table. The minutia of the game system. Sure, it's great if I know how to do a Rhyas slingshot (sorry, I play Legion - that's not a real apology by the way), or how to maximize my Slipstream shenanigans, or what to in X or Y other scenario, but what happens when an opponent knows about those tricks? In high level play, your opponent will also know all your tricks and traps, so you too need to know theirs.

Reading about it on BattleCollege is great of course, but the only true way to get that knowledge in your head is to go out and play. And LOSE. If you're winning all your games, you're not learning as much as you could, Get out and get your face hammered in by a combo you NEVER saw coming in a local tournament. Chances are, you'll be less likely to let it happen again. Don't get me wrong, wins are valuable teaching tools as well, but the knowledge gained from losses sting, and they stay with you.

It doesn't stop there though. Make sure you LEARN from your defeats. It's one thing to see your army get steamrolled, but it's another to know why it happened. If you're fighting someone you know is a skilled player, ask them for advice on what went wrong, and take note of it.

When I started getting more games under my belt, my next step was to think a lot. I try to take what I learn from my weekly play sessions and mull over the details. I use this information to refine the models I choose to take to the table. What combos worked well against pKreoss? Did it work as well against pGaspy? eKrueger? Which didn't? It can be difficult to just throw down a bunch of models in your favorite List Builder, so if you guide your criticism with questions of your own play, you can learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your army's.

As I continue to strive to improve my play, more layers need to be added on. With a firm grasp of the opposition, I can up the ante; timed turns, deathclock, real tournaments, and other mechanics that help put pressure on and tighten my strategies. In the future, I want to analyze my own play more through Battle Reports. Just reminiscing about a game earlier in the week only goes so far to help break down the little details. There's a lot that can still be done to improve my play, which brings me to my last point for the training mentality: never assume you are the best. If you want, always assume you're terrible .

You don't have to go quite that far though, that's just my own personal preference.

~Zeth

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