Sunday, June 24, 2007

OPINION: On Luck - Maximising your opportunities by being open to new experiences

Last time around I explored the idea of building a network of luck, how by being more outgoing you could increase your insight into your own game and that of the other players around you. In this follow-up article I want to take a look at how you can be 'luckier,' and expand your network of luck, by being open to new experiences.

As in my previous examples, we need to imagine two different types of player. I'll call the first conventional Colin and the second open Owen. They are playing in the Warhammer 40,000 (40k) Grand Tournament for the first time.

Colin likes to do things now as he has done things in the past. He doesn't like big surprises. He thinks that he is unlucky. Owen craves variety and novelty. He likes to explore new experiences and try new things. He believes that he his lucky. So how does this relate to playing 40k?

Conventional Colin
Colin's conventional approach informs his whole approach to the game. He likes to play with the same army, week in, week out. He doesn't like to change his army list from game to game. Colin will even use the same tactics in each game. He will feel more comfortable playing against players he has played before. He likes to play against armies he has had experience against, armies that are predictable, have solid, obvious tactics and he understands the rules for.

Colin likes to play 1500 point Gamma Level cleanse missions. He feels that this is fair, that it gives each army a chance to use their special rules and everyone knows what to expect. He doesn't want his game ruined by 'too simple' Alpha missions or 'stupid' Omega missions. Colin probably does fairly well in his gaming group. He has a tight little list which he knows the rules for without having to read the Codex. Colin knows what he likes and he likes what he knows.

Open Owen
Owen is the polar opposite. He might have half a dozen different armies and will swap between them on a whim. Even if he plays the same army two weeks in a row he will vary the list and his tactics. One week he will play mechanised Space Marines and the next he will play an infantry heavy gunline. His opponents never know what they will come up against from week to week. Owen likes to play against opponents he has never faced before. He is always on the lookout for new tactics and strategies. He especially likes to play against unusual armies that are rarely seen, like Daemonhunters, Kroot Mercenaries and Armoured Companies. Sometimes he won't even bother to learn the rules for them before the game. Surprise me, he'll say to his opponent.

This attitude also encompasses wider factors such as the mission or the game size. Owen might play 500 point games, 1000 point games, 1500 point games and 2000 point games. He'll volunteer for unbalanced games, taking half as many points as his attacker while he gains a defensible position. It doesn't matter to him that he is likely to lose. It'll be fun and he might learn something new. He'll play campaigns with home-made scenarios, he'll play in smaller tournaments with one-off missions and he'll use the full range of missions and levels in the 40k rulebook. Owen's results are up and down. His relentless experimenting means that he sometimes loses 10 games in a row. When he wins 10 games in a row he continues to change his lists. Owen is always on the hunt for something new and different.

So why is Owen 'lucky' and Colin is 'unlucky?' Why will Owen place better at the Grand Tournament than Colin? It's obviously down to their behaviour.

Owen has a big bag of tricks he can delve into during a game. If he is in a tight spot, he might remember a manoeuvre that an Imperial Guard player made in a previous game and replicate the same move despite the fact he is using Marines. It will be enough to gain him a draw instead of a loss. Similarly, all the games he played as Crisis suit heavy Tau will stand him in good stead when he plays against such an army with his Dark Eldar. He will remember the armies, units and tactics that challenged him and he will be able to use those ideas to beat the Tau army he is now facing . He will win that game comfortably. He'll use a unit in a counter-intuitive way during a game because he did that in a special scenario months ago and it worked - this will surprise his opponent and could upset his plans. Colin's broad experience of playing with and against a wide range of players, armies and tactics means he always has a chance against anybody, no matter what surprise they drop on him.

Colin won't be so 'lucky.' His narrow range of 40k experience will leave him woefully unequipped for an unusual game. He might be anxious when he faces off against a Tyranid 'Godzilla' list. Nevertheless he will simply grind forward using his standard game. The Tyranid player will recognise the obvious tactics and destroy him. Colin will put it down to bad luck and playing against a 'cheesy' army, and move on to the next game. He might be forced to play an Omega level game when he usually plays only Gamma level games. He finds his tanks start off the board and his jump-pack commander cannot deploy with his assault marines because they get different reserve rolls. His army is hopelessly disjointed and easily beaten. If only he had gotten luckier reserve rolls! In fact the problem is that he is under prepared, he just hasn't planned his army to take reserve rolls into account and he hasn't practiced enough to cope with inconvenient rolls.

There is no guarantee that Owen will win the tournament and that Colin will finish bottom, but I'd bet that Owen would finish above Colin.

Colin's inflexible approach to the game means he is easily knocked out of his comfort zone and can't cope in a different environment. I have seen a lot of Colins in the past and invariably they put this down to bad luck rather than addressing the real problem.

Owen is more easy going, his openness to new experiences means he is rarely surprised and even if he is, he can usually use some previous game to help him to relate to this particular game. His outlook to 40k informs his entire attitude and his perception of whether he is lucky or not.

So what are you - a Colin or an Owen?

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