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Monday, April 16, 2012

40k Theory: Picking a Line Part II

Hello all, Nikephoros here to give you the long awaited (only long awaited because I was too lazy to write it quickly) second installment of this series.  

In part one I discussed how to evaluate the midgame game-state to determine game play line to take in order to get to the desired end game.  As an aside, that is a lot of uses of the word ‘game’ in one sentence.  As some commentators pointed out, the end game should ALWAYS be on your mind, but it was also astutely observed that you can’t change your plan every turn as the result of a couple of bad rolls that will inevitably occur. 

Essentially, when you write your list and play your first few turns you should have an end game in mind.  When I created a hypothetical game to explain, I used Turn 3 as the ‘strategic moment’ but really the turn when you should pick your final line to the end game could come at any point in the game; Turn 3 was just an example not any kind of rule.  The optimal end game path could become obvious on Turn 2 or perhaps not even until Turn 5.  This does require evaluation throughout the game.  Enough said about that.

Taking the concept to the next level involves interaction with your opponent, because you’re not playing solitaire, but a living person who has his own plans to win the game with.

Identify Your Opponent’s Best Line

As easy (or difficult) as it may be to determine your optimal gameplay line, it should be very similar to do the same for your opponent.  If you can figure out how he is going to try to win the game before he does, you can shut the door before he even knows which door he is going to take.    But assuming your opponent is of equal or better skill to you, you ought to assume that he already knows everything you know.

So determine his best line of victory, and do your best to stop it.  Sounds simple enough.  But the key is doing that while advancing your own agenda.  A laser focus on, say, destroying all his Troops might not be the best move for YOUR best line which is playing for a Kill Point win.  It requires a careful balance, and knowledge of how the two goals interact.  At the end, it requires determining what the minimum of resources you need to dedicate to those two things is so you don’t over do it in one area and under serve the other.

Identify You Opponent’s Most Likely Line

This is so key.  Just because you know what the best line he should take doesn’t mean he actually will.  An Eldar player, for example, might be so used to the late game Objective grab that he ignores the fact that his best line is Kill Points in this particular game.  The more linear someone’s list, or the less experienced they are, the most likely they are going to take the obvious line, even if it is to their detriment.  So knowing their best line is good, but knowing the line they are actually going to take is better.  The only way to really know what they are going to do is from gameplay cues.  Is he prioritizing killing your Troops?  Why?  Is he focusing fire on your fast vehicles and ignoring the slow ones?  Why?  Is his shooty army pushing forward towards you backlines?  Why?  What units did he keep in reserve, and why?  These are all cues that can indicate what line he is trying to take.  The cues are constant and usually not subtle.  Which leads me to the next point…

Hide Your Line

This is the Jedi Mind Trick of Warhammer 40k.  In 40k you can’t bluff the way you can in Poker or Magic since you don’t have a hand with information unknown to the opponent.  The only thing your opponent doesn’t know is what’s in your mind, and that’s where you can bluff him.  Let’s say you know that your best line is Kill Points.  If your opponent also knows, and he knows that you know (this is very next level thinking) he is going to play Kill Point denial.  Anything else would be stupid.  This is when you can bluff/mind trick him.  So you are going to try to win by Kill Points, why not for a turn or two play as if you are going to try an objective grab?  If he feels that you abandoned the KP line, he will stop defending it.  That’s when he opens himself up for surrendering Kill Points.

As a corollary, even if your optimal line is Kill Points, and Table Quarters is a distant second, it might be wisest to play for the Table Quarters.  An opponent could easily analyze the game-state and determine that you’re going for Kill Points since it’s the “optimal” play… only to lose to you on a Table Quarters win that he didn’t see coming.  These next level meta-strategies require you to feed him misinformation, from relatively subtle gameplay clues to a little disingenuous table talk.  Make him KNOW you’re going for kill points, and he will act accordingly, even if he is wrong.  Maybe you think its not sporting to ask “how many kill points are your Elites worth in this scenario?” when you don’t intend to pursue Kill Points.  Is that sporting to purposely ask leading question with the intent to misinform?  Maybe, but you can bet that in a tournament where sharks are trying to gain incremental advantage over their opponents, someone will try it.  Either use it, or prepare to defend against it.  I’d suggest both, to be perfectly frank.

If you feel your opponent is trying to mind trick you, how do you know what line to actually defend against?  If you’re a mentalist, you could try to guess based on your perfect understand of human nature and ability to detect deception.  If you’re a normal person, you have to use a gamblers’ instinct.  There is a reason why calling a bluff in Poker is tough: if it was easy no one could successfully bluff.  In 40k, the simplest solution is to always defend against the highest percentage play.  Defend against his optimal line until it becomes patently obvious he isn’t pursuing it anymore.  If his best line is Objectives, and you kill all his Troops you can imagine he now has other plans and you should adjust to the next most optimal line. 

It takes balls of steel to defend against the 2nd most optimal line –while ignoring his best line- because you think he is trying to mind trick you.  That is a very risky move to call, and I can honestly say that you have to be pretty bold to make that call because the downside for being wrong is enormous.  This should also demonstrate how effective disguising your line will be: your opponent will be very hesitant to call your bluff so bluffs in 40k work pretty well.  It’s a tight rope to walk on both sides of the game, but the rewards are plentiful.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?

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