The Psych Series, Part 2: Victory, Information, and Space

Welcome back, Commander – DZ Casualty here.  Today we’ll continue your briefing on the psychological aspects of playing Dropzone Commander. In Part One of this series, we discussed the vital importance of maintaining your polite composure, and its potential effects on your opponent. Today, you’ll learn more active methods to mentally outmaneuver your opponent and secure a victory that battlefield tactics alone would not achieve. On a personal note, I’d like to thank my fellow poker player and dear friend, Patrick Lemmon, for some of the thoughts presented here. His experience and insights are much appreciated.

Some may read the following and have a negative reaction to it. Like it or not, what you’re about learn is insidiously effective, but may raise eyebrows among friendly gaming groups (not ours, though – DZCommenter). You can direct all of the haterade soaked email right to DZCommenter (Enjoy that, bro!). I may seem the bad guy, but do remember that I’m merely illuminating something that’s been here all along.

Many of these strategies are focused on intimidating, distracting, misleading, manipulating, and depressing your opponent. These methods do work, but on a level that few others can actually detect if done subtly (Much to my distress, I now recognize many of these having been used on me… – DZCommenter). As an equally experienced tabletop gamer and poker player, I am here to tell you that what you are about to read is insidiously effective; it will sometimes make an unwary opponent, who is currently besting you in game, lose. And sometimes they’ll even capitulate, or surrender before the game ends. Having employed these strategies for years, I am here to tell you that these methods will win you games. Learn them, if not to employ yourself, then at least to be aware of them when someone uses them against you.

On “Taking the Win”

On the tabletop, Dropzone Commander is a wargame. And when at war, your duty is to neutralize the enemy threat and end the conflict as soon as possible. You must seize success at your earliest opportunity. Whenever there is an occasion to accept victory and end the game, take it. If you could destroy the entire enemy army on turn 2, you’d do it, right!? Likewise, if your opponent offers to surrender, forfeit, capitulate, give in, fly the white flag, or otherwise acknowledge your victory early…accept it without hesitating. In accepting an enemy’s resignation early, you have committed to an efficient, merciful, and successful conclusion. Unless there’s a compelling reason to play it out (your own curiosity or the desire to learn something bigger about the game system overall), end the game as soon as the foe bends the knee.

Commander, there is no better result. Take the win at the earliest opportunity, then have a beer together.  Heck, you might even have time to play a second game….

Adopt a Victory Mentality   

There is a trend among champions. When someone in a given field (athlete, scholar, scientist, engineer, anything) sets a new world record or sets the bar higher in their area of interest, interviewers often ask that person what they were thinking during the feat. More often than not, the person responds that they simply saw themselves doing it. In their mind’s eye, as if detached from their own body and looking upon themselves at a distance, they had a moving mental image of themselves achieving the task. And they did.

Sounds simple, right? It is. If you want something, if you want to win….a critical first step is to visualize yourself accomplishing that goal. How do you do that? Internalize the fact that you will win. You literally imagine yourself making all the right plays, rolling the hot dice, outwitting the foe, everything….every detail all the way up to the point when you’re deciding ahead of time which fist to pump in the winner’s circle.

Besides, if you aren’t imagining yourself winning…then what the hell are you imagining for yourself? Right?! So it’s time to mentally shift gears and get into the mindset of seeing it happen.

When you approach the game, you should be thinking “This is my table,” and “This is where my next victory is going to occur.” Your plays, your strategy, your timing, your insight are all far superior to anything your opponent has to offer. But you don’t vocalize or make these ideas public at all. No one can directly see this in you, but if they could, narrow minded opponents might mistake this for arrogance. Experienced players see the reality – it’s lethal confidence. And confidence is its own winning offense and defense. With the idea of victory comes an inner peace, a calm that makes it easier for you to truly focus on the game at hand because in your mind, the outcome is already set. This calm mitigates anxiety, and greatly reduces any sort of hesitation, self-doubt, or second-guessing yourself during a game. It makes you virtually unassailable on the tabletop, and in life. With this sort of confidence, you’ll have the true grit to not only survive but quickly recover whenever the dice betray you, the game takes a turn for the worse, or if an opponent does things you don’t expect — whether it’s on the tabletop, or in interactions directly with you. You are going to win! Take this idea to heart. Re-read it. Do it.

Confidence like this demands focus, so it’s important you do not get distracted or get de-railed. Don’t allow previous events to keep you from this mindset. Don’t be concerned about the results of your last game, whether you won or lost. Erase it. Forget about the bad day at work you had, or that your girlfriend left you. Only the current game matters now, and you are going to win it. Period. These are your calm and certain thoughts.

Captain Kirk, commander of the USS Confidence

Even mid-game, when things look darkest, always remember that you’re going to pull this off. Lesser players allow the “I’m going to lose” notion to creep into their thoughts when the game gets tough. That crisis of confidence, that worst thing that can happen, will, has a real outcome; they begin to believe they will lose and subsequently surrender in their minds…and then it usually comes true. Thought, belief, resignation, then bitter reality.

But not for you! You’re going to keep your mind stable and on an even keel, and that brain of yours is going to figure out the right combination of tabletop moves to turn the tide. No matter how bad it looks, you will not tolerate that poisonous idea of failure. Even if victory is impossible…you’re still the meanest mother in command and you are going to Captain Kirk your way out of any problems you face. You’ll win…or at least look damn good losing.

Sizing Up the Competition

When meeting an opponent for the first time, you should immediately try to determine what an opponent has invested in the game, both financially and mentally. These details provide you with a truckload of information on what this opponent could potentially wield against you in the game. Not only that, but you also want to find out how they relate with and think about DZC, because your goal is to disrupt the enemy’s self-confidence, to break their own internal rapport during the game.

Accurately classifying the kind of threat you’ll face to a very large degree determines how you’ll face that threat. For you G.I. Joe fans out there, you remember that “Knowing is half the battle.” This is true…so get to know your opponent!

When you first meet your opponent, listen, watch, and ask questions. Along with being polite, it’s vital to figure out how you think he or she is going to approach this game. You can tell a lot about how someone talks, what they say, their posture, how they introduce themselves, and how they set up their gear.

  • Does the opponent come across as a new player, an occasional player, “serious casual” (as DZCommenter and I call ourselves)…or a tournament monster?
  • Do they come across as really eager, enthusiastic, fanboyish? Or are they fairly businesslike, cool, and analytical?
  • Are they currently distracted by other things, in the environment or private thoughts?
  • How do they talk about the game, the models, the rules, about Hawk Wargames, and upcoming stuff? How many models/factions do they own? Are they painted? This will inform you about how invested or analytical they are about their hobby.

Politely ask them questions, and listen attentively. Asking questions will also reinforce the idea that you are interested in your opponent as a person, and that you’re being nice and friendly. Remember, in our previous Psyche briefing, we reviewed that most opponents are OK with losing to a nice guy, and by being polite and getting their guard down, you’re on your way to a win.

When asking these questions, pay attention to their answers. Don’t gloss over or ignore the responses. Build a complete profile of the opponent and respect what they can potentially bring to bear against you. Do not underestimate them or overestimate yourself in light of the information you collect.

Quickly cataloging an opponent and knowing all of the above information prepares you to take them on. Armed with some details about your opponent, you can begin to formulate ways to manipulate them in game, and ultimately master them.

Controlling the Space

The FLGS - your hunting groundIn our last Psych article, we discussed the importance of avoiding an invasion of your opponent’s personal space, and not getting upset when they blunder into yours. Now we’ll examine the weaponized version of personal space.

In Dropzone Commander, more than most other games, you need to walk around the table in order to get a complete view of the battlefield. Many other games don’t use as much LOS blocking cover as DZC, because currently, dense metropolitan areas with large buildings populate most game tables. In those other games, you can see almost every friendly and enemy unit on the field by standing in one place and looking down on the gaming surface. Not so with DZC! You still have a god’s eye view of the battlefield, but you must be more proactive to see it. Get in the habit of frequently walking all the way around the gaming area. Doing so creates awareness of exactly where all the enemy units are, and you gain the advantage of all those perspectives you can’t see by standing on your own side. Your enemy isn’t going to be announcing to you where his units are (hiding). Don’t just stand on one side of the table; own the entire battlefield. All of the sides and everything in the middle belongs…to YOU.

Walking around the table also has another very strong effect on your opponent. A great number of wargamers have played Warhammer 40k, Warmachine or similar games where a player doesn’t normally have to come to the opponent’s side of the table. Hence, many players’ mindsets are still stuck in the “your side, my side” paradigm. Because of this residual mentality, they are not accustomed to someone standing next to them on their side of the table.

You can use the strategy of invading someone’s space to undermine your opponent mentally, as well. You’ll appear to be looking at the battlefield or scrutinizing a particular line of sight (or some such…make it look innocent). It can make some players uncomfortable and distract them. Some of them will even ask you to go back to your side of the table. Oh, the foe will use a humorous tone when asking you to go back to your side, but deep down your presence unhinges the opponent. Don’t ever explain this line of thought to an opponent; let the foe be quietly offended and annoyed by your perceived unorthodox presence around the table. Just play along, smile, and politely tell the opponent that you’ll go back in just a moment as soon as you are through doing whatever you are doing. It distracts an opponent in a hyper-competitive, defensive and unproductive mental quagmire, therefore making it more difficult for them to accurately focus and address what’s going on down on the table. While they’re bothered, stay focused on the battlefield, and don’t look at the opponent for extra points (it annoys them even more when you’re politely dismissive, talking to them without looking at them) (See? I told you these were bastard tactics… – DZCommenter).

Getting Information from your Opponent

InterrogationAsk the opponent about their plans. Do so sincerely or in polite jest, and then listen and watch intently. Some bulldogs will flat out tell you what they plan to do, and how they’ll do it, because they truly believe there is nothing pathetic, little you can do to foil their perfect plan or outplay them.

More savvy opponents will lie about their plans and upcoming moves. Listen closely though, and watch them as they answer. Pay attention to the eyes and where they wander as they answer. The eyes are the windows to the soul and will frequently betray the area of the table, the part of the battlefield where they really plan to act. You need to be looking at them the moment they begin answering because their eyes will likely involuntarily go to the “truth area” of the battlefield for a second, then they will regain duplicitous control and look elsewhere.

The most dangerous opponents will not answer, or answer in such a vague way, that no real information can be gleaned…but make sure you watch their eyes. Even the dangerous and experienced ones lose control of their eyes frequently.

Keeping Information from your Opponent

On the flip side, when questioned by an opponent, either give no answer, or answer vaguely, and DO NOT EVER LOOK AT THE TABLE when answering or not answering. Even better, don’t let them see your eyes at all – briefly turn around and organize your off table gear as you mumble something useless. “You’ll see,” or “Not knowing, I could not say, therefore I feel a certain delicacy in articulating.” are fine. Friendly taunts also work well as answers:

  • “Well, I think I’ll have my guys go ahead and chill the champagne for after turn 6.”
  • “We’re tuning the thrusters for our inevitable victory lap.”
  • “We’re warming up the grill for the steaks of victory. But don’t worry, you’ll get the sausages of defeat.”

While a lie or even a vague answer can be betrayed by your own body and sniffed out by your opponent, but that silence is unshakable. When in doubt, while being interrogated by an opponent, say nothing and do not show your eyes.

When it comes to life and gaming in general, most folks inherently tell the truth and expect it likewise. And when someone questions you in game, they will likely take what you say at face value. But unlike life, this is a game, and you do have the option to lie without necessarily being a jerk.  But beware…if and when your lie is discovered, there could be consequences. People in general consider blatant lying a social “no-no,” even in games. Opponents who were previously playing a relaxed game with you might all of a sudden knuckle down and start playing extremely well to try to punish you for lying (That would be me – DZCommenter). That could result in a loss for you. You need to carefully consider when and how much a lie might be beneficial or detrimental to you overall. Often, instead of lying outright, you’ll find simply keep information from your opponent to be just as effective without inviting your opponent to get indignant at your behavior.

Controlling Your Emotions

04 Le-ChiffreYou might think you have some sort of super-duper, Leonard Nimoy, emotionless poker face — but you don’t. Your involuntary eye and facial movements, your respiration rate, your flush response, your eyelids, nostrils, sweat, neck inclination angle changes…these are all things that can be picked up by even inexperienced opponents because reading body language is something we all do at the most basic level, starting at birth. Clinical research shows that even infants are able to divine the inner workings of those around them by merely looking at them. If you’re up against someone skilled at observing and accurately cataloging others, then you really do have a problem.

If you’re playing competitively (or, apparently, against DZCasualty ;) – DZCommenter), never let the opponent see your face when he is smack-talking you. This can be extraordinarily difficult, especially if the opponent is winning, or is a great player, or is just really good at insulting others. Controlling your anger and therefore your jaw clench and blush response is almost impossible in this situation. But you must not let him see your reactions. Again, turn away and check your gear, or look through the rulebook, or lean over and seem to be examining something on the tabletop. Remain perfectly calm, shift into slow motion with all of your limbs, and relax every single muscle in your face. Show the opponent nothing.  When you seem unshakable to the opponent, they’ll usually change tactics, or give up on smack-talking altogether.

Master Your Head to Master the Game

These strategies in combination, when delivered smoothly and politely, are virtually undetectable and quite effective. The opponent will never know how much of a cool, calculating, mental monster they were actually facing when they made the mistake of stumbling onto the field of battle with you. But there is one catastrophic other weapon of mass destruction that you must study. It is without a doubt the most game-changing phenomenon of playing a game against an opponent, the difference between crippling an opponent mid-game or being crippled yourself – the crisis of confidence. We’ll discuss that in your next and final installment, next time!

Good luck, Commander…

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