Welcome back, Commander – DZCasualty here to conclude our Psyche series. In Part One, we discussed the foundations of being polite for every moment that you play. In Part Two, we discussed the victory mentality and controlling information and space to keep your game sharp. Today, you’ll be briefed on the most devastating psychological phenomenon in gaming – the crisis of confidence – and how to recognize it, use it, and defend against it. But before we proceed, let’s give credit where credit is due. I’d like to thank my fellow poker player and dear friend, Patrick Lemmon, for some of the thoughts and also for the name of this section. His experience and insights have been invaluable. It’s worth noting that many players may not be overly fond of the tactics in this briefing, but the tactics are absolutely effective, so you’d do well to get familiar with them, if only to defend against them when employed by your opponents.
The Acute Crisis of Confidence
If you’ve been gaming for any length of time, you may have witnessed a certain phenomenon in yourself and in others; how a series of negative events in a short space of time during a game discourages a player. It could be consistently bad dice (the usual catalyst, especially for Commenter), or a string of poor strategy cards, or a number of mistakes the player makes and then realizes. It could be the result of table talk from an opponent, or a lingering sense of defeat from the last game played. The opponent might even perceive the game incorrectly…thinking that he’s losing, though he’s actually winning. Even outside influences, like losing a job or breaking up with their significant other, could contribute to such a state. Whatever it is, it discourages the player so much that they become annoyed, distracted, demoralized, angry, sullen, or exasperated. Most of the time, when this condition sets in, the player simply can’t mentally recover, and this downward negative spiral dooms that player to an inevitable defeat.
These players are experiencing what my friend Patrick labels as an acute “Crisis of Confidence” – the opposite of the victory mentality. The player begins to focus on some aspect of the game (like “those damn dice”) and feels like the game itself is hurting him. It also dawns on the player that he can’t compete with you as long as this aspect continues to haunt him, and worst of all, the player begins to imagine himself losing the game. When an opponent suffers such a crisis and is unable to recover quickly, there’s about a 90% chance that you are going to win, no matter how you play.
Recognizing the Crisis
It’s easy to spot when a player begins to stumble down this dark path, because he or she will just say things like:
- “These dice are killing me!”
- “I can’t seem to discover an objective to save my life!”
- “Again, these cards are just screwing me!”
- “OH MY GOD, I JUST MADE THE SAME MISTAKE AGAIN!”
- “This is ridiculous; if not for this [game aspect], I’d be winning!”
The opponent will likely be eye rolling, helplessly looking up at the ceiling, throwing things, sighing, and cursing. Some players will just get very quiet, sulky and depressed. Even if a player is quiet, their body language and subtle comments will suggest your opponent feels defeated and is on the verge of giving up. If it’s bad enough, a lot of times the player will indeed simply surrender or capitulate midway through a game. Even if the player doesn’t give up, they cease to be invested in winning or capable of putting up a decent fight any more. This presents an opportunity to slowly (or quickly) circling like a shark, taking him apart in a way he’s not aware of until it’s too late.
Now, if you’re a decent human being, your natural inclination may be to sympathize with the player when you realize they’re suffering a crisis, because it’s happened to you in the past. But your objective is not to be decent; your objective is to win (ahem – DZCommenter). So instead of trying to raise his spirits, encourage or otherwise help him recover and get back on his game, you are going to make damn sure he stays stuck in that crisis of confidence. In fact, you’re going to try to gently push him deeper into the crisis ocean so that he cannot escape or recover from it.
Care and Feeding of the Crisis
When you first notice an opponent suffering a crisis of confidence, you should first figure out what put your opponent in the crisis. Again, it’s usually pretty easy to determine what set him off – all you do is listen, because he’s likely griping about it. Once you’ve identified the trigger, subtly remind him about it and keep him focused on that negative aspect (along with any other bad things that happen to him later) and stewing in his own negative energy for the rest of the game. To do it, you must be delicate – you must sound and look sincere, genuine, sympathetic, and as we said earlier…be polite.
So a good first step is to politely confirm – out loud – the problem. Something like:
- “Damn man, I’m sorry. Those dice really have been bad for you this game.” (Sound familiar? Does it DZ_ Commenter? Does it?!! Eh heh heh…)
- “Oh my god, you’re right. That faction deck just won’t give you any good stuff.”
- “Wow, I think you may be correct; that mistake you made last turn is probably going to haunt you…”
- “Jeebus! When your transport came down and destroyed your ground units…I was like, HOLY Damn!”
Then say similar things each and every time something bad happens to the player for the remainder of the game:
- “God! First your dice go bad, then they just get worse! I’m sorry, dude.”
- “I don’t believe it…that blast template deviated right to the dead center of your armor column!”
- “Whoa! Time after time, you’re getting dumped on. Today is just not your day. I feel bad, man.”
- “OK…that’s just crappy…I don’t even know what to say right here…”
And pour even more salt in the wounds each and every time something good happens for you:
- “Oh man – I just rolled amazingly and hit every one of your units over there. I have to apologize…”
- “Looks like you were right. All the luck is on my side of the table. Sorry, man.”
- “Yeah, you said it. I managed to make the most of that thing you missed last turn…”
Try not to overdo it with the number of comments. You’re trying to be subtle, so don’t harp on him every 5 minutes. Gentle jabs every 10 or 15 minutes should be enough to do the job. Remember, you’re just providing the occasional reminder to keep his focus and energy on his own worsening situation. If you are obviously snarky, smug, sarcastic, glib, denigrating, or malicious, then you run the serious risk of pulling your opponent’s focus back out of the crisis and refocusing his energy to punish you (so THIS is why I don’t fall for it all the time… – DZCommenter).
Surviving the Crisis: a DZCommenter Aside
As you may have guessed, since DZCasualty is my most regular opponent, I have seen many of these – no, all – of these strategies employed against me. I also happen to have genuinely, quantifiably terrible dice luck. There’s nothing more frustrating for me personally than to see careful, calculated strategies undermined by the whims of the dice, and Casualty knows that’s the time to go for the throat. But I don’t fall for these type of head games too often; here’s how I pull up and out of the crisis of confidence:
Be OK with not being OK: It’s OK to be frustrated during a game – not everything can or will go your way in a game of chance, no matter how well you plan. Don’t punish yourself for getting annoyed or frustrated (so long as you’re not lashing out), because punishing yourself keeps you focused on your feelings and the event rather than the road ahead. Accept your feelings, clear your head, and then start looking past the incident for solutions.
Accept the facts and move on: Here’s a hard fact to accept as a player with terrible luck: the six-sided die is an immutable part of wargaming. A six-sided die has the same chance of rolling 1 and automatically failing as it does 6. That’s simply part of the game we play, and no amount of grousing will change that fact, or any other part of the game. Focusing on the things you can’t change about the game will make you miserable, dragging you down into your crisis.
Plan for failure, but don’t accept it: The best way to avoid sinking into a crisis is to make sure you have a contingency plan, particularly one that minimizes luck or randomness as much as possible, whenever possible. For instance, when you are forced to rely on better-than-average dice rolling to take out a crucial unit, you might commit multiple squads to that attack to increase your averages, or attack incrementally over the course of the turn’s activations to allow yourself a chance to retreat (movement doesn’t require dice rolls!) if it’s clear you won’t be able to achieve your objective. By going in prepared for something to go wrong, you’ll always have at least some measure of control, negating the most important emotion in the crisis of confidence – a feeling of powerlessness.
Don’t forget to use your body language as a weapon. When something terrible happens to your opponent, go wide-eyed, or put your hand over your mouth in a melodramatic fashion. Shake your head side-to-side like you simply can’t believe what you’re seeing. Shrug your shoulders. And for the A-Bomb of false sympathy…put your hand on the opponent’s shoulder and tell him you’ve never seen it so bad before (Damn, that’s so good and so bad. I feel dirty for even writing it….No, I don’t.)
You can even mix in some of the lessons from our previous articles. Go over and politely invade the opponent’s space. Remind the opponent about the last time he lost to you. If you think you can get away with it, tease ’em about the situation a little bit. Not too much, though; remember, go overboard and you’ll snap him out of the crisis.
There’s a chance your opponent may even show up to the table leaning towards a crisis; he might be frazzled over the last game that he lost, or a recent win may have him a bit overconfident. In this psychological state, it might not take much to strike a blow against his confidence. Even a small negative event so soon after an ego inflating victory can get blown out of proportion, pitching the player headlong into the crisis shark tank. Once he’s distracted by his “turn of luck,” you want him to stay that way, so keep it going by asking him to tell you more about that last game. By keeping him focused on the past, he’ll be even more distracted, and more likely to make mistakes that you can capitalize on.
Ending It Early
Experienced DZC players know that games can often turn once, if not multiple times during a game, which rewards persistence. But if it looks like the opponent is really suffering in the crisis and is truly and completely broken and demoralized, you can always try to get him to throw in the towel. A few manipulating, leading questions are a good way to remind him he has that option:
- “Hey man, that round was like, really, really bad. Should we…I mean…do you want to continue this?”
- “Man, your unit failed to find that objective…again. I just don’t believe it. I’m sorry, but I have to ask…do you really want to play this out?”
- “You know…is this really much of a game now? If you’re cool with it, we could just call this now, and maybe play another one?”
The safe odds are, if the opponent is already feeling beaten (because of your efforts or factors out of his control), he’ll likely just wants to end it as quickly as possible and just bend the knee right then and there – giving you a check in the W column.
Avoiding the Crisis Yourself
Now remember, YOU can fall victim to this crisis of confidence just as easily as your enemy. If you realize too late that you’re caught in that web, it can be extremely difficult to snap out of it. The first defense against suffering a crisis is to learn to recognize one when it starts. When you start feeling rotten inside, thinking, “Oh man, I’m going to lose this,” that’s when you need to crush that venomous thought. Remind yourself, immediately and forcefully, “NO. I’m still going to win this. All I have to do is hang tough, pay attention, play smart, and wait for the other guy to make a mistake. This isn’t over, and I will not lose.”
Next, get control of your mouth and body. Don’t complain, gripe, roll your eyes, throw things, sulk…anything like that. You are in command, so act like it, look like it, and sound like it. Re-read the Victory Mentality section in Part Two of this series. That section is the cure for the crisis of confidence. Being able to see and then shake off a crisis is the difference between winning and losing.
A Word of Warning
Do not pit your psyche skills against an opponent that is learning the game. Period. This insight is for experienced players to use against other players who are familiar with the game. Taking down n00bs by using these methods is just kiddie-pool pathetic. It also hurts the game because any new player that you curb stomp using these methods will never end up playing Dropzone again. Do not do it.
With experienced players, however, you should feel no such qualms. Have fun playing, but the object is to use every means at your disposal to win. Don’t feel bad using these methods against players who know the game. Rest soundly knowing that every one of those seasoned opponents can and will use any advantage they have over you in-game to their benefit in order to secure their victory over you. So don’t get squeamish. Crush them. Do it.
Learn to recognize the acute crisis of confidence in others and in yourself. Practice how to intensify it, and capitalize on it when your opponent falls into that shark-infested sea. Master how to quickly scramble back out of those deadly waters when you accidentally fall in. The crisis happens so often that learning it – and being able to use it – will yield regular and reliable results.
Commander, this final briefing concludes your psych training. With these strategies: politeness, the victory mentality, information and space control, and the crisis of confidence, you will be the invisibly dominant player at any table. You will control your own emotions while manipulating others toward the downfall that they so richly deserve. You will be victorious.
Good luck, Commander…