DZCasualty here. Thank you for attending, Commander. This briefing is largely not about the battlefield; it’s about you and your opponent. It’s about very small things you can do to obtain an invisible and subtle advantage over your foe. If you play regularly enough (I only play about 1 to 4 times per month) and practice them, these methods will absolutely yield results. These methods are more or less undetectable, and have nothing to do with dice, placement or tabletop strategy. In fact, many of these techniques are things I’ve learned from playing competitive poker rather than wargames!
During games, there is a lot of interaction, discussion, body language and information that the players share. The typical game is like a song and dance where two participants vie for control, and ultimately victory. Along with the usual game strategy and sound battle tactics, conversation and body language are the melodies and steps that both people contribute to the game. Speaking and moving around the table may seem random and arbitrary for the casual player, but with a little effort, you can begin to hone your ability to deliberately choose your words, your tone, your movements, and your image. You’ll also learn to observe and use what your opponent is saying and doing. All of these elements are aligned to a single goal: a favorable game outcome for you.
Lesson #1: Always Be Polite
A pleasant general table presence is your single greatest weapon against opponents. This applies equally to casual games, serious matchups, and hardcore tournament players. Use a decent neutral voice tone and don’t use genuinely aggressive body language. We all occasionally raise our fists in jest, or mime punches, or teasingly show your friend the middle finger, or say and ape a hundred other obscene (entertaining) things – and with the right opponent, these things are fine and fun. But aggressively pointing at someone and berating them over the game, angrily slamming things down, or throwing things during a rules discussion or failed die roll, or actually physically menacing or sincerely verbally threatening an opponent IRL, is not acceptable. These negative actions also bring you a step closer to being defeated.
Always strive to look and sound confident; always appear to be in complete control of your body and your emotions, no matter what is happening. When your dice go south, or their dice get super hot, or the opponent really stings you with a great play or sharp comment, you don’t let it show – EVER.
Staying in Control
Even when the entire game appears to be going all the wrong ways, you must stay calm, composed, and in control, like Roy here. Throwing things, cursing really venomously, rolling your eyes, shaking your head from side to side, exaggerated arm spasms of disgust (essentially everything that DZCommenter does); all of these are things your opponent cannot be allowed to see, because it shows weakness. And when weakness emerges, your opponent becomes a vulture. Give them nothing. If you can remain calm and appear positive, opponents will immediately pick up on your un-shakability and it will do one or two things at once: It will make the enemy respect you (always grudgingly) and it may also scare, distract, and or annoy them. All of these effects are good for you.
Keep Them Relaxed
Gaming stores, or gaming areas can sometimes be cramped, but try not to ever accidentally violate an opponent’s personal space (that invisible two foot bubble around a person). Many people feel threatened or uncomfortable when you enter that personal bubble, so stay out of there. You want an opponent who is relaxed. A relaxed opponent is a softer opponent who is not being hyper vigilant or playing as hard to defeat you.
Not only that, but in general, most opponents are ok with losing to a nice guy. You want to subdue an opponent that won’t struggle as much or put up an effective fight. You want someone to bend the knee almost willingly. So be nice, and let them settle in and get comfortable with handing you their head. Don’t be a dick, even if the opponent is. No one wants to lose to a jerk, and if you’re a jerk, the opponent’s play will be better, which pushes you one step closer… to a loss. Be polite even in the face of immediate douche-baggery.
Killing Them with Politeness
When you are polite and considerate, you are in control of yourself, and therefore usually in control of everything around you. When others see you being polite and maintaining it even in the face of provocation, they will generally follow suit. In this very subtle way, you are controlling the atmosphere of the game. But if you’re a dick, then the opponent probably will be too, and that person will play better, smarter and harder to beat you. If you’re a big enough dickhead, they may even cheat when your head is turned. Yeah, it happens…and yeah….just maybe you deserve it.
Remaining polite when the opponent is aggressive or upset almost always has a very serious effect: It unnerves the opponent; makes them hesitate, makes them wonder about you. People in general like to understand the world around them and one of the most powerful things that causes an opponent to be afraid is when they go up against an opponent they don’t immediately understand. They, on a very basic level, can’t comprehend real strength of character, and are threatened by someone secure and mature enough to maintain a cool composure in the face of an aggressive foe. When you respond with a positive attitude and calm approach against your opponent, you are actually terrorizing them with fear of the unknown. Fear is a weapon. Wield it silently. Wield it invisibly.
Another effect your good table presence has is that it can seriously distract opponents. At the beginning of a game, many “aggro” opponents try to intimidate, distract, or bully you, or otherwise try to throw you off your game. But when you remain calm and completely collected, when you wholly ignore their pathetic attempts, when you are unshakable…it makes the opponent stop and focus on you as a person, instead of the game going on down on the tabletop. This is what you want. You want your opponent focused on anything and everything in the world…except the game on the tabletop. You are focused on the battlefield and concentrating on the plays you need to win, while they are lost in a hopeless effort to figure you out as a person.
Your pleasant presence may also trick an opponent into thinking that you are an easy opponent to beat. This could lead to the foe becoming overconfident, and cause the foe to take chances or make decisions he/she wouldn’t normally make against someone he/she thought was a better player. And there you are, relaxed and ready to exploit and take advantage of those presumptuous mistakes.
On Personal Space
Earlier in the article, personal space and the individual two foot bubble was discussed. As a specific breed, many tabletop gamers are introverted (nerds, dorks…) and don’t react well when someone enters their space. Paradoxically, because they are socially awkward, they also don’t recognize when they invade someone else’s personal space. This has probably happened to you during a game: an opponent that you’ve never met before enters your personal bubble for one reason or another and the other person doesn’t even realize it. We all know that gamers can be oblivious. Your goal is to ignore anyone who merely blunders into your personal bubble. Quietly re-distance yourself from your opponent, suppress any sort of negative or distracting emotional reaction in your own mind, and continue calm, calculating play.
Staying Cool During Competition
In recent years, tournament venues (and thus tournament organizers) are under some pressure to reduce the vulgar offensiveness that has plagued the tournament scene for so long. Small and big conventions and gaming stores all want and need repeat customers, and can’t afford the negative publicity that comes from bad word-of-mouth and social media. Decent tourney organizers (TO’s) also strive to be neutral, controlled, and fostering of a positive gaming environment to retain those customers.
If you spend much time in tourneys, you know that sooner or later the TO is going to have to come to your table and make a decision in a contentious disagreement between you and your opponent. And when the TO walks over to settle the dispute, who do you think the TO will unconsciously side with before he even hears the sides of the dispute? The loud guy, waving his arms around, using an aggressive tone, and pointing fingers? Or cucumber you—calm, quiet, controlled, neutral toned, arms at your side? Before anyone even speaks, and all else being equal, you already have the TO on your side…because you were cool.
Politeness Builds the Community
For those playing casual or casual serious games at the local store or in your own group, never forget the value of being a decent opponent for the sake of decency. That’s generally reason enough to create a positive play atmosphere, be friendly, set the stage for repeat opponents, and nurture the overall gaming scene for the future.
Yeah, you might beat every opponent that comes along, but if you’re a dickhead to those opponents, soon enough…you will be playing no one with your expensive horde of miniatures. I’ve seen it happen to many players who were a bit too “alpha” at the table; now they can’t get a game at all, and everyone in the area avoids them. For each person so exiled, the community shrinks. This isn’t good for individuals or the community, so don’t let this be you, Commander. We want you playing, becoming more experienced, and racking up those wins along the way. Because as you get more seasoned and your fame grows, perhaps one day you’ll go against someone great; someone who’s vanquished every foe locally and hungers for more – someone like me (perhaps you can hear my eyes rolling – DZCommenter)
All in all, the rules are simple: be polite and always keep your cool. Being a good opponent even in the face of adversity not only is gracious, it can provide a vital edge against loud, brash, or aggressive foes by playing to their overconfidence and opening them up to your master stroke. Win or lose, your demeanor during a game will ensure you have someone to play again the next time you want to play.
That wraps the gentle intro portion of this briefing, so return next week for the second (more moist) part. It will focus on some of the stealth aggression techniques you can use to more actively mentally derail an opponent. You’ll love it…and maybe despise me for it.
Good Luck, Commander…