How to Win Warhammer 40k: The Psychology of 40k

40k is as much about using your head as it is about playing with plastic models. I had the master, Fritz to teach me... and I learned. I hesitate to use the term 'head games' but what it boils down to is just that. If you can get inside your opponents head, you have already won half the battle. The easiest way to do that is through knowing your opponent. That is what I bring you today.

Let me begin with some psychology. I am no psychologist. I am a middle school teacher though... that makes me part psychologist, psychiatrist, parent, and lunatic for hundreds of kids a day. One of the most important things I learned in college is this:

The pre-teen child lives in a world where there is one glowing beacon of right... themselves. Every moment of their lives is spent satisfying that one and only truth. The teenage years are where we start becoming adults, and begin learning that for the greater good, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. (Thanks Spock!) So we start to practice consideration, and as we morph into adults, hopefully we master it and employ it.

In general, you and I, are just large versions of that pre-teen narsisistic, self-centered entity. We play a game, and control our army. We put in hours and hours of time on our armies, and our egos and attitudes about them grow proportionately to how much time we put in. As does that inner child! The more serious we get about our armies, the more likely we are to revert back to the age of 8 and forget about all those rules we learned on the way towards being a functional adult. And the more likely we are to treat the person across from us in a less then desirable way... and become pliable to certain tactics...

Once we have come to understand that when we step up to a table we are dealing with an individual who is very capable of reverting back to the mentality of a 1st grader, we can begin to figure out how to use that to our advantage. I have learned how to use my classroom management techniques and child psychology tactics to give me an advantage.

Back to Sportsmanship:

I wrote a post not long ago about sportsmanship and how it impacts tournament performance. Black Matt wrote a post about sportsmanship a few days ago and it is quite a lively discussion on his blog and strikes right at the heart of this post. For the most part, my opponents enjoy playing me in tournaments. Most of them at the end of the game thank me for being a good opponent and playing a great game, and usually right after I just finished smacking them all over the table for two hours. But some of my good friends might not see it. Black Matt, Charly and Brother Captain James might be shaking their heads right now because I am such a dick... Hah! Sorry brothers but when you and I play, the gloves come off. The point is that how we play our friends at the club and how we play a stranger at a tournament MUST be different. You MUST extend that stranger every courtesy and remember that you are not playing a friend. When I play at a tournament I employ a sort of patient persona that I suspend when I get my buddies on the table in a casual game to the death. (Maybe I should do it all the time!?!) That is another discussion.

What do I do?

In my recent sportsmanship post, I wrote some tips. Allow me to expand on that.

I create a story! I make batreps and take video and pictures throughout the game. That means that after every turn, both mine and my opponents, I am keeping a running dialogue that summarizes the game. For example: "Ok, my opponent just finished his turn and he is beating the pants off me, and now on my shooting, I MUST destroy his Land Raider if I am to have a chance, he is walking all over me and my back is to the wall." That quote does a couple of things. It creates drama. Now I have set the stage... my opponent knows that he has stake in the game, and where it is... now, if I destroy the tank, he can see the drama unfold... if I fail to do it, he can celebrate! The loss of the tank is lessened because he knows that I had to do it to survive, and my failure to destroy it gives him a sense of accomplishment... both options feed that 8 year old ego inside of him. I do this throughout the game, creating peaks and valleys of drama and emotion. Every engagement is pivitol and every loss is heart wrenching. But at the end of the game, win or loss, my opponent has a sense of satisfaction. All a product of well coordinated stroking of the ego. It is not fake, I am just creating a situation where we both enjoy playing the game by .

"You will catch more flies with honey then you will with vinegar." So true. A little compliment goes a long, long way. Feed that 8 year old subconsious! Engage your opponent in discussion about his stuff. Ask him questions about his models. Compliment things that he obviously spent time on. Do not offer criticism, even if he asks for it. Pick up his best model and tell him what you like about it instead. Saying good things about your opponent humanizes you. It brings to his deep memory all of those nice things his mommy used to tell him. Or his favorite teacher told him. It makes that beacon of glowing self truth feel good. How does this benefit you? In every way! He will be a nicer person. In game terms, it may even influence his decision making... "I don't really want to destroy mommies speeder... do I?" "That might make her stop saying nice things about me..." Remember, this is all in the SUBconcious.

Caviat: The things I write are meant to be both entertaining and informative. Feel free to call me a big fat bullshiter on this stuff if you want. But it is true! :)



Flekkzo said...

Man o man. This stuff is gold! First, i am enjoying reading this, a lot :) Second of all, you gotta be the coolest teacher ever. Do you ever indoctrinate, ehm, I mean bring your army for show and tell? I know the kids sometimes brings animals, so you could always bring Fritz too :)

Also I notice that you did fail to mention something here. What you don't do. Let me know if I am right (and I hope I am not exposing you here:) ). You very very much avoid mentioning the actually very important moves and units. I am sure that vehicle that you so desperately need to sink your lightning claws or multi-melta into isn't that terribly important. The badly held object close to you on the other hand will not be mentioned at all.

It is like you are a magician and your opponent is the audience. You dazzle them and amaze them, and they walk out happy. But what you really did was show them that you are better than them because your tricks are better. You play mind games and you outwit them.

Hmm, maybe one should search for "mind tricks" on amazon :)

I can't wait to see what you write next. Especially since I have a lot of time to read as I wait for the (yellow) paint to dry:)

Mr Syxx said...

Being both an avid gamer and a psych minor I have to say this is one of the best psudeo psych compilations and observational articles I have ever read. Hmm maybe it would be interesting to do a case study on the game next year. In any case brilliant post and observation, great outlook on tying in the inner id to the essence of regressive personality shifts during play.

BH Senior Editor

jawaballs said...

Wow thanks a lot guys! Flekkzo, now you got the idea. That is a little more like manipulation though, but it does work on some! And yes, I sort of weave a story. But let me state, it is something I do to make the game more enjoyable first. This is not a tactic I employ to manipulate people. It is something I already do, and realize that it has an effect. I will intentionally leave things hanging to appease my opponents id. You need to let him save face! I actually run an after school gaming club when school is in session. I had a budget to buy 40k sets and stuff. It was a blast!

And many thanks Mr Syxx. I might not know the terminology, but I think I am a pretty good analyzer of observed behavior. I have a knack for breaking down the worst behaved kids in school. This has been something that at times translates well into 40k tournaments. I do admit, occasionally I am one of those regressing ones myself! :)

Old Shatter Hands said...

Jawaballs, you're a big fat bullshitter!

Sorry I couldn't help myself. Nice post. Loved it.

Jwolf said...

I started my professional life as a teacher for mostly middle school criminals. No wonder I like your articles.

I'm really looking forward to you guys being down here in August; we'll see if you can convince me to ignore your droids or not.

jawaballs said...

These are not the Baal Predators you are looking for. Move along.

Hah! Yah, Fritz and I were talking about it the other day. We are psyched! The plane tickets are bought and paid for and we are good to go. It is a done deal. Gona have to start the media chatter soon!

Flekkzo said...

I always did some kinds of manipulation when playing games. Let's say that I am competitive and don't have a quiet personality, yet good natured most of the time. But I never thought of storytelling the game like that. I've had people at my FLGS (link on my blog) suggest that one should roleplay the games more (a reaction to pen and paper RPGs getting more like wargames by the minute), and I find this to be quite an interesting variation.

Why not make it part of the game? It will both be more fun (you can loose the game but win the narrative) and it adds in another game in the game. I will try this out tomorrow (for the astute reader, tomorrow happens only after you have slept) in a Cygnar vs. Circle Orboros game.

Michael said...

Loved the post. I am all about psychological warfare, just like you said, if you can get into their head then you have won half the battle.

I am the newest 40k player at my local store (converted from LotR, so I do have some basics down of wargaming) and I like to play the "Im a noob card". Number one, I am a noob, I learn a new rule or two every game. Number two, the vets at that point are way more willing to give me helpful advice on tactics, army composition etc. And if they happen to be lulled into a false sense of security and play lax, then I won't complain right?

I read a post not too long ago on BoLS about the "Baiting" technique, and I have to say that talking up your own "mistake" of leaving some unit stranded sure helps the other guy want to crush it even more.

Good post Jawa, keep them coming.

Ellahrairah said...

Hey there, Im signing up new, but I have been reading your post for a couple of months now. I just got back into 40k from a very long hiatus (I quit in 1995). The game is so different now from what it was back then and so much more enjoyable. So before I actually bought the game, I read your blog alot and watched games at my local store. Alas, I went with my old standard, the Tyranids and I read your blog for mainly an OPFOR (opposing forces) perspective. One mind game you didnt hit upon that was certain unit effects. For example, I have been running large units of hormagaunts, and seeing that swarm run up causes my opponents to cheese their pants. My lictors, while they often dont pay for themselves in kills, often will distract at least half a damn army.
On what you hit on, with being friendly, I think thats one of the reasons I got back into the game. The gamers at the local store are so much more mature than the ones before. People dont give me too much grief when I play anyways... I think thats because half of the local gamers are paying me to paint their stuff... I suppose I could use that too... heh heh

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