Monday, February 2, 2015

Games and XCOM vision

Get ready for a deep article.

Lately, I've been doing a lot of game-related soul searching on how I view games in general.  For the most part, I play games to have fun.  A lot of old friends ask me if that's really the case because most of them don't believe me when I say I play to have fun in the game.  Why?  Because my definition of fun can be very different from theirs'.

For me, I have the most fun when I can maximize the effectiveness of whatever I'm playing and defeat my opponents with better use of strategy and tactics.  When it comes to looking at my personality, I am a Spike first and foremost, but I also relate primarily to the Tuner subgroup of this particular gamer archetype.  You probably won't find me as particular innovative, or the type of person to come up with "HERO's Winning Combo" or whatever, but you will find articles on this blog dealing with how to maximize your army for a particular purpose or ideal.

Before I even get to enter the strategy or tactical portion of the games I'm involved in, I try my best to maximize my chances of winning through list design.  In MTG, I look at mana curves, CMC, speed through playtests, and the quickest way to win through a certain combo.  In Warhammer, I maximize the chances that I can win with my list and I do that through numbers, different unit choices and effective bucket lists.  Most of you will believe me when I say that if I was to take a percentage of total time spent on Warhammer, it would be 70% list building, 20% playing and 10% putting new models together.  When there's nothing to put together, I still maintain a 70-30 ratio of army design to actually playing the game.  Does this seem crazy to anyone?  It shouldn't, especially if you're a competitive gamer before anything else because you understand just how important theorycrafting is.

Over the years, I've calmed down a fair bit when I'm playing my Warhammer.  The game has become a little more wild and there's generally a lot more craziness going on at any given time.  I used to take the units that are the strongest in the game, but for the last 6 years or so since I started this blog, I've been taking what I enjoy fielding.  This can be anything from fielding more models that are aesthetically pleasing to me, units that fit my particular playstyle or units that match my particular strategy.  That's why you see half-mech Mech BA, full Mech Space Wolves with Predator tanks, lance-heavy pure DE Kabal, Pure Grey Knights, Elite Imperial Interceptors, and now the Two Towers Skaven.  Once I latch onto an idea, I work as hard as I can to make it work to the best of my ability.  Sure, I dab into mixing other competitive options in to maintain variety or to maximize my chances at winning (e.g. splashing Eldar into Dark Eldar), but I get the greatest satisfaction in winning with something that I find thematically appealing.

After I maximize my lists, I put it on the battlefield.  Now, I don't know about most of you guys, but I figure the guys that enjoy reading my blog are gamers first and foremost.  I mean, all the shit I write are about list building, strategy and tactics, and you know by now that I haven't painted in god knows how long.  The reason for that is quite simple:  The time I could be painting can be better spent on maximizing my army lists and playing more games!  I really enjoy playing the game more than anything else, and that's the god honest truth.

When I do play the game, I look at the game in what I like to call, XCOM vision.  Let's just take a game of Warhammer for example, or even X-Wing.  The game is pretty much made out of numbers disguised over heaps of gorgeous plastic models.  When I look on the battlefield, I don't really think about the fantasy of the game I'm actually playing in the present.  What I mean by this is that I'm not actively forming a story behind the game that I'm playing, I do all that stuff in hindsight after the dice has been rolled and the game is over.  When I'm actually playing the game, I'm looking at percentages of me winning combat, the percentage of the enemy unit still being there and me overrunning, what's the chance to miscast on the next spell, and a thousand and one scenarios how my opponent will react if I choose option A, B, C, D..etc.  That is what my mind is doing when I'm playing the game and if you guys have played XCOM before, the game is basically a string of decisions presented by percentages that you, the player has to deal with based on how you maneuver.  A friend asked me once when I was playing eCaine why I am always moving around the table, measuring my control, looking at 30 different units, while constantly squinting my eyes and scratching my head.  I just told him that out of the 17 different assassination vectors I thought about, this is the best one.

I find that this style of playing the game to be a double-edged sword.  After all, am I really enjoying a game if I'm looking at the game like a complicated math problem with a thousand different answers?  The answer is yes, for me at least.  I just enjoy this kind of play because that's how my mind becomes challenged, and I need it to be challenged when I'm playing a game.  Unfortunately, this is very rare among table-top gamers and one of the reasons why I get frequently mismatched.


greggles said...

Interesting post. I sometimes look at a game from the best style of attack...figuring out tons of different threats and such. Trying to guess my opponents moves.

But other times I just shove my whole army forward (come get some), and see what happens. I think both are excellent avenues :).

Nikephoros said...

Great post. I relate to it as lot. I play to win, but I also won't play with something that doesn't aesthetically please me. This had led me to make some bad decisions when trying to win tournaments, but it maximizes my happiness. 4-1 at a tournament with an army I love is superior to 5-0 with an army I hate.

I am much more amazed by people who fail to adapt to obvious strategies even after multiple exposures to it. I wonder if they are playing the same game as me. For example, in early 8th edition fantasy I played a Dark Elf list with 5 chariots and 3 hydras. I would usually deploy a refused flank with all my heavy stuff overloading one side of the table and my ranged crossbow troops in the middle and no right flank. I would invariably roll over the opponents flank facing my hard hitters and win the game in short order. What I never understood was how the same opponent would lose to my same deployment the next time we played. And make no mistake, these were dumb people, they were smart, articulate gamers with years of experience. I just have to figure that when they play the game they do no look at it analytically or with any forethought. They are probably also trying to maximize their fun, which is not thinking hard or critically as they do all day at work and for them this is relaxing. I am sometimes envious of that mentality, but I could never have it.

HERO said...

Agreed, sometimes you just want to roll some dice!

HERO said...

That's definitely the reason most likely. My friends tell me that after a long day at work, they just want to throw some dice, drink some beer and not worry about what happens. I, on the other hand, am always in overdrive it seems.

Sin Synn said...

One of the things that attracted me to Infinity is that it plays quite similarly to XCom.
I've been playing XCom games since the original on PC. The 3rd one- Apocalypse, is probably my fave. I even liked the second one- Terror from the Deep, cuz hey- throwing grenades underwater is hysterical.
XCom games are awesome, and I totally understand your perspective here.
Cool post.

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