Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why It's Good to Lose Games

by SandWyrm
I had a great game last night. In fact I would go so far as to say that it was the best game of 40K I’ve ever played. And I did win, despite what the title of this post might first lead you to believe. But it got me thinking about about my progress as a 40K gamer since I came back to the hobby this past summer. And how losing has been a vital part of that.

Farmpunk and I went down to the south store so I could play someone new and so he could get one last night of 40K fun in before his new baby comes and makes him all bleary-eyed for a few months. I’m heading up to a tourney in Lafayette next weekend and I wanted to get in some practice with the new build of my army. That’s it, up above in the picture. I just put the Bassie and the mortars together this last week. But nobody showed up to the north store on Wednesday except FP and DONKEY, so I didn’t get to try them out until last night.

At first the 40K attendance was sparse, and it was looking like I’d have to play DONKEY. Which would have been ok, as I want another shot at his Cheese Bikers. But I really wanted to play something more typical and well balanced to see how my tourney list would do. Or at least something in the MEQ department, since Marines and Chaos were 3 of the 4 games I played at the Champaign tourney. As luck would have it though, another Ork player showed up. Sporting a nice balanced tourney-style list. Perfect!!!

The battle was an awesome one. He was an experienced player, but newish to 5th edition. We rolled a Cap and Control with the Spearhead deployment and went at it. Three and a half hours later I claimed victory with my objective held and his contested at the end of turn seven, but he would have won had the game ended on turn 5.
The dice gods were fickle, giving us both horrible rolls again and again with the occasional gift like the direct hit with my new Bassie that shredded half of the 19-Boy mob threatening my objective without hitting any of my surrounding units. Oh man!

But the best part of the game was that for the first time ever I felt like my army functioned as a cohesive whole, rather than just a collection of different parts. Which got me thinking about how my recent spate of losses and draws has really helped me improve my unit choices and overall tactical thinking. Sure, I won this game and the one before it against DONKEY hastily borrowed Marines. But prior to that my 10-game record was 1/5/4. Which is a far cry from the 6/4/0 I enjoyed for my first 10 games of 5th.

“Geez!” I hear you saying. “That Sucks Dude!” And yeah, it did. But it also provided an opportunity for growth. So here’s 3 ways that I think losing can improve your 40K gaming skills. Assuming you have the right attitude to learn from your mistakes.

Losing focuses your thinking on what’s important.

After a loss, are you thinking about what colors to paint your Hardened Vet Squad or how you’re going to convert a Chimera APC into a customized Hydra AA Tank? Hell no! You’re thinking about how you lost a game because you moved your troops toward the objective one turn too late. You’re thinking for the 39th time that you should have outflanked that Sentinel into his heavy weapons squads instead of putting it in regular reserve during deployment. Or you’re thinking again of how just one or two melta guns in the right place could have kept that Land Raider from contesting your home table quarter at the tournament you tied for 3rd place at.

And since that’s what you’re thinking about, you’re going to start making changes in what you bring and how you play. Which leads me to my next point.

Losing games forces you to make painful changes to your list.

I was really proud of myself back around late September. You see, I had an almost entirely painted 1500 pt. force! Which was great! I’m a VERY good painter. When I go gaming I get lots of attention for how good my models look. Typically I spend 3.5 hours on each of my rank and file and 6-8 hours on my heroes. That’s a huge time commitment. So when I get a unit painted I want to use it!

Problem was, while my army looked great, it wasn’t winning that many games. Especially when I went up against veteran players. Because, like many painters, I had bought things based on how good they looked rather than how well they played. So my army had too many elite and heavy support choices for its size. With just the bare minimum number of troop choices and a couple of Sentinels for fast attack.

So when I started losing more than I won I was forced to consider what was working in my army and what wasn’t. You’ve seen my current army up above. Here’s what I DIDN’T use from my collection. Ouch! It’s a whole army unto itself. Some of it’s new stuff I’ve bought recently, but most of it was bought back in 1998 and 1999 when I was playing a mere 4-6 games a year of 2nd and 3rd edition in a friend’s garage. I wasn’t winning much. But I wasn’t losing enough to learn from my mistakes either. So I just bought stuff that looked cool without really thinking about how it would be played.

It’s painful to see 5 lovingly painted tanks sitting there unused. Three of which were completed since I started playing 5th edition eight months ago. But I had to face the fact that Chimeras are way too overpriced in 5th. For just 10 points per squad I can outflank into the right and left table edges, making them obsolete even as shield walls.

The Russes are out as well. Since the Demolisher is far more effective against Termies and Ork Nobs. Both of which will walk right through a large AP3 Blast. And the new cover rules mean that even Grots and Gaunts can save against it if they’re positioned carefully. And the Exterminator, while a slightly better value than a Russ, is just not as survivable In the anti-horde role as cheaper heavy bolter or autocannon squad is. And the squad can be given the Sharpshooter doctrine, making it more likely for them to hit.

My twenty Stormtroopers with their 7-layer camouflage are a waste of points too. They simply don’t do anything well compared to cheaper troops with the Light Infantry or Drop Troop doctrines. And while I like the Ogryns a lot as fighters, they’re tactically inflexible compared to a squad of six Rough Riders at 2/3rds the points which can threaten anything within 18-24 inches of my table edge. See those Priests and Commissars by the tanks? Same story. Overpriced and under performing.

Point is, I just wouldn’t have the heart to cut any of these units out of my list if I was winning even 50% of my games lately. I fell in love with all of them while painting them. They look cool! But that’s the value of losing. It forces changes.

Like this one:

On the left we have a wonderfully painted model of Prince-Colonel Feisal Abu Tallarn. Feisal has had a hard time in 5th. As I keep taking away all his toys. When I first started playing with him in 3rd edition, he would routinely get the works. Master Crafted Power Weapon, Master Crafted Plasma Pistol, Bionics, Carapace Armor, Refractor Field, Trademark Item, etc. Problem is, NONE OF THAT GEAR HAS EVER WON ME A GAME! Never. Because even if you tool up a guard command squad with 400 pts. of close-combat veterans, a Commissar, and a Priest the best he’ll ever be able to is cut through a unit of Ork Boyz. Not Nobs, just regular Boyz. And once he’s taken out that 200 pt. unit of Boyz the Warboss will come right over and chop off his head. That is, if the Commissar doesn’t do it first for failing to make a leadership role. And so he’s down to just his power sword and plasma pistol these days. Which is just about the minimum I can give him and still use his model. And so today I’m giving him his pink slip.

On the right is Colonel Lawrence. Who was recently airlifted in from Forge World via the eBay sector after a horrific tank battle injury and given new plastic legs. Lawrence has a laspistol, close combat weapon, AND NOTHING ELSE.

Well… maybe an Honorifica so I can save five points. Point is, he's there to lead and nothing else.

Feisal was my last sacred cow. The one mini I had in my army who was not replaceable. But his end came during this last, awesome battle with the Orks. For, at the brink of possible failure, my objective was saved not by Feisal, who once again fell under a green Orky mob without causing a single wound. But by a well placed Basilisk round and 21 nearby lasguns firing 2 shots each. Because the strength of the guard is not in it’s characters, but it’s troops. And the 15 points I’ll save can be better spent on them.

So Feisal is out. Lawrence isn’t painted, but I can live with that for a while.

Finally, we come to the last way losing will help you.

Losing means you’re playing against people you can learn from.

There was a newbie that showed up to the south store with literally just the Black Reach box of Marines and Orks. If I’d wanted, I could have easily tabled him in a turn or three and felt very smug in my middle-tier superiority. But whipping him wouldn’t have taught me anything about the game. The guys I want to play are the ones who can actually beat me. Because losing another game to an experienced player will force me to think and adapt. And if I win against a Vet then it will actually mean I learned something.

So don’t be afraid to lose. It may be the most important thing you do.


  1. For all of you who've been reading the Back 40K thusfar...

    SandWyrm is the artist formerly known as Gore.

    great first post!

  2. You've got a great point about taking a close, painful look at your army list after a loss.

    When you lose, it puts things in perspective.

  3. I couldn't agree more with your three points. If there is anything that I can point to and say "this has made me a better player" it was getting my arse handed to me time and time again.

    Losing forced me constantly re-evaluate my army composition and how I was playing the game.
    It wasn't until I started to drop all of the cool upgrades and take more troops that I was able to constantly win a game out of three.

  4. It pains me to see cool models that are mostly unuseable in competitive WYSIWYG

    Fiesel Tallarn is one of them. I really like the model, I really don't ever use plasma pistols on commanders.
    some of the cooler looking WH Inq. Lords are like that. I love the look, hate the gear.

    maybe that will change in the next codex. on second thought. the next codex will probably TELL you exactly what wargear your commanders will get.

    Learning to loose is a hard thing to do. But loosing makes you think differently than winning.
    When I beat someone, I TRY to think about the game from their point of view, to analyze what they COULD have done better.

  5. Yeah, my biggest fear about the new dex is the possibility that the light infantry or other doctrines I use now will be tied to some special character like Al Rahem (Feisal's Model). Then I'll be forced to decide if the ability to outflank is worth the 75 pts. of useless wargear the character is forced to take.

    Honestly, if I could give my new commander a plain old lasgun instead of the laspistol and CCW, I would. He has no business charging unless his sacrifice gives the line behind him another turn to shoot lasguns. The only unit I charged with on Sunday was the Sentinel. Not because he could win, but because he could force a 30-Boy mob off of the objective as it consolidated into him. And then he just had to live for 3 turns, which he did. :)

    BTW: The Orks I played on Sunday were an awesome list. And he didn't use ANY of the Ork special characters. Food for thought.

  6. Another quick note: The Ork guy asked me a number of times if I wanted to charge this unit or that. And he looked very confused when I said "no". I'm sure he's pondering that now since if I had charged him I wouldn't have gotten the shots off with the Bassie or the surrounding lasguns that ended up sweeping him off my objective and winning me the game.

  7. It's different army tactics.

    to an Ork player, NOT charging is crazytalk. He's got pistols though. That's why he won't stop and shoot really often.

    Unless he's doing shooty orks. Which you won't see very often.

    IG tend to be about "Behold the power of rapid fire lasguns to the face" My GK Grandmaster still shudders at how often he looks directly into a lasgun.

    right now, there's certain logic to nameless hoards of 'weak' lasguns firing on whatever they can wound.

    If you throw ENOUGH shots at them.... they'll die.

  8. Yeah, I used to fall prey to the "Well, this squad can die being charged, or it can get some extra attacks and take 2 more Orks with it." mentality. But I realize now that I was taking perfectly good speed bumps and handing them to the enemy. The absolute best thing that can happen is for my squads to be charged and either be destroyed or routed. Leaving the enemy out in the open and ready to be shot up.

    Which has been a really hard realization for me to come to. I don't like watching my guys get left to the wolves like that. But I've had to learn that sacrificing some of them will let the others live. As opposed to all of them dying. :)

  9. Yup. Great post, Mate.

    Though I've never tourneyed, I used to be pretty competitive. One day, however, it hit me that I was playing Guard, and there was not so much point in being too competitive: they've such a great tabletop presence that I ought to have a list, stick to it, and watch them do their last-ditch hangdog heroics.

    Turns out I've won more than I lost with them, (and a lot of that is due to the Light Infantry doctrine, and 5th Ed cover saves, I must say), but even now I just play for fluff I still make detailed notes after each battle so I can review them at my leisure.

    I go back and re-read old notes too, just to check I'm not repeating my mistakes...


    - Drax.

  10. Some very sound advice there. I'm going to have to get used to sacrificing units - I'm used to charge denial on orks with space marines, not using squishy humans...

    By the way, you're blogs background does weird things to my eyes - all the other windows look blue... :S

  11. Sacrificing by setting up to take a charge and get wiped out takes some learning.

    About the background... I'm not sure how it makes the other windows look blue. I look at this on 3 different computers, with different monitors. Do you use a Mac perhaps? I've not tried looking at it on an older Mac.

    I had changed some of the colors a while ago because Drax (also a Brit) had trouble seeing some of the blues on the dirty orange/brown background.


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