In this article I’m going to explore my attempts and methods over the years to enhance my competitive edge from the sane to the surreal to gain an extra percent or two to my advantage. This takes in simple things like doing your homework on the meta or from making yourself physically prepared to the psychology of clothing.
The obvious: podcasts and the internet
I normally get out once a week to roll some dice in my pants and to keep myself abreast of ‘the meta’ I will listen to podcasts and read a variety of articles from the internet. If you get the opportunity to it’s often worth it as there are now a fair few podcasts and blogs about, most of good quality. It can be a bit repetitive when a new wave drops but most have started to deviate away from a straight by the numbers run through of every bit and piece in a release.
Marginal Gains: the score takes care of itself
My intention is to try and gain a small percentage gain through effectively doing a bit of homework and preparation. It’s worth reading a few books or articles around the subject of marginal gains and other nonsense. One of the few take homes from a sales course or presentation is that for the most part you will hear nothing new but there might be one small turn of phrase or new gem that might improve performance by a small margin. This can make a considerable difference if it turns a defeat into a victory.
I recommend reading “The Score Takes Care of Itself, My Philosophy of Leadership,” by Bill Walsh. You need not have a love of American Football to get anything from it. I’ve mentioned this book before and having read it and gone through it again I would recommend that everyone reads this book. It is surprising how it relates to many everyday life situations in the work place and explains why your place of work is either good or bad and why the leadership more often than not could achieve better. A lot of the content is applicable to playing X-wing or other games and life in general, which is why I like it.
During my working life I started out in the film and television industry for seven years before moving into the world of direct sales. The difference between the two was not the startling contrast you might expect at first glance. One of the main things of note with sales in any environment is that apart from being a salesman is conceived as a dirty word and person, we are all salespeople in a working environment and utilising sales techniques, we just don’t recognise it. These techniques are often utilised in other environments too in everyday life and wargaming is one of them.
In social psychology, reciprocity is a social rule that says people should repay, in kind, what another person has provided for them; that is, people give back (reciprocate) the kind of treatment they have received from another.
In the UK there is a chain of furniture stores selling tables, sofas beds etc of which a big part of their gimmick is a simple reciprocity of giving each customer interested in an item some freshly baked cookies from instore and a hot drink of their choice. The coffee was below par by the way when I went there but the cookies rather tasty. The basic gist is that I do something for you if you do something for me. In this case the salesman gives you a tasty cookie and a free coffee, make small talk with the kids then in return you purchase a sofa and ideally a pay it back on finance package so that the salesman makes more commission. Win, win, and free cookies.
I gaming terms I saw one of my gaming buddies scoop up a best sports prize and a significant improvement in his overall placing at a Warhammer 40K tournament several years back by providing his opponents with a massive bag of chocolates and other consumables to share throughout the game. This was a conscious plan on his part but at the same time it should not take away from the good nature and easy going conduct he plays with. As soft scoring was quite predominant during this period I decided to also give it a go but no matter how nicely you play, making people shovel off their models in great swathes never gets you much of the popular vote, even with bribes.
In a wider sphere though, (in sales we talk of the ice breaker), trying to set up a meaningful social contract with your opponent before playing is always a good idea and should lead to a more enjoyable game, even if it ends up being a bit one sided. I’ve tried a variety of snacks to offer over the years but have found in most cases that high sugar content is best received. I did try health snacks at an X-wing event earlier last year and despite the overall better health and less rotundness of X-wing gamers in comparison to other miniature systems I only had one taker for the banana chips.
None for the chilli flavoured seeds. Wood chippings with a hint of chilli would have been a better description.
Nutrition: blueberries and cold brew.
So that nicely slides into this section, nutrition. It is often stated many times in many places about keeping hydrated and fed at tournaments, especially if it’s going to be a long one. I would agree with this and naturally make sure its part of my routine to keep watered up. Last year I watched a programme about brain function and why Japan has the lowest amount of dementia in first world countries. I forget the actual reasons and the type of sweet potatoes that is abundant there and has made up the diet of these centurions’ with all full faculties, but in the UK and other parts of the world the best source of the same contents is blueberries.
Therefore if I eat a certain amount of blueberries a day I can increase my brain function. Now I like blueberries but this fad I only managed for about two weeks. Blueberries are also a bit expensive to buy and consume in a bulk load constantly. It also ups the cost of toilet paper.
Cold brew coffee
Ah, my new old friend. I read about cold brew back in early 2015 and jumped on the band wagon and made my own. In nut shell cold brew coffee removes the bad stuff, (ergo it is healthy), whilst giving you a big caffeine hit which is apparently healthier and stronger than expresso or any other coffee drink. Every Tournament since mid 2015 I took my own flask to until recently when I decided to cut down on coffee which seemed to have supplanted alcohol in my diet. I remember the days you would say to a mate, “fancy going for a quick beer?” this is now replaced with “fancy going for a quick iced caramel macchiato?”
In fact even when going to a pub these days it’s to drink coffee. I digress.
My line of thinking to gain me an edge as the day wore on was that the healthy high caffeine drink would keep me ticking over. This culminated in the over indulgence of caffeine related drinks at Yavin 2016 last year which when combined with a large number of cheap Red Bull alternatives left me high as a kite for round one. As much as I wanted to play X-wing I had the desire to do cart wheels down the middle of the hall.
Exercise: Insanity I hear you cry!
Mid 2013 whilst on the back end of the 40K journey I had decided to improve my mental capacity by getting generally fitter. Now having played Rugby at a near semi-professional level in terms of the training and standard, (just no money for it), I knew my body responds well to exercise and what better way than to purchase the new flavour of the month workout, Insanity. Other than just to lose some weight and get fitter the additional rational was to help get better in game at 40K.
Insanity is just as it says on the tin. It’s Insanity.
It should be six days on, one day of rest but its tough and gruelling and well done for anyone managing it. I personally feel you need a level of fitness first before doing it. Doing an insanity workout on the morning of a major tournament would have floored me for the day ahead rather than reinvigorate and get the blood flowing through the grey cells. I do Piyo now, a combination of Pilates and Yoga. Far less crazy, but still good cardio but even this left me with trembling arms for the first round due to doing the upper body workout in the morning of my most recent tournament.
What does constituent fair psychological warfare that is not in the realms of bad sportsmanship?
A long time ago I played a man with a beard in his mid-fifties, (at 40K, not played with generally), who repetitively would quite happily give his little fella a good scratch or hold about every 30 seconds. Bearing in mind how the crotch area levitates above the table when standing, this was mildly off putting. Balls still there, check. Put dice in shaker, re-confirm balls have not disappeared, check. Roll dice, discuss results, scratch balls, check. And so on.
It was a bit distracting.
The game ended in a draw. He was a nice guy, we shook hands both before and afterwards. Did I wash my hands? I probably thought I should do but didn’t. We played again a few years later at a different event. I quipped before the game that hadn’t we played before elsewhere? He couldn’t remember although I could though oddly enough. I wondered if we would be in for more of the same and was not disappointed but this time steeled myself for the oncoming storm.
I won this time but probably for being a better player than when we first played rather than some kind of zen master, but I did try to push it out of my mind. This was unfortunately some kind of bad habit rather than an attempt to put me off my game. I would suggest not trying to utilise this as an idea as having been indoctrinated into ‘the Speakmans’ method of thinking it would unfortunately become an actual habit and habits averagely take about 30 days to consciously break or achieve.
Dress well for victory
Around 2010ish I read a poorly researched article that effectively stated that the majority of miniature gamers were politically far right, insecure and homophobic. It was based on a small number of polls in a small number of events in an isolated part of the USA which the writer used the data to base his or her conclusions from. The comments section had a raging debate about the validity of the claims and the effectively small sample size on which it was based in terms of numbers and geography. After all it’s not like polls have ever been wrong, otherwise we would be living in an age where the UK would be leaving the European Union and Trump would be President of the USA.
Taking all that aside it did strike a match in my head and I mused how I could potentially use this to my advantage if just a nugget of this held true. How could one psychologically put the other player off his game by just a percent or two without resorting to either giving the game a running commentary or scratching one’s nuts, (I don’t mean the communal nuts I’ve put in the middle of the table to suggest that I’m just here for fun).
That’s right, stop wearing the club T-shirt and adorn oneself in your collection of favourite band/ musical performer T-shirts. I theorised at the time that it could subliminally unsettle my opponent if I wore one of my A-HA, Kylie Minogue or Dolly Parton T-shirts as opposed to a club shirt or Metallica or Rolling Stones garment. This worked quite well, although one does have to be careful of perception bias in any of these cases but it did seem to coincide with a run of form.
Below is the biggest gun I had in my T-shirt arsenal, (and still own), was one that was gifted to me as I sadly could not make the concert. I’ll be frank, at the time I would not have bought it but in 40K tournaments it only lost one game over the times it was wheeled out.
X-wing has proved less successful for John but with a club T-shirt and X-wing events being only one day for the most part, he does not get out much these days. opponents and players on other tables would remark about the penetrating stare following them around the room.
That’s probably 5 minutes you’re not getting back or there might be a nugget or 5% of something in all the above for you.
“I can affect my opponent psychologically by the T-shirt I wear,” is probably utter garbage although I reckon there must be a psychologist somewhere that would suggest it holds true. You also have to be careful not to get burned by expecting to win just because you are wearing a John Barrowman T-shirt or burdened by the heavy expectation placed on your shoulders by wearing it.
Turning up to a tournament like a system open looking like Violet Beauregarde due to excessive blueberry consumption won’t help either, especially if combined with excessive cold brew coffee and red Thunder. The bad back you have can be attributed to carrying a market stall cart full of chocolates and nuts to ply your opponents with and the ridiculous fifty minute Insanity workout you did early morning. Never mind though, as you flunk out of round one slightly bemused by the defeat, after cartwheeling down the middle of the hall, you can sit back and read ‘The score takes care of itself,’ whilst you wait for round two, supping on yet another red thunder.
Oddly, despite my love of ABBA, I do not have a single piece of ABBA branded clothing.
Further and better reading