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Know the game

 
Seems pretty simple doesn't it? If you're playing a game and you want to get good at it, it's a good idea to have a firm grasp of the rules. You don't have to be able to quote page numbers or recite rules upside down in a barrel of water, but it's a good idea to have an understanding of how the game works.

There are many different wargames, each with their own mechanics and rules. Some games, 40k being one of them, use an "I go, then you go" type of turn system. Others use a different method of determining the order in which things happen. Confrontation, for example, uses a combined deck of all player's game cards to determine when each model is activated during a game turn.

Since the game I play most is Warhammer 40k, I'll be using it as an example. Some examples will be specific to 40k, others will be viable to any wargame. This is far from a comprehensive list, but it's a few things that I think are of particular importance.
 

The Turn Sequence

Warhammer 40k is a turn-based wargame. It uses the classic "I go, then you go" system, where one player moves and attacks with his entire army and then the other player does the same. What this system lacks in realism it makes up for in playability. Many other games use more complicated systems to determine turn order, but there comes a point where things can get too bogged down. Warhammer 40k, for all it's faults, flows pretty smoothly.

One of the flaws of this kind of turn based system is also it's greatest asset. Your opponent gets to take his entire turn, doing exactly as he pleases; but then you get to do the same. One of the major factors to consider with this type of system is "Who get's first turn?"

Going first can seem like a great advantage. After all, isn't it nice to do unto others BEFORE they get a chance to do unto you? The ability to neutralize threats before they can hurt you can be very powerful in a turn based wargame. However, as I'll explain in a moment, going first is not the end-all-be-all of a 40k game. Since who gets to go first is determined by the roll of the dice, it's a good idea to plan on not going first. Even if you do win the roll, there may be times where you want to let your opponent go first.
 

Deployment

I have seen many cases where the game has been won or lost in the deployment phase. Where you place your models before the game even starts can influence how the game will flow. In the 5th edition of 40k, whoever wins the roll for first turn is also the player who deploys first. This is advantageous in that you get to deploy your army with full knowledge that you will be getting the first turn as well. Sounds like a great deal, right? Well, maybe not.

In 5th edition 40k, there's a rule called "Seize the Initiative". After both armies are on the table, the player going second can try and 'steal' the first turn from the other player. If he can get a six on a die roll, he can choose to go first. If you've set up your army aggresively with the expectation of first turn and the other player 'steals' it, you will very likely be sitting there with your ass hanging in the breeze, at the mercy of your opponent.

I generally try to deploy so that I'm protected from as much enemy fire as I can reasonably manage, without hampering my ability to maneuver. That generally means placing units in or behind cover, where they can pop out and fire if I get first turn, or sit tight in a protected spot if I don't. If I do deploy something out in the open, it's usually because the good spots are already taken. In cases like these, I try to make sure the units in the open are either tough enough to take some hits, or expendable enough that losing them won't hurt me too badly.

It's also a good idea to have a battleplan in mind when deploying your units. This will be covered in more detail later. But for now just remember that deploying your army according to some sort of plan will make your game flow smoother. If you have a plan in mind, you tend to move and attack with purpose. Just plopping your units down in a haphazard manner will make it difficult (if not impossible) to execute a coherent battleplan.
 

Going Second

Many players like to go first to try and get a few lucky shots off on particularly dangerous targets before they can start laying down the pain. This sounds like a good plan, but let's face it, most things on the board will be out of range or line-of-sight on the first turn if you and your opponent have deployed smartly. By going second, one of two things will likely occur. Your opponent may not move very much and wait for you to come in to range, thereby wasting his first turn. The other option is for him to move up and try to get into range and set up to do some damage next turn, which leaves those units in range for YOUR first turn of shooting. Either way, going second can be tactically advantageous to you, as long as you're smart about how you deploy your army.

By waiting to go second, your opponent also deploys his army before you put a single model on the table. This gives you a pretty good view of his army, and you may be able to figure out his battle plan. For example, if he stacks up all his fast units on one side, he may be going for a flank attack. By watching how your opponent sets up his army, you can get decent idea of what he's got planned, and then deploy your army in position to counter it.

Going second can also be beneficial when it comes to mission objectives. In most of the missions in 5th edition 40k, capturing/contesting objectives is more important than destroying the enemy. Starting at the end of turn 5, the game has a chance of ending. The ability to move in and capture/contest an objective late in the game, knowing that your opponent may not be able to do anything about it, can give you a tremendous advantage.
 

The Random Element

Most wargames (if not all) use dice to determine the outcome of many events, 40k is no exception. These little random number generators can be a blessing or a curse depending on how lucky you are during any given game. Since there's no sure way of influencing the "Dice Gods", short of loaded dice or other methods of cheating, the best way to mitigate the random element is to minimize it's roll in your plans.

Dice bring probability into the wargame. Will my troopers be able to shoot that guy on the hill? Will they stand their ground, or run like a bunch of sissies? Roll the dice and find out. Probability is one factor of the game that can really bite you in the ass, usually at the worst possible moment. Over time though, dice rolls tend to average out. If you base your plans on "probable outcomes", you can't go far wrong.

How do you figure out the probable outcome of a situation? That's simple. Math. Hey, I said it was simple, not easy. I'm not going to go into all the statistical averages of unit X against a variety of opponents. There are a ton of "Math-hammer" threads on Warseer that do a far better job than I ever could. Suffice to say, using math can give you a fairly good idea of the probable outcome of a given situation.

You can increase your chances of a probable outcome by rolling lots of dice, because the chances of crazy things happening are less the more dice you roll. So all other things being equal, you want to be in the situation where you’re rolling more dice, because it gives you a better chance of steady performance.

There are many factors of the game that do not rely on dice rolls. Things like how you deploy your troops and where you move them are up to you, not the dice. Using these to your best advantage can help reduce the effect the dice have on your games.

Lastly, it's always good to have a backup plan. Probability has a way of messing with you on occassion. We've all had times when the "Dice Gods" abandon us.
 

Play the Mission

I can't stress this one enough. With many wargames, 5th Edition 40k in particular, many of the missions have certain objectives other than just killing the enemy. In the Capture and Control and Seize Ground missions in 40k, the objectives are all that matter. Killing the enemy is irrelevant to the conditions of winning the game.

Now, we all get carried away killing the enemy army. Hell, I've fallen victim to it as well. I play Orks, it's what they do. There are few things more gratifying than using a powerklaw to wipe the smile off that weanie Space Marine's face ... or burying your opponent's prize unit in so many orks than he can't see ... and his troops drown in their own blood! ... and you can hardly breathe 'cuz you're choking on the ashes of your enemy! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!

*ahem*...sorry. Got carried away for a second there. But you get my point. You can slaughter the enemy and still lose if your opponent is smart enough to capture objectives while feeding you enough of their army to keep you busy. Keep your eyes on the prize!

Next I'll go over how to analyze the strengths of your army, as well as that of your opponent.
 

Back to Tactics

Next: "Know the enemy, Know yourself"