Teaching and Mentorship in Gaming Clubs (OR) "Why Doesn't My Game Get Any Better?!"

Just thought that I would fire off a quick blog post between rounds at the Attack X tournament.

The World's Slowest Rage Quit:

I was reminded today about how one is motivated towards a hobby based on one's wins or losses.

I tend to lose. A lot. Lately I feel as if, with the exception of a select few gaming systems, I just can't compete against my fellow gamers. Our gaming group doesn't seem much different than others, really, we've got our power gamers, we've got our painters and modellers, our 'Cheerleaders' (that's me, I've got more Sportsmanship trophies than anything else among my collection) and everything in between.

While this tournament hasn't been terribly good for me from a performance standpoint, losing 3 rounds solidly in the last 4 games, I did manage to get myself a stunning victory in the fourth round. But it was my opponent's morale (or the lack of it) that really brought things in line for me about why people stick with a game or not.

My opponent was playing a pretty standard German Grenadier list: a smattering of infantry troops, some obligatory ack-ack assets, some artillery guns and 2 (very expensive) Tiger I tanks. The list wasn't terribly unique, it had firepower in the right places, obvious reliance upon those Tigers. It wasn't difficult to create a fake flank and then, when deployment was all said and done, present my true flank and push my real objective.

What was interesting though was watching my opponent's morale during the game. Right from the get go he was in an "I don't really care about the outcome of this" mode and as we moved forward in the game this turned into "It's just not possible for me to win" to "I'm actually in the process of retiring this army for good."

It was like watching a slow rage quit.

It's a Question of Translation:

But it got me to thinking about when I'm in that spot, constantly losing game after game, very little reward in site. There was a time when I lost every single game against my main (and only) opponent in Dystopian Wars for 6 months straight. Eventually it got to the point where I was ready to put away my dice for good and get into other hobbies. Why continue with something that one constantly fails at? I felt like I wasn't learning anything from each game, it all felt fruitless.

There have been other times when I've spent WAY WAY more on models than I'd intended just to present a different kind of tactic to my main opponent in the hopes I could surprise him and squeeze out a win. In this manner, my losses, like so many Casino junkies, had fueled my purchasing decisions in my armies and ballooned the model counts in them to epic proportions.

But then it got me to thinking about the dynamics of our group and where I've felt I sit in it for a long time.

For longer than I can remember I can see that there are tactics and strategies being played out, but I couldn't read them, couldn't make sense of them. To neophyte gamers, it's like trying to read a novel in a foreign language... it all comes across as gibberish.

Similarly, my tactics and overall strategy in my fourth round didn't seem like much to me, but to my opponent, it was very clear that it was something that wasn't being read, otherwise he wouldn't have fallen into the traps that I'd set.

Where We Improve Our Game:

The funny thing is, I have two guys in my local gaming group that are hands down the very best players I've ever seen. One I LOVE to play against because every single game, even though I might get thoroughly spanked, I learn something from every time. The other, up until very recently, I never learned a damn thing from and would just get destroyed everytime we threw dice. It got to the point where I'd just avoid playing them altogether.

I was always mystified about why I could learn so much from such an obviously better player and at the same time learn almost nothing from my games against the other. Eventually I came to the conclusion that it was a combination of their ability to explain more complex tactics and strategies but more importantly my ability to listen to what they were or weren't saying about those tactics and strategies.

Lately I've started learning from both players and my games and much closer and more enjoyable.

I've also noticed something in the old adage that in order to improve you need to surround yourself with better players. I used to fervently believe this but I actually think that's only sort of true. The really great players force you to push the envelope, fight harder, think more on your feet. But being in that kind of uphill battle ALL the time is really hard, exhausting and eventually you'll find you aren't growing as quickly as you'd like.

You actually can learn from opponents that aren't as good as you either. Like in the fourth round I played I was able to try out some new strategies and tactics that would have very quickly been countered and complicated by the tactics of more advanced players. Instead, I was in a (relatively) safe environment to test out some new tactics without getting overtly punished for risk taking or not executing those tactics with flawless precision.

I've often found that's the case with the better players; my tactics aren't bad ideas in and of themselves, they're just unpolished so are prone to counter by someone who can recognize their weaknesses. It's through repetition and practice that one hones those tactics. In this case the learning curve against significantly better opponents is far steeper.

When the Pupil Becomes the Teacher:

So what do we take away from this? My personal belief is that if you are a part of a gaming club there should be a recognition that the better players have an obligation to mentor the worse players and the worse players have an obligation to listen and see the signs of what they can learn from those better players.

  • If you are clearly one of the better players in your gaming group, teach! Don't hold your secrets to yourself, it helps no one. Eventually you'll get complacent when faced against better opponents and eventually you'll get bored of the simplistic games you constantly have against opponents who aren't as good as you. Teach people the tricks that you have learned. It'll improve everyone's experience!
  • If you are someone who does want to improve your game listen to what the better players have to say. Take it all with a grain of salt, what works for one person might not work for another, but be willing to dissolve your beliefs about one unit or another's strengths or weaknesses; One tactic or another. Be willing to experiment and try things outside of your comfort zone.
  • DON'T just smash an opponent because it's your one opportunity to get a win. In my experience the true sportsmanlike behavior is when someone wins flawlessly but then also gives their opponent some take-away. As a weaker player I appreciate those moments immensely. This doesn't mean offer up advice with arrogance, but rather, allow for there to be a discussion about the game afterwards.
  • DO discuss the game and how it played out. A little de-briefing can really benefit everyone and is fun to talk about! Ask the winner what they'd initially intended to do and how that plan changed over the course of the game, find out why the loser did what they did and where they could have improved... These de-briefings are always a great learning opportunity for everyone.

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