I’m really bad at writing introductions. Below are some things that have helped me not suck as bad at Warmachine.
1. Play lots of games
Obvious, right? You have to play games to get better. Theory-machining is great if you’re bored at work or if you’re flying back from a convention having just picked up some sweet pre-releases. However, nothing can replace the experience you gain from playing a game. Things that seem awesome in theory may fall apart on the table. Models that you dismissed might turn out to be game-winners. Build a list, play it ten times, adjust it based on your results, then play it ten more times.
When you watch veteran players, they often complete their first few turns very quickly. They have played their lists so many times that they have developed a kind of muscle memory that allows them to play on auto-pilot in the early game. When you play frequently, you are less likely to forget things like allocating focus, casting spells first turn, etc. Also, experienced players are rarely caught off-guard by simple tricks because they have played so many games, and they know how to avoid or counter them.
It is important to point out that playing lots of games is not the goal by itself. Some people play 10+ games a week and see no improvement in their game, while others (I’m looking at you Phatasian) play a couple times every other week and steadily improve their game. How does that happen?
I think it has to do with the mindset you approach the game with. If you are not focused on improving while you play, you will probably not see any progress. You might even get worse! When I studied cello (super Asian FTW!) my professor reminded me to always be conscious of my technique to avoid developing bad form. It’s the same for Warmachine. You need to be aware of what you are trying to accomplish with every move you make. You should have a reason for why you activate each model the way you do. If you play the game mindlessly you are likely to develop and reinforce bad habits and sloppy play.
2. Play different opponents
No two people play exactly the same, and no two factions offer the same challenges. A game against a cautions Protectorate opponent will be completely different than one against an aggressive Khador opponent. Every player and faction can teach you something. Do you get too greedy against defensive opponents and overextend yourself? Do you abandon your plans against an aggressive opponent as soon as things start to go badly? Does Cryx have specific hard counters to your list that you need to avoid? Is one of your lists especially well-tailored to deal with infantry-heavy armies?
The more games you play against each faction, the more familiar you become with their strengths, weaknesses, popular model choices, and tactics. You can develop ways to deal with each of them, and understand which lists you can and cannot take in certain matchups.
Limiting your practice to one opponent or faction is the same thing as lifting a 5-lb weight every day. You might get a lot of reps in, but you’re not going to improve (Side note: For advice on strength training you can probably ask anyone from theDetroitcrew).
3. Acquaint yourself with scenarios
When I played in my first tournament, I was completely unprepared for scenario play. All my practices games had been caster-kill only. I didn’t know what control points were or what needed to be done to get them. There were several games where I was crushing my opponent’s army but lost by scenario.
Scenarios add a completely new aspect to the game. They can affect which caster you choose, what you put in your list, and how you play. The Harbinger is a great caster, but her value shoots through the roof in scenarios like Incursion where her feat can lock the board and end the game on scenario points. How do you deal with that? You might have to play more aggressively than normal and sacrifice a model to stop your opponent from winning by scenario.
I especially recommend practicing radial scenarios since the corner-deployment and skewed positions of the control zones and objectives can cause you a lot of trouble the first time you play them.
If you go into a tournament without having practiced scenarios, you’re gonna have a bad time.
4. Don’t allow take-backs
What games do you remember most clearly? For most people the games that stick with them are the ones in which they made mistakes that either shifted the momentum to their opponent or lost them the game altogether. Similarly, you are more likely to remember your mistakes if you are punished for them in practice.
If you always allow yourself to take-back moves, not only are you less likely to learn from your mistakes, but you can also fool yourself into thinking you are playing better than you really are. In a tournament, your opponent will not give you any re-dos, so don’t give yourself any when you practice. Play each game as if it is the Master’s final.
5. Take notes on what you did right and what you did wrong in each game
Warmachine is a very complex game, and each turn is made up of a hundred decisions you have to make in a short period of time. Each game holds the potential for new board states and new lessons.
When you see a mistake (yours or an opponent’s), a cool new interaction, or a game-changing move, write it down. It may seem like a big hassle, but you remember things much better if you write them down (How many times have you heard that in school?). It also gives you time to think about what just happened and how you are going to respond; it keeps you from being hasty or going on tilt. An important part here is to not delay the game or run the clock needlessly.
Being able to review highlights of the game is great for learning. I bring a small book to the store and take notes on each of my practice games. When I leave the store, I review it and think about what I did correctly, mistakes I made, and how I can play better next time. It’s a useful tool when preparing for the next convention or big event. It’s also a cool way to mark your progress as a player. As you improve, you will notice that you record fewer of your own mistakes and more observations about the game in general.
6. Play against your bad matchups
When I played Cygnar, I hated playing against Terminus more than anything else; it was the least fun I’ve ever had doing anything. Everyone has certain factions or caster that they want to avoid whenever possible. However, in tournaments or at conventions you cannot pick your opponents or their lists, so you need to have a plan for your bad matchups.
You don’t need to grind against bad matchups every time you walk into your LGS, but you should make sure you occasionally get a game in against them. When playing these games, your aim should be to identify the elements that make it a bad matchup for you and try to minimize them.
Also, look for any non-list/faction/caster elements that can help you against these matchups. Are there a certain scenarios that help you level the playing field? Does going first or choosing the table side help you more?
7. Don’t scoop (forfeit) games
As I’ve said, when you practice, your aim should be to learn and improve. Your goal should be to play each game better than the last one. You don’t have to win the game to grow as a player, so don’t scoop a game just because it looks like you’re going to lose. If you give up every time you start to lose, you miss the opportunity to gain valuable experience. Fighting back from a weak position forces you to play a very tight game and gets you comfortable with playing under pressure. Also, the great thing about this game is that most of the time, you’ve never completely lost, no matter how bad the situation you’re in; you can always go for a long-shot caster kill.
I hope this was mildly informative or at least helped you kill some time at work. Now for one last thought about practice from my orchestra director:
“The difference between a professional and an amateur is that an amateur practices until it’s right; a professional practices until it can’t be wrong.”
No go roll some dice, and do some damage!