The Absent Minded Professor–Knowing where to begin: How do you think about lists?

In this series of Articles, I introduce you to an empirically driven approach to playing warmachine. In particular, an empirically driven way to understanding how list building works.  I hope this column proves a useful resource for those who might desire a more esoteric view of the game from list building to playing practices.

This first article is more a of a prologue to the following three.  In it, I briefly provide a foundation to understanding the different between deduction, abduction and induction and then asks you to think about how you build lists.

Three Types of Reasoning

Deduction

Deductive reasoning is based on the assertion of a general rule and advances from there to a guaranteed specific conclusion. In particular, most people use deductive reasoning because it moves from the general rule to the specific application: In deductive reasoning, if the original assertions are true, then the conclusion must also be true. For example, math is deductive:
If x = 5
And if y = 3
Then 2x + y^2 = 19
In this example, it is a logical necessity that 2x + y^2 equals 19. In fact it must equal 19.

In Warmachine, when discussing a common and static problem ie how to deal with Infantry Swarms or how to defeat a brick, players typically speak deductively. They might say “Sprays and High Pow AoEs are the best way to deal with 30 bane knights” or “You need Aiyana, Ragman and Eiryss, The Angel of Retribution in that list to deal with Stormwall.” The reason for this is simple: all stats exist as numbers.   If we were to math out why sprays and AoEs generate more kills than single attacks or the cumulative effect of Harm, Death Field and the removal of Defensive Upkeeps and Animi on damage dealt to a single target; we would be able to demonstrate guaranteed and verifiable conclusions.

However deductive logic can also prove to be rather disastrous if you are not employing the appropriate assumptions in your list building and meta discussions. I will discuss more about the dangers of deductive logic next time but its safe to say that if you have ever said that Will’s/Keith’s/Jake’s Lists are winners and if I play them then I will win too, the odds are you’re making a deductive error.

Induction

Inductive reasoning starts with observations that are both specific and limited in scope, then proceeds to a generalized conclusion that is likely, but not certain, in light of accumulated evidence. It is fair to say that inductive reasoning moves from the specific to the general. Conclusions reached by the inductive method are not logical necessities; no amount of inductive evidence guarantees the conclusion. It is an important difference from deductive reasoning that, while inductive reasoning cannot yield an absolutely certain conclusion, it can actually increase human knowledge (it is ampliative). It can make predictions about future events or as-yet unobserved phenomena.

This probably the most common type of Warmachine reasoning used by players, its common to  read on the forums or hear on podcasts about someone generalizing from experience. When players use inductive reasoning, it normally begins with “In my games, X is amazing” or “From what I’ve seen, X never earns its points back” Unfortunately this is also often the most misunderstood and misused form of reasoning. The first mistake is that many people take their own limited experiences and overgeneralize. If you have never played outside your town or even your region, its more like than not that any statement based on your experience is overgeneralized. I will note that are exceptions for stores like RIW, Mayhem Comics and Asgard Games but unless you play in one of those stores or a store with players of similar caliber, you should be cautious when making comments about how good or bad a model/unit/faction is relative to the rest of the game.

The other common inductive mistake is taking things out of context. Model X might be really great when paired with Model Y AND Z but suffers when played without both. When a model like the Mountain King, a unit like Assault Kommandos or even a caster like Vladimir, The Dark Prince is part of a winning list, its not uncommon for people to start making assumptions that extend beyond the limited parameters of the empirical evidence. This is not to dissuade players from using someone elses experience as tool for improving play.  A key step to improving your play is to apply lessons about the value of a model from one successful list but do be careful to always contextualize these results.

Abduction

Abductive reasoning typically begins with an incomplete set of observations and proceeds to the likeliest possible explanation for the set. Abductive reasoning yields the kind of daily decision-making that does its best with the information at hand, which often is incomplete.
A medical diagnosis is an application of abductive reasoning: given this set of symptoms, what is the diagnosis that would best explain most of them? Likewise, when jurors hear evidence in a criminal case, they must consider whether the prosecution or the defense has the best explanation to cover all the points of evidence. While there may be no certainty about their verdict, since there may exist additional evidence that was not admitted in the case, they make their best guess based on what they know.

I was reluctant to include Abductive Logic in this section because its encompasses both the strategic and tactical the aspect of list building.  Abductive logic is likely the most important form of logic to employ when you build your lists.  However, it is not a form of logic that lends itself well to theories, formulas or observations.  As such I will go into greater detail in the next column.

List Building

So what does this have to do with list building? How and when you employ each of these three types of Logic, greatly influences not only how you build lists but also how you plan to use your lists.  Love them or hate them, lists are an important part of the Warmachine experience.

I generally hold that the list building process is arguably the third most important aspect of being successful at competitive Warmachine. The first is being able to play the lists you bring well and the second is being a good sport and all around decent human being. The second is not a prerequisite for the third and you can have the first and third without the second. However being a someone people enjoy playing against certainly will make life more enjoyable for yourself and others.

So if list building is only the third most important part of success, Why discuss it first? In many ways, list building is the most difficult part of our hobby to perfect while also  being the part of our hobby with the most divergent approaches. Some people only want to play lists that win so they use lists and models that are proven winners. While others want to be the ones that develop the next “best” list and have their name immortalized, so they take models that are maybe good/maybe not so good. Still others only want to play models that look cool.

The reality is that most players simply want to create a good list. However, the issue is that too many people create lists based on impractical combos, misjudging of the meta and fondness for fluffy models. All but the last are quite fixable but third is always going to be a personal choice.

There is a solution however, building your assumptions from the ground up, rather than the top down. In particular, this process is called “Grounded Theory” but as you will likely note, this is not a totally new concept to the world of Warmachine and Hordes or gaming in general.

Author: Professor Lust

You know me as Professor Lust on all Warmachine Related Forum and a big fan of Fedoras. I am possessed of a curiosity that tends towards the obsessive and an audacious streak that is often abrasive and a wit so sharp that I am the only one who laughs at my jokes. When not playing Warmachine/Hordes, trolling forums and generally putting my foot in my mouth, I am a sociologist who researches micro-structures and social psychology via inductive methods. I have in the past and will in the future publish peer-reviewed articles on gaming and culture.

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