Saturday, 26 May 2007

"I thought we were COOL with each other!"...or Who to Attack, and When

I think we've pretty well established that the games we like are going to involve some attackin' and some killin'. Those are two pillars that AT games are founded on.

But who? Who do we attack, and why? Well, that's the real trick, isn't it? Who will be the victim of your wrath tonight? Who are you going to send into a table-flipping rage? Here are the common criteria used for whom to attack, and some of the pros and cons of each.

Love Thy Neighbor:

Sometimes you need to open a can of whoop-ass on the guy sitting closest to you.

Pros: First off, you have the excuse, "sorry man, you are closest to me." Secondly, attacking those positioned next to you requires the smallest expenditure of resources and actions; it makes sense to try to be efficient. Also, in games of territorial conquest taking spaces close to you allows you to consolidate your area of strength, remove a potential attacker from your flank before he does the same to you, allow you to thin out and strengthen around your borders.

Cons: Meta-reasons, mostly. In a game like Risk, Australia is king precisely because it puts one players back against a wall, removing a direction of potential threats. Most modern games try to alleviate this advantage by limiting the map to not include territories that have such a stark advantage.

What this means is that although attacking your neighbor might make for the most efficient use of actions, diplomacy might instead allow you to create this "back against the wall" advantage for yourself. In A Game of Thrones, the Houses in the middle of the board will frequently agree to such an arrangement, allowing them to spread out in different directions rather than spending the entire game pounding on each other. Twilight Imperium definitely has the "efficient attack" syndrome where your immediate neighbors are closest within striking distance, but diplomacy in this case can allow each of you to move forward rather than worry about defending or moving laterally; trade agreements with neighbors can help give such agreements some tangible "teeth".
Lastly, attacking your neighbor sometimes just doesn't make strategic sense; maybe he's putting pressure on the leader on another flank and your attacking him will divert him from that aim (which would essentially be your aim as well--to curb the leader). Sometimes what you will take from a particular neighbor just isn't as rich as what you could take from someone else, if you were just willing to march a little.

This is For Terroring My Serra Angel!

It is likely in the span of a gamenight that at some point, someone is going to have to pay for the "sins of the father", or what they've done to you in a previous game. This sort of thing is frowned upon by "Social Contracttm" gamers, but it can have its uses.

Pros: There's no denying that the threat of being mired in a revenge war with another player for the rest of the game can be a strong deterrent. Maye they'll think twice about screwing you over late in the game if they know you are going to extract revenge in the next game where you might have more resources at your disposal.

So long as they are concerned about winning, even if you're in a losing position in one game the knowledge you will rise from your game in the next to extract unholy revenge.

Cons: There are those who argue that introducing this metagame element "breaks" games, or at the very least makes gaming sessions less fun. I think that it's okay so long as you keep it within the same gaming night, when memories for all are still fresh; carrying it over to next week's or next month's game night is probably pushing it.

Also, you can go too far with such things. If *every* time someone attacks you it causes you to rage and vow revenge, eventually they're going to specifically target you, every game, just because you're being unreasonable (face it, some games it's just going to make the most sense to attack you--absolutely nothing personal and no sense taking it that way EVERY TIME). You also run the risk of becoming a bit of an outcast in your gaming group, especially if your rage is out of proportion to the original sin. "Attack ME to strengthen your border, will you? We'll just see how things go down in Blood Feud in New York in a little while, then!"

It's The Theme, Dummy

Sometimes the game itself dictates who you attack. This can be a hard and fast thing--Germany cannot suddenly decide to initiate hostilities with Japan in Axis and Allies. Othertimes games will shoehorn you into who you attack, based perhaps on geography, or the goals of the faction you're playing.

Pros: This definitely makes "who to attack" decisions much less strenuous. The pool of potential victims is limited in some way, taking some of the command burdens off of you. Having clearly defined objectives or alliances also cuts down on the "hard feelings" factor--sorry guy, I'm *supposed* to attack you.

Cons: If you aren't careful, such games run the risk of becoming "scripted", a common complaint lobbed at A&A. Also, some players don't like having their choices limited, even by in-game strategic considerations--if I want to attack you, don't limit my options! (Maybe I owe you one from last game...)

Save Your Pity for the Weak

This one's tough. Sometimes Johnny there is on the verge of death, clinging by a thread to his in-game existence--but man, claiming those territories of his sure is tempting...

Pros: Unless you have allegiances, one player is just as valid an enemy as another. By *not* finishing him off--and I've seen this before--that player may be able to claw their way back in it and suddenly become a threat to you again in the late game. By polishing him off when he's weak, you make sure that you won't be seeing his Greek warriors beating your doors down in later days.

Also, it goes back to efficiency; it's often easier to take out a weaker player. You usually spend less and risk less by going after a player who has no teeth left.

Cons: Like I said, this one is really tricky. First, from a metagame standpoint, some groups really frown on "vulturing"--meaning picking off someone who is weak but is not in this position based on your actions. This is sort of like "claiming the kill" and can get you into hot water with another player. Plus, there's the aspect that you are bullying or pounding on another player who just isn't a threat right now, making you look very much like "the bad guy". This can also cause some pretty hard feelings from the victim themselves if they feel your attacking them is unfair. That, of course, is in the eyes of the beholder.

There is a valid in-game concern with this, though; if the other player is weak, they're obviously not the leader and attacking the weak player probably isn't getting you any closer to hurting or taking out the current game leader. There are plenty of situations where time can be of the essence in reigning in a dominant player. Making an ally with the weak player now allows them also to build up a bit and help in the effort of taking down the stronger player.

So there are just a few considerations for making your attacking decisions. Each have their pros and cons and of course some game situations are going to cause you to choose one or another.

Do you or your group have any special attacking rules? How do you feel about some of these, particularly the "revenge for a previous game" concept?


MWChapel said...

No pity for the weak.

This one is great in a game like Through the Ages. Some players focus on certain aspect while not focusing on their military. Then they become an easy target. Really knocking them down. Its their own fault of course, but in age III when he's easy pickings, you feel "almost" guilty for attacking him over and over. Well almost, then you get over and and remember that "why the hell didn't he staff up that phalanx instead of pumping up his happiness to reap the michelangelo rewards"...release the hounds.

I've heard complaints abot this game for this very reason, where everyone picks on the weak, yet being weak, is a weakness, and poor play.

Mijjy said...

Pity For The Weak

So many games now let you "play for place" & take some modicum of satisfaction for finishing 4th & so on. While people fight over the deckchairs on the Titanic for the minor medals, the winner surges ahead & takes an unassailable lead. You need to then take a good look at the players around you & meta-game with their attitudes as you sum up their gaming personalities for the next encounter of whatever.

Personally, if I didn't win, I don't care where I placed, 2nd, 6th, whatever, it's not 1st & so I was amongst the losers. That's my personal style of play, I'll throw away an assured place for a wild remote shot at taking the crown. And I'll laugh a lot along the way.

So it helps to know the attitude of your fellow gamers & sometimes you can use that to your advantage & turn a poor position into chaos where anyone could win. You know that some you can turn your back on because they know you will go after the leader, often they will ally with you in this cause, these games are wild & I love them.

It's the style of player who will kick a dog when they're down to guarantee themselves a place rather than go for the glory that you can't turn your back on, the game is then clinical & clean & (hopefully), over very quickly.

Unless I'm the leader, then it's divide & rule baby, divide & rule as I let the minor place hopefuls go after each other like executive VP's in a tax audit while I clout anyone silly enough to get within striking distance.

Another 1/2 finished comment, but it'll do as well.

ubarose said...

Dog the most experienced, most capable player.

Some people mistake this for vengeance playing. It isn't. The person that poises the greatest threat to you is the most capable player.

Shellhead said...

I am all about the vengeance. Until somebody has wronged me, I will go after the neighbors, one at a time. But if somebody does something sneaky or harsh to me, especially without provocation, I will go after them until I have ousted them or at least hurt them worse than they hurt me.

However, I don't carry grudges after the end of a game. If somebody really bothered me enough, I just won't play with them anymore. Short of that, I don't hold grudges.

It's important to build a reputation for vengeance. Players who know you will tend to pick other targets when they have a reasonable choice.

StephenAvery said...

Screw winning and metagaming. Attack whoever will be the most fun. I go after the person who is going to have the best reaction. If i can get them to spout a tirade...all the better!

Ryan Walberg said...

This is an excellent article that will likely go unappreciated. Well done.

P.S. Attack Lannister.

Tom Hazlett (Southernman) said...

Excellent ideas and personal 'strategies' - it's great to see that most people just don't follow optimum flow paths when playing games but get in and bring some human reactions/emotions to the table, otherwise what's the point of gaming with each other.

This thread would produce a stroke in the hivemind across the way :-))

Michael Barnes said...

Whatever you do, hit Damien first and put him out of the game. Then we'll all work together on Robert Martin, who will likely use his silver tongue to try to persuade everyone to attack me. Once Robert Martin is out of the way, I guarantee you will win the, I'm not building a War Sun.

Mr Skeletor said...

Hehehe, "social contract" needs to be added to the AT lexicon.
There is one player at dockers whom I make a point to attack whenever I can just to see his reaction, normally his head turns red and he begins swearing like a sailor. Good times.

Personally I don't need no stinking article to tell me who to attack - I just bash everyone!

Muzza said...

One Pro of wiping out the weak that has been overlooked I think, is that by taking out the weakling you are denying your other stronger opponents his centres/points/cards whatever. So long as you can ensure the conquered areas are stronger under your command than under your predecessor.

I used to get targetted a lot in Risk. I liked to think that it was because my opponents considered me the greatest threat, but it was really due to my reactions when getting ganged-up on. The bastards thought it hysterical when the little vein on the side of my forehead started to throb. Eventually I developed a poker face.

Ken B. said...

Yeah, it's important to avoid becoming that guy--the one that people nuke just to see your reaction. Makes for good entertainment for them but a lousy game night for you, all in all.