Hidden information, bluffs, and dirty lies

What’s the harm in a little lie?

Earlier this week, I was playing a game against one of the up & coming members of our local X-Wing Miniatures group. He has a really cynical and self-deprecating sense of humor that can cause players to underestimate him at times, but I’ve observed enough of his progress over the past year or so to know better and not take that bait. I had specifically sought him out for a game to test my list against the triple K-Wing build (see below) that he had grown fond of, and which had been used just days before by another player to win the 49 person Store Championship event at my home store. His first two turns were simple; all 3 K-Wings took slow forward movements, maintaining a tight formation and waiting for me to come to him. In planning for the third turn, he turned his maneuver dials  over and over, and took the time to sarcastically say aloud, “This is the part where I pretend I’m doing something different”. And then, of course, he did something different, laying on the throttle and surging ahead with all of his ships.

A white lie, a bluff, or playful banter, you decide what to call it. I normally would have thought nothing of it. But on this day, it struck a chord with me, because I had recently read a rant about a very similar situation. In the story, while practicing for an X-Wing Store Championship, a player was shocked and angered by his friend outright lying about his maneuver for the turn. Player A, our angry protagonist, had moved one of his ships, and Player B said something along the lines of “You played it right. I’m glad I decided not to take [X maneuver], because that right there would have blocked me. and probably killed me.” Player A acted on this information, and took a Boost or a Barrel Roll to re-position his ship, and Player B proceeded to turn over his dial to reveal that exact maneuver, the final position of which was now free and clear of enemy ships. Player A was mad enough about this blatant lie to take his campaign to the internet and call for such underhanded tactics to be banned from the game entirely, and I was surprised to have seen that the suggestion garnered no small amount of support from others.

All three of the Fantasy Flight Games lines that I actively play right now (X-Wing, Armada, and Imperial Assault) rely on hidden information to some degree, and all three handle it differently. In X-Wing, each ship plots its’ maneuver in secrecy, and there are a limited number of game effects that allow you to influence, modify, or spy on this information. Armada lays out all its’ cards on the table (literally), but each ship secretly plans a series of commands to execute over the course of the game, and there’s certainly some bluffing and strategy added by these to positioning and the order of ship activation, which is left up to each player to decide each turn. Imperial Assault shares the mechanic of freeform unit activation order, and adds in a customizable deck of Command cards that can hold nasty surprises for your opponent – extra attacks, sturdier than expected defenses, rapid repositioning of units, or even hidden explosive traps.

This hidden information is what makes the game exciting. Dice are always going to be random, builds are a combination of a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors and an optimization problem. But tactics and secret plans are what truly make these games fun. With the right surprise move, you can clutch victory from the jaws of defeat. But all the power of your hidden information can be ruined by a bad poker face.

A sigh of relief at an enemy’s move in X-Wing can cause them to move right into your way with a Barrel Roll. Measuring carefully to ensure your Armada fighter squadrons are right on the edge of activation range for a Squadron command next turn can allow your opponent to react to that threat by moving his own squadrons out of reach, or into a covering position for a capital ship. Reaching for your hand of Command cards can make an opponent rethink his order of actions in Imperial Assault in order to minimize the impact of a Parting Blow or Overcharged Weapons.

Overcharged_Weapons                       Parting-blow

In Imperial Assault, it seems that it is rare for both players to have “beginning of round” effects to play, but it is possible for both players to do so, and the player with initiative that round has to go first.  Take Initiative is a very common card to see in Command decks, and it has been explained to me that if the player with initiative uses a copy of that card, it blocks the opponent from doing so. But otherwise, there’s no reason to want to do it – not only does it prevent you from using it on a future turn to actually steal the initiative token, it forces you to leave one of your deployment groups out of action for the round. I make sure to ask frequently if my opponent has any effects to play before I play mine (as per the normal sequence of the turn), hoping that they might interpret that as that I have something to play after their window has closed, and getting them to waste the card if they have it. But more importantly, I want to make sure that when I do have it, they don’t (correctly) assume that I have the card when I ask if they have any effects to play first.

Take-Initiative

Giving mixed signals regarding game actions impact on your future plans helps cover up for when your reactions are legitimate. Pausing as though considering an interrupt ability in a card game can give away that you have it available, but can just as easily be a bluff to make the opponent cautious. Perhaps you won’t fool your opponent about what you are doing right then at that moment, but you might be able to truly make it a surprise when you do act upon the opportunity in question.

“Table talk”, mind games, bluffing, and braggadocio are to be expected in a competitive environment. Plastic stormtroopers and starships are boring; it’s the mind across the table that I’m there to compete against. And if you expect me, or anyone else, to not try to get in your head a little bit, knock you off balance, and make you second guess your actions in game, you’re silly. Lie to me, and I’ll lie to you. Then we’ll let the dice figure out who told the better lies.

— Sidebar —

img_20160206_220058380.jpg
Not affiliated with any acronym based groups.

The following is the K-Wing build I was referencing, made popular via a relatively good showing at this past year’s X-Wing World Championship. Capable of stressing a ship into oblivion, pouring out 6 TLT shots per turn, and containing a steady late game threat in Miranda, this build is currently the bane of my existence. It’s not fun to play against and it’s not particularly fun to play with, but in the right player’s hands it’s deadly. And if all goes well, I’ll end up playing against it tomorrow. Yay!

Miranda Doni – 29 (K-Wing)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
C-3PO – 3 (CR-90)

Warden Squadron Pilot – 23 (K-Wing)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
Tactician – 2 (TIE Phantom)

Warden Squadron Pilot – 23 (K-Wing)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
Tactician – 2 (TIE Phantom)

– The Tabletop General