Analyse This…

The intro…

Welcome to this week’s blog!

After the Store Championship in Firestorm (being what looks likely to be my last ever Hyperspace event!), followed by a very busy couple of days in London which itself was followed by a house full of lurgy, I opted to take a week off from X-Wing in order to be around for recovery and to claw back some of the ‘husband points’ I burned by staying on for 2 extra games that weekend.

Worth it

So, with no games to talk about, this week I want to take a bit of a deeper dive into that tournament I wrote about last week, especially since the post was massive, I was a little pushed for time and didn’t conclude as much as I’d have liked. While I feel that drawing conclusions about any Hyperspace list feels a bit pointless given AMG’s indication that they’ll be discontinuing it, there are some aspects of attitude, approach and decision making that I want to get into.

Before we get started I want to clarify that I was (and still am!) really please at getting to the top 4 of a Store Championship level tournament. Aside from the 3 game, 8 player tournament I won earlier this year, this is the best I’ve done at a tournament of this level. I never felt that any of my 6 games were unwinnable and two in particular I could (should?!) have won with some improvements in decision making and/or clear understanding of the game state. That’s what I’m looking to focus on here.

Right then, let’s do it!

The main bit… part 1 – Great Expectations

I don’t go to a whole lot of tournaments. I don’t have exact numbers to hand but I’d say that for real life in person events, even being generous, I’m probably only just breaking double figures. It’s definitely less than 20. Perhaps 12-15ish altogether including 1.0 events would be about right.

I’ve done a few online events, sure, but all except 2 have been 1 game a week affairs, which definitely do not bring the same intensity of 3, 4, 5 or more games in a single day. And those 2 single day ones? Very informal 4 game birthday celebration ones against really top level players.

As a result of this, when I DO go to a tournament, I try and temper my expectations. No matter what list I’ve been flying or what my form has been like in the build up, my aims/goals/expectations for the day look like this:

  • My primary goal in a tournament is to have fun.
  • My minimum expectation of myself is to be a good opponent.
  • My hope is to break even.
  • My dream is to make the cut.

Last week’s blog was the first time I’d really written that down anywhere but once I’d typed it out I really liked it and wanted to make it ‘official’ or whatever.

Interestingly, off the back of last week’s blog I had a chat with long time regular reader and overall lovely chap Ian Franklin who regaled me with has dramatic fall from grace at the Spudgun’s Worlds Warm Up at Element games on the same weekend as the Firestorm store champs.

Going into it he was on quite the run with his list, having most recently gone 3-1 and finishing 3rd with his only loss being the eventual winner. Not too shabby!

The he showed up at Element and, well, I’ll let him tell you in his own words:

…played like a numpty, the dice hated me too, and went 1-4.

Ian Franklin

Yikes.

But crucially his analysis didn’t stop there.

I was overconfident all day, and then hard on myself for losing so many games. Because I’d been taken in by doing above average previously.

The moral of the story is, these days will happen.

Those are the cases where I have to be more level-headed: I’m not suddenly good or suddenly bad, variable results will happen.

Just don’t be down on yourself when it all goes horribly wrong. I was feeling pretty hard-done by on Saturday, until I remembered that winning or losing isn’t a judgement on my worth

Ian Franklin

Wow. Across a few lines of text in messenger Ian had managed to succinctly sum up what I had been trying to tell myself all day on Saturday and how I try to approach the game (and life?!) in general.

When I was 2-0 and feeling really good I had to remember that very few people people can/will go undefeated and while the tournament did have a top 8 cut for 21 players (from 4 games of swiss), most people would not make cut and in the end, only 1 person can win it.

Losing the next 2 games felt difficult, mainly because I’d won the first two and it was important to remember that doing well early puts you up against other players doing well. In order to keep my spirits up and my attitude good, I needed to remember that breaking even was my aim and I’d managed that by lunch, come what may.

I think that quite often the difference between us having a good day or a bad day at a tournament is more down to our own expectation rather than the games themselves.

And let me be clear on something, nobody can tell you what your expectation should be except you. I think there can be a lot of pressure on players who consistently do well (of which I am NOT one!) to keep up the good performances. I can only guess at how it feels for player who regularly make cuts and win tournaments to go 2-2 or even 0-4.

While we very often do see the same names making cuts we have to remember that everyone is different, everyone gets to enjoy the aspect of X-Wing that they want to enjoy and that, very often, what you put in correlates to what you get out.

For example, I know that (still!) World Champion Oliver Pocknell put somewhere in the region of 100 reps in with the list he took to Worlds in 2019 having prepared it for the XTC just a few months before that. That meant he was flying essentially the same list (with some tweaks and changes along the way) from April until the end of October, culminating in his Worlds win. That’s 7 months. Seven.

He very much enjoys the competitive aspect of the game and worked very hard to research, refine and hone his list and his strategies and how to deal with certain matchups well before getting on a plane for 9 hours and travelling half way across the world.

CHAMPION!

I’m very sure he’s not the only one who took it this seriously but in the end his hard work paid off and he won the title.

Another example is Cardiff/Newport local Dan ‘Eggs’ Xuereb. We both picked up X-Wing at around the same time – September/October 2017. Since then Dan has won several smaller OP events, a store championship at Cardiff’s Firestorm Games, made the top 4 at GSP’s Aces online tournament (where only those who had gone 4-x in a qualifying tournament could play) plus around 6 more top cuts in various GPS Galaxies online events. There was a veritable tug of war for his inclusion in at least 3 XTC teams this year due to his performance with CIS lists. Oh, and he’s won the XVT. Twice, I believe.

Come on Dan, chill out. Everyone’s got one of those FO posters now!

What’s the difference between us then, since we’ve been playing the same amount of time? Well, it’s the time. Not the amount of time lapsed since we started but the quality of time spent learning and preparing and the quantity (and quality) of games played. Even now at what I’d consider my peak of X-Wing dedication (for want of a better phrase!), I get maybe 2 games a week (mostly 1 game) plus writing the blog. Mostly though, taken over my 4 years in the game I probably average 1-2 games a fortnight, maybe less.

Meanwhile, over the same duration, Dan has been regularly getting in at least 2 games a week and actively tries to play in a tournament every month. I just listened to the latest episode of the Midwest Scrubcast where Matt Carey mentioned that he plays 3-4 games a week. No wonder he’s good!

It’s clear, then, that hard work, targeted learning and dedication pay off. What you get out depends on how much you put in.

Getting back to my point (finally!), based on how much they play and their general mindset in terms of competitive play, Oli and Dan’s expectations going into a tournament are going to be very different than mine. Not in terms of being a good opponent, of course (I know from experience that both are a joy to play against!) but in terms of the results. Based on their previous tournament performances and level of preparation, for both of them to be looking to make the cut in a tournament of any size and quality would be very reasonable. Then again, I don’t actually know what their expectation is for any given tournament and it could vary wildly depending on different circumstances (like prep time, format, time zone, etc).

All I can know if myself and for me, in terms of results alone, I’d still be looking to my break even.

But then, having said all of that, I played against Dan twice in Cardiff and won both games (sorry to bring that up again Dan! #noImnot).

And in the XTC this summer, England captain Oli played against a player from the Peruvian team who had only been playing X-Wing for 6 months (and playing just his 3rd ever game on TTS) and lost it.

This game we play has fine margins. Like, really fine. One good or bad dice roll, one focus instead of boost or lock instead of roll can, with hindsight win or lose us the game.

The real question is, can we identify what was skill and what was luck….? Well that leads me nicely on to my next topic…

The main bit… part 2 – More luck than judgement?

Let’s be clear here, what we play is a dice game. By it’s very nature our ships live and die on the whim of those randomised lumps of plastic. When you add to that the variance of the damage deck and tournament list matchups, there’s a lot that’s outside of our control when it comes to tournament play.

That said, there are many skills that hold value in this game to lesser or greater degrees that have the potential to affect our results more than those little octahedrons we love to curse at. These include (but aren’t limited to!):

  • understanding dice odds
  • eyeballing range measurement
  • list assessment
  • target priority
  • planning ahead
  • logical decision making
  • arc dodging
  • reading your opponent
  • list building
  • reading/understanding the meta

And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more. It’s funny that I’m writing about this today because last week’s Fly Better Podcast was a discussion about ‘gut vs logic’ which I found really interesting (and worth a listen).

I like to think that I’ve improved as a player (at least a little!) since starting to write this blog and part of that journey has been looking back over my games and understanding where I’ve gone wrong (many, many, MANY times). As such I’m going to take a deep dive into two scenarios taken (from memory so please excuse any inaccuracies!) from games at Cardiff and see if I can identify what could be done differently to achieve a better outcome.

Before I get into the scenarios though, there is one thing I want to address: our own biases.

I believe that many of us (and I DEFINITELY include myself here) have a HUGE blind spot when it comes to luck versus skill. The sort of thing where you roll in for a last engagement at the end of a match, your ship survives and your opponent’s doesn’t and you win the game as a result. When we look back and review that moment (often from a ‘reliving the glory’ perspective rather than a critical one), we have a tendency to think something along these lines:

‘That last bold move paid off and won me the game’

If we were to look objectively and run the numbers (with Gate of Storms, for example) then how would the stats look at it? Was I right to dive in and take that shot based on the maths? Or was I just incredibly lucky that my ship didn’t die and my opponent’s did?

We very often brush over our successes with rose tinted glasses, branding them as skill while doing the same with our losses, claiming bad dice.

In my opinion, even if you somehow manage to master all of the skills that I listed earlier, if you can’t critically analyse your own play and identify the differences between luck and skill in order to change how you play, you will not significantly improve your game.

So, in the spirit of transparency and attempting to improve my play, I’m going to recreate two scenarios in TTS from games at Cardiff where I believe I made poor choices, try and identify why I made those choices, which choices would have been better and see if I can prevent myself making these mistakes again.

Sound good?

For reference, this is my list:

Leia Organa (77)
Millennium Falcon (3)

Ship total: 80 Half Points: 40 Threshold: 7

Luke Skywalker (60)
Servomotor S-Foils (0)

Ship total: 60 Half Points: 30 Threshold: 3

Ahsoka Tano (A-Wing) (49)
Instinctive Aim (1)
Proton Rockets (5)

Ship total: 55 Half Points: 28 Threshold: 2

Total: 195

View in Yet Another Squad Builder 2.0: https://raithos.github.io/?f=Rebel%20Alliance&d=v8ZhZ200Z393XWWWWWWW154Y4XWWWW142Y463X73WW102W&sn=HyperForce%20v2&obs=

Ok, let’s get started.

Scenario 1 – Swiss Game 4 vs Piers Horry

State of play:

Leia is limping (having given up half points) and has run away. Anakin and Padme are trying to chase but with their position won’t catch her. I have Ahsoka and Luke on full health (and full Force) pointing towards 2 of Piers’ N-1’s (Ric is red, Dinee is green). They have both activated and moved into the positions you see below. I opted to activate Ahsoka ahead of Luke and she moves to where you see but is yet to take an action. Luke has dialled in a 1 bank right and currently has his s-foils open.

What I did:

Ahsoka’s position wasn’t precisely square like in the screenshot above and it looked for all the world like she would miss bullseye on Ric. From here on in I 100% brain-farted.

I decided to try going in on Dinee, locking her and boosting right. I then CLOSED Luke’s s-foils (intending to boost), took the 1 bank right and realised that in no possible reality would a boost work. He wouldn’t be able to shoot Dinee. He locks Ric.

uh-oh

What happened:

Nothing good. Ahsoka hits Dinee but doesn’t halve her. Luke’s 2 dice shot into Ric also does nothing and Piers wins the game 40-23.

What I should have done:

Now I purposely left out the health of Piers’ ships because it makes this section REALLY obvious. It was only after I’d moved both my ships that I paid full attention to the health of Piers’ ships. Dinee was the ONLY ship he had that was full health. Backed up by an evade and (I’m pretty sure?) a focus I was unlikely to do enough damage to get half on Dinee. Ric, however was ALREADY halved on only had 2 health left.

Clearly the best choice is to lock and boost straight with Ahsoka and then with Luke to leave his foils open, bank in and lock him as well.

pew pew!

In the worst case this gives me two double modded 3 dice shots into Ric, one hopefully stripping at least 1 token and gives me a good chance to finish him off.

Now, once the game was over and I realised this, I undid Ahsoka’s bank and did a straight boost instead. As it turned out, Ahsoka’s slight angle meant that she caught him in bullseye and could have fired Prockets (JARGON ALERT!!).

None of this guarantees me the win, of course. It’s entirely possible (if unlikely) that 8 double modded red dice fails to do the 2 required damage but at the very least it gives me a FAR better chance to get what I need.

Mini conclusion…

Clearly there are a few things here that I need to bear in mind. Firstly, remember game state. I should have made sure that I knew which ships I was facing off with and the state of their health. Then I could have made a better decision on which ship to target.

Secondly, I should have thought more clearly about the angles involved in getting Luke to point at the right thing. Yes, he did shoot Ric (the correct target) but I was actually trying to focus fire Dinee and that was NEVER going to happen with how I played this out.

Scenario 2 – Top 4 Game vs Gavin Kirby

State of play:

Luke is limping and needs to survive for me to have a chance. Leia is still above half but looks likely to give that up with just 1 or 2 hits needed. Ahsoka is halved and has full Force but is pretty far from Leia.

I’ve taken one TIE/SF off the board and the red one has taken 2 damage.

In the picture all of Gavin’s ships have moved. Green and red have focuses but blue bumped green (I think?!). I’ve banked and boosted with Luke and he feels safe, Ahsoka banked towards Leia but has bumped while Leia has 3 banked over the top of the red SF and is yet to take an action.

What I did:

In my defence, this was game 6 in a long day of ups and downs. The timer had already gone so there was no rush for another turn. I had wanted to use Ahsoka to give Leia another action but the bump prevented it. Accepting that Leia was going to get halved, after some deliberation I opted to rotate Leia’s arc to front/rear and take the 4 dice shot at the red SF which, if I halve it, I’m pretty sure would give me enough points even if Leia gets halved.

What happened:

Leia’s shot into red didn’t do the required damage (nether did Ahsoka’s from range 3) and in return she got shot at by not 1 but 3 of Gavin’s ships and gave up her half points to give Gavin a 98 – 85 win and a spot in the final.

What I should have done:

So many different things. The best case would have been to boost with Leia, taking a stress and then banking the other way with Ahsoka, putting her in range to give Leia an evade before then rolling and boosting away herself.

There’s a reasonable possibility that Leia takes no shots now (the angles and positions are estimated based on memory!) but even if she does they are now 2 dice shots at longer range with an evade and a reroll on greens with the Falcon title. I take no decent shots in return but as long as I don’t give up half on Leia then it doesn’t matter.

Even in the situation I found myself (with Ahsoka bumped), a boost from Leia improves my chances of keeping the points by dodging at least one, possibly two,, maybe even all 3 arcs (again, my recreations are approximate!)

Mini conclusion…

I don’t know why I didn’t see the block on Ahsoka coming, I really should have. Banking the other way to avoid it would have given me much better options. Even then, my mind wasn’t clear enough on which decision I should have taken on an action with Leia. Rotating, while giving me a shot, was not the best move. Maybe working on my decision tree is something I need to look at.

The boost with Leia was obvious though. I had much to lose and little to gain by staying there and trading shots and while she still may have been halved, it would have significantly reduced the chances of it.

To be clear, unlike the game in scenario 1, I didn’t think of these options until perhaps the day after the tournament. At the time I was still on a bit of a high for getting as far as the top 4 while also feeling a bit guilty for keeping Cai there while I played more games!

What can I take from this? Maybe to calm my mind and consider all options and not just rush into hasty decisions.

The overall conclusion…

I’ve done rather a lot of talking already (although significantly less than last week…) and drawn many conclusions but what it boils down to can be summarised in a few points.

Part 1 – Great Expectations:

  1. Be reasonable with yourself.

You can’t feasibly turn up to a big tournament with zero preparation and expect to do well in it. To do so puts an inordinate amount of pressure on you and really isn’t good for your mental state. The best players don’t just turn up and wreck face, a huge amount of work goes into be ready. Be realistic, be kind to yourself and, most importantly, be a great opponent (even when results aren’t going your way. Especially then, in fact). The point of this game is fun. Prioritise that. Speaking of which…

2. Have whatever kind of fun you like.

Everybody plays games for fun but everybody’s definition of what that fun actually is can be very different. Be honest with yourself, identify what it is you find most fun and go do that! Whether it’s rolling maximum numbers of dice, dodging arcs, jousting, making pew pew noises or dominating cuts, you do you!

Part 2 – More Luck Than Judgement:

3. Understand the difference between good/bad luck and good/bad choices.

Accepting bad dice results is certainly easier when you know that you did everything you could to maximise the possibility of a positive outcome and minimise the chances of a negative one. Sometimes you can do everything right and still get screwed by dice. Sometimes we make poor decisions and the dice can bail us out. The hard part can be working out the difference between the two and this requires critical analysis, honesty and willing to learn.

4. Learning doesn’t happen by accident.

I know we all know the old ‘you learn more from losing’ mantra but we can also increase how much we learn by being intentional about what we want to achieve. Understanding that practising one aspect or section (obstacle placement, opening, first engagement, end game, arc dodging, etc) of a game has at least as much value (often more) than just playing one game out to completion and makes better use of our time. If you know what you want to work on, be targeted with the practice.

Right, I think I’ve wittered on for long enough today! Hopefully you’ve found some value in what I’ve looked at, I’ll be back next week with….something!

The outro…

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