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EDITORIAL: Dealing With Setbacks

7 Minute Read
May 6 2010

Setbacks happen to all of us; our best laid plans can crumble right before us. The real test, at that point, becomes how we deal with them.

Mr. Black here, and it’s been one hell of a week, to the point I’m taking a break from my continuing Blood Angels Codex review to talk about this subject after dealing with a particular setback of my own (namely the near destruction of my Tyranid army).

Setbacks can happen to us both on and off the table, be it painting or hobby related or the fact your boss found those pictures of his wife on your PC. This week though, I’m going to be discussing the kind that happen on the gaming table. The little snags that you experience that can render your perfectly laid plans to a pile of dead figures.Be it your Panzer tanks have just decided to spontaneously blow up in the face of a few American Rocket Launchers, your Skarre Bomb rolled all ones, or your unit of Berzerkers only caused a measly five wounds, we all have those moments when our plans just don’t turn out right, or even worse, the enemy got his plan off that you didn’t even see coming. It happens to be best of us, and while some can throw down their dice and throw their hands in the air crying about poor dice and luck, it falls to the true tactician to make the best of a bad situation and adapt.

Before I get too far into how to counter setbacks, I’ll expand for a moment on the above comment. To me, there are two types of players when dealing with the unexpected: those who will ignore or tantrum about the setback, and those who can understand such things happen and cope with it.The first type is usually a new player or, in some unfortunate cases, a veteran player who merely never accepts ~why~ even a minor snag can cost them game after game after game.In the case of the new player, ideally, they should eventually learn the merits of thinking a head and planning on the fly. Wargames, much like actual conflict, are an ever changing battlefield and it is imperative that one can create a whole new plan of attack/defense on the fly. Those set in their initial plan will usually be the ones who fall in the end, it’s all a matter of being able to change and evolve with the flow of events.So then, let’s discuss some methods of sealing with setbacks:

One of the key elements of any wargame, be it Flames of War, Warmachine, or Warhammer is risk vs. reward, we must all know when the action is justified, when the plan will actually advance our causes of winning and not simply an action we do because we can. That is the first step one must understand in wargaming, as it is with many other things: Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

This is often the mistake a newcomer will make, and one a skilled opponent will capitalize on. Let your opponent think their action was all their own idea and you are that much closer to controlling the tide of battle and thus, the outcome. The preliminary precautions are the easiest one can learn, and usually a player can pick them up with time, just as any other skill. Eventually they will learn self-restraint, and shy away from simple baiting.This can be aided by taking a moment to look over just what you are doing, by not rushing into things. Scope out the battlefield, understand the reactions, what will happen should you succeed or if you fail. How much will failure set back your plans? How much will it further the opponents?For a more advanced concept… How much will the idea of success blind your opponent? Can you offer them something that, in their minds, will assure them victory?

Preliminary thinking is not always about the defensive, not always in thinking about what could go wrong. No, to really use it to your advantage you must master the ability to look at the situation from multiple angles. Is failure really a bad thing? Can you set it up so, should things go wrong, later events will play out advantageous? Perhaps that is getting too deep into it, and should be better discussed in another article. But the end point remains the same: Before doing an action, one must be able to calculate the risks involved and, once doing so, decide if the reward is worth the risk, Too many plans fall apart from players merely doing something because they can, with no regard for should.If it is not something that needs to be done, then why risk the resources on it?

So you checked the field, you gave thought into every possible scenario, and yet here you are with something unexpected happening. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. Sometimes, regardless of how we plan or strategize we can overlook that one crucial thing that turns our plans upside down or, as sometimes the case may be, the dice decided that today was the day of their revolution from your cruel tyranny and declared freedom by rolling all ones.Such things happen, we play a game of luck, after all, but even in this there is a lesson to be learned. Here is a notion of wargaming that I really believe separates those who get better over time and those who find a complacent level of play, never really improving once there.That notion is the ability to adapt to the ever-changing battlefield.

Players often start the game with a plan of attack in mind, whether it be charge forth, crush all in sight, or hang back, shoot them as they come. Regardless of what they have chosen, they visualize their plan of attack, their chosen method of victory. In all honesty, I believe this is a narrow way of thinking.To me, the best way of taking to the battlefield is, well, to have no plan at all. Going in without a plan, without any preconceptions, allows one to create one which deals with the specific threat at hand. Because they have no built-in method of attack, they are not bound to that path and can more openly see the ebb and flow of the fight, creating a plan that can better be utilized for that endeavor. In short, to me having a plan before the actual game-flow has been created means you go into it already limiting yourself in certain regards.But anyway, what does that have to do with the topic at hand? Well as I said, one able to better deal with change, to adapt, stands the better odds of handling setbacks.

Often I have seen the newer player, or one simply stubborn in their tactics, create a downward spiral for themselves after one seemingly “major” setback. They fail one charge, lose one power unit, and all of a sudden to them the game is now un-winnable. They are lost on the past, so focused on their loss that they do not pay attention to anything else.This is a habit one must break if you wish to get better.If something has turned out negatively for you, if the tide looks like it’s about to turn, then remember that, more often than not, your opponent may have felt like they where dying just a moment ago before your plan crapped out. In the end, the players that get caught in the negative rut will probably continue this way, making more mistakes, stressing more and more while their opponent is only bolstered by each passing event.

So things haven’t gone to plan. What now? What good can possibly come from not succeeding? Well, remember that each action effects the game as a whole, it changes it’s very state, what was true a moment ago may not be so now.That unit you just lost? Maybe now your opponent begins moving their forces towards the new hole they left, pulling units that were a threat elsewhere.Failed the charge? Now the opponent has no choice but to react, least this seemingly prime moment pass.One must learn to focus on the here and now, lamenting the past only means less focusing on the present. Look around the battlefield, because of your “failure” what ripple effects will transpire? What, based on your opponents reaction to this change of events, can be utilized against him? If he is brash, then no doubt he is excited, if not surprised, about this development, he will probably act on gut reflex or without thinking. Use this against him. Allow him to believe this minor setback is a game ending development. Use the fact that, as a unintended side effect of your setback, it now forces him to take the aggressive path, even if he did not wish to.


I will admit, in the end preliminarily being able to judge risk is probably more important than dealing with the after-effects. After all, if you have a plan in case you fail then spur-of-the-moment problem solving won’t be necessary: you will have already had a plan to act upon. I mentioned “Afterwards” because, since we all can’t be Batman, we will occasionally slip, the odds just won’t play with you, some idea will go unthought of, or we’ll just mess up. Thus it is still needed to be able to plan “should” your best laid plans fail.

~There are many different ways people can deal with setbacks on the tabletop, the above are merely my personal ideas developed over the years of gaming. What are your thoughts on risk vs. reward scenarios? What are your experiences, either as a player or onlooker, dealing with setbacks and mistakes on the field of tabletop battle?

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