Tips to improve your Age of Sigmar win-rates
Hi lovelies, Darren Watson here. Avid UK based Age of Sigmar tournament attender and the best dancer on the scene (Dan Bradshaw is a pretender) with what I hope will be a good use of your hobby time.
I am often asked for tips on how to use a particular army or how to improve in an aspect of the game- be it deployment, movement, list building etc. The marvellous chaps at Hampshire Hammerers have asked me to write an article on the subject and they are awesome, so I will give it a go here.
It is hard to give advice on how to play the game, beyond general statements, especially if you are unfamiliar with how the chap/chapette who’s asking likes to play and their local meta gaming group).
There are so many ways to approach any given situation I don’t think it would be beneficial (or even possible) to cover them all in one article, so I’d like to talk about what you can do to improve your win-rates that have nothing to do with the actual game.
The obvious path to lead you down is to talk about the importance of practice, knowing your army, knowing your foe. But these I’ve seen discussed before and you most likely already know. So, I’ll concentrate on some of the lesser discussed aspects of how to approach the game.
Most of everything I’m about to tell you not to do I have done myself for many years. I have been wargaming since I was 13 (24 years. yikes), most of that time as a very immature wargamer. “No point getting older if you don’t get wiser son”. Cheers dad, I’m finally getting it.
I’m covering a very broad subject, aiming to help the novice or gamer that’s struggling, but my hope is there will be something relevant to every level of player.
I strongly believe games are won or lost 9 times out of 10 in your head. I have heard the following sentiment at every single tournament I’ve been to since I had a modicum of success with Seraphon at the SCGT a few years back.
“I don’t think I can win this”.
To borrow a cheesy sales training quote “If you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
Starting off with this head space and even worse telling your opponent what you are thinking is the death of your chances. One thing I have learned from playing on or near the top tables is anything can happen in Age of Sigmar. So, start expecting the best outcomes, as they do appear.
If you start out with expecting to lose, the first time you find yourself in a bad spot, you are more likely to tell yourself “I knew this would happen” and less likely to think to yourself “how am I going to improve this situation?, what are my outs?” Understanding your “outs” is super important (an entirely different subject I may cover later) and to do so, you need to have a clear head. Being negative about your chances from the off and then having these fears confirmed (from your perspective) will stress you out, when stressed out, you’re mind literally shuts down.
A good player will be trying to make you make as many difficult decisions as possible, the more decisions you must make, the greater the chance of a mistake. You are playing into their plans if you are stressing yourself out unnecessarily yourself. Don’t. Start positive, remain positive.
When you walk up to the table to greet your opponent, whether it’s someone you’ve never met or heard of before or it’s Jack Armstrong, Russ Veal, Tony Moore or any of the big names from your corner of the world... Strut.
Hold your head up, smile. Don’t use surnames. “Hi Jack, I’m Tom” with an out-stretched hand will suffice.
The game starts from that greeting, trust me. Do nothing to embolden your opponent. Do everything to embolden yourself. Using second names will signal you’ve heard of them before. As twatty as this sounds, I have people ask if I am ‘the’ Darren Watson (cringe central writing that) before. Inwardly I am rubbing my hands, my ego has been stroked, my serotonin has been activated. I will be more relaxed, which in turn will lead to better decision making on my part. Another reason not to voice sentiments like “I don’t think I can win this”, they’ll have the same effect on your opponent.
Never played your opponent’s army before? Only used your army for the first time today? Don’t say this out loud! Guess what your opponent’s hearing? “I’m trying to make excuses for why I’m about to lose”. This is all information you are willingly giving your opponent that does nothing to help you. Save it for after the game, where it can’t do any damage to your chances.
I played a guy called Simon at BOBO last year and I hope he won’t mind me mentioning he did a few of the things above. After the game we had a good chin wag about this very subject as despite me winning I felt Simon was a great player that just lacked a little bit of faith in himself.
I got a message the following month from Simon who had just come 2nd at BLACKOUT. He’d kept his calm when playing against Les Martin and Russ Veal (both well-known names in UK AOS and most likely the world) and approached the game as he would have if he was playing a mate. Low and behold success All that had changed was his mind-set and approach. Love this.
Setting yourself up to succeed
Once you’ve mastered a confident greeting you can build on this in the early stages. Before you start deploying your models take 5 minutes to set the tone of the game.
Establish a common intention
The very first thing I will ask a new opponent now is “What type of game do you want the most? A relaxed game where if you’ve forgotten something obvious (say a Mystic shield save on a unit, or a forgotten spell after saying you’ve started moving) if the game hasn’t progressed to the next phase you can take. Or a no take backs type of game, where if you make a mistake, tough it’s your fault”.
Both types of game are just as valid as each other and asking this before the game allows you and your opponent to understand what you expect from each other. My advice is to learn to play both ways and go along with what your opponent is most comfortable with. Personally, I like a relaxed game, but will happily play a game full of focus, as quite often they are the most rewarding.
Ground rules for timing
Here I like to mention my hatred of being slow played. Discuss your own worries, get potential issues sorted before they even occur. I’ll suggest a way to deal with how a game ends if we haven’t made it to turn 5. If it’s obvious someone will be the victor if we played out the game, then they are the winner is my preference. Game 3 at Blood and Glory last year I played Ben Savva and despite both our best efforts to play out all 5 turns, it ended turn 4 and we were drawn on points. I conceded though, he would have wiped me out turn 5 and taken the win.
You aren’t doing yourself any favours if you are learning how to slow play rather than learning how win within 5 turns. Most of the time people will happily agree that slow play is the worst (as no one wants to be seen as an intentional slow player) again you are setting the tone of the game from the off. If you do this, you’ll lose less because of being slow played.
You may feel you don’t have the confidence to do this. Again, this is all about mind set. There’s nothing wrong with making sure you and your opponent are singing from the same song sheet. If you are playing on or near the top tables, if you aren’t instigating these conversations, chances are your opponent is. Make sure you are involved and get to make decisions on what you both expect from the game. Don’t just be rolled over.
Introduce your army
Next make sure you go over your army list in full, especially if it’s a new battle tome or you are using under used war scrolls. Explain the possible combos, threat ranges etc. Winning with “gotcha’ moments is almost as bad as winning because you’ve slow played. You will not get better at any game by springing things on people.
One day you will come up against someone who is already savvy to your killer combo and you won’t have learned how to play around this or without the combo entirely. Especially at the higher end of the spectrum where marginal decisions count. Your opponent will now be more likely to reciprocate, lessening the chance of you being gotcha’d yourself.
Focus on your opponent’s army
On that note, when going through your opponent's list, for god's sake pay attention! The amount of times I explained Ripperdactyls in a Shadowstrike formation can deploy off board and be set up 3” away and people were surprised their Lord of Change was dead before he got to move astounds me.
Even if you use or have used that tome before, go through their list thoroughly with them. You may understand a rule or interaction differently, you have a chance now to iron things out, so they’ll be no issues later in the game. Ask questions if you don’t understand something. Main things I look out for are max threat ranges from spells, shooting, movements. Very useful in deployment.
Now, don’t fuck it up
Every unit in the game has a max threat range or even multiple max threat ranges. Be it a max distance they can move (move, run, charge) to get into melee, max distance they can shoot (move, range of their shooting attack), max distance they can cast their spells (spell range, buffs from items or other spells). These can all be further increased by allegiance abilities, items, battalions, setting up off board or teleports. Many combos to look out for.
Make a point of asking about the maximum ranges your opponent has, not just on their warscrolls, but how far they are when everything is taken into account. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
Mark out your safe distances with dice for where you can deploy. Say things like “so if I deploy here, you aren’t going to be able to hit me with Hand of Dust through a spell portal first hero phase”, “you’re going to need a 10” charge to get to me first turn?”.
Signalling your intent here and throughout will make your games run more smoothly and help you feel a sense of control. A sense of control will keep you relaxed, being relaxed will help you make better decisions. Better decisions being made will lead to to more glorious victories.
I can’t emphasise enough how important deployment is to winning a game. iI you take nothing away from this article then the importance of knowing threat ranges and taking them into account during deployment , then i’m 100% sure your win-rates will improve.
Establish any house rules
There’s also an opportunity to go over any house rules you think will help the game run smoother.
One I am very keen on is all dice flat on the table, any dice in scenery don’t count. I am not a fan of balancing dice on top of skewed dice, in my experience that leads to arguments. Make sure whatever ruling you use you stick to! Very early in a game I will roll a dice into scenery on purpose and reroll it even if it’s a beneficial result, reiterating what was agreed a few minutes before. Be consistent and when it’s time your opponents rolled a beneficial dice into scenery, you’ll have every right to ask for a reroll. It will happen, many times. All be on the same page throughout the game.
Another thing I try to avoid is ‘special’ or ‘lucky’ dice being used for important rolls like priority. There’s a reason they are lucky and it isn’t anything mystical. I am happy to use these special dice if I am also able to use them myself. If your opponent isn’t happy with that, you have to ask yourself why?
These are just examples, you may not be fussed by either (not a problem) and by no means have to do this. I just know these are specific issues in the past that have triggered me. The thinking is, address them early to avoid stress later. If there’s something else guaranteed to get under your skin, mention it before it becomes a problem. Politely and with a winning smile.
One of the things I have found so hard to do is not talk about my bad dice. But I am improving. One game that has really stuck with me was playing Dan Heelan (of HeelanHammer fame) Game 5 heat 3. I was using ShadowKroak against his Sylvaneth, we’d already played a club game with similar lists and I had diced him with some exceptional luck.
It was happening in this game also and Dan was rolling very badly for armour saves, hits etc in the early turns. I mentioned it and to his credit Dan just shrugged “it’s ok buddy, the dice will even out”. Later Dan was back in the game and it ended a lot tighter than the early luck would have seemed possible. It struck me if Dan had gotten down on his luck and focused on that he’d have lost there and then rather than having a real chance. So many people do this. I realised I had been projecting onto Dan how I would have reacted to the situation and how pointless that attitude would have been.
Never mention your own bad luck, do mention your good luck. Never mention your opponent’s good luck (especially not muttered under your breath), do point out their bad luck. Why embolden your opponent, why show the game is getting to you? Why not embolden yourself? Keep those stress hormones at bay, keep that mind clear. Keep that decision-making crisp!
Body Language is key. You may a bit out there, but there are so many ways you can help feel in control simply by holding yourself in a positive way. There’s plenty of cool videos on YouTube on how to carry yourself and how your body language can affect your state of mind and not just the other way around.
Don’t fold your arms. Don’t sit down hunched. Don’t give your opponent any visual cues you are on the ropes!
Do stand up straight, pop those hands on your hips from time to time (power stancing ftw), smile. How you carry yourself directly affects those chemicals swimming around in your mind. Make them the good’uns.
Case in point, I played Dan Bradshaw (UK’s current master, ‘grats Dan) one time for fun at Warhammer World. The game came right down to the wire (I made a 5 up save to not die on an objective) in a game that could have been played in many ways.
We then had a good old debrief on the game as I was testing out my MSU Khorne list I was working on and Dan was working on his Eels. To be fair to Dan he’d put himself in a winning position (66% chance I fail that 5 up save) and I’d gotten lucky. So, when he asked what he could have done differently all I could think to mention was how he was throughout the game rather than the decisions he was making, I wasn’t 100% there was anything I would have done differently.
During the game when things were going well Dan was very jubilant, but when things weren’t going as expected he was crossing his arms, a little hunched etc and at points was a little stressed out (not overly much, not any more than you’d expect). I just mentioned there were so many decisions to be made during that game and there were a few things he could do to keep his mind crisp as I’ve mentioned above.
Long story short, Dan doesn’t cross his arms anymore and he’s won the Uk’s masters and Sheffield Slaughter, plus, the positive body language may have helped get him top sports at those events as well.
Project power, stay positive. Anything can happen in AOS. Be ready when it does. More importantly, have the mental clarity to notice when an opportunity arises. The higher you get to the top, the smaller the margins of error you have to win your games. Feed your brain that testosterone, not poison it with stress.
It will also work on your opponent as well. If they see you handling situations, they would find stressful with a breeze, they’ll be more likely to become worried when things don’t work out for them, “what does he know that I don’t?”.
Good grief enjoy yourself.
Just rolled 3 6s and saved yourself taking 3 d6 damage, punch the air! Just won priority do get that double turn you’ve gone all out for because there was no other way to get back in to the game. Bloody smile about it. Smile about it even if your opponent is a miserable bastard. Their enjoyment is ultimately their responsibility after all. On the same token, when your opponent manages something exceptional, celebrate with them. Smile, laugh, keep that stress away.
Don’t piss and moan about the luck that’s lead up to this point. This could very well be the highlight of the tournament for your opponent and they look over at your grimacing face. Add to the game, don’t detract.
Don’t apologise when things are going well, why ruin your mental momentum. Acknowledge your own luck absolutely, but, make sure you enjoy it. Don’t let your opponent get in your head and make you feel guilty because he didn’t kill the average amount of your guys and you pulled off an unlikely fight back in an important melee.
By now you will have noticed a common theme emerging. Keep those stress levels down. Nothing helps you maintain mental clarity than smiling and laughing, nothing. It is a free gift, use it.
After games, if you have gotten on with your opponent, spend some time deconstructing the game. Ask what they were thinking about during deployment, what could you have improved upon? If there’s one thing a wargamer likes, it’s giving them the platform to discuss their understanding of the game. I am very guilty of this, give me an inch I’ll take a mile (just look at this article).
Learning from your mistakes is a sure-fire way to improving, understanding where your mistakes and why is just as important.
Don’t just examine your defeats. It’s easy to think later about your defeats and the mistakes you made. In my experience, I rarely thought about my victories. I try to examine every competitive game after an event now and go over what could have prevented a defeat or gained a more secure victory. It’s a good habit to get into.
You deserve the win
Finally, for those that aren’t so confident socially and are perhaps reading this imagining putting this into practice may be uncomfortable. Chances are if you have read this far you are a wargamer. You are part of an incredible community full of the absolute best people. I don’t know any other group of people where you can meet someone at a tournament, play them in a game for 2 hrs and later be invited to stay on their sofa because they’ve found out your due to attend a tournament where they live.
It’s ok to play to win, you are awesome.
Decide you can win, decide you deserve to win and you will win. When you win, enjoy it!
Love Dazza x