The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise dating from the 5th century BC. Attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu the text is composed of 13 chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare. It is commonly thought of as a definitive work on military strategy and tactics. It has had an influence on Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy and beyond.
This series of articles is a very modest attempt at applying some of Master Sun’s teachings to Heroclix and specifically competitive gaming.
Strategic Assessments Part 1
A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. Though effective, appear to be ineffective. – Strategic Assessments – Sun Tzu
Deceiving your opponent is generally a difficult thing to do in a tabletop game such as Heroclix where there is very little hidden information. Heroclix dials are hidden but can be memorised so how is it possible to trick your opponent into letting their guard down against you?
Well here’s a couple of ways that I have heard about that may illustrate how to achieve this. Note I have no proof they are authentic but I thought they made good examples.
Example 1 – A former world champion forgot to take his powers and abilities card with him to a tournament so downloaded one, printed it out and sellotaped it together. Before games he made a thing about taking it out and studying it so as to make it appear to his opponent that he knew less than he did.
Personally speaking when I think I am playing someone new to the game I often consciously play sloppy, don’t count out range or look at their character cards and forget to do things. I generally expect them to make a lot of errors so I don’t feel that I need to put much effort into the game.
Example 2 – That same player during the World Championship tournament that he went on to win was playing a Gotham City Themed team based around Police Cruisers. One of his opponents remarked before the game began that it was great he had done so well playing a fun themed team, obviously missing how much of a beating he was about to take.
In a similar fashion if I think my team is considerably better than my opponent’s team I don’t do a lot of basics correctly as I don’t believe I have to in order to win.
Ok so example 1 relies on my opponent not knowing me while example 2 relies on my opponent not knowing my team. Example 1 also feels a little outside of the rules of the game, but also very funny, however for the sake of this article let’s focus on example 2 and think about how to deceive our opponent about the effectiveness of our team.
As mentioned the only hidden information in Heroclix are the dials, however competitive players often learn the basics about dials of popular figures so even this isn’t totally hidden. For example without looking this up I know how many clicks of life shifting focus Superman has, I know when on his dial Jakeem loses his probability control, I know the maximum reach of Krang and Juston etc. So when I play against them it would be unlikely that I would be deceived by their capabilities. Plus when I am testing my teams for tournaments naturally I test it against teams I expect to play against. So for example in the forthcoming Nationals event I know what map I want to pick against a Krang/Juston team and I know how my team can KO Jakeem on turn 2 because I expect to see those figures played it allows me to practise and theorise against them. That’s not to say I will always beat them it just means I know before the game starts what my strategy will be against them. Deception often works best in tournaments where time is often short and people may be feeling the stress of the event, giving them additional things to worry about therefore makes the decision making process harder.
So how do you deceive your opponent? Well you can start by playing something that they haven’t seen before or didn’t expect anyone to play. Just after a new set has been released is a great time to try out new figures as players won’t be instantly familiar with them. Conversely it might also be a great time to break out those older figures that everyone has forgotten about. You don’t have to play a completely different team just a tweak on an established team or playing with a different resource than normal. An example here is when talking about resources, playing something like Rock of Eternity has a great shot at deceiving your opponent as it’s rarely seen and a fair percentage of players will not have seen it played before.
If you can’t come up with a team that will surprise your opponent how about trying to make the most of a recent rule change or ruling. A straight forward example for me is characters that can alter other character’s size on outdoor maps. The rules on larger characters and line of fire changed over a year ago and I really loved the effectiveness of #003 Ant-Man changing an ID character like Nick Fury to a giant so that he ignores all outdoor terrain for lines of fire. To get the most out of this interaction I consistently play Avengers or Scientist teams so I can have the best chance of getting to play on the map I want (indeed he has sneaked on to the team I am likely playing at Nationals this year). At the time it used to catch a lot of players out because they weren’t used to the rule change and to be honest even now it’s something that is really difficult to counter as long as you win map.
One thing you will need to keep in mind though is sometimes you may well be trading effectiveness for the element of surprise. As stated previously you are unlikely to be able to deceive an opponent playing tried and tested builds, however because they are tried and tested by some of the best players around the world they will likely be more optimised and effective than what you are likely to be able to come up with. So it’s often a compromise between effectiveness vs deceptiveness and if you want to remain competitive you need to be careful you aren’t playing something just because no one else does. There may be a very good reason why no one else has ever played it.
So before I finish I want to offer some small suggestions on figures that you may want to look that could possibly deceive your opponent. Although I appreciate this sort of defeats the purpose of deception I want to illustrate some fringe figures that people won’t have seen a lot of in competitive teams. From the Deadpool set – shifting focus Deadpool, long dial and lots of options plus that Deadpool Prime means he can be super tanky. Deadpool, Merc with a Mouth – planeswalker Deadpool with a lot of text on card. If your opponent hasn’t seen him before you can bet they will not read and memorise everything in their first game against him. From Joker’s Wild – #059 The Joker + Joker Thug – someone will likely forget to read The Joker Thug card and outwit The Joker’s mastermind and not realise The Joker Thug redirects the attack to them anyway. Bizarro Joker – people will expect Bizarro Green Arrow to see play but Bizarro Joker can be equally effective if your opponent doesn’t have a plan against him.
I hope this has been useful anyway and I plan to continue looking at other passages from the Art of War to see how it can relate to Heroclix in the near future.