Game Theory: Losing

It’s an old and tired cliche, but you learn more by losing is something I hear over and over again. A couple of years ago I argued that you could learn as much by winning as you could by losing, but I never really managed to get the local rookies to analyze their games to an extent where that was actually true.

Then a couple of weeks ago I realized that I might have been going about this the wrong way, and that I should actually try and teach the rookies how to learn more by losing instead. The idea grew on me, and I sat down to identify the basic ways you can lose a game of Warmachine.

  • DICE

These three core ways of losing make up 99.9% of all losses you’ll have in your warmachine career, but correctly identifying them can be incredibly tricky because we tend to make excuses. I’ve seen people do bonehead moves with very low odds of success, and then blaming their dice when it fails, and I’ve seen people hiding their losses behind the idea that the match-up was unwinnable.

This probably wasn’t caused by your dice!

So how do we go about identifying the problem? The first – and most difficult – thing to achieve is perfect honesty with yourself. I don’t much care what you tell everyone else, though they might, but in order to really learn you have to be honest with yourself. Once you can really look at your games and accept why you lost, you can go about the task of rectifying it. We’ll begin with the easiest thing to rectify…

  • Dice

It’s almost never the dice. I’ve had so many people claim they were rolling below average the entire game, but that’s very rarely true, and whenever I’ve asked people to track their dice they end up having to concede the issue. The thing is that sometimes the timing of those rolls are off, rolling high when you don’t need it and low when you do, so it’s not like it’s never the dice… just almost never. Blaming the dice is easy and convenient, but you can actually test it.

I found that some dice needed special salts to float (Epsom salts worked best), and I found that my red and white d6 were balanced while my shitty purple dice were ALL weighted poorly. I also tested my RPG dice and found that my lucky D20 wasn’t so much lucky – as weighted heavily towards rolling 17 – so I’ve been cheating for close to twenty years. Remember to rinse them thoroughly after the test, as the salt is rough on the dice if you don’t.

  • Matchups

If it wasn’t the dice – and it almost never is – the other easy excuse is an bad/unwinnable matchup. This is way more common than dice-abuse, and rookies with limited collections or no real understanding of internal and external synergy suffer this issue more than experienced players with a wide collection of models. Every once in a while though, everyone hits a game that you just can’t win, no matter how brilliant you play or how well you roll.

The trick here is to be honest about it. The game could be unwinnable, but it could also just be really bloody difficult, and maybe you made a mistake during the game which completely sealed the deal for your opponent. Some games are indeed unwinnable, but losing them could lead to a change in your list design if you actually understand why you lost, and if you don’t entirely understand why you lost, the match-up might not be entirely to blame.

  • Tactics

The elephant in the room, and the direct cause of most of your losses. The only way to improve is to recognize this fact, but it’s also the most annoying concept to accept: You lost because your opponent was better. The mind naturally reels against this concept, and quickly brings up dice and match-ups as possible explanations to your loss, but if you really want to improved you must be brutally honest with yourself here.

You probably lost because you made either more mistakes – or one crucial mistake – than your opponent. If you’re a top level player it’s more about controlling the game, and then you probably don’t need this article, but the first year or more it’s about making the fewest mistakes. Tactics also includes KNOWLEDGE, which is one of they key issues for many players – even at the highest levels – because this game is MASSIVE and being intimately knowledgeable about every model is all but impossible.

Flowchart time!!!

The goal is to end up in the green zone every time you lose, which would give you a win percentage of more than 95% and probably earn you some vast international nerd-fame. This is somewhat unlikely and has only happened to me once – with Terminus before warcasters lost the ability to contest – so if you find yourself in the green zone more than roughly 5% of your games you’re definitely lying to yourself.

flowchart tactics

It’s way more complicated than this simple flowchart of course, like rolling somewhat poorly in a hard matchup, where you might be able to compensate for one issue but not both at the same time. The core concept holds true though. If you’ve lost twenty games in a row you’re likely to have lost at least 19 of those due to poor tactics, unless of course you’re refusing to adjust your list design in which case your number of games lost to bad matchups might be significantly higher.

What can I do?

If you ended up in the green zone you can chalk it up to bad luck and have a beer. If you ended up in the yellow or red zone you have work to do. This can include talking to your opponent about the game and asking him what you could have done differently. It could include reading up on the models you just got trashed by, so you don’t fall for the same move next time, or even switching armies with your opponent so you can get a real feel for the issues.

You need to understand why you lost.

If you don’t really understand why you lost you can’t avoid it next time. Did you fail because you didn’t know your opponent had a model with immunity to the control effect you applied, did you fail your visual measurement and put your caster in danger, or did you commit to a flawed strategy and fail to adjust? Here’s the last few games I’ve lost.

  1. I played infantry spam into an insane anti-infantry build.
  2. I didn’t remember that Superiority makes a warjack immune to knockdown.
  3. I played Mortenebra into a Legion list with a Blightbringer.
  4. I lost on a 5% chance assassination I could have avoided.
  5. I lost an attrition battle against Vayl2 because I didn’t understand Goreshade3.

As you can see I have three games where I just outright failed at tactics. Number (2) was a lack of knowledge, (4) was a spectacular brain fart, and (5) was using a caster/list I just didn’t understand at the time. The game with Mortenebra was a really bad match-up, but not bad enough to land me in the green zone.

I was sorely tempted to give (1) a green rating, because Zerkova2 wiped out 54 infantry models in one turn, but if I had kept my recursion factories further back I might have been able to come back from it, so it was only ‘absurdly hard’ instead of completely unwinnable.


I lost most of my Iron Grudge data in a phone-repair incident, but thinking back I can’t seem to come up with a single green zone game in 2015. If you consistently find yourself hiding in the green zone you’re not only lying to yourself, but actively preventing quite a bit of learning and development. It’s a tough truth, but the players hiding in the green zone rarely last, as they get fed up losing while actively – if subconsciously – keeping themselves locked in a vicious circle of excuses and failure to learn.

Now go out there and fail some tactics!



Tagged as: , , , ,

8 Responses »

  1. You just hit a sweet spot. I am so tired of loosing. I know what I have to do, but I keep coming up with excuses.
    Thanks for writing this, it helpes.

  2. *puts fingers in ears*
    BLAHBLAHBLAH I totally got diced, not my fault BLAHBLAHBLAH

  3. The flowchart is the wrong way:
    If you first ask yourself if the dice mauled you, you’ll be tempted to answer yes.
    If you then ask yourself if the matchup is really hard, you’ll again be tempted to answer yes.
    These “temptations” will take games that you can’t identify your tactical error in and blame them on dice or matchups, even though you made a tactical error that can be fixed (you just haven’t found it yet).

    My flowchart goes:
    Did I make a tactical error? –yes (this is the only option)–> Can I identify what I did wrong? –yes (If you can’t, ask your opponent. Or other players.)–> Was it the first error I made in the game? –yes (mistakes lead to further mistakes and bad situations. Only fix the first one, ignore the rest.)–> Fix it, try again.

    Only when I’ve fixed the first tactical error in a matchup repeatedly and finally arrived at a state where I’ve asked my opponent and the ten best players I know to help me find my error and still can’t find it will I ever consider that a matchup may be “too hard”.

  4. I began recording my games in IG some time back. I don’t really know why, but I like to keep track on them and I hope to figure out a way to learn something about myself and the way I play the game, to be able to improve. I give all my games a lot of thought, unless something prevents that process from being constructive. In such a case I try to get some distance to that particular game and do it later :)

    Do you have any ideas about this? Should I try labeling my games with the colors?

    • I think it’s enough to ‘think’ about the colors, you don’t actually have to sit down and assign them, though I guess that could be fun in the long run :D

      • Hmm now that I think about it, recording the games could be a really good idea.

        Funnily enough I didn’t start analyzing the losses so acutely (in much the same way as you outlined above) until I started playing Infinity about….6 months ago? Lately my strategy there has been to get a pro-player to absolutely kick the shit out of me for 1-2 games a week, and as he so very rarely makes a mistake (dice going either way of course), it’s really gotten me to think long and hard about tactical decisions.

        I’ve beaten him exactly once, although there have been some very close ties and losses. The upside has been though that he can spot pretty much every mistake I make and we can chat about it after the game, meaning few of them really get repeated.

        But you’re right in that the springboard for any kind of improvement is to rule out bad dice from the outset (chalk it down to just one of the variables that will never go away), and not overstress the “bad matchup” factor. Sure, matchups can make your odds go up and down, but they’ll never be the sole factor in a win/loss.

        One final point I’ll make though is to advise that any player actually PLAY their bad matchups. I think the nature of the game and 2-list format generally teaches people to dodge bad matchups wherever possible (and of course, you should), but it’s actually playing the games when your back is against the wall that really improves you as a player. Whether it’s just pretending you’re “list locked” vs. an opponent for the day, or deliberately picking one, the point is that it teaches you to think on your feet and plan for when you’re cornered.

        Certainly helped me anyway :) And whoah did this post get long heh.

  5. Great post!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *