Friday, November 21, 2014

Holistic Mumbo : Adaptive Unconscious in Wargames

'The first is the primitive stage. It is a stage of original ignorance in which a person knows nothing about the art of combat. In a fight, he simply blocks and strikes instinctively without a concern for what is right and wrong. Of course, he may not be so-called scientific, but, nevertheless, being himself, his attacks or defenses are fluid. 

The second stage — the stage of sophistication, or mechanical stage — begins when a person starts his training. He is taught the different ways of blocking, striking, kicking, standing, breathing, and thinking — unquestionably, he has gained the scientific knowledge of combat, but unfortunately his original self and sense of freedom are lost, and his action no longer flows by itself. His mind tends to freeze at different movements for calculations and analysis, and even worse, he might be called “intellectually bound” and maintain himself outside of the actual reality. 

The third stage — the stage of artlessness, or spontaneous stage — occurs when, after years of serious and hard practice, the student realizes that after all, kung fu is nothing special. And instead of trying to impose on his mind, he adjusts himself to his opponent like water pressing on an earthen wall. It flows through the slightest crack. There is nothing to try to do but try to be purposeless and formless, like water. All of his classical techniques and standard styles are minimized, if not wiped out, and nothingness prevails. He is no longer confined.' -Bruce Lee regarding the Three Stages of Cultivation

Hello and welcome back to the webway!

Ever since I came to Wira Games and Hobbies, I noticed that there are a whole sea of seals....oops I mean newbies that entered the hobby as a result of its proximity to an university. Of course, there are those that are not students, but are normal salarymen that found the hobby by themselves and also joined into the wave that is Warhammer (both of the Fantasy variant and the 40k variant). However as with all new players, they tend to stumble on some rules and stuff, but those are forgivable given that we are in the edition where the stack of rules is just daunting and personally, even I care not to truly remember all of them and always keep a rulebook handy for such a case. However, as with most new players, they will remember their rules and be on their way.

Nonetheless, I always noticed that even after that first few steps passing target priority and also threat ranges, most newbies I see always struggle against more experienced players by the virtue of being outplayed despite having the most powerful of list while the opponent have a less than optimal list, and this odds become bigger as the list of the veteran becomes more optimized. It is true that players that have the most skill will win, but what skills exactly that warrants this win given this situation?Some people say it is target priority, some say it is threat range, some say it is knowledge of the game, some say it is tricks and some say it is just having the right cheese.

I will say that all of this are true, but at the same time not entirely the end of the matter. I personally believe that the factor that allows one to win is having the sharpest 'adaptive unconscious'. This will be the topic that I will be talking about for today.

To define what this is, I will have to explain the definition of 'adaptive unconscious' in my own words as it in itself is a very scientific term to use due to its origins in cognitive psychology. I define this term as a way in which a person is able to integrate information innately and letting one's mind to use the person to judge and decide upon a best course of action  from narrow period of experience which can be as good or even better than meticulously planned and considered actions. In basic layman term's : a calculated decision for a situation based upon instinctual observation and understanding of a situation.

Gut instinct is a way to put it, but at the same time gut instinct is different from adaptive unconscious as gut instinct is often more of a hit and miss reaction, while adaptive unconscious is developed by experience, training and knowledge. The reason why I advocate this as a method of a true player of the game especially in 7th edition is due to the general tendencies of people to analyze things consciously before they act.Due to the our biases and belief that having more information is proportional to a better analysis of a situation, we tend to cloud our minds with irrelevant and confusing information will only help reinforce our judgment but does not make it any more accurate.

Forums, tacticas and all that mojo is cool but in the end they are just kind suggestions to guide you to your way rather than becoming dogma. If it becomes dogma, we are forced to lock upon a certain mindset and a certain flow chart that would restrict one's freedom in being adaptable. Thus when the unexpected happens, we are more taken aback by the surprises and have no way to reorganize ourselves to put us back on our feet.

Of course when I speak of adaptive unconscious, I will say that we do not rely upon it as an ends in itself for sometimes these processes are detrimental as we can be corrupted by our preferences, prejudices and stereotypes. If one rushes in without proper calculations and observations, and just rely on their pure instinct and reactions their asses will be kicked so hard that they lose their ass forever, and as the hood speak goes 'There's no breaks on the rape train'. Instincts and reactions can be conditioned and thus if one delves to deeply into instinct and reaction they can be led to a trap.

Whether you managed to do this via conditioning the opponent to act in a certain way, and then acting in another way or simply mess with your opponent's mind, all the complicated decisions in game theory tend to fade away if you know exactly what the opponent will do next and how they will do it.

The more unpredictable you are, and the more predictable your opponent is the more likely that you will have the advantage when it comes to overarching strategic goals and tactical maneuvers. At the same time, one must also be aware of what they can do to you as well, as this state of mind works for everyone.

Nonetheless, some of you will say that how the heck does one think without thinking and not thinking while thinking? Now this might sound a little bit more confusing than it should be so let's pull it in a much more easier example using an example from my latest game with a Tau player.

To understand our general battleplans and tendencies first we must see each other's list;

Archon with Blaster, Haywire Grenade and Webway Portal
1 squad of 5 trueborn with 4 blasters in a Raider with lance and enhanced aethersail
4 squads of 5 Kabalites with a blaster in a Venom with two Splinter cannons
2 Razorwing Jetfighter with 2 lances
3 squads of 5 scourges with 4 haywire blasters
3 Ravagers with three lances


Commander with two missile pods and artifact of Arthas Moloch with skyfire and interceptor
2 Riptides with Ion accelerator with skyfire and interceptor
1 squad of 3 crisis suits with two missile pods each (farsight troops)
1 squad of 3 crisis suits with two fusion blasters each with skyfire and interceptor
2 squads of 6 fire warriors
Tau Firebase Support Cadre (1 Riptide with Heavy Burst Cannon, skyfire and interceptor, and two squads of Broadsides with skyfire and interceptor)

Given the nature of both our armies, we are quite shooting oriented and want to get as much things to be dead as possible, however what separates us from each other is our mobility and type of firepower. His list is a more static list that loves to pick targets from afar while my list is a mobile list that prefers to dance around a certain range.. Already the mind game have started as we both understood what we need to do to get to each other.

Our mission is Scouring, and our deployment is Vanguard Strike.  At the same time I got the warlord trait of +1 to Seize the initiative and able to reroll my reserves while my Tau opponent managed to get the one where his squad does not scatter when deepstriking.

We roll off to see who will deploy first in a table that is sparse of terrain save, with the largest terrain being three large buildings (one of which is a LOS blocker) to accompany said shrubbery and craters. Now some people might consider this as the main roll-off, and indeed it is in a way as both of us can and will neuter units accordingly and get first blood, thus requiring us to have proper terrain to hide ourselves.

For me at least this is how my mind's eye could see the situation as we rolled off for deployment; the three most important opportunities for either of us will present itself in three  instances;

1) Who win the roll-off for deployment

2)  Who is able to get first blood

3) Who is able to withstand the first three rounds of combat while crippling the other.

With these opportunities in my mind's eye, my mind proceed to split up to several scenarios. For the purposes of making it simple for everyone, I will just state the basic thing that I see throughout the game using my 'mind's eye'; Footsies.

What on earth is footsies you ask ( and no it is not kinky)? Footsies is a fighting game term for a mid-game ground aspect where both players are outside each other's combo range and are attacking each other with long-range pokes which are often safe. However this part of a fighting game is where the most decisive control elements of a fighting game happens as it is meant to control the flow of the match and forcing the opponent to overcommit and open up errors and then punish  said errors with the most damaging combo given the situation and setting up for the next phase of the game.

In this instance knowledge of the game plays a part in understanding the situation that we are in. We both know that we are heavy hitting armies and we both know our most comfortable ranges. In addition, we also know that the table is mostly barren, which means that anything and everything is fair game once someone draws a line of sight on them. Both of us wants to capitalize as much on the killing and less on having our things killed. So with that here are the three instances that allowed me to win the game decisively

1) Who will win the roll-off  for deployment
In this game, I managed to get the rolls for choosing deployment and also having a warlord trait that helps in this footsie game. I managed to choose the side with the most terrain and get my stuff hiding behind them to obscure LOS towards them or at least get a proper cover save to allow me to not use my Jink.

By doing so, I am already ahead in terms of the damage dealing chart, as I am able to use the entirety of my force to deal as much damage before he could deal damage to me. In addition, by deploying my forces, I am able to see what my opponent does in reaction to my deployment.

Already here I am already observing the battlefield to gauge his next move. This is because if there is any mistake that my opponent will make, I will capitalize on it and it will give me a proper lead in this footsie game. As a Tau player, I would want to have most of my Missileside and the Buffmander hiding in the lone terrain whenever possible and with the crisis suits deepstriking  while letting the fire warriors hide in reserves. I will also try to spread them out enough without losing their special overwatch rule. Also as a result of the terrain style, he can only lump them up to give his forces cover saves from intervening units if he chose to give them cover. Given that his most power and yet most fragile things are the Broadsides and Crisis suits, he will surely give them the best cover and let them weather down the storm before throwing the storm back at me.

What he did however is a rather interesting move in my opinion, as he only deepstrikes the fusion blaster squad and reserve the fire warriors and decided to deploy everything else on the table. The buffmander attaches himself to the Crisis Suits with missile pods along with the second commander, while the other broadsides hide behind a riptide. As expected, he did the lumping overwatch thing.

 In this manner, I already noticed that he is aiming for a more devastating opening volley, but at the same time made himself a little weaker on the defense. A little unexpected but still manageable. However this layout also means that one of the units is not in range of my stuff and that is the broadside hiding behind the unit. Nonetheless one of the most prized target is within sight; a missileside team. The crisis team is happily hiding in the terrain as well but I know that the killing one of the missileside team this early will severely weaken his counterpunch. In addition, by lumping them off like that, I know that I have a little more options when it comes to my Razorwing. 

My initial rationale is to deploy all my scourges upon the table to fly in and assist in shooting down the missile sides but I can sense that if I do so it will be the end of me. Thus guided by this instinct, I chose to deepstrike them. Later will I find out that this is indeed the right option.

2) Who get First Blood

With that in  mind, I choose to go first and my opponent attempts to seize the initiative. However he failed and I proceeded on to do what I wanted to do, get that first blood. Despite the fact that rushing headlong towards such a firebase is folly without any cover, I know that if I do not, he will slowly wither me down.

With that my instinct tells me that I will need to throw in the most tempting thing that he would want to shoot down the first turn, and that would be my Ravagers. The Venoms are nasty but against 2+ armour it is a little tad lackluster, so they will survive for a little while. But at the same time, I know that the little Venoms are more survivable than my Ravagers precisely because they are lackluster against 2+ armour. I do not like the plan that i came up suddenly, but I decided that perhaps there is a reason for this.So with that all my Ravagers and Venoms moved to a range that they are comfortable with and proceed to pepper their shots into the Missilesides and kill them off.

After here on out, I can see one main course of action against my army; he will kill all my Ravagers off. True enough he moved his forces enough to get line of sight and focuses his fire upon the Ravagers and killed each and every one of them, with two of his Riptides suffering overheating reactors.

Over here I know instinctively and logically at the same time that if I do not get first blood, he will be ahead in the killing curve. If I do not kill off one unit, that unit is still able to fire back at me and kill my stuff. Even if I kill two Missilesides out of three, the third one will be able to kill off something of mine. The Riptides are meant to be tankers and shooting at them will only me detrimental to the late game flow of mine as I can withstand an Ion Accelerator, but the Broadsides with their stupid array of missiles can overload my Jink saves or negate my armour saves.

3) Who is able to withstand the first three rounds of combat while crippling the other.

By the start of the second turn I appears that I am losing this war, as I lost three of my best units to one of his. The exchange rate is a little preposterous for a Dark Eldar player, and especially losing such good units too. It is really a grim exchange despite me planning for it.

The reason why is because I tend to have a particular calculation when it comes to the ratio of losses of my units to the overall advantage of my opponent. The two laws that are usually used for these kinds of combat effectiveness are the Lancaster's Law and Salvo Combat Model theory, but I will just say it in a layman's term to sum up both ideas in this context;

The more troops I have that have the right weapons against the opponent and if my opponent has less effective weapons against me and has less guys to do so than I do, my odds of victory is significantly higher.

In this case, I may have the numbers but he has more guys that can gun down all my stuff more easily. Due to my ineffective weapons at the start of the turn, I do not have the right weapons to deal with his force.It looked really grim for me at this point, until my observations made me realized that I have the advantage from the second turn onwards;

1)My idea of reserving my Scourges plays well into this  as I just noticed that his forces are all within an 18" bubble. This made me realized that my Scourges and Trueborns with their 18" blaster can and will reach everyone and provide an overlapping of redundancy fire. Also with my Warlord trait (which I totally forgotten until my opponent asked me if I want to reroll that, and reminded me about it), I am able to continue on the tempo from my alpha strike to a second alpha strike.

2)In addition with the way I pushed in my venoms, I also noticed that now my splinter rifles and blasters from the Kabalite warriors are also in range and combined with the Venoms, I have enough venues to attack and punish any gaps in his defense line. At the same time they are able to see the Missile pod crisis suits in plain sight while the size of the riptide is such that my Kabalite warriors can definitely shoot at them.

3) Forcing him to deal with the Ravagers also exposes his Riptides and Crisis Suits further to my elements, and due to the Crisis Suit's jetpack move, they are rather cluttered which makes for a very telling target for my Razorwing.

4) By virtue of rerolls, I know that I can bring down a lot of units which will mess up his target priority as all the units are now equivalent threats.

It was then that I know the game is sealed and I managed to bring in all my scourges, Trueborn squad and a Razorwing to the fray without any fear. I choose to follow my calculated risk and intuitively believe that he will not be expecting me to deepstrike in the heart of his formations. Some scattered, but they did not scatter too far off the mark or scattered themselves deeper into the firebase without any mishaps.With some proper positioning I position my non scatter Trueborn Raider and Venoms  in such a way that it blocks LOS to the other half of my forces, thus denying him the ability to focus and kill off squads as needed.

During this phase , I lost a squad of scourges to incoming intercepting skyfire but due to me blocking a number of LOS to my forces, I managed to minimize my casualties, and retain a majority of my forces. I proceed to turboboost some of my Venoms away to give the Scourges free line of sight to kill off the second Missileside team and also a Riptide while causing a number of wounds and casualties towards the Crisis suit team and also one Riptide, while slaying another Riptide.

Despite the valiant efforts to stem back the tide, but his shots are not numerous enough to kill off my things off fully, and with the remnants, I proceed to sweep his firebase with lance and poison fire. In the end of this brutal firefight at his firebase which took 2 turns,  I am left with 3 Venoms, 1 Razorwing Fighter, 18 Kabalite warriors and 3 scourges while my opponent lost 3 Riptides, 6 Broadsides, 3 Crisis suits, 2 crisis suit commanders, and 6 fire warriors.

The 5th round of the game is basically me just moving my Venoms to hunt down the remnants of his forces, and if we continued on to the 6th turn, I will totally annihilate him. He conceded before I started my 6th turn.

In this match the combination of both my unconscious analysis and also my conscious analysis makes for a compelling partner against my opponent. After the match I asked my opponent if I have done anything wrong and whether I could further improve on my play and he said that the second turn is the part that doomed him as he is rapidly losing firepower to deal with my numbers.

At the same time he was expecting me to actually rush down one flank rather than going straight for the throat. As I had deduced, he was initially planning on a much more destructive counterpunch for the subsequent turns but he was not expecting me to deepstrike that close to his units as he though deepstriking in between the gaps of his overwatch bubble is mad as he though the mishap possibilities is not worth it.

Thus in conclusion, adaptive unconscious is in my opinion an important aspect of being a competent gamer as it acts as an adviser that allows  to integrate all of these information innately, and letting consciousness to do other functions that allow them to grasp opportunities when they arise and how they arise.What this results into are layers upon layers of counters and possibilities that one could do given a situation. It is a weird state of mind of how one is able to use all those conditions to integrate within one self, but at the same time not let the conditions be part of conscious thought.

To close it off, I will close it with a word of advice that I always give to newbies when I am teaching them this aspect of the game;

"Don't think so hard, but don't think too little either. Just think enough and let the rest flow."

With that I am off, and I will see you next time!

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