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 Post subject: How To Win Part 4 - The Chess Strategy
PostPosted: Sun Jul 05, 2009 10:08 pm 
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How to Win Part IV – The Chess Strategy

A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time playing a few games of Chess, which I hadn’t really played in a few years. I used to play quite regularly in high school and college, but mostly recreationally. As I was playing, I watched myself using strategies that I employ regularly in SWMs and I laughed inside at the irony of how I often compare SWMs to Chess, yet here I was using SWMs strategy to actually play chess. Most strategy board games are often compared to the great game of chess, because it is both simplistic and extremely complex, making it the greatest board game of all time. Star Wars Minis by comparison, contains a lot of the elements of chess, and I think useful comparisons can be made to help illuminate more complex strategy and tactics. In this article I will look at some of the basic Chess strategies and apply those to SWMs.

Piece Value – In chess, most players use some type of value assigned to each piece to help them decide what moves to make, and which to avoid. These range from the very simple systems such as a pawn is worth 1, a Bishop or Knight 3 and a Rook 5, to very complex variants based on board position and the time in the game. In SWMs the same principles apply. To begin with, we have the very simple method, which is basically the value listed on the card, that you paid to play it – the mini’s cost. All minis have a cost, and in general, playing to win requires you to keep careful track of your score the entire hour of play. In very simple terms, you know if you are ahead or behind based on the total score. This also relates to the basic level of strategy for this method – that is, value based attacking. You want to win the value race, and therefore, lose fewer points than you kill. So if you can use 52pts to kill 75pts, you are ahead in the race, even if you also lose those 52pts to do it. This is a basic win.

But like Chess, this isn’t the end of the story. There are several added layers to this valuation. For example, the timing in the game, the amount of hps remaining, the amount of damage potential you will remove or will lose, the safety of the current position, the synergy between this piece and another, etc. All of these can factor into a true game value. For example, in one situation, you might willing sacrifice a reasonably expensive piece if it provides you an advantage for the rest of the game, but that same piece, when you are down to 1-2 damage dealers may be more valuable. In a sense, you should be continually evaluating your own "value" and your opponent’s “value" remaining through out the game. The great players tend to do this by relatively intuitive methods and often know that they have won or lost long before their opponent has figured it out. Think of the chess player who is always reacting waiting for mistakes. They can win a lot of games, but they generally cannot beat a great player because they don’t understand the value of the pieces, they simply choose to move a figure based on what you just did and how the board looks at that moment.

Space – In Chess, space is limited and gaining it generally gives one player the upper hand. Overextending however, can allow the other player to get a protected piece behind the lines, and counter attack. In SWMs, the maps are bigger, and the movement is both more limited in length, but more open in terms of direction. You can lose by advancing too slow, to fast, too bunched up or too spread out. One of the biggest strategy improvements that most players fail to grasp is the art of positioning. Knowing when to move out, when to charge, when to sit back, when to force the action are the basics of winning and losing a SWMs game, much like in chess. So how do you carefully create and protect space? There are a great deal of options in SWMs, and much depends on the options your squad has. But I will try to cover some of the basics here. First, you need to identify the strength and weaknesses of your opponent’s squad, and compare it to yours. What can you exploit, where can you force their hand, how can you get ahead in the value exchange? Once you have done that, you are well on your way in understanding how you will advance. Second, you need to look at where they set up, where they can move to, and where you can stay out of los. A general rule of thumb is to stay out of los as long as possible. Too many times I have watched someone run their big melee beat right out to the middle of the map first turn, before their opponent activates, only to watch them complain about the “weakness of melee” after their figure gets slaughtered. On almost every map, I prefer to set up second, rather than choose side. Only when I face an obvious problem will I ever choose a side and set up first. Setting up second allows you to see your opponent’s set up, and know exactly where he can go, and what he is likely to do, which of course let’s you counter set and move.

The next principle is how do you space your minis. There are several important strategies here. Sometimes, it will be dictated by your opponent’s squad design to an extent. For example, you don’t want to bunch up all your figures if you are facing Missles or Cesta 20s. You don’t always want to spread out if you face accurate shot. You might want your big beat in front sometimes, when your opponent will struggle to hit it, or you might want an ugnaught leading the way taking shots from their non-accurate shooters. In general, you always want to advance in such a way that will allow you to attack with all of your damage dealers around the same time. You won’t usually want one figure way out front on it’s own, and you usually don’t want too much left behind either. You want to cover your figures if you can, which means if your opponent chooses to attack you, you get to attack them back. This helps force them into tough decisions, and helps protect your advance. Flanking, which is a good strategy in many games, isn’t a significant factor in SWMs. Sometimes, it is a good idea to go in two directions, but most times, it will simply leave something isolated, allowing your opponent to focus fire and eliminate that mini safely. This leads directly into the next Chess Strategy.

Defending Your Figures – In chess, the concept is simple, always advance into a defensible position, and attack your opponent when his figures are not well defended. In minis, the same exact thing applies. As I said above, if you are using space properly, you always have a way to hit back when your opponent makes a move. This discourages their move, and forces them to decide if it’s worth it or not. If you grant them an easy target with little to no risk, you make the game easy for them. Conversely, you want to try and take advantage of your opponent’s unprotected pieces. There are lots of ways to do this, even against the best of players and the most defensive of players. I will highlight several tactics later that can be used here, but an easy example for now, is forcing with a threat. Often, a fully defensive opponent is vulnerable to long moves around their core. You can often force them to break out of their defensive strong hold, by threatening their commanders, or setting up an attack that will give you the lead, etc.

Exchanging Pieces
– This relates to value directly, but also bears mention here. In chess, it refers to the taking of one piece at the cost of another. You usually want to be higher in value when you do this, however, in the midgame, sacrificing a higher valued piece when you have a lead, to eliminate a key piece for your opponent, can prove a game winner. The same applies in SWMs, which is why I mentioned above that you must constantly reevaluate the values of the game. You should always try to eliminate your opponent’s pieces with less cost than what they will kill in response. But you must also factor the points left in low attacking commanders and tech, and the abilities of your remaining pieces to win the game when you do so. Being afraid to trade pieces with an opponent is a weakness of lesser players, and being too quick to give away cheap points is another. Both problems relate to this concept. The game is about winning the points race. I rarely am willing to play a low scoring game, for the simple fact that it allows for too much chance at the endgame, where a key crit might happen, or a key miss. I would rather set my opponent up and lose a key piece to get the scores rolling. Knowing how to exchange pieces properly is key to pulling this off.

The Fork – In chess, a fork is a move that uses one piece to threaten two of your opponent’s pieces at once. This is a great tactical play, as it usually results in them being forced to lose one piece without response. In SWMs, the Fork would apply to setting up threats. Both players will have an idea of what pieces they want you to attack and what one’s they want to protect. If you can set yourself up in such a way that multiple pieces are threatened, they can usually only respond by saving one, thereby giving you free points. This is most often set up by a late round move, into a post initiative attack position. Even if your opponent wins init, he/she will have to choose which piece to save, and which to give up. It also works in cases where your opponent has an attacker and a tech piece. For example, let’s say the opponent has Lobot and Dash Rendar in a place where you can get los to either one. They win init, and must move one of them. You have done two things with this move. Either, they move Dash now, giving up their opportunist for the round, and losing Lobot, or they move Lobot and likely give up Dash and lose a large damage dealer. This is a very key strategy to use when facing opposing activation control (San Hill or Ozzel in this case) or in combination with the relatively new initiative rule.

The Pin
– In Chess, the Pin works where you can force a key piece to not move because any move will result in its defeat. This is a great way to take pieces out of the game without actually taking them. It translates to SWMs in this way, the basing of low hps figures. AoOs are one of the most valuable tools of the game, especially in the end game. Even basing with an ugnaught can give a low hp figure pause if a hit or crit can kill it. Figures with twin attack are especially good at pinning opposing figures, and pinning with AoOs often results in that figures elimination in that round or the next. Another way to pin an opponent, is to use door control properly, and clever set ups with your attackers. You can often force your opponent to give you attacks to do what they must do in order to have a chance at winning. Sometimes forcing them through a certain path, or keeping them from scoring gambit, or even forcing them to walk into your killing zone with a points lead late. All of these types of Pins can be very successful tactics in SWMs.

Pawns – In both Chess and SWMs how the “Pawns” are played is almost always the major difference between a top level player and an average player. Ugnaughts, mouse droids, gran raiders, and any other low cost piece are critical to playing the game well. Even cheap commanders like General Dodonna or San Hill can function as “Pawns” at times. Most players underestimate the power of Pawns in chess, and likewise in SWMs. In Chess, Pawns can be used as great defensive pieces, blockers, and attackers to force your opponent to move from advantageous positions to less dangerous locations. SWMs can work in the same ways and more so. First and foremost, the pawns are activations. I wrote a nice article on activation control a couple of years ago, which while somewhat dated now, still holds true in it’s principles. Activations allow you to respond after your opponent has committed which can give you strategic advantages. The article can be found at http://www.the-holocron.com. Second, your pawns are your door openers. Obviously ugnaughts are the cheapest and greatest in this regard, but if you have ever had to burn a big figure opening a door, then you know the value. Third, these pieces can provide cover, block shots from non-accurate shooters, block dangerous force powers like force push 4, or more subtly, block key movements of your opponents. These are all very underutilized parts of SWMs strategy, and learning to do so properly will greatly improve your outcomes. Finally, these figures can function to force your opponent’s hand. You can use one to force an opponent to burn one of their lesser characters first, and prevent them from activating that dangerous beat until you are ready for it. They can base commanders and harass them. They can force multiple attackers to move to get the key shots off, generally preventing their big damage options, and force them to take AoOs, which can be quite costly, even from an ugnaught.

Sacrifice
– This tactic in Chess is very important, and so with SWMs. I most often call it “baiting”. The concept is fairly straightforward, but sometimes difficult to understand and execute properly. Ideally, what you are looking for in both games is to force your opponent’s hand. You want to sacrifice something that they have to take, but that also puts them in a bad position as the game progresses. My favorite example of this, was a game I played last year in the Gencon Championship. I was playing Speedy Cannon against a Dodonna/Boba BH/Han GH squad on the Deathstar Map. I was able to set up a key shot on my opponent’s Lobot, which would also give my opponent’s Boba a shot on my Snowspeeder. However, to take it, his Boba would have to move a full 6 squares, and then stay put in my los for the Speeder and Leia in return. As it happened, he disintegrated the speeder, but in response, I was also able to kill his Boba. Even in the worst case scenario, I came out ahead 62pts to 45. The best bait figures tend to be easy to kill tech pieces that your opponent will want to kill. For this purpose, my personal favorites are Dodonna, Lobot, R2-D2 (any), Wicket, etc. High hit point beats also can work as bait as well, especially in situations where your opponent isn’t likely to kill it outright, and your attacks back will hurt his figures severely. This is a critical strategy to use against opposing activation control figures like Dodonna, San Hill or Admiral Ozzel. If your opponent is not forced to act early in the round, they can simply wait you out. Giving them a nice juicy target can force them to move that key figure earlier than they might otherwise want to, and allow your other figures to advance to attack positions, after that figure has activated.

Zwischenzug
– Which means, “Immediate Move” in German is a common chess tactic. You move a figure, which places immediate danger and pressure on an opposing figure, forcing them to move that figure to a less desirable position, or instead of doing a more offensive move. In chess, this works differently than SWMs, because your figures generally only activate once per round, but the concept is used. Basically, it applies in situations where you can force your opponent to move figures they might otherwise not want to. Figures like R2-AM can be great for setting up this kind of pressure. Moving an ugnaught up to an unopened door as your second phase can force your opponent to activate a key piece to take it out, or risk the response of the more dangerous beat behind the door on your next phase. This works best when you have another way to open the door later in the round as well obviously, but is a great tactic. Either they kill the ugnaught, and thereby activate their beat early (allowing you to move up and catch it with counter attacks and forcing it’s attacks on the “Pawn” instead of your bigger threat) or by activating that piece and moving it out of danger. It is especially dangerous if your beat is also fairly safe in it’s current position. And finally, one more example of this strategy posted by Klecser.
klecser wrote:
Another one that I'm found of is closing doors to force your opponent to waste an activation to open it to get something done. They may have a powerful "two hit" lined up, but there is nothing that says that you have to let them. Often just backing away from a door will split that "two hit" and potentially give you an advantage.


Creating Counter Threats – This is generally understood as “defensive play” but it doesn’t always have to be, and best used is probably not. I mentioned earlier the key of spacing, and not spreading out too much, creating counter threats is the main reason not to do so. The concept is simple, using your pieces to protect your other pieces. Many players will argue that the strongest squads in SWMs tend to be interference builds (I am one of them). An interference build is built on this premise. You use the interference piece (often a tough melee figure, but not always) to protect your big shooter(s) behind it, and in return, your shooter(s) protects your interference piece, by making attacks on it, a bad idea. Just like in chess, where you can force your opponent into bad positions if they desire to eliminate your pieces, you can also do so in SWMs. There are many great interference figures in the game now, both faction specific and fringe that any squad can do a reasonable job of setting this up. Jarael for example is a very popular figure for interference right now, because she can be dangerous with stun and triple (and access to GMA with the TBSV) and because she can be tough to kill with speed 8, parry, evade and force points. Jedi Weapon Masters are also great interference pieces. Certain shooters can also be effective in this roll. Speedy Cannon used the Snowspeeder as a highly mobile, tough to kill, twin attacker with DR, high defense and force points. It offered great protection to the otherwise vulnerable Han and Leia behind it. Interference however, does not work without proper placement and spacing. You do not want to give up free attacks on your interference piece that you cannot respond to with your own counter threats.
That wraps up this article and the comparisons to Chess Strategy and Tactics. I hope you too found it to be useful and enlightening to think through how these two great games compare to one another. I hope this can help you look into the wholes in your strategy and open up new options for you as you continue to improve and grow as a player and as a tactician. As always, remember that the name of the game is playing to win, and learning and exploiting these strategies will help you on your way to that goal.
Until next time,
Billiv15

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 Post subject: Re: How To Win Part 4 - The Chess Strategy
PostPosted: Sun Jul 05, 2009 10:58 pm 
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Excellent article. The shared aspects of SWM and chess you touched on are great.

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 Post subject: Re: How To Win Part 4 - The Chess Strategy
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 8:37 am 
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As usual, if anyone sees some glaring typos or errors, feel free to pm me the section before Lobo posts it on the main page.

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 Post subject: Re: How To Win Part 4 - The Chess Strategy
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 8:54 am 
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Stellar. You've filled another necessary niche with this one. Many of our articles have focused on "tactics" up until this point. You've done an excellent job of describing more global "strategies" that people use to control the game and board. Well done Bill.

Re: Zwischenzug: Another one that I'm found on is closing doors to force your opponent to waste an activation to open it to get something done. They may have a powerful "two hit" lined up, but there is nothing that says that you have to let them. Often just backing away from a door will split that "two hit" and potentially give you an advantage.


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 Post subject: Re: How To Win Part 4 - The Chess Strategy
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 8:57 am 
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klecser wrote:
Another one that I'm found on is closing doors to force your opponent to waste an activation to open it to get something done. They may have a powerful "two hit" lined up, but there is nothing that says that you have to let them. Often just backing away from a door will split that "two hit" and potentially give you an advantage.


Good example, I will add that.

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 Post subject: Re: How To Win Part 4 - The Chess Strategy
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 9:48 am 
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IT's funny your wring this for me, because I just beat my dad for the first time at chess last week. It was the first time I've played in years. I can't help but thinking the mindset I've put myself in when playing Star Wars miniatures, has certainly affected the way I play any strategy game.

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 Post subject: Re: How To Win Part 4 - The Chess Strategy
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 4:04 pm 
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This is phenominal Bill, another great job. I have always enjoyed chess, and I am often reminded of the clock in chess that is often broguht up as something this game needs, of course we know who actually need them... but that's another topic, ... Chess has that clock for a reason.


Although I like the point about baiting, it is such a great tactic, and often well worth it. Unless your oppoenent is smart enough or patient enough to avoid stepping into the nouse

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2009 3:47 pm 
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Lobo, any chance of getting this up on the main page soon?

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 Post subject: Re: How To Win Part 4 - The Chess Strategy
PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:07 am 
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Well, you posted this like, 1 day after I left for a 10 day vacation! :P

Yeah, I'll get it up as soon as I can. I actually saw a couple minor typos as I was reading through, so I clean those up, and get it up for you!


It's a great article too! I've always loved Chess, and one of the first things I always say to people when they learn that I play SWM, is to describe it as "It's kind of like Chess, but with more complicated rules, and pieces that look like Star Wars characters." I always loved Chess and Stratego growing up, so I think that's part of why I enjoy SWMs so much.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 2:45 pm 
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LoboStele wrote:
It's a great article too! I've always loved Chess, and one of the first things I always say to people when they learn that I play SWM, is to describe it as "It's kind of like Chess, but with more complicated rules, and pieces that look like Star Wars characters." I always loved Chess and Stratego growing up, so I think that's part of why I enjoy SWMs so much.

Well said. Everyone that I introduce SWM to, I also say it's like Chess and Stratego as well. I also throw in the critical thinking aspect of the game (if you move here, I can do this to that character -- that sort of thing).

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:30 am 
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SteveSpikes wrote:
LoboStele wrote:
It's a great article too! I've always loved Chess, and one of the first things I always say to people when they learn that I play SWM, is to describe it as "It's kind of like Chess, but with more complicated rules, and pieces that look like Star Wars characters." I always loved Chess and Stratego growing up, so I think that's part of why I enjoy SWMs so much.

Well said. Everyone that I introduce SWM to, I also say it's like Chess and Stratego as well. I also throw in the critical thinking aspect of the game (if you move here, I can do this to that character -- that sort of thing).


lol...Same for me! I tell people it's a more complicated version of chess, with Star Wars characters. The funniest thing is, though, a few months ago when I played chess for the first time in years, I was trying to see if my pieces had line of sight and cover! It was crazy. My mind gets into this "pieces on a square grid" mode, and I start thinking in SWM terms.

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