Hey folks, I’m going to take a break from talking up 8th edition WHFB and switch to a subject that can really apply to both games — your opponent’s psychology. I’m not talking about busting out a couch and a pad and a pencil and doing a full psychological profile of the guy, but there are some things you can easily pick up on by paying attention that can give you a solid clue as to how to beat your opponent. We, as hobbyists, are all human beings (though we all know a few people that barely qualify). We all have hopes and fears, but more importantly we all have that often subtle, often screwed up thing we call a psyche. We all have different objectives and wants and cares, and this applies to the tabletop just the same way as it does to regular life. There’s a lot you can tell about your opponent simply by looking at his army and play style.
First, let’s consider your opponent’s choice of army. Someone who fields Orks is going to have a completely different mindset than someone who plays Mech Guard. The one is clearly set for close quarters fighting, the other for avoiding close quarters as long as possible, or at least until they have a decisive advantage. Since a lot of armies can be fielded a multitude of ways (hey, even Blood Angels can be fielded as a shooty army), you have to pay very close attention to your opponent’s unit and wargear choices. Most tournaments I’ve played in are open list, and I suggest taking advantage of that opportunity and at least give it a quick glance. After all, a better informed general is one capable of making better decisions. Is his army entirely geared for close combat? Is his army designed to just castle and bomb the crap out of you? Is it a mobile mech army designed to just run circles around you? The first thing you need to establish is what sort of list your opponent is fielding, and whether or not that list has an obvious goal. An Ork horde that’s loaded with slugga boyz and some nob bikers has an obvious goal – getting into assault and killing you. A marine list with three vindicators, tactical marines and sternguard is obviously designed to bomb you into oblivion. Hyrbid lists can be trickier, because different parts of the army have different goals, but these are generally obvious. An Eldar list with war walkers, rangers and howling banshees has clearly defined parts – the first part is to sit back and shoot, the second to either advance to threaten objectives, or to stay back for the countercharge, but in either case it’s obviously for assault.
Alright, so that crap is obvious, every player should know it, but it needed to be said. It’s amazing how lots of people will focus so heavily on their own army or parts of their opponent’s army (OMG!!! TH/SS Termies!), that they won’t consider the army as a whole. But what does this tell you? Obviously, a player with an all-assault army is going to be extremely aggressive. All of his points have been spent towards close combat, and as long as his troops aren’t fighting in hand-to-hand, those points are being wasted (or lost from your shooting). Such a player will be much more likely to get taken in by a bait unit – blinded by his own lust for violence and frustration and being unable to harm you, throwing an easy target in his way should result in the unit being gobbled up, which is just what you want. Don’t expect to have enough time to set things up perfectly against this type of opponent. The extreme likelihood is that they will come at you as fast as possible, so things like Reserves might not be as effective as putting everything on the table, especially if you have more ranged fire than melee power. However, if you do have a cheap scoring unit that can Deep Strike or Outflank, definitely leave at least one in Reserve for an objective mission, as this sort of opponent is not likely to leave much back to hold and defend objectives in his deployment zone. The best way to frustrate this sort of player is to stay out of combat for as long as possible. The longer you stay out of combat, the more desperate he will be to get into combat, and the easier it will be for you to bait him into unfavorable assaults.
If your opponent has his points sunk into shooting, well, I think their plan is just as obvious. Shooting units, as a rule, are not good melee units (except for Grey Hunters and Long Fangs). But the real challenge has always been surviving long enough to drag them into melee. Fortunately, there is an easy way to mess with a ranged player’s head – don’t give him a target. 5th Edition is wonderful in the fact that it allows you to hold anything and everything in Reserve in every mission. This is especially useful if your opponent goes first. How worrisome and frustrating it must be to have many big guns, but you are required to sit there, your guns silent, as they have nothing to shoot at? This is also a great tactical decision as well, because this means your opponent will only have four, five or six shooting phases as opposed to five, six or seven. In addition, if you have units that Deep Strike or Outflank, do so. Even if it may not be the most tactically sound approach, often times having the threat of enemy units popping up all over the place is enough to unnerve defensive players, and you’ll see the common tactic of castling everything in the center to guard from deep striking and outflanking. Well now, if you have any pie plates yourself, they just served up some nice targets. Not to mention that when you do get into assault, you might be able to assault and tie down multiple units, and when you end up out of assault, your opponent may find that his own men provide cover saves, or you’re simply too close to hit with template weapons. Another tactic to try is to throw away cheap units by making them a target. While the bait unit against a shooty army won’t lure the enemy into an assault (in most cases), it can work to redirect some fire. Remember Target Priority from 4th edition? Some players are still stuck in that mode. If Target A is closer than Target B, A is clearly the graver threat. Nevermind that Target A is a Combat Squad in a Rhino, and Target B is a unit of Vanguard Vets in a Land Raider. And, worse comes to worse, you play against someone with a good head on their shoulders who realizes that B is truly the greater threat, well, you just go ahead and drive that combat squad right up there and assault things like heavy weapons squads, dev squads and lootas. Even if it’s an unfavorable assault for you, provided you can survive that first round of combat into the second one, you’ve just tied that unit down and prevented it from shooting. Hell, assault multiple such units, if you can.
There’s one more psychological trick I’d like to point out. You know that guy who spends hours and hours painting his centerpiece unit? Or that other guy who insists he can’t win without Yarrick/Vulkan/Abaddon? Ya know how to mess that guy up? Blast his precious unit/character to kingdom come! Now, at a tourney you’re likely not going to know your opponents personally (at least, at a non-local tourney). But it is possible to at least guesstimate what their prize unit is. If one unit clearly has hours more work put into its construction and painting, that is likely to be the unit. Or if one unit costs three times as much as the next expensive unit, well, that unit is likely to be it. Named characters tend to be a dead giveaway. And if your opponent is stroking his favorite model and hissing “My precioussss,” or has a single unit that he removes from a bullet-proof, steel case that’s handcuffed to his wrist, well, that’s just obvious. I know a guy who used to quit every game once you annihilate his money unit. While your opponent may not quit in a tournament (I’ve rarely seen it happen), destroying that unit can really destroy their morale. Once a player no longer cares about a game, that’s when you have them on the ropes. I’m not a WAAC player, but I do know that this is the best possible situation in a tournament. Once they’re down, keep them down. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t rub it in. Be polite while you dismantle the rest of his army and secure yourself a Massacre with bonus points.
In short, pay close attention to your opponent. Look at his list and figure out his goals and objectives. Hell, listen to what he talks about. If you’re deploying your armies, and he takes out a Land Raider and says, “This baby wins me games,” well, I think he just painted a huge bull’s eye on the side of that thing. If you look through your opponent’s list and see Kharn, Berserkers and close-combat Defilers, that list says one thing, “KHARN IS GONNA EAT YO’ FAMILY!!!” Unfortunately, these tricks won’t work on everyone. More seasoned players have played many a game, lost many a prized unit and still managed a win or a draw, and thus are harder to demoralize. Some players simply don’t care, and although they’re playing in a tournament, are just there to have a good time, meet new people and see new armies. And there are those players that just don’t pay enough attention. These are the types who have a battle plan and stick to it, no matter what. This player is a whole other type, and if you’re a bit seasoned yourself, you should know exactly how to handle them. So remember – figure out your opponent, frustrate him and let him make mistakes. And when I say frustrate, I don’t mean upset. Remember this game is all about having fun. But who says messing with your opponent’s hopes and dreams can’t be fun?