How A ‘Can’t Lose’ Lost
Three months. For three months, I’d been planning it. And no matter how I looked at it, I couldn’t see a way to lose. No matter what the other guy tried, I was going to win. I replayed the scenario over and over in my mind, looking for any flaw in my strategy. I was going to win. It was going to be great.
I was right and very, very wrong.
I’ve recently started playing a game called Star Trek Attack Wing. The game is fun, especially if you’re a fan of the Star Trek series and movies. The game is simple, and very complex. You pick a ship, or serveral ships. You pick a captain, crew members, weapons and any tech upgrades. Then, you put your fleet against your opponent’s fleet in a 36″ x 36″ play area. Of course, there are attack dice that cause damage to your opponent, defense dice that help keep you from taking damage, movement options and several Star Trek specific features, like cloaking or “warp drive.”
The scenario we played on Saturday was simple. It was based on the Klingon Civil War, a series of episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation television series. However, I noticed something about the rules. In a tournament, (also called an OP for Organized Play) the victory conditions involved not only defeating the enemy ships, but also accomplishing specific mission objectives. One of these was to have one of your ships make a particular movement called a “banked sensor echo.” You got 5 victory points each time one of your ships performed this move.
A typical “fleet” included 3 ships, each valued at about 40 points. Given that a typical game goes four or five turns, the victory points for the sensor echo were not nearly as important as trying to kill one of the opponent’s 45 point ships.
Except, there was a flaw in the scoring. Researching strategies from those how had already played the OP, they pointed out that instead of 3 ships costing about 40 points each, you could choose to field 12 ships costing 10 points each. Now, these little ships were not very strong. There was no way they would be able to kill a 40 point ship. But, they didn’t have to. All they had to do was sensor echo each turn and they’d rack up points. After the first turn, you’d earn 60 victory points from sensor echoing. After two turns, you’re at 120, the value of the opponent’s entire fleet. After the third turn, there is literally no way that you could lose. Even if your opponent kills a few of your ships, the remaining ones will continue to score points until the one hour time limit is reached.
It wasn’t a completely painless strategy. Each ship, cost $15 retail. Even finding some on sale, it wasn’t cheap to buy a bunch of these weak ships. But, there were prizes awarded for winning the OP. And technically the rules allowed this setup.
I couldn’t lose.
But, I did. Oh, not the battles. They went exactly as I had practiced. The first game, I lost three of my twelve ships, but I completed 44 sensor echoes.
Game 1 Final Score:
Him: 33 points
Me: 220 points
Not even close. I win! And that’s when I realized the real flaw in my plan. The person I was playing was good player. He enjoyed multiple types of games only one of which was Star Trek. He played a competent game and aside from some very unlucky dice rolls, played well. But, he didn’t have any fun. He knew the result before we started. He only agreed to play because it was a tournament.
The second game was between the other two players at the OP. The one I’d played first had a 4 ship fleet, with a very weak ship acting as his flag ship. The second player had three strong ships. The battle was back and forth for the first 45 minutes, but the tide turned in the last quarter hour and one person came off victorious. It was a hard fought battle and both players had a lot of fun. Even I had fun and I was just watching.
The third game of the night was me against the loser from the second game. He’d seen the first game and had some ideas on strategy. We were pretty quick between turns and managed to get eight turns completed within the hour. He killed three of my ships. I never took even a single shot at his ships.
Game 2 Final Score:
Him: 34 points
Me: 350 points
I had come to the tournament with a specific strategy and it had paid off brilliantly. And I have rarely been so embarrased in my life. I found myself apologizing to my two opponents. The three of us played for three hours, one hour of which was enjoyable and two hours of which were pretty boring and not fun.
Yes, I knew I was going to win. I spent a not insignificant amount of money buying special ships to ensure I won. I came with a plan and it worked beautifully. I won not only the prize ship for the night, but the grand prize for the entire 3-month campaign.
And I went home the biggest loser. The point of the game was not to win the prize ships. The point of the game was to enjoy each others company and to play your fleet against the other guy’s fleet. But, I completely missed the fact that “playing” and “winning” were not the same thing.
To Aaron and Will, I apologize. I’ll try not to lose so badly in the future.
The best game of the night played out on a Star Wars game mat.
My strategy of “Run but don’t fight” was more accurately described as “You can’t win.”
What a typical fleet looks like.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved