Psy-Ops in Warhammer

This article is intended in a humorous light and also to illustrate some of the less savoury tactics available. I wrote this in 2003 during the heady days of 5th edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle. It was published on WFB Empire and Ogre webpages for a year or two until the change to 6th ed invalidated many of the references. Whilst magic items are different and range guessing a thing of the past, most of the concepts are still valid and directly applicable to Warhammer and a number of  other tabletop wargames.

TABLE TOP PSY-OPS

Or

Bluffing Your Way Through Warhammer Fantasy Battle

 

We’ve all done it. Psyching out your opponent as much fun as pushing the little toys around the table. A well-executed bit of spin doctoring can swing the balance of a game in your favour.

Have you ever fielded a unit of Night Goblins that don’t have any fanatics and snickered quietly watching your opponent steer well clear of your 60 point unit of Ld 5 crap?

Better still have you pulled out the rules for fanatics and pointedly browsed them whilst he is moving his figures?

Or better yet have you asked him at that moment “do fanatics do strength 4 hits or 5? Oh 5, goodie!”

Then you, my friend, are on the Psy-Ops path. It might be a beardy road, filled with the potholes of arguments, bad sports marks and annoyed opponents, but there are belly fulls of laughs to be had, as well as devastating victories and actually some accolades from opponents who appreciate a clever bit of deception both on and over the table.

Now I won’t pretend to be the king of bluffing, there’s plenty of you lot out there who could write theses on the art. In fact those experienced bluffers may have noticed my opening examples of fanatics were a bit OTT. But I figured that there are a few newbies and some of the hopelessly honest members of our community who need some tips on what to watch out for, or how to be a right bastard without actually breaking the rules.

The info below is a legitimate, though slightly underhanded, clarification of techniques to bluff and trick Warhammer opponents within the scope of the rules. It is intended as a lighthearted examination of a grey area not covered by the rulebook and also as spotlight on some of the shady tactics available. Hopefully using these tips you can have fun with your opponent and have a laugh together. Rigorous application of the ideas presented here isn’t very sporting. The main thing to remember is DON’T CHEAT. The tricks you are about to learn tread very close to the dark side of the dice. If you don’t think you can resist the urge to win at all costs then stop reading right now.

Still here? OK then, welcome to the mystic secrets of Table Top Psy-Ops, may they serve you well.

I’ve divided the Psy-Ops, or Psychological Operations, that can be run into two areas: Bluffing and Obfuscating. Bluffs are about encouraging the opponent to make wrong assumptions about the game. Obfuscating encompasses tactics to distract, confuse and lower the morale of the opponent.

Bluffing

The basic concept of bluffing involves you looking strong where you are weak and weak where you are strong. Having concealed strengths and weaknesses confers an advantage to you. The theory being that your opponent manoeuvres to counter something innocuous whilst leaving openings for your big hitters. Bluffs presuppose that your opponent has a full appreciation of the WFB rules, as well as those pertaining to your army list.

In Warhammer, bluffs are delivered in two ways. The unspoken rules based bluff and the casual interaction bluff across the table between two players. The former relies on your opponent’s knowledge of the game. The latter relies on you verbally or physically drawing attention to aspects of the game in order to mislead your opponent.

Unspoken/ on table bluffs:

Unspoken bluffs usually involve the opponent either making an assumption about something you have done or about something you may have, based on their knowledge of the pertinent rules.

An unspoken bluff could be putting your unit of Empire Spearmen (who don’t have any magical banner) within charge range of Chosen Chaos knights. You hope that your opponent will assume that they have the Griffon Banner and will opt out of a charge. Here you are trying to look strong where you are weak. There is no point in trying this bluff with someone who doesn’t know about Griffon Banners. If your opponent is a newbie forget it.

Another unspoken bluff could take the form of exposing a flank of a unit to a charge. Your opponent assumes the unit can be broken with flank charge. Little does your enemy know that the unit is stubborn (and may have a re-roll break test ability –i.e. a BSB nearby or a Dwarf Rune of Luck). The enemy charges in, doesn’t break you and then supporting units of yours finish off the charger. Here you are trying to look weak where you are strong.

Probably the most common bluff or deception is that of measurement. Putting all your units ½ to 1 inch back from the front of the deployment line is an oldie but a goodie. Your opponent assumes you are starting from the 12” line and any early charges he/she declares will be that ½ an inch out of range. Similarly you might only move those spearmen 7” forward from your start line…being at 17” from the enemy cavalry whose charge is 16” and hopefully tempting them into a charge that will fail.

Unspoken bluffs can be augmented by your choice of units, spells, magic items etc as well as by the second type of bluffing…

Interaction Bluffs (or communicating to deceive):

Interaction bluffs are deceptions created or enhanced by some form of communication between players.

An example of a spoken bluff might involve muttering audibly to yourself, “THAT banner should mean they can take a charge”. You’re inferring that the unit has a magic banner. Yep, it sounds a bit pathetic, but it’s all in the delivery and in coming up with something plausible to say. Many people refrain from such chicanery, but used sparingly and mixed into normal banter it can be quite effective. Indeed if questioned in this instance you need not be referring to a magic banner but just a plain old, +1 combat resolution, standard.

If you are constantly talking about what to do during your move it is easy to slip the odd bit of misdirection in. Don’t overdo it though or your opponent will quickly catch on and ignore everything you say (and probably give you a big fat zero for sports if you persist in a humourless barrage of lies). In fact often just a knowing smirk, or emphasis on straightening up the Standard Bearer model in that unit can do the trick. Your opponent sees the loving attention given to THAT figure and infers there’s something special about the banner. Either way in moving from just an unspoken rules bluff to a human interaction bluff you’ve moved further onto the slippery slopes of Psy-Ops.

Intimidation is often the best tactic with bluffing and not just with Empire forces. For example the Undead spell list can cause so much havoc it’s easy to play with the mind of your opponent.

“’What’s the range of Invocation of Nehek again?” you might quietly ask… to be followed up by: “Ah, a new unit there might be good”, looking at your opponents war machines or archers or perhaps a lone wizard hiding behind a wall.  Meanwhile, all you’re planning on doing is getting the Danse off.

You’ve positioned the units in your movement phase so that a nice big fat flank or rear charge is on the cards, and the more you talk about summoning, the less they’re going to think about the extra move. If they fall for it and waste all their dispel dice on The Invocation of Nehek, then you’re laughing all the way to combat, and if you’ve planned things carefully, then all the way to autobreak city as well.

Conveying your apparent fear can also be a cunning bluff and a strategy for delivering bad advice to opponents. Eg you say something like “Oh no, the Knights your Vampire Count is carving up can also be charged by those Fell Bats!” The newbie Undead player thinks this is a good thing and charges your unit of Knights who promptly put all their hits on the bats, not the hard arse Vampire Count, and pop goes the weasel via combat resolution!

The possibilities with this bad advice gambit are limitless. Eg. A Goblin Chariot on a flank in a standoff versus a unit of Dragon Princes. Points for points it’s a bargain. You fluff around and grumble about how he’s tied up your “great” chariot when he’s really wasting the expensive Dragon Princes’ time. Or better still shut up about it and let him keep the unit tied up without your help.

Which brings me to a word of advice. Sometimes NOT bluffing is the better option. Your efforts may be a bit more transparent than you think.

 

Applications of Bluffing

The Great Unknown:

Each army list has some truly wicked items, bloodlines, gifts or abilities that can win the game if used successfully. When it is possible for a variety of characters and/or units to have them there is an added element of surprise. This uncertainty can be used to your advantage. Until the surprise is revealed your opponent must assume that all potential bearers have this unknown factor, be it Van Horstman’s Speculum, a magical banner, you name it. This assumption allows you to bluff in many different ways. Obviously the threat of the unknown is drastically reduced if you have swapped army lists. If this is the case you might as well forget bluffing and concentrate on rolling the dice (I’ve heard blowing on them helps but that’s another article).

Here are a brief assortment of unknown threats and some bluffing suggestions. Use these examples as a primer to develop your own devilish little stratagems.

Van Horstman’s Speculum : The all time classic Empire bluffing threat. Even if you don’t have it declare a challenge against that unit with a tough hero…he’ll think twice about accepting when faced with the possibility of being attacked with his own strength/ toughness/ initiative/ and attacks.

Griffon Banner : If you have an Elector Count almost all your blocks of units could have this little horror so be bold, because your opponent can’t ignore this one either. Until the other player works out which unit has it (if any) all your blocks could have a doubled rank bonus. You can give this banner to a crappy unit of Spearmen, whilst your Greatswords have a War Banner instead. You yack on about how unstoppable the Greatswords are, he charges the Spearmen instead and splat gets a nasty +6 rank bonus surprise.

Murder Banner, Steel Standard : Talk up how this unit has got an extra move trick (or before the game mention how you’re keen to see how this banner works) …he’ll assume you’ve got one of these move beauties and keep everything those few inches further back to be sure. If you do actually have it, keep your yap shut.

Night Goblins : Can’t afford fanatics? Doesn’t matter-the opponent will assume you’ve got ‘em. Push the unit forward and watch him scramble to get out of the way. Or leave the unit guarding your war machines and magically keep his fast cavalry and flyers away.

Sword of Fate : Now I don’t know how legal this would be but if you didn’t have it and you said at the start of the battle something ambiguous like “err if for example I had the Sword of Fate I’d declare that it is directed against your dragon”. So their dragon becomes character shy for most of the battle. Now that is very beardy and asking for an argument BUT it’s all in the wording of what you say in the beginning. You haven’t actually said you have the Sword. I do not recommend you try type of scam. If someone pulls this on you ask them straight out “Do you have the Sword of Fate or not?”- That should remove all doubt immediately. Anyway if you are using it try and keep ‘em guessing which character does actually have it. A couple of characters on flying mounts should keep their General lying low.

Artillery : It can shoot at all sorts of things, talk up how you are sooo gonna nail that General next turn. Hopefully they waste time worrying about their General when what you really want is a flank shot on a unit of cavalry elsewhere on the table.

Volley Gun, Flame Cannon : These things misfire regularly so you might not intend firing them, but your opponent doesn’t know that. Use ‘em to deny the enemy of safe ground and if there’s no suitable target-don’t shoot.

Spell Casting : The trick is getting your opponent to let you get away with the one spell you want to get off. Talk up the irrelevant spells, sucker dispel dice with bound items, use spells whose outcome isn’t immediately obvious. Eg Second sign of Amul.

Bound items : Talk up your cool bound items so the opponent will save dispel dice and allow you to get a spell off in the early part of the game. Or grumble about how he has locked down your magic phase and mid to late game use those cool one use wonders when his dispel scrolls are gone.

Ward saves : Wimpy lord characters usually have ‘em so use that expectation to leave your General free from attacks that the opponent expects to bounce. You can talk up how “protected” your Lord is. The points saved on not buying a Ward Save will free up points for that killer weapon/groovy item.

Body Language-use it or lose it:

Ah, the ballet that is body language. You’ve all probably heard, read about and seen it in action. So use it numb nuts! Body language is your friend and if it isn’t then it is an enemy to be feared. Even if it’s just keeping an eye on your opponent tugging at his ear when you start talking about how you’re thinking about charging that unit of his. If he tugs his ear or chews his lip there’s a good chance it doesn’t have a War Banner (or any other nasty surprises) in it.

Similarly when your opponent is talking about frontally charging that crappy Spearman unit of yours (with the Griffon Banner) you can act subtly act nervous, he’ll see your un-vocalised cues, assume its ripe for the picking and wham- watch his charge bounce back across the table.

Any good poker player will tell you about using your face to your advantage. It’s the same in Warhammer. Chew your nails or lip, look shifty or nervous, tug your ear, fidget if you want to look convey the idea that you’re nervous. Smile, smirk, laugh, and act confident if you want to appear unconcerned or happy with an upcoming event. Even reach comfortably for the rules saying “oh goody I haven’t seen this in action for a while” as he is deciding and flick to the items pages.

These cues can probably only be utilised once or twice in a game, like all the other tips in this treatise, use sparingly mixed in with real reactions and they will clinch some touch and go situations. Just don’t overdo it. If you don’t think you can act convincingly then just assume a poker face.

 

OBFUSCATING

Tactics that distract confuse and lower the morale of the opponent I have lumped under Obfuscating. Compared to most bluffs they are a little more underhanded and a little less sporting.

Talk to distract:

Basically you distract your opponent’s train of thought away from stuff you don’t want seen whether it be your vulnerable flank, his exposed wizard, or you rearranging the family jewels (use your own dice please!). “Oh my god is that the Good Year Blimp!?!!” points over opponents shoulder. Not recommended but still effective. Perhaps more appropriate is the “Damn! I think my Knights on your right flank are in range of your Repeating Bolt Thrower!” when what you’re really worried about is your Pistoliers on the left flank being shot by the same RBT. Essentially you’re suggesting he/she target something that can survive being shot at. This is also an example of a bad advice bluff. Once again it’s all in the content and the delivery to make it work.

Methods of distraction, apart from discussing aspects of the game, are only limited by your imagination. A crafty compliment about a painting technique elsewhere on the table, an offer of some of your tasty snacks, the arrival of your busty girlfriend, you name it. Be subtle. Overdoing it will look bad.

The bombardment of info:

Too much information can affect your game play. You feel like it’s all too complicated, your morale drops and you start making errors. I played at least one GT winner at a tourney where he would quickly tell you what he was rolling for and roll the dice before you had a chance to think about what he’d said. Then he’d be rolling to wound and I’d still be thinking about how many dice he’d rolled to hit with in the first place and he’s saying “are you going to make your 5 armour saves?” You can imagine how hard his 12 dice Tzeentch casting phase (with the Staff of Change) was to keep up with.

Anyway it’s intimidating and just plain frustrating having to trust your opponent has got it right. The obvious solution is to ask him to slow down so you can be verify the rolling, and knock a mark off him for sports if he persists. However as an extreme example of info overload this fits the bill.

You might find it a bit more polite to ask lots of questions as your opponent starts to examine your poorly positioned unit on the flank to stymie his train of thought. Pick a subject from the holes in the main rules as they apply to this battle to whether or not halberds are worth taking. This verbal sleight of hand ties in with the previous section-distracting attention to disguise errors. As before this often doesn’t work, as the other player will take as long as they feel necessary to complete a move.

Irritating a player or hurrying someone up in a tourney is pretty rude (unless they really are slower than a Dwarf unit in difficult terrain) so I really don’t recommend this style of play, but it does work for some people. In fact you may find that when someone starts trying to distract you it might pay to re-examine the playing field and see if there’s anything you have missed.

Obscured Movement:

Another form of info bombardment is moving your figures, during your movement phase, but not being explicit about every single thing you’ve moved. I’m not talking about illegally moving your figures (that IS cheating buster). It only takes a moment of not watching and your opponent hasn’t seen your hero leave the infantry unit and move to the war machine. You don’t have to wait for your moment, just efficiently move everything without much pause and it can be a fair bit to take in. In fact I’ve played opponents to whom I’ve even said such and such leaves this unit and they’ve not noticed or forgotten simply because of the sheer amount of stuff happening on the table (the beers consumed probably didn’t help either).

Not mentioning every move depends on the etiquette of where and whom you’re playing. Most people I’ve played just let you move and only watch to make sure you’re not getting an extra bee’s dick of movement. If they don’t notice a crucial placement that’s just tough luck, especially in a ‘what-you-see-is what-you-get’ (WYSIWYG) arena. And for example if your characters are conversions that look a lot like the rank and file, sweet! It’s almost as good as having hidden assassins. Just don’t expect great painting and sports marks.

On an unrelated note many players move and place their figures in agreement with their opponent. Eg “I’m putting this fast cav here with the intention that they can’t be charged by unit X” This vastly reduces arguments and such. While not a deception in itself it guarantees you won’t be surprised by an unexpected charge…just remind the opponent that he agreed they couldn’t be seen by unit X.

Confusing Conversions:

Ever played someone whose conversions were so elaborate and widespread you had trouble figuring out what you were fighting? Did it suck? Uh huh. Now top marks for modelling etc but as far as WYSIWYG it’s a big fat zero from me. The git who spent 10 hours per figure certainly knows what he’s looking at but he’s had 10 hours per figure to work it out!! Soooo do it back to him… “Oh that Giant is actually a Dragon, yep same base size, it’s my theme”… “No they look like a unit of tigers but they’re actually marauder horsemen” etc. Your opponent will be constantly under or over estimating the threat factor of each unit and that extra brainpower he/she has to apply is less brainpower going towards actually beating you.

Ideally your conversions are just enough to be convincing but still awkward for the opponent. Some examples include using converted militia models for flagellants, or old Kislev Winged Cavalry for your Knights or Pistoliers. Perhaps you use Wood Elf Waywatchers to represent Empire Huntsmen, or Centaurs for Glade Riders. You get the idea. Your opponent is struggling to figure out what unit is what, while you are being congratulated by the judges for having a wonderfully creative conversion army.

Another form of deception with the figures themselves is modelling them to look like something they ain’t. I.e. Having a Griffon painted on a banner in a unit of Empire footsloggers that don’t have the Griffon Banner. Perhaps you could write “WAR” or “STEEL +1D3” on a banner, or paint up a glowing green sword in a characters hand. This is getting onto really dubious ground and my advice is to stay away.

Hired Help:

Some scum at tourneys have their mates show up to throw your game. Your opponent’s sneaky git friend turns up and asks loudly which character of your opponents has the 4+ ward save. Or where the invisible Rune Cannon is? Or has the Assassin sprung out yet? Or which Saurus has the Jaguar Charm? Or have you used that one off bound item yet? This is really poor form. Don’t do it and don’t fall for it if your opponent’s mates start pulling this crap. And if the mate starts giving advice to your opponent, chirp up immediately and remind them that you came to play against one person not two.

In a friendly match we pull this crap all this time. It’s expected and taken in a humorous fashion. That’s the difference between what you can get away with at a friendly match compared to a tournament.

Morale:

In actual warfare Psy-Ops are often aimed at lowering the morale of the opposition. In WFB actually going out to do this isn’t really conducive to a fun game. A player’s morale is important during the game. We all know how crap you feel at certain stages of the game when your opponent looks like they are gonna whup your arse. It’s a real struggle to play with any sense of confidence when things are going bad.

In friendly games the people I play with engage in all sorts of morale sabotage activities. We get up to all sorts of silly crap from boasting about your army’s prowess and discussing how easily those units of his are gonna die, to whispering with co-players pretending to have some deadly counter attack planned. In fact it’s done just as much for the humour as for sapping the oppositions morale. If you wanna do this in a tournament you’d better be friendly with the person you’re playing against or have a wacky personality and go about it in a fun way.

There’s probably heaps of other nasty methods of lowering someone’s morale but apart from just winning the game convincingly there’s no need to make it worse by being a depressing git. You’re much better off giving your opponents a fun time than shining a light in their eyes and attaching electrodes to their genitalia for the sake of any perceived advantage this might give you (OK so maybe that would be advantageous but you know what I mean).

Speaking of giving your opponents a fun time you could always get ‘em drunk, stoned or whatever to hopefully impair their performance but ‘boost’ their morale into the ionosphere. Which brings me to my last point…

The Ultimate Psy-Op:

Try and convince your opponent that you are a really nice chap and fun to play with. If the other player has a fun game against you the chances are they’ll be generous when it comes to sportsmanship marks, will want to play you again, and won’t be too pissed off when all your dodgy bluffs and obfuscations become apparent.

To achieve this you need to chill out, have a laugh at the way the game swings, and generally help your opponent have a fun time. Compliment good figure modelling and painting. Ask how they did this or that painting effect, where did they get that obscure figure and so on. Applaud good moves and cheer for both sides when amazing twists of fate save some outclassed unit or when particularly devastating attacks turn a unit of yours into hamburger. Try and think about the game as a cool story the two of you are telling together.

This will obscure the fact that you are really an underhanded bastard who loves to win.

 

BUSTED?

You’ll eventually get caught out. If you’re just doing some of the mild body language tricks it’s no big deal. Humour is the best medicine. Have a laugh and say, “you got me”. If someone gets crappy about your use of body language you can respond “What the [radio edit] are you doing using my body language to influence the game? Isn’t that cheating?” In other words throw it right back at ‘em.

Other standard responses to a Psy-Ops bust include
Self deprecating humour: “Well it’s worth a try”
Flattery: “I need every advantage I can get against a great player like you”
Slap down: “It’s just a game, sheeesh”
Sarcasm: “You want me to help YOU win the game, yeah right!”
Brazen it out “ Yeah, so what?” or “Everyone else I’ve ever played does this”

Generally who needs an excuse? Chances are they’re doing it back at you anyway even if it’s only unconsciously. However if you’ve really been hamming it up you WILL be caught out. You’d better be a good reader of personalities in order to smooth over the ruffled feathers. Otherwise just don’t expect to get good sports marks or be asked to play again!

Once you are caught you can continue with your deception to a certain degree. You know that they know, so do the opposite of what you were doing. Keep ‘em guessing with the old double bluff. “I know that you know, and you know that I know you know, so…” The psychological game will end up like a Dune novel but that’s half the fun.

SUMMARY

Bluff with your placements against players who know the rules/army lists.
Look strong where you are weak and weak where you are strong.
Use your physical movements and conversation to draw attention to certain figures (and/or away from others)
Observe your opponent’s body language and bluff with your body language.
Use conversation to swamp and distract the opponent with information.
Obscure figure conversions can confuse your opponent.
Don’t harass your opponent or get outside help.
Use humour to defuse accusations, and try for the double bluff if it’s still cool.

CONCLUSION

A bit of a bluff at the right moment can win you the game. I remember pretending to be nervously chewing my lip as my opponent was trying to decide whether or not to charge my secret Griffon Banner unit. He looked at me then declared the charge that lost him the game. When I told him about my bluff he admitted using my body language as the deciding factor in declaring that charge.

Personally I’d only recommend a little bit of unknown threat and body language bluffing, and perhaps the odd bit of distracting conversation. The rest of this article is way too cheesy for me to be bothered trying. I’ve only included the other stuff for completeness and as a heads up warning.

Bear in mind that these techniques will only work occasionally depending on your skill, the other player’s gullibility and many environmental factors. Don’t go overboard with bluffing and obfuscating to get a result. Apart from being obvious it can be bloody annoying for your opponent if you overdo it. He or she will just ignore you or ask you to shut up. So gently does it: everything in subtle moderation. Because if you’re subtle and don’t get caught doing it- you can do it again, and again…

–oo000oo–

 

THANKS

Thanks to Mr S. Philamon for the evil laughing “Bwahahahaaa” he emailed me on reading my first draft and for some tips on bluffing with Necromancy. Thanks also to Elflord (name withheld due to his fear of being labelled as a cheesy bastard) for inspiring me with such constant beardiness that I had to show him how to bend the rules properly. And of course to my lovely wife who says I don’t need to cheat to be an excellent geek.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A role-player from way back Armchair Corporal is a veteran of first edition Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, MERP, and Warhammer Fantasy RPG to name a few. He discovered War-gaming whilst bemoaning the changing face of White Dwarf in the early ‘90’s. After a brief stint with first edition Warhammer 40k he changed genres to Fantasy battle. Once an avid collector/general of Empire, Orc and Chaos armies, he mucked around in the mid field of local Tournaments. Lately he has struggled to come terms with the direction Games Workshop have gone with 9th edition WFB/ Age of Sigmar…and in the interim has moved to the dark side (computerised versions of WFB.)

 

The germ of this article came to me after a tournament. My Elector Count on a Griffon. Was only equipped with a Great Weapon and Armour of Meteoric Iron. I charged him into a unit of Chaos Hounds that was accompanied by a mounted Chaos Lord. I ummed and aahed about challenging and, like an idiot, decided not to. Then my opponent looked queerly at me and sat there thinking carefully before deciding to challenge with his Lord. I failed to wound his Chaos Lord, had my Griffon cut to ribbons, broke like a twig from combat and was run down. It was only afterwards that I realised what my opponent had been thinking about. He was worried I had Van Horstmans Speculum and was trying to decide whether or not to risk a challenge. My decision not to challenge had puzzled him and he was trying to figure out whether or not I was trying to trick him.

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