Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tilting and you

I've been meaning to write about this for a little while as for some people it can be a very important subject: let's talk about tilting.

Pictured: Kylo Ren on tilt and his opponent just waiting for this bad experience to be over
Let's begin in the fashion of a bad wedding toast or unbearable corporate presentation by defining a word first. Per Wikipedia:
Tilt is a poker term for a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming over-aggressive.
The term "tilt," "tilting," or "going/being on tilt" became quite popular in Warmachine back when John and I played (that's a bit of a long story, but suffice it to say Warmachine can get very... nerve-wracking and kind of tense). You can find a number of discussions/posts/articles on tilting and Warmachine, should you be interested. It's thankfully less common in Armada but it makes its presence known from time to time and thus is worth discussing.

In short, tilting isn't good for anyone, really. When someone goes on tilt, they typically make emotional and bad decisions, focus myopically on whatever caused them to tilt, become more aggressive and frustrated, and they almost always lose in the end. They're not fun for their opponent either: they frequently sigh, make passive-aggressive comments, and are difficult to interact with. They are quite often unhelpful altogether for things that go more smoothly with opponent consent ("so we agree my squadron can land here?" "*sigh* I guess") and when they get some (usually temporary) sense that things are turning around, they hoot and holler obnoxiously.

Okay so tilt is clearly bad, right? So let's talk about why tilt happens, what you can do about it, and how to avoid it.

Identifying why tilt happens
The short version why tilt happens is "something happened the player thought was unfair and/or had little control over, and it happened to their detriment." This can be due to numerous reasons but the most frequent offender here is particularly good (from the opponent) or bad (from you) dice rolls at a crucial moment. Because dice rolls (to some extent) are beyond our control and don't always give us the results that we think they should, this can at the wrong moments cause a lot of aggravation for some people.

John had an opponent in the Milwaukee Regionals who conceded at the top of turn 2 because his initial three squadron attacks all rolled below average and he got increasingly angry about it until he just quit. No ships had even been attacked by anything yet at all, but John's opponent felt the game owed him better dice outcomes and didn't want to participate in a game where the dice weren't behaving as they "should." I can at least salute Mystery Milwaukee Tilt Man for choosing to concede rather than continue playing a game where he was twisted the whole time, but I think we all can recognize that's a rather silly thing to get so upset about, right?

That's not to say that's the only reason people tilt, but it's the most common one in my experience. Other reasons for tilt in Armada can include but are not limited to:
  • A bad critical result is applied to your ship.
  • Your ship lands on a harmful obstacle when you didn't expect it to.
  • You got a rule wrong and your opponent got it right and it's to your detriment (most frequently I find this has to do with how the attack sequence works).
  • Your opponent's ship gets somewhere you didn't expect it to and didn't plan for.
  • Your opponent has an upgrade that makes a big difference in what you thought would happen but you forgot about that upgrade and it took you by surprise.
  • Your opponent uses some element of the game you consider to be "broken" against you successfully (good examples would be pre-nerf Rieekan aces, the Demolisher title, pre-nerf Major Rhymer, Ackbar conga lines, etc.).
    • This can even include basic game mechanics like ramming/overlapping or activation timing (although this begs the question "if basic rules of the game infuriate you, why are you playing the game?)
So something bad happened to you, you feel it wasn't fair, and it puts you at a disadvantage you may not be able to recover from. Hence, RAGE.


What you can do about tilt
So you notice you're beginning to go on tilt. What can you do about it right now?

I realize the following advice is very simplistic, but calm down. Get some perspective. It's plastic spaceships and how well you do at it doesn't make a meaningful difference in your life. If you're in a casual event, ask your opponent if it's okay for you to take a moment away from the game. You'd be really surprised at how often your opponent is totally okay with granting that request. We've all gotten caught up in the moment and become upset at something trivial at some point in our lives and I imagine most of us are okay letting someone calm down and then come back to resume the game. Provided you're not running low on time in a tournament setting, I imagine your opponent would be fine with you heading out for a moment to calm down. If it means a less tense game overall and there's no concern about running out of time, I'd happily grant that request.

Even if you can't get a moment away from the game, just taking a minute or two extra during your turn (protip: do not ever deliberately try to run out the clock in any kind of timed event, slow-playing your opponent to game the system is extremely disrespectful) can help you just calm down/reorient yourself.

Anything you can do to refocus yourself and calm down is great. For your own benefit, you're trying to get back to something approaching objective reality. Once you tilt, you will usually get twisted and lose a grander sense of things. I've seen my opponents tilt at moderate but still surmountable problems and it essentially guaranteed their loss rather than merely influenced it. I've even done the same on rare occasion (I like to think I don't too nasty but the mental death spiral is real).

How to avoid tilt
You know what's even better than "fixing" tilt when it happens? Not tilting in the first place. Now I could certainly talk about making the kind of incremental self-help changes that just improve your overall emotional well-being and resilience but... we don't really have the time or expertise to really get into that kind of thing here on our plastic spaceships blog named after a quote from a Muppet who lived in a swamp (but hey power to you if you'd like to pursue something like that). Instead, I find that tilt can be combated through education and a more objective outlook. This effectively denies an inclination to tilt the fuel that it needs by removing the "surprise" or "unfairness" factor.

Awww he's got a cute 'lil guitar! And he wants to burn down my house! Aww!
I can provide a few examples of what I mean about education, but the core concept is that conscious learning and experience should provide a greater depth of understanding, giving you a perspective that is more informed and less prone to tilting.

Bad dice
I want to make it clear that dice don't "owe" anybody anything and it helps to note when your own dice roll well to remove the false impression that they're out to get you (this cognitive bias is fairly common, I've found, where people only note their consistent "bad luck" with dice and generally ignore when they roll well). It's been my experience that minis wargamers usually understand probability enough to have a rough idea as to what average is but not a great idea as to how much variance you can get from a single dice roll. You certainly have a wide range of possibilities going from the "pretty common" to "really unlikely" but the unlikely can still happen.

An example I'll give is one game I played against John he got his Madine LMC80 lined up to take a shot on my Gladiator flagship. I realized that the attack should hurt but in most cases leave the Gladiator alive and thus I activated something else beforehand. Well, the LMC80 went and rolled quite well and *poof* there went the Gladiator in one shot. I... wasn't super happy about that, but the simple fact of the matter is I took a risk leaving the Gladiator there that was based on the fact that "unless John rolls well enough, the Gladiator should live." John did roll well enough, which he had about a 25% chance of doing. That's not on John or the dice gods, that's on me for taking a risk and expecting to not suffer the consequences of it simply because the odds of it happening weren't sufficiently high.

In short, any plan you have that relies on average dice comes with some risk. Be aware of that risk and accept it. Don't be surprised or enraged when they're not average.

I should also note that it helps to actually understand what average should be, particularly when you're factoring in possible dice rerolls, dice modification, and dice adding abilities. It can get a little confusing and thus it's easy to overestimate or underestimate average and then get upset when the dice actually did turn up fairly close to average but your expectations were out of line.

A bad critical result was applied to your ship
This is effectively just an alternative of the "bad dice" section. The game has several random number generator (RNG) elements and sometimes they get you. If your ship is in a situation where it can take a face up damage card, you're flirting with hitting the worst-case situation from time to time. This is another educated gamble we all take when we game and sometimes the worst case happens just due to enough trials. If this is something you're actively concerned about, try to play your ships in a way where you're less susceptible to the awful crits. If you realize the ship you're relying on strongly is particularly vulnerable to the Projector Misaligned crit, try to keep your number of shields equal. If you're vulnerable to Comms Noise dropping your speed to 0, then try to speed up to speed 2 when you can, etc. This advice is particularly relevant against Dodonna, who likes stacking the crit deck in his favor.

Your ship lands somewhere you felt it wouldn't (an obstacle, in a particular arc) or your opponent's ship got somewhere you weren't expecting
These are effectively navigate/eyeballing location/anticipation problems and all you can really hope to do is learn from your error or your opponent's success for future games. You made a mistake. It wasn't even due to RNG kicking you at an inopportune time like the earlier issues, it was a play error. Players get embarrassed (which is understandable) or are entitled (which is not) in these situations and it can cause tilt.

If you're embarrassed, try not to be. It's often the case in social circumstances that when one person makes an "error," (for example, saying "you too" to your waitress who thanks you at the end of your meal for visiting their restaurant - oops) everyone else nearby is quick to forget and move on but the person who committed the error agonizes over it, to the shared awkwardness of everyone involved. The problem is we assume our opponent/other people witnessing our behavior assume we're some kind of blundering idiot who made the error because of serious character deficiencies. The reality is most people recognize your errors as simple mistakes. There's no need to tilt out of embarrassment because you're sure your opponent thinks you're an idiot. They almost assuredly don't.

If you're entitled (I'm better than my opponent and don't deserve these circumstances), I don't know what to tell you other than you need to become a better person, and the sooner the better.

You got a rule wrong and your opponent got it right and it's to your detriment
This is another "embarrassment" cause of tilting, and it can be tough to handle mid-game. The problem here is it's nearly impossible to rewind the game back to the decision point(s) based on your incorrect understanding of the rules. All you can really do is remember this point for the future and move on to the best of your ability. Focusing on what could have or should have happened is moot - you screwed up the rules, your opponent didn't, you know what to do now but you can't go back in time to do things differently.

During the 2017 Adepticon tournament I faced an opponent who parked his Gold Squadron a bit awkwardly on the space station. I asked him if he wanted it to be completely obstructed (by moving it just a hair back in) or hanging off the edge a bit. He replied he wanted it to be completely obstructed, so I allowed him to edge it back a bit onto the station. By the Squadron Phase of the next turn, I had a Raider within attack range of the station-bound Gold Squadron and he was very upset to learn that the station obstructed Gold Squadron's attacks on the Raider, bringing it down to just one die from two (it also obstructed the Raider's shots back, but that didn't seem to make him feel much better). There was no way to rewind the situation - I didn't know that he didn't know how obstruction worked with squadrons at the time and the Raider could've ended up in all kinds of places not near the station even had he positioned it otherwise, so we had no choice but to move forward. It was one of the things that set him on tilt that game (there were others, too, he was very tilt-prone) and it didn't need to be.

This situation causes embarrassment for the same reasons as I covered in the point above ("this other person is getting an advantage over me and I look like a fool who doesn't know how to play this game I'm trying to compete in!"), so I'd recommend following the same advice about endeavoring not to be embarrassed by understanding how rare it is that other people seriously think worse of you as a person due to minor mistakes made in a plastic spaceships game.

What you can do to make this kind of thing happen less frequently is (re)familiarize yourself with the learn to play book (which most people are) and the rules reference guide (which I find many players kind of skip, unfortunately). If there are any elements of the game where you're not 100% sure how it works, the rules reference guide is a great tool to break it down and I definitely recommend giving it a read. It's a bit dry, so going cover-to-cover is a bit of an ask for most people, but on an as-needed basis it's quite helpful.

Your opponent has an upgrade that makes a big difference in what you thought would happen but you forgot about that upgrade and it took you by surprise
This is yet another embarrassment cause of tilting ("I just got smacked by something which was sitting on the table staring at me all game but I forgot about it! I'm better than that!"), which we've already covered.

The remedy to this is being more mindful and not rush. It's very easy to go on autopilot with your fleet and forget about specific upgrades (most importantly enemy commanders, but also some upgrades like XI7 Turbolasers can make a huge difference in how an attack is resolved, for example). Always look over your opponent's fleet. If there's an important upgrade in there, endeavor to remember it. Ask your opponent about it, he or she will be happy to remind you of where it is and what it's on. If you can't remember what commander your opponent's fleet has, stop immediately and get that information. Do this as many times as you need. Forgetting about extra Motti hull points, Mon Mothma-buffed evades (especially for black crit dependent upgrades), Rieekan zombies,the increased offensive output of Screed, Ackbar, or Vader-led fleets, or the superior speed/maneuver options available to Ozzel, Jerjerrod, or Madine can be catastrophic in the wrong situations.

Your opponent uses some element of the game you consider to be "broken" against you successfully
The only true solution to this problem is experience. There are stronger and weaker options in the game but with the most recent errata, some of the tall poppies have been cut down to size a bit. Regardless, you should know how to deal with some of the stronger options in the game at any given time and particularly how to deal with specific kinds of archetypes (swarm fleets, bomber fleets, big heavy fleets, etc.). It seems tempting to just decry something as "broken" the first time it causes you trouble and then largely just grumble about it afterwards, but that doesn't make you a better player and it most certainly makes you more likely to tilt when facing it in a competitive event as you've got two severe disadvantages against it:
1) You're already primed to feel that thing is unfair or the kind of thing only a jerk would use.
2) You likely don't have much experience playing against it due to your casual play group shying away from using it against you due to all the complaining you do about it.
I think it's fair to say these two factors combine together fairly explosively at times.

The example I'll give for this one is the Demolisher, which is a favorite title to complain about (but has gotten steadily less insane as the game has gained more depth and Demolisher got nerfed). I've played several games where my opponent just turned his flank to the Demolisher or allowed his conga line to get front-ended by the Demolisher and it proceeded to tear through those ships because they gave it a clear opening to hit them from their weakest point and just keep rolling. This has on several occasions tilted those opponents, who usually declare that Demolisher is broken and they didn't even try to stop it because they knew it was too good. That's a pretty self-defeating attitude, as I think we can all agree, and in my experience it's not true. It can take some playing against Demolisher to get the hang of how it wants to behave and shut it down, but it's certainly not impossible to do and it's the same kind of thing you'll need to do against other strong configurations that are powerful in the right situations but can be dealt with once you've figured them out.

So to summarize, don't be shy about playing with and particularly against stronger pieces to understand how they work and how to beat them. You're not doing yourself any favors by ostracizing them from your games and it can create an emotional mine field when you encounter them in a competitive event, which easily leads to tilt.

Final thoughts
Tilting is an absolutely surmountable problem for the most part (we all have our "perfect storm" bad days rarely) and doing so not only makes you a better player competitively, but more importantly it makes you a better person to play against.


  1. Nice article. I agree, the psychological aspect of the game can be huge - so many 'better' players I know are just better at dealing with what looks like a possible defeat / bad situation and keeping positive.

    My only tilt experience (well, that I remember!) was against a 7 Gozanti TIE bomber swarm, with multiple BCCs (pre FAQ). I thought the BCC stack was B.S. as I hadn't heard of it before and it seemed silly. I lost my cool, that game, and my chance of winning that tournament. I also didn't enjoy it - and have tried never to repeat that again. We play this game for fun, so make sure it stays fun!!

  2. What you're discussing can otherwise be labeled "good sportsmanship", which I think we can all agree is a good life skill.

    It's a topic of special interest to me, since my primary Armada opponents are my two young boys, age 7 and 9. They get upset sometimes when things don't roll their way, which is to be expected in someone that young. However "expected" and "desired" behavior are two different things. So when they get upset we stop the game and talk about why they're upset, and what they can and cannot control.

    My favorite line to then about this is, "Do you control your emotions, or do your emotions control you?" Part of what we do when we play games is learn that things don't always go our way, and we need to learn to handle setbacks.

    I think you've got good advice here, and I appreciate you making an effort on an important topic. Hopefully it reaches some folks.

  3. I once had a lot of bad rolls during a practise game. No I never go anywhere without a way to reroll my red/black dice