Pride, Prejudice & Time Management — Victorian Lessons for Modern X-wing
The dials have been set, the Tournament Organiser has announced that your 75 minutes are up and that this is the last round. With sweaty palms and nervous grins you exchange pleasantries and wish each other the best of luck… but in your heart of hearts you’re shouting, “HOW COULD IT HAVE COME TO THIS? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE! I WAS WINNING ALL THROUGHOUT THIS GAME UNTIL THIS TURN!!!”
Sound familiar? Having been in this position myself before and after much soul searching, I believe the catalyst to my post-match sob story about my “eventual loss on the last dice roll of the game” can find its roots in the simple themes of Pride and Prejudice, also known by their twin siblings Complacency and Bias. Recognising these tell-tale signs and implementing effective time management can help you avoid falling into these dreaded last-minute dice shenanigans and nail-biting losses.
The Battle of Majuba Hill
Before we cast our eyes to a galaxy far far away, a lot can be learned from the annals of military history. My work as a management consultant necessitates frequent business travel and I often use that downtime to read voraciously. One such book that has recently caught my fancy is the excellent and often hilarious Great Military Blunders by Geoffrey Regan. I print some excerpts below about the insightful story of General Colley and the battle of Majuba Hill during the first Boer War in 1881 (NB: none of which is for personal gain or commercial use so please don’t sue me!).
I would encourage you to read the entire excerpt below, as it is littered with fascinating anecdotes but if you’re in a hurry, here’s the summarised version: 554 British soldiers, under the army’s most brilliant commander, were routed by a group of boys and irregulars, whose military qualities had been disregarded and who had been called ‘mortal cowards’ at the start of the campaign.
“General Sir George Pomeroy Colley was one of the most brilliant officers to pass through the army Staff College in the nineteenth century. In fact, he completed the two-year course in less than half the time allowed and scored the highest marks ever recorded. He was well-read, a gifted linguist, a talented painter, and an engineer and scientist of note… At 46, he was the brightest star in the British army. However, what happened to him in the last two months of his life served to undo a lifetime’s achievements…
In January 1881, with 1,000 British troops, Colley decided to invade the Transvaal. In view of the fact that he was outnumbered two to one and fighting against an enemy strongly entrenched in terrain he knew well, it was an extraordinary decision. Colley must have been depending on the accuracy of his subordinate, Colonel Lanyon’s, assessment of Boer military strength:
“I don’t think we shall have to do much more than show that we are ready, and sit quiet and allow matters to settle themselves… They are incapable of any united military action, and they are mortal cowards, so anything they may do will be but a spark in the pan”
If so, he was in for a shock… Although the Boer position at Laing’s Nek was a strong one, Colley could see that the mountain known as Majuba Hill, 6,000 feet high, overlooked the Boer camp. Majuba was so high that the Boers had not thought to garrison its peak and Colley decided that if he could get men to the top he would force the Boers to evacuate Laing’s Nek. On 26 February, he led a force of over 500 British soldiers on a night march to the top of Majuba Hill. Each man was heavily laden with extra ammunition and three day’s supplies of food and water. After a difficult climb Colley found to his immense satisfaction that the hilltop was indeed deserted. Perhaps in his elation he let his guard drop, for from this moment everything went wrong, and much of it was the fault of Colley himself.
Surprise was too vital an advantage to surrender lightly and Colley was greatly to blame in not preventing groups of Highlanders from waving and jeering at the Boers like holidaymakers or skylarking schoolboys… From Colley’s elevated position it seemed that the antlike activity in the Boer camp was just a prelude to an evacuation. Perhaps this assumption prevented Colley from giving the elementary instructions to dig entrenchments on the summit. Perhaps he did not believe the Boers could do what he had done and climb the hill. When junior officers asked if he wanted entrenchments dug, Colley simply replied that there was no need. Then he decided to have a nap.
Such complacency would have quickly evaporated if they could have heard what was going on in the Boer camp below. Hundreds of men were volunteering to climb the hill and chase the British off… While 1,000 Boer riflemen set up a barrage of fire to keep the British heads down, the Boer assault party (180 expert marksmen, mostly young farmboys) began its climb. It was this covering fire that a British officer reported as ‘the Boers wasting ammunition.’
The young Ian Hamilton ran to tell Colley that 100 Boers had reached the summit, but the general remained undisturbed. Even news that 200, then 300 Boers had appeared did not seem to bother Colley. When Hamilton rushed back for the fourth time with an even more exaggerated report, he found that Colley had fallen asleep again. In fact, the hysterical Hamilton had given Colley the impression that hand-to-hand fighting was taking place, which was quite untrue. The Boers, some no more than 14 years old, had no intention of fighting three times their number of grown men. Instead, they stayed behind cover, and shot the Highlanders down as if they were shooting for the cooking pot.
Suddenly realising the danger, Colley called up his reserves, many of whom like him had been sleeping and were half-dressed. They formed a firing line and fired a ragged volley which went wide. The Boers, who had dropped to the ground before the British fired, stood up and shot down 20 redcoats. Now many of the British soldiers were panicking and some began to scramble down the hill. While Colley coolly tried to rally his men he himself was shot through the head at close range and killed, it is claimed, by a twelve-year-old boy. What followed was unseemly chaos, with men surrendering or fleeing in panic.
The 554 British soldiers, under the army’s most brilliant commander, had been routed by a group of boys and irregulars, whose military qualities had been disregarded and who had been called ‘mortal cowards’ at the start of the campaign. British casualties amounted to 93 killed, 133 wounded, 58 taken prisoner. Boer losses were one killed and five wounded. It was a thoroughly humiliating defeat.”
Move to Lightspeed
So what lessons can be gleaned from this tragic yet insightful engagement in the Boer War? How does this apply to a bunch of adults pushing little plastic ships around on a tabletop? Well, the way I see it, last minute defeats can be avoided with the judicious avoidance of Pride and Prejudice and the discipline of effective time management.
- Pride and Prejudice = Complacency and Bias
Colley’s downfall was underpinned by his pride, alarming complacency and prejudice to avoid the hard facts that were materialising right before his eyes… until they quite literally hit him in the head. In X-wing, I find that people can often make the fatal mistake of being complacent and not counting up the points in both the squads until it is effectively too late to influence your overall strategy. In games that go to time or progress to a grand-stand finish, it is critical to understand the points differential between your opponent’s various ships. It is not good enough to count up points once you have destroyed the first ship, as that often is too late to effectively inform your entire strategy. As part of my pre-match ritual, I will often ask my opponent the exact points split between each of his ships, doing some quick math in my head to understand which of his ships are comparable to my ships in terms of points and what trade-offs I can make. Complacently believing that you have “killed more plastic ships” is a recipe for disaster in the late-game.
One hilarious example that taught me some learning lessons about how to count properly was a match I had against Paul Owen in a small local store kit in the summer of 2016. Paul and I were both experimenting with what were to become our lists of choice for the upcoming competitive season. Paul was flying his now famous double Warden Squadron K-wing bombers with Biggs and I had taken my 186th Special / Fangaroo / Bortlink (i.e. mindlinked Fenn, Old Teroch and Manaroo) that I ended up taking to Worlds.
Unsurprisingly, he made quick work of my aces with masterful flying of his bombing K-wings, but I managed to exact a substantial toll on his list as well, destroying Biggs and his Sabine-holding K-wing in return. I had done the rough math at the start of the game and with less than 10 minutes left to go, I had thought to myself that with a nearly full health Manaroo (34pts) on the table versus his half health K-wing (36pts) I was down and needed to chase the game… something that we both seemed to agree on given that he chose to SLAM his K-wing away and run for it. I mentioned my logic to the TO, Harrison Sharp, and I still remember the strange look he gave me. To his credit, Harri didn’t say a word and just continued to watch us play.
Anyone spotted the error in my ways yet? Hilariously, I had counted wrongly, complacently assuming that what was left on the table was indicative of who was winning. It seems blatantly obvious now but in actuality, the winner is determined by points destroyed and not points left… and I had destroyed 64 points worth of his ships for the loss of 62 points of mine. I was winning and should have run away whilst he was losing and should have chased me, the complete opposite to what we were doing. The game went to time without any significant damage being done and there was a pregnant pause when Harrison told us that what I believed to be my loss was actually a win.
In all fairness, Paul managed to exact his revenge on me in the recent Warboar 2017 Regional, knocking me out of the cut in our Top 4 match but I will never forget the value of properly counting right from the start and how I managed to win a crazy match by virtue of a mutual accounting error.
2. Effective Time Management
There are 4 main factors influencing table-top success in the universe of X-wing competitive play: squad-building; in-game tactics; luck; and time management. Yes, you’ve heard me right, I place time management right up there with strategy, tactics and luck in terms of determining who the winner of the game will be. This is especially true if like me, you are a more cautious player and tend to spend a lot of time analysing your moves during the game. Now before I continue I will clearly state that I am in no way whatsoever suggesting that people ‘slow play’ to victory when they are ahead in points. In my opinion that is a cardinal sin and it falls under the category of outright cheating if you intentionally slow play when you are ahead even after repeated warnings.
What I am suggesting is that every game has a specific timing ‘lifecycle’ that would be useful to observe over the course of the 75 allotted minutes. If you don’t already set a timer on your phone when you start a game, I would highly encourage you to, as it will help you pace yourself. I would also challenge you to think up your own timing sequence based on what works for you but generally speaking, I tend to observe the following phases over the course of the game:
i)0–5 min mark: Setup and Deploy forces, determine primary objectives after setup based on force positioning
ii) 5–20 min mark: Position for first engagement and jostle for location of first engagement.
iii) 20–60 min mark: Accomplish your primary objectives (e.g. if you set out to kill XYZ first then dedicate 30–40mins to ensure you kill what needs to be killed)
iv) Last 15mins: Consolidate your victory and minimise risk
I operate on a declining scale of willingness to take risks over the course of the game, with the highest propensity to do so early on in the game in phases (i) and (ii) when the impacts can be rectified and are less tangible. Taking the risk to dangle Fenn Rau as bait to lure in the bulk of their force? Sure, but make sure you only do so no later than phase (ii) to avoid screwing up your entire game plan and in a way that you can run away to refocus on your primary objectives.
If you find yourself having to increasingly take risks over the course of the game or still trying to accomplish your primary objective in the last 15 minutes, you’re fighting the inevitable loss that is just over the horizon. If you have secured a narrow win and have 15 minutes to go, don’t go gallivanting off to try and get more points in the last 15 minutes… secure what you have and finish the game.
A Hard Lesson is a Lesson Worth Learning
Some of the biggest growths in my personal X-wing game have come through the periods of most frequent losses, having my bottom kicked by people who were better than me. Simply put, I have learnt a lot more from my losses than my wins, as winners are easily lured into a false sense of Pride and Prejudice.
I would not have been blessed enough to achieve all that I have this past competitive season without the support and brotherhood inherent in the 186th Squadron, pushing each other on to greater things and dishing out the occasional butt-kicking to one another ;) If you aren’t already part of a club, I would highly recommend either joining one or getting a group of lads together to start one, as you’ll find the rewards of community an unparalleled advantage on your path to X-wing success.