“Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.”
― Marcus Aurelius
Does that quote fit? We’ll see.
Perception is reality. Reality is overrated – more importantly, perception affects decisions at the V:TES table. This may seem like a “well, duh!” concept, but it should really be discussed more.
The concept of the table threat is a pervasive one in multiplayer play. In most multiplayer games, there’s an ability to gang up on “the clear leader”, and V:TES is no exception. But, the table threat is a subjective thing, prone to shifting not just through mechanical changes in the game but through the perceptions of the players.
What is the most important skill to possess to improve one’s results at V:TES?
I have on a number of occasions said threat assessment. That’s likely just out of frustration at how oblivious people can sometimes be. Does it really matter to know precisely how much of a threat every opponent is if that doesn’t affect how one’s opponents play? Isn’t it better to be able to manipulate someone into doing what you want, regardless as to who happens to be the greatest threat? After all, at some point, it’s generally useful to be the greatest threat.
Then, haven’t even taken into account that threat level perceptions vary. I don’t mean that the prey of the winnie deck sees its predator as a much greater threat because the player is about to be ousted. I mean that match-ups matter. The rush combat deck wrecking the other side of the table might be great in the short term but has to die before it gets next to you because you are squishy. The stealth bleed deck about to be behind you only feeds your 20 bounce card strategy.
Though, we can’t just pull out one element of the situation like match-ups, all of the other elements, such as how someone is doing right now or what someone could potentially pull off in a turn or how fragile a player’s dominant position is, go into assessing how to adjust one’s play.
Why bring up perception and how it affects play now?
Maybe it’s the sort of V:TES experience I had yesterday. Unexpectedly, we only had three players. We did play four games and they were quicker affairs where one doesn’t get as lost in the minutia of any particular game to where the game’s “transactions” (moments) are the main takeaways. I had also talked to a retired player Saturday, while at a friend’s wedding, about manipulation in V:TES. So, a confluence, apparently.
Speaking of manipulation, is there really any form of manipulation that isn’t about changing perceptions? Intimidation, seduction, etc. all change perceptions in a way that is far too general to be of much use. Instead, my experiences have mostly been about trying to get someone to realize that someone else is a greater threat, to pass the onus of being “clear leader” (actually, clear leader applies better to Babylon 5, where the game is a race, so I’ll switch to table threat). It’s typically an argument based on logic, biased logic, but logic.
In no way is this an attempt to make me sound more virtuous, but I try hard to avoid being manipulative and have been trying for a number of years, whether it seems so or not. I’m really not one for political games and I perceived at some point that I thought the game had become too political and not based enough on interesting card interactions. I gain more satisfaction from superior technical play and crafty deck construction than I do manipulating others into doing my bidding.
And, my game has suffered for it, if results are any indication. Superior technical play is helpful, but it’s nothing compared to what you can achieve by getting people to do what you want. I think a great example of this was from a post-Gen Con tournament I played in in Indianapolis. Ankur had arranged the event at his place and Jay Kristoff was among those present. In the first round, I was playing a weird Kiasyd deck, he was my prey playing Nosferatu Trophy, my predator was playing Ventrue of the Law Firmish variety, and I forget Jay’s prey’s deck. My predator was suffering beatings at the hand of his predator, even though I got ousted. A vampire of the unremembered deck went to torpor and my erstwhile predator looked to diablerize. Some discussion with Jay was had about surviving the bloodhunt. A Prince or something went to chew, succeeded, and Jay voted the nontrivial minion dead. The coup was decisive and, unsurprisingly, Jay went on to win yet another tournament, schooling all of us losers.
All that was required was achieving the perception that the wicked diablerist wouldn’t go poof. It wasn’t a matter of convincing someone to do something that he didn’t want to do; he very much wanted to chew. It wasn’t a matter of forgetting a mechanic or misplaying cards or whatever; it was making a bad decision based on perceiving the situation differently than it turned out to be.
There may be other factors, e.g. opponents got better, but back when I made an effort to alter other players’ perceptions of the game state, I was far more successful. Now, it could be argued that no matter what you do, including what you don’t do, you affect how people perceive you. My attempts to not get as involved politically may give me benefit of the doubt at times when it comes to expected reactions to plays. It’s just that those times aren’t likely to be that important.
Different people have different styles. An example out here of wildly differing styles by highly successful players was playing with Ira and Ruben. But, the end goal is the same. No V:TES player is an island, not even the player of the turbo deck or the Reversal of Fortunes deck or whatever.
Every player influences the game constantly and, often, profoundly. Decision-making in V:TES is crucial to results (and crucial to enjoying games). Decisions are going to be made based on how one perceives the game.
A much more valuable article would be one that addresses how to change perceptions and/or how to adapt one’s play by “reading” other players based on how they perceive the situation. Does a Ventrue deck seem overly cautious next to a Tzimisce deck? Could be a lack of Majesty in hand (or fear of ‘shreck or Telepathic Tracking) and an intense fear of being dunked. Maybe can make a friend of the Ventrue by preemptively offering to rescue someone who goes down, then be awesome and totally not rescue, bwa-ha-ha. Anyway, it should be obvious that such musings are not my sort of thing (I’ll have to think about why, maybe just laziness); other bloggers come to mind for such.
Some players even overreact to other players. I’ve found myself in situations where my prey was deathly afraid of my ferocious pool-draining powers, likely because I’ve had some success lunging in the past even though my decks tend to be anemic on offense, to where my prey didn’t have enough minions out to do anything forward and the two of us waited for someone else to win. On the other hand, I often see underreaction as well. I’m actually a proponent of everyone ganging up to take out the best player at a table when the best player is significantly better. “Share the wealth!” “Share the wealth!”
So, what’s the takeaway from this post? Probably just remind oneself that the game largely comes down to decisions made based on subjective perceptions and that those perceptions are quite mutable.