Saturday, 22 April 2017

Kotov Syndrome and your Death Clock

Kotov Predicted Haley 3 Nerfs. 

A recent thread on the Cygnar Facebook Group sparked me to get back into blogging. In the thread in question, A person decried Warmachine's current state as being relatively low risk, likening it to chess. Now, I'm not going to talk about what he said here, but I will use it as a launching pad to talk about the concept of Kotov Syndrome, and how you overthink your turns. In this post, I will explain Kotov Syndrome, how players fall victim to it, and some strategies to deal with it. In doing this, I hope to create a resource which players can draw upon in order to improve their time spent playing.

Grand-Master Kotov.

Kotov Syndrome 

In 1971, Chess Grand-master Alexander Kotov penned a book titled Think Like A Grandmaster, in which he described a situation in which a player in a bind considers his options intensely, when he's unable to find a way to solve his situation, he panics and makes an exceptionally poor move that could cost him the game.

Death Clock 

This concept of Kotov Syndrome translates to Warmachine perfectly; I've seen it be the undoing of many a tight game. You try to plot out that last ditch assassination run, you're down on time and can't play the long game. You end up spending just a little too long on the planning stage and clock out before you can clinch the game. Often, the things that cause this event are small things that are easily curtailed through practices early stages.

Playing Practised

One of the things new and veteran players alike fail to respect when playing Warmachine is the importance of a planned and practised deployment and first moves strategy. Some things will happen the same way every game. For example, an Amon or a Vyros1 list will almost always deploy the same way, as neither list truly cares about which pieces it loses, nor about the terrain thanks to mobility. Furthermore, certain things always occur in the same way. For example, Amon's Choir will always walk forward, put a prayer on 'jacks, and then reposition forward. With these things in mind, these simpler lists can strive to complete their deployment within a minute. Well practised players can complete their first turn in just two minutes, often meaning they've completed their first turn with a 5 minute lead on their unpractised competition.

Playing Clean

But, practise isn't just pure board positioning. Sometimes it's having the values you need to know in your head consistently. It seems like such a small time waiting for your opponent to look up his defence, but you could be surprised to learn how much time an inexperienced player might wast trying to determine what he needs to hit a target, or to damage it. You can see this in good players, as they can go to roll an attack out without even having to ask what they need to hit. After a while, you just know what you need to hit that charger. This is something you will learn by simply playing pick ups against a variety of opponents and models, and it is important that when you play these pick up games, you play them timed.

Playing Timed 

I would like to believe the biggest mistake a competitive player could make is not playing casual pick up games on death-clock. I don't play casuals on death-clock (except if I play Haley3, where I force myself to play clock in order to get the discipline to play her quickly), but unlike someone who's reading this in order to learn how to play your time efficiently, I don't play slowly. In fact, an opponent has more than once told me I play and talk to quickly on timed turns. So, if you struggle under time pressure, I highly recommend playing your games timed. Not just a few, or against comfort opponents, all of them.Not only will this improve you through practise and experience, but it will also teach you the value of decisiveness. 

A side note, If your opponent isn't up to play timed games, that's OK. You can just say to your opponent that you would like to time yourself, and that he doesn't have to be bound by the clock. Most players will be compliant about swapping the clock and give you no issue.

Playing Decisive 

Probably the biggest thing players who struggle with death-clock need to learn is to play decisive. Decide on a plan of action and play it out quickly. If you're going for an assassination run, do everything necessary to facilitate the run, and then try to follow through. If it fails, then plan out further actions. Another big thing to learn is not to tilt if your plan gets screwed up, or if you make a mistake. You compound your mistakes by ruminating on them and it is often best to laugh it off and look at a new plan of action. The less time you spend crying over split dice the more time you can cram full of activation goodness.


Playing under clock is probably the most beautiful thing about truly competitive turn based games. It forces players to play quickly and can really improve overall player involvement as it takes less time between each turn. The other value to mention when playing clocked or quickly, is that you can play more games in the time - I  can often get in four games in a day if I'm playing from midday to nine in the evening, and it's led to me being far faster at the game than my play quality would allow. 

There are limitations to consider, of course, for example, being to decisive can lead to you being an idiot. I am an idiot. I've several times had clear assassination runs, but tried to play too fast and missed out on easy wins against good opponents. So, take everything here with a grain; it's important to play quickly, but it's also important to play well. Just remember that you don't have to trade one to have the other.