[Meta Gaming] Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now? Concessions in Wargaming

I concede games quite often. More often, I suspect, than is widely considered proper, and perhaps more often than I should. It’s come to my attention of late that my motives in so doing are frequently unclear. If even the woman I love is sufficiently in the dark about said motives to be greatly confused and offended by my bowing out of a board game (and she is), it’s clear that some territory needs to be staked out and explored, and a case for concessions made.

Hark says I concede because I don’t want to lose, and she thinks ill of me for that because someone has to be the loser.

I don’t think that’s (usually) true. It’s been true. I’ve flipped a few boards, smashed a few models, flung a few dice, thrown a lot of tantrums over the years. I am definitely behind the curve in terms of resilience and emotional maturity.

The thing is that I know it. If I feel an outburst coming on I’d rather bow out with some grace than potentially throw a strop. The more mature thing to do is play it through and absorb the loss, for sure, but I’m just not grown up enough to (always) be able to do that, and I see conceding as better form than being stroppy.

Hark doesn’t agree. She sees a difference between being the loser and “choosing to lose” by conceding. I don’t. To concede is to admit and accept the fact of one’s defeat. “You can’t beat me because I concede” is not a sentence I ever want to hear coming out of anyone’s mouth, least of all mine. I do see a distinction there – there’s admitting and accepting one’s defeat like a gentleman and then there’s trying to bully on through it like… something else. I see that there is virtue in that kind of bullheadedness, and I don’t want to run down persistence as an approach to life and all its problems. There is virtue and vice in both approaches – it’s just that I am more prone to vice if I play a game through than I am if I sit back and digest what’s gone wrong from a distance.

There’s a bit more to it than that, though, and it’s to do with the difference between ‘losing’ and ‘being beaten’. Being beaten is external. If you’re being beaten you’re still involved, still able to win, still trying to win, still not being smacked around the chops by Lady Luck and another player is just more able to win, trying harder, being luckier.

Losing is internal. Losing is setting yourself up to fail, putting yourself out of the game. It’s not making a minor and recoverable mistake and still being in the game; I mean making a run of poor choices which render you unable to participate in the game in any functional sense.

It can be difficult to judge that objectively, and therefore it can be easy to concede by accident. This happens to me a lot and I’m trying to improve my ability to make those calls. That said, the deciding factor in those judgements, for me, is whether trying to recover from the mistakes would a) be fun and b) teach me anything about the game.

Stalemates would be the classic example of a); the game is just dragging out because nobody’s lost in the technical sense (the king is not yet mated) and it’s considered bad form to prolong that case of affairs. Another would be situations like last night’s – we were playing London (in London!) which has a deck of cards from which everyone draws and once that deck’s exhausted it’s game over, and all I could realistically do was keep drawing cards, hastening the end of the game, robbing three other people of their fun. That doesn’t seem like good form to me. If the only way you can stay in the game is to make it shorter for everyone else… shouldn’t you just bow out?

{Aside – there’s a counter-argument here which service should be paid to. In a wargames tournament, dropping out means someone may have to take the bye in the next round, and the next; essentially, you alter other players’ strength of schedule and compromise the results of the event. Last night’s board game could be argued to have been compromised in a similar way; by removing myself from play I effectively placed the resources I’d used outside the reach of the other players, meaning they hadn’t played the full game. I’m not unsympathetic to this argument, and so tension exists between it and the virtues of concession which I’m trying to establish here.}

For an example of b), which might be more familiar to regular readers, consider the practice of playing out the first couple of turns of a wargame, practicing deployment, practicing setting up a viable tactical position, practicing those early stages of the game over and over again, learning how to do the early game right so you never end up in that situation where you’re not able to participate in the endgame – so you don’t end up losing (as differentiated from being beaten, above). GMort and Nikephoros and Stelek (I think) have all recommended this as an approach at some point or other and to be honest I don’t hate it. It’s how I learned to play Blood Bowl competently, after all.

In the group dynamic of a board game things get weird. I learn by doing, and so I like to stay involved in a game – but if I’ve played myself into a corner and can’t do anything, I can’t learn anything, so I’d rather watch other people playing successfully and try to understand their success. It’s better to learn something, in a way that is not the best for you, than to learn nothing. And while we’re on that subject; angry, frustrated and stroppy is not a learning mood, nor a mood for having fun in, and if you’re in that perfect storm of incipient nerd rage, it’s surely better to fade away than to burn out…

I think conceding has its place – as an alternative to nerd rage, and as part of a learning experience – and that it’s not always about not wanting to lose. Sometimes it’s just another way of accepting that you’ve lost and getting what you can from the experience – and isn’t that the virtue ascribed to the “play it out” attitude? That’s not to say that people – myself assuredly included – don’t sometimes quit when they shouldn’t; my point is that sometimes a concession is better than the alternative.

16 thoughts on “[Meta Gaming] Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now? Concessions in Wargaming

  1. Yeah I enjoyed this too. Whether or not I concede depends on how I read the other players. If the game is being drawn-out and no-one’s having any fun and me conceding would bring the sweet mercy of death to the game, then I’ll do it. Otherwise though I try to make a point of playing till the end, especially if I’m losing (in which case I’ll laugh about it).

    But I think that’s a temperament thing. I have never in my life cared the slightest about losing unless the other person is being an arse about it. The downside of this is that I am destined to always be a casual gamer. Something I’m quite comfortable with.

    By the way, sorry about the enormous ramble on your last post, it got me excited to discuss but I hadn’t had much sleep.


    1. Don’t apologise. I’ve been meaning to go back and reply to some of those comments but I’ve been a bit busy recently.

      Like I (hope) I said, I see a difference between being beaten (awesome, the other chap was just better) and losing (you dun messed up boy). There’s a contextual factor too – there have definitely been times in my life when I’ve been able to laugh off a defeat in the cause of classical supervillainy – if I’m supposed to lose in some sense it becomes a lot more bearable if I do, hence my preference for games embedded in some sort of narrative context. I’m aware that ‘become better at the game’ is also a context in which defeats can be embedded, but I think I’ve done the “sod that, I have obligations to Develop Myself coming out of my professional ears and I don’t want them in my hobby time thanks” rant enough times by now…

      Why do you try to make a point of playing till the end? What’s the point that you’re actually trying to make of it? There seems to be an assumption here that I’m not privy to; I’ve sat down and thought about it and “shake hands, walk away” just seems… better. So there must be something I’m missing, because I refuse to believe that everyone else is just wrong. :p


      1. I’m with you, Von. Wether I’m losing or being beaten, there’s no point in prolonging the inevitable.

        Games are all about making interesting choices and having fun. When I can see no choices to take me off the path to defeat, I’ve lost. Might as well admit it and shake hands before I get frustrated and irritated.

        For me a “post-match cuddle” also helps. With that I mean discussing what all players did wrong and right, and what could have happened if we’d kept going. A five-minute debriefing instead of an hour-long endgame.


      2. Quite so. As long as there’s a meaningful choice left, play on – and I don’t mind playing on to a defeat if I can make it a less significant one, as long as morale is up to the challenge. If it isn’t, or if the only options left are “lose” or “lose harder”… what difference does it make?

        The issue is whether you’re calling losses accurately. I admit that’s not always something I manage to do. I’m trying to get better at that and only throw in the towel in the really obvious cases.

        And yes, debriefings are important. Get the emotional reaction done and dusted first, nobody learns anything when they’re cross, but definitely take the experience apart afterwards.


      3. I suppose I make a point of playing on as a show of good sportsmanship. Not that it’s always bad sportsmanship to quit, but if my opponent wants to play out the game and we’re both having fun then for me to concede seems a bit like … taking the technical outcome of the game too seriously?

        I guess I like to show people that the important thing for me is not the outcome, or even that I improve at the game, but that we spent some time playing a fun game. I don’t play games to win, or to get better at them. Not primarily anyway. I do concede some times, but generally the better I know my opponent the more often I’ll concede. I don’t like to do it as a first impression.


      4. If you’re both having fun, there’s no reason to concede. It’s when things stop being fun for one or both parties that a mercy killing of the not-fun game becomes appropriate.

        I play games to not lose – and that’s not the same thing as playing to win, as I hope you’ll have realised from the entry. I want to be good enough at them to give whoever I’m playing with a challenge and maybe win. That’s enough. If they’re not being challenged, and I’m not involved in the outcome, something is wrong.


      5. Oops I responded earlier from my er… other blog.

        Yeah, I got where you’re coming from in the entry – I’m not judging you or anyone else, just trying to articulate why I do what I do, since you asked. If someone wants to concede to me by the way, I’d let them do it no hard feelings. It’s just never happened before ;)


  2. It can be very frustrating having someone go “I can’t win from here, I’m packing up now” or, “well, my hail mary failed, you’ll kill me easily from here, I’m packing up now”. I’ve worked for my win, I get beaten more than I win, and you can’t give me the chance to roll the dice and finish this in a manner that’s satisfying to me? That just feels a bit rude. I think that sort of thing is why my local tournaments tend to include a “if you concede, you score zero points, and your opponent gets maximum, regardless of the state of play” clause, in order to encourage people to play their games out to the end.

    On the other side, it’s been some years since I realised that if I’m not going to win, then smashing as much of the opponent’s stuff as I can before they finish me is infinitely more satisfying than going out with a whimper. My last game of Hordemachine, both sides are running out of models, and, being the Hordes player against a Warmachine player, that’s the point where I can’t win, so, I took out two heavy warjacks in one charge of my caster, which left me wide open to being killed by a thrown rock. That was satisfying, even though I didn’t win. (And, any game in which I wreck the Avatar of Menoth is a victory in my book.)


    1. Ye-ess. Qualified yes. I do think it’s good form to ask first, if you’re going to concede – always ask if the other players involved would rather play it out. If they’re not having fun either – perhaps if the game just isn’t the remotest ghost of a challenge, and being challenged is their main source of fun – then they’ll probably agree to it, if they are they won’t and there’s a certain “well suck it up then” factor at work there. I personally don’t see anything bad in someone weighing up the situation and saying “good game” and offering me the hand – if it’s that obvious that I’ve won and I can’t see what I’d do in their shoes I’d allow them the courtesy of owning their defeat. I also don’t see anything bad in the ‘concessions are a zero score’ decision though. That’s fair enough. You’re going to give up the game, you don’t get anything for it.

      As for the whimper; I quite agree. I only tend to concede if a whimper’s all I’m going to accomplish. I’ll play the game out as long as I can participate meaningfully in the experience, and that “give ’em a bloody nose” routine is definitely meaningful participation. If I still feel like I can do things, I’ll see to it that things get done. Concessions are for situations of clear, absolute, unsalvageable defeat. Sometimes the mechanics of a game are such that it’s obvious you’re going to do nothing but lose harder and accelerate the end of the game for everyone else – like the situation that prompted this post – and that, I think, is when it’s better to bow out.


      1. I like that much better: ask the opponent(s) if they mind if you concede. That’s a good way forward. I get that stalemates suck and it’s worth calling it at that point, but I’ve only had people concede when they’ve had to leave because of Real World commitment (which is fine), or they’ve given up on the game.


  3. I’ve played a lot of WHF where the opponent concedes early, so early that we spend more time setting up than playing which is incredibly frustrating. The classic example has been VC armies where I have had the opportunity to snipe the general in turn two or even my turn one if I went second, take out the general and the opposing player just gave up and started taking models off the table. One time I thought they were making crumble tests until they removed an entire unit and started on the second when I questioned them about it. That was a 4000 point game so we both had invested a good hour in getting the models out in the first place, made me wish I hadn’t won.

    I have conceded games in the past, usually when external forces of great magnitude call (hi honey *waves*) or when its clear that the opponent is going to win, however… I do like to see the killing blow and if the opponent is setup to perform a well executed plan or something potentially spectacular then I will endure and wait to see my little man-dollies get what I deserve for leading them astray on the green felt.


    1. Well, the VC thing may (if we’re going to be charitable) be a kind of ingrained hangover from the bad old days when losing the general meant you *had* to remove whole units. I started playing in them days and I do have unfortunate memories of lifting whole blocks of Undead off the board. Since sixth edition though, the edge has been taken off that rule a bit, and now I think VC players who see the general’s death as their SHAMEFUL DEFEAT aren’t trying hard enough. Especially in a game that big when they surely have other characters to take the strain…

      You have a point about spectacle. Whether or not I want to see that depends on whether or not I’ve done much other than put models on the board and take them off again. It’s a question of morale and engagement. I’m not so sure I can concur with the ‘get what I deserve’ part. That seems like masochism, of a kind, and I’ve been told to lay off on that a bit.


      1. True the new mechanics for crumble in the VC has alleviated that flaw somewhat.

        As to the masochism its more about learning from mistakes and clearly identifying them, the completeness of the awe inspiring grand total at the end when looking at the casualty list helps me work out what went wrong and how wrong so I can work on ways to prevent it happening again. Like a turn one caster kill vs a Karchev list teaches me to pay more attention to charge lanes and opening flanks so I can make it to turn two before they rinse repeat on me in the next game ;)


      2. Hm. I think we may have to write this one off to personal differences; the size of the dead pile doesn’t seem to help me with working things out. If anything, it gets in the way (see also: emotional immaturity).


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