Tactics Talk: Making the Most of Tempo
I once read a somewhat bizarre fictional story, in which a scene was posed: If you are sitting at a formal dinner table, where there are napkins placed equidistant between each plate, do you grab the napkin on your right or your left?
The answer, as proposed by the story, was that you would follow the example set by the first person to grab a napkin. If they grabbed the left, everyone would be forced to grab the napkin on their left, or vice versa if they grabbed the one on the right. This results in the first to grab the napkin having a profound impact on the flow of the table.
This story is a good representation of a concept in miniature gaming that everyone deals with in some manner but has not, in the context of ASOIAF TMG, been written about in much depth: Tempo. Tempo (often used to describe a piece of music) describes the speed of an event or activity. For wargaming, tempo is an important concept that describes the pace of the flow of battle.
Tempo is, literally, all about timing.
Tempo is a vague and nebulous concept. It can be very hard to pin down what the tempo of any given situation is, much less trying to establish the pace which works best for your army in order to win. It can be easy to get into the groove of the game, only to realize three turns later that your army is weakened, surrounded, and facing a complete rout.
Every game develops its own rhythm, and each player has opportunities to set wrest control and swing the tempo in their favor. The A Song of Ice and Fire: Tabletop Miniatures game is a beautiful game in that there are many ways in which a commander can capitalize on setting the pace of the game, whether it is performing a successful charge, playing a command card, or claiming a zone on the tactics board. When the tempo is in your favor, you set the terms of the game. If you can keep it in your favor, the game is yours.
To give an example to try to make this more clear, consider a Lannister list with Tywin Lannister as the commander. Lots of weakened tokens, lots of survivable units, the works. This list performs best when it can get their units into combat, then utilize the defensive power that Tywin’s tokens and cards can give to their own units. This list wants a slow tempo, where units get stuck into combat for several turns, being difficult to kill while being able to kill faster than they die. The tempo will remain in their favor while they continue to stay this way, but as soon as they lose a unit and start getting double teamed, tempo shifts away from them. If they can delay that collapse of their line, that loss of tempo, they’ll win.
Setting the pace
There are a few situations that will frequently have big impacts on the tempo of a game. The first major one is getting a charge off. Consider what combat would look like if every attack automatically did two wounds instead of rolling any dice. Who would win the combat? The answer would be “whoever attacks first.” Despite all of the rules layered on top of it, this generally still holds true. The first attacker is usually in the best place to win combat, as the defender is usually weaker, rolling less dice [Stannis’ Note: fewer] in retaliation. When looking to seize control of the game, never underestimate hitting first!
The second tempo change is wiping a unit. Killing a unit has a huge effect on tempo most of the time, as the opponent becomes able to perform fewer attacks, is less able to hold a structured line successfully, and will begin to have to fight one-vs-many combats. Killing units, particularly early on, without losing too much of your own will have a huge tempo swing in your favor. Additionally, the player with more activations can often delay or make actions later in the round with lessened fear of retaliation or being outflanked.
The third major tempo swing is the word “No.” This is largely a Lannister option, such as with the “Counterplot” tactics card, but other factions have access to some similar mechanics. Any time you can prevent an opponent from taking significant action is huge, particularly, when interrupting a complicate combination. Interrupting a unit precariously positioned to maximize the use of a sudden charge, can leave them stranded and waiting to be counter-charged and wiped out. When building your lists, look for ways that your forces can exert resistance in this space. This can be several things, such as Counterplot or Tyrion Lannister, denying cards that the opponent was banking on, or Varys, denying an NCU. This can even be as minor as the Night’s Watch canceling the spending of a token, saving themselves the effect of that one token.
Often the biggest moments for tempo you won’t be able to predict. Having the tools to ensure that the decision falls one way or the other can be the biggest change in tempo. So, in order to start figuring out how tempo plays into your army, consider what your list is doing to win. Does it want a fast or slow tempo to the battle? Next, look at what you have access to make big tempo plays. Figure out how you can make plays to bring a game into the tempo you want it to be at. Then figure out how to prevent your opponent from wrenching tempo back away from you. If you can take it and keep it away from your opponent, you’ve got your opponent beat.