View Full Version : 40k and Chess.

de Selby
17-04-2012, 22:21
This is a sort of indirect spinoff from Blurrymadness's thread:

40k and Chess.

I'll preface this by saying I'm not a particularly good 40k player and I'm not a particularly good chess player. However I've been playing both on and off for most of my life and so it's natural to draw some comparisons.

40k is tactical enough that the decisions you make matter and it's not always obvious what the right decisions are. Games are often decided by who makes the most mistakes.

I've found the following way of thinking to be useful in reducing the number of mistakes I make during a game.

Essentially I divide in-game decisions into the Opening, Middle game and Endgame, by analogy with chess. I'll leave out (as far as possible) any decisions made before rolling for mission and deployment, as these are largely army and personality dependent. Some people consider list-building to be 'strategy' and it certainly makes a huge difference to gaming outcomes, but personally I prefer to buy models I like and build a 'strategy' based on what I have.

The Opening.

During the opening chess players generally move a piece no more than once. The type of opening will determine the type of game that ensues. Mistakes in the opening are likely to be fatal.

I consider the opening in 5th ed. 40k to include the decision about whether to deploy first or second, decisions about which troops to deploy or place in reserve, whether to use combat squads, deployment itself and placing scouts, infiltrators, outflankers and deep strikers. Thus the opening begins before the first turn but may continue as far as the 5th!

Your list is going to have a large bearing on your opening, but you should also be reacting to the mission, deployment type, terrain, placement of objectives and of course your opponent's opening. If you choose to deploy second, or use lots of reserves, then you've chosen a reactive type of opening.

Either way you should have some kind of plan for what your units are actually going to do and where they will go to help you secure victory. Broad ideas like split deployment, refused flank, rhino rush, everyone-stand-in-a-gunline-and-shoot etc. are Openings (not necessarily good ones).

The Middle game.

During this stage chess players move and exchange pieces in an attempt to secure material or positional advantage.

In 40k the middle game begins once either side starts taking casualties. I typically consider the middle game to be turns one to three, so it overlaps with the opening (you'll be bringing on reserves to help throughout the middlegame, if this is the sort of opening you chose).

40k generally doesn't have an equivalent to the chess mechanic by which players exchange pieces but we're all familiar with the idea that while executing a plan your army will take casualties. Some units exist largely to absorb damage (mobile cover, tarpits and fire magnets).

Material Advantage: this is encapsulated in the common notion of a 40k unit 'making its points back'. If you're killing more of your opponent's army than you're taking casulaties in return, you're building up a material advantage.

Positional Advantage: your units should begin in useful postions if you planned your opening. When you move them you should be considering whom they threaten, who threatens them, and whether they help you control important areas of the battlefield (eg. the centre, the objectives, firebase positions). Conversely you can bait, redirect, drive off or delay enemies to leave them out of position.

Target Selection: chess pieces don't have 360 degree movement or guns so this is a bigger deal in 40k. In general a 40k unit is likely to have the potential to shoot/attack more of the enemy force than a chess piece, subject to the considerations a) whom can I actually damage or impede? and b) who is actually most threatening to my army and plan? Some people claim target selection is all there is to 40k. It's certainly a big part of the middle game.

Certain units and armies excel in the middle game, particularly the dedicated shooting and the fast combat units that can kill a lot of stuff very quickly and thus build up a material advantage. These types of armies tend to Open proactively and like to go first. Other armies have deployment tricks or mobility that they use to build up advantage in the opening or end game, and thus play conservatively in the middlegame.

The End game.

In chess, by this stage the position is simplified and the number of pieces reduced. Players play out the consequences of the opening and middlegame and if one has gained a substantial advantage they now have to turn it into checkmate. If the outcome is obvious the losing player will commonly resign.

I consider the endgame of 40k to be turns 4+ (again, overlapping somewhat with previous phases). It's less common for 40k players to resign than chess players, because of the turn limit, the narrative desire to 'see what happens', and the chance that good dice will intervene and save the day. However it's often clear by turns 4+ who has the advantage and since forces are often much reduced and have limited scope for action the last few turns will often be over quite quickly.

By this stage players should be trying to win the game (or possibly, play for a draw), by consideration of kill points or objectives in turns 5 to 7.

If it's a close game then those last few kill points matter and you should be defending vulnerable friendlies and finishing off vulnerable enemies. Sometimes a unit is better off sitting out the end of the battle, and sometimes the safest place is close combat.

If the game is objective based then good positional play during the opening and middle game really shines. It will enable you to bring the material you still have to bear on contesting the objectives, clearing the objectives, and claiming the objectives. As early as possible, you should make explicit decisions about which objectives you really want and which you can afford to let go (you don't need all of them). Maybe it's been part of the plan since deployment.

This is a very brief summary of the basic ideas I have in my head while playing. I think they're pretty common ideas but I haven't seen them presented in this way. Some take home points:
a) think about how each friendly and enemy unit is going to perform in the opening, middle and end game. How can you turn it to your advantage?
b) the 40k opening is often mostly over by the start of the first turn, and you're commonly into the endgame by turn 4. So in 40k the outcome is decided very quickly (if your army lists aren't well matched it could be over before you even meet, but that's a different problem). Essentially, you should be thinking about getting into position for the endgame as soon as you know what the mission is.

I'd prefer if people didn't post replies which boil down to whether they hate 40k or chess, and I'm aware they are very very different games. If anyone would like to post any other parallels they see between 40k and chess or other games (Go? Magic the Gathering? Poker? Pac man?), that would be great. If you plan your games in a completely different way, tell me about it!

17-04-2012, 23:53
Chess relies heavily on a good memory. If you can memorise a few openings and variations to 20+ moves you should have a major advantage over someone who doesn't. This isn't so much the case with 40k as luck comes into it.

18-04-2012, 15:29
Thank you.

Please do not respond to Posts which violate Warseer's Forum Rules. Use the Report Button and move along.

The Warseer Inquisition

18-04-2012, 16:38
Chess relies heavily on a good memory.

Chess players who memorize a series of openings and variations, but who have no idea why they're doing the things they do are at a serious disadvantage to players who know only 1 or 2 openings, but have a good grasp on how the pieces interact. When I play chess with my uncle, turn 1 and turn 2 are always really fast, but then the game slows down substantially by turn 3, which is still distinctively in the opening. He has no idea what Sicilian defense is, but when I use it, he knows how to respond because he's a smart cookie. Games with him have nothing to do with memory.

Anyway, on the topic of 40k relating to other games.

I find that it's quite similar to Go. When you look at a Go game in progress, a good way of understanding who has the upper hand is to see who is exerting a stronger influence in key areas of the game board. Without even moving miniatures in 40k, it's easy to see when one player has a distinct advantage over another based on the locations of their miniatures compared to key positions on the gaming table. Or, compared to the influence their opponents exhibit in the same space. Example: One player is outflanking another. Provided the player who is on the attack commits a substantial portion of his force, he is exhibiting a greater influence over the table in the area where he is attacking his opponent. This leads to material and/or positional advantage in virtually all cases.

With MTG, I think the similarities are virtually exclusive to the relationship between list building and deck building. When you go to play at a booster draft tournament, luck is also involved.

18-04-2012, 16:45
As someone who played chess competitively through high school, here's my thoughts on it:

Chess openings exist to protect players from early mistakes, and to set up later lines of attack. Opening theory can be very complicated, and can often be more-or-less replaced by good "tactical chess" (what scaryscarymushroom was talking about above). But then every now and then there'll be some crazy guy (like me in 10th grade) who whips out a really weird opening like the Danish Gambit, because he knows it and no one else in the area seems to, and that gives an advantage because it shapes the game into a form he's more familiar with than his opponent.

Of course, there's no list-building in chess...

18-04-2012, 17:00
Yes there is. it's just everyone goes by the same interwebz list because it's the best :skull:

/srs face: I will agree that chess and 40k have similarities, but I don't think it's fair to either to compare them one to one. Target priority and working backwards from how you want to win are common to both, but the variable lists changes the mechanics of how 40k is played versus a static game like chess. For example: a TH/SS Termi rush should be handled very different than an all deep striking tyranid list, even though both have the same goals and start the 'mid game phase' in turn 2.

Grand Master 117
18-04-2012, 17:52
Very interesting a good comparison. I find the two games very similar as well. Never really thought of trying to play it like a chess game. I will certainly try it out. Thanks for sharing.

18-04-2012, 23:05
I appreciate it wasn't what you were getting at but I always find chess a very unhealthy comparison to make with 40k. The main difference between chess and 40k is that chess is a game of pure skill and logic, whereas 40k is all about managing risk and probability. People who view wargames purely as contests of skill between players tend to be very bad at dealing with probability and often end up whining and blaming luck for their failure when the dice don't deliver the statistically average outcome.

Of course, its great if you can draw lessons from the structure of chess which apply to 40k, but when it comes to mindset I think poker provides a far healthier comparison. Whilst you are playing against an opponent you are also managing risk and dealing with the luck you get given. All you can do is play the odds to the best of your abilities. Sometimes you'll do everything exactly right but you won't get the luck and something will go wrong - when that happens you accept the sitution, adapt and play the hand you're given as best you can. A more 40k relevant metaphore is that you are a farseer attempting to negotiate the strands of fate to produce the best possible outcome (which might not neccessarily be a good outcome :) ). When it comes to understanding how to manage probability and coming to terms with its treacherous nature I'd also heartily recommend blood bowl as essential training!

Back to chess, you could also take the lesson that your "pieces" (i.e. units) should be positioned so they can support one another and function as part of a whole where none is isolated - to attack a unit should invite the threat of overwhelming retaliation.

19-04-2012, 05:43
A lot of cool thoughts and arguments going on here actually. I agree with several points and found myself basically nodding at every post. I specifically tried to avoid the chess comparison because of things brought up here:
-One is static and one is dynamic (lists)
-One uses known information and one uses *some* hidden information (dice and [probably] innumerable movement options)
-One has pieces that may only attack specific other pieces and one uses generalists in every category
and I'm sure there's more (even in this thread) that I missed.

The good points to note are basically covered by the OP; that the games both have openings, mid games, and late games (duh) but that you can take a similar approach to them. Further, you can take certain formations or principles of strategy from chess and apply it to 40k.

The biggest point of failure is more the idea that if you tried to apply 40k principles to chess it would fail *utterly.* Because of this we're really drawing only general conclusions of the two; were they similar enough then knowledge in one would likely imply knowledge in the other.

EDIT: And cool thread! Glad to be the indirect cause of some conversation :D

19-04-2012, 11:48
In the other thread I argued not so much an analysis of how the two games compare to each other but in terms of the lessons that each one can teach. I consider games to be practice for real life challenges, but my friend de selby questioned the usefulness of these lessons in the real world.

I think that the lessons chess teaches are largely limited to sacrifice for advantage as de selby puts it and the ability to think many moves ahead (4 or more).

40k definitely teaches the value of sacrifice for advantage (though not in such stark terms) as well as the ability to think several turns ahead (though not as many). It also teaches lessons about probability, mitigating bad luck, positioning to take advantage of good luck and how to handle asymmetrical force strength and composition among other things. 40k teaches players about the importance of terrain and the value of troops' discipline.


Sacrificing troops for material advantage is something that many nations understand all too well with the war in Afghanistan in its current state. If a Taliban bomber can kill even one additional allied soldier by choosing to die in the blast, he or she considers that to be a favorable trade. The analogy in chess is obvious, but this kind of trade-off situation comes up clearly in 40k when troops assault a transport. The transport may be lost, but this often comes at the cost of the unit that assaulted the transport (models that assault vehicles are often left badly out of position and very exposed).

Closer to home, candidates and politicians often use surrogates for press conferences so that if the press asks an awkward question, it's the representative that slips up rather than the candidate or politician. Using expendable elements as insulation for more valuable assets is common in 40k, often known as "bubble wrap". The analogy to pawns is obvious.

40k teaches the importance of redundancy as a way of mitigating bad luck. That kind of habit has far-reaching uses in everyday life, from backing up documents to spare tires. In chess there is no bad luck to mitigate, so redundancy has far less value (never mind the static force composition).

On the other side of the coin is the ability to be able to take advantage of good luck. If your opponent rolls a particularly bad run value, yo want to have troops and guns to take advantage of that units exposed position. It's best to keep some cash flexible in your investment portfolio so that you are in a position to take advantage of a deal when something like a recession tanks the market (a great time to buy in).

40k really stresses the need to bring enough of the right tools to the table. Nobody wants to be the player who has their troops paw ineffectually at a walker they can't ever hurt, so players make sure that they have a way of handling a walker (or they suffer the consequences). You need to be able to handle both multiple Land Raiders and a Green Tide. Similarly you need to fill a checklist of tools in everything from plumbing to surgery to camping trips. With pre-determined force selection in chess, the question of "do I have all the tools I need?" doesn't apply. This means that 40k will get you thinking about a factor that chess won't.

This is turning into a wall of text, so perhaps I'll save more for later. While chess is most certainly a truly great game, there are good reasons why I spend my time playing 40k and not chess (and it's not just pretty army men).