Fly Casual-er?

or Balance is good for you

The intro…

Ok, this is my first non-batrep (JARGON ALERT!!) post for a little while (actually, it isn’t as it’s not been all that long since I put up post #50 about blogging but since that one was in the pipeline for rather a long time I kind of feel like it doesn’t count in the same way).

The second Vagabond Open has finished and, while I’ve signed up for the ‘Knock The Sith Out’ tournament, I’ve not played yet so I’ve no game this week to write about. I do, however, have something I want to talk about.

I was writing up my game against Nic Harris a few weeks ago and I started to put together a little side note. When this side note ended up at 8 paragraphs I started to wonder whether it was just a distraction from the main point and possibly justified having it’s very own post, saved for a week where I’ve got no game to write about.

And so, here we are.

Without going into huge detail (after all, if you’ve been reading over the last few months then you’ll know anyway), since lockdown started I’ve been involved in a few online tournaments using mostly Vassal but also the odd game with Tabletop Simulator.

I’ve played on average one game a week and, while there’s a lot less involved by playing these when compared with playing in real life (you know, like getting stuff together, leaving the house, that sort of thing) I still found that, on the whole, from the time arranged until the game was over and you stopped chatting the whole experience would take around 2-ish hours.

Now in these lockdown times I am finding that time (namely ‘free’ time) is a VERY subjective thing. How much of it you feel you have depends on several factors:

  • Your work situation (working as normal, from home or furloughed)
  • Your living situation (single or otherwise)
  • Your offspring situation (kids/no kids, baby/toddler/school age/grown up)

Me? I have been furloughed (mostly due to having Type 1 diabetes and carrying a higher risk than most), as has my wife. My kids are 14 and 11, the perfect age for having school work challenging enough to need assistance with.

This means that my weekdays have been primarily filled with helping/encouraging/blackmailing/threatening school work while also working on some DIY projects at home which otherwise may not have ever got done.

My evenings have consisted of Zoom calls with friends, staying up late with the kids watching movies/playing Minecraft and Netflix binges with my wife.

All this has been fine and spending time with my family really has been an amazing gift in this time.

All this, though, has meant that in a time when some people appear to be playing many Vassal games each week and taking part in various tournaments, I’m still sort of ‘limited’ (by my own choice really) to one game a week which is, generally speaking, roughly what I was doing before when life was normal and care-free and a virus wasn’t waiting about in public places to strike us down.

Right, intro out of the way, let’s get to the main point.

The….main bit?

I am worried.

It’s not a huge issue, in fact it’s very trivial compared to many many other things in my life that I could be worried about. But this blog is generally about X-Wing stuff, so I’ll write about what worries me in X-Wing.

I’m worried that Fly Casual is making me a worse player.

Before I go ANY further I NEED to point out that Fly Casual is amazing. A totally free electronic version of the game we all love running on multiple platforms with accurate information and beautiful graphics. And it’s free. I consider Fly Casual an essential tool in my X-Wing arsenal as it let’s me try things out and it teaches me when and how various triggers happen which I can use in real life games. It’s also free. The games are quick enough that I can fit one in to my lunch break if I want and, as I’m not playing against an actual person I can start a game, leave, come back and finish it off. Did I mention that it’s free?

Nothing that I am about to say should be taken as a slight on the app itself or the people who have spent MANY hours making it what it is. In fact, here’s the link to the Fly Casual download page (it’s fr.. oh wait, did I already say that?) and here is the link to Sandrem’s Patreon page. Go and support the project. It’s freaking awesome. This post is more about me and my behaviours than about Fly Casual.

Ok, disclaimer over, let’s go.

Like I said above (many, many lines ago), I am concerned that Fly Casual is making me a worse player, making worse decisions.

At the moment Fly Casual is the best/quickest/most convenient way for me to test a list. I can load it quickly, I can import lists from YASB, save lists for later and have the choice of letting the software pick the opposing list or build one myself. I can start a game, leave and come back to it later and a whole game from start to finish isn’t usually more than 25-30 minutes.


or should that be…. purrrrfect? Hahaha! Ha… I’ll get my coat…

When all this is balanced with turning up to game night at my local store and playing these lists out against actual people, it’s great. Fly Casual has helped me to find decent squads (and reject bad ones), understand dials and remember triggers (particularly at Systems Phase!) and it’s all great.

The thing is, when the AI is the ONLY opponent you play against regularly, much like if you only ever played against one person who used the same moves, it gets predictable.

Move, focus, move focus. Ignore obstacle until close to it, then hard turn away. Only 1 health left? That’s an evade (if the ship can do that).

Sure it does some random things too (like splitting up the list when it makes no sense to) but in general I know what it’s probably going to do. And in trying to beat it, I too will become predictable.

If I know an opponent will always do a particular thing, I will start to do a move to counter that. If that opponent still does that move despite ‘knowing’ that I know it’s coming and how to counter it, I’ll just keep on countering in the same way. I’ll limit what I will do and just do things on autopilot.

Then when I come up against real life opponents (and especially good opponents) those moves are not such a good option and will leave me in big trouble.

In my last few posts there are some great examples of this.

In my preparation for this game against Nic Harris I tried a few lists out in Fly casual and in the end my decision on what list to take was based on those results rather than any games against real opponents with the lists that I didn’t eventually take (the Inquisitors and the Sear Swarm). I won the game which, I suppose, is some vindication of the choice but it was at this point that I’d started to realise my general strategy for each game was based on facing Fly Casual’s AI rather than taking each game on merit and analysing the opposing list and what I would expect my opponent to do in each turn.

In another game against Tyler Samplonius I found myself with a Decimator and 5 TIE/ln’s facing off against 3 Silencers. In my head it was not a great matchup but then, I think I feel that about most games! About 2 turns in I felt I’d made some wrong moves and then continued to make some, what I now consider, poor choices before the dice bailed me out in that last 2 turns.

Then in this game against Paul Westwood I made serious errors in turn zero (JARGON ALERT!!) which led to me ultimately getting by backside handed to me in a 0-122 loss. My tactic going in was cluster the obstacles as it favours me more than him and then draw his ships over. I clustered them, yes, but as they were more on my side of the board I basically allowed him a HUGE amount of space to move and turn his cumbersome ships at will before I darted out of the cover to engage in that space. I started badly and then impatiently tried to make something happen. Objectively, I know that stuff. I know it. So why did I do it? All I can think of is that in the absence of a clear plan I defaulted to what I know best.

And there is my point.

A good while back I heard someone speak about various things drawing on his background in the military as a younger man. Even 3 years on I still clearly remember one thing in particular that he said.

Drills save lives.

He talked about how his unit just did the same things over and over and over and how he felt it was pointless. They were as fit as they needed to be and they knew what they were doing so why continue with drills?

Then he was put in a very dangerous, life or death situation and what he found was that in that moment he didn’t panic or flounder but that he defaulted what he knew. He didn’t have to think about what to do, he knew his drills, the muscle memory took over and he and the others around him acted as they had been taught and got out of that place.

It’s an extreme example, I know, but I believe it applies across life. When challenge comes, you default to what you know. The question is, what is that?

For me (in terms of X-Wing), what I know best at the moment is the Fly Casual AI. When I can’t clearly think of a way to deal with a situation my brain starts to go back through my past experiences and reference that information on how to proceed. In my case, the bulk of that is against the sometimes clunky, very direct, often quite predictable AI.

In games against real life opponents I’m failing to consider all options when making my own choices (thinking instead about what I’d expect the AI to do) and that is what’s letting me down. The thing is, this is happening with me consciously thinking about it. And that is the problem.

The conclusion…

So what can I do? Well for starters I can get back to using Fly Casual for what I originally used it for – testing lists and learning triggers. I certainly won’t stop using it but I need to be more conscious of how much weight I give results that I get. Just because I can beat the AI, doesn’t mean it’s a good list against a real person.

I could also try to get more games in. It’s tricky but with lockdown beginning to ease and the kids approaching summer holidays I might have some more free time to get some real life and online games under my belt.

The last thing? Well, I’m already doing it. A rather long time ago I wrote a post on how to get better (yes, ironic, I know!)

One of the things I touched on was self reflection which I then followed up with a post entirely on that topic. Taking the time to look at what you’re doing and be objective about how to change or improve. I feel like this post is one big self reflection and that writing it has helped me (even if it’s not helping you! Sorry!) to recognise that I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut and what I should do to get out of it.

I guess the real question is – will I actually change?

I think that about wraps it up for this topic. I’ve got my tournament game coming up in a couple of days and I’m hoping that at some point I can get some games in and figure out what Hyperspace legal list I’ll use for the upcoming store championships!

If you’re looking to buy some gaming ‘stuff’ and don’t have a local gaming store, you can use my affiliate link for Firestorm games. They’re great!