Lesson 3: Playing to your Outs

Today, we’ll be looking at a topic I touched on last week. A lot of the ideas I bring up this week are ones that, in retrospect, might seem obvious. However, I see far too many players miss out on wins they could have gotten because they were focused on something other than winning. That’s right, folks! This week, we’ll be talking about one of my personal favorite topics: Avenues to Victory, or as some might call it, Playing to your Outs!

How do you win a game? It seems like a very silly question to ask, but it is the key to improving your odds of victory. Each game has a different win condition, and if you fall into the same habits in one game that you’ve developed in another, those same habits that led you to victory can lead you to defeat! Playing to your outs means determining what actions will lead you to winning the game and taking those actions, even when they don’t “feel” like the right ones.

Let’s, for example, look at one of the most well-known games of all time – chess! In chess, your victory condition is simple – capture the enemy king. We can extrapolate off of that, as well: to capture the enemy king, you have to make it so the enemy king can’t escape. To do that, you’ll want pieces that can threaten a large number of squares. To do that, you’ll want to keep your pieces alive for as long as possible. It’s not unusual for people to think to the top level of those goals, play while trying to keep all of their pieces safe, but miss the base goal: to capture the opponent’s king. Those other goals are secondary to capturing the king. They might make it easier, but the minute you prioritize keeping your queen alive over fighting for the checkmate, you’ve not played the best game you could.

Playing to your outs means always keeping your victory condition in mind. Always. You should be able to point to any action that you take, or any resource you spend, and be able to describe how that action pushes your game plan towards victory. Wasted moves are mistakes. A move might not always lead to immediate fruition – for instance, in our chess example above, a pawn moving forward might just be “to present a greater threat to my opponent than otherwise.” But presenting that threat, and taking that territory, opens options up for you later that you might not have had. You should always have that in mind.

Playing to your outs is also the key to attaining victory when you are behind. Oftentimes, when you don’t have the initiative in a game, you’ll find yourself put into a bunch of positions where you have to choose between 2 bad options. That’s when you can think to yourself, “What are my outs here? How do I win the game?” Sometimes, it will be a risky play that only pays off if you roll very well. Sometimes it will be a subtle, not-so-obvious play. Sometimes it will be a play that requires you to sacrifice resources that are otherwise very useful to you.

It’s important to remember that there are many games where, even if you play to your outs entirely, you still lose. Sometimes, you didn’t think to play to your outs for the entire game. Sometimes, you just got unlucky on a high-risk choice. Sometimes, you just plain get outplayed by your opponent. Regardless, you need to remember to separate your loss from your strategy. A play might not always feel like the “right” play. When you are looking to your outs, though, you’ll find yourself winning games you didn’t expect to win or find yourself in winning positions easier than you were finding yourself there before. That will happen because you are actively working towards your victory.

There are a lot of common pitfalls that will lead players to not playing to their outs. Some of the most common ones I’ve seen are lack of flexibility, playing for efficiency, and prioritizing fun over winning.

Lack of flexibility is one that you’ll see more commonly in games with multiple viable win conditions. Oftentimes, a player won’t notice when their best avenue to victory has changed and will continue playing towards a method of victory that is either less likely, or downright impossible. I personally see this most often in digital TCGs, since oftentimes decks there will have 2 main vectors to victory – value and aggression. (We’ll be talking about those in a later article!) Many players might play the early game as an aggressive player but fail to shift over to a more value-oriented game style later on in the game when aggression alone will not win. When you’re playing to your outs, you should constantly be reevaluating your options and trying to figure out the best path to victory.

Playing for efficiency is another pitfall I see often. I see this more often in miniatures games or other games where your actions are limited. Some players might opt to try to play their models in the most efficient way possible and might miss a line of play where their model does something it wasn’t quite designed for – maybe a model that is extremely good at killing is better suited to take an objective this turn, for example. Maybe your leader’s turn is better spent doing something a smaller model could do, because they are in the correct position. Don’t be afraid to make inefficient choices! Sometimes they’re the best choices.

The last common way I see players not play to their outs is prioritizing fun over winning. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, if your goal isn’t to win. However, I see far too many players in miniatures games who fall in love with the idea of dealing large amounts of damage to opponent’s models and neglecting other win conditions that their army might be more suited for. You’ll see it in games like chess as well – a player might be having fun taking out opponent’s pawns with their queen, while their opponent is setting up a checkmate with knights and rooks. Don’t let yourself be distracted by big numbers and good visceral feelings. Play to your outs!

It seems like something obvious, but I see so many players miss this and I can’t emphasize it enough – to win more games, you need to look at your paths to victory, and work towards making a game state where those paths are accessible to you. Play to your outs, and victories will come your way.

That’s it for this week, folks! Next week, we’ll be looking at some terminology that gets thrown around a lot in gaming circles: fluff and crunch! A big thank you to our Patrons, Alex, TicTac, and anonymous patrons. Thank you so much for your support!

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