Welcome back, readers, to another lesson here at Crit the Books. This week, we’ll be looking into one of the most important tools in the strategy toolbox: forking. Mastering the art of forking your opponent is one of the quickest ways to improve as a player, and it is a strategy that can be used in nearly any game effectively. We’ll learn what forking is, how to set up forks of your own, and how to deal with forks that your opponent has presented to you. If you haven’t yet, I suggest reading last week’s article on threats and answers – we’ll be using that terminology often throughout this article.
So, what is forking? Put simply, a fork is a place where you present multiple threats at the same time, choosing your opponent to choose between one or the other. The term originates from chess, where a fork is used to refer to a single piece threatening 2 or more pieces at the same time, forcing the opponent to give one up. However, when distilled into the most basic form of the concept, forking is a technique that can be found in a number of games and will often be key to the success of a top player.
Why is forking helpful? The answer is quite simple. Like we said above, when a player is put into a fork, they are often forced to give something up. Similarly, it is one of the best ways to deal with an opponent who has managed to present more threats than you have. By using your threats to threaten multiple opposing ones, you can gain in efficiency what you have lost in pure numbers. Forking is also very effective when you are on the back foot – by forcing your opponent to choose between 2 options that you have presented, you can take the tempo of the game back into your own hands and work towards a game state that is ultimately advantageous to you.
Setting up forks is difficult to distill into easy advice, simply because every game has a different way of setting them up. Ultimately, you want to be positioning your game components into positions where they provide as much threat as possible. In order to do this, it is essential that you look ahead in the game. Do not simply look at the state of the game in the moment, but rather work on predicting your opponent. Every now and then, you’ll be able to predict what your opponent does to the point where they will move themselves into position to be forked. Being able to predict how the movement of the game will go is crucial.
Another way that you can set up forks is by making sure that you are threatening your opponent on multiple axes of attack. If you are following a linear strategy, it is easier for you opponent to have answers that will deal with your main method of attack, which makes it difficult for you to fork effectively. Even in situations where a given line will be less efficient, it is important to consider that the effect that a fork can have on your opponent may outweigh the loss of efficiency. Many of these situations rely strongly on the context of the situation, so perhaps the most important skill to refine when learning to put together forks is reading the game accurately.
When you are put into a fork, it is important to note that it is not the end of the world. While you will often have to give something up, that choice of what to give up is yours. You still have agency in the position, and if you can consistently choose the loss that is less impactful to the overall game, you will find the impact of your opponent’s forks to be lesser than the worst-case scenario. Perhaps you’ve been put into a situation where you are guaranteed to lose one of your game components. Which one of those components will end up being more crucial to the game as a whole? That is the one you are concerned with. In fact, many times you can place a weaker piece in a position to be forked so that you can exchange a piece that will not be very effective with one that will matter a lot over the course of the game.
The other way that you can challenge a fork is to challenge the component creating the fork. In many games, threats are mutual – if their piece is threatening two of yours, it is not unlikely that you are threatening the forking piece as well. It is important to not be intimidated by the threats your opponent has presented! All too many times I have seen players wilt in the face of a piece that, while it had a high output, did not sufficiently defend itself. By attacking the forking piece, you can turn the situation on your opponent’s head, and put them into a position that they were not prepared for.
The final way to deal with a fork is perhaps the simplest: cut your losses. In a situation where you might have invested many resources into one of the threatened components, perhaps you will want to split those resources between the two, so that no matter which piece your opponent chooses to inevitably take, you have not lost all of your resources for the turn. When you are on the losing side, this is often the best way to mitigate your losses from a successful fork.
Let’s look at an example from a game that I’ve played quite a bit recently – Guild Ball. My opponent has won the first move of a turn and has spent the final move of the last turn moving Fillet – his captain – into position to threaten two of my models. Fillet is a very powerful killing model; the two models she is threatening are each likely to die if she gets a full activation on them. However, she is not in a position where she can kill both of them this turn. How do I deal with this?
Well, my first mitigating technique was to move my captain, Hammer, to threaten Fillet on my final activation last turn. Threatening Fillet meant that my opponent had to spend resources to assure he was going first this turn, resources that he would have spent elsewhere had I not threatened her. The second mitigating technique is to split my influence – Guild Ball’s main resource – among the two models threatened. There is a cost to this; I am very likely to lose at least some of those resources. However, Fillet is not able to invalidate all of my influence, because she cannot reach both of my models. By doing this, I present my opponent with a question: Do you want to trade Fillet’s full activation for a small amount of influence? I’ve turned the fork on its head by making Fillet a less efficient threat than she normally is.
Forking, as you can see, is a valuable technique in gaming. By forking intelligently, you can put your opponent into bad positions and make sure that your models are able to make relevant moves in the game. However, forking is not a free win; there are a number of techniques to mitigate the effectiveness of the forks. By learning these techniques and mastering forking, you’ll find yourself putting opponents into more and more no-win situations. As you know, any no-win situation for your opponent is a winning situation for you!
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As always, remember that it’s not enough to just hit the books if you want to win. You’ve got to Crit the Books!