Readers! Welcome back to another weekly article at Crit the Books. This week, we’ll be going into depth on lying to your opponents. That’s right! It’s bluffing week. We’ll be talking about what makes an effective bluff, when to use those bluffs, and most importantly, when it’s worth it to go entirely off the rails and shock your opponent into handing you the win.
Bluffing is something that is core to any strategy game. Even in games where you cannot directly communicate to your opponent – games like hearthstone with limited emotes, for example – you can still maintain bluffing even with such simple things as gameplay or strategy construction. Bluffing is the art of making your opponent think that you are going to, or are able to, take actions that you are not planning on taking.
The actual mechanics of bluffing are very simple when it comes down to it – in heavy communication games, simply speak to your opponents about what you are going to do. A bluff can be as simple as telling your opponent, “Hey, if you move there, I’ll take your piece. Do you really want to do that?” or it can be as subtle as not playing a card that you could, to fool your opponent into thinking that you don’t have access to that card.
Presenting the potential of moves is a powerful tactic and is one that you can often use in limited communication games. As an extreme example, I would suggest watching a video by Disguised Toast, of hearthstone fame. In this video, Toast plays a deck where he removes a key combo piece from his deck, instead replacing it with more cards that generate him value throughout the game. However, and this is very important, he keeps in most of the combo pieces. By doing so, he fools his opponent into thinking that he has a potential instant win, and you will see in the video that many people will concede once part of the combo starts to occur. This demonstrates the power of potential moves.
The most important part of bluffing is to make sure that you can actually take the action that you are pretending you can. Nobody is going to fall for something like “If you take my piece, I’ll just immediately win.” It’s not possible, and your opponent is not going to play around that possibility. Sure, this kind of tactic might work on newer players or players that far overestimate your abilities, but that is more a failure on their part for being able to accurately estimate your potential actions than any great act of bluffing on your part. It is important to remember, however, that your opponent does not need to see you take the action. They just need to see the possibility of doing so! In the example above, Toast cannot actually play the game winning combo, but his opponent believes he could given the information that they have. This is very important!
There are times to break this rule, and those times are mostly when you have nothing to lose. Maybe you’re going to lose anyway, but that bluff will put you into a situation where you have a 2% chance of winning. Maybe your opponent falling for the bluff will give you another turn with which you can plan and try to stabilize the game – maybe get yourself back into the game! At these times are when you can afford to make those ridiculous buffs that are almost outside the realm of believability, but not quite.
Another trick to effective bluffing is to keep the risk/reward ratio in mind when you make moves. If the move that you are bluffing is potentially risky to you, or doesn’t stand to gain you much, your opponent might not worry about it, letting the action that you were bluffing happen since they don’t really care. This is a bad situation for you – you haven’t made the opponent waste any resources, and you likely haven’t gained much from the bluff either. However, if you can make a play that the opponent knows has the possibility of winning the game – attacking with a creature and bluffing the pump spell that would give them the loss, for example – they will often be forced to play as if the bluff was true, since the risk to them is too great!
There are a number of articles and opinion pieces on the power of bluffing out there, and I encourage you as readers to seek them out if it is something you are interested in. Bluffing is a very, very deep topic, and it is one that I do not think I can even begin to adequately cover in my weekly articles. However, it is a skill that is very important to learn and can guide you to victory even when you are far behind. It’s not all mind games – it is about knowing what expectations your opponent can have of you and playing on those to get you the win.
A big thank you to my Patrons for this month: Alex, TicTac, and anonymous patrons. If there are specific subjects or concepts you’d like an article written on, I suggest you look at my patreon! For just $7 a month, you’ll be able to suggest article topics for me to write on.
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!