A Scrub’s Journey to Greatness: Tips for Stress Management

Have you ever had the game in the bag, you just need to get your big dude’s power fist into their linch pin’s face? Its a 5″ charge… you need a 4 on 3 dice… you roll triple ones… Did you want to flip the table? I sure did, let’s look at some ways to mitigate those stressful moments and come out on top! 

Hey guys, BigVik here yet again on my journey to winning one of these toy soldier games, today we’ll be talking about stress management during our game.

So you’re playing a tournament game, and you’re on top table. All the beans are on the line, money, women (or men), and the best part… Glory…

What can put we off your game here? I like to decompose this into categories, let’s have a look;

  1. The Opponent
  2. The Game
  3. Us

The Opponent

Monsieur Big Deal- This is the guy you hear from/about on all of the blogs you read, he may be one of the guys from Beast Coast, or Death Spiral Down, or be wearing a WTC jersey. Playing one of these guys (especially for the first few times) is stressful!

The Guy who knows your faction more than you- You pull up your new shiny meta busting list, and your opponent plops some janky thing out, looks at your list and says “oh I tried this when I played this faction!”… F**k dark horse factor negated…

The Guy doesn’t even know his faction- This guy pulls up, MAYBE all of his models are assembled, of course nothing is painted past primer, wash, a couple dots of blue, so everything looks the same, they also don’t have their stuff around, nor do they seem to have an idea of how things work in the scenario…

That Effing Guy- aka a TFG (Come back Travis, we miss you!!), this guy will be fudging measurements, or “remembering rules wrong”, they may be playing a bunch of random stuff and trying to say they have wonky interactions, etc. These people are few and far between (in about 15 years of gaming I’ve met MAYBE 3) but they exist.

The Game

Bad Matchup/Scenario/Table- You pull up to the table, your list has one weakness, no line of sight blocking shots to take out nurglings… yep, you’re playing into Death Guard with lots of characters and plague mortar tanks, oh and the table is a shooting gallery!

Gotchas- you ask what a piece does, you move a piece, and some strange interaction that your opponent had ‘forgotten about’ happens and your big dude is now hitting on 6’s…

Skewed Dice- You remember that missed charge after using the strategem for an extra die? Yea they happen… what about rolling Guilliman’s attacks on a Daemon prince and missing every attack… after re-rolls! Yep, they happen, its tilting.


Army Fluency- You didn’t know the the shtick of your opponent’s army or an interaction between their list and yours which destroys your match up, it’s happened to all of us.

Play Mistakes- you set up the entire turn based on some play for their linchpin piece… then you  realize you forgot your psychic phase, yep, might as well pack it up…

These stressors will not just tilt you, some of them will make you feel like you’ve already lost, or that you never had a chance to win in the first place. Some of these things will make you want to flip the table!

Well here’s some tricks I use to keep those feelings in control

Walk away from the table

It’s just what it sounds like. Just stop, put the clock to you (if 40k isn’t using clocks yet, it will be soon, ask older Warmachine players), and walk away from the table for a few seconds, collect your thoughts, and walk back to the table.

Count slowly from 10

Again, pretty self-explanatory, this will give you a second to stop thinking, and collect your thoughts.

Do hand or finger exercises

This is getting into the neuroscience realm. Doing a series of exercises with your hand or fingers will keep your mind from dwelling on any one thing that happens. Examples include trying a pattern of movement with your fingers to your thumb, or get a song stuck in your head and “air pianoing” the part. Again this will keep you from dwelling, and can help with anxiety about the game itself, I use this quite a bit.

Breath deeply

A sibling to counting to 10, you just breath in and out, as deeply and slowly as you can for a few seconds until your thoughts slow down, and your heart stops trying to break out of your chest.

Form a mantra

I use this a bunch. You form a catch phrase, or mantra that acts as an emotional anchor for you. This is similar to battle or rallying cries, something that a person can say or yell to get their head back in the game. Anyone who’s played with or against Orks will know the almost ubiquitous mantra of ork players…

Make a consolation prize

Let’s say you’ve done everything you can, and nothing is working, your army is being pulled apart, and you’re well behind on points… well, you can always pick their best painted model, and say “that thing is dying.” I use this one all the time, especially if I have no play, I’ll find the model that’s been pissing me off, and I’ll engineer killing it and concede, I don’t know why, but this does wonders for my morale after a bad loss.

Well that’s what I’ve got. Tell me sometimes you’ve started to go on tilt and you had to manage it, or just tricks that you guys have for managing stress during your games!

And as always, Frontline Gaming sells gaming goodies at a discount, every day!

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About BigVik

A gaming magpie, BigVik currently maintains perpetual noob status, playing Menoth and Khador in Warmachine, and Imperial Guard in 40k. He works as a professional coach and process consultant in his professional life, and loves bringing this into his gaming and writing.

10 Responses to “A Scrub’s Journey to Greatness: Tips for Stress Management”

  1. Chad April 22, 2018 6:13 am #

    I had a game that fit this perfectly in our last tournament. Almost no los blocking terrain on the table. My opponent won the choice of table side, got the best deployment for him, won the roll to go first and was playing 3 rerolling Shadowswords. Yay!

    After his first turn I had 9 models left on the table and some deepstrike sitting off. There was literally no chance. But, because he was a nice guy and there was nothing I could have done we had a good time hanging out and talking about other things. I love the social side of this game. It sucks to lose of course. It doesn’t have to ruin your day though.

  2. Alpharius Walks April 22, 2018 10:31 am #

    There is so much going on in 40k and you can easily feel extra pressures in a competitive setting to upset your “feel” for the game until you get used to it. While that process happens I think the healthiest approach is the same you would apply to the lottery: Someone is going to win but it is not you. If your results happen to vary it is simply a very pleasant surprise instead of a disappointment.

    • Reecius April 22, 2018 12:01 pm #

      That is a very good mentality to have. Just relax, have fun, play your best and let the chips fall where they may.

  3. Marandamir April 22, 2018 12:47 pm #

    I used to play a CCG (Vampire the eternal struggle) competitively and made a few national qualifiers. I used to get super stressed in those final tables where small mistakes or bad social interactions would flag you as a threat and cost you the game. One opponent I noticed never got rattled or stressed during those games. I asked him one day how he kept so calm. He said he played poker professionally. He would play 10-15 hours of poker a day at casinos to literally pay his bills on. He would frequently get into situations where hundreds if not thousands of dollars was on the line and a single card draw determined if he won or lost. Playing games like that taught him about what true stakes were. He said other games, no matter how ‘important’ they seemed, really had nothing really at stake. Winning didn’t pay his bills and losing didn’t cost him anything more than time so in the end he just played to have fun. That put alot of things into perspective for me as well. I realized I don’t even remember half my games and why should I stress out over something I prolly won’t remember a week later?

  4. Nick April 22, 2018 7:49 pm #

    One of the more powerful ways to gain control of your emotions is to challenge your sense of balance. Balance and emotional disruption cannot coexist; I’m not being facietious. Stand on one leg for 10 seconds and your emotions will cool. If that is too easy, stand on one foot with your eyes closed. It will calm you down

  5. mike April 22, 2018 11:55 pm #

    Huh…I guess I just have a lucky mental gift.
    Once we start getting into the game, I totally forget that we’re in a tournament. Not in a bad way, like I stay super tight on my own rules because I always do, tourney or no, but more in the mental way, like I forget that we’re playing for like…things.

    Had a great finals game against Brett Perkins at a GT a few years ago. After I won it took me a minute to remember that we were just at the top table in a GT playing for half a grand and not just playing a chill game at the local store.

  6. AnonAmbientLight April 23, 2018 12:15 am #

    One thing that should be said is to manage your expectations and most importantly ***LEAVE ROOM FOR FAILURE.***

    You should absolutely go into a tournament with the best hopes, but also make peace with the fact that you may not win every game and that you may not win at all. Keep that in mind and the sudden loss or bad game will not be as bad because you’ve prepared for it.

    • mike April 23, 2018 2:04 am #

      One reason I love playing “experienced tournament players” a lot more than the “I don’t go to events” players is that they know this.

      Many of the T players play against other good players, and are actually familiar with losing. It happens to them a decent amount because they’re playing in a tough crowd, and they know it, so when they lose, or even when something goes wrong that heads them down that way, they’re like “well that sucked, time for plan B.”

      Meanwhile there are those “I don’t go to events cause everyone’s a waac jerk” guys who tend to be decent enough at the game that they COULD win some games at an event, but since all they play are the super-casuals every sunday afternoon, they just aren’t very familiar with losing. So when it comes time that the dice gods decide to screw with them, they really don’t take it well. They throw fits, concede turn 2, etc etc.

      • Sneggy April 23, 2018 10:44 pm #

        Absolutely agree with this mike.
        Played in an RTT last saturday (won it btw, watch out ITC 😛 ) and my first round opponent was a casual player. She lost some units early and conceded turn two. Went on to concede every game turn one or two and generally cause unrest.

        Round two and three opponents were both regular tournament goers and were a dream to play.
        Round two was playing an alpha legion zerker ambush and it went badly for him. Clearly lost by turn two. Went down in his words “wildly flailing his arms” trying to take as much out with him on the way. Really good laugh and opponent.

        Round three was super technical and close, I took a big hit turn one (facing ynarri reapers, basically Nanavatis LVO list) and was clawing back in. Managed to drag it back for a win on pts (with both of us basically annihilated) and my opponent came round to hug me afterwards, seriously tense and tight game but great sportsmanship and friendship throughout.

        Wound up in the pub afterwards chilling with my round two and three opponents. Losing is like anything else at the top level, it happens, you get better at it the more it happens (within reason, nobody wants to be 0 and 50) and you tend to find the people who play competitively more handle it.

  7. KingAceNumber1 April 25, 2018 12:27 pm #

    > he may be one of the guys from Beast Coast

    As one of the guys from Beast Coast I can assure you we aren’t all a big deal

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