Alex Macdougall from Art of War here to talk to you lovely folks about playing by intent. When playing a game as intricate and expansive as 40k, understanding intent is hugely important.
It’s vital to remember to have a running dialogue with your opponent to keep them in the loop. Sometimes this back and forth won’t simply keep things running smoothly but will actually catch mistakes before they occur. Most commonly, we think of playing by intent to manage the technical movement aspect of the game. The close combat phase can turn into an absolute cluster of hair-thin measurements. Trying desperately to position large units in some strange pattern to simultaneously stay out of heroic intervention range, set up for a wrap, snag an objective, and tag a tank is incredibly complicated. At this point, it’s best to mention intent since technically the movement allows this, but attempting to physically do this with human hands is a slow process. Before attempting all this, explaining our intent to the other player allows them the opportunity to actually think about what you are doing and respond. Sometimes they will be able to inform you that you are playing something incorrectly. The situation can be discussed before models have moved, and it is difficult to go backwards. Playing by intent is a safety net to prevent “gotcha moments” and bad blood between players. Playing by intent may also save you from getting burned by things you have forgotten. Maybe you explain that you are staying out of heroic intervention but are reminded that Space Wolves characters heroic at 6″.
A key thing to remember, though, is that playing by intent does not cover making errors. “My intention is to hold this objective.” You can declare this before the movement phase but if your movement is then very sloppy or you forget halfway through and then use the unit as a screen instead of an objective holder, your stated intent doesn’t mean anything. If you declared to grab an objective and then are 3.1″ away, your intent probably would hold up. The opponent heard you and saw the attempt. That small distance error could come down to shaky hands or a bump of the table. If you are 4.5″, no one is going to allow your intent to hold any water. You may have said what you were going to do it, but then you didn’t. You can’t put a unit in charge position and say they will be charging, go through the entire combat phase, and then remember the unit hasn’t charged. The opportunity to charge has passed, and although you said earlier what you had intended to do, intention doesn’t cover errors. Now with all that being said, errors are certainly allowed to be forgiven by your opponent, but remember that the decision is absolutely in their hands now. Guilt-free. You can always ask, but it is up to them to allow it.
Many times playing by intention won’t sound so formal either. Things occurring in-game don’t need to be preceded by loud, overt declarations of intent. Simply a running dialogue is enough to keep clarity and understanding between players. Playing specifically by intent is something that should come up at proper moments. Either the play that is about to happen is significant and game-deciding, or it’s very tricky and technical, and we want nothing lost in translation. Declaring intent may also be important for a more quiet or reserved player. Not everyone talks a ton during games, and if they are going to talk, it will be more to the point. If there isn’t as much dialogue back and forth, then intent becomes more critical, and a less chatty player can use intent to be more efficient with the time they spend talking.
The main thing to remember with this intention is that all of this is for your opponent’s sake. You know what you are going to do. The decision making is all up in your head anyway, but it is so useful to allow your fellow players in on it. You don’t need to be so vocal as to give away tactics and strategy, but giving them a framework of decision making keeps everyone honest and playing smoothly. Intention is just part of the usual social interaction we expect. Our ideas and communications are done for the sake of our opponent. It’s rolling right in front of our opponent away from buildings while our opponent is paying attention. It’s our intention that both players are enjoying themselves, and when the game runs smoothly and decisions are clear and concise, it’s easy to enjoy.
Another thing that I feel falls under intent is the proper tracking of the game. If intent is all about making information and understanding available to the person across the table, then recording the typical in-game events well is also under the intent banner. Making sure that points are documented appropriately and discussed often is essential. Remembering who killed four units and who killed maybe four a turn later is very challenging and affects the scoreboard. Recording wounds and which caster knows which spells are also hugely important. “My intention is to have a caster of mine in range to deny your Warp Time.” I need to know which caster has it, and I expect that you have your casters visually different or marked appropriately.
The psychic phase can be a more technical aspect of the game for certain armies as well. It’s essential to be clear with all aspects of it. Who is casting a spell and on to which unit? The psychic phase is the closest thing we get to having gambling in 40k, so playing the phase straightforward and with intent allows our opponent to react accordingly. Lots of risk-taking occurs throughout the phase, and the decisions can change on the fly as spells are failed or denied. It may be perceived as rude to point these things out, but it’s required almost constantly during a good psychic phase. Tokens used to mark how many spells a caster can use or how many are left. If you have a stratagem to cast at a plus 2, and I have a counter stratagem, they should be discussed so it’s clear how they interact. Does my counter stratagem get to wait and see your result? Does your stratagem get to see what you rolled and then apply a plus 2?
Playing by intent allows no one to get burned and enables the rules to unfold as they should rather than players feeling unnecessarily rushed and making mistakes. It’s also important to keep track of buffs handed out by spells. Putting up a defensive buff may not affect dice rolls until the next player’s turn. By then, players may have forgotten if the spell was successfully cast, denied, or which of the two identical units it was cast on. Again, all of this intent is to make everyone’s life easier. No arguments come up when a unit is clearly marked as having Catalyst, but if nothing was ever recorded and no intention communicated to remind us of what’s happened, then the room for doubt and disagreement increases.
In reality, playing by intention is another part of good sportsmanship, and if you have been reading my articles for a while, you know I think good sportsmanship is the best. In this case, we are good sports for being responsible and prepared. They have taken the time to play you, drive to the location, pack up all their models, and make an army list. The least you can do is be prepared enough to give them a solid, no-hassle game. Intent is a safety net to make sure both players have all the required information to play a tactical game like 40k.
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