Thursday, 13 August 2015

What's In Your Meta?

Anyone who has spent time looking up tactics and army lists online will be familiar with the idea of the "metagame," that illusive "game beyond the game" that goes above the traditional ruleset and starts looking at trends or external factors that influence the way people pick their forces, the way they play, and the way others can exploit this.

Every miniature wargame has its own metagame, hugely influenced by the size and popularity of the game, the speed of new releases, the availability of certain models or even terrain fashions. Beneath the "global" meta discussed on forums and online discussion groups, every gaming group will have their own form, be it a local gaming club with several dozen consistent players to a bunch of mates that meet in a friend's garage once a week.
Taking a TAG when nobody has anti-tank weaponry - ouch!
Using the latest releases guarantees your opponent will be unfamiliar with their capabilities  
One of the best ways I can think of explaining the metagame is in relation to fashion trends - gaming groups, be they global or local, will go through different playstyles, passing from one to another, and those who keep adapting will be those with the best chance of stumbling across the Next Big Thing. Learn to play the game beyond the game, and you might notice you start winning more. Unfortunately, as with fashion, the people with the biggest wallets will do well at this game as they will be the ones trying new units more often. Proxying and cheap conversions can keep this in check.
Popular units with good rules become elevated to almost compulsory choices - but can they make your list building predictable? When everyone plans to face them and negates their power, are they overrated?
An example would be for Infinity, the intense skirmish game that has taken up so much of my time in the past year. As a group that has started Infinity develops, their meta will change as the players learn new skills such as Aerial Deployment, or buy new models such as TAGs and Total Reaction Remotes. The first player to use Total Reaction will be having a grand time, until somebody discovers Smoke Grenades. The initial players will alter their list to rely less on Total Reaction, and the meta moves on.

Recently at my local gaming club, we had a rash of players start using Haqqislam forces packed with Hafza troopers - using their Holoprojectors to cause all kinds of trouble. It was an interesting trend, and for a time, our local meta was dominated by Holoprojectors and how to get past them.
Unexpected use of unpopular units will surprise opponents - you may find they underestimate them
Warhammer 40,000 is a game with a constantly discussed online metagame - I lost track of what was "good" a long time ago
The idea is difficult to pin down, but it has been a constant source of conversation between myself and a couple of other players at the local club, especially in light of meeting players from clubs across the country at Infinity tournaments. This involved some tough discussion about terrain placement - for a game like Infinity, having a particularly dense style of table layout will influence players to run more close-range weaponry and less snipers, for example. When these lists are taken to tournaments across the country, they tend to lose badly on an open table. It pays to work out the local meta of a gaming club you might be playing in before you even make a list!
Expecting a table good for snipers? Why stop at one?
My thoughts first turned to "local" metagaming after reading some comments on Facebook about my Dystopian Wars AARs - these guys could not fathom the choices we had made in our fleet rosters, or certain decisions on the gaming table. It was interesting to read, and consider how they must play. The great thing about the localised metagame is that these commentators cannot prove that they are better without meeting in a neutral tournament setting - something I will always encourage!

Another inspiration for this topic was after a recent game of Dropzone Commander. Our local gaming group is small, but has a nice mixture of different Factions. However, very few of the players take much AA - certainly less than the Internet would tell you is "good." I have been taking advantage and running a large number of aerial units, and making my Hellhog a star on the battlefield - something I am sure most Resistance players would find disconcerting! I imagine in time the meta will shift and more AA will appear, at which point it would pay to shift back to ground units, or try something new and unexpected.
Submarine warfare in Dystopian Wars can seem incredibly powerful if you do not have the right counter
Aerial units like the maligned J-9 Hellhog become a lot more powerful when your foe has no AA
Constant dynamism with your playstyle, changing lists and trying out new units is the key to keeping ahead of the metagame and winning the real game. Pay attention to what your gaming club trends are, and think about what would cause them trouble. Don't rely on the advice of strangers on the Internet, but don't ignore it either!

Most of all, don't take it too seriously, and don't wind yourself up. Enjoy a chat with your opponents and friends after a game, maybe make some lists together before heading to a tournament, but over-thinkingit is rarely worth it!

I'd love to hear your own experiences with your own local meta, regardless of game system.

Thanks for reading,



  1. Holoprojectors are only good if you bluff sometimes or if you use them to supplement large link teams. Bluffing a the time means that your opponents know the janissary is actually a plebby hafza!

  2. It's only going to work once per opponent, true! Does not matter in a tournament though.