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The Phases of a Gamer

Originally published in 2005 by Russ Wakelin

We in the Dakka League in NH have discussed the phases of gaming for some time. Generally we're starting to agree that each gamer goes through several distinct phases once he starts regular competitive play:

Phase 1: The Happy Noob

In the early bliss of joining the hobby. The player knows he will probably lose many games because he is learning. Excited to see cool tactics and a variety of armies, the Noob loses game after game without care until at some point he reaches phase 2.

Phase 2: The Determined Rookie

The continual losses are taking their toll, and the gamer now would like to win at least half his games. He starts to get tips from vet gamers on list tweaks, but most importantly really gets into the rule book and starts to know the rules cold. He also researches opponent's army lists and their unit's abilities. At this stage he really feels that he's losing because he doesn't know all the various subtle rules interpretations. His army case soon fills up with copies of every piece of source material he can get his hands on. He can reliably beat phase one players, and has good shots against phase 2 folks. But these successes don't fully satisfy, so he is driven to the next phase.

Phase 3: The Hungry Veteran

At this point the player is winning a reasonable number of games and knows the rules well. His success with phase 2 has made him believe he is now ready for a big win in a tourney or a league. He just won't be satisfied until he gets that. It is the most dangerous phase, as 'the Hunger' for victory can taint their view of the hobby, their opponents, and has even been known to damage friendships. It is in this phase that players usually get into min/maxing their lists, trying to eke out every last ounce of power. Some players will even switch armies in an effort to find the ultimate power list.

All players feel 'the Hunger' and how well they can control, suppress, or satisfy this feeling, in addition to their gaming skill, will dictate which of the three phase 4 states they will end in.

Phase 4a: Evil Warlord

The player has finally achieved his ultimate objective, the big win. However looking back he feels he had to bite, claw, and crush all those before him to do it, and no one lent him a hand. Therefore, now that he is on top, he will not help others either. He goes on to crush lower phase players with reckless abandon, with no regard for their feelings or care for the hobby. Although the player is very good, and plays strong lists, over time he has difficulty in finding opponents. He believes it is because players are scared to face him, but in reality he is just no fun to play against.

Phase 4b: Gamer Burn Out

The player was never able to achieve his/her much loved win, and he's starting to believe he never will. Because others in his/her gaming group are still hungry vets or warlords, he/she is lead to believe that the only true goal of the group is to achieve victory. Since he believes he can never be good enough, or he believes that it is no fun to constantly play the same kinds of lists, he gives up. A sad day for him and the hobby.

Phase 4c: Gamer Utopia

[Insert angelic harp sounds here]

In the video game world it's called 'The Glow', the point where you are so into the game that you are one with the experience. This can happen in table top gaming too. It will come one day when you play a great, close game, have not a single rules argument, laugh, joke, and lose. And when you do lose, you still realize that that was a VERY enjoyable couple hours of gaming. Most players can not get to this state until they have a good sized tourney or league win under their belts. By achieving this victory, the hungry veteran reckons that he has proven himself, and can now pull back a little, experiment, and not worry about winning so much. He's played enough games to know that he can still win even if his exact understanding of the rules are not followed. He also knows it can be fun to try out new units and list types, even if they are not considered the wisest choice. To watch two 4c gamers play is to watch a story unfold on the table top, and if don't look carefully it will be hard to notice that rules are being followed at all. Phase 4c gamers are always fun to play against, and can usually be found offering friendly advice to their opponents during the game, and will intentionally try weaker, more experimental lists when playing rookie players.

It should be noted that while it is usual for Phase 4c to be achieved via a major victory, this is not always the case. Some players, while deep in Phase 3, will have a utopian game (usually against a Phase 4c player) and achieve 'The Glow' prior to ever gaining that 'big win.' In these cases players can sometimes progress right to phase 4c without a tourney/league win under their belt. In many ways this is a more admirable feat.

It has also been documented, though very, very rare that some gamers can achieve 4c in the 2nd, and even more rare, 1st phase. To watch a phase 1 become a 4c is nothing short of amazing, and can be likened to all the planets aligning. Incredibly rare, but so moving and beautiful that you have no choice but to smile.


The best way to prevent players from ending up in phase 4a or 4b is through help, encouragement, and understanding. Understanding is perhaps most important. One must understand that someone really can't make themselves into a 4c player, even if they WANT to be. It's a state of mind that can only be achieved via a journey of self discovery in the wonderful world of war gaming.

Happy gaming, no matter your phase,

Russ Wakelin


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