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How To Cheat In Tabletop Wargaming

(So-called) top 40K-player Alex Harrison turned out to be a magician last week at the final of a London 40K-Grand Tournament. He thought he was smart, but the camera caught him red-handed. For example he used his glass of water to invisibly push his models in a better position, changed 5 wounds into 3 wounds and bluntly lied about objective cards that he had not discarded. Full list of his tricks here (he certainly is a waterglass-at-al-costs-player). Funny: he just started his tactics blog and cheating was not included.

After studying the game video the jury banned him. Wargaming is a gentlemen's sport and gentlemen don't cheat. Or do they?

My regular club opponent Freddy 'Friday 13th' Wildborough and my other common enemy Eltjo 'Skyscraper'' Faraway often, if not always, defeat me so they MUST be cheaters. You see, I'm the Napoleon of wargaming and Waterloo can't happen EVERY game. But I'll be back. I'm the terminator. For my own pleasure and for other not-so-gentlemen, including Alex Harrison, I'll give you a quick list how-to-cheat with wargaming. Lawful good paladins, stop reading here.

(hey, I told you: STOP READING!!!)
Simple tricks (the Harrison's, aka the Wikipedian's )
  • Lying: The easiest way to cheat is to simply lie about a die roll. Ideally, the die should be disturbed or scooped up before any observer can verify the number.
  • Making mistakes: A way of indirectly influencing a die is to make arithmetic errors when calculating modifiers to a die roll. Ideally, calculations are chosen which are painful for others to recreate.
  • Collisions: When rolling, do not roll all the dice simultaneously, but pour them out gradually. Aim the falling dice at any low rolls already on the table.
  • Flipping: One method of altering a roll is very simple. As the die stop rolling, quickly flip over any die that comes up with a 1. You can wait till others look away, or simply move your hand over rolled dice while your other hand continues to manipulate the remaining dice. The movement is so quick it is virtually impossible to notice out of the corner of one's eye. It requires no precision, since anything is better than a 1.
  • Deliberate manipulation: Like flipping, but keep in mind that is is slower and easier to observe.
  • Careful rolling. With a few hours practice, most people can practice "rolling" a die with a simple double or triple flip that reliably lands on the desired number more than half the time. [in fact this is exactly what my 8-year old son does when he plays dice games against me]. Although rarely practiced, deliberately rolling specific numbers is not terribly difficult, and can be picked up accidentally just from handling dice a lot. The only countermeasures are when someone insists you drop the dice straight down, roll into a cup, roll against a wall or screen like a craps player, or otherwise disturb the die's original trajectory.

Advanced cheating

(Hey mr Paladin, are you still around?)

Wargamer Fritz blogged quite some time ago that cheating was rare in the 40k-scene (that was before the Harrison scandal). He however mentioned a cooking recipe that's better than most of Nigella Lawson's work: Chessex Dice Du Chef:

  • "Chessex dice are notorious for this since they are low grade plastic and often have many imperfections anyway. Place a half a dozen dice in the microwave with the “6” at the top and zap them for thirty seconds or so. Wait a minute and zap them again, rinse and repeat a few times. This melts the inside core of the dice and pulls the weight down to the “1”.
  • Mix them back in with the regular dice and 1/3 of your dice will always roll a “6”, which in Warhammer 40K is always good or what you need. One could even cook a bunch of “5”s.
  • Mix them in with a pool of dice and they are VERY hard to detect.
This gentleman-wargamer, who also performed as a stage magician, added:

  • We are playing Warhammer 40K and I’m shooting my huge unit of models into your unit. Over to my right I have a pile of dice, and as I pick up the dice to shoot, I sleight of hand a few more dice to add to the pool. So if I’m pulling up twenty dice to shoot, and I add three more- when I roll the results and quickly pick up the misses and add them back to the dice pile on the right, it is very hard to detect that an extra three dice were rolled in. Add in some misdirection by talking and the player will never know… My take is that if you are going to cheat me, do it with flair, style, and skill. 

Cheating as a true Napoleon

I don't want to suggest that cheating is a 40k issue. Check this blog from Howard Whitehouse.

  • "One players glued his Napoleonic Russians down on huge movement trays in massive attack columns, and swore he’d remember casualties rather than remove the figures. Of course, he never did.
  • One guy knew exactly how long his arm was, elbow to fingertips, and would ‘casually’ lean on the table when he needed to estimate a distance for shooting or movement. I can’t believe anyone fell for it.
  • In a Napoleonic tabletop game, a gamer manipulated with markers the table so that he could easily estimate artillery shooting ranges, much better than his opponents. During lunch when he was away, his opponents uncovered his trick. They came with a cunning plan: they remanipulated the markers and added new markers, so all of the cheater's artillery estimates were suddenly wrong. That's the true revenge of a gentleman!"
According to other stories, some players use elastic rulers, or even a professionally made cheater's ruler: A fraudulent Historicon gamer had a
  • "ruler on which the markings were really 1,5 inch rather than 1 inch apart (...) it looked professionally made like and ruler but his troops moved faster than anyone else’s. It took a turn of two to catch him as he was careful to never put his ruler down near anyone else’s"
The zenith of cheating however might be this great Whitehousian true story about a Napoleonic campaign game, with secret strategy discussions in a separate room. During a planning session, a player noticed a whirring sound.
  • He checked the lockers, and found a tape recorder, placed there by the enemy general. There was some arguing about this – the opponent claiming it was simply legitimate spying – but it was decided that tape recorders were not properly Napoleonic. At the next strategy session a different sound was heard from the equipment locker – a sneeze. Opening it, a small man with a notebook was discovered. The enemy had hired a midget to take notes.
  • The player thought this was all too bizarre, confronted the cheater and abandoned the game. The cheater explained to the others that the player "was taken into a mental hospital on a long term basis and would not be able to play anymore", thus hiding the true reason why he didn't show up anymore.

Let me finally add that Napoleon was a well-known cheater himself. Not only on his wife, but also with blackjack, his favorite cards game. His private secretary Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourienne observed:
  • "Vingt-et-un was his favourite game, because it is more rapid than many others, and because, in short, it afforded him an opportunity of cheating".
Napoleon’s mother Letizia would call him on such stunts, as noted in this description of evenings during Napoleon’s exile on Elba:
  • When Napoleon was losing at cards he cheated without scruple, and all submitted with such grace as they could muster, except the stern Corsican lady, who in her decided tone would say, ‘Napoleon, you are cheating.’ To this he would reply: ‘Madame, you are rich, you can afford to lose, but I am poor and must win.’
So, remember, next time, if, when playing against me, you find a midget in your closet, you are rich, I am poor, and I must win!


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