Monday, December 22, 2008

What Makes a Great Commander?

Enlightened leadership can make all the difference. Even with superior numbers, a team without fast thinking people at the helm will find that it will soon be cannibalized by smaller but better organized teams. So what makes for great commanding?

Too many cooks...

Team dynamics will ultimately determine if the command structure will be an inclusive meritocracy, or will become something more closely resembling a military dictatorship. A handy rule of thumb, however, is that the fewer the people calling the shots, the less opportunity there is for miscommunication.

Unless significant effort is put into assigning roles, it is inevitable that Commanders will find themselves issuing contradicting orders and possibly scaring off potential allies as a result. And of course, every additional Commander is yet another opportunity for an enterprising spy to maneuver his way into a position to cause maximum damage, an unfortunate lesson that the Jedis had to learn recently in the Star Wars game.

The danger of too few commanders, however, is that good ideas might never come to the table. An atmosphere conducive for players to contribute tactical suggestions via team chat is one compromise.

Commander roles

The various functions that a commander has to perform can be grouped into four broad "commander types":

1. The Diplomat: who coordinates alliances and overseers spy efforts.

2. The Tactician: in charge of finalizing troop movements.

3. The Punisher: who enforces site rules and mediates between disputing players.

4. The Comrade: who maintains high team morale and a fun atmosphere.

The relative order of importance of these roles is up for debate, and commanders will find that different points in the game will call for different approaches. The majority of players certainly seems to agree that the Tactician's job is more important than the Diplomat's, and that both of them are more important than the Comrade and the Punisher, respectively.

My personal order is Comrade, Tactician, Diplomat and Punisher, due to my experience in my very first GXC game, GoCrossZodiac (any GXZodiac veterans around?). The team was Gemini & Cancer, and as victory seemed increasingly assured, a treacherous ally quickly whittled us down to one territory. Although defeat was very clearly imminent (we didn't have force shields then) the inspiring leadership of Cdr. James Westmoreland and Cdr. Karen Mack reminded us that the glory was not in the winning, but in the experience. We would go on to repeatedly fireball our way through the territories of our encircling enemies, and even long after we were eliminated, the members of team Gemini & Cancer could be found actively engaging each other on the team chat - a team spirit reinforced by the camaraderie encouraged by the commanders.

Tactics, diplomacy and the enforcement of rules will all result in victory, but the game should never get in the way of a good time. It is atmosphere that will encourage players to recruit friends unto the team, and make playing worthwhile.

A Winning Formula

Unlike most other games, GXC is pretty easy to jump into. This is reflective in the fact that people who are active on the chats, rather than players who have previously served as Commanders, are more likely to be voted Commander.

Nothing appeals like success, however. Commanders who have the Battle Plan up promptly, those who interact frequently on the chats and those whose tactics bring in the territories are less likely to face the guillotine than nice Commanders who are simply ineffective. In fact, players are more likely to tolerate a tactless Commander than a genial, but hapless one. Charisma simply cannot make up for incompetence.

What makes a great Commander?

Vision, agility, and an enlightened recognition of your responsibilities towards your teammates. And this. And also possibly this.

Players have their own scorecard, though, and some were kind enough to reveal theirs to us:

Robert Dodson (4)
Emma Elfeirr (4)
Shreyan Sen (4)

phillip morrin (3)

Thomas Chi (2)
Andrew Hoy (2)
Brian Lee (2)
Justine Sanger (2)
"Spooky Voodoo" Patrick Smith (2)

Carlos Arata
James Deyerle
Nicolas Feltman
Patrick Frenzer
Inar Graur
Benji Li
Joshua "RiceRiceRiceRice" Lin
Ding Ma
Mark "Daggor" Nagy

The favourite, of course, was:

some guy/can't remember/me/myself (5)

Thanks to all those who took part in the survey!


Mat said...

Oh, sure, kick us while we're down...

It is helpful insight, though. I think the strategy of "never nominate Kevin Troy" is a good one, and should be taken into consideration.

Thræn said...

I don't know who in their right mind put me down, but I'm honoured.
There are plenty of others who deserved it way more though.

Anonymous said...

you just like to mess with me don't you. how did you spell my name wrong?

Emmanuel said...

Sorry for the mistake, phil. It's been corrected.

Anonymous said...

Lol, remember how blue won GXZodiac?

Anonymous said...

Well, I was a part of Zodiac, on Green (along with Justine). We tried to take everybody on, and then blue/light blue allied and light blue did enough to smack us down for blue. We took out James and Karen though, HAHAHA.

I would like to point out that the newer Commanders (especially those who got 4 votes), have been burning out and are taking either reduced roles or quitting being a commander entirely. I voted for Justine because of the Office and her masterful handling of Orange, though I could have easily gone for Hoy (before the multis). Also though, Allison Sproul, James (as mentioned), and Sarah Sperry were good.

There's one X Factor that I think divides the good ones from the GREAT ones, and that is desire. I know that when I join a team and especially when I become a commander, I want to win EVERY TIME. I MEAN EVERY TIME (CAPS means emphasis for me).

If I feel like I got shafted (like a Lightning game), I will let people know (and then just to drive the point home let them know some more even when I am over it). I give out orders, and will gladly tell people why I said to do that. I will also go to great lengths to prove that I am right and correct wrong people.

Of course, desire doesn't make one great, but it is that little bit that makes the difference provided you don't go off the deep end like I did in the Office game. I agree that Tactical is the best, follow by Diplomacy and then Punisher and such. Experience helps, but really it only takes one good game with a little guidance to get the necessary experience.

I know I learned plenty from my first time as Commander- like the former multi problem that has been fixed for Arena games, that if you are losing you are blamed, and that dividing a team because of a power struggle never works. I took a hit from that game, but gained it back and then some (I hope).

Anyway, I just wanted to put my 5 cents in, as I only had a nickel on me and wanted my money's worth. As I learned the hard way, so I don't want future GXCers to do what I did- you might not survive. I'd be open to possibly contributing a piece per week as well.

Thræn said...

Just a note, I'm only temporarily "resigned" right now, due to medical reasons. I fully intend to come back full force once I'm capable of such again. I miss commanding already.

Oh, and nice choice for your vote, Chase. I voted for Justine as well.

Mat said...

I can vouch for Chase's desire for letting people hear it about lightning games. (Helloooo, Narnia...)

As this (SW) is my first Arena game command post, Chase's points are valid, but desire doesn't by itself translate to results (as my team members can likely fault me readily for). There's a decent amount of balance involved (and any experience at all helps).

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, I didn't quit. I'm in India. Sporadic internet access and the double digit number of hours commanders spend on this game don't go together =/

I'm starting to believe more and more that Diplomacy is actually more important to this game than tactics. The fact is, a team with crappy tactics can still win if the commander knows how to play the other teams, and a team with brilliant tactics will be defeated time and time again by opponents who simply know how to make better allies...

Therefore, to do a team justice, the command group must be able to provide both top notch diplomacy and decent tactics. That will win over brilliant tactics and bad diplomacy every time.

If you need evidence, look at the current Star Wars game. The Sith should be dead; diplomacy (a three pronged alliance) was annihilating them, and diplomacy (a switch by the Jedi) saved them. Tynna (the wookie fort) should have bled the Stormtroopers dry, but diplomacy handed it to us and saved the Wookies from a Droid-Stormtrooper double team. While tactics are essential early in the game when making your initial empire, once you get into a stalemate you have to rely on diplomacy...

Unknown said...

Chi's List:

Top Tier Commanders: (Scary)
Hoy (duh)
Jonathan Gale

Second Tier: (Exceptional)
Justine Sanger
Julie Geng
Tammy Tang
John Huynh
Clay Turner
Thomas Chi
Dan Shmueli & Jedstada
Inar & Sara
Karen Mack

Third Tier: (Competent)
Clifford Shin
Samantha M
Ryan Mayo
Antonio Rodriguez
Ding Ma
Tony Hu
Robert Dodson
Henry Zhang
Patrick Smith

No first time commanders are included, haven't been observed enough. I probably forgot a few as well.

And the most important trait in a commander is definitely the ability to read other people, hands down.

Unknown said...

More for Third:
Brett Yang
James Westmoreland
Christie Pretzie
Shreyan (grudgingly admitted)
James Tucker
Kostya Lantsman

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'm hurt that I didn't make anyone's lists, but I'll back up Shreyan in that diplomacy is the most important part of this game.

The trick is to make your proposals obviously benefit the other team while more subtly benefitting your own.

Anonymous said...

heh, I wonder what Chi said?

Kevin, I dunno about commander, but I'll admit you are effective as a odd subdivision of the special forces...

The best kind of agreement should obviously benefit both parties. This is how to disarm suspicion and forge the basis of an alliance; alliances are the foundation of the type of game I prefer to play.

Andrew said...

Ok, here are my thoughts. I was really undecided about whether or not to post this cuz I'm really shooting myself in the foot if people see this and I ever command again.

In order of importance:
1) Picking a winning team (duh)
2) Coming up with a plan to win.
- involves looking at the map and finding important territories and finding the teams that will be long term players or threats
3) Making alliances
- you need one ally that is more equal than the rest. Find this ally early and cultivate the alliance throughout the whole game. The only way to come out the winner is to make sure that when it comes down to two (maybe three) teams, you have the best endgame strategy.
- you'll also need alliances of convenience. If you can demonstrate a common goal with another team, ally!
4) Stick to your alliances
- don't backstab. Nobody will ally with you in future games. There are always circumstances outside your control, but I can honestly say that I've never led another team on just to stab them in the back down the road.
5) Create a special forces or something similar
- be this people that you live with or a great email list, you need people that can fill in holes at the last minute
6) Get spies
- You'll need to know accurate numbers so that you can tweak defense/attack and utilize every single army (energy) to the best of its ability
7) Eliminate the teams that pose the largest threat
- pretty self explanatory...

Bottom line is that you need to be able to read other commanders (mostly over AIM, also through their BPs and chat messages) to know what they're going to do before they do it. If you ever get surprised, you've lost. Think about every possibility and have a plan for every contingency. What if your closest ally stabs you in the back? Way back when, my only reasonable solution to that was to get on AIM and tell the other commander that if he did that, we'd surely lose, but I'd make sure that his team lost first. The alliance fell apart soon after, but not before we got the one crucial chokehold that spurred us on to victory.

That's about it for now. I don't want to post a list of top commanders (IMO) because people all lead differently and different styles can work well together. But Chi's certainly at the top of any list. Get on his good side. :) Justine also for sentimental reasons. I think the only game that we weren't allied you crushed us like dogs. She also is the single best commander for motivating a team. When we tracked participation, her teams were consistently 10% or so higher than the rest.

I'm always willing to chat on AIM if you're bored or want to talk GXC. I could probably even be convinced to play another game or two if the right circumstances came up. I liked it better when there was only one game at a time and there were huge teams. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Office game was the largest open game? (ILC rules all...)

Anyways, have a wonderful New Year!

Samantha Malanche said...

I'm competent.

Damn, I spent most of the summer dicking around, getting drunk, and abusing Cliff and Xerxes when playing this game.

Maybe I should have tried harder? Or tried at all?

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What Is Gout said...

What makes a commander in my opinion, is courage, determination, and most importantly "smarts".

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