It’s only Rational: Logic in 40k

If you were more rational then would you win more games?

Being rational, at least if you ask an economist, means always choosing the outcome that will lead to the best result for you.  If you are anything like me then I am sure you feel that you are extremely rational!   At the same time, you may also be perplexed to observe human behaviour and the silly things we do on social media.  Indeed, we need look further than recent stock market bubbles / crashes to see how crazy we can be as a species.

Image result for irrational meme

The pioneering work by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Teversky showed that human beings are delightfully irrational in all sorts of interesting ways (and for which a Nobel prize was awarded).  Their ideas led to the development of a field known as behavioural economics and this is what will be covering below.  Today we look at how these concepts can be applied to the game of 40k and how human nature might lead to suboptimal decisions and how you might turn this to your advantage. 

We look forward to your reactions to these concepts and if you have any additional ideas then let us know in the comments.

Idea 1: Too much choice can lead to bad decisions

The theory says more choice is always better than less.  An increase in choice should mean that we have a much better chance of finding the product that exactly meets our needs and as a result, we will be happier.  What evidence suggests is that this is true to a point but then too much choice can make us feel stressed and unhappy.

How many choices do we need?

Most people when faced with too much choice do something extremely simple – they stick with what they already know and pick the option that they have always chosen, even if such a choice is sub-optimal (i.e. there is a better option available). Evidence suggests that the level of stress just gets worse and worse the more options we have and the more time pressure we face.  

This concept of choice leading to stress can apply directly to the game of 40k.  For example, if you can find a way of simplifying your choices when you are playing a game then you are far more likely to make better decisions.  Equivalently, you can also turn this on its head and find ways in which you can make your opponent’s life difficult by giving them lots and lots of decisions to make.  If you can crank up the level of complexity for your opponent then you increase the chances they will make a bad decision you can then capitalise upon.

The key question is how might you increase the number of choices your opponent faces?  Some examples are below:

  1. Develop a list that has multiple different types of threats rather than leaning too heavily into a single unit;
  2. Seek out combinations of warlord traits, stratagems and relics that give you lots of powerful options that keep your opponent guessing; 
  3. Include some units that can do multiple things rather than just one big thing;
  4. Consider including units / factions that are not often seen on the table;
  5. Think about how your secondary mission selection could put pressure on your opponent, particularly if those selections ask your opponent to do conflicting things.

The above list of ideas is not intended to be exhaustive and we are sure you can come up with some other ways of achieving the desired results.  This implies skewing your list away from being one-dimensional but you need to be sure you don’t go too far the other way and end up with a complex but fundamentally weak army.

Idea 2:  Losses and gains feel different

Consider the following scenario, which do you prefer?

  • Option 1: A 50% chance of making $1,000 or a 50% chance or making nothing
  • Option 2: A 100% chance of making $500

Opinions will vary but most people will pick the second option.  The idea of missing out leads to most people to go for the sure thing, especially when it comes to money!

Let’s try another example, which do you prefer?

  • Option 1: A 50% chance of losing $1,000 or a 50% chance of losing nothing
  • Option 2: A 100% chance of losing $500

Again, opinions will vary but most people will pick the first option.  The thought of a guaranteed loss stings so much that most people will be willing to gamble to avoid the pain of a loss. Extensive research suggests that most people become risk-seeking when facing losses and avoid risk when it comes to gains.  

You might have seen the idea manifest when playing games – for example, how many times have you seen a typically cautious opponent take extreme risks when facing a potential loss?

What I think is interesting about this concept is how we feel about gains and losses.  Imagine we could somehow quantity our feelings about gains / losses in the same way we can count points in a game.  The research indicates that most people assign a “weight” to losses that is twice that of an equivalent gain.  In other words, a loss can feel up to twice as bad as the positive feeling from winning.  Perhaps this is a reason why lots of people feel like they are unlucky, it is simply that the bad dice rolls sting more than the good ones!

When it comes to competitive play this leads to several interesting ideas that are worth considering. We have shared below some ideas that might help you benefit from this concept:

  • What strategy could you adopt to make your opponent feel like they are losing in order to encourage them to take overly aggressive moves?
  • What strategy could you adopt to make your opponent feel like they are winning in order to encourage them to play more passively?
  • Should you be more willing to trade your units in exchange for scoring points even though that might feel bad?
  • What can you do to maintain a positive mindset to avoid feeling tilted when things go wrong?

Idea 3: We tend to be overconfident

70% of drivers rated themselves as “above average” with less than 1% rating themselves as “below average”.  This result is based on a survey of 15,000 motorists which shows that our view on our own abilities often exceeds our true abilities.  These findings are backed up by lots of studies from a wide number of different fields.

When it comes to competitive play this is a particularly tricky bias as it could lead us to underestimate our opponent / chances in a tournament.  When we consider the fact that when things go wrong, it feels twice as bad as when things go well, this human tendency can lead to bad decisions.  It can also easily lead to excessive risk-taking when making plays, which could easily lead to you losing games that you might otherwise win.  When you look at top competitors in most fields, they all tend to be humble, reflective and are often asking what might go wrong.    

The other key finding from the research is that people tend to overestimate the likelihood of positive outcomes and underestimate the likelihood of negative outcomes.  We covered how you might manage this bias in our article, “the failure of the averages”.  As a reminder, we would recommend planning that you will roll worse than average and that your opponent will roll better than average!

Idea 4: Humans tend to follow rather than lead

As a society, we are prone to herd behaviour.  There are lots of examples in finance of asset bubbles and social examples such as viral trends on social media.  As we have all seen, an idea or concept starts small and then grows exponentially as more and more people jump on board.  

When it comes to 40k you often see this type of behaviour manifest in the way certain armies / archetypes increase massively in popularity (perhaps beyond what is reasonably justified) following a big win at a major or after a big release.  

What we should say is that this type of behaviour is not universally bad.  There is something to be said about the “wisdom of crowds” and observing what is happening can be extremely helpful in judging how you should adapt.  The trick here is perhaps to adopt a mindset of being a “watcher” rather than a “chaser” of trends.  Some ideas of how you can avoid becoming a “chaser” are:

  • Switch off autopilot and think critically about the emerging ideas;
  • Make a conscious effort to form your own opinion;
  • Take time before deciding to change your approach (particularly when it comes to snap purchases of models);
  • Be willing to go your own way. 

Idea 5: the ostrich effect

The Ostrich Effect: Don't ignore bad news. It doesn't make them go away. |  by Abhishek Chakraborty | Medium

The ostrich effect is when we actively avoid receiving information that goes against our established view on an issue.  In a way, it is the opposite of following the herd!  This bias is most common when we have publicly staked our relationship on an idea, or where we have some emotional attachment to a particular notion.

A small example might be avoiding opening bills, perhaps when you have spent too much on new miniatures!  A much bigger example is a trader in a bank who is starting to lose money but refuses to exit a position despite a change in the data, thus leading to catastrophic multi-billion dollar losses.

When it comes to 40k this is most likely to arise when you are developing a new army list or where you have invested a lot of time in a unit for your army.  Sometimes it is important to move on if you want to be competitive at tournaments.  One way to make sure you aren’t falling for this bias is to work with a group of friends who will give you honest feedback through playtesting. 

Would you like to know more?

We hope you found the discussion interesting.  If you have any thoughts and questions, then please do leave those in the comments below.  We regularly discuss game theory, strategy, and tactics as part of a community in the War Room.  If you would like to get involved in this community then please visit us at

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  1. Great stuff! I especially like the bit about building an army list that doesn’t require the pilot to make too many decisions that he/she has not considered before the game begins while simultaneously presenting an opponent with difficult choices. There is obvious tension between the first of these precepts and ‘including units that do many things, rather than one thing,’ but I think that overall this kind of choice management is one of the key factors that separates really successful competitive players from the heard. Great article.