Weird article title, right? What does it mean to “play like a spider,” anyway?
Well, if you play any games with me, it means to play like me–camp out, build up, and wait. Like web-building spiders, who weave a complicated web of sticky silk and then wait at one corner for a hapless insect to blunder into it, I construct my Magic decks and my HeroClix teams with the same long-term win in mind. I don’t rush aggressively forward; I wait for you to come to me, and get yourself hopelessly stuck with your own aggressive tactics. I may not win within 5 turns, but give me enough time, and I will succeed in at least immobilizing and tying down your force.
Why Bother with This Slow Strategy?
Spiders are not one of the most feared creepy-crawlies for no reason. They can bite, they get even humans stuck in webs (ugh, especially when it’s dark and all you can feel is the sticky silk across your face, hands, or arms)…and they seem pretty ruthless. But faced with a large boot heel or even a rolled-up magazine, they’re useless. In fact, their strategy works best against creatures similarly sized to them.
It may seem worthless to “play like a spider,” since most competitive gamers act as the boot heels and rolled-up magazines of the Magic and HeroClix world. But in a casual and/or multiplayer environment, spider-style play provides a new and creative way to interact. Instead of heavily focusing on “WIN WIN WIN within 5 turns,” you can sit back and socialize with your gaming friends for the first few turns, as you build up slowly. You then have time to observe how everyone else plays, compliment others on their strategy–generally create an atmosphere of camaraderie within your group.
It’s a little more laid-back style of gaming, and yet you still have your own strategy to build up, turn by turn, at an unhurried pace. Get enough of your defenses in place, and you can chat in relative peace. That is, until someone messes with you and disturbs your web.
The Steps of a Spider Gamer
- Don’t mess with anybody unless they mess with you.
This is of paramount importance–spiders who are actively building their webs aren’t seeking prey yet. They have to wait until their web is finished (or at least mostly finished) before they can catch anything. Likewise, your first turns are better spent building up your defenses, not making enemies. Identify your strongest opponents and observe their playstyles, yes. But do not provoke them. Time enough for that later.
- Once they do mess with you, begin your offensive strategy.
Sounds odd to only launch counterattacks, but it’s actually a very efficient strategy. Once the web is disturbed, spiders launch themselves at their prey and go after them relentlessly. As a spider gamer, you have to act similarly. You wait until they have extended themselves, and then start going after them, make them run scared for a few minutes. If you’re playing one-on-one, this is important to gain back some ground (especially if you didn’t have all your defenses in place yet); if you’re playing multi-player, this is an important show of force, so that everyone else at the table knows that you indeed can strike back, and hard.
- Build in lots of support for yourself, and several ways to retreat if you have to.
Like spiders, who build multiple ways to escape if their prey is too strong for them or is too big, spider gamers have to include lots of long-term support into their strategies. In Magic: the Gathering, life-gain, counterspells, graveyard recurrence, creature-kill spells, and high-toughness creatures are ways to keep yourself afloat in tough circumstances; in HeroClix, including lots of Probability Control, Support, Outwit, flying characters, and high defenses can help your team go the distance. Retreating into defensive mode (not attacking and building up your defenses again) is important if you’re facing a lot of aggression–you’ve got to keep yourself alive, even if it means losing the offensive advantage for a few turns.
- If you have to retreat, make it very difficult for anybody to come after you.
Spiders often retreat into trees, behind objects, or anywhere else that makes it hard to kill them. If you’re going to be a spider gamer, you have to think similarly when you need to build back up after a hard turn of battle. Make sure you’ve got enough things to defend you, and that it won’t do any good for anybody to come after you for a few turns, and then quietly put your strategy back together. (A strategy that falls apart at the slightest touch is not enough for a spider gamer–it’s got to be solid enough to hold up for the long-term.)
I do this a lot by building in tons of life-gain and Support–people get done battering down my life total or my HeroClix figures, only for me to gain the life back or heal up my characters again so that all their work has been undone! It flusters your opponent(s) and can give you the time you need to build back up.
- Rest, recharge, and wait for the others to combat themselves to exhaustion…
This is my favorite part of spider strategy…waiting for the others to thrash themselves tired. Most often, especially in a multi-player game, the two most aggressive gamers at the table face off against each other and spend most of the time tearing at each other’s throats, leaving the rest of us alone. This is the perfect time for a spider gamer to build back up–do just a couple little things during your turn and be relatively unobtrusive, allowing the attention to focus on the more aggressive players. Like real spiders, who wait for their prey to get completely stuck before moving in on them, spider gamers can wait for their traps to spring on their opponent’s turn and not do a whole lot otherwise.
- …then come in and mop, mop, mop.
Once the more aggressive gamers have fought each other enough and overextended their resources (and their life points), it’s time for the spider gamer to step out and start mopping up the mess. Half-dead HeroClix figures and Magic players with no blockers to defend themselves are easy targets for the spider gamer, and it gets some of the threats off the board before they can start building themselves back up.
Yes, I know, this strategy is often called “cherry-picking,” getting the last hit on somebody when someone else did all the work…but it’s about the only way for a spider gamer to stay alive. Waiting until the enemy is at half-strength or less is how a spider gamer survives, just like a real spider won’t mess with a hornet or a grasshopper until the insect is thoroughly entangled in its web.
The Point of Playing like a Spider
Those who practice spider-like gaming are allowed to be more talkative and sociable during gaming. Even if you’re not making the most kills or crushing the most people, you are surviving, which means you’re still in the game and you’re doing something right. I like the idea of actually talking to other players, hanging out with them as opposed to just beating them into the ground, and spider gaming lets me do that. Plus, I’m still using a deadly strategy, even if most people don’t recognize it. (The right attitude is key…never, never let on how dangerous you really are until it’s too late. XD)
I’d challenge any gamer who’s never tried playing slow, steady, and spiderish to try it. It’s a very different flavor and mindset from the typical “5-turn-win” aggressive or control-based strategy, and yet it can still win…if you have the patience and the support built in to succeed in the long term.