Melee is a social game.
Those are the words that I opened an article on social communication in the context of AGOT melee some months ago. I left with the promise not only that I would return to examine this topic further, but that I would move to another quadrant of the communication graph that headed the article. At the time, I had indicated that I would proceed from covert, unconscious communication into conscious, overt communication, but instead, we’re going to take a bit of a detour to keep the flow moving a bit more logically. So this time, we’re going to be looking at covert, conscious communication.
Now, the previous communication article dealt with body language and how various aspects of it may inform a studious and watchful player of how their opponents perceive the state of the table and any overt, conscious communication (ie, vocal discussion) going on at the moment. The caveat here is that other careful, knowledgeable players may then utilize their own awareness of these tells and how opponents are likely to interpret them. This leads to players attempting to coopt these unconscious actions and instead present similar actions that they’ve chosen in order to send certain (sometimes false) messages to their opponents.
For anyone that’s seen the movie The Princess Bride, you may be reminded of a certain Sicilian scene.
Man in Black: All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right… and who is dead.
Vizzini: But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Man in Black: You’ve made your decision then?
Thus, the battle of wits. Can you present yourself in such a way that you can signal a certain stance to your opponents without them second guessing whether it’s true or not?
With that said, let us take a look at some of the ways that we could use body language to represent things differently to our opponents in AGOT melee terms.
Mirroring- If you’re utilizing this, you may be intending to play the long game, so to speak. This is something that must be done subtly but repeatedly in order to appropriately signal to other players. Copying similar movements and body language of another generally means that you’re paying a high level of attention to them and shows a predisposition toward them. In AGOT terms, if you want to steadily build trust with another player in order to form or cement an alliance with them, you may attempt to shuffle your hand, examine your discard pile, or any number of other small actions just after that opponent does so.
Nodding – Here is another movement that is relatively easy to perform consciously if needed. I find this particularly useful if another player is trying to convince a third about something regarding the fourth player. Provided their plan appears beneficial to you (perhaps they’re trying to convince the third player to challenge the fourth in order to prevent a win) then you may nod along in agreement as they speak. Make sure this is a small, gentle motion that shows you appreciate their comments. A large or particularly fast movement looks false and may make the player you’re trying to influence more suspicious.
Eye contact – This is a huge consideration for decisions regarding honesty. If you’re trying to convince another player of something, say the importance of their need to help stop the person in the lead, you do want to make sure that you can and do look them in the eye while you do so. On the other hand, you can’t only look them in the eye. This can come off as combative and puts them on the defensive as they may feel that you’re trying to stare them down. This actually makes you appear less trustworthy and predisposes them against your idea. In general, look at people to start and end your statement, but be sure to look around, particularly at the target of your comment while you speak.
Gaze – This is related to eye contact, but is less about really looking at another person. Rather gaze is how your eyesight and appearance of attention interacts with the objects at the table (which can sometimes include players). In this case, you’re trying to misdirect the attention of other players. People generally tend to focus on and look at things that they find interesting, important or want to remember. So in light of this, you can utilize your gaze to present to other players that a certain piece of the game is more important than it really is. For instance, if you want to make certain that people continually think of a certain player as the biggest threat at the table, don’t just vocalize that, but also spend much of your down time studying their board. This will help illustrate their importance to the other players. Likewise, you can use similar means to deflect attention from your own cards. If an opponent is trying to decide who to kneel for a Melisandre trigger, everyone expects to be looking at their own characters, fearful of who gets knelt. In this case, feel free to scan your entire board, but really focus your site on a character that is a plausible target, but not your most valuable. Much like eye contact, however, remember that gaze looks artificial if you do it too steadily.
Touch- Here you can also deflect attention by using physical movements. For instance, many players look frequently at their hands when they have something that they don’t want to forget trigger, so if you can keep your memory on board, lay your cards on the table. Your opponents will feel that you are much less likely to have a key event that you need to play (like Superior Claim) if you seem to be disregarding the cards in your hand. Likewise, it may be possible to bluff or influence players decisions by actively touching or moving as if you were about to kneel certain cards that are open knowledge on the table. This may be particularly effective with things like Winterfell or Margaery Tyrell.
And there you go, folks. A quick look at ways to utilize conscious covert communication in melee. In the future, we’ll cover unconscious overt and conscious overt communication as well!