These days my only gaming hobby is Football Manager Live. Between being married and having a full time professional job as a software developer, my life is somewhat different now to the life I had when I was younger. I used to be a huge games buff, and have played a number of board and card games at tournament level, often with considerable prize money at stake.
I’ve always aspired to improve myself at everything I do, and I’ve previously done a lot of research into games theory. I would like to discuss the concept of luck, as I know a lot of people struggle to deal with it in FML. I’ll keep the article focussed on examples and discussion, rather than the theory, so hopefully it is a useful and interesting read for a much wider audience.
Firstly I would just like to say, that the concept of luck (Chance) in games theory relates quite heavily to odds and possibilities. These are very hard to translate in FML because the odds of drawing an Ace from a deck of cards is easily calculable based on the information that a person has on hand (i.e. which cards are known and how many cards are unknown). There are many other elements in cards, like bluffing, and making an educated guess at what some of the unknown cards will be to better calculate the odds of drawing card ‘X’.
However, the odds of an event happening in the FMLive/FM match engine based on a tactical adjustment are impossible to calculate. But just because we can’t calculate those odds, doesn’t mean that the odds don’t exist, so therefore a lot of the theory is still applicable it’s just that it won’t be as easy to prove.
Apologies in advance if the examples are a little basic or lacking in finer details. They really are just to illustrate the points.
1: Lucky players are lucky for a reason
I’ve noticed from my gaming tournament days that the truly ‘world class’ players at any game all have one common trait. They always believe they are going to win, and seem to find a way to win, even in the unlikeliest of situations.
It’s best to illustrate this with an example with a situation in card game:
Player A is in a dire position. She knows that unless she draws card X next turn, and player B makes a mistake on this turn, that she will lose.
Player A bluffs Player B by being extremely confident and playing cards Y and Z (which is a very poor and unusual thing to do and doesn’t make much sense). Player B is confused by this and therefore becomes hesitant and decides not to make his move to win this turn.
Next turn Player A draws card X and wins the game.
Now this all seems very unlikely and not worth bothering with the effort (you might as well just concede defeat), but it’s exactly the type of play that professional game players make. Winners understand what is required in order to be able to win, and play accordingly. Sure player B could have not been fooled by the bluff and won the game on his last turn. It’s also very likely that player A wouldn’t have drawn card X as she needed. However, if player A never made the bluff, then player B never would have made the mistake, and player A never would have had the chance to draw card X on her next turn (or in simple terms, Player A definitely would have lost instead of having a remote chance of winning albeit with the assistance of being very lucky on two fronts – the opponents mistake and the card drawn).
Player A played the game working on the assumption that the next card drawn would be card X. This is the correct thing to do when there is only one possible way for you to win (perform all actions and decisions under the assumption that the one possible victory condition dictated by luck will come true).
Your average games player wouldn’t play like this, and they are exactly the type of player who would be player B in the above example, losing the game to player A, who got ‘lucky’ and drew card X. They would walk away from the game, believing they were unlucky, learning nothing from the events that took place.
2: Unlucky players are unlucky for a reason
Player A and Player B are now playing FML. Player B is up 2-0 with 10 minutes remaining, Player A hasn’t even had an attempt on goal all match.
Player B decides to change his tactics to be more defensive, and deep, and increases time wasting. Player A knows that her team of minnows are being walked off the park and some ‘luck’ will be required to come away with a result.
After having played counter attacking long ball all match without producing so much as an attempt on goal, and seeing the opposition change formation to sit deeper and remove any chance of hitting two goals on the break which seemed very unlikely even if the opposition hadn’t deepened their defensive line. She decides to change to a 3-6-1 high defensive line formation, short passing, pressing, and everyone in the team with long shots 10 or better set to take them often.
Player A then proceeds to score 2 long range wonder goals from just 2 attempts on goal (both as the result of intercepting poor passes) and comes away with a 2-2 draw.
This is exactly the type of match result you never know the full story to, but just see people complaining about on the forums. “20 shots to 2 for a 2-2 draw, Game is broken, Fix it SI or I’m going to quit!”
Was setting your team to play defensive and deep when 2-0 up with 10 minutes remaining the correct decision? Especially against a team that hadn’t even so much as managed an attempt on goal for the whole match. By playing deeper and more defensive, player A’s team no longer had their backs against the wall, and had more freedom and space to play the ball, giving them room and time to be able to attempt the 2 composed long range shots which both went in. Also, did Player B optimise his time wasting tactics by substituting on any specialist players for this situation? I doubt it, knowing when and how to utilise substitutions can make a huge difference.
Player B walks away from this match thinking he was ‘unlucky’ and learnt nothing. This type of thing can happen time and time again. Player B will post on the forum, “I’ve tired ‘everything’ but can’t hold a lead and always get unlucky and draw/lose.” What player B doesn’t understand is that the score line, and time remaining are only 2 of many factors that should be considered when making decisions. And you can be 2-0 up with 10 minutes remaining in 100 different matches, but the (incalculable) mathematically correct tactical decision/s to finish the game would almost certainly have been different in each and every one of them.
3: The result doesn’t justify whether the decision was correct
Returning to cards:
Player B will lose unless he performs action T and draws card X next turn, or performs action U and draws cards X or Y next turn.
Player B performs action T and draws card X winning the game. But he has made a bad decision, had he performed action U his chances of winning would have been greater, he would have had a chance at two winning cards (X and Y), and therefore twice the chance of winning. Player A points out this mistake and player B calls her a sore loser. Player B learns nothing.
Player A and Player B are now playing FML:
Player B is up 1-0 with 10 minutes remaining. Player A hasn’t even had an attempt on goal all match. Player B decides to change his tactics to go more defensive, deeper and increases time wasting.
Player A knows that her team of minnows are being played off the park and some ‘luck’ will be required to come away with a result. After having played counter attacking long ball throughout the match without producing so much as shot on goal, and seeing the opposition switch formation, sitting deeper and further reducing the chance of a goal on the break. She decides to change her own formation to a 3-6-1 and switch to a short passing tactic, attempting many long shots (sound familiar?).
Player A then proceeds to attempt 5 long shots in the last 10 minutes, 3 of which hit the post, she doesn’t score though and player B wins the match 1-0. Player B walks away from the match thinking he’s a tactical genius.
4: Make the most of your good luck
There’s no point in being lucky if you don’t put it good use, the above examples all touch on this. But there’s no point in drawing the card to win the seemingly unwinnable game if you don’t recognise you can win until after you’ve drawn the card (as you are too busy dwelling on your previous misfortune).
There’s no point in being 2-0 down with 10 minutes remaining, scoring 2 wonder goals against the run of play, but conceding an easy goal through lack of marking, in return and going down 3-2.
If winning requires certain events to happen in order for you to be able to win, you need to optimise the circumstances, and assume they’re going to happen (but you also need to make sure that the rest of the ‘house is in order’). The difference between a great player and a good player is that the great player is luckier, simply because they ensure they make the most of their good luck (and reduce the impact of bad luck by preparing for it as best they can).
5: Understand and Respect Luck
In games where all of the states of play are known at all times, it is easy to analyse mistakes and correct plays after the game has finished. However in football, the exact states of play at all times are impossible for a human to comprehend, and therefore it’s very difficult to ever say that any decision was completely correct or incorrect.
The problem I think to a degree with Football Manager Live is that it doesn’t easily identify to a manager exactly why, where and how their team went from 2-0 up to a 2-2 draw. But if you look hard enough there is a lot of information available. If you watched all the highlights, and saw how the goals were scored. You can see every players match statistics, and how ‘fired up’ or complacent not only your players, but also your opponents players were.
You probably even played the match on fast speed to ensure you had even less chance of analysing the states of play and making good decisions at the right time. There is actually far more information available to you when playing a match than most people can ever be process and I think this is part of the problem. People try to over simplify the match engine, which is inherently anything but simple.
However, this doesn’t change the fact that you should analyse the information at hand as best you are able to, make informed judgements and analyse the decisions you made and their effect on how the match was played out. The more you pay attention to and try to understand the match engine, the better you will be able to do this. It is possible to learn from your decisions, and understand where you have made good ones, and where you have made bad ones.
Analysing wins is just as important as analysing losses. I don’t think many of even the best managers in FML truly analyse the mistakes they’ve made in matches they won (this is another defining difference between good and great players). The complexity of the match engine ensures that it is impossible to master, which is a good thing in my opinion, as the potential to improve is limitless.
Always remember that luck can be accommodated for but it cannot be controlled, understand it, respect it, and when making decisions factor it in. Understand how luck can help you win in the unlikeliest of situations, just as easily as it can allow you to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. When you understand that, then you will have an edge over those who don’t.
|Written By Nick Kakoschke
Nick is the infamous Little Badger on the SI forums and manager of the Little Badgers in the Clough game world. A very successful manager in his time on FML he now aims to pass his knowledge on to others.