Competitive Play – Taking Notes

I have always been interested in competitive play in any game I play.  I attempt to learn as much as possible about my opponents, about how the game works, etc.

There are some things we can take from other parts of our life when we want to take our play to the next level.  One of the pieces that I have always struggled with, and seen others struggle with, is note taking, and analysis.

Why take notes?

While this may seem obvious to some people, it is not always clear why we need to take notes, or what note taking actually buys us as players.  There are several benefits that can come from it.

Human Fallibility

As much as it pains me to say it, I do not have an eidetic memory.  I forget things – constantly.  At Lock & Load, I forgot to have Molik Karn’s animus activate at the end of my turn.  Yeah, it was awesome.*  Most people, in fact, do not have perfect memories.  Humans are also strongly susceptible to confirmation bias (as Meatkat has discussed previously).

What does this have to do with taking notes?  Well, if you are taking notes during the game, you are more likely to keep track of small details and iota points that will get lost in the overall ending of the game.

For instance, even if you lost a game, having notes about how well your Gladiator did against Deathjack will help you remember how good of a matchup that is.  Or if your assassination attempt failed, and led to you lose, you can later take the information from it to try and recreate it, and calculate the probabilities.  This will help you determine if you were on the right track with the attempt, or if your attempt was completely off base.

Long Term Analysis

Ever think “man, I am really good with Warcaster X – I should play them more!” and then lose your next three games with that Warcaster or Warlock?  Is that a localized minima, or are you misremembering past game performance?  If you have notes of previous games, it will give you the information you need to make that determination.  Not only that, it will give you the ability to go back and analyze what you are doing differently now from then.  Is it that you are rusty now?  Or that your opponents have learned how to handle it?  Or has the meta shifted such that your list no longer works as well?

These are all questions that are important to answer, and are literally impossible to answer concretely without the proper historical data.  As I noted before, humans are terrible at remembering things.  Having the written information in front of you makes it easier to keep the information you need at hand.

You can also use it to record your games afterwards in a spreadsheet or database, if that is your desire.  This makes it easier to do analytics on your games, and see what Warcasters and Warlocks you are actually good at, and which matchups are just plain bad for you, rather than the ones you THINK you are bad at.


If this is such a good idea, there must be others doing it in other industries, right?  Well, there are.  The following (incomplete) list highlights a few of the places where you will see others doing exactly this behavior.

  1. Professional sports have people who’s whole job is to take notes on how the game is played, and who did what when.  They will constantly run through previous games to see what worked and what didn’t
  2. Schoolwork.  Yes, the people who tend to be the most successful in classes are the ones who take notes during class and review them later.  This has the additional benefit of reinforcing the memory by having multiple angles of input to the brain
  3. Chess players keep track of their games, and attempt to recreate the moves to see if there was a better way to handle a particular situation
  4. Go players also keep track of their games

This is a very small list of equivalent situations.  There are many others – anyone want to mention any in the comments?

I am going to take notes – now what?

The first thing is to purchase a dedicated notebook.  I recommend a notebook that doesn’t have perforated pages so that the pages don’t tear out during use.

I recommend a dedicated notebook because it makes it easy to make sure you always have it.  Include it with your miniature case, along with a pencil or pen to write with.  You will always have it with you, and will always be able to take notes no matter where you play.  You can purchase a 100-page notebook from Staples for about a dollar or two.

What notes to take?

Important dice rolls

Honestly, I would actually just keep track of every die roll you or your opponent make.  Not in a rambling way, but in a simple tabular format.  Write down all the possibilities for 3d6, 2d6 and 1d6 twice, and just hash mark alongside a number whenever a die roll comes up that value.  That way it is easy to see at the end of the night if the dice were actually a problem in the game (unlikely), or if it just seemed that way to one side or the other (more likely).

Game turning points

When something happens that completely changes the face of the game or matchup, make a quick note about it.  It is good to reflect on it later – what could your opponent have done, what could you have done differently, etc.  What would you have done if something had not gone that way?

Often, just noting the event so that you can reflect on it afterwards is enough.  But having enough information you can recall it after the game is important.

Lists and opponent played

This is an important one.  Take down your list and your opponent’s list, and who your opponent is.  This information will be invaluable three months down the road.

As an example, in our local meta, we have over 20 regular players.  If I am playing against  a retribution player, it could be one of three different players (currently – I am sure that number will grow soon).  Those three players all have very different skill levels, and very different play styles.  If I completely smoke one of them, or get smashed by another, I want to know who it was that did it to me so I can properly analyze the game later.

Scenario information

Track the scenario played (if any).  Track how it worked out, and after the game make some quick notes on how it affected your gameplay.  If it didn’t, make some notes as to why that was.  There are scenarios I struggle with – having notes about them can help determine WHY I struggle so badly with them, as well as point out to me if I actually struggle with them, or if I am just tricking myself into thinking that.

Thoughts, feelings, struggles

I would recommend a quick note about what you are afraid of from an opponent’s list before the game starts, and after the game what actually scared you.  This is a way to take assessment as to perceived threats vs. real threats.  Note if there is a sudden mood or opinion shift during the game.  If that happens, it helps to note the event that caused it to occur.  (This can also have the side effect of giving you a moment to breathe after something bad has happened to you, allowing you to refocus your thoughts).


These are just as important as the struggles and pain points during the game.  In fact, they might be more important in games we lose.  As noted earlier, it is very easy for us to only remember the bad (or good) from an event, and gloss over the other parts.  Having the small victories, the good things we did during the game, can help us see what we need to do more of, as well as help keep us from making excuses for our loss.

So get started already!

OK, so I have run through the basics of note taking.  This is something I have been meaning to start for almost a year now.  I finally decided to just bite the bullet, and bought a notebook this weekend from Staples after the tournament.  I will be using it tonight for the first time.  We will see how it goes.  I am sure you can expect more information right here, maybe even as early as next week, as to how well it is going.  Most of what I have discussed are from my experiences playing sports when I was younger, as well as experiences from what I wished I had taken notes about afterwards.

Anyone else done notebooks?  Any comments, experiences, suggestions?

*As an aside, if the person I played against in that game is, by some bizarre chance, reading this – you completely outplayed me.  That mistake just allowed you to completely own my face, rather than just slap me around with a wet fish.  Still a fantastic game, and a ton of fun.  The whole 3 Commanders tournament was fun!


3 responses to “Competitive Play – Taking Notes

  1. I already take notes on every game, after it is all done. I find i get carried away with the game itself too much to remember to add notes there and then.
    I make bullet points, as anything important in the game will stick in my head, and they are just a reminder.
    It is great to look back and see what works against what, and where a change of tactics would have helped. And it is better for me to look at my own results than to go by someone else’s ‘This is a great model because…’ only.

  2. Pingback: Note Taking – Update | Sustained Attack

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