After Action Reviews: A thought on process and returns

Time and time again, after playing or watching people play games I hear the same thing said across a table, “that always happens,” or “I can never win,” or “that’s just too powerful.”  I find it interesting when I watch people who talk like that make the same decisions over and over again, hoping for different results. Today, I’m going to talk about how I move past making self limiting remarks like that and push for change in my play instead.


Rebels at Yavin


The mighty After Action Review (AAR) is a process by which military minds analyze combat or other actions with the goal to understand what can be improved, mitigated and learned from those events.

Why am I writing about this? I’ve talked at length with people about this process as it relates to games, most specifically to Flames of War, but this applies to X-Wing as well. I find that it greatly improves my game play, helps me understand myself as a gamer and I’m hoping that this article will help you too.


When I think of AARs I think of three basic types. This is not the complete extent of AARs out there mind you, there are all sorts of them, but I think these three here are the easiest to use and those that give the most bang for your buck.

The three for me are The Hot Wash, The Immediate and The Deliberate. Let’s break them down.

The Hot Wash


So what’s a Hot Wash? It’s where you do a “stop drop” on what you’re doing and sort things out – best utilized when you and your opponent are on great terms or during training games. If you’re having a really friendly game or getting ready for an event you have an awesome opportunity to use a Hot Wash. In my first game of X-Wing on Vassal I had an opportunity to do this with my opponent. It was late in the game and he was debating what to do with an Interceptor. He was in an interesting situation to use Push the Limit and reposition his TIE in order to get a shot to kill off Biggs Darklighter. Problem was he wasn’t sure what order to do his moves in. When he ended up moving, his final position put Biggs out of arc. This was a great chance to just stop and let him do every move he could. Both of us got a ton out of it. Positionally we leaned what the TIE Interceptor could do and we rehearsed combinations of moves that resulted in some amazing insights.

In those ‘game changing’ moments you have amazing opportunities to see where you should have moved, or to justify what you did. With a Hot Wash you get to play out things on the table to see what could have been. Then you can go back to the original final positions and move on.

The importance of the Hot Wash is to get all the learning in “right away” and not forget either the position or the core concerns of the situation.

Don’t do them for everything or you’ll have a 7 hour game, but use them here and there to really maximize what you learn from big moments.

Remember that Hot Washes are moments in time, they are not the rule or there to help you discover patterns in your game play, that stuff is covered later. Hot Washes are simply something to play out in the moment to maximize situational learning.

The Immediate


The Immediate AAR is one that takes place right after the game ends. Most of us know this as “shooting the shit” after a match, hopefully done over beers or other responsibly enjoyed beverages. What do you get out of The Immediate? Well you get a few things. The game in context is one of them and this helps you look at some important aspects you might have missed otherwise. In the army we look at the principles of war (they change depending on what country you live in so don’t worry about them specifically) but if you were to generically classify them here you might think of Firepower, Resiliency, Flexibility, and Mobility.

During The Immediate you can talk out what happened, break down all the situations in their sum and, look at planning as a complete process. I find it really helpful to take notes during an Immediate AAR. A small notebook is perfect for this. Note the two squads and, if you can, a quick drawing of the initial layout, followed by the things you thought important during the game. This is important because it becomes the basis of Deliberate AARs.

Immediate AARs are great times to talk about ideas and to brainstorm immediate improvements or fallbacks to a list. This is also a place where perceived weaknesses or tactics can be mulled around and debated. This is a great place to play with ideas because both people have just seen the lists perform and have an immediate feel for them. This is the best place to play with these ideas.

I have a simple thing I do with mine, “the three and three.” I list three things that went well and that I will continue to do and promote in my play. I then list three things that went wrong, that I will look to mitigate, change altogether or plan against.

I try not to make list changes based off Immediate AARs. I find they are too small a sample size to get a real reading out of. Plus, I find when your list constantly changes you don’t learn to fly it to it’s potential and that just means you’re making lots of new mistakes all the time. I do like to make remarks about my build in my notes, which will be a huge help later when I look to make changes.

The Immediate is like a day in your life. People have bad days, and good days but, you can’t look at your one bad day and assume that’s the way it always is. A lot of players do this. You know them, you’ve seen them, you may be one of them. The players who say “this always happens” fall into this trap of not seeing the forest for the trees. Well let me tell you, The Immediate in combination with The Deliberate can help you see that forest.

The Deliberate


After a series of games sitting down and talking things out is super important to improving your play. Why you might ask? Isn’t practice enough? In a word, no. One of the worst things a person can do is assume that simply practicing something means that it’s an end in itself, that any practice will result in something positive. On the gun range I’ve seen people shoot for days and that repetitive shooting is changing the way they shoot. However, if they’re practicing bad habits, they’re wrecking their shooting! The same is true in X-Wing. You can practice bad habits, poor formations, tons of bumping or a lack of concentration of firepower. You can change lists all the time and never learn how to fly certain ships optimally. The way you figure out if you’re ‘getting it’ or not is by looking at your notes, reviewing what’s gone right and wrong and to subjectively analyze your performance.  You have to catch your mistakes and correct them.  Deliberate ARRs are where you can set goals, devise plans or requirements for your future training and thoughtfully push yourself in the direction you want to go.

Personally, I like to look at my notes and find patterns in my game play. From there I can come up with training or tactical plans to break bad patterns and also look to make needed changes to any lists I’m running.

The Deliberate has an awesome secondary function in X-Wing and other table top gaming; it helps you not only discern the Meta but to project and plan against the meta. If you’re taking notes of what you’re playing against all the time, what you’re seeing locally hitting the tables, this is a huge help. It’s pretty much telling you what your local meta is. You may have an awesome list, but it could have major flaws in local or other metas and The Deliberate helps you see what’s going on and deal with it.

Deliberates are best when you come in with stuff ready, be it power point like two time World Champion Paul Heaver did (Check out his awesome article on Team Covenant about prep and play during the worlds where he talks about his version of the Deliberate AAR) or wipe boards, a pile of notes, or something else that helps you work with the info. If you’ve sorted the info ahead of time, it’ll speed things up. Again, a beer or two always helps with ARRs when enjoyed in a responsible manner.

Tournament or even Game Night results are a perfect thing to keep track of for this kind of ARR event and I encourage you to do this in your play group. We have a tendency to self justify what we want to, so having a second set of eyes helps you see what you’re doing right and wrong.

Watching videos or keeping up with major events is also really awesome for this kind of work as lists that do well in major events will commonly pop up in local events since people want to do well with what they think is the ‘new best thing’. From studying Super Hans to Phantoms, this will help you design a personal list to fight an win.

Remember, looking at what you’re playing and how you’re playing it subjectively and then adjusting, helps you improve in the long run. What I talked about here might help you or not, but it’s something I think you should think about. Personally, I find it very helpful. Besides, it’s a great excuse to sit around and shoot the breeze about X-Wing and have a beverage or two with friends.

In conclusion, look to get practice and immediate tactical decision making lessons out of a Hot WashImmediate reviews give you lessons learned from games, where the “three good and bad points” show you what you did right and wrong.  Finally, The Deliberate gives you confirmation of your direction of play and that of the meta at large.

Used wisely this can be incredibly useful and fun to do.

Here’s to beer, X-Wing and the pursuit of the perfect game (that is, the one you have the most fun in).

Until next time.

Re-posted with permission from Mini War Room



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