Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Big 2018 Warhammer 40K FAQ - My Thoughts

Games Workshop just dropped their first BIG FAQ for Warhammer 40,000. Meant as an interim measure between editions of Chapter Approved, it's meant to bring "balance" to the game. It was so heavily anticipated, that traffic crashed the site. It's also caused quite a stir on Social Media, so here are my thoughts on the changes, the effects they will have and the reactions I've seen thus far.

https://www.warhammer-community.com/2018/04/16/warhammer-40000-big-faq-1-the-low-downgw-homepage-post-1fw-homepage-post-2/


The FAQs are due for release in March and September. They delayed this one so that they could use AdeptiCon as a data point before making some final decisions. On the one hand, this is a wise idea. Big events like that make great sources of data on the competitive scene. On the other hand, they probably should have taken that into account when they announced the FAQ dates. Hopefully, they will evaluate this process and make changes for next year.

Beta Status Removed

Two rules had been introduced as Beta rules, to be tested and then implemented fully in the future.


Armies were taking multiples of their cheapest Psykers, and casting Smite as much as possible to cause Mortal Wounds, bypassing high Toughness and decent Saves. This made expensive models that rely on those things for survivability easy to kill.

The Beta rule attempted to mitigate this by increasing the difficulty of each successive Smite. This hampered Thousand Sons and Grey Knights, who already had rules modifying their damage potential with Smite. The finalised rule removes the problem for them.

Everyone had pretty much adopted this rule when it was in Beta, and they were happy with it. This change allays some of the problems, but still leaves Horrors in an awkward spot, especially as they only cast on one die. That may cause this rule to be modified again in the future, but equally, Horrors are pretty good anyway, with their Splitting ability.

I'd been enforcing this rule since it was in Beta, and liked it. Too much access to Mortal Wounds stops the tough, survivable units from actually being tough and survivable. While Mortal Wounds appear to be a counter to them, too much in the meta removes them entirely. And it's not like massed Mortal Wounds are terrible against Infantry either.


A lot of people I've spoken to since 8th Edition came out have been confused by the Targeting Character rule. Especially when the Beta version of this rule clarified the intent. They question why a shooting unit would be distracted from a Character by a unit they cannot see or otherwise interact with.

This is one of those Game Balance versus Reality Simulation things. While it may not seem realistic,  it's a rule that exists to protect those characters. Especially since many of the ones it protects would otherwise easily fall to basic infantry guns. Warlocks, for instance (and foreshadowing) have so few wounds, low toughness and okayish save that statistically, 8 Guardsmen in Rapid Fire range can easily kill one. So this rule exists to make those characters playable.

This rule is more of a clarification than a change. I like it because it gives Characters the protection they used to get from joining units, without having to tie them to the unit. Which is key in an edition full of characters with area effect buffs.

Welcome to the new Beta

The above has been replaced by two new Beta rules. Expect everywhere to use them because Beta status doesn't matter, and then they will become full rules in the next big FAQ.


This change is to address the deep striking alpha strike armies. It's actually doing a lot for "one" rule.

Firstly, they change what they meant by half your army setting up on the board. It takes the restriction of half your units and adds half your Power Level as well. It also clarifies that units inside Transports count, which had been questioned by some people. This ensures that Reserves follow the intent of the rule, rather than the previous practice of putting the bare minimum units on the field. This change is good.

Secondly, if you bring your Reserves in during your first turn, they can only arrive in your Deployment zone. After that turn, they can arrive as normal and if they haven't turned up by the end of they 3rd Round they are destroyed as before.

This is an attempt to reign in alpha striking. It's to stop armies leaping straight into your front line on the first turn. It allows you time to prepare for their Reserves if you are going second.

Does it achieve this though? Between armies that are exempt from the first turn restriction (like Genestealer Cult), armies that can deploy closer via scouting (like Raven Guard) and armies that can double move (Tyranids, Harlequins, Chaos, Blood Angels), the armies that really want to get a unit into your lines on their first turn still exist. I guess that this limits them to only making it in with one unit but it still lets them get the jump on you. And that's before we take into account deployment distance, and redeploy abilities (like the Deceiver)

I'm seeing a lot of arguement online that this change hampers assault reserves and doesn't effect shooting reserves. I've long been an advocate for wanting to hold reserves back, as while the alpha strike is the obvious tactic deploying your reserve units when they can have maximum impact seems best to me. It's a tactic that is better for the shooting units, certainly, as assault units may not be able to deploy close enough to their targets. Shooting units tend to not need to be as close as possible for maximum effect.

However, while it allows opponents time to fully organise a screen, it also gives you time to clear out that screen. I believe this does fulfil it's intent of making more interplay between armies. It doesn't impact the exceptions I listed above though, so your mileage may vary.

The other complaint I see is that gunline armies have more time to deal with your army. I guess this will mean you have to rebuild some armies to allow for this. The counterpoint I'm seeing most often is that you have to have enough line of sight blocking terrain to compensate. My counterpoint is that if half your army isn't on the table, the gunlines can't shoot it all. Again, this is going to take some time to adjust to.

It will be interesting to get some play in with this rule from both sides. Can you make a Reserve-based assault army that survives? Can you make a gunline army that completely stops them being viable?

I think that this rule will require the most playtime before a proper judgment can be rendered. I'm optimistic, but I hear the complaints of others. It probably doesn't help my side that my armies aren't Deep Strike Assault armies.


"Soup" is something often complained about online, and it's an issue that puts me in two minds. On the one hand, from a flavour point of view, armies like the Imperium rarely actually field pure forces. While Marine Chapters may prefer to work solo (especially Blood and Dark Angels), the Astra Militarum rarely does. It's often supported by a handful of Marines, Knights, possibly supported by Skitari. Inquisitors grab whatever forces they need from what's available to do the job. Deathwatch and Custodes are elites that join larger armies when their expertise is needed

On the other hand, armies (should be) designed with weaknesses on a Codex level. Astra Militarum have easily killed infantry and next to no close combat ability, much like T'au. Marines lack numbers, Harlequins lack firepower and Sisters of Battle lack plastic models. "Soup" allows you to get around these weaknesses, for the armies that have convienient keywords. Guard give Marines numbers, Marines give Guard close combat capability. Craftworlds give Harlequins range, Daemons give Chaos Marines numbers.

Orks, T'au and Necrons get? Their built-in weaknesses and no support from the other factions. Orks will never have better shooting than Gretchin, T'au will never have better close combat than Kroot and Necrons will never have numbers. So why should some armies get rewarded while these ones suffer?

The part of me that loves the flavour of the 41st Millenium loves that the keyword system allows the "Soup" armies to work. My Imperial and Eldar collections are based on this. I want to be able to play games that put me in mind of Valedor or other conflicts I've read about. The competitive side of me doesn't like that some armies have a mechanical way of eschewing their weaknesses.

However, this rule doesn't solve that. It stops you making a "Soup" Detachment. Saint Celestine can no longer lead a mix of Guard and Marines, supported by Assassins and Greyfax, all in one Detachment. It just means you have to spread those forces out across multiple Detachments instead. Take an Astra Militarum Brigade for bodies and Command Points, take a Blood Angels Vanguard for assault squads and an Imperial Knight for a firebase.

The forces that were abusing this beforehand are the ones without Codexes. Once a force gets it's Codex, Chapter Tactics (or their equvilent) are enough incentive to keep your Detachments pure. It feels like this rule has been brought in too late to punish the armies that don't have a book yet, without actually stopping the "Soup" everyone has been complaining about.

Do Games Workshop need to stop "Soup"? From their probable point of view, no. It allows players to build to fit the flavour and also encourages them to buy models they wouldn't otherwise buy. As for the tournament complaints (this will become a post on it's own at some point), the short answer is also no. Tournament players will also look to the most efficient thing, regardless of flavour. Forcing them to go mono-faction will just show you what they believe the strongest faction is, rather than the strongest "Soup".

So, yeah, this rule is fixing a problem that goes away as we move away from Indexes. Not sure it was needed. They have even needed to put in exceptions for Sisters of Silence and Legion of the Damned, while also making yet another change to how Ynnari armies are built.

Tipping the Balance

Some tweaks have been made to rebalance a few things that have been deemed problematic.

 
Battalions and Brigades now give you more Command Points. They have said this will help 'Elite' armies, rewarding them for filling the Detachment minimums. They reportedly struggle to get enough Command Points to use their Stratagems. So this boost helps them out.

While this does help those armies when they take a Battalion, it also really helps Astra Militarum who have no problem taking multiple Brigades in an army. I myself have fielded a 1500 point army across 3 detachments that had 18 Command Points (Brigade, Battalion, Supreme Command and Lord Castellan Creed). With this rule, it now has 23 Command Points (although the Supreme Command of Inquisitors is now nullified because it contained an Assassin).

While this is a positive change for all armies, as they should all be able to easily field a Battalion, it does feel a little bit like the rich get richer. Especially Imperial forces who can squeeze in a cheap Astra Militarum Brigade (609 points) and gain 12 Command Points. Tyranids can also achieve this. Take the Astra Militarum Brigade and a Genestealer Cult Battalion for +17 Command Points and you still have 1135 points for your Tyranid Detachment giving you at least 21 Command Points for all your Stratagems.

Tide of Traitors

This Stratagem has been errated to be once per game. I'm guessing this is too strong with a large unit of Cultists, because Drukhari have a similar Stratagem which does it to Wracks. A squad size of 40 makes this more effective than a squad size of 10.

Word of the Phoenix

This has had it's Warp Charge value raised from 6 to 8. No complaints here, it's a ridiculous Psychic Power.

Ignoring Wounds

From now on, abilities that let you ignore wounds don't stack. This only really effects the first couple of Codexes, as all of the newer ones have had this written into their abilities. If you didn't see this change coming, then you weren't paying attention.

Organized Play

The biggest concern that tournament players have had for a while is "Spam"(why the food obssession?). Players taking the strongest unit they can in an army and fielding as many of that unit as possible.


Now, 'as possible' is 3. This doesn't apply to Troops or Dedicated Transports. This mitigates the "Spam" that tournament players are complaing about. It also only applies to Organised events, same as the Detachement limit, so it doesn't hurt your collection or your casual games at home.

It's a shame that this had to be put in as a rule, but I see it as a positive overall.

Points Review

A handful of units have had their points changed. I will talk about the ones that effect me.

Astra Militarum

Lord Commissars and Commissars have both dropped in points. This is because the changes to their abilities, in previous FAQs, make them less useful than they were. It also makes the Commissar the cheapest Elite choice for filling out a Brigade.

Space Marines

Roboute Guilliman has gone up to 400 points. This is his second points increase. He combines excellent buffs with Primarch level stats. I'm hoping this will be his last increase.

Craftworlds

Farseers, Warlocks and Spiritseers all increased in points. The Asuryani Psychic Powers are fantastic and key to how the army works, so I guess these units need to go up in cost slightly. It sucks for the Warlock, as they are very fragile and now cost more. I can see this starting to push them out of armies.

Dark Reapers have also gone up in points. Their ability to always hit on a 3+, regardless of modifiers, and their weapon options make them a really potent unit. They had also become one of the poster children of "Spam".

I only run one of each of this things, but looks like my army needs to make some changes.

The rest of the points changes affect armies or units I don't have, so I couldn't tell you if there were increases or decreases.

Final Thoughts

I see most of these changes as being positive for the game. The change to "Soup" feels too late and the change to Reserves will require actual play to see the effects. The FAQ does show Games Workshop's committment to improving player's experience, especially at tournaments. We shall see what still sticks around for the second Big FAQ of 2018 and Chapter Approved.






Monday, 16 April 2018

Accidental Month Away From Posting

Well, there goes the "Post a Week" Goal. Even taking it as an average (which is how I do look at it),  I've still only managed 8 posts so far this year, out of the 16 weeks. Looks like I've got some catching up to do.

My last post was March 19th. So, what has kept me so busy since then?

The Weekend after that was the UK X-Wing System Open. It ended up being a 500 player event, with the accompanying Hyperspace Qualifier reaching nearly that. Almost all the Marauders were in attendance at the Hilton in Birmingham. I guess the pressing question is;  

What did I play and how did I do?


I Judged!

It was a great weekend. I worked with a great team, some of whom I'd worked with before. Don't get me wrong, it was a looooong weekend, but I can't wait to do it all again at Euros and Nationals.

After that, we hit the Bank Holiday weekend. I spent that at Insomnia62. It's a convention for Video Gaming, but I was there demoing games with Asmodee UK. I got to play some games I've played before, plus a couple of new ones. However, I spent the majority of the time putting people through demos of Star Wars Legion.


The game is really good at the moment. The Command system is pretty sweet, adding an element of random to the otherwise back and forth unit activation. There are similarities to X-Wing and the base rules are easy to learn and teach. I can see the game doing well.

I still haven't decided if I'm going to adopt the game though. Although it is reasonably priced, it isn't a cheap game. I've invested in several ongoing games already, so I don't think there is room in my budget for another one. I also have a massive backlog of unpainted 40k miniatures, so I don't really want to add any more to that workload.

Time will tell I guess.



Finally, I turned 36. Being away working back to back weekends meant I needed a break and the Blog missed one more week because of it.

So, what does the future hold?

Hopefully, I can get back to regular posts. Looking at doing more opinion pieces, so will hopefully get some feedback/debate on those. And I@m going to be playing more games and running more events over the summer. Store Championships Season approaches.

Monday, 19 March 2018

My Regionals Experience

A large group of us went to the Regionals at Kirton Games, 15 in total. It was quite a sight seeing us with team polo shirts on amongst a crowd of 102 players. Credit to James Fox and all the Kirton staff for running a smooth event, with plenty of food available and even a Fish and Chips run for everyone.






My List


  • Colonel Vessery, Ruthlessness, TIE/D, Tractor Beam
  • Countess Ryad, Push the Limit, TIE/x7, Twin Ion Engine MK 2
  • Baron of the Empire, Push the Limit, TIE/v1, Autothrusters
Comes in at 100 points. With Pilot Skills of 4,5 and 6; an initiative bid isn't needed. It took me weeks to find a decent wingman for the Defenders, but the Thursday before the event I settled on the Baron of the Empire in the TIE Adv. Prototype. Mobile, and grants a target lock for Vessery, he ended up being a fantastic addition. Playing the key role of blocker often, I was never disappointed with his performance. I just wish he had 3 attack dice.

My Result

I came 70th. Not great, though the result of going 3-3, as I wanted to at least Top 64 to get a Zuckuss. It is better than my warm-up result though, as although I went 50/50 in both events, none of my games were zero point losses this time around.

Round 1

Palp Aces. I approached this wrong and was unable to K-Turn over the shuttle. My opponent burnt Ryad down in the first couple of turns. I made sure I was able to get half points for the shuttle once it was clear I probably couldn't pull the game back.
Loss - consider the initial approach vector carefully next time. Possibly bank the turn before.

Round 2

Decimator and Rexlar Brath. I burnt the Decimator pretty quick and was able to carefully keep Rexlar from Ioning Ryad.
Win - I made a couple of early mistakes with Ryad but managed to recover.

Round 3

Vader, Vynder, Omega Leader. A long game with lots of positional manoeuvring. Two bumps for Vader helped. The key point was the opponent isolating Omega, allowing me to send my squad after him and then being free of the other two for a couple of turns.
Win - long game though. The important kills were in the final round after time had been called.

Round 4

Miranda and Dash. A long game as well. Managed to trap and burn down Miranda, but struggled to catch Dash.
Win - came down to the final shot of the game giving me half points for Dash, and winning by 9 points.

Round 5

Miranda and Dash. A slightly different build, and the winner of the 2016 Dark Star store championships. He kept Miranda out of as many arcs as possible, so Vessery never got a shot off. Unfortunately, in doing so he flew her too close to the edge, allowing me to bump her off the map. That was my only kill.
Loss - I was completely outflown. My green dice were mostly above average though.

Round 6

Hera and Ezra. For some reason, I struggle against Ghost lists. I think it's because they have a variety of builds with different ways of tackling each.
Loss - A key turn of bad dice (with a target lock) meant I killed Ezra later than I wanted. Killing Ezra may not have turned the game into a win, but may have given me time to get half points on Hera.


My biggest failing was finalizing the list at such a late point, which minimized my practice with it. I'm going to keep the list built for a while and continue to practice with it. Not sure when my next event will be, depends if there is any travelling to Store Championships. I'm Judging at the System Open this week, Euros in June and Marshalling the Plymouth Store Championships.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

X-Wing Regionals Warm-up

This post was intended to publish a couple of weeks ago, but writing it proved more time intensive than I expected.


March 10th a group of us from Dark Star are going to the Regional X-Wing Event at Kirton Games in Crediton. Being stand-up guys, they organized a warmup event February 10th, and a few of us went to that. Nine of us, in fact. We figured it would be great practice against a wider field, and we were right.

There set up is pretty good, and they stream whichever game is at table 1, right the way through to the finals. They do this for most of their events, which makes their Twitch channel worth checking out. Round 1 saw me put on table 1, giving me the first feature match. I figure this is an opportunity to go through the game afterwards and look at what I did, what mistakes I made and where I went right with an observation of my decisions as they happened. I rarely do full reports on here as I never take enough notes nor write the post with the game full enough in my memory.

The List I Took


  •  Colonel Vessery, Ruthlessness, TIE/D, Tractor Beam, Twin Ion Engine MK2
  • Countess Ryad, Push The Limit, TIE/x7, Twin Ion Engine MK2
  • Nu Squadron Pilot, OS-1 Arsenal Loadout, Long Range Scanners, Harpoon Missiles
Vessery double-taps to reduce the defender's agility, pushing damage to other ships with Ruthlessness and messing with their positioning where possible. Ryad is a solid ace, providing target locks for Vessery and being a killer in the late game. The Nu pilot is a flanker/distraction, with Harpoons to help it hit hard.

Greg Jones' List

  • Dengar
  • Dalan Oberos
  • Jakku Gunrunner
Told you I was terrible at taking notes/memory. Which is a shame as his list deserves to be seen. Some nice tricks and heavy hitters. He was also a gentleman to play against.

The Video

The video is here; https://www.twitch.tv/videos/227563585 
I'll be timestamping and making comments from this point on.

00:47:23
 Here is where the footage starts. We are just setting up and he is looking through my list. I've only flown against a Kimogila once before this game, so I'm not sure what to expect.
00:50:10
Here is where Obstacle placement starts. He's brought Debris, so I try and position them down one flank. Asteroids make the Tractor Beam better against small based ships, as if I can move them onto one, it can deny their shot that turn. It's also more likely to do damage. Mostly though, I want the Obstacles to be densely packed enough to allow shenanigans, but loose enough to be an enticing space to dogfight in.
00:51:54
I start deploying my squad. I put the Star Wing at the top as a flanker and the Defenders together at the bottom. He puts the Gunrunner in the centre (using Hyperwave Comm Scanner to set up after me) and the other two ships to joust my Star Wing.
00:53:30
My thought here is to bank the Star Wing in towards the centre of the map, and put the Target Lock on Denger to attempt to push him away. The Quadjumper movement wasn't a concern, as I was moving after it. This meant it's ability to Tractor as an action wouldn't come into play for a couple of rounds yet. Meanwhile I move the Defenders up the flank, intending to turn them in next round.
00:56:10
I hadn't anticipated such an aggressive move from Dengar, especially the Barrell Roll to get into range. I should have moved more cautiously with the Star Wing, and he may have chased it, allowing the Defenders to get behind him.
00:58:15
"I guess". I considered not shooting Denger, because of the retaliation shot he would get. However, if I didn't fire the Harpoons now, I might not get another shot for a few rounds, and I had to get the Star Wing out of trouble to do so. Of course, it doesn't hit. That's been a trend both in my testing and during this event. The Star Wing has done far more damage with its main guns than with the ordnance, even with reloading.
01:01:11
Obviously, my hope here was the Slam clearing Dengar, so I can start to turn around and come back for a fresh pass, once the Defenders have gotten stuck in. What I got was a block. Ryad has a shot on the Quadjumper and so does Vessery. I use these shots to put a hole in the Quadjumper and start pinging off Dengar's Shields. That's why I don't move the Gunrunner.
01:08:53
With the Star Wing stressed from a crit, I figure my best move is to do a 1 straight, which will clear the stress and hopefully leave Dengar bumped again. The Defenders will move into firing positions and hopefully I'll have some good shots this round.
01:10:51
Confession time - I had completely forgotten that the Quadjumper could reverse, so this caught me off-guard. It turned my planned bump into a harmless flyby by tractoring the Star Wing before it could move. Then, the Asteroid kills the Nu Squadron Pilot. This does allow me to now 180 Ryad  though. I Barrel Roll to get a better vector through the Debris next round and have a shot if Dengar comes too fast into the middle.
01:15:11
I wasn't expecting the Sloop from Dengar, but it makes sense given where the Kimogila went. I also wasn't expecting the Kimogila to fire Harpoons at Ryad rather than the Bullseye Arc shot against Vessery.
01:17:00
I hit the Kimogila with the Tractor beam and consider my options. Ruthlessness puts another damage on Dengar, and will so again if I leave the Kimogila where it is. Likewise, I can put it onto the Asteroid. This will give it an extra defense die for the follow-up shot but if that hits, it's another damage on Dengar. That would be 4 Shields stripped without firing a shot. It would also make the Kimogila's next move be through the obstacle, risking more damage and denying it an action.
Instead, I pull it forward, hoping to give Ryad a shot, but failing. This does allow the follow-up shot to pop the Gunrunner with Ruthlessness though.
01:19:15
Well, Ryad goes across the Debris, denying her actions this turn and she's pointing the wrong way. Vessery K-turns over her and I was hoping for the minimal damage this round. The Kimogila K-turns as well though, giving Vessery a shot, and Dengar lands on the Asteroid. Triple Evade saves Ryad from the Kimogila's shot, and Vessery lives it limping with a Major Hull Breach. Ruthlessness deals 2 damage to Ryad, leaving her on 2 Hull
01:24:23
Now the typical K-turn round from both Defenders, tokening up as Dengar should move in between them. Dalan hard turns away from the fight and Dengar, having predicted the obvious move from Ryad, moves in to finish her off.
01:26:29
Dengar shoots Vessery at range 1, which is followed by my second consecutive triple Evade roll. It was a fine idea, as a retaliation shot probably finishes off Ryad, but my dice disagree. Vessery then hits Dengar with both shots, using Ruthlessness to finish off Dalan who is still in range. The primary weapon's Ruthlessness puts Ryad to 1 Hull though.
Ryad finishes Dengar off, and the retaliation looks fatal. Obviously, I roll triple Evade for the third time in a row, giving me a comfortable win.

Takeaways

I need to up my knowledge/retention of what other ships are capable of. Being caught out by the Jakku Gunrunner was inexcusable. I need to catch up on purchases so I can sit down and look at the Kimogila, but the Quadjumper is a ship I have flown a few times and reversing is its unique feature.

I should also have flown the Star Wing more cautiously when Greg deployed to joust it. I didn't expect such aggressive flying and this compounded with the lack of memory of the Quadjumper to cost me a ship. Luckily, the Defenders are solid, especially against ships with low agility, and pulled it back.

Event Result

I went 2-2 and came 15th out of 24. My next two rounds were against two of the Dark Star lads, both of whom made the top 4 cut and my final round was against an interesting list comprised of T-70 X-Wings. A middle of the road result. Meanwhile, Dark Star put 2 players in the top 4, one of whom won the whole event.

Going Forward to Regionals

I'm enjoying the Defenders, but struggling to find a decent third ship. The Star Wing is interesting to fly, but I end up doing more damage with its main gun than I do with the Harpoons, which is frustrating when I'm paying 6 points to have multiple shots in a game. I need to figure out what to fill the remaining 24 points with, and time is running out. I will find something and hopefully perform better than I did at the Warmup.

Thanks go out to James Fox at Kirton Games for running the event and Pete Yarwood for driving us down there. I also found being on stream for a game valuable for analysing how I fly ships and seeing what alternate decisions I could have made.
I can't wait to play in the Regionals. They are currently expecting 105 players, 14 of whom are Dark Star players. Hoping for good results for all the team, placing as many of us as possible in the Top 16 cut. I guess we will see on the day.

Let's Go, Dark Star Marauders!



Monday, 26 February 2018

Net-Decking

A contentious point for many players of competitive games, today I'm going to talk about net-decking.


What is Net-Decking?

The most amusing definition I found was on Urban Dictionary
The process of stealing a tournament winning TCG/OCG/CCG decklist from a discussion forum and replicating it. Implies a lack of creativity and desire to do nothing other than win in the player.

Clans are notorious for this, particularly like the lamers who make up the Yu-Gi-Oh clan "g3n3s1s".
Go to any tournament for this type of game and you'll see a lot of it. The winning decks will always have a great deal of cards in common.
by Hino-Kagu-Tsuchi December 20, 2004
 Also referred to as Net-listing for games that don't use cards, it is building your deck/team/army by copying someone else's list from sources found on the internet. This can be from articles or videos talking about the game, or from scouring tournament results. Often, it involves using the complete list but sometimes it's using the majority of the list while adding your own spin either to personalize it, because you think of a better idea or to hide that it's been copied from the internet.

It's a simple process. You watch/read coverage of an event, see something you like the look of and then copy it to try yourself. It was successful and by playing it maybe you can find some success too. you play it against your friend or take it to a local event and are met with disdain. What went wrong?


The Downsides of Net-Decking

Firstly, many people don't like it. There has long been a stigma to Net-decking. It's seen as a crutch, a thing that people do when they care more about winning than they do about fun. It has gained a reputation that it passes on to anyone who does it, in any game.

I've long heard it dates back to the early days of Magic the Gathering. When websites like The Dojo started talking about deck construction and reporting on the decks that did well, the internet was still in its early days. To have access to those lists was seen as giving you an advantage that was considered unfair. Everyone else was trying out different combinations of cards to find out what worked, and you were taking a shortcut.

Deck builders were putting in hard work to find winning decks, and then you were simply copying their product in an effort to copy their results. You wanted their victory without having to put the same amount of time in to earn it. This is the underlying assumption behind the tournament stigma. This creates bad feeling.

Secondly, if it has done well at a tournament, it may be of a power level that doesn't feel welcome at a casual game. Some people are trying out "fun" ideas or less powerful things that they like the flavour of and don't want to face the latest tournament tech.

Tournament winning lists are usually keyed at winning the event by minimising variance, being efficient and limiting the opponent's ability to interact with its game plan. For an opponent just looking to play some cards/push some models around, that doesn't give them what they are looking for. This is an extension of the stigma above but applies to non-tournament games.

While almost everyone plays these style of games to win, a lot of players put their own qualifiers on how they want to win. When these ways are luck-based or inefficient, their matchup with the tournament list becomes a slog that often feels unwinnable, regardless of their actual ability to win the game. This creates bad feeling.

Finally, just because a list won an event, doesn't mean it is going to play itself. There may be tricks and synergies that are important to its performance, but not immediately obvious. Many of these games require in-game decisions that are often complex, and familiarity with your list is a boon.

If you are after tournament success, you will still need to practice with the list. It is clearly doing something to be successful, and you want to work out what that is before you take it to an actual tournament yourself. Likewise, if you want to make changes to the list and put your own spin on it, you need to understand how it works so that your changes don't destroy it from the inside out.

Without this knowledge, the list won't perform as well as expected. It won't produce the results that you want. This creates frustration.


So is Net-Decking bad?

Is it the worst thing a player can do? There are many people that will tell you it is. It has such a stigma across many games that people will deny doing it, even though their list matches the recent big money winning list 100%. People will berate net-deckers, complain if they enter an event with them and grouse about their existence.

They are entitled to their opinions, but I would say they are wrong.

For the first downside; why is research frowned upon?

I liken Net-Decking to building a desk or cooking a meal. Sure, you could look at every card available to the event, try them out in every possible combination and settle on the deck you want to play that way.  You could also grab some wood and start building a desk with a variety of tools until you find the best techniques to build the desk you want. You could throw various ingredients in a pot and taste-test different mixtures until you find the one that tastes best.

Conversely, you can buy a cookery book and follow a recipe from that. You can research design techniques to make a sturdy desk. You can see what people are playing in events and do well with and follow their tips. We live in a world where rather than doing everything from scratch ourselves we can turn to others for advice, teaching or doing the task for us. Why should list design be any different? Plenty of people like to talk about what they have had success with, and how they got there. People also like absorbing this content and using it as a stepping stone to generate their own success.

There are likewise many people who enjoy making their own lists and forging their own path to victory, with little to no input from others. There are people who enjoy finding success with under-utilized cards/units/models. These are all valid approaches to gaming, and no approach is better than the others. If you are doing it the way you enjoy, then more power to you. The stigma needs to go away, there are so many facets to learn when competing at a game that short-cutting list building doesn't replace all the other things you need to learn to find the success. For most people, these games are hobbies and time is short.

For the second point, the casual game, here is where things get murky. What defines a game as casual rather than competitive. Within these gaming systems, the point is to beat your opponent. Should you not try as hard as possible to do so?

That depends on what your opponent and yourself are expecting from the game. As I said;
"Tournament winning lists are usually keyed at winning the event by minimising variance, being efficient and limiting the opponent's ability to interact with its game plan"
These lists are fine for running in a tournament. You and your opponents are attempting to beat each other, often with prizes on the line, and probably should be running efficient lists and minimising variance. This will often give you the best chance of winning and is the appropriate place for such lists.

These lists are fine for practising for a tournament. Again, you should expect to face such lists and they are what you want the most practice against. 

A game to spend an afternoon playing with a friend on the other hand? You need to talk to your friend and discuss what you both want from the game. Maybe they want tournament practice. Maybe they have a list they want to experiment with that either explores a mechanic or a theme of the game.
This probably isn't the best time to use a list that limits their ability to interact or circumvents portions of the game rules. Again, maybe they want to test against that sort of list, but it's always best to talk.

You want to enjoy the game, win or lose, and so do they. If you both have differing expectations for the play experience, then one or more of you are going to come away dissatisfied. Smashing someone in a way that doesn't let them actually play the game won't feel good to them, and if it's a game you are after it won't feel good to you. Your mileage may vary if you are after smashing your opponents like that all the time, but don't be surprised if finding non-tournament opponents becomes difficult.

Sometimes it's good to take your foot off the gas, play a list that's less honed for tournaments and have a game. You may find a new facet to the game that you enjoy. You may even find something underplayed that has become good in the new meta without the majority realizing. And just because you are playing a less powerful list doesn't mean you have to play to lose.

Finally, Net-Decking won't compensate for lack of fundamentals. As an extreme example; you could take the most powerful list in any game and hand it to someone who doesn't know the rules of the game. Having the tools won't help without the experience of how they work. You need to analyse the list, work out what the synergies are, learn the plays, etc.

Look at the source of the list. Did you pull it from event coverage? Maybe there is an interview with the player who ran it. Did you get it from a website? Maybe it came with a guide to how the list played, and how it was built. Don't just grab the tool, grab the instructions as well.

This is especially important if you are planning on making changes to the list. There are various, valid reasons to make changes. Maybe the meta has changed since the event it won, and you believe it needs to adapt. Maybe you percieve a weakness in the list that you can remove. Maybe you have a favourite card/unit/model that you want to include and you need to find room for it.

Play the original list first. Do the full research. Only by knowing how the list works can you decide what to change. You don't want to remove an innocuous looking piece only to find it's integral to one of the combos and the other pieces don't work without it.

As a related side note; if you want to do well at a comepetitive game, you need to know the fundamentals and be good at them. If you aren't getting the success you want, go back and look at them. Maybe it's card sequencing, maybe it's positioning, maybe it's relying on too many low probability events. If you can work out what the problem is, your game will improve.


End the Stigma

Net-Decking shouldn't be ridiculed. It's part of the hobby, especially in the competitive games. If you are after a casual game, discuss this with your opponent to avoid dissatisfaction. We all play these games to play these games and enjoy ourselves, we shouldn't be making each other feel bad about the way we choose to play.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Tournament Structure - How I Run My Events

A lot of players I come across don't have a full understanding of the tournament structure when they come to events. Some of this is due to inexperience, but it's often due to not really looking into what's going on.

A lot of tournament systems use what is known as the Swiss-pairings system.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A Swiss-system tournament is a non-eliminating tournament format which features a set number of rounds of competition, but considerably fewer than in a round-robin tournament. In a Swiss tournament, each competitor (team or individual) does not play every other. Competitors meet one-to-one in each round and are paired using a set of rules designed to ensure that each competitor plays opponents with a similar running score, but not the same opponent more than once. The winner is the competitor with the highest aggregate points earned in all rounds. All competitors play in each round unless there is an odd number of players.
A lot of games use this system for their events;
  • Badminton
  • Bridge
  • Chess
  • Curling
  • Debates
  • Esports
  • Go
  • Scrabble
  • Trading Card Games
  • War games
These are just some of the more well-known examples. So, how does it work?

The Swiss System
 


Once you get more than 4 players, it is usually unfeasible to have everyone face everybody else in the event. Time is always a factor in tournaments, both for Organiser logistics and Player endurance. So this system was created for a Chess tournament held in Zurich in 1895, which is where its name comes from. It even has a provision for having a Single Elimination mini-event afterwards to cement a winner.

It also ensures that during the rounds, no player faces the same opponent more than once. Even if they end up matching your record later in the event. The exception is if a top cut is done after the final round. You can totally face someone during the single elimination that you've already faced during the regular rounds. 

How Many Rounds?

The number of rounds that an event should have depends on the event attendance. It uses the Binary Logarithm to determine this. Without getting heavy on the math, it actually gives a perfect number of rounds so that if you reach the maximum number of players for the round limit, only one player will be undefeated at the end of the event.

As you can see from the table above, up to 8 players gives you 3 rounds. 9-16 gives you 4 rounds, and so on. Essentially, an extra round allows for double the maximum players of the previous amount. If you play fewer rounds than recommended, then more than one player is likely to end up with an undefeated record. If you play more rounds than recommended, then you can not only end up with no players undefeated, but the pairings start going weird.

Round One

For the first round, everyone comes into the event fresh (events with a seeding system are an exception). Nobody has a win/loss record at this stage. So the way you pair the first round is by randomising the players into pairs, and that's their opponent.  Then the first round is played.

Some events will look at the list of players and try and avoid pairing people from the same playgroup against each other if possible. This is to allow them to face new opponents, as nothing sucks more than travelling a few hours to an event, only to play the same guy you play at home in the first round. Most events won't do this though.

Round Two Onwards

From the second round, you are paired based on your win/loss record. That is, you should be playing against someone who has won as many rounds this event as you have. That is, round two, it pairs all the people that won round one against each other, and all the people that lost round one against each other. And this repeats as the rounds progress.

In round four, the players with three wins are paired, the players with two wins, the players with one win and the players with none. So your opponent should be having a similar day to you. Theoretically, they should also be close to you in skill level. This stops someone who is currently undefeated having an "easy" match against someone who has yet to win a game due to inexperience/poor deck choice/ unlucky day.

Tiebreakers

Within your win/loss bracket, you will usually be paired based on Tiebreakers. These are a system that differentiates players with the same record. You will be matched with someone whose tiebreakers are closest to yours, where possible. The only time you won't is where that would cause you to face someone for a second time.

They can also cause you to be paired up/down. If there isn't the maximum number of players, then there won't be an even number of people within each bracket so the person with the strongest tiebreaker in one bracket will be paired up into the next bracket against the person there with the weakest tiebreaker, again without repeating a pairing.

Different games systems will have different tiebreakers, dependent on the system. Magic the Gathering uses the average of your opponents win/loss records. Warhammer 40K uses the points scored in the game. Some smaller events will simply determine randomly who is at the top of each bracket.

Draws

If your round ends in a draw, this alters things slightly. As a draw is better than a loss but worse than a win, it alters your win/loss record. Most games cope with this by assigning a points value to each result, typically 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw and 0 for a loss. For example, end of round three somebody with three wins will have 9 points, somebody with one win will have 3 points and somebody with two wins and a draw will have 7 points.

These are called match points and determine what bracket you are in for pairing purposes. Everyone with the same number of match points is in the same bracket.

Draws usually happen because matches are timed. Either the players didn't finish with a victor determined or they didn't even have time to reach a conclusion. I want to talk about this more in a future post, as it heavily factors into the issue of Slow Play.

The Winner

At the end of the recommended number of rounds, one player should be undefeated. If you are stopping here, they are the winner. They will have the most match points as well, to make it easier to spot at a glance. If due to factors such as time constraints, you've run fewer rounds then the winner is the player with the highest match points and the strongest tiebreaker.

The exception to this is if the event has a single elimination cut.

Top X

If the event is having a cut, then it will usually be announced at the start of the event. Sometimes this is determined by attendance, other times it's fixed by the standard of the event. At the end of the final round, the players that progress to the top cut is decided by their standings. Players are ranked by match points and then by tiebreakers to let you know who came first, second, etc.

Those players will then go on to play a number of knockout rounds until there is one player left undefeated. Top 4 is two rounds, top 8 is three rounds and top 16 is four rounds. If you lose a round at this stage, you are out of the event.

The final standings are also used to determine prizes.


My Events

Typically, my regular monthly events are small events. I run 3-4 rounds dependent on either attendance or game system. Warhammer 40K requires a long time for each round, so I limit the events to 3 rounds even though the attendance normally calls for 4. I pair my events using the Swiss system and use whichever tiebreaker is appropriate for the game. Some games even have their own software available, which makes a lot of the work easier.

For larger events, such as Store Championships, I also do a top cut. This depends on attendance but is normally factored into the event timing. This can often lead to someone being knocked out by a player that they beat in the regular rounds, often referred to as the "Swiss Curse". These tournaments are rarer though.

By having everything use a similar system, it makes it easier for players to understand what is going on during the tournament. Also, if there is a top cut, they can see their progress and how many more wins they need to ensure they make it.

That was a bit drier than normal, but its a dry topic. Hopefully, I've made sense and tournament structure is now easier to understand. Post any questions in the comments

Monday, 29 January 2018

Star Wars the Card Game - not dead yet



https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/news/2018/1/10/promise-of-power-1/

This recent article on the Fantasy Flight Games site said that Promise of Power is the final release for the Star Wars card game.

"Promise of Power is the final Force Pack of the Alliances cycle, marking the climactic conclusion of the cycle. With ten new objective sets (two copies each of five distinct sets), this Force Pack continues to reward players for melding affiliations together in a single deck. Promise of Power also introduces plenty of characters from Star Wars Rebels, bringing a new version of Ezra Bridger, Cikatro Vizago, and more Inquisitors into the game.
In addition to being the final Force Pack of the Alliances cycle, Promise of Power marks the completion of Star Wars: The Card Game. Over the past five years, Star Wars: The Card Game has seen five deluxe expansions and six cycles of Force Packs, ranging from the Battle of Hoth, through the pilots of the Rogue Squadron cycle, the forest battles of the Endor cycle, and the most recent changes of the Opposition and Alliances cycle. With the conclusion of the Alliances cycle, the game will be complete, and the Star Wars World Championships in May will be the final Organized Play World Championship for the game"
There isn't much I want to say on the end of the game, as I feel this video from the Fully Operational YouTube channel says it better (hosted by the 2017 UK Nationals runner-up)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V80euCwSWc8

However, as long as we have a player base in Plymouth, I intend on continuing to run events. Now it's a "complete" game, there won't be surprise swings in the card pool. It exists as a game that hadn't reached a consensus best deck. I feel this is due to a combination of having to build/play both a Light Side and a Dark Side deck, and also to the unique Pod building system which stops you just making your deck 100% the best cards. I hope we get much more play, especially as players finish off their sets.

So, with that being said, our most recent event was this past Saturday. I'm going to talk about the decks I played.



The Dark Side - Death Star Assembly



Let's start with the weaker deck.
  • Imperial Navy affiliation
  • 2 x Technological Terror
  • 2 x Death and Despayre
  • 2 x Deploy the Fleet
  • 2 x Victory or Death
  • 1 x Repair and Refurbish
  • 1 x Moon Blockade
I consider it weaker simply as there some sub-optimal choices in the deck. This is due to me currently having several decks built, and the pods I'd potentially want being in other decks. It's built to a simple theme. Construct the Death Star and smash the Rebellion from the galaxy.

Objectives - Four of my sets produce 2 resources, and a further two can be damaged to reduce the cost of Capital Ships. Repair and Refurbish helps mitigate that damage and slow down the enemy assault. Victory or Death keeps opposing units from controlling the Force, as this deck wants to be the aggressor. Finally, Moon Blockade brings us the Executor.

Units - Thirty of the cards are Units, of which eleven are Resource generators. We want the heavy hitters coming down as soon as possible, although we risk flooding on resources occasionally. There is a fair spread of Edge enabled icons amongst them, mostly Tactics, for when they are forced to join the fight. The Death Star Engineer is crucial, as it's action helps me stop the opponent from locking down my ships with their Tactics.
Five of the units are Officers. They are mostly chuds, although sometimes I have the spare Resources for the Imperial Officer to speed up the Dial, and Chiraneau's ability to shut down the text on opposing Objectives can come up clutch.
Twelve Star Destroyers. No Tactics here, just plenty of Blast and Gun to smash through the opponent's defences and Objectives. Thuderflare does contribute some healing to my side while moving that damage over to the opponent, and the Devastator helps increase the Dial. The Executor can finish off a damaged Objective, which is usually a surprise to the opponent.
Finally, two copies of the Death Star itself. If that manages to hit the table, it's usually game over during that turn or the next.

Enhancements - Eleven Enhancements, eight of which generate Resources. Six Control Rooms can lead to problems if they start clogging up the hand, but they can always be used to bluff in Edge battles.

Events - Three Events. One Jamming Protocol, which can stop a key Event, and two Admiral's Orders. Reducing the cost of a Capital Ship by 2 often lets me deploy two in a turn, and start the offence.

Fate  - Six Fate cards. None of them are particularly spectacular but included because they are in the Pods. Heat of Battle is always a nice surprise though, and Echoes is always solid.


The deck itself attempts to play in a similar fashion to a Ramp strategy in Magic. Make cards that generate Resources, to make large attackers, to smash the opponent's Objectives. You want to commit something to the Force in the first turn, to make the opponent work for it, but otherwise, you want to be on the attack as much as possible. Accelerating the turning of the Dial via Objective destruction, plus the reaction of the Devastator and Imperial Officer close the game out quickly.

It can start to falter if the opponent seizes the initiative as it lacks most, if not all, of the traditional control elements you see from Imperial Navy. You also lose if you draw all the Resources and none of the Star Destroyers, as that gives your opponent time to put you on the back foot. It's a blast to play though, and nothing quite feels like counting out 12 Resources to deploy the Death Star, and then reading it's text to your opponent.

On the day, across the three rounds, it flooded in the first round against Jedi, pulled off a close win against a Smugglers deck featuring Blockade Runner rush and finally managed to keep a Jedi deck on the back foot long enough to deploy the Death Star as a finisher.

The Light Side - Ewok Swarm


This deck has been both fun, and surprisingly strong.
  • Jedi Affiliation
  • 2 x Sacrifice at Endor
  • 2 x Native Blessings
  • 1 x Lost in the Forest
  • 2 x Warriors of the Forest
  • 1 x Tribe of the Trees
  • 1 x Courage of the Tribes
  • 1 x Tribal Support
I built it originally as a joke because one of the local players HATES Ewoks. Then it started winning games in record time, the joke became serious. The recent release of Native Blessings has solidified the deck in my opinion.

Objectives - All were chosen to maximise the amount of Ewoks in the deck. However, Tribe of the Trees shuts down popular cards like Force Choke. The number of times I had to remind opponents that they couldn't target the Ewoks was quite funny. The real star is Warriors of the Forest though, as the additional Edge enabled Blast icons helps the swarm tear through Objectives.

Units - Twenty-six units. One C-3PO and the rest are Ewoks. Ambushers are cheap. Hunters draw cards. Allys help win Edge battles. Scouts are the key though, stopping the opponents best defender from joining the Engagement. Especially good in the early turns. Very key to taking out an Objective on the first turn. Hordes provide muscle, and the named Ewoks give various utility.

Enhancements - Seven Enhancements. Most are simply Edge fodder, as if Warriors of the Forest is out, you want to have those Icons active. Forest Awareness can give a key Ewok Elite though, and Bright Tree Village makes spare Ewoks better in the Edge stack.

Events - Ten Events. All have their uses, although again you shouldn't be afraid to just pitch them to win Edge battles. Feast of Honor is the STAR card though. It lets you flood the board with Ewoks in one turn. If the opponent makes one Main character to defend in their first turn, and you have Warriors of the Forest out, you can use this to deploy 4 Ewoks in your first turn. If one of them is a Scout, then your opponent can't defend and you destroy the Objective of your choice turn one. It's very easy to follow this up with a Horde on the second turn too.

Missions - Two Missions. Its two copies of Repel the Invaders, which is situational. I rarely want to play this as a mission, as there are rarely good targets for its Reaction, assuming you can get through, although it doesn't generate any Resources. So, like many of the non-Ewok cards, it's home is the Edge Stack.

Fate - Five Fate cards. Two copies of Secret Objective,  to keep the opponent on their toes. I can see a scenario where the ability is good, but mostly it has 3 Force pips. Three copies of Battle of Endor should be 4 Force pip cards, as all the Objectives have the Endor trait.

It's a swarm deck. Fill the board with Ewoks, send them all at one Objective, hopefully denying some defence, destroy it and repeat until 3 are destroyed. It plays fast, doesn't care about defending and doesn't care about the Force. It can, with the right cards, destroy 1 Objective a turn across its first three turns leading to a very fast win.

If your opponent gets a good amount of defenders out quickly, or you stumble, then the game can become unwinnable just as quickly. Force Storm is not your friend. Play smart and you can recover from the board wipe though. It's a struggle, but always play it out. You never know how you might overwhelm them, as Force Storm isn't cheap to use.

On the day, in the first round I managed the 3 turn kill, in the second round I faltered and the opponent managed to stabilise before I could get the third Objective. In the third round, the quick kill happened again. 4 Ewoks and a Feast of Honor is the best possible start.

It was a four-player event, and I came second due to tiebreakers. Everyone had fun, and we will keep playing. It's love of Star Wars that unites us as players, and since the game is good we will play long past the official end of its lifespan.