Thursday, April 3, 2014

Wizard's Keep Tournament Writeup 3/29

It's been a few whirlwind weeks for me, the most recent of which culminated with a wonderful 1850 tournament hosted by our own Godfrey and Havoc. The mission designs were refreshing and unorthodox (if somewhat familiar to me due to extensive history with the T.O.s and out penchant for beer and pretzels), and on the whole, despite some lousy weather, it was a day well spent. What follows is heavy on text and light on images, so, visit the bathroom, grab a drink, and hit the break to catch the breakdown.
As ever, let's start with my list. For those of you who haven't gotten to meet/play a game with me, I chose to bring out my Necrons to the event. They're a semi-meta army, and have taken first place at The Game Preserve over in Bloomington a few times. It's the same list I've been rocking for about the past eighteen months since I finished my Tomb World Awakens series. I call the list semi meta because, though the record speaks for its self, it features no annihilation barges, and doesn't give in to the temptation to be 'Cron Air. The list is below but the general idea is to go all in and force multiple turn two assaults, backed up by durable scoring and volume of flexible fire. Against multiple MCs, the list does at times stumble, depending on how my dice fall in the assault phase, but otherwise it's proven its self to me more than a few times. Without further ado, the list and the games:

Destroyer Lord w/ sempiternal weave, warscythe & mindshackle scarabs - Warlord

Overlord w/ warscythe, phase shifter & mindshackle scarabs
Catacomb Command Barge w/ gauss blaster

10x Warriors
Ghost Ark

10x Warriors
Ghost Ark

10x Immortals w/ gauss blasters
Night Scythe

10x Immortals w/ gauss blasters
Night Scythe

Fast Attack
6x Wraiths w/ Whip Coils

10x Scarabs

Now, before I dig into the writeup too much, there's a few general notes here about some tweaks that we applied to the big rulebook. The first, is the use of a modified first blood secondary victory condition. Instead of saying that the first person to destroy a unit gets a victory point, we were told that if you destroyed any unit during the first game turn, you would earn a victory point. This punished my army as much as it helped me, as even though it barred me from scoring first blood for the most part, it likewise kept my opponents from being able to score it either. The second is our usual modification to warlord traits. After a player generates their warlord trait(s), they get to roll an additional die on any table on any table they choose and may swap that trait with any they rolled earlier. In the event of doubles, keep rerolling until you don't roll doubles.

Round 1 - Vs Looted Grots
The first round is one we've featured here in our Hobby Table series, with a few "tournament tweaks": Meat Grinder. For this round, we deployed on the short table edges, and each of us got to place two objectives, one in each of our table quarters (slices taken parallel to deployment zones). Objectives followed the "Objective Secured" special rule from Battle Missions, and kill points were also being tracked. A player was only awarded a major victory if they not only scored more kill points than their opponent, but also if they controlled more objectives as well. The biggest twist to this round was that as long as a player had a HQ on the table, whenever one of their non-Lord of War, non-HQ units was destroyed, it was immediately placed into ongoing reserves. At the end of a player's turn, they could also choose to "Send in the next wave!" any units which had been reduced to 25% of their total cost, including upgrades and dedicated transports. In keeping with the notion that each game was to be part of a larger conflict, players were allowed to bring on reserves from their half of the long table edges, as well as their short edges. Simple enough, isn't it?

My opponent for this round was a heavily looted grot army, featuring Wazdakka with two squads of biker boys, three squads of grots (one with attached shokk attack gun big mek), 5 stormboys with Zagstruk, an aegis line with quad gun, a squad of 15 burna boys in a deff rolla battlewagon, a squad a 3 meganobz in a battlewagon, and 9 lootas in a second deff rolla battlewagon.

I was lucky enough to win the roll for first turn, and he opted for a more crowded deployment zone, hoping it would save him from my onslaught. My warriors began the game disembarked, ready to score the points and move on next turn. My scarabs and wraiths pressed forward, flanking opposite of his battlewagons, hoping to cut in and dig him out from behind, dealing with defeated units reentering play as needed, to screen away from his objectives, intending my night scythes would tie up his objectives and take them as my own. My warlord trait was not nearly as potent as his. Wazdakka got outflank, and my warlord got FnP within 3" of an objective. My trait would have been much more effective if it had been possible to contest objectives (an oversight which I wasn't the happiest about), but I decided to roll with the punches.

My plan was mostly successful, until his bikes came on, and Zagstruk dove in to assault from reserves on turn two. I had to divert my immortals to maintain control of my back field objectives, but in the end, he and I each ended in control of one objective on the other's table half in addition to one on our own, and I netted a minor victory on weight of kill points.

Round 2 - Vs Big Flying Khorne
Second round, much like the first, is a mission found from our Hobby Table: Control Room. Each side got a bomb to give to a non-HQ, non-LoW model (who would hand the bomb off to the squadmate if killed). Likewise, each side had an objective as a "base". The objective was to hold your base, and if you blew up the other guy's base, it got removed, and you counted as scoring it.

My opponent this round brought An'grath (Yes, the FW LoW), a Bloodthirster, and two flying Daemon Princes of Khorne, alone with two 10 man Bloodletter squads. Ouch. My list can usually cope with tanks, but the only way for me to cope with An'grath would be to hit him with MSS and hope he punched himself out. Otherwise, things were going to pan out in a fairly straightforward manner, I'd throwmyself at him, and he at me. That hope quickly vanished when, despite my making a silly volume of saves (something like 10 of them in a row on my Bargelord, and countless scores on my wraiths), out of the 8 or so tests I forced him to take, he failed one. Nevertheless, I was able to nick two wounds off the baddie (falling just short of the one VP mark), and both of us were able to stop the others bombs in their tracks.

In the end, I had shot his Bloodletters away from his objective and mine, and his Lord was contesting my objective. This match was really hard for me, but I felt well that I fought the primary objective to a draw. That said, I had troops swarming over his base, and was told that they couldn't capture it. Evidently my guys were only interested in blowing it up, not taking it for their own. This really didn't sit well with me, but I hadn't lost, so into the third round I went.

Round 3 - Vs Salamanders
The final round was an entirely new beast, reminiscent of a game type straight out of good ol' TF2: Payload. In the middle of each table was an indestructible thing that was pushed along model train track various distances based on the strength of hits it received. It could be assaulted, and standing on the train track meant risk of being rammed or tank shocked. If, at the end of the game, the mazority of the payload was on your half of the table, you lost.

My opponent was a Salamanders successor who had ended up on an ice planet, utilizing flame weapons to stay warm. He had a master of the forge, attached to some servitors, leading two assault cannon toting venerable dreadnoughts (one of whom was in a drop pod), and a kheres contemptor, supported by 4 tactical squads (2 melta guns, 2 flamers, one of each in a rhino, the other two in drop pods), a pair of devastator teams (mostly with missile launchers), and a flamestorm relic predator. Very fluffy, and a capable take all comers list.

My first turn was spent moving forward and throwing the payload forward with everything available to me, shooting and assault. This kept me in good position to get turn 2 assaults on him and forcing terrible choices as to killing my stuff or pushing the payload back my way. He split the difference and forced a few saves on wraiths, and pushed the payload back about half the distance I forced, and a few of his units tried to knock out one of my ghost arks. My turn two saw several devastating multiple assaults tie up the most of his army (the parts of which it didn't destroy or send running) while my warriors split their shooting between his drop pod contents, setting the tone for the next turn as well. In the end, he missed just a few shots which would have sat the payload squarely between us, forcing a draw or even his win. A close game to be sure!

At the end of the day, I claimed third place, missing second place by a single point, wherein my first round opponent took first. The missions, though unorthodox, were enjoyable, and for the most part well thought out, especially considering that they were "way out there" in tournament meta terms. It was a refreshing break from the normal structure of "objectives, kill points, objectives". That said, the event wasn't without its issues. More than a few attendees commented that they felt their games were cut short, and that's somewhat of a fair complaint. Each of my games ended on turn 3. The time crunch was due to a variety of factors: the first of which was that a third of our participants were first time players. This is HUGE considering that for about the last year, there has been virtually no playerbase at the Keep. The issue here is that, though your first tournament is always going to be a bit clunky, the complexity of the missions, especially the first round, wasn't helping any of these players play faster, and so a more traditional event may have eased some of this. Not only that, but there were some issues with the venue. I love the Keep, especially at their new location, but closing at 7 when we're trying to host a tournament really cramps things. At Bloomington, events usually wrap between 8 and 9, and sometimes even that's a stretch. As a participant, and someone who's run other events, I would have considered this, and either run the event at 1500 points, or tried to work out a later close time with the owner.

Past that, there were some issues with the fact that two tables drew in each of the first and second rounds, making matchmaking a slight issue. These missions were unorthodox and had never been tried outside of a beer and pretzels setting before though, so on the whole the issue of draws is fairly negligible. More pressing to me was the skew with the "reward" to going second. During the first round, objectives were captured during the end of each player's turn, meaning that whoever went first was at a greater disadvantage than usual, due to the inability to contest objectives with durable units and make it more challenging for the opponent to score during the last game turn. Likewise, during the third round, the player who went second didn't have to worry about killing their opponent at all, and could focus solely on pushing the payload back into the opposing deployment zone.

And then we come to my biggest personal issue with the event: battle points. Because, as you'll notice above, my first round opponent, who I beat, took first. Second went to to someone who ended ahead of me by a single battle point. This seems very very wrong to me on several fronts, but I'll try to approach the differences between battle points and win loss as rationally as possible. Proponents of battle points advocate first and foremost that the system celebrates degree of victory, and they're absolutely right. Under a battle points system, players directly earn more points based on doing better. However, the problem here is that by setting it up that there are but 20 battle points available each game, the only way to earn more for yourself is to deny them to your opponent, thus meaning that losing is extremely punishing under a battle points system. A win loss system in which victory points are tracked for pairings and tie breakers more fairly rewards each player's progress toward objectives. Let's look at two games from the first round: My game, and the "bye" round between the second, Havoc, and one of our new players, fielding Space Wolves. In my game, which was a minor victory, I earned 15 victory points (6 from objectives, 8 from kill points, and 1 from secondaries), and my opponent netted himself 8 (6 from objectives, 1 from kill points, 1 from secondaries). This was determined to be a minor victory since he and I were tied on objectives, but I earned a clear margin on kill points. Likewise, the next table over, the Space Wolf player, who netted a major victory due to winning on both objectives and on kill points, earned 16 victory points (9 from objectives, 5 from kill points, 2 from secondaries) and Havoc's Tau earned 6 (3 from objectives, 3 from kill points). Battle points, therefore, awarded me 13 points, and my opponent 7. Havoc's game netted him 3 points and his opponent a massive 17 points. Were Havoc not the second, he would have effectively been removed from the opportunity for prize support then and there. Whereas, under a win/loss system where victory points are still tracked, both games would have shaken out similarly. The general point to note here is that under battle points, a difference of 7 victory points shakes out the same, no matter how well my opponent played toward accomplishing the objectives. 17 to 10 means the same as 7 to 0, which is devastating if I've fought my opponent tooth and nail and we both end battered and bruised.

All of that said, if victory points are not carefully tacked, or if you as a T.O. are not willing or otherwise able to quickly evaluate the results of matches to shake things out, win/loss events are a nightmare of draws when it comes time to dish out prize support. An event with 8 players will see only one undefeated player, but past that it gets much more dicey, to the point where a 16 man event has two 3-0 players. Thus, I am more than willing to concede both as a T.O. and as a player that both win/loss and battle points have their flaws. That said, seeing that win/loss has, in my experience, shaken out better on behalf of the players, if at the cost of putting a greater workload on the T.O., I would implore T.O.s to consider the way they structure their events.

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