Category Archives: Gaming Community

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Have you ever come across something so hideous, so foul, and so utterly incoherent that was so awful that you couldn’t look away from it? Like a massive car wreck, the terrible thing grabs hold of you and won’t let go till it’s finished. This is the exact experience you’ll find on the Dixieland X-wing Podcast (don’t waste your time if you haven’t heard of it). The podcast is hosted by Tyler (Redacted at his specific request), who also tries to go by his super cool, self appointed, ‘Mandalorian’ name Zerxus Dral. Tyler touts the podcast as a group of trolls, clearly doing a poor impression of the Carolina Krayts podcast, because we all know X-Wing needs one more podcast. The Krayts’ shenanigans are cheeky and fun, while Tyler’s are cruel and tragic. In the first episode at the 6:00 minute mark, Tyler boasts,

“I’ve been trolling Alabama X-Wing Contingent for three months now and nobody’s yet to call me on it”

Well Murder Squad is here now. You are being called on it, Tyler. Alabama may put up with your trolling, much like a parent ignores a screaming child, but we’re bringing out the paddles. Dixieland X-wing’s first episode piqued our curiosity, but after the second episode, they have our attention. One could ignore the poor list building advice, the terrible jokes, the poor audio quality, or the general tone deaf nature of the whole show. The rambling, unedited, mess could be overlooked if anyone could follow the sage advice of our parents,”if you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say it at all.”

Yet the lies about Tyler’s exploits, the incorrect facts, and the misleading information could not be ignored. Nor could the unsolicited bounties and challenges, nor the fact that our names are used in the process. So let’s all put our waders and plough headlong into the muck being spewed out, starting with the most blatant falsehood, from around 58:00 of episode 2:

“Last year at The Deep Store Championship, I had won an event the weekend before in Georgia, with a list, with my list but I had changed out some crew to try and tech against something. Because at that point I had played Sam Talley every… single… tourn-[gagging noise]- it was like, we were like six or seven Store Championship weekends in and I had played against Sam every Saturday to start the day. And one of us would win, and one of us would lose, and we would go on… the winner would go on to be in first or second place at the end of the day and the loser would go on to be, like, tenth or eleventh place. And it was fine, but I was attempting to tech against crack, uhh, crack swarm. So I had something in there to tech against crack swarm. And it didn’t work. In fact it did the opposite of work. That was my worst store championship finish of the season…”

Well, there’s one thing right: it didn’t work. The rest is so laughably false that we’ve dedicated an entire day to setting the record straight. We aren’t sure why Tyler thought it was a good idea to hitch his wagon to Sam’s, but since we’re here now, strap in. He failed miserably in an attempt to change his list to account for one of last season’s most dominant lists and players. He also failed miserably in attempting getting away with lying through his teeth to attach himself to Sam’s coattails, because there’s public proof that he’s just making all of this up. While it wasn’t outright stated that this magical list was on List Juggler and copied from there by the fellow that Tyler made fun of for coming in last at The Deep’s store championship, it was insinuated by the surrounding conversation. Yet oddly enough, searching List Juggler for squadrons appearing at events in Georgia or Alabama shows 40 all time results for Decimators, 23 for Phantoms, and zero of those have the name “Tyler” or “Zerxus” attached to them. So how did this guy copy that list? Our best guess is that Tyler wouldn’t stop running his mouth about how great it supposedly was, and how he would add yet another tournament win to his stellar record with it.

The funny thing about all that public data on Juggler, is that it DOES show other people’s names, what events they attended, and who they played against. Tyler claimed in the quote above that he had played against Sam every Saturday to start the day for week after week. Lets check the data on that. The event he won in Georgia the week before the Deep (February 13th, 2016)? There’s no records in North Georgia X-Wing Miniatures on Facebook of there being a warm up event hosted midweek, so our options of events he could have been referencing there are exactly one: Giga-Bites Cafe Store Championship (February 6th, 2016). Not only did he not win that tournament (James Matchett did), there’s no “Tyler” or “Zerxus” on that list of 49 players at all. Sam Talley is listed with a 5-1 record, and neither of his names are on that list of opponents either. http://lists.starwarsclubhouse.com/get_tourney_details?tourney_id=1122

Okay, so there’s one example, surely we can overlook that as a lapse in poor Tyler’s memory. Let’s figure out where they did play. Surely Sam and Tyler would have faced off at Meeple Madness (January 30th, 2016)? Well, Juggler says otherwise. Sam had a 7-0 record that day, and again Tyler wasn’t one of the opponents, or even one of the 24 in attendance.
http://lists.starwarsclubhouse.com/get_tourney_details?tourney_id=1067

Let’s go to the data again then, what other tournament reports do we have that he might have shown up in over that period of “six or seven Store Championship weekends”? Perhaps Wasteland (January 9th, 2016), where we see Sam Talley with a 7-1 record? Nope, 43 players, 0 of them named “Tyler” or “Zerxus”, which makes for at least 42 witnesses that can say he wasn’t there.
http://lists.starwarsclubhouse.com/get_tourney_details?tourney_id=992

Or maybe Tyler is just mis-remembering things, and this marathon of decisive games against Sam started AFTER losing to him at The Deep. Conveniently, there’s Juggler data available for the next event in the area, February 27th at Titan Comics. Sam Talley, looks like he dropped after a 4-0 run through Swiss, feeling bad for his peers who hadn’t had a chance to win anything in awhile. Among those peers? Not Tyler. So maybe that’s not the case after all.
http://lists.starwarsclubhouse.com/get_tourney_details?tourney_id=1233

It’s so odd, for someone that claimed he plays against Sam all the time at tournaments, there’s only one instance where we know of that ever happening, and it never made an official record.

Still, surely, as paranoid as Tyler is about his identity, his name was scrubbed from these events somehow. That’s perfectly plausible. He was probably there at all of them, and at the other events on those three or four weekends with no public results posted. So on the next episode of Dixieland X-Wing, if we’re wrong about this, please feel free to remind us all what those other events were that Tyler played Sam at. We’re completely open to any facts anyone can provide.

It’s a shame that we can’t even prove how poorly Tyler actually did at The Deep that day, with a list “teched” to account for the eventual champion’s list, because the results aren’t published. Still, because the final score wouldn’t show how it happened, the record wouldn’t show how that Phantom 4k’ed itself in front of the entire TIE swarm; decloaked, actionless, and with no shot . Maybe Tyler was trying to fly outside the box, this being a wave 5 list in a wave 7 meta that hilariously outclassed it, or maybe he just isn’t very good at the game. Normally, we’d let his record that day speak for itself, but there’s no record there. There’s witnesses that can say how bad he failed when Sam and the rest of Murder Squad came to put Tyler in his place and take his home store’s trophy last year as an added bonus, but nothing on List Juggler. Why isn’t there a record there? Well, that’s answered for us later on in the same recording. Quoted from the 1:00 mark of Dixieland’s second episode:

“The Deep in Huntsville intentionally does not upload on List Juggler. Never has, probably never will..because it’s a crutch. What you’re doing is creating a crutch for people who want to see what was run at the event”.

A crutch indeed. Imagine how badly we’d all get beaten, if people knew what we flew, giving them a chance to “tech” to counter it? Or maybe the reason that store never posts results to List Juggler is so that Tyler and his buddies can spout ‘alternative facts’ at a later date without recourse. Anyone who has ever met this man once is due an apology from the universe. But anyone who has ever met this man twice will understand why, because he’ll lie to your face about what happened in your last meeting, and expect you to believe it.

The entire statement we started things off with here is incredibly incorrect. Tyler never won an X-Wing tournament in Georgia that weekend he referenced. He never beat Sam anywhere, much less on multiple occasions. Sam never finished outside a top cut that season, much less as low as 10th’ or 11th place.

But let’s not get bogged down on a two minute segment of a rambling two hour podcast. Surely there were some highlights to this farce of auditory entertainment. Perhaps Tyler’s fascinating take on the FFG panel at Star Wars Celebration Orlando this past April. At about the 1:40:00 mark of episode 2, Tyler states the following:

I know that at Celebration there had been some discussion with Frank and several of the people from Organized Play because Will and I were in the panel room when the questions were asked repeatedly. That Fantasy Flight was going to attempt to stop doing what their tradition had been for three years. Which is, ‘ok it’s tournament time, it’s time to drop another FAQ.”

Alright, so let’s skip the fact that Frank Brooks wasn’t at Celebration (Max Brooke was the lone X-wing developer in attendance and at the panel in question) and explore what FFG actually said during that day. According to the Chance Cube’s coverage of the event the panel was largely around the ”focus that Fantasy Flight has with this brand on storytelling and theming”, and “They are looking at Star Wars as a whole across all of their games and how they capture the feel of this story telling universe that we all love.”

The second part of the panel focused on Destiny and had a surprise visit by Tiya Sircar, the voice actress for Sabine Wren. The next expansion for the card game was announced and some raffles were given away. A brief open Question & Answer session did take place, but the topic of competitive X-wing was not mentioned in Chance Cube’s report. Let’s not just take their word for it though; Chance Cube is a Destiny focused outlet, perhaps they missed something in their coverage. Surely someone else with an X-Wing focus was in attendance. That someone: Team Covenant, FFG’s golden child. Lucky for us, they were kind enough to live tweet the event, including the Q&A portion. Here’s the lone X-wing question brought up:

Noticeably absent from anyone else’s public and published accounts of Fantasy Flight’s panel at Celebration are any facts that supports Tyler’s statements at all. Frank wasn’t there, the panel did not field alleged ‘repeated’ Q&A on X-wing FAQ questions, nor did they announce any such news on their own accord. So did Tyler just lie about what went on in that panel or was he even there? Well it can be proven Sam Talley was in attendance. He updated a Facebook post in the North Georgia X-wing Minis group, similar to Team Covenant’s live tweeting. 

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10106944717781740

And if you happen to look through the comments on that thread, you’ll find this little note about the lack of X-Wing discussion:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/AtlantaXwing/permalink/1164381067024508/?comment_id=1164420000353948

Yet again, we are left with another instance where it is easily proven that Sam was at an event, Tyler may or may not have been, their accounts of what happened conflict, and Sam’s is the one that matches other publicly available data. Weird how that seems to be a pattern, huh?

Let’s shift gears and go back to the contents of Dixieland X-Wing podcast. Again and again, Tyler makes such a big deal of “his” triple jumps, like he’s the only person in the world that has enough of a vision to combine three JumpMaster 5000’s and make a list out of them. There was a slight detour where Deadeye Scurrgs were the second coming of those beloved ships (How’d that work out, by the way? We found somebody named “Lok Revenant” on List Juggler that got his teeth kicked in pretty badly), but other than that, it seems like JumpMasters are his favorite thing in the world other than the sound of his own voice. Joe Random with no real game experience might be scared of it, but those of us who know how the game works can see where the flaws and weaknesses are in a given list. Nick White jumped out and provided an example of that. Dixieland X-Wing cohost (and coincidentally, the single voice of any real insight among those ramblings) Corby decided that was a challenge, and that his dismissal and lack of follow-up meant that he was afraid of Tyler’s list.

 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/BamaXWing/permalink/1908527292700263/?comment_id=1908618016024524

And just like that, Tyler had another way to leech onto a more recognizable and respected name in the community, and decided Nick was the next bounty target for the podcast’s massive horde of followers to go hunting. 

Where “like” is an overstatement. There have been 5 people actually ON said podcast, and I know at least two people that have followed just to see what nonsense is posted about themselves.

Yeah, gonna be a lot of people chasing that bounty…

For anyone interested in it, here’s an official response from Nick regarding the bounty:

“I made a big claim about Poe vs the hypothetical new trip scout list, and you guys decided to shine the spotlight on me. Sure, it was untested hyperbole. I got no problem admitting I was probably grandstanding there. While Poe wins out by the numbers, there’s a an element of ‘that ship doesn’t get to do anything’ present. Anyone with enough patience could beat a single ship as a result. The point is, Intensity Poe (with the Black One title) is growing more common in the meta and is a hard counter to munitions. He sheds two locks per turn, and the attached repositioning probably takes away the torpedo shot of the one that still has a lock. Sure, you might be able to kill 41 points of Poe in a vacuum, but it has nothing to do with your skill or the viability of that list. In a real competitive setting you’ll still have to worry about 59 points of everything else too.”

The sad thing is, we’re giving too much credit to this amateur hour podcast. Far too much of our time has been spent even acknowledging its’ existence as is, because as we’ve said from day one, it’s garbage. And frankly, while we know there’s more bald-faced and disprovable lies sandwiched between audio glitches and inside trolling jokes that we could tear apart, we’re tired of listening to it to pick out Tyler’s lies from between the constant questions of “did we lose [X]?” and Williams rant of the moment.

So we’re gonna wrap things up instead. If we followed the structure of that podcast, this would be the point where we were picking somebody much more respected in the community right now to place a bounty on, someone to leech onto and attach our reputation to. We could mirror it and throw down a challenge of our own for Tyler and his crew, but given the option between letting him lie and say he won said challenge, or having to actually meet him somewhere to beat him, we’ll take “none of the above”, because we’d rather never see his smug, slimy, shiteating grin again.

So go on, Tyler, spout your nonsense, make up whatever fairy tales and fantasies you want to tell about what you do at home. But don’t try to pretend that you’re a constant presence in Atlanta events, that you’re buddies with anyone in Murder Squad, that you play against us all the time, or that you’re anywhere near the same level of pilot as any of us. Crawl back into whatever hole you came out of, and get our names out of your mouth.

–Murder Squad

And now, the rest of the story…

Get comfortable, readers, because I need to tell you a story of a particular game of Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures. A handful of you have already heard it, whether you knew I was in it or not. But it’s a story that has already been told, albeit from a very different point of view. It’s going to take a bit to get there though.

First, let’s set the stage.

November, 2016 – FFG World Championships – Fantasy Flight Game Center, Roseville, Minnesota.

Previously, I’ve not been able to justify trips beyond Regional championships for any FFG games. I couldn’t see paying for travel, hotel, event entry, and the extra overhead of a convention entry to wherever the National championships were held when Worlds was here in the United States. Thanks to not needing that convention badge for entry, it’s cheaper to attend the more prestigious event, seemed like a no brainer to me to skip straight to Worlds. But the timing just hadn’t worked out for me over the past couple of years.

Instead, I had lived vicariously through friends who were attending Worlds, and they had come away with a vast expansion in their knowledge of the games and how they play at a high level. They also came away as a general feeling that our local meta wasn’t up to par when compared to the larger scene, as I noted in the closing remarks of this guest article from last year. That fit with a reputation we had picked up somehow, as traveling players tended to talk a bit trash about the Atlanta X-Wing scene. The oft quoted “They don’t know how to fly Phantoms down there” was half the reason I picked up Cloaks and Dagger, just to prove everybody wrong.

As a group, the Atlanta HWKs wanted to change that reputation. More and more Atlanta players showed up to regional events, traveling much farther away than before. We scoured blogs, podcasts, and forums for reports coming in from more distant ones still. We ran our own ELO rankings for a while. We instituted a local championship series outside of the FFG official events. Eye of the Tiger would be an appropriate theme song for a montage about that year, perhaps in some sort of odd mash-up with Duel of the Fates as Worlds approached.

And this year, I got to make the trip to FFG HQ for Worlds, just as I vowed to do in Sam’s article last year. A few weeks ago, I stated in my subsequent Regional write-up that I had neglected to write an article about my trip. There’s several reasons for that. Being my first time at an event of that size and scope, I wanted to be in the moment instead of taking notes and pictures. My memory only goes so far for the details and having played for three days straight between X-Wing and Imperial Assault, I didn’t know that I could make significant and accurate observations about all of my games by the end of that. And even when I wasn’t playing, I was observing and soaking in other high level games. But now, in order to tell the story I have in mind to share, I have to tell you about how I got there.

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016 :
A whirlwind of a day, thrown completely off kilter by a lifelong friend being in town randomly. Most of my plans for the day are abandoned to see him instead, during which we talk over a couple of beers… reminiscing about the good old days where we’d drive over an hour each way to hold court at the nearest game store, and discussing how much I’ve been looking forward to this weekend, how badly I’ve wanted to prove myself against the very best in the world.

By 6:30PM Eastern, I’m on my way to the Atlanta airport. I reach Minnesota around midnight (Central), and get to the hotel just after 1AM.

Friday:
Day 1A of X-Wing begins at 10AM. 6 rounds of Swiss play, all players with 4 or more wins are combined with the same from Day 1B and advance to Sunday. My goal is to make the cut to Sunday in X-Wing or Imperial Assault, and I think my odds are better here. As we’re waiting for pairings, the weight of the moment starts setting in on me, I’ve been trying to get into this room for two years, and now it’s time to prove I belong there. I’m flying Dash / Miranda (discussed in more detail in my Regionals writeup), and in doing so I’m running the gauntlet. Every game is intense, highly competitive, and coming down to the wire.

I started my day with back to back games against an archetype that we’d discussed locally, but erroneously dismissed: Twin Shadows (two Lancer Pursuit Craft). We couldn’t have been more wrong about how hard this setup can hit.

You know, I think we would have paid more attention to these things locally if we had just put it on the table once, simply because it looks intimidating!

I squeaked out a win against the first guy I faced, but in the hands of a National Champion that probably heard a bit about how the previous game had gone from his friend, the second variant of the list takes my lunch money. 1-1, poor MoV, and I’m suspicious that someone bribed the fellow making those pairings (not really, but that was some strange luck in an event this big).

The distance between the bomb tokens and that Shadow Caster will henceforth be known as one “second round loss”. (If you’re in the US, don’t worry about it. It’s a Metric unit).

After that, I got a couple more familiar lists. Palpatine in a Lambda Shuttle & TIE Defenders (win), 4 B-Wings (win). MoV is still very bad though, because the games are played really tight, and really deliberately – all four games have gone to time thus far. I expected it, I knew that things would slow down on the big stage, but it still shocked me just how much it did. I still can’t believe I couldn’t finish the B-Wings in time. I’m used to my games being over within 45 minutes, an hour top. Things just don’t go to time in our local events, excepting against certain opponents, which I’m now very thankful for facing in preparation for this pace.

Can I borrow my comments on this game from another article where basically the same ships did pretty much the exact same thing wrong, or would that be considered lazy?

Next up was Dengar/ Bossk. I fought this one hard, but my bomb drops failed me – I blocked Dengar into what I hoped would be a lethal Seismic Charge hit, but he was just a hair too far away. And I just completely overlooked an opportunity to finish him off with Cluster Mines. Still kicking myself three months later for this loss.

At 3-2 now, I’m flying for my tournament life. I’m fairly certain even if I win the next 3 games 200-0, I’m not making the cut to the top 16. Regardless, I need to win my next game to play on Sunday, which I was bound and determined to do. And so I did. It was a seriously close game against something that fits the archetype of “scum garbage” – something that you think shouldn’t work but does anyway, yet I was so into the game and so stressed out that I couldn’t tell you for sure what was in the guy’s list. All I know is that I found a way to win the game. I couldn’t take time to write it all down afterwards, and I don’t have any good photos, might have been Asajj / Bossk, or something like that. I was too excited to take note of it, because I was going to be playing on Sunday.

My initial goal was achieved. I had proven to myself that I could hang at this stage. But now, even burdened with the poor Margin of Victory, how far could I go?

I met up with the other players from our area, some of which had just arrived, some fresh out of the Imperial Assault warm-up event, and others who had fought the good fight in X-Wing but missed the cut to Sunday with 3-3 records. Dinner, a quick drink for some of us, and back to the hotel by 11:30 or so – there was work to be done in the morning.

Saturday:
Imperial Assault kicks off at 10AM, and it’s obvious from the start that I’m outside my weight class here. As a secondary game for me, that’s okay. It’s far harder for me to keep track of IA than X-Wing from the standpoint of documenting my experiences; there are much fewer opportunities to take photos, so I didn’t even pretend that I was going to write about this.

But let’s give it a shot anyway: In rounds 1-6, Stormtroopers shoot stuff. Stuff shoots Stormtroopers. Objectives happen, or sometimes they don’t. Stuff and Stormtroopers die at variable rates. Someone wins. 

Man, that was a thrilling battle report, huh?

Here we see some majestic Snowtroopers in their natural habitat, Echo Base.

Anyway, for the second day in a row, I took a loss from a National Champion, and thoroughly enjoyed the game despite it being a stressful loss (I thought I was good with the Bantha Rider, then I saw what he did to me with it…). Nationals are a bigger deal outside the US, and it feels good to play against the best – that’s the whole reason I wanted to be there. I hope I run in to both of those guys next time, and perhaps with time to grab a drink, as they’d probably have gotten along really well. (“A Welshman, a Spaniard, and a southern gentleman walk into a bar…”)

No translation required, this says “I just kicked your ass, but we had fun playing” pretty clearly.

But the big takeaway is that I surprised myself, hanging in to close games and finding a way to win at the last minute as often as not. I finished up with what I consider a respectable 3-3 record on the day, with a new appreciation for how this game is played at a high level, and a few new tricks up my sleeve that I’ve gladly brought back to our local player base. I generally got the feeling that this was how my friends felt in previous years with X-Wing – getting a first look beyond the Regional level and a new understanding of what it takes to be on top.

Throughout the day, I would check my phone for status updates from my friends. We had a couple local IA players make the cut at the end of the day, including the eventual runner-up for the whole event. But it was a tough field for X-Wing, and I found myself realizing that I was going to be our group’s sole representative on day two. Now I had a new goal set out for myself: Regardless of whether or not I made the top 16 cut, I was determined to place as high as possible in the final standings.

We gathered up the troops for dinner and a few drinks (more for those whose days were ended), and a retrospective for all. In the process, we discovered that even for those who missed the cuts, none of us from Atlanta had losing records for any game. It was a big pride moment for us, and those of us who were still in the tournaments were encouraged by our peers to represent us all well. We return to the hotel around 11PM, resting up for the last leg of the event.

Sunday:
X-Wing kicks off again at 9:30AM, and I’m pumped. With the results of Day 1B added in, I’m somewhere around 55th coming in to Day 2. Players could make the cut to the top 16 at 6-2, my best record possible at this point (two out of the sixteen were 6-2), but the Margin of Victory tiebreaker was going to bury me regardless of my record. That wasn’t the point though. I didn’t care that my MoV has me out of reach of the next cut, I was still going to represent my city well, and I had two games to climb as far up those rankings as possible.

Pairings go up for round seven, and I’ve got a doozy in front of me. Palp / Aces, Soontir Fel and Rexler Brath to be precise. I don’t know the guy, but everyone else seemed to, and for good reason. We flew like madmen in that game. I caught him napping early on with Soontir, and managed to hit him with a Cluster Bomb drop that he didn’t see coming, but he rolled well (with some assistance from Palpatine) and limped away, never to be touched again. Even without scoring that kill, it was a net win, because Soontir was flying much more carefully to ensure his survival, which probably kept me alive over the course of the game. I got half damage on his Lambda Shuttle, putting myself into the lead. Then he gets half on Dash, swinging things the other way. We continue our merry chases, Miranda after the shuttle, the Imperial Aces after Dash.

When I finally committed my second set of mines, dude saw the SLAM/drop  coming. This would have been so much easier on my stress levels had Soontir turned the other way for me.

Time is called with no other score changes, but there’s still a chance. We’re in mid activation with Miranda breathing down Palpatine’s neck, a good shot finishes the shuttle off. Rexler was almost certainly about to line up a kill shot on Dash too, but my opponent ends up revealing a move that turns him away from my ship. He says his dial spun on him as he flipped it, but at this level, what you revealed is what you revealed, and I have no way to know that you weren’t guessing I was going to try something desperate to escape (which we had both managed to do a LOT in this match). So I have to hold him to it, Rexler finds himself without a shot, Soontir can’t finish Dash, and Miranda cleans up the shuttle for a 3 point win. I feel bad about it, and told him as much, but I just couldn’t let him change the dial at that point.

And then, some 2,000 or so words of text later, the stage is set. We’re on to round eight; the whole reason for this post. His story on how this game went got shared with me recently, and I feel like I need to share my side of it.

Maybe it’s the fact that it was my last game of the event, maybe it’s because of how it went, but I remember this game with more clarity than anything else that happened that weekend. I recognize my opponent to some extent, and the guy playing right next to him as well, but can’t place them right off hand. If I didn’t know already, with only getting an MoV of 103 out of the previous win, it’s beyond certain that I have no chance to make the cut after this round, and something spurs me to have the following conversation during setup. The exact words are beyond my memory, three months after the fact, but the following paraphrasing is at least close…

Me: “You look kind of familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?”
Opponent: “Maybe? Did you play in the [place] Regional?”
Me: “No, I haven’t played anywhere around [that area]”
Opponent: “Well, I don’t know where we would have met, then.”
[pause]
Me: “My Margin of Victory has been horrible. It probably doesn’t really matter what our score is, this is going to be the end of the line for me.”
[Opponent takes a side-long look at the guy next to him, who I realize is running an identical list to his, they know each other]
Opponent:  “Well, if I win, I’m guaranteed to be in the cut. So… yeah…”
Me: “Well, best of luck to you, but I’m not going to take it easy on you.”

He sort of laughed that off and glanced back at his buddy again. For a second, I thought that laugh was because he might have been covering up for discreetly asking me to throw the match to let him get through to the cut. I’ve got no proof of that though, so I feel remiss in saying it, but the thought was there. Maybe it was his way of breaking the tension of the moment that he seemed to be feeling. Or, now that I’ve heard his side of this, it might have been that he didn’t think it mattered how hard I was playing, this was a sure win for him. And on paper, I would agree with him.

His list:
Kanan Jarrus – 38 (Ghost)
Tactical Jammer – 1 (DecimatorShadow Caster)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
Recon Specialist – 3 (HWK-290 / TIE Phantom)
Jan Ors – 2 (Rebel Aces)
Accuracy Corrector – 3 (Starviper / IG-2000)
Ghost – 0 (Ghost)

Biggs Darklighter – 25 (Starter Set)
R2-D2 – 4 (Starter set)
Integrated Astromech – 0 (T-70Heroes of the Resistance)

Zeb – 18 (Ghost)
Chopper – 0 (Ghost)
Phantom – 0 (Ghost)

             

                           

                         

His list is set up to absolutely melt lists like mine. If Kanan catches Miranda in range, he’s guaranteed to deal 4 damage a turn to her with that Twin Laser Turret; Accuracy Corrector takes dice out of that equation entirely and makes for more hits than I have defense dice. 4 damage is pretty likely inside the minimum range for the TLT as well thanks to that big primary shot. And while I have a chance to dodge some of it, he’s got a fairly good chance of dealing 2-4 per turn to Dash instead, with Dash being unable to fire his HLC from anywhere without being fired back at. Meanwhile, this big threat is protected by a regenerating Biggs who benefits from the Tactical Jammer and Kanan stripping my attack dice. This is about as close to a hard counter as you’re going to see anywhere to my list.

I’m playing for pride though, and as such I’m determined to go down swinging. After all, if everything goes absolutely perfectly, I can deal 16 damage in a single turn (Kanan bumps and loses actions, Seismic Charges for 1, full Cluster Mines dropped on a previous turn for 6, Sabine for 1, range 1 Miranda sacrificing a shield for 4, Dash’s HLC for 4). So if something goes wonky, that Ghost can go down from full health in a single round, even without critical hits being a factor. It’ll take a LOT of luck, but it’s possible, and there are way more likely scenarios here that also lead to victory if I can survive long enough to spread it out over several rounds.

Priority #1 though, is getting Biggs out of the way so that I can even shoot the Ghost. The game begins, and we engage at mid field. I get lucky, rolling hot and dealing significant damage to Biggs over just a couple of turns, although I’m taking a beating on Dash in the process. I thought I had a masterpiece lined up to seriously swing things my way with a bomb drop from Miranda. With the X-Wing hurting badly and the Ghost pointing in that same direction, I brought the K-Wing in with a SLAM and dropped cluster mines, hoping to finish Biggs off by clipping him with one token and to leave the others right in Kanan’s path for the next round. Doing a better job than I had with a few of my desperation bomb drops on Friday, I dropped the mines right on target, but he rolled zero damage beyond Sabine, and Biggs remained alive with two more tokens lined up directly in front of his X-Wing. Dash was forced to waste another shot on him, I rolled poorly, and R2-D2 was ejected to leave him alive with one health.

This in turn brought about our first call for a judge, during which it was confirmed that Biggs could fly through and remove both of the remaining tokens before Kanan could hit them, even knowing that he would be killed by the very first mine and even with another blank roll, if I simply chose to activate Sabine. Despite wishing it was otherwise, no objection from me, the ruling makes sense because you don’t interrupt the maneuver to trigger the mines. Kudos to him for having matching pilot skills and finding a way to use it to his advantage and protect Kanan, I often feel like weaving matching pilot skills around are an under-used ability in X-Wing.

So, Biggs down, big time damage on Dash, Kanan at full health, lot of time left on the clock. I’m ahead by 3 points (26 for half of Dash vs 29 for Biggs). I’m not sure I even realized that at the time, but even if I did, it wasn’t useful info. It’s not like I could just haul ass with Dash one more turn to secure a close win, he’s going to get shot at again, and likely be killed. If it’s a bad setup, it might only take one shot.

Miranda can’t solo the Ghost, even if she’s doing constant recovery she loses 3 health per turn. I figure I need to land bombs, turn both guns on him, and have Dash soak up at least two rounds of fire by having Lone Wolf active, taking obstructed fire, and with Focus tokens backing all his rolls, no offensive spending. If it takes him a turn and a half of TLT fire to off finish Dash (2 hull remaining, so that calls for a lot of luck), then Miranda might have enough in the tank to finish Kanan from there. Not knowing exactly how to set this up, I retreat, looking for an opening. There’s not a lot of safe places to go, considering he covers over half the board with his TLT radius, but I do what I can to buy a turn or two by not chasing after Kanan when he’s already flying away from me. In doing so, I set my dials quickly, and keep my brain churning for an answer to what looks like an un-solvable puzzle. I’m not avoiding the game by fiddling with my dial for 5 minutes at a time, staring for a minute or two to decide if I need to barrel roll or not. That’s bush league stuff, underhanded, and against the spirit of the game. I’m not looking for a way to not lose. I’ve been fighting like hell for days now, I’m looking for a way to WIN!

Remember what Sam says: “Make ’em fly with you for a few turns”. If I can catch him stressed by running him through a debris field, there’s no Focus / Evade tokens for him. Dash can’t get an unopposed shot, but if I can get into Range 1, outside his firing arcs, Miranda can. I have one seismic charge and one set of cluster mines left, and I have to make sure they all land. If I can spread the mines out perfectly, I can trigger Sabine twice. I wonder if I can convince him somehow that the healthier Miranda is a better target for a turn and leave Dash alive for a turn longer than he should…

All of those things and more were tumbling through my head, but running out the clock is not one of them. I asked for a time check, but with the measured pace of the last three days of games, that had become a second habit; I just wanted to know where we stood.

Maybe the panicked retreat on my part got to my opponent. Perhaps  it was the added pressure as a handful of friends and strangers gathered around to observe what was a tighter game than it should have been to close out the tournament (I don’t know exactly when that happened, just noticed the crowd at the very end of the match). Or maybe he was more aware of the score than I was, and thought I was really going to try and run away for the whole remainder of the match (from memory, I’m estimating 30-35 minutes). Whatever it was, something had my opponent unnerved. When he got the chance to turn around he came after me at full speed. Better yet, rather than cutting the corner and relying on his TLT coverage to have me in range, he came right on in to the corner of the map, cutting off his options for subsequent maneuvers, and in an ironic fashion giving me more of them.

And that was the mistake I had been looking for. I might not win from this position, but it was my best opportunity.

Since Kanan had come in so aggressively, I was able to roll Dash to safety inside his blind spot, keeping him around for another turn. Miranda then managed to SLAM to a safe position just on the other side of his ship, also out of arc, and in doing so to drop all three of my Cluster Mines on the Ghost; although we had to pause for a judge call again so that he could verify that I was positioning them legally. Major damage ensues. And with the Ghost having flown so close to the board’s edge, I had him boxed in; there was nowhere he could go and not be in range of Miranda’s Seismic Charges the next turn without flying off the table, and he would almost certainly bump and be unable to take actions.

(Image cropped to remove score sheet.)

The damage all started piling up, and the next thing I know I’ve got a chance to kill him with Dash before any return fire comes in. I’m pumped up again! Without tokens to reduce my dice or evade the damage, a perfect HLC shot can finish Kanan off. I throw out my roll, hit – hit – blank – blank, but that second blank was leaning on an obstacle token, and by the rules MUST be rerolled. I called out the cocked die and picked it up to reroll it results in a hit, and then Lone Wolf allowed me to  reroll the remaining blank into what would be a lethal hit.

But in my excitement, had I neglected to ask my opponent to verify that the first die was cocked before I snatched it back up to reroll it, and he objected. He wasn’t trying to pull anything, I knew as soon as he said something that I had moved too quickly there. His tournament life is on the line, so he’s upset, and justifiably so. I feel bad, even knowing that I was in the right to reroll the die, just because I couldn’t prove that it had been cocked and I knew that I rushed that whole sequence. I ask what he wants me to do about it, because I can’t go back and prove that the die is cocked. He says he wants it to be a miss, obviously. I look at the game state, knowing I’m about to lose Dash to return fire, but I know it’s the right thing to do. Sure, it’s a “miss”, my mistake for being in a hurry.

And then, the dice gods smiled upon me for letting that one go. Without any Focus tokens, none of the four TLT shots land more than two hits, Dash proceeds to dodge three of them, and ends the turn with a single hull remaining.

At that point, it’s mop-up. Kanan won’t ever fire again, needing only one hit to finish him off. Zeb pops out right before Kanan gets vaped, but can’t get away from Miranda to chase down Dash. Ball game, 100-26 victory.

Thus ends both of our days. I’m turning to my buddy and saying I can’t believe that just happened, he’s pretty much doing the same. A 6th win and a less-than-stellar 922 total MoV netted me 32nd place overall, out of somewhere approaching 350 players. I wanted to do even better, but I certainly won’t scoff at that result.

In fact, I’m awfully proud of it, and for good reason. But I didn’t share the details here. Not knowing how to best approach writing about what was an awkwardly tense final game, along with being fuzzy on details of some of the other matches, I was content to let it be and just not give any details about my experience beyond that I enjoyed my trip to Worlds and was happy with the final results. No reason to talk about the not-so-nice ending with an obviously upset opponent, when that’s the one match that I’ve got the most clarity on the details of what happened.

However, it was brought to my attention that this gentleman was cordial enough to not use my name (nor shall I use his), but there is publicly posted material of him breaking down what happened in our game from his point of view, which seems to have been distorted by the time between the tournament and his remarks. In that discussion, he stated that he felt that “some of the tactics [I] used were very troll-y”, and that I was seeing what I could do to knock him out of the cut. He insinuates that I should have played the game differently because I had nothing on the line while he had expensive dice and templates that he could still win.

Early in his description of the game, he points out that his constant Twin Laser Turret damage would be a major problem for my “squishy” ships,  so he claims that I “naturally just ran away from [him] for 45 minutes”. He goes on to say that I don’t have the correct attitude for this situation, whatever that means. Was I supposed to be tossing him a softball while other folks are fighting their hearts out for that same spot in the cut? Consoling him when rolls don’t go his way? Asking him for a cut of the prizes in exchange for flying off the board perhaps? I assure you, I’ll take my dignity over dice or templates any day, thank you very much.

Throughout his story, he makes it sound time and again like I’m popping in to a wormhole of sorts,  teleporting to the furthest corners of the board whenever he moves in my direction, giggling at him like that blasted dog from Duck Hunt. He says he chased me down and engaged again because he didn’t want to “lose to a technicality”. Sorry, man, I guess I should have told you in advance that I wasn’t flying my squishy ships that you match up against so well, a technicality was. </sarcasm> In truth, we might have been disengaged for 4-5 turns at most, at least a couple of which he spent turning around to face me again after the pass where I killed Biggs while I was looking for an opening to attack. Must be a crime in his meta to do anything other than joust like British redcoats lining up for musket fire.

Perhaps just as insulting as the hints that I should have just let him win (“Intentional draws are a thing!”, cried the peanut gallery. “The hell they are, I replied, long before FFG agreed) were the blatant accusations of slow-playing. “[He] definitely thinks that there was an element of that here”. I’m the last person you’re ever going to see intentionally stalling a match for time by not taking actions. If anything, I play FASTER when others might see an opportunity to use delaying tactics. No, I’m not going to fly straight at my opponent when it doesn’t benefit me to do so. Why would I? But most of the time I’m going to have my maneuver dials set before my opponent, even when I’ve got them outnumbered and obviously needing every second they can get in the game. I pride myself in being the type of person that is going to give you a fair shot. So it burns me up to hear,  “I honestly think [slow-playing] is one of the main strategies of this list”. You’re dead wrong, at least when it’s in my hands. Or the hands of anyone I associate myself with. I can point you to some potential opponents that can work the clock with the best of them, and to have lumped me in with them is a slap in the face.

As the description rolls on, there are definitely some inaccuracies in the retelling of the sequence of events… I apparently got Kanan to half health and started running away (or was running away from the start, that’s a little unclear in this version of the story), which made him be more aggressive than he wanted to be (I suppose I’m supposed to feel bad about not engaging on his terms?) and that in turn enabled me to get in to position with Miranda to kill Biggs with bombs, which I had to do before I could shoot Kanan.  Can I get a flowchart of that sequence? I think it’ll probably look something like the one I made for FFG’s new Star Wars OP Pyramid.

Now accepting donations for a copy of Photoshop.

Oh, then he turns around and mentions how those bombs are something that’s “really intimidating for [him], too”, despite this being described as such a good matchup for him earlier in his breakdown. Because that’s consistent, right?

To wrap things up in his version of the story, time was called just as Dash dodged all of Kanan’s shots, ending the match right then and there. My recollection of events said otherwise, as did our final score sheet (100-26). I’ve got a picture of that for posterity’s sake, but I’ll leave that out of the article (and crop it from the photos I did share) since there’s a name on it.

But hey, he sounded like a patron saint (or at least a martyr) of sportsmanship when he said it all his way, so long as nobody paid attention to the details.

*deep breath*

Okay, so, I intended this post rant to be an article about what did and didn’t constitute fair play, and perhaps a bit of discussion about when it’s okay to give up so that your opponent can improve their standings in a tournament (short article: “Never.”). It’s morphed in to something else entirely, I’m not sure what I’d call it, but it’s heart-felt and it’s full of truth that I felt like I needed to express.

So I’d like to redirect it in to something positive with my closing notes. Specifically, I’d like to ask all my readers to do a few things for me, and encourage their peers to do the same:

  • If you’re going to be a part of the competitive gaming community, do so with some dignity. Don’t play the game like you’re never going to see your opponent again, because you’re likely wrong.
  • Or put that another way, you can get screamed at by a petulant child on a video game console from your couch. Tabletop gaming is a more social matter. Treat it that way, please.
  • Get stalling and slow-playing out of your repertoire if it’s one of your tricks. That is unsportsmanlike conduct. I don’t condone it, and neither should you. Period.
  • Remember, while a lot of competitive games involve luck, all competitive games involve skill, from both players. Whether luck didn’t favor you, or you made mistakes, don’t try to take credit away from your opponent when it’s due to them.
  • Also remember, so long as the rules are adhered to, there’s no such thing as winning on a “technicality”, either you have a higher score than your opposition, or you don’t.
  • If you’re going to enter a competitive event, don’t ever let off the gas before a tournament is over, or expect anyone else to.
  • If you’re gonna tell a story, tell all of it, and tell it truthfully.

In regard to that last note and my last opponent in particular, I have to add the following: I bear no ill will toward you over our game. Before I heard your statements, I’d have gladly met you again with a handshake and a genuine smile, I’d even have bought the first round of those local beers you like so much if we were to cross paths in Minnesota again.  Perhaps everything was a bit more clear in my memory than it was in yours. Or perhaps it just really stung to take a loss to a list you feel you should have beaten. I don’t want anyone holding a grudge over something silly like that, I’d have a lot of enemies in that case.  But instead of being surly over it, I’ll still hold to that offer to buy the first round, because this might just be a big misunderstanding.

But now an apology might be in order first.

– The Tabletop General

For the Greater Good

I had to make a hard choice yesterday, and it affects a lot of my fellow gamers.

For a combination of a dozen different factors (fatigue, seasonal, personal obligations, etc), attendance had dropped significantly at my FLGS’s X-Wing nights. Where once we had 15-20 players every Tuesday night, now we had 6-8. Seeing underutilized table space, the store’s owner took the opportunity to revitalize the local Warhammer community, putting together a series of events that have filled the place up on Tuesday nights. As a result, as I’ve worked hard to bring back X-Wing players, I haven’t had anywhere to put them. For weeks now, we’ve had no more than 4 games running at a time, elbow to elbow to make that happen. As for the extra folks? A few of us would observe, some would grab a card table and play Destiny, and some folks just turned around and left. I always gave up my spot for someone else to play, because on a given X-Wing night it’s less about the games themselves for me and more about hanging out with my friends.

But realizing that this situation wasn’t getting any better, I spoke with some of the prominent players and agreed to move X-Wing night to Wednesdays. This is a big deal to me because Wednesdays are our Imperial Assault nights. And while we’re at it, let’s go ahead and formally organize Destiny players to gather on Wednesdays as well.

So, the good news is that none of this conflicts with the schedules for these games at any other store in the area, there’s plenty of room available for everyone to play, and I’ll never go without a game of something on Wednesday nights. I’ve got some ideas churning for ways to tie everything together too, having a bit of a “faction war” that spans multiple games. But on the other hand, the players like myself who might have been overextending a bit to get in to all three of these games now have to pick one of the three each week.

I just hope that this works out, because the harder part of this is knowing that this does lock out some of our potential players – I’ve heard from equal amounts of X-Wing players that have said “I haven’t been coming on Tuesdays for a while, and I was about to start coming back, but I can’t make it on Tuesdays” and those that have said “Finally, a night other than Tuesday, I’ll be able to come back!”. I’m sure there will still be pick-up games on any given day, and a few dedicated players will still come in more leading up to major events, but I don’t like giving up table time.

It’s hopefully a good move for the health of all affected games that I make this move. But that doesn’t mean I like paying the cost.
– The Tabletop General

Passing command

Two years ago, Star Wars: Armada was all my gaming brain could think about. I wanted this game. I needed this game. My inner fleet admiral had been repressed for years, and Armada was the game that would let me prove my tactical genius. After what seemed the longest handful of months ever, I rushed in to pick up my two copies of the core set, and frantically began demoing the game for anyone who I could pin down.

I left work early this day, couldn't wait to get my hands on these.
I left work early this day. Just couldn’t wait to get my hands on these.
wpid-img_20150325_135116052.jpg
Setting my first maneuvers

At first, I enjoyed the game from a novelty standpoint, it was a much needed break from game after game of X-Wing Miniatures.  Several of my friends were playing the game, and it was a cool new experience to be outflanking Victory Star Destroyers with my speedy little Corellian Corvettes.

wpid-img_20150325_175045280.jpg
Dueling over a space station.

I dove in deep. I volunteered to run tournaments at my FLGS.  I bought multiple copies of the Assault Frigate Mk II, the Gladiator Star Destroyer, and all the Rebel and Imperial fighter squadrons. I started a second Star Wars game night so that we could get in multiple games while still getting my X-Wing fix in.

IMG_20150602_211913984
Experimenting with the new toys.

Sure, there were some issues with the game. Fighter squadrons were very finicky to move and manipulate, and they felt either worthless or overpowered, never balanced. The Victory Star Destroyers were so slow that my opponent could just decide to go the other way and not play the game. But it still scratched the strategy itch, and some of my friends still played.

Then tournament season rolled around, and we got real competitive. 5 Gladiator Star Destroyers are balanced and fun, right? I countered that and similar fleets with a Rebel gunline that never moved toward the enemy, specializing in long range strafing fire, with a handful of A-Wings flying as a fighter screen. A friend of mine, perhaps the last guy that I knew and got along with well who was still playing, had torn me apart with this Admiral Ackbar led monstrosity, and I quickly realized that it neutralized many lists that tried to rush in to close range with multiple glass-cannon style ships.

About 7 months ago, I plopped that gunline fleet down on a table at a Store Championship tournament. One of my opponents looked at my deployment, then stared straight at me and said I was a “fu***ng as****le”. I’d like to think that he was wrong, or at least that it was mutual, considering he was fielding a spam build that required him to use photocopied proxies of an upgrade card because he couldn’t get his hands on enough copies of it. But regardless, I realized at that moment that I no longer enjoyed this game.

What kind of community spawns players that think it’s okay to say that? Really? I have a partial answer, because I know what other games that guy and his buddies play, but out of respect for those communities I’ll try not to judge them all based on the few members I know.

But thanks to that comment, I began to look at Armada with a critical eye. I saw fighter squadrons “accidentally” get re-positioned while adjusting damage counts. I saw maneuver tools being bent just slightly to place ships safely next to one another and avoid collisions that should have occurred. I realized I hated to lose games, but didn’t truly enjoy winning them. And more than anything else, I looked around the tables at the people playing the game and saw strangers.

So I took a sabbatical. From the end of the Store Championship season this year, I didn’t play a single game. For five months my Armada fleet gathered dust. I played the role of host and judge for our Regional Championship, and didn’t mind that I couldn’t play.

Last month, new life was breathed into Armada. The infamous Imperial Interdictor promised to change the game, adding tactical elements that had been missing from the game thus far. The new flotilla elements like Rebel Transports gave players new options for fleet composition and action economy. And the upcoming Correlian Conflict campaign looks to refresh the game with even more new options, new missions, and a campaign based gameplay that gives weight to your in-game actions.

But for me, it was too late. I had fallen out of love with the game, and felt too far afield from the community. I had kept up with the game and promoted it locally for months, frustrated with it as I was. But a new player stepped up to run a tournament at my FLGS last week, and loved the experience. I missed that tournament as it overlapped with several other events, and in doing so I passed on buying the latest releases to catch up and stay competitive. And GenCon brought the announcement of new games on the horizon that want to play but don’t have time for without Armada, let alone with. So I’ve passed command on to him.

Yesterday, I sold my fleet yesterday in its’ entirety. May it serve its’ next admiral well. There’s too much fun to be had with gaming for me to justify struggling with something that I don’t enjoy, so it was time to let Armada go.

– The Tabletop Admiral General

To the Death

On March 15th of 2016, Fantasy Flight Games released new tournament rules documents for all of their games. These new documents included a lot of cleanup and standardization across all game systems – formalized roles for all participants in an event, clear definitions of core concepts and event types, and removal of a few silly draconian rules (such as the total ban on ship modifications for X-Wing). These are all good things. But unfortunately, a very bad thing came along for the ride: Intentional Draws.

The concept of an intentional draw is relatively simple: two players matched up at an event can agree to a tie game, rather than playing the game out. Seems pretty harmless, right? But when you look at the tournament structure and game scoring for these events, you see where it leads to underhanded tactics and poor sportsmanship.

All FFG tournaments start with multiple rounds of Swiss pairings; similar records are paired up, avoiding duplicates. Swiss pairings are considered the best way of finding the top players of an event where time does not permit a full single elimination or round robin structure, because the top players are paired against one another round after round. In a pure Swiss setting, an intentional draw is generally tantamount to resigning (except in extreme cases), because the number of rounds is set such that the leader at the conclusion of Swiss is undefeated.

But FFG events don’t stop after Swiss, except in events with low turnout (16 or less for X-Wing’s “Basic” event structure, 8 or less under “Advanced”). Immediately following Swiss, there is a cut to the top X players (based on attendance) for a single elimination bracket. This cut usually corresponds directly to a tier of prize support, so even if you’re guaranteed to lose the first round after the cut, players still want to make it in.

So going in to the last round of Swiss play, several players have something major on the line. Let’s take a look at how a hypothetical X-Wing tournament would run under both the Basic and Advanced structures. For the sake of simple math and minimal edge cases, we’ll assume a nice even number of 16 players show up (4 rounds of Swiss under either format), and that no modified wins or natural draws occur.

Breakdown_16
Number of players at each record on a round by round basis, assuming that all games end in a full win for one player.

Let’s label our top 8 players after round 3 “Player 1” – “Player 8”. Player 1 and Player 2 have perfect winning records up to this point. Player 2 has been squeaking by all day with the smallest full wins possible in each game, walking in to this game with a 336 total Margin of Victory. Player 1 has been stomping folks all day, and has a near-perfect 560 point Margin of Victory.

Example MoV’s for our other hypothetical players:
Player 3 – 488
Player 4 – 488
Player 5 – 450
Player 6 – 440
Player 7 – 425
Player 8 – 415

Basic_16
The kid gloves option.

Consulting our Basic tournament structure, listed above, there won’t be a cut to a single elimination bracket in this event, instead the standings after 4 rounds will be final. While it is guaranteed that one or the other of them will win the event, Player 1 and Player 2 have huge incentives to take a draw here. Player 2 doesn’t feel like he can win that game, and a draw guarantees him 2nd place; that one tournament point puts Player 2 out of anyone else’s reach. Player 1 stands to gain nothing by not accepting Player 2’s offer, as he is also out of reach of the other players, and wins the Margin of Victory tiebreaker against Player 2. An Intentional Draw is now the “right” play for both players.

Meanwhile, if Player 1 and Player 2 don’t take that draw, 2nd place is up for grabs. A loss for Player 1 could push him down as far as 4th place, as Player 3 and Player 4 are still in striking range of his Margin of Victory with a potential gain of 200 points in a round. And something like a 0-100 loss for Player 2 risks knocking him down as far as 11th place out of 16 with his poor MoV.

Advanced_16
The “we came to play” option.

Now, looking at the Advanced tournament structure, things get uglier. Going into our 4th round, there are exactly 8 players with at least 10 tournament points from having a record of 2-1 or better. Anything other than a loss locks them in to a spot in the single elimination bracket.

But going back to our breakdown from above, that’s only going to happen naturally for 5 out of those 8 players, 3 of them would drop to a 2-2 record. With 6 players at a 1-2 record coming in to the 4th round, 3 of those players will win their game – meaning Players 9-14 would normally have an outside chance to continue. But he insertion of the Intentional Draw rule says otherwise. Players 3-8 have zero reason to play their games, and instead they can shake hands and turn in their score sheets for 1 tournament point each. It doesn’t matter that they could be caught if everyone played their games out; they were lucky enough to be in the lead, so they get the ability to cut the competition short and say that only the rounds that they already did well in count.

How can this be, you ask? Surely this isn’t really allowed???

The Intentional Draw rule, as written, is currently left open to interpretation. There’s a really interesting reference in the rule pointing back to the section on Unsporting Conduct.

Intentional_Draws

Unsporting_Conduct

Collusion among players to manipulate scoring is expressly forbidden” – That seems to be exactly what Intentional Draws are, manipulation of scoring. Proponents of the rule argue that the judge’s presence prevents the term “collusion” from applying here, as the agreement is not made in secret. I’m not sure if I want to laugh at this attempt to lawyer the rules, or ask the player to make sure it isn’t secret by announcing to the entire room that they feel they have the right to decide how long the event runs, and that they’re cutting it short because they’re winning. Cowards.

In case you can’t tell, this rule upsets me greatly. The exact impact on scoring is a little different for each FFG game, but the general effect is still the same – players have an opportunity to advance their position in a tournament by choosing not to play a game. This is asinine, elitist, and exactly the opposite of the old worn out and downtrodden concept of “Fly Casual”.

I’ve seen multiple circumstances in this tournament season where my day could have been ended by a handshake on a different table, where I could pass either player (or at least one of them) had they lost but I couldn’t do anything about a draw. Even worse than that, I dread the idea of having tell a player at one of my events that they had a chance at making a cut, but someone else decided that they didn’t like playing fair. Let’s say that was this hypothetical player’s first tournament where they were doing well, and might have a fighting chance to win it all that day – if someone locks them out via Intentional Draw, they might never show up for another event. So I’m fighting this rule as hard as I can.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve tried really hard to get clarification from Fantasy Flight Games regarding how they intend this rule to be used, and why it was added. I’ve used the contact form on the FFG web page. I’ve reached out to FFG Organized Play on Facebook, and by direct email. I’ve also emailed individual employees at FFG. None of these have been met with any response whatsoever. If, by chance, you happen to be one of the recipients of those messages and didn’t reply, please know that I’m very angry with you.

Meanwhile, a small number of players are claiming that they will not attend the X-Wing Regional Championship I’ll be hosting later this month, because I had originally made it clear that, pending feedback from FFG (see previous paragraph) I would not permit Intentional Draws while I had the ability to interpret it as Unsporting Conduct, because that’s exactly what it is. This stance has since been forced to soften by the usage of Intentional Draw at the Hoth Open, despite the fact that I still have no clear guidance from FFG. Before my stance was changed, I was accused of being a horrible TO for taking this stance. I was told to go play Hello Kitty games since I can’t stand “true competition”. I was told that I should be reported to FFG for this. I was told by folks with absolute zero control over the matter that this would be the last tournament I ever run if I don’t permit Intentional Draws. Nobody seems to understand that I don’t benefit from this in any way beyond knowing that my players, both local, visiting regularly, or coming in for the only time I’ll ever see them at a tournament won’t get screwed over. Gee, that makes me SUCH a bad person.

To my great dismay, I’ve been told that the Intentional Draw rule was invoked by players during the last round of Swiss at the recent Hoth Open event at Adepticon, and the request(s) received permission from FFG officials. I don’t know the precise details, but that gives me no room to interpret the rule as only applying to a Father/Son matchup in round 2 of 8 of an X-Wing event (Because no family conflict happens in Star Wars), or anything along those lines. As a result, I may have to reverse my stance and permit them, under great protest.

Just don’t expect me to disclose anyone else’s current scores, nothing says I have to arm you with the information to make an informed choice about this crap.

And don’t expect me to ever agree to one when I’m playing. I don’t care what I’m risking by not taking your offer; as soon as you utter those cowardly words, that match is to the death.

– The Tabletop General

Hidden information, bluffs, and dirty lies

What’s the harm in a little lie?

Earlier this week, I was playing a game against one of the up & coming members of our local X-Wing Miniatures group. He has a really cynical and self-deprecating sense of humor that can cause players to underestimate him at times, but I’ve observed enough of his progress over the past year or so to know better and not take that bait. I had specifically sought him out for a game to test my list against the triple K-Wing build (see below) that he had grown fond of, and which had been used just days before by another player to win the 49 person Store Championship event at my home store. His first two turns were simple; all 3 K-Wings took slow forward movements, maintaining a tight formation and waiting for me to come to him. In planning for the third turn, he turned his maneuver dials  over and over, and took the time to sarcastically say aloud, “This is the part where I pretend I’m doing something different”. And then, of course, he did something different, laying on the throttle and surging ahead with all of his ships.

A white lie, a bluff, or playful banter, you decide what to call it. I normally would have thought nothing of it. But on this day, it struck a chord with me, because I had recently read a rant about a very similar situation. In the story, while practicing for an X-Wing Store Championship, a player was shocked and angered by his friend outright lying about his maneuver for the turn. Player A, our angry protagonist, had moved one of his ships, and Player B said something along the lines of “You played it right. I’m glad I decided not to take [X maneuver], because that right there would have blocked me. and probably killed me.” Player A acted on this information, and took a Boost or a Barrel Roll to re-position his ship, and Player B proceeded to turn over his dial to reveal that exact maneuver, the final position of which was now free and clear of enemy ships. Player A was mad enough about this blatant lie to take his campaign to the internet and call for such underhanded tactics to be banned from the game entirely, and I was surprised to have seen that the suggestion garnered no small amount of support from others.

All three of the Fantasy Flight Games lines that I actively play right now (X-Wing, Armada, and Imperial Assault) rely on hidden information to some degree, and all three handle it differently. In X-Wing, each ship plots its’ maneuver in secrecy, and there are a limited number of game effects that allow you to influence, modify, or spy on this information. Armada lays out all its’ cards on the table (literally), but each ship secretly plans a series of commands to execute over the course of the game, and there’s certainly some bluffing and strategy added by these to positioning and the order of ship activation, which is left up to each player to decide each turn. Imperial Assault shares the mechanic of freeform unit activation order, and adds in a customizable deck of Command cards that can hold nasty surprises for your opponent – extra attacks, sturdier than expected defenses, rapid repositioning of units, or even hidden explosive traps.

This hidden information is what makes the game exciting. Dice are always going to be random, builds are a combination of a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors and an optimization problem. But tactics and secret plans are what truly make these games fun. With the right surprise move, you can clutch victory from the jaws of defeat. But all the power of your hidden information can be ruined by a bad poker face.

A sigh of relief at an enemy’s move in X-Wing can cause them to move right into your way with a Barrel Roll. Measuring carefully to ensure your Armada fighter squadrons are right on the edge of activation range for a Squadron command next turn can allow your opponent to react to that threat by moving his own squadrons out of reach, or into a covering position for a capital ship. Reaching for your hand of Command cards can make an opponent rethink his order of actions in Imperial Assault in order to minimize the impact of a Parting Blow or Overcharged Weapons.

Overcharged_Weapons                       Parting-blow

In Imperial Assault, it seems that it is rare for both players to have “beginning of round” effects to play, but it is possible for both players to do so, and the player with initiative that round has to go first.  Take Initiative is a very common card to see in Command decks, and it has been explained to me that if the player with initiative uses a copy of that card, it blocks the opponent from doing so. But otherwise, there’s no reason to want to do it – not only does it prevent you from using it on a future turn to actually steal the initiative token, it forces you to leave one of your deployment groups out of action for the round. I make sure to ask frequently if my opponent has any effects to play before I play mine (as per the normal sequence of the turn), hoping that they might interpret that as that I have something to play after their window has closed, and getting them to waste the card if they have it. But more importantly, I want to make sure that when I do have it, they don’t (correctly) assume that I have the card when I ask if they have any effects to play first.

Take-Initiative

Giving mixed signals regarding game actions impact on your future plans helps cover up for when your reactions are legitimate. Pausing as though considering an interrupt ability in a card game can give away that you have it available, but can just as easily be a bluff to make the opponent cautious. Perhaps you won’t fool your opponent about what you are doing right then at that moment, but you might be able to truly make it a surprise when you do act upon the opportunity in question.

“Table talk”, mind games, bluffing, and braggadocio are to be expected in a competitive environment. Plastic stormtroopers and starships are boring; it’s the mind across the table that I’m there to compete against. And if you expect me, or anyone else, to not try to get in your head a little bit, knock you off balance, and make you second guess your actions in game, you’re silly. Lie to me, and I’ll lie to you. Then we’ll let the dice figure out who told the better lies.

— Sidebar —

img_20160206_220058380.jpg
Not affiliated with any acronym based groups.

The following is the K-Wing build I was referencing, made popular via a relatively good showing at this past year’s X-Wing World Championship. Capable of stressing a ship into oblivion, pouring out 6 TLT shots per turn, and containing a steady late game threat in Miranda, this build is currently the bane of my existence. It’s not fun to play against and it’s not particularly fun to play with, but in the right player’s hands it’s deadly. And if all goes well, I’ll end up playing against it tomorrow. Yay!

Miranda Doni – 29 (K-Wing)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
C-3PO – 3 (CR-90)

Warden Squadron Pilot – 23 (K-Wing)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
Tactician – 2 (TIE Phantom)

Warden Squadron Pilot – 23 (K-Wing)
Twin Laser Turret – 6 (K-Wing)
Tactician – 2 (TIE Phantom)

– The Tabletop General

Wizkids being Wizkids

For those of you who haven’t been following the rules debates for Star Trek: Attack Wing over the past few months, you’ve been missing out on one of the best comedy/dramas to have ever graced the gaming community or the internet.

Lacking an official venue through which questions could be fielded, the game’s original designer, Andrew Parks, took to the BoardGameGeek forums to impart his great wisdom upon the masses. Looking back upon it, I consider this a golden age for Attack Wing and its’ early “unofficial” FAQ; questions were answered directly and quickly, straight from the game’s designer. When Parks was pulled off of Star Trek for the Dungeons & Dragons: Attack Wing project, things were left in the presumably capable hands of Chris Guild. Guild took over the design of expansions, upkeep of this unofficial FAQ, and potentially the creation of scenarios for Organized Play events as well (unconfirmed).

Prosperity continued for a bit longer, as Guild took up the torch of upkeep of the FAQ on BoardGameGeek, but he would never prove to be near the benevolent benefactor that the community had grown to know and love in Parks. Answers to questions arrived less and less frequently, and were often simple thumbs-up responses to interpretations given by other users, as if Guild were saying “I don’t have any thoughts of my own on the matter, but this person’s interpretation seems decent”. Guild was also rumored (known) to have a particular favorite (Borg) among the multiple factions in the game (seriously, it was Borg) which he would preferred above all others as a Star Trek fan, and his rulings seemed to support this theory on a regular basis. Still, we did get rulings from him, and they were better than nothing (usually).

Then, just over two months ago, Guild stopped participating in discussions on the BoardGameGeek forums completely, with no notice or explanation as to why, and no official replacement appeared. For while, the lunatics did a decent job of running the asylum, as several prominent members of the Attack Wing community continued to make best-guess interpretations of new cards and combinations based on similar situations with prior cards. It wasn’t perfect, and now it certainly wasn’t official, but it was all we had to try in our attempt to make the gameplay experience consistent from venue to venue.

Two weeks ago, Wizkids launched a new forum on their own site for official rules questions and hosting the FAQ which had been previously created/updated by Parks and Guild. It seemed like a positive thing at the time; not only would the change in location lend credibility to players who didn’t believe that the BoardGameGeek forums had any legitimacy to them, but this seemed to indicate that Wizkids would be taking a more active role once again in providing answers to these questions.

What nobody expected was that Wizkids would lock down the forum, and fill it with “logic” that would give a Vulcan an epileptic seizure. Nothing gets posted without being approved by a moderator, which on the surface may look like a method for keeping things on track and preventing spam. In practice, it means that questions that Wizkids can’t yet answer, or doesn’t want to answer, just disappear. I’ve posted somewhere around a dozen original questions or requests for clarification on a ruling within these past two weeks, and all but one have been ignored.

After the forum had been in existence for all of a single week, an announcement was posted that no new content would be posted for another week, as the rules team had been inundated with requests and would need to take the week to sort them out and come up with answers. Two days ago, the forum came back to life, with lots of answers to very legitimate questions, and most of them were consistent, if not necessarily to the community’s liking. On the other hand, several rulings were published that contradicted each other and/or the FAQ document published by Parks and Guild. Errata has been released for a handful of cards that were deemed too powerful, not only for game balance, but because (and I quote) “these cards are not thematic of the Star Trek universe”.

Let’s circle back to that one post of mine that I mentioned had appeared on the forum. This morning, I had fired off one more reply into the black hole about a ruling that was dubious at best, and didn’t seem to be based upon any prior rules or game mechanics. I asked what the basis was for that ruling, as well as what impact the ruling might have when applied to several other parts of the game. Seeing my name appear in the thread later on in the day, I was very happy to see that Wizkids had at least acknowledged my post. But upon reading the response, I realized that they didn’t answer all of my questions. In fact, a huge chunk of my post had been removed, and it appears for all the world that I never even asked about the basis of the ruling, only what it applied to! Not expecting anything of the sort, I didn’t think to take a screenshot of my post before submitting it, not that I could prove that it was submitted as such; but as I live and breathe, my post was edited by someone else before being approved and posted. This occurred without any notice to me whatsoever, and hid the fact that I was taking the Socratic method to point out the fact that they were changing a rule that wasn’t broken to something that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

As a local Tournament Organizer and good friend phrased it, “If I were a conspiracy theorist I’d swear they’re purposely sabotaging the game. Having a rules forum where you can pick and edit the questions is ridiculous.”. I couldn’t agree more.

This rant belongs on the Wizkids forums, but it would never be see the light of day if I posted it there. As much as I enjoy exploring Star Trek: Attack Wing, I’ve forbidden myself from touching the of the Dungeons & Dragons: Attack Wing because of Wizkids’ business model and disregard for a consistent and well planned rule set for competitive play. Ideally, I would like the variety of continuing to play X-Wing Miniatures, Star Trek: Attack Wing, and soon Star Wars: Armada at a competitive level in addition to more casual board games and video games. But there’s only so much time in the week, and only so much money in my gaming budget. Wizkids is making it really easy to decide which one of those items might not make the cut.

– The Tabletop General

Competitive vs. Fair

Just about everyone has played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” (RPS) before, right? If nothing else, it’s a great way to decide with your buddy which one of you is going to have to step away from the gaming table to go order a pizza (or which one of you will be paying for it). The rules of the game are simple: players both simultaneously reveal and compare hand signals for rock (defeats scissors),  scissors (defeats paper), or paper (defeats rock). Believe it or not, there are some groups that play RPS competitively, a bit far-fetched for me, but rock on for having the competitive spirit.

Now I’m going take a bit of a trip down memory lane… Back in primary school, I remember quite clearly playing RPS as a daily ritual at the lunch table, and it never got old. Why? Because we didn’t stick to Rock, Paper, or Scissors as our options. We had hand signals for a Tree, which Scissors couldn’t cut and would crack a Rock in half if it fell on it. We had a Chainsaw (that one was a complicated hand sign). that could cut down that tree, and worked pretty well on most other things.  We had Dynamite, that would blow up almost anything it faced (a decidedly overpowered ability), but would have its’ fuse cut by Scissors. We had Fire, which would burn a Tree or Paper, and make Dynamite blow up (which we determined made Fire win). Half the fun was figuring out how to contort your hand into something that looked like your weapon of choice, and then debating about how it interacted with whatever your opponent came up with for their selection.

Apparently, adding more hand signs is a real thing, causing such combinations as “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock”. This change recreates a conundrum from my childhood games. Spock loses to Paper, but defeats Rock and Scissors, so the first player to introduce Spock has a 2:3 win chance, as opposed to the 1:3 chance from games with 3 choices. Adding in the Lizard makes things fair again, and levels the playing field. But what if you couldn’t select the Lizard or Spock, only your opponent could? Believe it or not, it’s pretty common to run across those sorts of situations. In particular, “Free-to-play” video games tend to do this a lot; players with free accounts playing against one another is a balanced fight, and it’s (usually) a technical possibility for a free player to win against a player who is paying money in to the game, but the paying player usually has major advantages in abilities, equipment, or power level.

Today we’re seeing this effect in tabletop miniature gaming. Games such as Warhammer: 40,000 make it a straight-up cash grab, as the player who can buy up the newest army released and paint it up and get it on the table quickly tend to have an advantage over all other armies until the next release, at which point the newer release tends to once again have an advantage. This is known as “power creep”, or “codex creep” specifically in reference to Warhammer.

But that’s not the only place that I’m seeing it. Star Trek: Attack Wing has created a permanent disparity between highly competitive players (or those with the money for eBay), and the more casual crew with their Organized Play prize ships and blind booster ships. These ships are generally (but not always) alternate versions of other ships that have already been released at retail or will be available in the future, but the ship abilities and included upgrade cards are different from the retail version and aren’t available anywhere else.

This adds prestige to competing in and winning events, but some of these abilities are really powerful. For example, the P.W.B. Aj’Rmr, available only to winners of OP #3 of the Dominion War, is the same model and base stats as the I.R.W. Khazara out of the starter set for Attack Wing, but has drastically better action economy towards the end of the game, essentially getting a free target lock out of each attack once the ship has taken some damage. The Aj’Rmr also includes some great upgrades like Romulan Pilot, a 2 point Crew Upgrade that can be discarded for a free Scan token and a free green maneuver on top of your normal actions for the turn. I would LOVE to have the Aj’Rmr in my Attack Wing collection, but I wasn’t playing at the time this was available, and won’t be buying one off of EBay.

While neat and occasionally powerful, none of the ships with limited availability really break the game or significantly alter how it is played. Do I think it’s fair? Not at all. But it’s an accepted and semi-agreed upon part of the rules for Attack Wing. I also don’t think Attack Wing is successful because of a strong ruleset or balanced competitive play. I’ve come to expect and accept this slight imbalance from Wizkids with Attack Wing.

Fantasy Flight Games, on the other hand, is a group that I have come expect much better meta-game management from, and they’ve created a no-win situation for players and tournament organizers. This year at the GenCon gaming convention, Fantasy Flight Games sold convention attendees the next two months of releases for Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures, and it’s been a headache for me as a TO.

The Rebel Aces expansion wasn’t such a huge deal, as it was releasing to the public soon and the ships themselves are alternate paint schemes of existing ships, so they could be used fairly without introducing the new cards in the expansion. The upgrade cards and new pilots would cause a competitive imbalance between players who did and did not have access to them: A-Wings got a huge boost to their ordnance upgrade slot out of the Proton Rocket and Chardaan Refit cards. Jake Farrell moves like no other A-Wing pilot. The B-Wing-E/2 title gave B-Wings access to upgrades that had previously been closed to them. Keyan Farlander’s unique ability turns the B-Wing into a stress-eating machine gun. This expansion made significant changes to how these ships worked, and some of the upgrades, like those Proton Rockets, could be shared with other ships as well.

The bigger deal was the VT-49 Decimator and the YT-2400 Outrider, which wouldn’t release to the public for two months after their limited sale at GenCon. As of the writing of this article, they still haven’t been released, and won’t until after the next X-Wing tournament to be held at my home venue, the grand prize for which will be a copy of either ship upon its’ release. And for the third event in a row, I’m having to defend my position that players who purchased these ships at GenCon shouldn’t be able to use them.

At first, the argument was based upon a loophole in the tournament rules for X-Wing which states that all expansions would be considered tournament legal at events held in the U.S. once the ships were available for sale, and players argued that their sale at GenCon should qualify these conditions. I stuck to my guns on this one, because not everyone could have traveled to Indianapolis to buy them. This argument was upheld by the fact that these ships were not allowed in the 2014 World Finals tournament for X-Wing earlier this month.

Now, I’ve been reminded by a player that we’re trying to encourage more competitive play in our area, and these ships will be a part of the next major round of tournaments, the 2015 Store Championship series kicking off in January. “Shouldn’t we get as much practice against these as possible?”, goes the argument of the day. Sorry, but I don’t buy that one either. This is a competitive event, which should have a level and fair playing field. I’ve played in over a dozen casual X-Wing gaming sessions since GenCon, and I’ve yet to see either of the release wave 5 ships on the table. Anyone looking to use them in tournament play against people who haven’t had an opportunity to see these ships in action, let alone be able to buy their own copies, is looking for an unfair advantage in that event, and it saddens me that this is argument is made while flying the banner of being more “competitive”.

We’ve got 2-5 months in front of us before the 2015 X-Wing Store Championships, depending on the scheduling of the individual venues. There is plenty of time to figure out how to use and fight against these two ships.

If you’re worried about something upsetting the tournament scene, look at the Scum and Villainy faction’s upcoming release first, which will bring entirely new play styles to the game, and will release even closer to the start of the Store Championship tournaments. One more event and roughly one week’s further delay until the retail release of the VT-49 and the YT-2400 isn’t going to make any significant difference. My answer to these players wanting to use these ships early in tournament play is “no”, it will always be “no”, and I doubt that I would find myself playing in competitive events where the answer was “yes”.

I want to match wits with my opponents, not show off how much I can afford to spend time and money to gain an advantage. I want to compete and I want to win, but not as bad as I want a fair fight. I want to prove myself against my opponent, and I’m proving my wits, not my wallet.

Discuss.

– The Tabletop General

New Tournament Format for Attack Wing

As per a blog post today from Wizkids, they are going to be bringing up official forums for Attack Wing hosted via the Wizkids Event System. More importantly, the same post stated that a new set of suggested tournament guidelines will be forthcoming, and will include the following, or something close to it:

SUGGESTED TOURNAMENT FORMAT

120 Points per fleet

• 3 Ships per fleet

50 Points maximum per ship (at the start of the game) including all upgrades, captains, admirals, and resources assigned to the ship. During game play, it might be possible that you will exceed 50 points through game effects that let you steal or add upgrades to your ship.

• If your ship’s base cost is 43 points or more you may add up to 8 Points for upgrades (Crew, Tech, Weapons, and Borg) and a captain even if those cards bring your cost over 50 points.

• If there is a Blind Booster, 30 of your available Fleet Points are reserved for use with game elements from your Blind Booster leaving 90 points to build your fleet. The game elements in your Blind Booster may not be mixed with the 90 points from the rest of your fleet.  The Blind Booster ship counts toward the 3 ships minimum.

(Full blog post: http://wizkidsgames.com/blog/2014/10/24/star-trek-attack-wing-updated-suggested-tournament-format/)

This completely invalidates certain builds, like my version of the Enterprise E. The Borg Cube in particular is nerfed into near irrelevance, having exactly one point left for a Captain or other upgrades if you make use of it’s ability to equip a Borg Ablative Hull Armor at a discount.

But what this format prevents is worth the sacrifice. Attack Wing is going to go back to being less about collecting the pieces to build one or two nigh-unkillable dreadnaughts that will yield no points to your opponent; and will once again focus on tactics. maneuvering, and outwitting your opponent on the fly. No longer can players stuff all their points onto one battleship with multiple attack-canceling abilities. Weyoun and Varel is a much less scary combo when that no longer protects 75% or more of the opponent’s fleet. If your opponent still brings that in their build, then just shoot the other ships!

As I’ve told my local group, I’m willing to play by any reasonable set of rules put forth by the venue / TO, but I think this is a positive step for the game and the community. I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the community reacts.

What are your thoughts on the new format? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what your opinions are!

— The Tabletop General

On “Netdecking”

The internet… how I love and loathe thee at times. Without the internet, the world as we know it wouldn’t exist. I certainly wouldn’t have this site with which I can reach out and share my thoughts, and for that matter I wouldn’t have my day job in IT either to be able to support my gaming habits. At the same time, competitive gaming, in whatever form it might exist in an alternate universe without the internet, would be a far more interesting and varied experience. Without the ability to share builds, strategies, and gaming concepts over long distances, every gaming community’s “meta-game” would be wildly different; things that see heavy use in one area might never be used at all elsewhere. Granted, gaming in general wouldn’t be quite as common, but this is my theoretical mirror universe and I’ll make it up the way I want to!

Anyway, disregarding the idea of alternate universes, let’s do some time traveling, back to the early 2000’s. I was still in high school at this point, and I had “big fish in a small pond” status as far as gaming was concerned. My school had a rather sizable group of kids who played Magic: The Gathering, and near half of that group had either learned the game from me, or from someone that I had taught to play. I funded my way into several other gaming ventures by buying and selling cards – someone would want to get rid of a box of “useless” cards for cheap, I would buy them and make a killer deck out of it, and then I would sell that deck for a hefty profit, sometimes even back to the original owner, and the remaining cards from the transaction that weren’t in that particular deck then piled up into the boxes upon boxes that I still have to this day. Those players would usually win more often than before, but they wouldn’t have the same success with the deck because they didn’t understand the concepts behind it.

To give a specific example, consider a deck containing (amongst others) the following five cards: False Demise, Iridescent Drake, Altar of Dementia, Horseshoe Crab, and Hermetic Study.

Iridescent Drake               False Demise                Altar of Dementia

hermitic study               Horseshoe Crab

For those following along but not familiar with Magic terminology and gameplay, these cards don’t do much on their own, or if played improperly, but they’re tough combos if deployed right. Playing Hermetic Study on the Horseshoe crab allows you to spend a basic renewable resource to trigger that damage dealing ability over and over, which turns that creature into a living machine-gun capable of wiping out multiple creatures per turn and burning down your opponent’s life total quickly. As to the other three cards… False Demise is basically a one-shot resurrection for a given creature, but Iridescent Drake with False Demise on it can bring itself back from the dead an infinite number of times, allowing you to completely remove the opponent’s draw pile instantly by sacrificing the creature over and over via Altar of Dementia. This in turn causes the opponent to lose the game the next time they should draw a new card into their hand.

In order to be the most effective possible with this build, False Demise is saved to play on Iridescent Drake, and only that enchanted creature is sacrificed to Altar of Dementia; while Horseshoe Crab was the only creature to put Hermetic Study on. Sure, there could be emergency uses for cards, but in general, those two combos didn’t mix. If sacrificing the Horseshoe Crab to the Altar of Dementia twice would win the game for you, by all means go ahead and play False Demise there, and do your thing. Or if your opponent was near death but had blocking creatures you couldn’t get past, use Hermetic Study on whatever you have available to do direct damage.  Still, those uses needed to be the exception, not the rule. These two are fairly obvious as distinctly separate combos to experienced Magic players, but I wanted an example that would stand out here for discussion’s sake.

Meanwhile, back to that group of Magic players… we were an odd lot in general, an intersection of several social groups. Within that group, I had a particular nemesis that I could never turn down a chance to play and beat.This young man, who shall remain nameless, had previously been unwelcome around me for very personal reasons (you might say it was a matter of honor, in the way that teenagers look at the world), but he had a reputation as a skilled Magic player and I wasn’t one to back down from a challenge. We played on a fairly regular basis for a while, and I don’t think I would have liked him even without the past issues, but I had to admit he could give me a run for my money. Soon, however, I learned that he was giving me a run with someone else’s money, and lots of it. Coming from a wealthy family, he saw no problem with spending lots of his parents’ money on buying Magic cards on the internet, and he wasn’t even picking out which cards to buy. Instead, my rival was looking up the deck lists of recent major tournament winners, and just buying everything that they used, recreating that deck, and bringing it as his own against my home-brewed decks.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of the term “netdecking” – finding a design for what to bring to a game on the interNET, and bringing exactly that as your DECK (or fleet / army /etc). This was a new concept to me at that point, and I didn’t like it. I still don’t, really. Even though I’m happy to provide some of my own ideas, I enjoy discovering a game’s mechanics and combos almost as much as I enjoy playing them. So what he was doing felt odd to me, it felt cheap, and it felt like he was cheating.

But even facing championship caliber decks, I still won more than my fair share. The decks he would recreate were designed to win high level tournament matches, and a lot of things that I did at the time wouldn’t have made the cut at that level. As a result, he would often hit a figurative Wall of Stone playing against me, because his decks didn’t have answers to the problems I presented him with; they were designed for a different setting. To be successful with a given build, it’s important to know the goals behind the design, the idiosyncrasies of the build, and what to do when your initial plan falls apart. Going back to magic terms, is it more important to do damage to your opponent early, or not take any unnecessary damage? Should all of your spells be cast as quickly as possible, or are there specific ones that should be held back for a key point in the match? Players can learn these answers for themselves as they play the game, but the answers aren’t necessarily packaged in with the shopping list they pulled off of some random website, despite the fact that the player who originally designed that list has thought those questions out thoroughly.

Fast forward back to this week: As I mentioned in my recent battle report for a tournament at a new venue for Star Trek: Attack Wing, I lucked in to facing a player who was using a variant of a Federation build which I had prototyped in a previous article as a thought experiment for fighting the against the Borg. He made me sweat, but I came away with the victory because that design (and the general tactics that I provided with it) wasn’t specific to the scenario in play. I had based my design of that ship with a standard 100 point build in mind, in which you would face no more than two heavy hitting Borg ships: Spheres, or Tactical Cubes, or even the new Octahedrons. But in this event, with 120 points, I had three such ships and as a result I was able to overwhelm his defenses; in particular, thanks to the extra shot per turn from the 3rd Borg ship, he had to load up on more Auxiliary Power Tokens to keep powering his Ablative Hull Armor than he could clear from his ship in a turn, but he continued to take easy maneuvers with his ship in order to clear those tokens, which resulted in having him unable to shoot at my fleet for multiple turns, making the problem worse.

In theory it was the right build to beat my faction (by my very own theory, no less), and I would consider what he was doing the right move if I only had one ship remaining to fire on him. But the combined fire of my multiple ships available in this scenario made his resistance… well…  futile (I couldn’t pass up on that one). Knowing that the odds were against the Enterprise E clearing those tokens off as fast as he was taking them, I would have given up on taking small maneuvers which would clear the Aux tokens, and instead I would have accepted that the Auxiliary tokens would be there and would be preventing his ship from taking utility actions like Evades or Target Locks, and I would have tried to work my way into range and finish off another ship to reduce the quantity of those tokens being given. But recognizing that situation only comes from experience, both with the game and the pieces in play, and he was not only just trying out this build for the first time, but also relatively new to Attack Wing. I’m sure once he gains more experience with both, that fight would be even harder still for the Borg if replayed.

The internet can be a wonderful medium by which to exchange ideas. A small portion of those ideas can be concerned with how to design a winning build for your miniatures game or card game of choice. But without context, without knowing the goals and constraints with which the concept was created, and without taking time to learn those for yourself, success isn’t guaranteed just because you have a superior design. That’s why here at the Tabletop General I try to give context, to share not only what I’m doing, but why I’m doing it. You might have an army of tanks to take on the enemy’s cavalry, but an army is only as good as the orders it’s given.

— The Tabletop General