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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

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

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

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

Support your Friendly Local Game Store

Story Time!

Once upon a time, there was a hobby store. We’ll call this place “Player’s Paradise” for the sake of keeping all involved anonymous. Player’s Paradise wasn’t the best hobby store anyone had ever seen, but it was the closest one around for a lot of hobbyists and gamers. Over time, a really big group of players started gathering at this store to play tabletop miniatures games. One game in particular was really expensive compared to the others, but also probably the most popular around Player’s Paradise. For the sake of reference, we will call this game CombatHammer (too obvious) WarAxe (the lawyers say that’s a Napalm scented body spray) PlasticCrack (too obvious again) Warhammer (I give up).

As these players built up their armies, the company behind Warhammer found it appropriate to raise their prices significantly. Many considered picking up a second faction to play, but balked at the cost. Player’s Paradise didn’t want to lose any business, and began offering a discount off of the recommended prices for Warhammer products. But then one day someone in the group discovered how cheaply one could buy Warhammer products on the internet either via retailers or auction sites, and sales declined in the store.

After a couple of months, the owner of Player’s Paradise began to grumble a bit about the Warhammer players. They always came to play, but never bought anything, and the gaming tables took up a lot of room in the store that could be used for other things that people did spend money on. For every table for two Warhammer players, the shop could have room for six players for any number of card games where players were constantly buying new products. So the store was reorganized, and the miniatures group felt a bit of a squeeze.

With declining sales continuing, the store’s owner banned outside food and beverages. Players Paradise had always carried snacks and sodas at reasonable prices, but from then on that would be the only way to have food and drink available during games. This upset several regulars who felt nickeled-and-dimed, because they could buy that same soda at a convenience store for 25 cents less, not stopping to think about where that 25 cents was going.

Warhammer sales continued to drop, as did other product lines, and Player’s Paradise was forced to take the nuclear option: table fees. In order to come in and play at Player’s Paradise, gamers had to pay $2 for an armband good for that day only, or $50 for a year long membership program that exempted you from those daily fees.

Those who did support the store by purchasing products from them lost opponents who wouldn’t (or in some rare cases right before payday, couldn’t) pay the fees. Facing $5 per day to come in and play a single game with a Coke and some Twinkies or the like, many players opted to go elsewhere, setting up tables at home or making a longer drive. And within just a few months, Player’s Paradise closed its’ doors for good, having exhausted their resources and no longer making a profit.

Now, I’m as guilty as anyone, as I’ve purchased dozens of games online over the years. In fact, you might say that I’m guiltier, because most of my articles include links to Amazon where you can buy products I’m discussing. But I make a point to make a significant purchase everywhere I travel for gaming events. I’m lucky enough to do my gaming somewhere that has a kitchen, and the crew knows my order before I ever put it in. I want to say this loud and clear: I’d rather everything gaming you buy come from your Friendly Local Gaming Store.

Every Little Debbie cake you pay a premium for helps pay the electric bill so that the A/C can keep you cool. When you pay full price for a board game you’re contributing to having a collection of communal board games that anyone can borrow and play.  Every dollar you don’t save on a pack of Magic cards goes towards hiring someone to organize tournaments in the store. And every twenty cent up-charge on a bottle of Mountain Dew goes towards keeping the doors open so that you have a place to come play.

When you click a link to Amazon on my site, there’s a special little code in the link that says if you buy that product, I get a cut of the sale. In turn, my revenue from that (of which I have none yet, and that’s fine) goes towards two things: A more robust site to host these articles upon (i.e. keeping the lights on), and to cover my gaming budget at my local store. If I could refer you there from over the internet, I would. In fact, consider this article a referral to go support your Friendly Local Gaming Store. Tell ’em The Tabletop General sent you (they totally know who I am </snark>).

— The Tabletop General

Significant others and gaming

My girlfriend and I were driving back from out weekly ballroom dance lesson (insert joke of choice here), and we were chatting at random, bouncing from subject to subject. At a lull in the conversation, I switched topics and brought up the fact that for the second day in a row I had heard from another member of my old Warhammer group that was getting in to X-Wing Miniatures. I figured this was more relevant to her than the previous player because she had met this person previously; we happened to duck in to a local hobby store about a year ago for a gift while he was there for a Warhammer tournament. The conversation started something like this:

Me: “So [guy] told me last night he’s getting in to X-Wing and bought a bunch of ships from somebody.”

Her: “I remember meeting him, he’s a bit older than you, right?”

Me: “That’s right. We used to play Warhammer together all the time at [random store]. He’s really sharp and he’s always fun to play against.”

Her: “Well, competition is good. How old is he anyway?”

Me: “I couldn’t say for sure, but if I remember correctly his kids are college age.”

[a short pause]

Her: “What do all the other women do?”

This caught me completely off guard, because until I went back later and thought about the connection between my gaming friend and his family, I saw no link between her question and the prior conversation. At first, I didn’t even know I had heard her right, so I asked her what she meant. She elaborated by saying that there were probably a lot of guys out there that were even more into gaming than I am, and she wondered what all their wives and girlfriends did while the guys were gaming.

Now that I understood what she meant, I explained as best I could, and basically covered the following:

  • There are some ladies, although admittedly not many, who are gamers themselves will participate along with their husband or boyfriend.
  • There are also plenty who aren’t brought into gaming by anyone else, and just come by themselves because they enjoy it.
  • There are other women who will come along to watch for moral support, or just enjoy being present for the banter and conversation.
  • As silly as this may seem, some are present for a distraction. I’ll never forget my last game of the 2009 40K ‘ard Boyz tournament semi-final. My opponent knew he was fighting an uphill battle against me, and entry to the Chicago finals was on the line. In desperation, he sent a text message to his girlfriend who was shopping nearby. She showed up for the last couple of rounds with a couple less buttons fastened on her shirt than she had earlier in the day and starting leaning over the table to “watch the action”. My Orks would have probably been quite pleased with that if they could have looked up.
  • There’s also probably a non-insignificant number of hobby gamers that are single, and the aforementioned distraction attempt might have worked on.
  • Of the situations not already mentioned, it’s hard to say, because it doesn’t come up much in conversation while gaming. You never want to ask someone random in mid game “How’s your wife?” only to find out that they’re coming in to play in order to forget about the fact that they’re in a fight and he’s sleeping on the couch tonight. If he doesn’t mention what his SO is doing, other guys are not about to ask. But there are a few gamers I know well enough to talk about family life, and I’ve seen or heard of a few of the following situations:
    • While they’re gaming, their significant other is at work – This happens a lot with the younger crowd who are more likely to have retail jobs with unusual hours.
    • They take a night off to relax:
      • I happen to know a family where the kids come along with dad for game night, which gives the mother a night of peace and quiet.
      • I’ve also recently seen a child carrier on the table next to a new dad before, he alternated talking gibberish to his daughter and maneuvering his Space Marines.
    • Their partner indulges a hobby of their own:
      • I have lost count of how many times over the years I’ve rushed through the last turn or so of a game with someone so that they could be done and packed up before their wife returned to pick them up after an afternoon at the mall.
      • An old gaming store in the area that closed several years ago had a “Warhammer widow’s corner”, where players’ wives and girlfriends would read, gossip, and work on scrapbooking projects (the store may not have made money on it, but they certainly never stopped stocking scrapbook supplies).

We continued to talk about this for a few minutes after we arrived home, and she asked a vital question: “Does it bother you that I don’t go with you to play?” A lot of people might look at that as a dangerous line of conversation, especially given that she knows that some of my ex’s would come along on my gaming excursions to watch or play. I answered without worry or hesitation though, and I fully meant every word of it. I would be excited if there was something she wanted to pick up and play, even if it wasn’t something I already participate in. But I do not want to drag her along and ask her to do something she would not necessarily enjoy. I completely understand that her interests and my interests are not always going to line up perfectly, and I think it’s very beneficial for us as a couple to have things that we do separately. So would I like her to play? Sure. Does it bother me that she doesn’t? Not a chance.

We already have a couple separate groups that we have board game nights with, and she’s sneakily good. Sometimes I wonder if she realizes how fast she picks up new games. Ticket to Ride? I think she’s got better than a .500 record with even with 3+ players. Trains / Dominion? Don’t ever count her out. Settlers of Catan? She’s played a handful of games and yet puts serious pressure on the veterans. Clue? She’ll tear you apart. In these instances she is playing to be social, to interact with her friends and family. That’s very different from showing up to a game night or a tournament to play a stranger for the sake of playing the game. I think that’s the reason she doesn’t have any interest in picking up some of the games that I enjoy, and I have no problem with that. Competitive gaming isn’t for everyone.

As it stands now, I think we have a healthy balance in our relationship. I don’t set a strict gaming budget for myself, but I’m never going to think twice about whether to fund a vacation or buy more gaming supplies. At the same time, she’s not the type to question how much I’m spending on what, but perhaps that’s because I don’t give a reason to. We’ve established a regular schedule to our weeks: Sundays, we might not be doing much, but we find things to do together, either cheering on our NFL teams, or catching a movie, or just a lazy day at home. Monday, I’m gaming, she catches up on her shows or has dinner with her friends, usually something that I wouldn’t care to eat. Wednesday, company softball game for me, ceramics class for her. Thursday, X-Wing league at a local store? No thanks, weekly dinner with the extended family that night, or our dance lesson, as we’ve recently had to start moving that around to fit it in. Fridays and Saturdays, there’s usually something going on gaming-wise on one day or the other, but I’ll only go if we don’t have plans to do something together.

Gamers, your significant other can be as big or as small of a part of your hobby as you’re each comfortable with. There is no right or wrong amount of involvement to have, it’s all about what works right for the two of you. If you two are inseparable even while surrounded by gaming nerds and pushing plastic army men around a table, rock on, I hope you both brought a sense of humor because I’ve got bad jokes for days. But if he or she wants some time to themselves, more power to them.

Oh, and if you’re reading this, random guy from South Carolina playing White Scars and trying to distract me during our game back in 2009, thanks for the view and the ticket to the finals.

How to lose a player (or not)

Out of all the games I’m playing lately, X-Wing Miniatures has to be my absolute favorite. Being completely honest, I’m really into it because I’m a Star Wars nerd first and foremost, but there’s several other great features. Repainting of the miniatures isn’t unheard of, but fresh out of the box they’ve got a better paint job than I could ever manage. The mechanics of the game are great; most of all the simultaneous turns, as opposed to taking turns with your opponent watching the other play as so many miniatures games tend to be structured. The player community is awesome; I’ve run into cutthroat competitors and fluff enthusiasts alike, and both normally coexist just fine. Unfortunately, those two clashed pretty hard in a portion of the following story.

My biggest problem with X-Wing for a while was that I haven’t have enough people to play on a regular basis. I’ve got a fairly busy schedule, so at the time my available game store nights were Mondays, most Fridays, and Saturdays if there’s an event of some sort going on. Fridays seem to be big for Star Trek: Attack Wing, which cannibalizes a lot of the player base. Meanwhile, the two biggest existing X-Wing groups in my area play on Wednesday and Thursday nights. So I’ve been trying to drum up support for the game at my home store for casual play, and especially on Monday nights. For several weeks it was just myself and one or two others on a rotating basis, and it was not uncommon for me to end up just pulling out a book or observing some other games.

On one particular night we had four players show up for X-Wing, myself included. I managed to get in two games against the same opponent which aren’t the focus of this story, and I witnessed part of a baby seal clubbing at the next table over. Granted, playing my own games, I didn’t watch the full battle unfold, but I saw enough to know that it did not go well. One player, who represents said baby seal, we’ll call him “Luke” for reference purposes. I’ve never really known Luke well but have been around him in gaming circles for years. He absolutely loves Star Wars, and had purchased about 10-15 ships so already, yet was only playing his second or third game, mostly because just like me, his availability is limited and he hadn’t been able to find anyone to play on Mondays. Most importantly of all to our story, Luke told me later that he had made his inexperience known to his opponent well in advance of the match. My memory is atrocious at times, and I was paying more attention to my own games than anything else, so I don’t know if I had met Luke’s opponent before, but he obviously knew his stuff based on what I saw of the game, and despite his opponent’s inexperience, he wasn’t pulling any punches, talking through his decisions, or explaining why things were going the way they were.

At one point, I glanced over at their table and I saw a textbook ambush in progress. Luke had his entire fleet chasing a Firespray-31 down the middle of the table at long range, while a handful of TIE Fighters and TIE Interceptors had swooped around both of Luke’s flanks and were granted unopposed short range shots with predictably deadly results. When the game was done, the more experienced player packed up and left with barely a word beyond “well, it’s getting late”, and his victim was certainly in no mood to play again. I can’t imagine that either of them enjoyed the match. Don’t misunderstand me here, I don’t know that Luke’s opponent did anything wrong, but based on the effect the game had on Luke I don’t feel like he did a whole lot right.

Our new player, Luke, walked away for a few minutes to cool off but didn’t leave yet. My second game wrapped up in a hurry, so fortunately I had a chance to sit down and talk with him about the game. We probably talked for a little over half an hour. Luke is no newcomer to gaming and calculating odds, so we were able to discuss what happened in the game from a high level, and he understood the mechanics of why it was a bad idea to be shooting at range three, why his opponent had so much success with his flankers, and so on. We talked about how tough the Firespray-31 is compared to smaller ships, about target priority, and several other game mechanics and tactics. We also talked about how his opponent approached the game, knowing that there was a newbie across the table. Luke said that if he had been new to gaming in general, or if he didn’t like Star Wars so much, he probably wouldn’t have ever played again, despite the fact that he had already invested a decent bit of money into the game. He has been around gaming circles long enough to recognize when someone is “sharking”, as he called it, and that was exactly what he felt had happened here. I told him to come back the next week, and that I would play against him, taking time to talk him through his tactical options each turn, explaining what I was doing with each of my ships and why, and actually help him learn the game.

Over the next week, I do my usual thing, posting on our store forums and the local X-Wing Facebook group that I’ll be around the store to play on Monday evening. A few people acknowledge it (oh, the ephemeral, meaningless “Like” button – Side note, please take a minute to “Like” Tabletop General on Facebook). I was earlier than usual arriving that evening, so I didn’t think much of it, but nobody showed up except myself within the first couple of hours. It just so happened, however, that an old friend of mine from my Warhammer days had come along with a buddy to the shop to knock the dust off of his Skaven army. His game had finished, but he was waiting for his ride to play another game. He and I chatted for a while, and then he asked me to show him how to play X-Wing since he happens to be a massive Star Wars fanatic. I broke out a couple of ships, and walked him through the basics, adding a new concept every turn. Movement dials; shooting ranges; focus actions; target lock actions; barrel rolls; the impact of pilot skill. Soon, his X-Wing had destroyed my target practice TIE Fighter, and he’s hooked. He’ll likely be buying into the game as soon as he has the funds to do so, and already says he needs to be able to field all of Rogue Squadron.

At this point it was only a couple of hours until the shop would be closing for the night, and thought it was a reasonable assumption to make that nobody else was coming to play.  I packed up my stuff, and headed for the car. But just as I closed my trunk (full of games, as usual), Luke pulled in to the parking lot. He had been unsure about coming back after the beating he took last week, even knowing that I had offered to help. Since he thought I might have already left by this time, he had a friend with him (we’ll call him Han) who had played X-Wing when it was first released, but hadn’t had a great experience with it and only played a month or so before quitting. A few minutes later, we’re all inside the shop, talking about how awesome Star Wars is, and I’m alternatingly coaching them both through one of the most entertaining matches I’ve ever seen or played.

And I’m proud to say that over a month later both Luke and Han are still coming back for more.

— The Tabletop General

The Tabletop General

Welcome to the Tabletop General – a new blog for discussion of strategy games, tactics, issues facing the gaming community, and whatever else happens to cross my mind on a given day. Don’t quote me on this later if it turns out to not be the case, but I’m hoping to build up a much fancier website soon that will become a permanent home for my writings. For now, I suppose this will do for a “field tent”.

I’ve been saving up content for several weeks now in order to have things worth posting about, and I’m excited to be able to finally share it. However, I understand it’s customary to introduce yourself before launching into “real” content (not that I really know what I’m doing here with branding or marketing), so I suppose I should tell you about myself first.

First and foremost, I’m a gamer. I am an only child who didn’t have a lot of other children around when I was growing up, the wonders of living out in the country. Some of my most vivid childhood memories include playing hand after hand of Canasta with my great-grandmother, trying to run away from home because my parents wouldn’t buy me a Nintendo, and taking my report card in to a ‘local’ arcade to score free tokens for A’s and B’s. In middle school, I met people through our chess club, my high school social group was expanded greatly by diving in to Magic: the Gathering, and in college and soon after most of my friends I knew through Warhammer. Now, I play X-Wing Miniatures, Star Trek: Attack Wing, random video games (lately taking a second look at Skyrim), the occasional casual game of Magic, and any board game I can get my hands on (with Dominion, Risk variants, and King of Tokyo being recent favorites). On the horizon, I foresee the recently announced Star Wars: Armada taking up a large portion of my gaming time.

To help pay for my grown-up gaming habits, I’m a software developer, and I have gaming to thank for that.  Someone in my family happened to have an old Texas Instruments computer, I think it was a TI 99/4A, and it was given to me to play games on. It plugged in to the TV, and it came with a handful of game cartridges, as well as a big thick three-ring binder full of “instructions”. It turns out, this contained a primer on the BASIC computer language. I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time, but I copied what the book said to do, and the next thing I knew there were colors flashing on the TV that I controlled.

Lately, I’m busy, to put it lightly. I’m a tournament organizer for one, soon to be multiple game systems at one of my local game stores. I’m running multiple fantasy football leagues for my coworkers. I’m on my company’s softball team. My girlfriend and I are taking ballroom dance classes. I’m hoping to start a software company of my own in the near future. Oh, and I find some time to play games now and again too. I suspect I’ll be discussing all of that in much greater detail later.

For now, enough about me, on to the real content!

— The Tabletop General