I’ve lied to you a bit. This isn’t going to be a conventional ‘report’ in the sense that I talk about what went on in my turns and their turns and what we were thinking and who won and who lost. This is instead going to be a series of reflections on why I came last, why I had two appalling non-games that I didn’t really enjoy, and my awkward relationship with 50 point games and the tournament scene.
The Winter Warmup was pretty much the first event of the year for Cross Gaming Club and the first time I’d played in the shiny new Dark Sphere site on Hercules Road. I was the odd man out in more ways than one; the only Claphamite to put in an appearance, the only player that Press Ganger Tom hadn’t met before; the only one, I suspect, who hadn’t played a fifty point game or a tournament in about a year; and the odd-numbered player who induced the bye.
Fifty points for me means one list, dumping everything I own into it, and hoping like hell. Two lists are impossible when nine points of my collection are FA: C and when I’ve blown money I barely have on the Banshee and the entry fee. Whatever, I’d been laid up with a horrible infection for a week and wanted to do something in the real world before I went back to work. Nonetheless, going single-list in a multi-list tournament is generally a recipe for disaster, given the number of hard counters and bad matchups inherent in the game’s design.
The list/collection I ran with was:
Kaelyssa, Night’s Whisper
– Sylys Wyshnylarr
10 Dawnguard Invictors with Officer & Standard
10 Houseguard Halberdiers with Officer & Standard
Lady Aiyana and Master Holt
Eiryss, Mage Hunter of Ios
Not bad, but not brilliant, and lacking a really obvious, simple-to-execute win button. A recurring theme during the post-wipeout chit-chat was that I’d bought the wrong caster (some people laboured this point more than others), and in retrospect I agree. I’d probably have been better off running Ossyran, leaving Eiryss at home, and picking up a Houseguard Thane, for reasons which will become clear as we move along. The Banshee was totally new, only built the day before the event. I hadn’t played fifty points or a tournament game in over a year. I was, as a great man… demon… elf… thing… once said, NOT PREPARED.
That smug git across the table is Sicily’s Marcin Garbino, a nice chap who’s played everything under the sun and, unfortunately, had brought a meteor to a gunfight. His Baldur Theme Force (that’s the Stonecleaver, at Tier 4) was entirely occupying the scenario control zone, shown centre, by the end of his first turn, and everything was either ARM Obscene or hiding in one of the two trenches (the black felt bits). Cross use trenches a lot. Cross toss trenches onto the board and put them in the scenario zones. This is not forbidden anywhere in the rules but it definitely made a bad situation worse for me; hitting the Druids on DEF 20 and knowing that they were immune to blast damage was definitely not sexy at all.
I had a vague shot at assassinating Baldur on my second turn, but I gimped it by firing the Banshee first since it had Phantom Hunter on it. That slammed Baldur back, even though he was immune to being knocked down thanks to his feat, and left him out of range for either Kaelyssa or the Phoenix. That was, in essence, game, since there was no way I could crack that wall of DEF/ARM 20+ sitting in the middle racking up control points, and I’d already blown Kaelyssa’s feat on forcing the Woldstalkers to move forward if they wanted to massacre my infantry (and they did). Since I’d moved Kaelyssa up to try for the shots on Baldur, she was hanging out in front of the army, and… it wasn’t really worth going on. I was in a foul mood by the end of this game, and quite prepared to turn around and go home if the prospect of similar non-starters was likely.
Tom and the neighbouring players talked me down, though, and instead Marcin and I went for a walk, since we had an hour to kill. He treated me to an informative if slightly overlong lecture on the merits of Issyria, the Mage Hunter Assassin, and those of the Houseguard Thane in the absence of Riflemen. I have, I think, underestimated the effect of Desperate Pace; I looked at the Thane, saw the obvious synergy with Riflemen (who I don’t own), and wrote him off, instead of considering the advantages of more speed in scenario play. Fair cop, and by the time I’d calmed down a bit, I saw what he was driving at. I also think he was right about taking Ossyran; I’d just nailed the list together the night before and picked the caster who’d let me take everything, but if I’d had a Thane handy I’d have gleefully chucked Eiryss to field him instead. Marcin’s a decent chap, just light-years beyond me as a player, and not the best first-round draw. I like losing my first round game, but I like being able to play in the game at all. Didn’t help that I was well flustered from arriving half an hour late to an event fifteen minutes’ bus ride from my house. I’m just the MOST prepared sometimes.
Exhibit B: Rob Parsons and his Menoth. Tom had politely asked him to go easy on me since I’d had such a shit day so far, and laughed bitterly when he saw that “going nice” involved the Harbinger, the Covenant, the customary ‘jack wall, Visgoth Rhoven and a big unit of Exemplars Errant. A classic ‘Menoth Says No’ list, then, but at least I’ve fought and beaten the Harbinger before, and she’s on that nice big base that makes her easy to shoot.
I actually really enjoyed this game. Why? Well. Here’s the top of turn two:
And here’s the bottom of turn four, when dice down were called:
This was closer than it looked. Rob’s left-hand Reckoner and Vanquisher were both badly damaged (the former was on one box and had been for two damn rounds!) and the latter was immobilised ready for more Stormfalling, and I had cleaned out many of the Menite infantry. The Harbinger had been forced to spend most of the game camping focus and avoiding Eiryss, and I was able to weather the feat turn by bunkering up between those two rocks, taking hits on the two myrmidons (who could eat a power 14) and having everyone else shoot at whatever Menites they could see before Kaelyssa’s feat came down. I did manage to layer some damage onto the Harbinger through Martyrdom, as Rob Martyred a lot of Errants and one of Rhoven’s bodyguards at least twice in an effort to make my flanking Dawnguard behave themselves.
The only huge cockup I made involved sinking far too much effort into killing two Exemplar Errants engaging my Banshee so it could be free to charge Rob’s Vanquisher. As well as squandering the activations of Eiryss and Kaelyssa, who could have been locking down a ‘jack with Disruption/Arcantrik Bolt a turn earlier than they did, it meant diverting my Halberdiers’ attention, which mean leaving the Vanquisher on one sodding box on its primary weapon, which meant that when the Banshee was eventually freed, it took a free strike in passing that crippled its own primary weapon, and ended up scrapped by the Vanquisher on the next turn. Should have just trampled and taken my chance on the free strikes, maybe, or wailed on the Exemplars and had Eiryss and Kaelyssa paralyse the Vanquisher for next turn.
I was losing, but I lost through identifiable errors and Rob only scored one control point in the whole game. I did, however, only score two tiebreaker points, as most of Rob’s units had one or two guys left alive, and I hadn’t been able to nail his ‘jacks while he’d trashed both of mine. This was a simpler game, where I could see what went wrong, and I enjoyed it – my brain simply overheated with the combination of timed turns, more actors to handle than usual, and winkling into the “Menoth says NO” rules combinations to work out what I could actually do.
After lunch, round three, and this is where the beast emerged…
Sometimes, good players have bad days, and end up in the bottom of the brackets with the likes of me. Trevor Couper is such a player; he was running on next to no sleep and had, I think, timed out on one of this games and badly misplayed another. I drew him in a complex scenario (so many ways to earn and deny points – my brain hurt just trying to deploy in a way that would manage its impact), and while he was list-locked like me, his list was… simpler, and brutal, and had more direct ways to deploy greater killing power on a broader range of targets. Martial Discipline, twenty tough Weapon Master infantry, a feat that delivered them to the control zones and points quickly with extra ARM (just like the first game) and a Colossal that could point, click and delete one of my myrmidons or units every turn. To cap it all off, I’d misdeployed, giving my Dawnguard the task of keeping the Colossal from racking up all the Control Points in the world, and maybe taking it down with Flank charges (not likely at four dice minus twelve). I’d have been better off putting them in the lines to take down the infantry, and feeding both my myrmidons and the Stormfall Archers at the Colossal.
Despite Trevor point-click-deleting the Banshee, and being in a very strong place at the top of my turn two, I did actually have a way of putting some damage onto Ossrum and maybe securing the game. I just didn’t think of it in time. See, the Dawnguard could, with three or four man CRAs, put damage on the Colossal, as could the Stormfall Archers and the Phoenix. They’d been doing it since turn one, when Extended Fire let them get a few shots in before Trevor’s feat turn. Now, had I thought to slap Backlash onto it ASAP, I’d probably have been able to get nine to twelve damage onto Ossrum and maybe, just maybe, keep Kaelyssa alive long enough to Phantom Hunter her way to the win. Alas, I didn’t think of that until turn two, and after losing most of my Halberdiers and my Banshee and realising that I’d lose either the Dawnguard, the Phoenix or both in the next turn, I just gave up. Dishonourable, strength-of-schedule wrecking, but fuck it, I was having an appalling time in this game and I had no intention of inflicting my grotty side on Trevor any more than was necessary.
I asked for the bye in round four, just to save myself from melting down any further, and spent the round doing two things. Firstly, watching Trevor’s next game, since he’d drawn another Retribution player, and I wanted to see how that would go. The Retribution that rolled up – and I’ve forgotten their owner’s name, alas – were a very different beast to mine, with Ossyran, two units of Mage Hunters (Strike Force with their Officer, Infiltrators with Eiryss). Trevor had the shot at a first turn win, and spent seven minutes of his extended first turn puzzling it out and talking it through. The Colossal could just about inch forward, have range to Ossyran, knock him down with one of its guns by shooting the warjack next to him (and boosting its damage roll to boot), then lay into him with the rest of its guns. If Trevor hadn’t rolled double ones for the number of multi-shots, he’d have won before the game started. As it was, he did roll double ones, and Ossyran lived. The high-DEF infantry fanned out and jammed up the zones, and Trevor settled in for a longer, slower grind. He did eventually win, but by this stage I’d moved on to my second bye-round activity; talking 50 points with Kev Bryant and his hat.
Kev and I had a good old natter about the effect of Colossals on the game, and he re-introduced me to the concept of ‘list poker’. Not playing many multi-list events, or having much of a collection of anything, this hasn’t always been something I’ve thought about, although I’ve always known it existed. Anyway, it’s the pre-game stage where you’re looking at each other’s lists and identifying the potential matches and, if you’ve prepared at all well, identifying the pairings that just won’t work for you and picking the list that can take any of the opponent’s two or three.
Colossals skew this hugely. Being so huge and hard to either kill (so many boxes!) or tie down (so many immunities! can shoot out of melee! though factions with Gorman di Wulfe or unshakeable effects like Death Chill have it so much easier – in related news, I almost miss Cryx…), the Colossal presence demands that one of your lists is capable of dealing with one. Which is fine, except that the Colossal will also have a caster behind it, effectively meaning they have an extra card for list poker, and it’s always an ace. Let me explain.
Say I take Ossyran as my Colossal-smashing caster, with his whole extra-damage-on-ranged-attacks thing going on. Say now that the caster running the enemy Colossal is one who Ossyran struggles to beat, or that the rest of their list hard-counters the stuff in my Ossyran list. Say also that Issyria (for example’s sake) might be a better match for the caster running the Colossal. Do I take the Issyria list, which is just not equipped to handle that giant mass of boxes lumbering across the table, and hope I can score an assassination when I’m losing ten points of my stuff every turn, or do I take the Ossyran list, and focus on negating the impact of the Colossal at the expense of managing the rest of the enemy army and trying to win the game?
It’s doubly hard when the other thirty-odd points are, as they were in Trevor’s list, already quite hard for me to deal with; that’s a lot of weapon masters to pin down and chip through the high ARM on, and a few spoilers in the form of fireproof Tactical Arcanist Corps and the like, and they can all move through one another. And this is before we factor in the prospect of Trevor or whoever maybe having another list to consider. Zugwang, for those who don’t know, is the chess term for a situation in which every possible move is a bad one. That’s kinda how I feel when I see a Colossal in someone’s list. I don’t think they’re too good in and of themselves – they cost twenty points and focusing twenty points onto ten of mine should leave me coming off worse, after all. I do think that they break, or at least skew, the ‘list poker’ stage of gameplay, and that’s awkward.
So. All in all, an unsatisfactory day’s gameplay, in which I either didn’t really get to play at all, or in which I made some significant errors, or both, and for which I was NOT PREPARED. And yet, on balance, I think I had an informative day. Everyone was friendly, despite the rather spiky mood I was in while and after playing Trevor. I think I’ve learned a few things about how I might approach Steamroller 2014, and 50 points, and the prospect of encountering Colossals, assuming that I don’t just sulk in my bunker and refuse to interact with any of them (also a possibility). The day was supposed to be a warm-up and a clue-up for the 2014 season, and to be honest, it did what it said on the tin.
Time’s a-wastin’, word count’s a-creepin’, and I have to be at work soon. Next time, I’ll have some thoughts on my Retribution and where I might go with them post-SmogCon, in the light of the experience I had at the Winter Warmup. For the time being… duty calls.