Archive for May, 2013

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Welcome to the first installment of a series of articles introducing players to Steamroller 2013 (SR2013) play. I would like to start off with a bit of a disclaimer. I am a good player, but definitely not one of the greats. Since these are my thoughts at the time of writing they might be completely inaccurate. I also reserve the right to change my mind on any of these. This is just an overview primarily for the fairly young (playtime wise) meta at my FLGS, Emerald Knights in Burbank. The official Steamroller packet is at http://privateerpress.com/organized-play/steamroller-tournaments if you want to download them for yourself (which I highly recommend).

30 Second Wrap Up (aka tldr; give me the good stuff)

/begin 30 second wrap up

This is a really basic intro to SR2013. Tourneys can be very fun and the more prepared you are the more fun you will have.

Terrain is important, put some thought into it. The tables should be fair but not symmetrical. Make it a real choice between going first or choosing table side. Good terrain makes the game more fun.

Use some form of clock. Timed turns and chess clock are the most common forms of clock. There are pros and cons to both, but both can really improve the game experience

“Thou shalt remember the mission objective and keep it holy.” Scenarios give you an extra win (or lose) condition. Control the zone or flag or destroy objectives and then control the zone or flag. You can’t score any CPs until the second players second turn. Win the game, have fun. It is an extra tactical dimension and can open up new play styles and casters. Read the scenario before every game.

Play the game. Have fun.

/end 30 second wrap up

By the way, I am stealing the idea of a 30 second wrap up from Mike Shea over at mikeshea.net – let me know what you think of it.

I absolutely reject the idea that competitive or tourney play sucks all the life out of the game. It is a great opportunity to exercise your brain with some tactical problems as well as stretch that social leg and meet new people plus you get to play several games in a relatively short amount of time. The vast majority of people at a tournament are going to be hobbyists and gamers like you. Most of them are cool and the games will be a fun challenge. That being said, don’t be a “win at all costs” dick. These players are far fewer and further between than the internet would have you believe. They exist, but I have gone to many many events and have only seen one or two of those people. Embrace the soul of Page 5 which I basically like to paraphrase as “play hard, try your best to win, but above all else make sure and have fun”. You can maximize that fun by being familiar enough with the scenarios that you don’t have to think too much about learning them, you can just work on achieving them.

“So, you wanna play a game”

Since the is the first installment I am going to take the opportunity to start from the second floor up for this series. (I assume you already have your game size decided and your opponent picked out).

The first thing to do is to set up the table. I know that we don’t have the best terrain available (yet) but here is the guideline from the SR2013 pack.

“As a general rule, an average table should contain five to seven pieces of terrain placed close enough to eliminate large open areas without unduly constricting movement. The size of terrain pieces is also important. No piece should be insignificantly small or extremely large; terrain pieces that range from 4 ̋ to 7 ̋ in length and width are best.”

There are a couple of other guidelines beyond that – the big ones are no terrain in deployment zones, no terrain within 3″ of another piece of terrain, no impassible terrain within 2″ of objectives or 4″ of flags.

Also, we have had a tendency to set our terrain up pretty much in a symmetrical fashion. This has been fine for our games in the past since we were mostly playing some kind of caster kill and just getting our heads around the game. The problem with this in the longer term is that there is no real reason to consider taking a table side if you win the roll off to see who goes first. The terrain should be even (i.e. if there is a wall on one side of the table there should be something that provides cover somewhere on the other side which may or may not be a wall – it doesn’t have to be exact but it also shouldn’t be ridiculously one sided either).

Terrain adds extra dimensions both strategically and tactically and really enhances the game so I recommend people give this a shot. Also, terrain that sets up a story is always full of win in my book. It is possible to be both fluffy and balanced. Strive for that gaming Nirvana.

“The Final Countdown”
This next category is one certain to cause a fair amount of controversy. Yes, that’s right, I am talking about timed games. There are 2 basic kinds of timed games for SR2013 play and each have their advantages and disadvantages and I will talk a little bit about each of them. I am going to use 35 points as an example for both formats since that is a fairly common size at our game nights.

First up is Death Clock. It sounds intimidating, but really it just means that both players start the game with a “bucket” containing the same amount of time as determined by the size of game being played. This is basically like using chess clocks for those of you who have seen it. A 35 point game gives both players 42 minutes in total to use as they see fit. If a player runs out of time they lose the game immediately as if their caster had been assassinated. They are usually said to have “clocked themselves”. Interestingly, in an actual tournament, there is a round timer going as well which is set to the total of both players clocks (so 84 minutes in our example). This can come up if you have been pausing clocks a lot but it is rare. Deployment is done on the clock in Death Clock.

There are several benefits to the Death Clock format. You can bank up time on those early turns by keeping them quick. You can take your time on those long feat turns and don’t have to worry about running out of time (unless you are very near the end of your clock). The tournament organizer can predict very closely to how long the total tournament is going to run. A game will rarely end in a tie and you are far less likely to have to rely on tie-breakers to determine the winner. It allows list styles and casters which might be unfeasible under timed turns.

However, Death Clock is not without its drawbacks. If one player gets a significant time advantage they can start to play the clock by withdrawing and hoping to force their opponent to run out of time. A player can determine that they don’t feasibly have a chance for the scenario and the format discourages just trying to get an advantage on scenario points. Chess clocks can be expensive (although there are a lot of good free apps for smart phones).

Timed turns present their own set of benefits and drawbacks. For 35 point games each player gets 7 minutes to complete their turn with one optional extension of 3 minutes for a total game length of 70 minutes +/- d3 minutes x the extension duration (so the actual game round time is from 61-79 minutes). The variable is included to keep players from knowing exactly when the game is going to end and stalling on their turns as the game goes on if they are in a superior position for tiebreakers. If a player forgets to send the clock over their opponent when they are done with their turn it can have dire consequences.

Now, on to the benefits of this format. Your time management is forced but the hard deadline of the turn time. Your opponent has the exact same amount of time per turn as you. It keeps the game moving at a quick pace through the entire game. There is a very real reason to try and get up even just 1 or 2 control points and hold.

The main drawbacks: a player in a superior position could start to “slow play” toward the end of the round and use the full 7 minutes hoping for the game to end. It can be difficult to run some casters who have long feats and some list styles don’t work as well like mass infantry or heavy shooting for example simply because those tend to take a little longer to resolve. A player can play “keep away” a bit more effectively and prevent a solid engagement. A game can end in a tie.

My personal preference is Death Clock. I like being able to take a long turn or two if needed and a draw to me is always less than satisfying. I would rather a clean loss than a draw. That being said, some people prefer timed turns and a lot of the time when you are playing in a tournament it will largely depend on what timing devices the store has available. As an organizer Death Clock is preferable as well for the aforementioned reasons.

Either way I highly recommend putting some kind of clock on the game. I find that regardless of the result, playing a 4 hour 35 point game feels like a loss to both players. If you are intimidated use casual or relaxed timing – say 10 minutes per turn for a 35 point game just to get used to playing with a clock.

“Why are we doing this again?”

There are 3 core concepts for victory conditions in the SR2013 scenarios. These concepts are Zones, Flags, and Objectives. I’ll talk a little bit about those below. These concepts are what allow you to score control points and win games by scenario. Control points are also an important tie breaker for both the game round and the tournament as a whole so I would recommend you try and get them while keeping your opponent from doing the same.

There are only 2 kinds of zones. Rectangles that are 6″x12″ and a 12″ circle. Regardless of the shape they have the same basic rules for scoring. You have to have a friendly model in the zone and there can be no enemy models in the zone to control it. Additionally, if the models you are trying to control a zone with are part of a unit, the unit must be at least at 50% of its starting strength with all members of the unit in the zone. Jacks, beasts, and solos as long as they are functional can control it even if just down to a single box. Contesting a zone does not have the at requirement, just a single model in the zone will contest but it cannot be fleeing or a beast or jack without a controller.

Casters cannot contest a zone. Nor do they control a zone. Instead, they “dominate” a zone which typically gives you an extra control point. You cannot both control and dominate a zone.

Flags are “models” that are on 40mm bases. They are incorporeal which means that you can move through them as long as you can get completely past their base. They can’t be targeted or affected in any way. You can also draw line of site through them. The way you score a flag is by having one or move models in base to base with the flag and no enemy models within 4″ of the flag. Like with zones, there is no additional requirement for solos, beasts, or jacks. For a unit the entire unit must be within 4″ of it and the unit must still be at or above 50% of its starting strength.

The dominate rules are the same as above with the exception that the caster has to be base to base with the flag.

The final scoring concept is the objective. This is a 50mm model and each scenario contains a card with the stats of the objective for the scenario. Whereas flags are, for the most part, static and not “interactable” objectives can be targeted and destroyed (often for points) and many of them do stuff. There is also the idea of friendly and enemy objectives. An enemy objective counts as a an enemy model for all practical purposes including contesting zones.

Typically objectives can only be dominated by the caster and the caster must be within 2″ and no enemy models within 2″.

There is a wider variety of scenario specifics for objectives than for flags so I will just refer you to the specific scenario for the rules governing that objective. As I am doing scenario overviews I will also cover them more in depth.

Whether dealing with zones, flags, or objectives you cannot score control points until the end of the second player’s second turn. Objectives can be neither targeted nor damaged until the second player’s second turn and only one objective can be damaged per turn (thus only one can be destroyed per turn).

Scenarios are great because there are some casters who really just do not compete in caster kill only games but shine in a scenario game. Maybe that caster you may have loved the background or the model for but could never quite make work will be able to show you the good stuff.

The point of this series and the recommended scenario at Emerald Knights is not to force people to play a game they don’t want to play. It is totally optional but highly recommend because it can really open the game up in new ways. At the end of the day though, this is a hobby and a pastime – so please enjoy it!

I have rambled on this longer than I expected to and God forbid I edit so instead I am just going to wrap this up here.

The next article will be on Scenario 2: Supply and Demand (since my group has already done our game night focus on Scenario 1. I will get back to it eventually though.