Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Veteran's Playbook (3) - Working the Bench

Todays episode of "Veteran's Playbook" turns our focus toward tournament play. Just in case you somehow thought that Steamforged had accidentally created a super-legit casual game, they chose to rather wisely follow it up by creating an equally interesting, deep and balanced Organised Play document to accompany it. Cheers.

I'll be drawing particular attention to what I see as (and what I hope will be) the leading format for tournament play, but will also generally brief you all on some of the highlights of the document and indeed how this can be used to further inform casual games as you develop your skills on the pitch, smashing hapless Fishermen with soul-crushing intent.



Equipment and Play Conventions

Fairly standard stuff here but a few things worth noting:

"It is a player’s responsibility to mark in game effects with the appropriate token or template; if a token or template is not present then the effect is not present."
- The classic "no token, no effect".

"In Guild Ball Tournaments all tokens, including Influence, must be placed on the pitch, next to the relevant model and clearly marked."
- Further reinforcement of the classic "no token, no effect".

What this does not specify is whether or not you need to be using official Steamforged tokens or can wrangle up your own (or indeed use tokens from other certain gaming systems). At the moment (because I am a cheap bastard but also because a colour/shape system works very well for me personally - these tokens stand out from the table and are highly visible) I'm using a variety of diamante shapes from Spotlight - blood drops for Bleed, orange rectangles for Fire, green ovals for Poison, and bright blue stars for Knocked Down.

Knock Down. Obviously?

To me these tokens more than adequately represent their effects but they don't have "Fire" or "Knocked Down" written on them. So they could be problematic in a tournament environment. Curiously, the official Guild Ball tokens don't actually have these words on them either. It will be interesting to hear about rulings on this, whether it's a real problem, or if I'm fussing over nothing.

In the end while clarity is key, one man's clarity is another man's objective obscurity. I prefer to mark my own guys with my own tokens anyway. Character Play effects are marked using tokens with words written on them. Using feature letters to represent entire words and effects is a whole other debate.

Modelling and Painting

A few things here that you really want to have considered well before you turn up for your first tournament!

"All models must be completely painted and based. This means that every model, including its base, must be painted with an acceptable variety of colour and shading."
- Completely painted with additional qualifiers beyond blocked out based colours (i.e. shading). And based. I have absolutely no problem with this requirement and love that they are aiming for a standard of representative quality whenever their game system appears in public (albeit this only applies to Steamforged endorsed and supported tournaments).

"No proxy miniatures are allowed in Guild Ball tournaments."
- No proxying your Eyriss model as Mist. No using your Brute Thrall conversion as Casket. Seems fine as long as you can stand the range for your Guild (lol, Brewers) or can reconcile yourself to certain heinous models and mis-sculpts of miniature art horror (cf. the aforementioned Casket).

A final note here that your goal may be represented by nothing more than a 50mm token so there's no pressure to black-belt convert something up from scratch and be judged for your inability to create dioramic drama worthy of a Renaissance artist.

Perfectly acceptable but not actually required.


Standard "don't be a dick, bro" type stuff. Always good to see this addressed. I had more sports issues in Warhammer (where it was soft-scored) than I ever did in Warmachine (where, like Guild Ball, it is not incorporated into the wider tournament scoring system) so this already sounds perfectly natural to me.

Tournament Organiser responsibilities - terrain!

Joe Average would ordinarily skip this section as it appears relevant only to the Pundits/suckers giving up their free time to run an event. Hang on though - there's a bunch of extremely relevant rulings for terrain usage here that you need to pay attention to. Especially if you're a Fishermen player who's been throwing a bigger than 3" in each dimension piece of Fast Ground in the middle of the table.

I'm pleased to say that the specifications for terrain use are very clear and implemented with an eye for balanced and consistent tables.

A minimum of 50% or more (rounding up) of the terrain pieces per pitch must be ‘Obstructions’. 
• There must be no more than 1 ‘Forest’ and 1 Barrier per pitch. 
• ‘Obstructions’ must be no larger than 2” in each dimension. 
• ‘Barriers’ must be no larger than 3” in each dimension. 
• ‘Rough Ground’ and ‘Forests’ must be no larger than 6” in each dimension. 
• ‘Fast Ground’ must be no larger than 3” in each dimension. 
• In addition ‘Fast Ground’ must be placed wholly within 6” of a board edge. 
• No terrain feature can be placed within 6” of another terrain feature or the goal token.

If you're playing casual games and not using terrain, I'd immediately suggest you start incorporating it. If you're watching a bunch of games online and modelling your play experiences on that, I suggest immediately reconsidering. This game for example appears to contradict the terrain dimensions specification above (dat building, yo).

Small pieces are good. Four to seven pieces is fine. A mix of terrain clearly favouring Obstructions is what you're after. Only one forest and one barrier is great! Fast Ground having to be completely within 6" of a board edge makes it advantageous for Wingers and flanking players but also inherently risky (mind getting Pushed off the table edge and into an angry crowd! - Release the Kraken!...).


Page 8 (eight) of the Organised Play document moves into combining a series of established variables to create a tournament format. In my mind the optimum (standard?) event looks like this:

  • 'Play to the final whistle' - the win condition is 12VPs
  • 'Team Tactics' - 45 minutes of chess/deathclock per player
  • 'Strength in Depth' - Captain + Mascot and further team of 6 models
  • 'Hide the team sheet!' - decide your final team composition in secret

These variables have in fact already been combined in the document into an acknowledged format: the "Regional Cup".

You're a football player, Harry!

I'll discuss the dreaded and thrice-damned clock (and management/mismanagement therein) in a future Veteran's Player article, but for now let's move to what I actually wanted to talk about - the concept of the 8-man roster.


Back in the days when people played Warmachine, the developers of the Steamroller (not to be confused with Steamforged) document toyed for a bit with the concept of Specialists. And Reinforcements. Which then became ADR (or Vanguard... I've never bothered to figure out the difference). And stuff. Anyway, the idea was/is that if you meet certain criteria you have the opportunity to tweak your army list by swapping in/out things that could advantage (or offset the disadvantage) of the matchup. 

Unfortunately, despite ongoing (and intermittent) efforts, it's difficult to overcome the increasingly rock/paper/scissors game that Warmachine has become. Combined with the Vanguard rules of the current Steamroller pack this has led to either a) crippling yourself by taking less than respectable/"uncompetitive" Warcasters or Warlocks, b) taking an already nails list (a rock to your opponent's scissors) and forcing the mismatch even harder, c) skewing your build even more like a complete boss, or d) being so far on the back foot that you could dig yourself out of a wet paper bag.

All in my opinion, of course.

Enter Guild Ball and the 8-man (woman/person/animal) roster. You meet your opponent and go through most of the normal pre-game events (finding your table, identifying terrain features, incanting curses by waving disembowelled chickens etc) but significantly, after scouting the pool of players that your opponent has brought along for an old fashioned whuppin', you may then switch in or out the make up of your own players to make your final team. You may not switch players out during the game (heads up for Season 2 or 3 rulesets that allow this with an active reserve bench - calling it now!). You also may not roster in multiple Captains although I've heard whisper that when all Guilds have a second Captain this variation will become a 9-man roster (2 x Captains, Mascot, 6 other players).

It must be said. This. Is. Massive.

It might not appear so at first glance but even just considering the basic math, changing two members of your fielded team represents a 33% change in team make-up. This opens up enormous opportunities to adjust playstyle and specialisation, accommodate your opponents Guild and likely preferential playstyle, and even draft in models that might be more advantageous on a particular table (i.e. accounting for terrain). Let me use my current 8-man Morticians roster as an example:

- Mist
- Rage
- Ghast
- Casket
- Cosset
- Silence

This gives me the following (among a multitude of other, more subtle) options:

- Building a kicking team. I should probably write that as "kicking team" because Morticians aren't especially flash in this area, but by going Obulus/Dirge + Mist/Cosset/Silence/Rage I get a team that's quite fast, has some decent Kick potential, and can position well to leverage their natural abilities and synergies. Seems fine at worst. Won't put the frighteners on Fishermans but could serve up a speedy goal-lashing to the less wary and obnoxious ball handlers out there.

- Building a punchy team. Obulus/Dirge + Rage/Cosset/Ghast/Casket (debatable - maybe Silence to bump up the INF?). They aren't likely to be give Butchers a run for their money but they can hand out a decent amount clout. Enough to punish the likes of some Alchemist and Engineer builds.

- Building a control team. I tried this tonight against Brewers and ran Obulus/Dirge + Mist/Silence/Ghast/Casket. The game probably deserves a write-up at some point but suffice to say the combination of Ghast/Casket worked out surprisingly well, Foul Odour and Embalming Fluid broke up the coherency of the Brewers team nicely, and I was able to organise enough Crowding Out (at one point Obulus was getting the maximum Crowded Out bonus of +5 TAC on Tapper - glorious!) that it could take down hard targets even without fully loading Ghast every turn, and minus the beatings from Rage and Cosset. Aside from lining up Brewers this looked handy into Butchers and Union.

- Building for your local meta. Let's say for example that your local scene is rife with Masons. You'd be interested in having some Anatomical Precision action in there somewhere to negate some ARM. Single-dice Character Plays become more live on low-DEF models. How do you manage Flint? What happens if they don't field Brick? How can you force the issue to make them leave Harmony the team, securing your goal from multiple consecutive scoring due to her absence?

- Some players individually make for outstanding contributors to the win, or poor contributors to a steady loss. Flicking them in or out depending on the opposition is hugely advantageous.

Variously you might build fast or bricky or shooty. You might draft in a player against a particular matchup. Or just as significantly draft them OUT against a particular matchup - in the game example above Cosset was benched quicker than you can say "socio-psychopathic crow-hating emo-obsessed teenager" so as not to accidentally sidle her to close to Hooper or Tapper and get her fragile frame squashed for easy VPs.

Of course while you're hard at work playing this fantastic meta-game against your opponent, they are secretly conniving to scupper your plans by working up their own list and combinations. It's a marvellous concept and I've begun practising it in casual play by dropping down 8 players and refining selections based on what I'm seeing on the other side of the pitch. It's encouraged me to try new combinations that I had otherwise written off as silly theory-ball thinking and adds an exciting layer to an already superbly designed game, and broke me out of a "these 6 players forever and nothing will sway me from this decision" mentality (except for Bonesaw - Bonesaw is dead to me).


I highly recommend implementing the 8-man roster concept in your casual play and encouraging your opponents to do the same. Select in secret, drop your team down, gasp in horror and amazement (or smirk arrogantly having pre-determined the build they would opt for). And talk about it afterwards. Tonights post-game debrief swirled between an Esters-centric line of discussion (the so-called "Kicking Brewers" concept) and alternative Tapper-led builds designed to make a misery of the game specifically for Morticians (lots of free ball behind the lines to avoid Puppet Master Kicks, focus on bashing, questions about removing Conditions, leaving Friday on the bench, yes or no to Stave and where should he be positioned in the context of that particular build). Riveting stuff and I'm sure my opponent will be back next time more alert and aware of the evils that lie in wait and how best to build and counter.

And of course as Seasons pass and new models are introduced the depth of the game (and roster mini-game) continues to expand and deepen. Most excellent.

1 comment:

  1. This is all very cool!

    I like the roster management as it shares a lot with Malifaux, the game I've been playing the most for the last few years. In Malifaux you assemble your crew only once you know the terrain, the objectives, and your opponent's faction. However I like this system more: in Malifaux you get to pick from the entire pool of your faction's models so the flexibility is massive and relies more on you knowing your opponent and which models they have rather than making any informed decisions about their chosen faction's playstyle. I can see it's obviously an extension of Warmachine's system of seeing the pool first and making a much more informed decision based on that.

    The terrain guidelines are also something I'm stoked to see. It bugs me that most (all?) skirmish games hand wave away terrain placement when really it's a critical aspect of the game. You go into a game against a long-ranged opponent with no cover it's usually a one-sided whupping. Infinity is the classic example of this! But as good as this system is I'd love to see them take this one step further and introduce it into the pre-game setup, like DBMM. Just a simple system in which each player picks the terrain that they want to play on and then dices to see who gets to place what where. Plus this also encourages people to build the terrain they want!