Tuesday, July 21, 2015

BAO Dropzone Tournament Report

by Novus

This tournament report will be long and bloody.

When reading this, keep in mind these three things:
  1. I know someone has to come in last. This time, it was me.  I was simply outplayed.
  2. It’s a dice game, so bad luck happens. I had a bit of this going against me, too. 
  3. These guys (the guys who run the BAO, the TO, and the players alike) are all people I know personally. They are all good people.  Many I consider good friends.
That said, there are important things that I think should never be done by a Tournament Organizer. I’ll get into those things later.
The Start
We started a half hour or so late. This may have been because of some bad information the TO was given regarding the start time.  There were only 8 players signed up and of those, two didn’t show. That would make the BAO DzC tournament 50% bigger than last year, which is solid growth, but it is still a small tournament.
Once the tables were ready, we were called together for the pre-event briefing.  The TO explained that two of the four tables would be Tournament Pack missions and two tables would be home brew missions. Each player would roll a d6 and the winner in that pair would get to pick which table the pair would play on. In my pair, it ended up being Devin (playing PHR). Luckily, two Scourge players (my friend Ian being one and... Austin, I think, being the other) picked before Devin and they chose Table 3 (with only two buildings on it). Devin chose Table 2 (the next least covered table with 5 buildings).  The third pair, of which my other friend Chris Loomis was one, ended up playing on Table 4.
Having more tables than players, the TO offered a Bystander, who had never played DzC before, the chance to play in the tournament with a borrowed army. The Bystander happily accepted and they played a “tournament demo-game” on Table 1.  To avoid what I saw as a possible complication on a few levels, I texted a friend of mine, who is a very experienced DzC player and was at the BAO but not playing anything, to see if he wanted to play in place of the Bystander.  He declined.
I’m going to break from tradition here and, rather than go in chronological order of battles, I’m going to go by Table number… (which I later realized is chrono order for me)

First Table (I didn’t play on this table, no idea what the Pack mission was)
It looked like about 10 buildings, the majority of which were greater than 6” tall. There were two very nice MDF buildings, that counted as linked (4 separate structures), worth a total of about 110DP each (if I remember correctly).


The Problem: At first glance, Fast Movers would have a hard time here. Other than that, I cannot comment on how this layout effected game outcomes as I didn’t play on this table at all.
Second Table (Take and Extract)
5 buildings (Medium and Large), some very nice MDF overpasses, and a few small/micro buildings. Very little cover. Think of 5 tiny pips on a large d6.  There were support columns under the roadway, but they weren't a lot of cover.

The Problem: with clever placement there was no place on the enemy table edge I couldn’t hit with an infinite range weapon (and vice-versa for the enemy). Between two PHR players with Nemesis command walkers, it boiled down to whoever won initiative consistently would likely dictate the pace of the battle.
The Battle: Devin won initiative for Turn 1 and chose to go second (very smartly). He identified the problem with the table/mission and knew exactly what he needed to do. This put me in a very bad position.

I could walk my Nemesis on at the end of Turn 1, on my 5th and final activation.  Which, seeing as I had an Athena that didn’t come in from Reserves and he had no FMs, gave him two free activations at the end of the Turn (which were his Nemesis and Hades, his 5th and 6th activations). I could then only hope/pray to weather 2 activations of enemy Nemesis fire and one of Hades fire, which was unlikely (his Hades was in a Poseidon so he could drop it unopposed on Turn 1 and catch my Nemesis in a crossfire early in Turn 2).

Or, I could keep my Nemesis in Ongoing Reserves and hope he decided to deploy everything on Turn 1 and then walk my Nemesis on last activation of Turn 2 and maybe score some DP on something. I opted for the second choice and it worked out. My Nemesis actually survived against an enemy Nemesis backed by a Hades the entire game, even with very little cover!

I did end up killing the Hades but lost half of my Type-1s in the process. He found both of his objectives right away and got them off the board ASAFP. Unfortunately, one of my Objectives got Demo’d pretty quick (we forgot that all the buildings were Hardened). I did find the other on Turn 3 but missed getting it off the board by only about an inch because play was cut off by the TO on our Turn 5.

This was a great fight and Devin chose the table well and played very tactically. He won 5 to 3, but I scored more KP. Final tournament score was 12 to 8, Devin.

Third Table (Home Brew, Bridgehead Variant)

The TO posted this mission (italic text below) a couple months or so before the event. I’d played a version of it at the LVO and thought it was OK but needed work. That said, at the LVO there were more than just two buildings and two bridges on the map. Here at the BAO that was it.  Two buildings and two bridges on a pure Focal Point (FP) mission!  One FP in each building and one in the middle of each bridge.

Even in practice games, it never occurred to any of us that there were no other buildings so we played with 10+.  If it would have read "only two buildings" maybe I would have caught it.  That's on me.  I honestly can't tell you if there were changes from the text below to the event mission... I think there were, but I can't remember.

Table Three Mission Text as posted by the TO

The Fluff: Slightly different from the Bridgehead scenario in the book.
The Mechanics: Map has a river running through its horizontal center. There are two bridges, and a Focal Point exactly in the middle of each one. There are two also two buildings that are barely within 6” of the ones on the bridge that each have a Focal Point inside them. The bridges are far enough from the buildings there is a an exact sweet spot on the bridge that is within range of three focal points. If a building with a Focal Point is destroyed, the Focal Point is destroyed. If a bridge section is destroyed, any focal points on it and any non-flying units even partially on it are immediately destroyed, and all units even partially under the bridge are destroyed.
Bridges are reinforced concrete, Armor 9 and 30 DP for the purposes of the game.
Scoring is 1 VP for being within 6” of a Focal Point, and an additional VP for having more points of units within 6” of a Focal Point than anyone else. Infantry inside buildings count double for calculating holding Focal Points.
Strategic considerations: There are 4 Focal Points total. The ones on the bridges will require exact placement if you are to be within range of 3 Focal Points. There will most likely be a race to destroy the building on the opponent’s side to deny the enemy an easy Focal Point, so anything you can bring to protect a building (smoke, Totem, etc) will be especially helpful.

The Problem: There was no cover!!! And, there was nowhere to put troops. Your troops were forced to quickly get into one of only two buildings and face constant Falling Masonry or risk dying in a transport. Had there been other buildings near the focal points, this mission may have made more sense. At least then you could capture one of the bridge FPs via a nearby building. On a cue ball map like this, you could only reliably capture the bridges with vehicles. You had no OPTIONS for your troops.  It would be suicide to place them near the bridges.
The Battle: I played vs Lucas the Beard who is pretty new to the game but a long-time tabletop gamer. But again, my opponent, like me, quickly identified the problem with the mission/table.  He then capitalized on it beautifully.

Lucas won Best Painted!

Had he concentrated more on quickly killing my AA, two Phobos and two Helios, with his 4 Falcons and 1 Eagle he could have tabled me. There was no place to hide! I could only hope to hit his Falcons with Reaction Fire on 6’s (Ohhhh, that good old E+2 stat!) while he was hitting my units on 3+. All he had to do was rush them up and blaze away, but I think he was worried that I might get lucky and down one. Other than being a bit timid, he played this mission exactly correctly.
I lost almost my entire Long Reach Team on Turn 2 in a single activation as Lucas rolled amazingly for Falling Masonry and killed 7 in one go! Seeing as the building was about to fall, I played a Monorail card next turn and zipped under the river to his Legionnaires and killed them all over two turns with my double Siren squads, securing his building FP.   But, this couldn't help me win because my building FP was gone at this point.  It merely kept him from running away with the game.
This game was cut short, also. Probably because both Lucas and I aren't fast players. Had we gone to Turn 6, I may have been able to pull off a tie and then win on KP. Lucas won 5 VP to 3 but I, again, killed more stuff so the Tournament points ended up as a well earned win for him, 12 to 8.

Fourth Table (Home Brew)
This mission (graphic below) was posted as a possible inclusion exactly as you see it 4 days before the event. Immediately after it was posted I let the TO know that I thought play testing and at least allowing the players to practice it a bit was a good idea for any home brew mission used in a tournament. Another player, Chris, voiced his concerns, as well.  Major rules changes (both in game mechanics and vs the original mission post) were made to the final tournament version which none of us saw until the day of the event. Mostly the area terrain was a bit smaller.  There were other changes to basic terrain rules and unit scoring that, to me, made no sense to include. I would post the final version but there was only one hard copy on display at the event. Again, I had played a distant urban cousin of this mission at the LVO and thought it OK, if unpolished.

This version was a rural map with LOS blocking terrain across the entire center of the battle space. It was nearly a wall from corner to corner. Forces deployed from the other two opposite corners. There was no place you could target on the other half of the map from your side. A monorail track ran corner to corner above the dense terrain wall. The mission boiled down to knocking cars off the monorail to drop a FP for every 10DP (out of a total of 30) the monorail sustained. 

I ended up playing the TO on his home brew mission.

And he was 10 minutes late for our game.  As I understand it, he was pressing the Frontline Gaming guys to display the Dropzone merchandise.  Apparently, it was still boxed and out of sight even though the day was half over.  I realize this is part of his job as a Talon, but sitting there waiting to play a home brew mission I had serious reservations about started me off on the wrong foot for this game.  I understand why now, but at the time there was no good reason for it in my mind.

The Problem: This mission penalized shooting and rewarded mobility.  The slower army would always lose the FPs because the faster army could simply reposition just enough units to win each FP.  Any slower army would have to shoot them off, but without LOS, that was near impossible.
The Battle: So, I lost and there was very little I could do about it. Oddly, his Scourge list was very well suited for this mission. All he did was drop two Oppressors under the track to my left flank, in the forest terrain, and with the other parts of his army shoot down two of the three FPs right at their feet (similar to what I did at the LVO to win this mission against Shaltari with a normal terrain density).  Then, stand still for the rest of the game. His vehicles didn’t fire a shot at my army the entire match!
This left me with these choices: I could drop my Type-1’s close to his Oppressors late game and hope he didn’t murder them in close combat or I could try to shoot him off the objectives. I wanted to actually play the game so I opted to try and shoot him off.

That didn’t work out. Due to the Hull Down bonus his Oppressors got from the forest, I only scored 2DP on his commander from what I think was 20 rail gun shots and 4 Nemesis laser shots over the course of the fight.  Baaaaaaaaad luck.

Due to the tremendous amount of terrain, there was no way for me to walk my Nemesis to where it needed to be in time to contest his Oppressor FPs. It literally would have had to walk on water across that lake to get where it needed to go in time.

Also, thanks to the placement of that large footprint lake, I would have had to have a crystal ball to predict where I needed to be.  Because once I started moving, I was committed to that path due to the lake and the mesas. If I passed the lake on the right, he could drop the FPs on the left. If I passed on the left, he’d drop them right. He could reposition his entire army quickly and be where I needed to be first, and very easily. Granted, I could also drop FPs but he would always be able to get there first and stay completely out of LOS.  Unless, that is, I breached the LOS wall with my Type-1s, disembarked, and maybe survived fire from his entire army before I was able to shoot!

And, if I had my Nemesis in a Poseidon, there may not have been a place for me to disembark close enough because that giant transport would need to be 5” from any enemy unit. If he was quick and took a few steps forward with his Oppressors while still keeping a foot in cover, I likely couldn’t land because the lake might be just inside my landing template! It was very possible that I HAD NOWHERE TO DISEMBARK near the center of the table due to the 10” pie plate of a Hot-LZ and the slowness of a Poseidon!

On top of that, I would need three turns to get my Poseidon onto one of the mesas because the landing template had to fit entirely on the flat section for me to disembark the unit. Each mesa was about 1” out of reach for a Turn 2 drop.  To make things even more sticky, the monorail and the FPs were more than 6" from the mesas, as well.

And, if I was embarked I had no chance to shoot his units off the FPs… I was screwed any way you sliced it. So, I decided to slog it and hope the dice were with me.

The dice were not with me.

We had an infantry skirmish in the other forest that I won pretty handily thanks to the Long Reach Team and Taranis squad. We shouldn't even have been able to see each other as we were more than 4" away, squad to squad, but for some reason the mission special rules allowed it.  That helped me to win the last FP, though it was easily contested by the skimming Scourge.  He could have skimmed over and won that one, too.

Near the end of turn 4, the TO suddenly announces that the tournament will end in 15 minutes and this is the last playable turn. Having shot or already moved everything that had a chance to contest his Oppressors’ FP, I began to move my Mercury’s forward to contest. This was one of my last two activations for this, the now final turn.  The other being my Athena.  He then informed me that the mission special rule about "no aircraft can contest a FP" included my Mercury squad.  But he quickly amended that by saying, “I’ll grant your Mercury’s the ability to contest even though that's not part of the mission.” Upon hearing that my head exploded with the thought, "How can you grant me something THAT WAS IN THE FUCKING RULES UNTIL WE SHOWED UP HERE?" This is where I almost lost it, but I slammed the door on that outburst and pressed on anyway.
The tournament was stopped exactly on time because a player had to leave. Having to leave is valid, and I’m not arguing that.  But, why couldn’t their game end on time and the rest of us keep playing? This was the only game I was going to be able to play that could have come to a natural conclusion.
The TO and I only got to the end of Turn 4. I lost this one 4 VP to 5, and again killed more enemy stuff (but that was only 2 squads of Warriors, a squad of Destroyers, and one Harbinger. He killed 3 stands of Sirens. That’s it. 3 stands of Sirens for the entire game! And, he didn’t fire a shot at any of my vehicles). The TO won 11 tournament points to my 9.
This is LATER
Here's my problem with the way things were set up: I paid (and practiced) to play a specific game in a tournament setting and I really feel I didn’t actually get to play the 3 games of Dropzone Commander I paid for. Here’s why…
Dropzone Commander has been designed very carefully, along with the Tournament Pack, to be played a certain way to maintain balance. I played 3 very non-standard games of Dropzone at this event. Of the three games I played…
  • Players rolled off to choose which table to play on, to their advantage. Kind of a big deal with these home brew missions.
  • There were a total of 7 buildings employed in the two urban games I played. Not 7 per table… 7 TOTAL! There should have been upwards of 20+.  As for the rural, there should also have been equivalent terrain (meaning less).  I brought a Ruined Cityscape in case it was needed, but my offer was declined by the TO.
  • The Table Four rural mission had basic rules arbitrarily changed as well as a wall of LOS blocking terrain that mitigated shooting, which is the PHR strength. I found out later that the other players simply ignored the rules changes (to their benefit) where I felt I was kinda stuck with them seeing as I was playing the TO. If I had my way, I wouldn’t have played that mission at all.
  • Only one of my games started on time, but they sure as Hell all finished on time.
  • The Bystander may have skewed things.
Remember the Bystander? He won his first game, the “tournament demo-game” vs the TO, by at least 5 tournament points. As I understand it, this was his very first game of Dropzone, ever. It was likely his first tabletop game ever, as he appeared to be unfamiliar with the concepts. I was on the table next door for every game he played and heard nearly everything said. Now, he lost his other two games by a margin similar to mine (i.e. not much). I heard the help he was getting from his admirable opponents and do not begrudge him that. He needed it.

That said, there were other factors involved here which might cause his opponents (the TO included) not to club a seal. I completely understand and support their mercy. But, a TO should understand that a tournament is not the place for a new player to become familiar with the game. If anything, the Bystander and the TO should have played outside of the tournament. Demo games are meant to be easy and fun and tournaments are meant to be brutal and bloody. These important lines were blurred and, to me, this skewed the overall outcome.

The Bystander came in 4th (I think) and his 2nd and 3rd opponents placed First and Second.

I’m not trying to diminish Devin’s win (PHR!!!) or Christopher’s 2nd place (Shaltari). Congratulations to them both, they played smart and were merciful! A very hard combo to pull off.  My problem is with the way things were run, not how they were played. I would have acted the same were I in their shoes.

I know being a TO is difficult and thankless. And all TOs likely have a vision as to what they want their tournament to be. But, Hawk gives you a Tournament Pack for a reason. Untested home brew mission are fine for campaign days or fluff games. Or, if you really want a home brew mission in your tournament, the mission must be thoroughly play tested, published in final form weeks before the event, and make up a minority of the games played.  It should also use the Rules and Tournament Pack as a starting point, not throw them out the window.

This tournament was fun for the simple fact that I got to hang out with some great people (including the TO) and we got to throw dice at each other for a solid day. But, I can do that for free at either of my home FLGS's.  And all things considered, I played pretty good given the adversity involved. (Full disclosure: for my last place position I did walk away with a blister of Freeriders and a spare 1.1 Rulebook, which I gave to my buddy.  So, you could say I got my money back.  But, I still feel I didn't get what I paid for.)

I also, most importantly and sincerely, hope the TO, who is a good guy and takes on his job with gusto, will continue to consider me a friend.  I do not write this to damage him or his reputation.  I voice these opinions (which is all they are) and experiences because, as a TO, he should understand how his decisions effect his players.

I think every TO must constantly ask this question of himself: am I giving the player (read customer) what they are paying for? In this case, my personal feeling is, “No.”

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(Additional photos taken by Chris Loomis.)

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