Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Grand Adventure, Part 2

Last week I began recounting the experiences that my group of space boat flying friends and I had at our first ever regional tournament in Toronto for the tactical combat game X-Wing, from Fantasy Flight Games.  This week, we see how it all went down…

On the morning of the tourney, we all woke up very early.  I don’t know how people prepared themselves for such a long day, but mine started with a coffee and a third time through my prepacked bag of tournament goodness.  In a tournament, you are required to have all of the necessary components and tokens and such, and you can be disqualified without ever playing a game if you don’t have the smallest piece.  Now, I knew that Face to Face Games, Toronto was going to have a certain amount of inventory for sale at the event, but I really didn’t feel like paying for stuff that was sitting somewhere at home, just because I forgot it.

I packed snacks.  I made a thermos of tea.  I had another coffee and started checking in on my travel mates.  Soon, Vince showed up at my door, and we left the silent and wintery glow of my house, driving away while my family still slept.

Donnie was waiting at the end of his driveway.  Backpack over one shoulder, he looked like a kid waiting for the bus on the first day of school.  Three grown man-children piled in my CR-V, like kids at christmas, or teenagers off to their first big rock show.  We were off.

A two hour drive later and a couple of missed turns, we were at the college campus where the event was being held.  The store crew was just showing up and I had been sitting for a couple of hours, so I helped unload the trailer and set up the tables.  I met Elizabeth and Graham, two of the many hard-working employees from Face to Face Games in Toronto, and they were just lovely.  Elizabeth I found out, had designed some custom produced tokens for the store, which were on sale that day and looked pretty cool.  Graham was obviously the head cheese of the day, and I would learn later had an amusing connection to Muskoka.

Donnie wasn’t there ten minutes and had gotten himself into a game of Star Wars: Destiny, the new collectible dice and card game from FFG.  Most X-Wing players are pretty excited about it.  His opponent informed us that he never won a single game in his first four tournaments, and we all laughed nervously.  Dorian and Jason had arrived earlier, and I chatted with them about strategy and such, as the bustle and panic of setup, registration and on site commerce filled the room.  The butterflies in my stomach were very real.

Six rounds of Swiss games began at twenty after ten.  Swiss rounds are games where you have a chance to accrue tournament points against semi-random pairings, thereby clawing your way towards a top sixteen elimination system, which eventually leads to the final match.  There were ninety-nine players registered that day.  If you don’t want to do math (like me), then assume that each player at the beginning of the day had a roughly sixteen percent chance of making it to the next round, or that only one in five(ish) players would move to the second half of the day.  How you perform in Swiss either decreases or increases your chances, based on tournament points and score.  There is more to it of course, but...wizards…

So, does the X-Wing community live up to it’s reputation as honourable souls working together to play the game they love?

My first game was against a very cool and laid back dude named Mike.  We were at the “stream” table, where VTTV were still getting setup to stream featured games over the internet, and I was very thankful that my first game of the day would not be broadcast.

I was shaking really badly.  Filled with a childlike nervous excitement that usually only rears its head when I am going on stage.  It was electric.  However, now I had to move tiny plastic models around a board with as much accuracy as I could, and that made things...challenging.

Mike was cool though, and a calming force as we chatted about our lists, and how many premier events he had competed at.  He was playing a “classic” list, what we refer to as “Super Dash/Corran.”  He informed me that he loved the list, and had been competing solely with it for the last three years.

I lost the game.

However, we had a great time.  He was an engaging opponent and apparently I didn’t do that bad.  It took almost the whole game for him to eliminate my list, and he thanked me for an interesting challenge when we were done.

I was on cloud nine.

My second match against Franco proved to be a learning experience.  He was playing one of the latest ships which I hadn’t encountered before, and I believe I handled myself pretty well.  However, there was a card interaction that was bothering me throughout the game.  The match ended with another loss for me, but I lasted a long time.  I destroyed his new U-Wing (from the Rogue One movie), and almost destroyed his VCX-100 (the Ghost, from Rebels), getting me half points.  And again, the match almost went to time, meaning I held my own.

In games like X-Wing, nobody is perfect, especially the designers.  Some upgrade cards and rules are released with poor clarifications in their wording, or a loophole which allows them to be used in a manner unintended at released.  In those cases, FFG has an errata and FAQ which they update as needed to help stabilize the game.  In this case, Franco was using a card improperly according to the FAQ.  I do not believe he was doing this intentionally.

The lesson was learned when after the game, I checked my copy of the latest FAQ, and discovered that he was using the card in a manner that afforded him an unfair advantage in the match.  I had it under the table with me the whole time, but never checked it.  I should have.  Trust your instincts, folks.

Not wanting Franco to repeat his mistake again, I found him and informed him of the rules surrounding the interaction.  This is where the X-Wing community shines again.  He was mortified.  He apologised profusely, as I told him that it didn’t matter any more with regards to our match.  There was no way to take back our game.  I was honestly okay with it.  He thanked me for telling him, and we shook hands and parted ways.  He was truly repentant, and like everyone there, just wanted to play the best game possible.

My third game against was my first win.  I came up against Patrick and his Han Solo/Luke Skywalker list.  We both had a lot of fun, and there some very tense moments as the odds swung from side to side.  Everyone has quirks, it would seem.  While most players don’t mind you handling their ship’s movements once they reach your side of the three foot game mat, Patrick was adamant that he handle his stuff at all times.  I was respectful of that, as I realised that just like many different athletes, superstition can play an important role in many aspects of someone’s life.

At this time, most of our group from Muskoka had accrued a win.  We all seemed to be having a blast, as we would meet at our group table, and then as the latest pairings were posted, we had only minutes to get to our next table and set up.

My fourth game was against a “swarm” player.  This usually entails flying many low costed ships with very few upgrades.  Just like the Empire, a swarm player uses sheer numbers to overwhelm their enemy, taking casualties as they may. Devon was playing what most would call a mini swarm, as it included a couple of uncommon ship choices, including my second Rogue One ship match up, a Tie Striker.

As an added bonus, I got to play at the stream table so that our match was broadcast to the world, via the internet.

This was another close game, and another learning experience.  I held my own against Devon, and while he wasn’t playing a true swarm, his ships flew in a tight and well practised formation.  Yet I plucked him down to his final two ships, and he had at this point only managed to destroy one of mine.  I will not take all of the credit though, as he was subject to will of the dice gods.  There were some crucial rolls both offensively and defensively that he just couldn’t get to work in his favour.  I’m sure if the dice had been on his side, the match might have went very differently.

My learning experience came at a point where I just made a couple of bad maneuvers.  I saw the board laid out in front of me, and saw the next two turns play out in my head.  I realised too late, that by making the choices I had, I would lose the game.  I said as much, and my partner was encouraging, but I knew the truth.  I desperately tried to recover on the following turn, and only made it worse.  The match was over, I had lost.

On the internet.

My fifth match was against Katie, a lovely young lady from Sudbury, who had come down with her boyfriend and another four players.  She absolutely wiped the floor with me.  Honestly, it was the first match of the day where I just had my hat handed to me.  It was the only game of the day where I finished with more than ten minutes left on the clock.  I’m proud of that.

I was still having a great time.  Seriously.

My final matchup of the day was against Donnie.  My friend, my teammate, and one of the passengers in my car.  He had gone zero for five by that time, and was the only member of our group without a single win.

We laughed, and I told him that I wanted him to win.  So did he, but we agreed that he needed to earn it.  I wasn’t going to throw the game.  We both knew that it would be a hollow victory.

I won’t get into the details, but we had a good time.  There were some more tense exchanges of fire and flight, but in the end, I got my second win of the day.  I was two and four, meaning two wins, four losses.

So after the dice dropped at twenty after ten in the morning, after completing six seventy-five minute games which believe me didn’t feel that long;  after only getting a few minutes between these matches to refuel and use the facilities, it was about seven o’clock in the evening.  That’s about nine or so hours of X-Wing.

And remember, after we were done, another game would be played for the top sixteen players, then the top eight, the top four and finally the final pairing which would decide first and second place.  We estimated the whole event would last until midnight or so.

I made sure to thank Graham and all of his help for their efforts, and discovered an odd connection:  his parents live in Bracebridge.  We didn’t have time to discuss the finer details, but I invited him to look me and the rest of the Muskoka Star Wars gamers when he was in town.

Face to Face Games in Toronto put on a great event.  Graham, Elizabeth and the rest of the crew went well above and beyond in their efforts to give everyone a great experience, and I commend them for it. The facilities were decent, the group was organised, and you could tell everyone there wanted to have a great day.  I bought a very nice custom playmat to commemorate the day, and on the way home, the three of us in my vehicle agreed that we would definitely do it again. As a first experience at a big time regional tournament, we couldn't have asked for a better group. I commend Fantasy Flight Games Organised Play Division as well for producing a fun and competitive tournament environment that serves to strengthen an already great game.

The caliber of players in Ontario is unbelievable.  These guys play two and three times a week, and participate in league nights and all sorts of championships and tournaments.  I spoke briefly with last years’ National Champion Alan Fung, and he said that in some ways, it’s almost unfair.  In some ways, I can agree. It didn't stop me from having a great time, though. And we all learned a lot that day.

Our group plays maybe once a month on average.  We organise quarterly tournaments at each location (Tea Beards, Up North Games, and the BTGC), and in between all of that we have other gaming interests we would love to explore.  Like my Dungeons and Dragons group and other board games I love to play.  It makes it hard for any of us to consistently play.  Most of us have kids and other commitments which don’t afford us as much free time.  This is called “real life,” and it isn’t always awesome.

Does the X-Wing community live up to it's reputation of open, inclusive and supportive gamers who want to expand the player base by having fun and growing as a community?  In my experience, absolutely.  If you have had other experiences, please let me know in the comments section below.

After leaving my house at six-thirty in the morning, I finally returned home at about ten-thirty or eleven o’clock at night.  A sixteen hour day.

I was exhausted.  I was ecstatic.  I placed seventy-seventh of ninety nine entrants from all over Ontario and beyond.

I can’t wait to do it again.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Grand Adventure, Part 1

Last weekend, my X-Wing playing friends and I all piled into a couple of cars and made our way down to the city of Toronto for our very first regional tournament.  And what a day it turned out to be...

For those of you who may not be familiar with X-Wing, I will give you the nickel tour:  X-Wing is a tactical miniatures game played out on a 3' by 3' mat using surprisingly well made and pre-painted plastic miniatures depicting various ships from the star wars universe.  In tournament play, two opponents create custom made lists using a point buy budget and fly around the board trying to kill each other whilst making pew pew noises and alternatively praying to, or cursing the dice gods.  Got it?  That's enough for now.

X-Wing is published by Fantasy Flight Games, and they love organised play.  Many of their card games and miniature games follow a seasonal schedule of store, regional and national championship tournaments stretching around the globe, culminating in a yearly worlds tournament which takes place on their home turf at the aptly named Flight Center building in Roseville, Minnesota.  Pretty neat, really.

Players who play this game, love it.  And I mean love.  Since 2012 when the game was released, the publisher and players have nurtured and grown the community as a social monster.  A world-wide, tightly knit population of players have expanded the sales and popularity of the game beyond its intellectual property using podcasts, play through and live streams of various tournaments, match ups, play testing and forum debate.  Now this could be true of any popular game, but one thing that has managed to stay true in the community is a distinct and palpable sense of mutual openness and community.  We’re all friends.

Everyone who plays X-Wing is a comrade who is encouraged and assisted as they get better.  While most people will not share tournament lists for obvious reasons before a game day, afterwards they will happily spill all of their secrets about why they chose certain ships and upgrades, and what their overall strategy was.  Any store supporting the game will most likely have weekly league nights and monthly tournaments where fast friends get together to explore the myriad possibilities the game has to offer.  At the tourney, we saw a variety of league and club T-shirts indicating who belonged to what group.  Yet there was no animosity or arrogance.  Everyone inter-mingled and laughed together as they discussed the event.

Based on a true spirit of sportsmanship and mutual support, the community at large embraces a philosophy called "fly casual." Based on a Han Solo line from the original trilogy, it acknowledges in a way I have not seen in other competitive gaming groups the understanding that by playing fairly and working with each other, the community thrives.  Helping new players learn the game, and veteran players explore ideas in a conscientious climate of respect is key to this philosophy.

It's not to say that there are no bad apples in the bunch, but by and large if you ask a player about the game, you are about to make a new friend who genuinely wants you to be a part of their hobby, unlike other hobby communities who employ a self-serving attitude of superiority towards those who try and break into their little clique.  But that is not why I write this blog.  At least not today.

Today and next week is all about five friends who came together largely through X-Wing to travel from Muskoka to Toronto to participate in our very first Regional Tournament.  I have to admit, we were a bunch of wide-eyed children who behaved as though we were going to our first rock concert.  It was great.

Asking for advice from some more experienced tournament players, our preparation began months ago, by creating and playing possible lists and whittling away at our choices by constantly swapping upgrades and pilots out.  We tried new strategies with older lists, or swapped upgrade cards and other things that came out in recent expansions with some of our classic favourite lists.  We were told to find a list and settle on it as early as possible, so that we could begin tweaking it.  Then we could play that list and only that list.  We wanted to know those cards and ships like our own children.

We read up on the current FAQs and erratas, tournament regulations and studied the “meta.”  If you are not familiar with the term, “meta” reflects the game outside of the game.  For X-Wing and other competitive games, that would mean which pilots and upgrades were trending, and in which combination they would most likely be seen in.  This would include set ups and strategies that were popular, and how often those lists and strategies were winning or losing overall.  There are plenty of podcasts and websites you can reference to research these secrets, and we did so.  Most of us already listen to most of those casts anyways.

Some of us began watching games both current and older, using that as a form of research.  Suddenly, I found I was comparing myself to athletes, a thing which never happens.  Ever.  And I’ve even done a couple of obstacle races.

My wife laughed at me, but with love and support as I explained who three time champion Paul Heaver was, while he played one of his championship winning games on our big screen.  She sipped her tea and nodded her head, and after a minute I smiled like a psychopath and went back to observing the master at work.

Over the months and through Christmas holidays we would get together and try stuff out.  I was settled on a “Defender/SF/Bomber” Imperial list, which is decidedly left of meta, as I was bringing two ships which were largely regarded as not very competitive.  The Tie/SF is an Episode 7+ ship which has both a front and rear firing arc, reflecting the Tie Fighter in which Poe Dameron and Finn used to make their escape from the clutches of the First Order.

The Tie Bomber is a classic ship from the original trilogy, boasting two barrel-like hubs between its angled solar wings.  Both of these are thought to be too squishy (meaning easy to destroy), and not worth the point investment.

The Tie Defender is a fanboy fighter that was first created for the series of Tie Fighter and X-Wing computer games of the nineties, and was then formally introduced into canon around the same time...er...Legends.

I won’t get into the details of the list, as I am more interested in writing about my experiences with my space boat friends.  If you want to know more about why I went with such a risky list, post in the comments below.

After a couple of months of casual practice and plenty of research, all but one of us had settled on the lists we would take with us.  That process alone is a tonne of fun.

Last year, we banded together to hold our own tournaments within our own group in Muskoka.  We used the “Seasonal Kits” which FFG distributes as a casual type of official tournament package, with prizes and cards.  They are sent out quarterly, and are the lowest tier of play available.  Then it’s Store Championships, Regionals, etc.  We held one tournament at each of our gaming hubs:  One at Tea Beards in Gravenhurst, the Bracebridge Tabletop Gaming Community in Bracebridge, and our final day at Up North Games in Huntsville.

They were a relative hit, and we all had a great time.  Since there were only eight of us at most, almost everyone got some kind of prize beyond the alternate art card you got just for showing up.  We ordered pizza for lunch and played the Star Wars soundtrack while the matches were going on.

This was the big leagues, though.  This was a Premier level tournament in one of the biggest cities in the world.  Would it really be a good day?  Was the community really as open and welcoming as we thought it was?  Were we about to be crushed into oblivion and sent crawling back up to cottage country with our tails tucked between our legs?  Find out next week!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A Little While Longer...

I'd like to thank everyone who has migrated over here from the Mad Adventurer's Society.  It is a pleasure having you.  Having said that, I have just returned from a vacation in Cozumel, Mexico.  Things are settling down at home, but it has left me with no time to write a blog entry this week.

I appreciate your patience, and look forward to giving you more great content in the future, like a report on my first ever regional X-Wing tournament!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Coming Soon (I think)

Hello, and welcome to the new home of Gaming in the Wild.

If you followed my exploits with the Mad Adventurer Society (the site has now been archived for the time being at www.madadventurers.com), then you know all about me and my little world.

If you are new to this blog space, I will give you a brief summary...

I am a Canadian gamer, musician, community theatre actor and one of a pair of plucky middle aged children who run a community based gaming group called the Bracebridge Tabletop Gaming Community in Muskoka, Ontario.

I am also a husband and father of two, and I have spent the last couple of years writing Gaming in the Wild over at the above site.  The site is closed to new content, but you can still check out some of the awesome gaming articles, podcasts and advice that has been doled out to all gamers.  It's really good stuff and I am proud to have been a part of it.

I will be producing written content here from this point onwards, and I ask that you be patient.  +Brian Casey was a fantastic editor who did so much of the hard work, and I am eternally grateful to him for his efforts.  Now it's up to me, and I have never done this sort of thing before.

So please bear with me as I get this jalopy on the road, and don't forget to look for me on Twitter @RobAlmond which I use mostly for geek stuff and to promote my writing, and on the Facebooks as well.

I hope to be writing to you in the coming weeks, but I am going to Cozumel for a week, so there may be a slight