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!

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