Monday, July 21, 2014

Critical Hit Games Tournament Recap

This past weekend Critical Hit Games held a 35 point Steamroller tournament. 35 isn't my favorite point level, but I've been wanting to get out and play in more competitive events, so I figured I'd throw my hat in the ring.

The event ended up having a very solid turnout relative to the area and size of the store. 12 players, if I'm remembering correctly, which was enough to fill all of the available tables. Although we had enough players to go for 4 rounds, we ended up calling it after 3 since there was a clear winner (and of course most of us were brain melted by that point and willing to tap out.)

Before I get into any specifics: this was an absolutely excellent event. The PG'er that ran it did an excellent job, especially considering it was his first event. The rounds ran smoothly, the scenarios were clearly marked and set up, the round time was maintained and communicated clearly, and the whole event proceeded along at a nice, steady clip.

On top of that, the players that attended were an awesome bunch of guys to spend an afternoon with. Everyone I interacted with was very pleasant, spirits were high throughout the event, and all of my games were excellent experiences. The quality of players can absolutely make or break an event, and the excellence of everyone involved made this a great one to attend.

With all that out of the way, onto the recap! I'll try to keep it short, but there are 3 rounds worth of games to go through and it's still me and my love of words, so I promise nothing. Lists and game reports after the break.

35 points is not a level I have a lot of experience with. Our group plays almost exclusively at 50 points and has for quite some time. The last time I played a 35 point game was probably...the last 35 point tournament I attended. Which, uh, was awhile ago.

So when it came time to make lists, I had a bit of a conundrum. One can make a decent 35 point list by taking a 50 point list and scaling it down, but I feel that the best 35 point lists are made by a) starting from scratch, and b) built with the 35 point bracket in mind. 35 point games are lean and mean; the constraints force you to approach list building in a different way than at 50 (much as how 75 is very different from 50, just in the opposite direction.)

One of my choices was pretty much locked in from the moment I decided to attend the event: Vlad2. He's one of my favorite 'casters in Khador, and he's also stronger at 35 than he is at 50, so it's the prime time to play him. And as an added bonus I'd played him for a stint relatively recently so I felt like I was comfortable putting him on the table. I decided to go hard skew for the feat and assassination, with a Demolisher as a scenario safety blanket:

Vlad2 - 35 Points:
Vladimir Tzepesci, the Dark Champion (*5pts)
   * Demolisher (9pts)
Iron Fang Uhlans (Leader and 4 Grunts) (11pts)
Kayazy Eliminators (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Kayazy Eliminators (Leader and Grunt) (3pts)
Tactical Arcanist Corps (4pts)
Widowmakers (Leader and 3 Grunts) (4pts)
Iron Fang Kovnik (2pts)
Kovnik Markov (4pts)
The other list was trickier to come up with. The only other 'caster I've played enough to feel comfortable with is Harkevich, but I have enough issues with him at 50, let alone 35. There was the option of running just Vlad2 all day - for this event the second list was optional but if you brought two lists you had to play each one at least once - but I didn't feel comfortable potentially dropping that Vlad2 list against Cryx or Cygnar. I went with "when in doubt, reach for a Sorscha":

Sorscha2 - 35 Points:
Forward Kommander Sorscha (*6pts)
   * Beast-09 (11pts)
   * Sylys Wyshnalyrr, the Seeker (2pts)
Great Bears of Gallowswood (5pts)
Widowmakers (Leader and 3 Grunts) (4pts)
Winter Guard Infantry (Leader and 9 Grunts) (6pts)
   * Winter Guard Infantry Officer & Standard (2pts)
   * 3 Winter Guard Infantry Rocketeers (3pts)
Eiryss, Angel of Retribution (3pts)
Gorman di Wulfe, Rogue Alchemist (2pts)
Kovnik Jozef Grigorovich (2pts)
Reinholdt, Gobber Speculator (1pts)

Very non-surprising Sorscha2 list. I was surprised by how easy it is to make a great Sorscha2 list at 35 points; the low cost of the WGI makes it trivial to fit a full unit of them in and still have tons of points left for other elements, even at 35. The biggest downside with this list is that I haven't played Sorscha2 in probably at least a year (maybe more,) and I don't run the WGI or the Great Bears all that often, so while this list may have felt more solid I was a lot shakier on actually using it on the tabletop.

Round 1
Scenario: SR 2014 Destruction

My opponent the first round was Ryan (note: I'm bad with names in the short term, so even if I'm 99% on some of these I may screw one up; if so, I apologize) running Skorne. His two lists were Xerxis (T2 Fist of Halaak) and a very interesting Morghoul2 theme list. I didn't feel great about Vlad2 against that possible Xerxis list, so I opted for Sorscha2. He chose Xerxis, as expected. His list:

Xerxis, Theme T2 - 35 Points:
Tyrant Xerxis (*5pts)
   * Tiberion (11pts)
Cataphract Arcuarii (Leader and 3 Grunts) (5pts)
Cataphract Arcuarii (Leader and 3 Grunts) (5pts)
Cataphract Cetrati (Leader and 3 Grunts) (7pts)
Cataphract Incindiarii (Leader and 3 Grunts) (5pts)
Tyrant Commander & Standard Bearer (3pts)
Venators Slingers (Leader and 5 Grunts) (4pts)

Great list. Exactly what you want at 35: it's low on support (technically the TyCom but even they can do work,) high on output models, and has a skew (multi-wound troopers, and lots of them) without sacrificing much.

This game was a bloodbath, as one would expect with the pairing of lists and the scenario. I managed to pick off a couple of models early with some great Rocketeer damage rolls and early CRAs, but things swung the other way once we clashed in the middle. At that point the damage output of the WGI wasn't enough to get through his infantry, and I was very worried about moving Sorscha up to help with her feat or Freezing Grip due to a lack of terrain to hide behind (and Incindiarii just begging for her to wander into range to be ignited.)

Beast-09 ended up committed to the zone while Gorman Black Oiled Tiberion for two turns, but eventually Gorman ended up tied up and Xerxis Combo Smited (Smote?) Beast out of the zone and broke right arm and cortex with a follow up from the TyCom. At that point all I could do was run Sorscha2 into threatening range with Iron Flesh and camp, hoping for the best.

The gambit insanely almost worked: Xerxis and the flanking Arcuarii charged her, but couldn't connect against DEF 19 (Xerxis opted to put Defender's Ward on himself and camp 1 Fury after his two initials missed.) Xerxis also got Bump from Tiberion as insurance. During my next turn, Reinholdt moved up to backstop Sorscha2 and give her Lucky Charm, then she popped feat and started swinging at Xerxis. When the dust settled, he was alive with 4 health and no transfers. The game ended shortly thereafter, slightly ironically due to time, though that also gave my opponent a chance to bump up his CP total.

This was my first time playing against Fist of Halaak with infantry spam, and I was impressed (even after hearing lots of good things about it.) The list is flexible while also providing two very nasty skews: medium based infantry that aren't easy to get rid of quickly (Arcuarii and Incindiarii aren't the most durable models, but they'll live through enough) and hitting power between Fury and Xerxis' feat (which can also give his army a huge durability boost.) The Slingers were also a great touch for getting additional ranged attacks and templates into the list.

The inexperience with the Sorscha2 list definitely hurt. I had some good ideas of what to do, but I also can't help but think that someone more practiced with the list would have been able to make better decisions at key junctures that may have made a big difference. I'd also rework the list to squeeze TAC into the list, which would allow Sorscha2 to play way more forward; having to hide out where she did for most of the game was a big hindrance late game.

One last math bit: I think I made a mistake in how I allocated my resources when I was trying to kill Xerxis. I spent the Lucky Charm effect on the initial melee attack, and although I think it just barely hit (so I may have missed without it) I think I should have saved it for a damage roll. Getting spiked damage rolls was going to be the only way I was going to kill him (that and a Critical Freeze, which I did get on the second boosted attack. Something to consider for the future.

So I ended the first round with a loss, 1 CP, and somewhere around 21 army points destroyed.

Round 2:
Scenario: SR2014 Process of Elimination

Next round I was paired up against Rich running Circle. His two lists were Baldur1 and Krueger2, both very solid looking lists. During list selection, upon reviewing his two lists I made the excellent Poker play of saying "Krueger2, ugh god no," or something equally subtle. I decided that I was going to play Vlad2, both because I didn't like Sorscha2 in either fight, and because I like playing him more. My opponent opted to play Krueger2 based on some slight giveaway I must have presented him. His list:

Krueger2 - 35 Points:
Krueger the Stormlord (*5pts)
   * Gorax (4pts)
   * Ghetorix (11pts)
   * Megalith (11pts)
Shifting Stones (2pts)
   * Stone keeper (1pts)
Shifting Stones (2pts)
Tharn Bloodtrackers (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
Gallows Grove (1pts)

Very solid Krueger2 list, and similar to what my limited Krueger2 experience is against. The one thing I had going for me was that my opponent apparently hadn't played Krueger2 before, and he's never fought Vlad2 either (I'd wager a decent portion of players haven't.)

Before getting into the game, I made two rules mistakes during this game, one of which I didn't realize until later. The first, and more minor one, was that I've apparently been doing Impact Attacks wrong with cavalry. My opponent pointed out during the game that he thought you needed to contact a model before you make Impact Attacks, and he's totally right; for whatever reason I thought you simply stopped your movement, then made the attacks against everything in your 0.5" melee range. I'm not sure how the hell I got that confused, but at least it's straight now.

The second mistake, and one that didn't get caught until I wasn't thinking about it this morning, is that you cannot boost Mount attack or damage rolls, and I absolutely did that during one turn with Transference and the Uhlans. Again, I'm not sure how the hell I forgot that; the best I can figure is that I attached that rule to Impact Attacks specifically, and making the Mount Attacks with Combat Rider threw me off.

The two things I boosted were Mount damage rolls against a knocked down Ghettorix, which ended up taking a decent bite out of him. However, I did follow that up next turn with a Slam and two Uhlan charges (with HoF) and the IFK on deck to charge him as well, so I think he would have died regardless. I feel terrible about screwing that up though; it's a mistake I won't be making again.

Anyways, onto the game proper. This fight was another slugfest, though this game overall resolved pretty quickly. I managed to get a turn 2 charge on Krueger with two Uhlans - he advanced up aggressively, and I don't think knew just how far the Uhlans could go. The damage from those two charges was enough to kill the Gorax via transfers and still do a good chunk of damage to Kreuger. That caused Krueger to retreat a bit, but his feat stalled me out for a turn nicely while Ghettorix killed the right objective.

I manged to destroy the left objective and score in that zone, then dominate the following turn. The Demolisher held ground in the right zone to prevent Krueger from dominating over there, though it was damn close on one Telekinesis attempt. He flooded the left zone with Shifting Stones that I was going to have a terrible time getting rid of, but by that point Megalith was the only warbeast he had left and he ended up maxing him out on Fury. That allowed the Demolisher a chance to shoot him (no Stormwall that turn either) and I managed to hit directly and take Krueger out with the boosted damage.

Rules mistakes aside, this was another fantastic game. Both of us were playing right down to the wire - extensions were gone by turn 2 and we were both finishing rounds with second left on the clock. I felt way more comfortable playing this list than I did Sorscha2, even if she may have better flexibility/less army density. 

My opponent also played excellently considering he had never used Krueger2 before. He did a great job of making use of the different aspects of Krueger2's kit - gun, spells, feat - and he seemed to be very comfortable playing Circle in general (which is no mean feat.) I'd hate to be the one to play against him once he's gotten in more time with Krueger2.

Game 2 ended with a win via assassination, 4 CP, and around 36 army points destroyed.

Round 3
Scenario: SR2014 Balance of Power

For what would end up being the last round of the day I was paired against a fella named JB running...Khador. Faction mirror! His two lists were Butcher1 and Vlad1, both using a fairly similar load out of models. He opted for Vlad1, and I opted for Vlad2. So in addition to a faction mirror, we'd be playing out one of those "personality clash" scenarios from a JRPG. His list:

Vlad1 - 35 Points:
Vladimir, The Dark Prince (*5pts)
   * Juggernaut (7pts)
   * Juggernaut (7pts)
Doom Reavers (Leader and 5 Grunts) (6pts)
   * Greylord Escort (2pts)
Great Bears of Gallowswood (5pts)
Lady Aiyana & Master Holt (4pts)
Winter Guard Infantry (Leader and 9 Grunts) (6pts)
Yuri the Axe (3pts)

This list may look a little odd, but I get the sense that he's relatively new to Khador (both of his lists were based off of almost the exact same models, the WGI were brand new plastics) and in that context its a very familiar list. This is exactly the type of list I was running when I was starting out (give or take models that weren't available back then,) and with Vlad1 the list can do a solid job of hitting and damaging.

I ended up going first this game (actually went first all day, which helped in both Vlad2 games) and I think the speed of the list turn 1 threw him off a bit. Almost everything in the list was at the mid-line of the table turn 1, so he advanced up very tentatively. I toss Markov into a clump of Doom Reavers and WGI which blew some of them up, and I had an Uhlan charge Yuri, but tree dodge saved him and I missed.

He responded by chopping up Markov with Doom Reavers, then he popped his feat with Vlad1 and cast Boundless Charge on both of his warjacks. This was a very good move as I had moved up way too far on my second turn, so some of them would be engaged by the warjacks. Unfortunately, his choice to allocate and double Boundless left him with no focus for Signs and Portents, which resulted in the two warjacks missing a lot of attacks. He also moved a good portion of the WGI in front of Vlad1 to try and block charge lanes to him.

During my next turn I was able to blast away the intervening WGI with TAC Flame Blasts (they'd been running all game for lack of a need to Smoke Bomb,) and then Vlad2 feated on nearby Widowmakers and an unengaged Uhlan, which were enough to take out Vlad2.

Game 3 thus ended with a win via assassination, with no CPs scored and around 30 army points destroyed.

Overall, I didn't do too bad. Ended up going 2-1 in the most uplifting way possible (loss right away then two wins to boost morale.) Also, since the tournament ended after 3 rounds, I managed to take 2nd place! I'm assuming that happened due to SoS and tiebreaks; the guy I lost to round 1 ended up winning the whole tournament, and my second round opponent also went 2-1. I definitely could have done better on CPs (5 for the day out of a possible 15,) but I did pretty well on army points destroyed.

Regardless of standings, I was happy with how I played, and my overall record. I didn't really expect to get 2nd after losing round one. Honestly, I'm not that pleased that the loser at the final table got 3rd at best (I think he did end up taking 3rd, but I'm not sure) after playing at the final winner's table, but that's also why there are "SR improvement" discussions.

Post-Event Thoughts:
Gonna break these into bullets in an effort to keep them brief. Relatively brief. Only somewhat long.

 - Vlad2's List: I like the Vlad2 list a lot. It's very much a skew, but it's a very fun skew. The list is very fast, has a large number of good feat targets, and good variety for those feat targets. One of the things you need to be careful of with Vlad2 is to not force yourself into an "ideal" feat timing. 

With this list, I can feat super early to try and fish out a kill with Widowmakers (SPD 9, RAT 10, AD Widowmakers with HoF can kill squishy 'casters if they get too ambitious,) I can feat early on the Uhlans to remove heavy models, or I can feat later in the game on Eliminators to go for assassination. 

The TAC are a godsend for Vlad2; they let you play him exactly where you want him, which is very important for his feat, his buffs (and possible cycling,) as well as possibly being able to dominate zones.

 - Sorscha2's List: I like the Sorscha2 list a lot, but as mentioned before there are a few tweaks I'd probably make. The main one is getting TAC in the list; I'd be willing to drop the Rocketeers and possibly Reinholdt to do it. Sorscha2 relies on aggressive board positioning even more than Vlad2 does, and not being able to put her closer to the fight for fear of her dying was a huge hindrance during my first game. Can't always rely on terrain to be in a good spot.

I don't have great luck with the Rocketeers (even though they did alright by me this game.) I feel like I don't have enough experience with them to make really good target choices, and they always seem to die after one shot apiece (though that's also probably because they're priority targets.) I'd probably cut them at 35 to help get the TAC in there, then roll them back in at 50 for more practice.

Overall, I need to play Sorscha2 a lot more. She's a very potent, flexible warcaster, and my lack of experience with her takes away from what should be a really good SR 'caster choice. I also feel like I need to experiment more with her builds. I tend to follow the same template with her over and over, and while it can be effective, I also think that particular approach is kind of outdated.

 - Timed Turns: Timed turns are, uh, rough. 7 minutes can seem like a decent amount of time to play out a turn at 35, but if you add any decision paralysis to that it gets tight very quickly. The other thing that makes a big difference is the speed of your opponent in resolving things like marking damage. If they're pretty quick about it, it doesn't eat up a lot of clock, but if they're on the slower side it can add unforeseen extra time to how long an attack run might take. 

Not saying that any sandbagging is happening; some players are just faster than others, for a variety of reasons (familiarity, clarity of communication, War Room, etc.) I'm also unsure of when you're allowed to pause your clock, so I kept mine running during my entire turn unless something big came up (which it never did.)

I think that practicing with a Deathclock helped, even if the timing isn't the same. The general impetus to move faster because time is ticking away helps to keep your thoughts flowing, to keep you moving forward, and that's absolutely a skill that comes in handy during timed turns. 

Another bit of advice that helped a lot (I heard it first on Chain Attack, I think): when going through your activations in a timed turns environment, prioritize your activations and make damn sure you do the important ones early. I believe that advice was first given in regards to Hardcore (where the time limits are even more imposing) but I think it fits for timed turns in general.

It can be very easy to get hung up on early activations for whatever reason (lots of rolls required, sudden change of plans, lightbulb moments,) and all of the sudden you don't have as much time to finish your turn as you thought you would. By prioritizing your activations you can help to ensure that if/when that timer goes off you've taken care of everything that needed to happen; anything left not activated is hopefully not significant enough to ruin your game.

I feel like I was pretty successful at time management. Although I timed out on at least one turn, I never had a turn end before I could activate a critical model or finish an important set of attacks (though I did come damn close.) That advice really helped keep me focused and moving, which was crucial during some of those super-tight Vlad2 turns. 

 - 35 Point Games: I wouldn't like to play 35 point games as a regular thing, but it is kind of a fun point total for an event. 35 point lists present a different challenge than 50 points. You almost certainly don't have enough points to get your list to the point where it's well rounded, so you kind of pick the best direction you can for a 'caster and go for it. 

Not to say that 35 point lists are all unbalanced or that they can't be well rounded. Some factions/'casters can pull that off at 35, but for the most part losing those 15 points means that a lot of "nice to have", "just in case", or redundant models have to get cut. That pushes your list more towards having a plan and executing it well because there's not much room for failure.

Also, as mentioned previously, 35 points can be nice because some 'casters are markedly more effective at those lower point totals. Playing at that smaller size is a great excuse to get them on the table, which can give you a break from the 'casters you'd normally play.


That about covers the tourney recap. Again, many thanks to the PG'er who ran the event (I can't remember his forum handle, but he knows who he is) for running an excellent event, to all of my opponents for being very nice, fun people to play against, and to everyone else at the event, who were great to talk with in between rounds. I'm definitely looking forward to the next event, though I'll probably have to skip the next one in the area due to travel plans.

Until next time, thanks very much for reading!

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