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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Playing Tournaments - By Andrew Hopson

by Andrew Hopson

Tournaments are a great way to meet new players, learn new tactics and list building ideas, and can make a mediocre player very good in a short amount of time.  Getting ready for a tournament can be that impetus you need to finish painting those new units you want to run, and a reason to get as many games in as you can to sharpen your skills.  Still, to the beginning player tournaments may seem like a daunting experience, but with a little preparation and following some common sense guidelines, you can have a great experience right away. 

Before the tournament:
Proper preparation will make your tournament experience a lot more pleasant, improve your chances of doing well, and will reduce the odds of aggravating your opponents.

Know the rules.  Spend time to learn the rules as much as you can, and know where the rules you are disagreeing over might be located in the rulebook.  A player that understands the rules  will almost always beat a player that does not.

Mark your army clearly.  Be sure that it is obvious to everyone which stands or vehicles are part of which unit, and which vehicles or stands are the command units.  Painting bold-colored markings on the back of bases or using different base colors make it easy to distinguish platoons from one another (this is especially important if you like running armies with mobs of infantry and guns).  Command vehicles can be the only vehicle in a platoon that have a commander sticking out of the hatch, an antenna, or some obvious decal making it easy to determine where the commander is.

Know your list.  Be sure you know the abilities of all of your units and vehicles before you field the army in a tournament.  Since games are timed, continually stopping to look up a gun’s statistics or a special rule is unfair to your opponent.
This also means you should practice with your list as much as possible before the tournament, as this will teach you what your army excels, and where it has problems.  Over the course of several games you can adjust your list to fix problems that you find, but don’t panic if things go badly during your first practice games.  The outcome of games is not just determined by the list you run, but your tactics, the table you’re playing on, the mission, your opponent, and the dice.  Only by running the same list several times will be able to identify the problems and make the correct changes.

Know what missions are being played.  Most tournament announcements will tell the missions or types of missions that will be played.  Usually, these are the standard missions in the rulebook, but many tournaments will run non-standard missions as well.  Reviewing all of the possible scenarios ahead of time makes the set-up phase of the game go quickly.  Also, knowing the rules to these missions before the tournament means that you can customize your list to the mission parameters ahead of time.  I will always play any non-standard missions before playing the mission in a tournament, so I will have a chance to see how my list will do in that mission, and to ensure that I understand how the mission works.
In a doubles tournament I played recently, we had a mission that required your army to move onto the table on turn one and seize the objectives in the middle.  Knowing we would play this mission, my partner and I put together a list built for speed.  Our opponents brought a slow all-infantry list, so we were on the objectives and dug in by the time their infantry got close enough to threaten us.  Needless to say, things went very badly for them.

Comfortable shoes.  There is a lot of standing during tournaments, so wear shoes that will cushion your feet.  If you still feel rested and strong going into your third game, you have a decided advantage over a player who is tired and sore. 

What to bring:
Your army.  Which you have certainly marked, so all the units, command teams and warriors are easily identified.

WWPD's very own Chris Fretts and his famous Fretts Box that he makes and sells to FOW players.
A tray or box on which you can place your army.  Tournament games are timed, so it is critical that you already have your army organized and laid out so that you can place it on the gaming table as quickly as possible.  Many players use boxes built by Chris Fretts that have a surface on top for your army, spaces to hold all of your gaming aids, and a dice tray.  Many tournaments give prizes for the best painted army, and if you want to win this you need to display your army to best effect.

Your list:  Bring enough copies of your army list for yourself, the tournament organizer (if you haven’t submitted one already) and your opponents.  That way you don’t have to keep reminding your opponent about your army’s composition and capabilities, as they can review your list at their leisure.  I strongly recommend using or the Flames of war Forces website to compile and print your lists, as they are easy to read, and contain all the critical information you will need during the game. Handwritten lists or lists on iPads or phones are highly discouraged.
Seriously, Forces is the best resources out there for the FOW player, and it is very inexpensive.  Get it.

Game aids:  Be sure you have your artillery template, measuring devices, smoke markers, status markers, and dice ready to go.  Bring dice that are clearly marked and easy to read in poor lighting.  Also, bringing several different color dice is really useful, as you can use different colors of dice to roll for different guns, targets, etc.  This allows you to roll for a lot of results at once.  A popular technique for rolling to range in with artillery is to use a red dice for the first attempt, a white dice for the second attempt and a blue dice for the third attempt.  That way you can roll all three attempts at the same time.

The rulebook:  Even if you think you know the rules (and you really should), Flames of War is a complex game with many rules and questions will arise in many games.  Various clubs have different interpretations of rules and house rules, so be prepared to have friendly disagreements with your opponents about these.  Having a rulebook on hand will make it much faster and easier to settle disputes.

A watch: Games are timed, and it will help you keep track of how much time you have left.  Sometimes, I will set my stopwatch, so I don’t have to do any math to know how much time is left.

A pen: You need these to fill out the scorecards at the end of every round, vote for your favorite opponent and best painted army, but also to make notes about your army or your opponent’s army during the game.

At the tournament:

Be Early: As I stated before, it is always a good idea to arrive at least an hour before “dice down” so you can get registered with the TO, get your army on its display board and get all of your lists and game aides organized and ready to go.  Use this time to look at the tables.  For each table I make mental notes about which side I would want to attack or defend from, so when the game begins I have already made that decision.  Take time to look at each player’s army as they unpack them.  Not only does this give you a chance to figure out how to play against each list you see, but also a chance to see how other players paint and base their own armies.  I have become a solid painter by copying the armies of much better painters.
Tournaments are run to a fairly tight schedule, so you need to avoid delays at all costs.  Once the TO announces the player match-ups and the mission it is important to get to your table and begin the game as quickly as possible.  It is considered bad sportsmanship to win a game -- and very frustrating to lose a game -- due to running out of time when you have only completed a few turns in the allotted time.

“The Talk”: Once you have been given the mission, what table you are playing on, and the name of your opponent, move to your table is quickly (and carefully) as possible.  Before you begin anything, you need to have “the talk” with your opponent.  It is critical to do this first so you will not be tempted to interpret the terrain in a way that gives you an unfair advantage.  “The Talk” is where you discuss how each terrain feature on the table is played (are those fields slow going or a bog check?  Do they provide concealment or block line-of-sight? If I am on this hill, can I see over that hedge?).  Each gaming group has its own way of interpreting terrain, so you can never assume that your opponent will play the same way as you do.  When you can’t agree, simply roll a dice to see which interpretation you will use. 
Go over your opponent’s list and tell your opponent about any special rules associated with your list.  You can assume they know most of the national characteristics, but certain units and warriors have special abilities.  Nobody likes to get surprised by a rule that they didn’t know about, until it just left an entire tank platoon a pile of smouldering resin.  Be sure you know how to distinguish your enemy’s units and learn to identify his leaders.  Make sure he can do the same.

Review the Mission: Once we have learned the mission and determined which player is attacking and defending, pull out the rule book and read through the mission step-by-step as you set up.  This greatly reduces the chance of making a mistake on setting up and playing the mission.  It allows you to be absolutely clear about what you need to do to win the game.

Deploy Quickly: During the deployment phase, constantly think ahead.  Know where you want to place each unit before it is your turn.  If you have large units, get them down quickly, and don’t spend all your time measuring out exactly how far each one is apart.  If you are a really precise and deliberate player, you may want to avoid lists with large units since it will take you too long to deploy and move them.

Rules disputes: Hopefully, “the talk” will have prevented most of these, but if there are rules issues during the game, have your rulebook nearby so you can reference it easily.  If you can’t find the rule you are looking for, you can ask a neighboring player for help, or the TO can rule on it for you.  When time is running down I usually recommend rolling a dice to see which interpretation we will use.

Turn off your phone:  Not only is it rude to stop the game to take a call, but it can ruin your concentration when you need it most.

Play quickly: Use your opponent’s turn to determine what you want to do during your turn.  It is fine to take a minute or so to think about a complex move, but generally, you want to do this sort of thinking while your opponent is moving.  If you are a slow player, don’t play large armies with many infantry stands, but instead try an army of a few heavy tanks.  That way you have fewer stands to move, and fewer shots to take.
When moving infantry and gun units, I have found that if I measure the move the outside stands in a line first, I can move all the units between these stands without measuring.
Roll as many shots and ranging in attempts as possible at once.  Lee tanks have two guns and a machine gun.  Rather than rolling each gun separately, roll the main gun with red dice, the 37mm gun with white dice and the MG with blue dice.
When rolling saves, lump hits together when possible.  If an infantry platoon takes five hits, rather than roll each hit separately, maybe take the hits on five rifle stands and roll all at once.  You can assign the dice “as they fall” so as the dice fall left-to-right they correlate to specific stands.  If there are different types of teams, you can use different colored dice to represent them.  “The red dice are the rifle stands, the white dice are the gun teams and the blue die is the command stand”.

Finishing the game: Often the TO will announce that time is almost up, and the your game needs to finish at the end of the current turn.  You will notice that checking for control of the objective and company morale checks occur at the top of the following turn, so if you end the game at the end of the turn, there will be no check for victory in that turn.  If your opponent would force a morale check or will have control of the objective at the very top of the following turn, take the company check or let them take control of the objective.  They played well enough to win the game, so give them the chance.

Learn from other players: In your first few tournaments expect to lose more than you win, but turn those losses into valuable lessons.  After your game, talk with your opponent about what you could have done better, why he played the list he played and why he made certain moves.  If your game finished quickly, watch some other games and see how other players approach the game.  If you see a good looking army, ask the owner what techniques he used to make it stand out.  Everything you learn that day can only make you a better player and can help you in your next tournament.

Have Fun: This is really the primary goal of every tournament.  Winning is a good feeling, but having a day devoted to your hobby is the real payoff.  Getting a chance to have three games in a day, seeing some good looking armies, and enjoy plenty of conversation about Flames of War makes your won/lost record unimportant. 

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