Here it comes, the big one of the year! Since 2013’s final was late (beginning of 2014), and 2014’s just didn’t happen for some reason, it’s nice to see the big tournament happening on time and organised. The regional champions all get free tickets, and I am glad to be one of them now. Hopefully we don’t have to show our Blaines at the door…
I figure the team to beat will be the Convicts. The standard strategy of putting three players at the back and blocking big strikes is easy for the convicts to take out. Action one: Sprint a player to sit next to all three defenders. Action two: Shock Collar, undefendable and watch them all get sent off or knocked down. Either way they are no longer a barrier to scoring. The other possibility, of leaving two players on the bonus point lane to threaten three-pointers and prevent four-pointers, isn’t going to work for the same reasons. However you place the players, it’ll be possible to knock them both out with a Shock Collar or else you’re not even threatening some of the three point shots.
By simply inverting the standard three player defence – instead of forming a line on the strike zone itself, you form a line around the strike hex (so two players are not on strike zone hexes), it becomes massively more difficult to take out all three at once. On the other hand, it puts an unthreatened hex front and centre for your bonus lane defender to get Slammed. With my Sphyr team, I will intend this to be a Striker with his back turned, to make it the most favourable match-up that I can.
The other thing that I can do is to move that line forward a hex so that pushing the middle player back does not place them on the Strike Hex (and thus a potential target).
By trying to keep as much threat in the three-point zone as possible, it’ll be essential to remove the Convicts ability to score bonus points at all by removing their Strikers. This is dangerous, since trying to threaten a Striker enough to knock them out bunches my remaining players up enough to be hit by a Shock Collar themselves and the Convicts Guard is pretty nasty regardless. I can’t be sure exactly whether to go for the Strikers and slow their advance or their Guards and keep my offence safe.
As for scoring, it’s going to depend very much on the opponent. If they commit to blocking the three-pointers (as I will be), then I will probably focus on two-pointers. This is also more action efficient, allowing me to Slam their players more as I go. If there is a three-point path open, it’s not too difficult for a Sphyr to go for it and try to eke out a lead.
All that talk about the Sphyr aside, I didn’t end up taking them. I flip-flopped up until the morning of the event (how many times I’ve sat in a hotel room staring at two teams…) and eventually decided upon the Kalyshi.
I think the Kalyshi are the dark horse of Season Five. With the Mutants and Mechanites taking a lot of thought in construction, and the Convicts having such a shocking ability, the Kalyshi are sort of forgotten. I think it helps that they are the less optimal team in Xtreme, where they debuted. However, they have four excellent Strikers that get a 50% chance of a Skill upgrade on the Season One chart, and their Jacks (if used correctly) can get a 7 dice Shove-Backstab-Slam to push people off of the four-point lane. It’s only Strength 5, but they too have a 50% chance of boosting that Strength. And all I need to do is move someone a little, since the Strikers have Jump and can squeeze into tight gaps to drop a few points.
Game One – Mike Clark’s Nameless
Mike is a strong player, and his setup caused me some extra thought. He had two Sticky Guards on the 4-point line, and flanked them with two Strikers. His two Hard Guards were on the 2-point lines. I had no chance of moving both Guards in a single turn, and the Shove can’t remove a player from the pitch so they would only get moved back in the following turn.
Eventually his Strikers moved, but that still placed a lot of threat hexes on the three point zone. Luckily, I was able to score just a little more than he did and kept the game pressed firmly at the far end of the pitch. One memorable moment was the end of a rush where my Striker had the ball but no chance of scoring due to threat hexes – no dice left. So I ran it into the far corner to reduce the chances of having it taken. He chose to pin me in place with a Hard Guard… meaning that I got a chance to use Jump to avoid two Evades and sneak out to score 3 points. The game ended with a three point win.
Game Two – Dan’s Veer-Myn
Dan came up from Bristol separately this time around, and it’s always a pleasure to play him. He had his Veer-myn in the configuration I normally choose (to mixed success in tournaments) – 2 Strikers with two ranks each.
We each scored every single turn. Every. Single. Turn. Every damn one of them. No failed shots, no balls left lying around, just wall-to-wall scores. It was a grind, but the score was moving slowly my way. It ended up on rush 14 as a landslide win to me, although I tend to think of rush 14 landslides as ‘technically’ a landslide.
Game Three – Gareth’s Rebels
After explaining in detail to Gareth earlier in the day why I thought the Kaylshi got underestimated and why they were actually pretty good, I realised that perhaps this was unwise. I have only played against Rebels once before, and won in sudden death. I last played Gareth at the 2013 Nationals, where he had Marauders and killed three of my Veer-myn, contributing to his unexpected leap to Most Violent player (and totally at odds with his friendly, pleasant demeanour!)
Gareth scored four points in his first turn, and I dropped the ball in mine. From there, the score fluctuated between 3 and 6 points against me but somehow, by rush 14, I had pulled it back to a draw (with a few more ‘easy’ catches rolling away across the floor). However, sudden death is pretty easy for the Home player and he picked up a one point win far later than I expected.
Game Four – Richard’s Rebels
Wow, Rebels are hard to play when you don’t have a lot of offensive power. Who am I up against next then? Oh.
I’ve not met Richard before, and he had an amazing custom built pitch with hand-painted floor, transparent acrylic walls, walled-off subs benches and even strike posts cunningly placed between hexes so as not to interfere with the model placement. The hexes were extremely large, since he has played with Nameless teams a lot in the past. It’s always great to meet new people!
This was another close run game, but at least it got to one or two points in my favour a couple of times. I used my Defensive Coach to call Offensive plays a couple of times to make sure that I got my lone Striker all the way back to the ball, up to the three-point zone and score. Again, at the end of the game I managed a final turn equaliser to put us into Sudden Death and again… the Home team advantage put me down a one point loss.
I always try to have fun even when I’m losing. And having such close games that finished much later than I expected, and much better than I expected (I was pretty sure Gareth and I would be commentating other games after a landslide early on) I really didn’t feel like I was losing. I was a little surprised to hear that I had come seventh out of fifteen (I was thinking that fifth was still possible) but on reflection, it makes sense since I really only won two games. If I had beaten Rich by two points, I would have been third place… but if wishes were horses, etc. I was really surprised that Jen came in last place, since that’s normally reserved for someone who lost all their games but the competition was so close this year that everyone (bar the stand-in player) had won at least one of their games.
Gareth was the only player to win all four of his games, beating Leon (South-East Regional Champion, and previous National Champion), Dale (North-West Regional Champion), and me (Southern Regional Champion) to get there. I feel glad that I gave him such a tricky game, hopefully I was the toughest opponent for him to beat! That’s almost an imaginary second place, right? But well done to Gareth, he played an excellent game, was great fun to face across the table and I can’t wait to see him again at the next Nationals, or one of the 2016 Regional events.
The only other thing I was close to was a Fan Favourite award, with a personal best of 39 cheers – I was only beaten by Mike, with 41 cheers.
Outside of the games, we caught up with a lot of people we’ve not seen since the last National tournament. Chris came up from Wales, Dale and his crew from Peterborough (Dale had some terrible luck, and perhaps his Teratons are now going to retire from a successful 2015?) and the more Northern folks like Dan, Charlotte and Gareth who don’t often make it down South far enough to cross our paths. It was really, really great meeting up with everyone and having a good laugh.