Sunday, October 28, 2012
Tourney the First
First, the background.
I’ve talked many times about one of my favorite games: Heroscape. I have even mentioned, in passing, the existence of National Heroscape Day. Now, obviously this is just an excuse for us gaming geeks to play our favorite game even more competitively than usual, and we all just pulled the whole “holiday” out of our collective butts, but, still, it’s a big day for us Heroscape geeks. I’ve also mentioned the fact that Heroscape has been discontinued, and that makes keeping things like NHSD alive a bit tougher. Finally, I have discussed the fact that my middle child, who I sometimes refer to as the Smaller Animal, is also interested in the game, despite his tender age. He was in the waning days of five years old, at the time of that post. Now, of course, he’s a much wiser six-and-a-half.
Of course, all these things must converge at some point. And so they did, a week ago yesterday, at my younger son’s first National Heroscape Day tournament.
Secondly, the preparation.
Now, I didn’t imagine for a second that my son, precocious as he may be, was actually going to be able to handle a real tournament all on his own. This may be just a wargame where (mostly) adult geeks push around plastic toy soldiers, and my fellow members of the SoCal Heroscape League may be extremely tolerant of playing with young children (which they are, and I’m so thankful for them all), but a tourney is still a tourney, and we take it seriously. Nobody was going to let him win because he was cute, so I had to prepare for teary losses. Nobody was going to take it easy on him because he was playing an army that he liked as opposed to something that was truly competitive, so I had to help him shore up his ideas of what a good army consisted of. And no one was going to let him break the rules just ’cause he was young and inexperienced, so I had to work on getting him to adhere to even those rules that he generally found annoying.
Basically, that meant practice, practice, practice. And I didn’t have enough time to do it all myself, so I set my eldest to work on it. He had decided he would go ahead and enter the tourney himself this year (he’s done so before, but he’s also sat out and waited for the after-tournament festivities, when other games that he likes even more can be tackled, like Munchkin, which is his current favorite), so he had to work on his army anyway. The Larger Animal (natch) is also not prone to taking it easy on his little bro, so there were some useful lessons there as well. This also helped the apprentice see where his army wasn’t necessarily as powerful as he might think, just from having spanked his father with it a few times (see descriptions of previous battle reports for why he tends to beat me). He favors elementals, for some reason: I remember when those packs first arrived, and he was just fascinated by them from the get-go. So his idea of a “good” army is one with as many elementals in it as I will let him field. It took a while for me to even convince him he needed the elementalist (without whom the elementals aren’t really even an army; they’re more like a pack of disconnected brawlers).
But, the thing is: all elementals aren’t created equal. Fire elementals kick some major ass, if played right. Water elementals can be pretty devastating too, plus you really need them for their “water bomb” power, because they’re the only ranged elemental unit in the game. Air elementals, on the other hand, are just “meh,” and earth elementals are hardly worth their cost. And don’t even get me started on the huge ice elemental: he’s pretty to look at it, but no way is he worth it unless you know you’re going to be playing on a snow map (which you don’t, in a tournament setting, where you generally play on a different map every round). So, what I needed to convince the Smaller Animal was that he needed to beef up the fires and waters, scale back the airs, drop the earths and the ice entirely, and bring in some protection for the elementalist, who, being the only thing holding the entire force together, naturally has a giant bullseye painted on his back.
Next we looked at the “backup army.” Now, each group that holds Heroscape tourneys gets to do things a little differently, and our group (mainly because of my lobbying) adopted a plan last year where you could switch armies in the middle of the tourney if your primary army looked like it was getting its butt kicked a little too often. We decided to do the same this year as well. After some discussion, he decided to go with a “dragon army” as a backup. Which presented another problem: another thing our group has decided on is to use a “restricted list,” which is a common thing for Heroscape groups to have. The issue is that, as much as Heroscape units are supposed to be balanced, there are a few units which are just plain better than the rest. These are what we sometimes call “A units” (or even “A+ units”), and, the thing is, if you bring an army composed of nothing but A units, your army is really tough to beat. But not because you’re a better player, if you see what I mean. So the point of a restricted list is to level the playing field a bit, and your army is not allowed to contain any more than one unit on the restricted list. But dragons, being pretty kick-ass units (as you could well imagine) are quite often A units. In fact, of the 5 big dragons in the game, 3 are on the restricted list, which makes an “all dragon army” a bit of a challenge, not to mention that they’re expensive (in terms of points), and you can’t afford but so many dragons in your army. But, in the end, we picked one big dragon off the restricted list, one not, and then took one each of the baby dragons (called “wyrmlings”), which are fun little guys to play, to keep the dragon theme going. An army like this has a fair amount of power, but it also means that, if either of the big guys goes down, you’re essentially only fighting with half an army at that point, so it can be tricky to play well.
Finally, I decided that my son and I would play as a team. I needed to keep an eye on him, so there’s no way I was going to be able to play my own games anyway. And this way, if his attention flagged, I could keep him on track, or, in the worst case, just take over entirely for him.
Finally, the tournament.
As you might expect with a discontinued game, turnout is getting lighter. We only had 8 entrants in the tournament this year, and I brought 3 of them with me. Which is somewhat disappointing, but I think it just goes to show that I need to put more effort into building some excitement (this year I was too distracted by other stuff to put much work into it). Also, we’d decided not to allow our new community-supported customs (against my pleadings), which may or may not have contributed to the low turnout (my own theory is that keeping the options open to new figures keeps the game from growing stale). But 8 people is enough for 4 games per round, and we decided that we could play 3 rounds and then have enough to decide the final standings.
So the 8 were: our host and the Larger Animal, both of whom have a tendency to come in lower in the standings, one guy who typically comes in second or third in tourneys, two guys I knew of but hadn’t seen play in tourneys before, two newbies (one who had only been playing for a few months and one, my eldest’s friend, who we literally taught how to play that day), and the Smaller Animal, who, with me on his team advising and possibly taking over at some point, should be at roughly the same level as I, who am basically very average. In fact, I’ve come in just below dead center at every Heroscape tourney I’ve ever played in, except one (when I had a bad day and came in very near the bottom). So, overall, it didn’t seem like a crowded field, and most of the historical heavy hitters were absent. I was feeling good about our chances.
First game was against our host. Luckily, he’s one of the most patient players with the kids, and the fact that my little one takes forever to make up his mind about what to do (even if I’m trying to advise him about best plans of action), and even takes forever just to roll dice, does require an opponent with patience. The elementals were a good counter against vikings and protectors (a squad of winged “kyrie,” or angel-like beings). Protectors are a great squad—one of the few squads that can both fly and shoot from range—but expensive, which means you can’t put very many of them in your army. It was a close battle, but the kid and I prevailed.
In the second round, we had the unfortunate luck to go up against the person I considered the biggest threat. He brought several squads worth of redcoats and a hydra. By this time, another kid around my son’s age had come and he found he had other things to do than mess around with silly Heroscape games. So I was all alone against a fellow who had not only beaten me before, but had beaten plenty of other people who had also beaten me. I didn’t do too bad for all that: I managed to whittle down most of the redcoats, but by that point I had practically no elementals left, and he still had the hydra, which had never even had to enter the battle. He won on points by a wide margin.
In the final game, after consultation with my son, we decided to switch to the dragons. We drew one of the unknown quantitiess, and I had to play most of this game alone as well, although my son and his newfound friend joined us toward the end, mostly to roll the dice for our team. In this game, it was more him advising me than the other way around. This was a pretty close game too—our big red dragon was uniquely poised to wipe out most of his army, but he also had brought a hydra, and I made the mistake of letting him get a few too many licks in on our green dragon before trying to close in for the kill. In the end, the dragons took out nearly everything but the hydra, but the hydra took out our whole team.
In the final standings, one of the newbies (not my other son’s friend) came in first, surprising us all. The fellow who had beaten us in the second game came in second, which gave us a boost in the “strength of schedule” category. We came in 5th, once again (for me) just south of center. But pretty decent for my kid’s first time out, even if he did only play about half the time.
So that was the story of my younger son’s first Heroscape tourney. He had a blast and is already planning out his armies for next year. I hope we can keep the game alive long enough for next year to be a viable option for him.