Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Being the Playerbase We Want to Be

If something is legal according to the rules, and gives you an advantage, should you do it?

How much pride to you take in being an Armada player?  A miniatures gamer?  In being someone that shops at your local game store?

How do you want your local area to be seen in your city?  In your region?  In the greater community?

I've been giving this a lot of thought lately.  I come to Armada by way of X-Wing, which sucked me into miniature gaming from the moment I held a TIE Interceptor in my hand much the same way I imagine that an alcoholic is the first time they drink 4 Bud Lights at their friend's 17th birthday party.  I wanted more, and I got it when I attended my first ever X-Wing tournament - the Pittsburgh X-Wing Regional of 2014.

As I stood in line, waiting to pay my way in, I met two people in front and behind me.  One was Ed Horne, the host of a popular X-Wing podcast (if you ever hear "Biggs" mentioned in the old backlog, that was me) and a fellow wearing a NOVA Squadron T-Shirt, named Paul Heaver.  I did... badly my first tournament, winning one game against someone who literally was playing their 3rd game ever (I was 0-2 at the time) and winning my 5th game (for a glorious 2 - 3) before calling it a day because I didn't realize it was 6 rounds long - and promised the girlfriend (still with Howlrunner!) I'd go to her parent's house for dinner.  I wasn't Biggs then, I was just "Other Matt" as "Original Matt" introduced himself to me and offered friendly advice and a chance to come play casually with the Pittsburgh Group every Thursday.

Pittsburgh X-Wing is a success story the likes of which I'm sure have been repeated throughout the world.  What started at first as a group of casual players, coming together on Thursdays at Mr Nice Guys has turned into a League now entering it's 4th or 5th Season (I stopped playing soon after Armada came out) with 30 participants currently signed up.  Playing games at 3 different shops around the city, on 3 different nights.  One of the founders of the group, Ryan Flemming, is representing the US in London.

X-Wing was a fun game to play, and if it wasn't for Armada coming around, and being the game that I REALLY wanted to play, I'd probably still be right there hammering away.  And that brings me to the point of this.  Remember those questions I asked at the beginning of the article, before the preview cut?  I think those are fundamental to the health of a community.  And to see an example of both the good and the bad, we need look no further than X-Wing.

"Fly Casual"

It started, as so many things do, with the best of intentions.  Players were encouraged to mentor the new guys, give them a helping hand, and good advice.  If you lost, and you would, you would offer your hand to the guy that beat you and congratulate them on a well flown game.  If you won, you would smile and say the dice just weren't on their side, oh and maybe they shouldn't have flown that B-Wing right into every front arc you had.

I'm not quite sure exactly where it originated.  It could be that it came as part of a Team Covenant marketing at 2013 Worlds - they put it on T-Shirts after all:
And frankly I couldn't have put it better myself.  There have been some absolutely great moments in X-Wing history, at very high level events, of people "flying casual".  Letting an opponent take an action even though they forgot.  More experienced players, matched up against a new player, helping them to learn the tips and tactics that could help them win, even to the experienced player's own detriment.

It even had a situation where the top player, Paul Heaver, attempted to boost his Falcon, and after starting the attempt realized that he would fly off of the board if he was able to complete the maneuver.  This was a Top 8 match, for the 2014 worlds, with his last ship - he'd be out of the tournament.  His opponent, "Sunny", offered to let him just not take that action, instead of figuring out if he could or not.  Paul went on to win that game, and later his 2nd (of 3 so far) World Championships.

"Fly Casual" has been a staple of the community for almost three years, and has more or less come over into Armada, though you're less likely to hear it phrased as "Fly Casual", you're likely to see games played where players are courteous, explain the rules, are tolerant of opponents mistakes, and try to offer constructive advice on ways to improve play, sometimes in the middle of a match.

Locally, this has carried over fairly well for Pittsburgh Armada - our first few members came from X-Wing as well, some never really having left.  We are courteous when we go out of town to play in tournaments, though we try to play a competitive game.  Our goal, though we don't have it written out anywhere, is to be the Best, and to be an example to others by doing it the right way.


Remember when I asked earlier about Pride?  It's often not enough to just want to be the best.  Sometimes, part of that pride is claiming to be the best.  I won't say that is always a bad thing - pride in oneself and the organizations that you belong to can motivate you to aspire to greatness.  But if you claim to be the best, you are putting yourself onto a steep pedestal, and people are waiting to see if and when you fall off.

Simply put, if you want to go around saying you are the best, then you need to live up to that reputation - not only the reputation that you want yourself to have, but the standards other people have set for someone on that pedestal.

X-Wing may be facing one such moment now - where people who have entered the game hearing about "Fly Casual" and seeing this play out on the highest levels are feeling let down over a rule change allowing for "Intentional Draws" - a relatively new phenomena in X-Wing circles that is apparently common in other games like the much maligned Magic the Gathering.  Let's get some back story on this before we go further:

In an X-Wing Tournament, players played through Swiss round where they were paired up against players with a similar tournament score.  Sounds familiar so far to us Armada players, right?  Well, with X-Wing the rounds are shorter (75 min instead of 135 min) and Wins / Losses are scored significantly different.  A Win in X-wing is worth 5 points, and a "Modified Win" (essentially winning by less than the cost of the cheapest ship) is worth 3.  A Tie is worth a single point.  A loss, of any sort (even a single point) is worth no points.  Most games end in a Win or some shape or size, with only a few games ending in a Modified Win (it would have to go to time) and even less Tying.

A side note here, I did manage to score a tie in the 2015 Store Championship season, getting a glorious 0 - 0 tie with, of all things, a TIE Swarm.  Whisper / Chirpy vs 7 TIE Fighters.  Not one ship died, though Chirpy had 4 hull left, and Whisper had 1 hull left, and I think all of my fighters had damage.  It was a goofy, goofy game.  That guy went on to place 2nd in Swiss, and I went on to grab 5th or something like that.

Anyways, as I was saying, very, very few ties, to the point where players don't even look at it like a possibility.  At least, not until now.

Now, Swiss rounds usually end with a final round where the top 2 are playing mostly for fun (they know they will make the cut, no matter what happens) with another group that is a "win and in" - they just need to not lose and they can make the top 8 without a problem.  These are guys with only 1 loss so far (and no more than a single Modified Win).  They can lose, but then their path to the Top 8 gets murky, because they have to go into tiebreakers with some other guys (or in the case of Modified Wins, they're just out of it completely).  Then there are the masses with 2 wins, they know that they not only have to win, but they have to win big to overcome the tiebreakers to get those last final few spots in the top 8 before the cut.  If you are on that bubble with 2 losses, you go into your last game with a bit of hope - "I could make it if I do really, really well here."  You are looking at the 1 loss players and trying to figure out which ones need to lose, and by how much, so you can slip in.  You are looking at other 2 loss players trying to figure out which ones of THOSE need to lose.  But you still feel like you are in it.

Conversely, if you are in with the 1 loss teams, you are still in for a fight.  Your opponent is another 1 loss player and also trying his best not to lose.  It creates a tense final round, where players are flying their best games against quality opponents, trying to jockey for those last few spots.  Players have been crushed to find themselves out of contention from a last minute ship destruction, or sneaking in by a smallest margin.  It is chaotic and dramatic.

With the Intentional Draw, the players with 1 loss say to one another "I just need to not lose, and so do you.  Let's both 'not lose' together."  And they do, and they both make the final.  Now there is one less slot for the 2 loss players to scramble for.  Or in the well publicized case of the 2016 Roanoke Regionals, when the top 8 players all have 1 loss, and 9th place has 2 losses, there are NO slots left, and the last round of Swiss is played only by players that don't have a shot at the top 8.

That alone is a dramatic difference from how things used to be.  And in a lot of players minds, that is a dramatic difference from how things SHOULD be.  The final round not being played, because the outcome is decided seems to them the very antithesis of "play(ing) this game for fun and camaraderie, and tak(ing) a light-hearted approach to playing this game."  They look to their "best" for guidance, the ones who told them to "Fly Casual" in the beginning, and what do they see?

They see those same faces that just years prior praised players for not taking the game too seriously, for letting other players take an action when they forgot, for letting a champion not fly off the board because it wouldn't be right to win that way.  And they see them at that top 8, arguing that the rule was in the books to do things that way, and how could they not take advantage of it?  And to those players, frustrated with the changes in the game, who feel that the rule violates the spirit they had been told all this time was fundamental to their culture, it is a betrayal by those who they put onto that pedestal.

Armada is still too young to really have any "Elder Statesman" like X-Wing.  We have our one World Champion, and a World Cup Champion, and plenty of Blogs and Pod Casts, and Forums Personalities.  Our culture is still developing, our game is still growing.  When I started playing X-Wing with more than just myself, we were on Wave 3, and the game was just getting started.  Our Wave 3 isn't even released yet.  Collectively, we have the chance to make this community into whatever direction we want it to go.

Who will be the ones on that pedestal?  Will their actions tear them down, or will we raise them up higher as an example to new players?  Will we place them onto that pedestal ourselves, or will they climb up themselves and dare us to come for them?

What will our pride as a community be?

Be The Player You Want Your Community Full Of

Again, our game is young.  Wave 3 has just been announced.  Our first Regionals are just starting.  We are in a unique situation to make our playerbase what we want it to be.  You could be that one, standing on the pedestal, telling the rest of us how our community should be.

I cannot speak the words for you.  I can not play your games, nor can I control your actions.

If it is me on that pedestal some day, I hope that the words I say, the games I play, and the actions I take speak to everyone that listens an integrity, a spirit of friendly competition, and a concern for the happiness and fun of all players of the game, new and old.  I'm not entirely sure I'd succeed in that if I got to that point, but I'd like to think I would.

Even if I don't get that far, I'll still try to get there.  To be the player I would want on that pedestal.  To exemplify all the attributes of someone I would want at the top of the game.  Whether I am at the top of the World's Leaderboard, representing Pittsburgh at a Regional or Store Championship, TOing a local store championship, writing a silly blog that some of you actually read and think is "good strategy" (gods help you all), or just showing a new player how to build their first list, play their first game, and what they should buy to flesh out their collection.  No matter what level I am at, I am going to try to be the player I want my game filled with.  Hopefully, we can all lead by example so that Armada can grow as a community.

I also hope this rambling made some sense.  This has been a topic on my mind for some days now, and it's taken a while to get it out onto the screen, and even then it has been more a stream of consciousness than anything else.  Maybe it'll be food for thought for some of you, it certainly has for me.


  1. This is one of your best articles!

  2. Well, they already put in an Intentional draw thing in the tourney regs for Armada, so the cat is very much out of the bag :-)

    I was just thinking...that combined with the system for byes: you could have players that go win a lower-level tier, use the bye to get a decent 8-2/129 MoV (it's not a 10-0, I know, but it's safe enough), have one solid win and then do a draw. Not enough to win a 3 round thing, but certainly good enough to make a cut?

    Or won't that work in Armada?

    1. I don't think that works in Armada - first, you simply can't do that in a tournament with less than 29 players - there is no cut. No cut, no incentive to not go for first place, so both 1st and 2nd place are going to want to play it out.

      Once you hit 29 or more players, it's 4 rounds of play, so that means that First Place would have to take the bye, win twice at 10-0 (a difficult proposition), and Second Place would have to do the same (and not be matched up against First Place in the process) AND the nearest 3rd place would have to be 6 points lower than both (23 to their 28 - or a point lower for both depending on where 2nd place is). Is it possible? Yes, but not terribly likely. I don't think we see IDs taking place outside of some monster 90+ player tournament with 4 slots in the cut, and even then it would be most likely limited to the top 2 in Round 5.

  3. Hi Biggs!! I have been reading your posts for some time. I admire how far you have taken your guides, and I wanted to say thanks because now I have a far way better idea of the game. Reading this one (one of your bests and moving articles), made me want to live in Pittsburgh just to share some games with you people :). It's good to know there is still people who play like this, and could make it easier for newbies like me, who love this game but are not still good enough at it. Congrats from Spain!

    1. Shame you're out in España then - I'd love to get some more people out here playing and shaking up our local meta. Maybe we can meet up at Worlds if you can make it. I'm going to do my best to get out there this year.

  4. I think Pittsburgh has become a fantastic gaming area. Loads of regional finals, champions, a slew of different games. There are even women at some of the events. Its a great gaming environment, i know of very few "fun vampires" around. -Raleigh

  5. Amen, brother! Preach it! You have codified the 'perfect' gaming environment in one article, thank you - the best thing I've read in a couple of weeks.