Thursday, June 29, 2017

Phase 1: Preparation - The First Step to Winning

Today we will begin a more in depth look at the phases of an Armada game with what could only be seen as "Turn -1".  Everything up to the point where you turn your list into the Tournament Organizer, finalize it for a round of Corellian Conflict, or just reveal it to your opponent for a casual game.  Honestly, a large quantity of our discussions and articles revolve around this aspect of the game, because frankly this is where the "unknowns" are greatest and where the metagame, the game within the game, really is at it's fullest effect.

Where the journey begins.
Preparation - This is effectively Turn 0, before the game has even begun.  It begins when your last game ends.  It first is applied when you decide what fleet you are going to bring to the game, based on your play style and what you expect your opponents to field.  It continues as you learn your list, what you can reasonably expect from it, what you can gamble with it, and how to play it to maximize the utility.  It ends with your actual matchup and knowledge of what you are facing.

Key Advantages for this Phase:  Ability to Learn from Prior Mistakes, Knowledge of the Meta, Practice with Your Fleet.

Back Where You Began - Learning From Mistakes

In a certain sense, the end of any game brings us back to the preparation step.  What have we learned from the game that we just played?  Because Armada is a game of maximizing outcomes, if we didn't dominate the opponent for an effective 10-1 victory, what went wrong and how to we improve on it for next time?  What did your opponent do - right or wrong - that surprised you?  There are many questions to ask, but the biggest one is "why did the losing player lose?"  Let's talk about that.

The answer you will hear the most, and probably say the most, is "The dice hated you today" or "I got lucky."  That is not helpful, and also bullshit almost every time.  We all remember a game that we could have won if we got a slightly better roll, or that we pulled off because we got just the right amount of damage on an enemy flagship.  But what went into setting up those opportunities is much more crucial to being better players than rolling dice better.  In addition, most of us have a very bad concept of how likely any given roll is to produce a given result.

For example, say your opponent rolls up to you and blasts your CR90 with his Demolisher.  Vader commander, Ordnance Experts on board and he rolls 6 damage plus an APT critical from his side arc.  Engine Tech rams you to kill CR90.  Tough break right?

Wrong, it was a more or less average roll for that ship.

Instead of focusing on the roll, try and figure out what brought Demolisher to that point.  What maneuvers had to be done in advance to get him lined up for that shot, and what he had to do to get away without retaliation after blowing up your CR90.  Could you have set a better trap?  Could you have prevented the CR90 from ever taking a shot?  Did something force you to put your CR90 out as a sacrificial lamb?  Should you even have that CR90 on the table if your opponent is able to hit it with impunity?  Were there any upgrades you could have brought that would mitigate the attack, and are they worth bringing?  All important questions you should be figuring out the answer to, rather than worrying about how lucky a 6 damage + APT roll was.

The answer you will hear the second most often, which is slightly better than the first but still not particularly helpful, is "you had a bad matchup" or "my list was really designed to beat yours".  Again, this isn't particularly helpful to analyzing our play or mistakes we made during later phases, but it is somewhat helpful for the Preparation Step.  First, you need to figure out "Was this actually a bad matchup?" and if so "What made it a bad matchup?"

That second question is a lot harder to answer, when the first's answer is usually "because I don't know how I would beat it with this list."

Much like we discussed above, the best way to look at it is where did things go wrong?  Did you fail to disengage on the final turns?  Were you outgunned when the enemy closed with you?  Did you lose most of your fighters early in the round, or got picked apart at long range before you even had a chance to close?  Did the enemy completely outmaneuver you?  Did you just get out deployed to the point where you never had a chance?

Almost always one of these questions is where you can find an answer for what went wrong, and more rarely can you draw back to the conclusion that the root cause for your mistakes was that you screwed up in list building.

Reading the Room - Knowledge of Your Meta

While all the rest was thinking, this is where decisions have to actually be made.  The first decision you have to make when preparing for a game, a tournament, or a campaign is "do I keep using what I have been using lately, or do I blow it all up and start from scratch?"  And whether we are starting from scratch or just modifying an existing list, an important jumping off point is knowledge of the metagame for the area you are playing in.

There are way too many things to get into here to talk about the metagame, and frankly it changes too much and too frequently to make any definitive statements especially with Wave 6 being released in 1 week and the most recent Errata going into effect yesterday.  There is more we don't know right this moment of writing than we do, though that doesn't stop some of my fellow writers from making wild predictions.  A few things to consider to get you thinking in the right direction:

 - What general archetypes are you likely to see?  Where is the damage going to come from?  Red Dice?  Black Dice?  Squadrons?
 - What kind of defenses are you likely to see?  Lando / Derlin type officers?  Engineering Command Spam?  High hull ships?  What defense tokens will you see?
 - What do you expect the bid will be to get first player?  What about a bid for second player?
 - How many deployments will you need in order to deploy a specific ship last?

Even still, that is the International Meta, which is holey different from your Local Meta, and understanding each one and how to apply it to your list building for your game is crucial to this step.  

For Local Meta this means going out and playing your local players.  Find out what they like, and what they don't like.  Is someone always an Imperial / Rebel player?  Do they have a specific list they modify regularly, or do they play a wide range of lists?  Do they go and find the "best" lists from the internet and make it their own?  Once you have a good idea of what your local players are, you'll know what you can bring that matches up well with them.

International Meta is more tricky.  This means keeping an eye on what is doing well based on tournament reporting, after action reports, and the fleet builder sub-forum.  What is the community as a whole talking about?  This is something that is hard to get a finger on, as players have a tendency to go dark on communicating what they think is good before major tournaments.  This is also difficult because not only do you have to identify what will do well, but decide whether to bring one of those lists or to bring something that will do well against those specific lists.

The effect of the International Meta verses your Local Meta can be felt based on the level of tournament you are going to.  Your Local Meta supersedes the International Meta for Quarterly Prize Kit tournaments and Store Championships in your area, but if you go out of town for a Store Championship, or expect a larger turnout at a Regional Championship, the International Meta is your default for figuring out what people you don't already know will bring.

Again, it is impossible for me to go into greater detail on International Meta and especially impossible for me to get into greater detail on your Local Meta.  It is up to you to identify what you will likely be seeing, and have an answer to them, and for that we get to the next section...

Practice Makes Perfect - Practice With (and Evolve) Your Fleet

Any excuse to post Gordon Graham.
The biggest takeaway from this is the Risk / Frequency analysis.

Everything you play against can be looked at based on Risk (to your list) and Frequency (how often you play against it [often with your list]).  Every matchup you get into, will either have the potential to go poorly for you (High Risk) or be relatively easy (Low Risk).  Every matchup will either be something you see regularly (High Frequency) or something you haven't played against very often (Low Frequency).

Now, Low Risk High Frequency is great!  That is what we should hope to match up against every single game.  There is no need to practice this game.  You've played it enough and it turns out just fine.  This is the list you match up against that you know they've already lost in the Preparation step because you can out deploy them with your list, or effortlessly dominate the Skirmish step, or have them so outmaneuvered that they don't stand a chance of getting a good shot on your ships.  Great!  If you get this matchup farm those points.

Low Risk Low Frequency is also great!  You still will dominate these lists, even if you haven't played them before.  These are lists that are broken in some fundamental way that it isn't worth the time even looking at them.

High Risk High Frequency are the lists that you play most often that have the possibility to mess your game up.  The good news is that if you've been following along up to this point, these are also the lists that you are familiar with, and have been modifying your list to counter or developing tactics to beat.  You'd like to get this list to Low Risk High Frequency, sure.  But often your games with quality opponents with highly tuned lists will be High Risk anyway.  In the end though, they're not the biggest threat, because while they have the potential to wreck your game, you have seen them before, you know tactics to counter them, you've built safety nets into your list with upgrades.

The biggest threat to you is High Risk, Low Frequency.  These are the lists you haven't played.  The lists you have no idea what they will do until they are on the table, where you may very well have lost by the time Deployment is finished.  These are the lists that you need to scout out, practice against, and have a game plan to deal with.  These are the lists that will ruin your day if you go up against them without a game plan.

The important thing here is practice, either a live practice against lists you aren't familiar with, or at the very least going over in your head how your list would deal with these threats.  And how do you know what these Low Frequency threats are?  Well, that loops back to Reading The Room.  And from these practices (which loop back to Learning From Mistakes) we can figure out what we need to do to modify our strategy, our tactics, or our list building itself.

And this is Armada.  Nothing we do in High Risk / Low Frequency is going to be without ample decision making time if we haven't prepared for it..  Get off the Meth, get on to the Heroin.  Slow down.  Think.  You've got 2 hours and 15 minutes to work it out.

Thanks for reading about Preparation, an article in the Phases of the Game series.  We'll be moving onto Deployment next, or in other words the time between being matched up with your opponent and bids being compared, through the setting of dials on Turn 1.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome article! I really enjoyed reading it and I most certainly learned from it