Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2013 WBC Day 3

Monday had the A Few Acres of Snow demo at 11am as the first thing on my agenda. I didn't want to sleep through it, so I set the alarm in the room for 10am. I ended up actually waking up more around 9 or so, frozen solid despite Pounder's extra blanket, so I once again jumped into a hot bath. Which helped a little while I was in it, but I didn't like getting out of it. At some point Robb started yelling about how it was 11am and I was missing my demo. This seemed odd since I was pretty sure I wasn't in the tub for more than 2 hours. It turns out the alarm had gone off at 10 and confused him and somehow that made him think it was 11 or something. He was probably still sleeping. And apparently the alarm is very hard to turn off.

Anyway, I was up and about and went to the demo area to set up. In retrospect it was probably a mistake to show up to the demo area so much earlier than my start time. I had time to set the game up, which was nice, but then people started showing up. I could tell that making small talk was what was supposed to be going on, and that as the person 'in charge' of the table I was obligated to stay on top of that, but that's just not something I can do. Especially when sick. So I just sat there being antisocial. Eventually enough people showed up that they gave up on me and started talking amongst themselves instead. Yay?

Did the demo in about 45 minutes. I missed some things that came up later (disconnected locations becoming unplayable, the actual legal attack path) but it went reasonably well. I was very susprised at how many people showed up to the demo. Probably in the 15-20 range. WBC is still mostly stuck in the old idea that the convention really starts Tuesday at 6pm so things that run on Monday don't really have that much competition I guess. There was one other demo going on for a much longer, more hardcore wargame. So I guess A Few Acres of Snow was the casual option for the day. Several of the people from the demo came to play in the first round, which was good.

What wasn't good was the mix of people who showed up for the first round. 24 people showed up to play with 3 mulligan round losers showing up, for a total of 29 people for the entire event. Down a little from the 33 of last year, but not down by too much. But of those 24 people only 6 had a copy of the game, which meant 18 people without a copy. I had my copy some people could use, but that still left 10 people with no game to play. One guy knew someone who had a game lying around (one of the mulligan round winners as it turned out) so that took care of 2 more people. Robb ran off to check the open gaming library but no copies were there either. So I told the remaining 8 people that if they wanted to check back in an hour I'd start games there on any boards that had finished up and were available for use. 3 people ended up coming back in an hour and one board was opened up so I got to squeeze 2 more people into the tournament. 6 people got turned away, leaving only 23 actual entrants. My suspicion was that we barely made it into the century last year and probably could have snuck back in with 29 people playing but falling down to 23 is probably a death knell. If only more people owned the game!

Because of all the hassle with looking for games I didn't have good timing down on the rounds. The rounds are supposed to be two hours long. Last year I think only one game went long, or if more did the GM did a good job of controlling them. I did not. Multiple games were brushing up against or going over the 2 hour mark. But I didn't know exactly when people started, and I didn't really know what to do about it. The problem with A Few Acres of Snow is the optimal winning strategy for one of the sides basically ignores victory points. So adjudicating a game based on points on hand is really bad if the British are trying for the auto win with a military victory. Officially you need the GM and both assistant GMs to adjudicate a game to make sure it's as fair as possible, which makes sense. But both my assistant GMs skipped the first round entirely since they won the mulligan round! Pounder also took off after losing in round 2, so I didn't have two assistant GMs after that. I ended up giving most of the games that went long extra time by ignoring them while assigning matchups for the winner of those games. That meant people got to get playing the next round sooner unless they were matched up against a slow winner, but it also meant the rounds got a little out of sync. At other Nick's suggestion I eventually randomized out a whole bracket and posted it so people would know who they were playing in the next couple rounds which made sense. I was trying to avoid doing that because I needed to award byes and I needed to make sure mulligan round losers didn't meet again until the finals but only one mulligan round loser managed to win even a single round of the main event so it ended up being pretty easy.

After all the shenanigans with the half round start and such I ended up with 13 people advancing to round 2. This meant 6 games and 1 bye, followed by 3 games and 1 bye. At WBC you have to give byes at late as possible in order to keep as many people playing as soon as possible. You also have to give byes preferentially to previous winners. This meant I had to give myself the bye in the round of 13 and someone who wasn't me the bye in the round of 7. I shuffled up 6 cards and had other Nick give me a number from 1 to 6. This assigned the bye to Kevin (last year's 3rd place and the guy I beat in the mulligan round) which meant I could build the bracket out with me on the other side from him and just assign the other 5 cards at random.

I was matched up against one of the guys from Quebec who come down for WBC. He let me play as the British for a bid of 1, which seemed really low. He started a quick siege of Pemaquid and I countered by thinning my deck, staying even in that fight, and starting a siege in Port Royal. I made one small mistake by letting him ambush me twice while he still had his Siege Artillery in his deck which let him threaten to win either fight if I commited anything to the other one. What I should have done was not cared about that, put pressure on the Port Royal fight, and kept him from getting off the ambush at all. Instead I guaranteed a win in Pemaquid but lost 7 dollars from his successful ambush. This also meant my bad cards and his good cards recycled into the decks. I was still able to pull off a quick siege and victory in Louisbourg but he got off a couple more ambushes in the meantime. I didn't have the strength to keep going. I tried anyway, jumping into a fight in Gaspe, but ended up losing that one. (Gaspe was still a cube and I wanted to keep him from putting a disk on it while I built up an army again.) Ultimately I bought an Indian Leader and managed to use that to stop the siege bleeding. I then bought some more guns to even us up. His deck was pretty watered down with lots of indians and guns. So was mine, to be fair, but I felt like I had inevitability on my side. Eventually I started a siege in Gaspe again, but only put a couple boats into it to start. He pulled out his reserve and overcommitted to the fight, guaranteeing his victory but taking several military cards out of circulation for one shuffle of his deck. I felt like that was going to be enough of a window, so I jumped into a fight in Trois Rivieres. Note I waited to jump into Gaspe until I was about to reshuffle, in order to be able to attack quickly again after losing the fight. He had no response to the fight in Trois Rivieres since he couldn't redraw enough guns fast enough. I think he had enough in his deck, but couldn't bubble them to the top in time. I won that fight and pretty much won the game as well. He didn't concede so I went through the motions. Attack Tadoussac, win. Raid Montreal from Trois Rivieres. Have 12 points in spoils and end the game that way, with a massive point lead.

In the middle of this game other Nick brought to my attention that one of the other games was going really long. It was a round 2 game still! The last one of those to start thanks to not adjudicating round 1 games, but it was going really long. And they were cheating. So I went over and pointed out the illegal move (putting a disk into a location not worth points) and then looked to see if the game was going to end soon. They'd been playing for way more than 2 hours at this point and weren't anywhere near any of the victory conditions. So I ended up counting the points. The French player, unsurprisingly, was in the lead. But I couldn't see any way to adjudicate the game other than give them the win. The British player hadn't won any fights at all and had bloated his deck with junk so even if he could win with a strategy shift and another 2 hours I couldn't give it to him. I wanted to get other Nick to concur but the British player said he thought the ruling was fair and gave up.

The top 4 shook out to be someone from the bonus round 1.5 game and last year's top three. Myself, other Nick, and Kevin. I was playing other Nick in one semi. He won the randomizer to make the first bid and started with 7 for the British. Here was my thought process... I knew other Nick and Kevin played the game together a lot. I knew they used the WBC bidding system in their games. I saw how close Kevin came to beating me in the mulligan round with a bid of 5 when he failed to use any of the actions. So I was a little worried that 8 for the British was going to be just too high. On the other hand I haven't played much at all, and I was sick, and I know my British game is better than my French game. Maybe I should have bid higher but I decided to just run with the French and see what would happen.

I ended up with a terrible opening hand and used one of my bid actions on the first turn. This let me start a siege in Pemaquid. I was then able to settle Halifax myself and start disking things up while keeping that fight going. My plan was to get close enough to ending the game by the time he broke out of the fight that I could use ambushes to keep him from getting beyond Louisbourg before I could win. Right as he was going to win the fight in Pemaquid I had a decision to make... Spend 7 dollars on some guns to slow him down as he tried to break out, or buy a settler and end the game one shuffle through my deck earlier. At this point I still needed to upgrade Montreal, Fort Frontenac, and settle and upgrade Oswego. I went with the Settler and used a bid action to reshuffle or something. I had used a couple more bidding tokens to get out of some awkward hands and thought I was in a reasonable position.

Other Nick started a fight in Port Royal with enough to win it and I had a choice. I had siege and regulars in my reserve so I could dig them out and throw them in. He had two regulars in his reserve though, so this was just going to eat up time and cost me the regular when I lost the fight. It would also use up all of my money and not get me any closer to ending the game since I would be spending cards from the reserve instead of from my hand. Instead I went with a double ambush. I killed off his reserve, got to draw 2 cards, but spent the money I'd need to play the siege artillery myself and lost the fight in Port Royal. Other Nick was very sad since it turns out he didn't have a settler icon in his hand. Prolonging the fight would have meant he'd draw one for sure, so this was almost certainly the right course of action for me. He'd need to cycle through his deck to get Boston again, and then either attack Halifax or settle Port Royal, and then cycle into that card to attack Louisbourg. I would almost certainly have enough tempo to end the game before all that could happen. Yay!

Then he attacked Halifax with the Pemaquid card. Huh. He'd bought a governor but he'd only ever removed St Mary's from the game. He kept Pemaquid around for some reason (he had upgraded it to a disk for 2 points prior to this, so he probably just didn't have it in hand when he used the governor) and was able to use it to start another siege on this run through his deck. I'd spent my money so I couldn't properly defend this one either. Instead I spent all but one of my remaining bid tokens to upgrade Montreal, grab Oswego, and reshuffle. I was going to lose the fight in Halifax right away, but I was going to be able to end the game on this next go through my deck.

At this point other Nick stopped to count points. If he was able to start a fight in Louisbourg, win it, and settle it then he would have more points than me and win the game. Otherwise if the game ended before he could do it, or if he couldn't settle when he did, I would win the game. My first hand after the shuffle... No settler. His first hand... No Halifax. By this point I'd used my last bid token (to ditch the useless Port Royal card and get one card deeper) and was able to settle one of the two needed locations. His second hand... No Halifax. I was pretty much at the bottom of my deck but still no Quebec. I did some junky actions to cycle deeper. He was then able to start a siege in Louisbourg. I could have ended the game with a different card ordering this time through my deck, but it was not to be. I was able to pull back my reserve to threaten winning the fight in Louisbourg and also put out my last disk. Siege artillery was in my hand now, but I had no money. I burned home support to draw 1 worthless card because it would let me reshuffle and draw 1 new card. (No point in having a hand of Home Support, Priest, Siege Artillery, Louisbourg, and Trois Rivieres with no cards in deck. Much better to have 4 worthless cards and a random one!) I pretty much needed to draw home support and use it to make 3 dollars in order to use the siege. Instead Other Nick ambushed my hand and put something into the fight in order to win it.

On the plus side, I had topdecked Home Support. All my disks were in play so the game was going to end at the start of my next turn if he won the fight in Louisbourg. I had no military strength in hand, so that was going to happen. I needed to score 3 points (while keeping him from scoring any points himself) or I needed him to not be able to settle Louisbourg or I needed to home support into something to keep the fight going I guess. I did use home support, but got no military strength. On the plus side, I did get both Trois Rivieres and a Native American card. I could use Trois Rivieres to make a dollar and spend it on the native to raid! I still had that priest card kicking around so I could get a range of 3. Enough to just barely reach Pemaquid! It had a disk on it, so this would be a 6 point swing and would win me the game. Except he was able to block it. With the Pemaquid card that he never got rid of and which was presumably crippling his hand the whole time.

The fight ended, he had no way to score more points, and he won the game by 3. But it was very close. On the last go through both of our decks my deck was very badly ordered for me (but not too unexpected since I needed to draw 4 specific cards) and his was not ordered very badly for him (but also not too unexpected since he just needed to draw 1 specific card along with a mix of many other viable cards). He was probably in the 60-70% range to win, but it wasn't guaranteed. I'm sure that having 7 bid tokens made a huge difference in that as well. I had several garbage hands over the course of the game and I was able to keep taking good turns by being able to cycle through the chaff. I'm not saying I played optimally, or that he did, but I do feel like the bidding system made this game into one that wasn't a guaranteed British win.

I didn't get to see the other semi, but Kevin won. He faced off against other Nick in the finals. Other Nick started the bid this time with only 6 for the British and won the bid. Maybe he started with a higher bid against me out of respect? Or maybe he saw something I didn't about how our game went and decided I should have won with the 7 bid? I don't know! The game started out very differently as Kevin bought a very early settler card just like he did in the Mulligan round and went to work trying to burn the game out. Nick went to work winning with a military force, but he didn't get the governor as early as I do (or maybe not even at all this game) and kept having to take actions for 3 dollars instead of 6. He did eventually get rolling, and got to a very similar board situation. Kevin was about to disk out, but Nick had just won the fight in Louisbourg. It turned out Kevin was able to put his last disk into play when Nick was about halfway through his deck. If he'd drawn the Louisbourg card and a boat he'd win the game by attacking Quebec. Otherwise he'd lose the game on points. He had the cards he needed, and won. But once again, he was probably only like 60-70% to get it done. A far cry from the base game, where I still firmly believe the British will win every game.

Because I lost to the eventual winner I came 3rd. This was good, since the event has prizes to the top 3. I filled out my forms, submitted them to registration, got my 3rd place plaque, and went off to die. There were lots of games I would have wanted to play in a normal year later in the evening, but I really, really didn't want to play anything. I did find Robb and Pounder in the open gaming room playing Copycat which looked interesting. We went out for food along with the random dude who played Copycat with them. We went to Red Robin because I didn't want to get even more sick.

Afterwards they went off to do something and I went to the room to try to make a blog post. Somehow my computer decided it was happy to connect to the network but that the network couldn't provide internet access. Eventually I gave up. On the plus side I figured out how to turn off the air conditioning in the room and did that so maybe I wouldn't freeze as badly in my sleep that night.


Nick Henning said...

Kevin likes the French, you like the British. Hence the 6/7 bid. In practice, Kevin and I tried 5 and 6 bids for the French, and he only beat me as the French with a bid of 6.
The optimal bid is somewhere in the 5-9 range, I think. I actually prefer to play the French over the Brits (I think I have a better understanding of how to win with them and my Brit sequencing is a bit rough), but I also knew that you were a much stronger British player.

Nick Henning said...

Kevin likes the French, you like the British. Hence the 6/7 bid. In practice, Kevin and I tried 5 and 6 bids for the French, and he only beat me as the French with a bid of 6.
The optimal bid is somewhere in the 5-9 range, I think. I actually prefer to play the French over the Brits (I think I have a better understanding of how to win with them and my Brit sequencing is a bit rough), but I also knew that you were a much stronger British player.