Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tournament structure

This article should be relatively short, but it's important for those who are looking to get into playing Armada more competitively at tournaments. It's a quick review of the tournament rules for Armada. You're welcome to familiarize yourself with the tournament document on the Armada FFG site, but I'll largely be breaking down the items that are important for you as a player. There's a lot of language in the document about the responsibilities for the event organizer and such, but we'll ignore those for the sake of focus and brevity. This article is current as of 7/26/2017 and refers to the tournament rules which go into effect today (with very minimal changes to the previous version) and likely won't need much amending (FFG sticks to the basics for their tournament rules pretty consistently), but like the rest of the articles here, I'll update it when/if it's necessary due to changes. Onward!

The Chewbacca pulling-arms-off meta is fierce!
What you need to bring

1) An FFG playmat
If your event is providing their own playmats, then feel free to ignore this. If you do bring a playmat, it needs to be an official FFG playmat unless your event allows otherwise. If you're not sure, contact them ahead of time to get it spelled out. It's been my experience that most event hosts don't enforce the FFG-only rule too strongly but some definitely do.

2) All the stuff you need to play
This includes:
  • Ship and squadron models
  • Ship and squadron cards
  • Speed and command dials
  • Tokens of all kinds (objective tokens, ship tokens, all kinds of tokens)
  • Obstacles
  • Damage deck (no sharing with your opponent, this one is for you only)
  • Upgrade cards (no proxies!)
  • Objective cards
  • Attack dice sufficient for your entire fleet (no borrowing mid-game!)
  • A range ruler
  • A maneuver tool
I want to stress again that proxies are not allowed. For the sake of clarity, that means cards "counting as" other cards, photocopies/duplicates of cards, and just asking your opponent to "consider" such and such ship to have a specific card. For example, if you come to the event with 3 Ordnance Experts cards but your fleet has 4 and you tell your opponent "hey that 4th ship has an Ordnance Experts on it" then you brought an insufficient number of Ordnance Experts with you and you could be kicked out (or more likely told that your 4th ship just doesn't have Ordnance Experts for the event). If you don't want to go buy additional copies of upgrades, the easiest way around this problem is to borrow cards from your friends for the event. In my experience, that usually solves most upgrade card limit problems.

3) A fleet list
This can be filling out a fleet list at the event or submitting a print-out. I strongly encourage you to print out two copies of your fleet - one to submit and one to show your opponents during the event. Because most fleet builders list your selected objectives and an opponent deciding on whether to take first or second player shouldn't know what your objectives are yet, I recommend putting a small post-it-note over your objectives for the copy you keep on you to keep them honest and to verify that those are in fact the objectives you picked should your opponent suspect any shenanigans.

4) Tokens to identify duplicates
This is covered under the "tokens of all kinds" bullet point, but you need a means to differentiate duplicate ships in your fleet, which is usually achieved through the numbered ship tokens you can slot into the token holder (and then put the corresponding number on the ship card). Make sure to bring the same numbers in both light and dark format so you can change your numbers out to the alternate color should you play against someone using the same token colors and the same faction.

I would also strongly encourage you to bring a bunch of the light and dark "echelon" tokens for use on your squadron bases to differentiate them from an opponent's squadrons of the same faction.

Every event will have at least one and they should be available at all times. They're a great resource for resolving rules disputes or if you need an impartial third party to give his/her opinion on whether something is in range or within an arc or some such. Please don't be shy about calling over a judge whenever there's a dispute. I've never found a judge's presence ever made anything worse and they've often cleared things up quickly and were really pleasant.

Judges are human and can get rules wrong sometimes or see things from your opponent's perspective instead of yours. Just be aware that judges won't necessarily rule in your favor and once they've made a call, you need to play out the game based on that call. If they got a rule wrong and you have time to look it up later, let them know, but that incorrect assessment of the rule stands for the game it was made in. Don't give the judge any sass, they're doing their best!

Don't forget that the maneuver tool can only be used when it's time for a specific ship to determine its course and otherwise has no place on the table and cannot be used for ships other than the one that is maneuvering. This is a normal rule for even casual games, but it's even more important to obey it during a tournament.

A squadron, once you remove your hand from it, is done moving. Period. It's effectively chess rules. Take your time to make sure you like where it's going but once you remove your hand, you're done.

The one-tool rule is an important tournament rule and it comes down to you can only measure using one tool at a time. So you can't put a maneuver tool on the table and estimate where your ship will end up and then use a range ruler from that point on the maneuver tool to measure range to other models from that end point and then use a distance ruler to estimate squadron range to that point (as that is using 3 tools). Marking a space on the board with your finger is also unsporting as that's effectively a token stand-in, which counts as a tool (when a token is used to mark a space, it counts as a tool for the one-tool rule). You can always pre-measure, remove the tool, and then guesstimate from the spot you pre-measured to originally with another tool, but the goal is one tool at a time and the reason is to keep gameplay progressing. It's a somewhat-contentious tournament rule (as some feel it's hard to enforce and there's an argument that the kind of player it's designed to speed up actually slows down as he uses one tool and then another and then another), but it's expected that you follow it, so please be aware.

In short, they're not allowed. If you forgot to use an optional effect (nearly everything in the game being optional, this is the case for most things), then that's on you. Both players should be on the look-out to ensure that mandatory (moving a ship at the end of its activation, for example) effects are implemented, but you're not supped to remember to have your opponent's Howlrunner add a blue die to the Counter attack of a nearby TIE Interceptor, for example.

In practice it gets a little fuzzy. You don't want to be "that guy" who just mercilessly enforces procedural  rules on your opponent but on the other hand, you really can't be responsible for ensuring your opponent optimizes all their effects to destroy you: that's not your job. Try to find a happy medium where you're still polite and enjoyable to play against but it's not your responsibility to remind your opponent of his own optional effects or allow him to go back to prior activations to do things differently.

Taking notes
Don't. Anything written down that you create or bring in during the event is disallowed, as it gives you an unfair advantage (however slight).

The matching structure
Most tournaments are played Swiss style - your first-round pairings are random and then the format seeks to match people up against others who have done equivalently well and have not yet played one another until the event concludes (usually after 3 rounds). There are some variances for different events, but that's the short version. In Armada, match-ups are done by the number of tournament points you've received so far, which we'll get to shortly.

Time limits
Each round is (usually) 135 minutes (2 hours and 15 minutes). Most games can be completed within that time without too much trouble but should the time run out and your game is not yet concluded, you and your opponent will play out the remaining round (even if you just started that round when time was called) and then the game ends.

Deliberately trying to run out the clock to your benefit (known at times as "slow-playing" or "clocking someone") is extremely unsporting and should be avoided at all costs. Even if it's not being done deliberately, keep an eye on the clock and try to speed up if you're taking too long. If you're not confident that you can complete a game within the time frame, I recommend bringing a fleet that plays faster (less activations and/or less squadrons) or practicing up at casual play until you can play more quickly. There's no inherent shame in taking a bit longer, but if you're going to go to a competitive timed event you need to do so with the ability to play within that time limit or else you're disadvantaging yourself and annoying your opponent.

If your opponent is taking too long, politely inform them that you're at (whatever) minutes remaining and the game is going to need to speed up if you're going to finish it in time. If they don't respond to a polite request or two, then you should call the judge over and inform the judge that you have concerns about your opponent slow-playing. It's definitely the "nuclear option" in those circumstances, but it's your last available course of remedy if your polite request(s) fell on deaf ears. I've been disadvantaged in a tournament before by an opponent who played extremely slowly (the game ended on turn 4 when I was set up to easily net another 160+ points on turn 5) and at this point I mostly feel annoyed at myself that I didn't involve a judge when there was still an opportunity to have a full game. It should be stressed that you will likely never know for sure if an opponent playing slowly is doing so deliberately or if they just move at a glacial pace normally but the end result is the same regardless of intent: you don't get in a full game, which is unfair to both of you. The correct course of action is to try to address the problem early rather than letting it sour your game and only to escalate the matter if you have to.

Margin of victory
The first thing we need to cover is what happens at the end of a "regular" game that goes to turn 6 or ends early due to time. Both players count up their points (from destroyed enemy models and objective) and then whoever is ahead and by how much will determine how many tournament points each player gets. The difference between the winner and loser's points scored is called the margin of victory. The chart effectively is:

0-59 points: 6 points winner/ 5 points loser
60-139 points: 7 points winner/ 4 points loser
140-219 points: 8 points winner/ 3 points loser
220-299 points: 9 points winner/ 2 points loser
300-400 points: 10 points winner/ 1 point loser

The chart looks nicer in the PDF, so go give it a look when you get the chance. Anyways, the short version is depending on the margin of victory, the winner and loser will split 11 points. The first tier is a fairly close 6-5 split so long as you're within 59 points of each other and then each tier past that adds 80 points, until eventually you get to the "total blowout" tier of a 10-1 split. The maximum margin of victory is 400 points. So the more the winner wins, the more of the 11 point pie he takes and the remaining scraps go to the loser.

If one player completely destroys all of an opponent's non-flotilla ships, then they will count as scoring 400 points from the enemy fleet (plus any extra points from objectives), even if the enemy fleet was less than 400 points. Remember that once you subtract the loser points from the winner points that the margin of victory cannot exceed 400 points.

Provisions and differing ways to handle different end game conditions
There are some wrinkles in the above situation, though, depending on how the game ended:
  • Received a bye: That player receives an 8-3 win with a margin of victory of 140 points.
  • Opponent's non-flotilla ships completely destroyed at the end of a game round: The player with surviving ships is the winner, regardless of margin of victory. If the winner has a negative margin of victory (this should be very rare normally but could be the case if the losing player was milking an objective like Fire Lanes like crazy), they receive a 6-5 win with a 0 point margin of victory.
  • Mutual complete destruction: If at the end of a game round, all players' non-flotilla ships are destroyed, then the second player wins with a margin of victory of 0 (regardless of other points scored from objectives and the like).
  • Tiebreaker: if both players tie on the number of points scored (giving both a margin of victory of 0), then the second player is the winner with a margin of victory of 0.
  • Conceding: see below!
Conceding and why you shouldn't
Okay this one is a little more complex. Basically the moment you concede, your entire fleet explodes: every squadron and ship you have is destroyed. You then immediately score out the game using that game state, meaning your opponent just won while destroying all your ships, which is worth 400 points. Your opponent then receives 8 tournament points and a margin of victory of 140 points OR the value from scoring normally, whichever is greater. You then lose and receive no tournament points at all. Zero. Zilch. The poor folks who got totally blown out receive more tournament points (1) than you (0). So be careful with this option. If you're frustrated and want the game to be over ASAP, it might be better to just run your ships off the table or make foolish defense token spending and maneuvering choices with them to simply end things quickly and at least get your single tournament point. 

The reason the rules are so harsh on you for conceding is to make the system much less prone to being manipulated by making it really bad for the conceding party. I respect that. It just seems a bit harsh is all and that's why I want to make it clear that you really should consider your other options before choosing to concede.

What this means for your actual gameplay
I find many casual games of Armada come down to the players evaluating who won and who lost and then moving on with their lives. There's nothing wrong with that at all when it comes to casual play. The main issue with taking the same approach to tournament play is it can cost you. Because of the margin of victory system, the event format itself doesn't just care about wins and losses but the scale of those wins and losses.

That means you don't need to only think about trying to win but also how to minimize your losses. If you're ahead, do you have low-risk ways of destroying more enemy ships and squadrons or should you take the points you've already made and run for it before your enemy gets some revenge? If you're losing, did your enemy overextend himself so you can pick off something easy before running away to minimize your losses? Are there objective points to be farmed safely to increase your lead or cut short your loss? There's a lot to consider and it makes gameplay often just a touch different from more casual games; for example, if you're doing a bit poorly in a casual game but there's a high-risk high-reward strategy you can try to salvage the game, most players will go for it. Why not, right? You're currently losing and at least if you (likely) fail with your crazy Hail Mary pass, it didn't really change you losing and at least it was a quick end! That kind of strategy is very reckless in a tournament format because you're likely just throwing your tournament points to your opponent in an unlikely-to-win assault. The smarter move is doing your best to preserve your remaining fleet and picking up any easy extra points you can as you go.

In short, if you want to get used to tournament-style games, try approaching your casual games with the tournament mindset. Don't only evaluate wins versus losses but also by what margin. If you're losing, get some practice at conserving your remaining points and shepherding your survivors to the end of the game. If you're winning, try to think of how best to keep scoring points without having to give up too many more of your own. Once you get the hang of it, it's still enjoyable and I find it introduces a "campaign" flavor into your games where perhaps your current mission failed but you proved yourself by saving some of your fleet to return home and try again after you've regrouped.

Placement at the end of the event
At the end of the event, whoever has the most tournament points wins and then placement proceeds down from there. If there are ties, they're broken by cumulative margins of victory.

This means you can win an event despite losing a game, provided your wins were big wins and your loss was a relatively small loss. You can lose an event despite winning every game if your wins were minor wins. This can upset some people, but I think it's actually a pretty good overall compromise. Allow me to explain...

The problem with Armada is it takes a while to play a game. Usually around 2 hours, give or take a half hour or so. This causes problems with running an event that is decided purely on wins and losses because getting to a position where there is only one undefeated player can take a while. A 16-man event would take 4 rounds to do that. A 32-man event would take 5 rounds. It... would be kind of insane. Most of us don't have 12 hours to dedicate to just playing plastic spaceships and furthermore the amount of brain burn from 5 games of Armada in a day is... kind of terrifying, actually. With a margin of victory system, you're able to get a rough sense of how everyone is doing within a comparatively shorter time frame.

Another benefit of the margin of victory system is it encourages fleet engagement and risk, at least initially, from both players. If it was decided purely on wins versus losses, you could have players gaming the system by destroying a small pittance of squadrons or a corvette and then avoiding conflict for the remainder of the game and winning by around 40 points. That win would still count as a win, although it would be a small one and not terribly satisfying to play (as or against). Players can still do something like that now, but that kind of approach won't win tournaments. Players getting in there and racking up 8-3 splits or higher are typically the kind of players who win tournaments. In general, I'd expect the winner of a tournament to be scoring 8 points per round. So in a 3-round event, 24 points is a pretty solid total (but by no means a guarantee of winning).

Finally, it means there's no need to despair and give in to hopelessness if you lose one game. You can still come back and place fairly well despite losing once. If you lose two games you're pretty unlikely to be in the top 50%, but at that point you're just playing for funsies and you still get some swag at the end of the day anyways, so it's all good!

Final thoughts
Hopefully I've been able to dispel some of the mystery of the tournament system for anyone who is interested in it but hasn't really pulled the trigger just yet. There are more things to explore in the tournament regulations PDF (about modifying models, for example, and different "levels" of competitive play that have different restrictions for the tournament organizer and expectations of the players, etc.), but I covered the big subjects above. The system is a bit of a compromise but I think overall it succeeds within its constraints and it's usually pretty fun. Just don't get hung up on win-loss records, think more about tournament points/margin of victory, and come in planning to do your best but also focus on having a good time.


  1. A very helpful blog, thank you very much :) I think I understand it now, Onwards to victory!

  2. Is there usually an entry fee for tournaments?

    1. Every one I've been to, yes. That's how the store pays for the floor space and the prize support.

  3. I've seen a lot of Videos where during Sqdn movement they initially use the Ruler to set the distance then start measuring to all the other Sqdns nearby and adjust the final position often with a Range 1 (3rd party/FFG Tournament Special) Ruler. Is this strictly allowed?

    1. By strictly enforced rules I would argue it is not allowed. You technically need to have the range ruler on the table to ensure the moving squadron does not move further than its maximum allowed range. That said, a lot of people tolerate what you described because it speeds up the cumbersome squadron mini-game and as long as it's clear that the squad is being moved around an area it could clearly get to already without fear that it might accidentally be going too fast, most people don't mind.