Friday, October 20, 2017

Preparing for and attending an Armada tournament: principles to keep in mind

So with Regionals season upon us, there has been some discussion about what should be done prior to a tournament if you want to have a good time. This involves both training beforehand as well as properly planning for the event itself. Let's get started!

#darksidegains #sithswole
A quick provision before we get too much further: I assume you want to have fun playing Armada at a tournament, so please keep that in mind during all the discussion points/steps that follow. Don't bring a fleet you won't have fun playing, even if you think it might do better than the one you actually enjoy playing. Don't be a jerk/don't ruin others' fun. Try to keep a light spirit throughout the day and avoid tilting whenever possible. The article itself is primarily interested in how to prepare for a tournament competitively and how to treat yourself and others there well, but the core assumption I make is you're first and foremost there to have fun. Don't lose sight of that!


This is the very first step (after RSVPing like a classy human, I should hope) and should ideally begin at least a month before the event. There are a few considerations you should be making during fleet building:
  • What kind of fleet archetypes am I comfortable running?
  • What kind of fleet archetypes do I expect to face at a competitive event?
  • Does the fleet I have in mind have answers to common opposing fleet archetypes?
    • For example: big heavy fleets, swarm fleets, squadron fleets, etc.
      • This also needs to be flavored by what kind of versions of those archetypes are most likely to be seen, which varies depending on recent releases.
  • What kind of a bid am I making, if any? Why?
    • If I'm relying on going first, is my bid large enough? What do I do if someone out-bids me?
    • If I'm relying on going second, is my bid large enough? What do I do if someone out-bids me and makes me go first?
    • If I don't care, what do I do against dedicated first or second player bid fleets?
  • What objectives am I using? Will those help me against fleets that I've identified might give my current build trouble?
In short, be really hardcore about your regular fleet building exercise. It's important to start with something you're familiar with. Maybe there's some new build that is all the hotness online at the moment but if you're not very familiar with how to play it, now is generally not the time to start practicing unless you've got a few months of time to practice. Start with a core idea that you're familiar with at the very least.

On a side note, while there are some "net fleets" in Armada, I generally have found that most players will include "good stuff" based around a more generic archetype or archetype hybrid rather than outright copy fleet lists. This produces a large diversity of fleets, even at high-level competitive events. It's one of those things I love about Armada. You don't need to net-list a fleet (nor do I recommend you do so overall); instead I would just recommend being familiar with the basic "good stuff" you tend to see in fleets for both sides and be aware of the basic fleet archetypes. If a particular archetype seems very popular, I'd expect to see a fair amount of it at an event, but it won't be the only thing there. In general, playing something that can do well overall and particularly so against whatever is the new hotness will be more competitive than jumping on the internet bandwagon.

Now it's time to move on to training!

When in doubt, this routine will apparently make you superhuman.
Take your original fleet and start playing it against the best players you can find. Get in as much practice as you can. Make changes according to your results (I realize I'm repeating advice from the fleet building article, sorry).

It's important during this process to challenge yourself and specifically seek out matchups that you are worried about facing. Just going up against best-case scenarios does not make you or your fleet much stronger. Additionally, if you can get in a few games back-to-back, I recommend doing so. The event itself is likely to be three rounds (sometimes more!) over the course of a day and you need to work on your endurance. By the third round or so, elements that require remembering specific timing windows or optional effects can sometimes elude you; you will notice these screw-ups during multiple games in a day and your mistakes will teach you to remember. If you never catch the screw-ups due to only playing one game in a given day when you're mentally fresh, you won't catch them in time at a tournament and tournament play is much less forgiving than casual play (sorry bro you can't rewind back to an earlier part of your activation to do that, it's a tournament).

Because local metas vary considerably, there may be some kind of archetype that isn't popular in your area that you can't find a practice game against normally. In those circumstances, see if you can find a local player who is already at a comfortable place with their tournament prep and is willing to play that kind of fleet against you for practice. If you've got a healthy local scene, it's definitely possible. If you don't have that option available, then you'll need to accept that you're a little untested against some things and perhaps do a little research online if you're worried about it.

The more you practice with your fleet, the more you'll know it inside and out and the more confident you will be in using it, the more counter-strategies you'll have built into the fleet as you update it, the more counter-tactics you'll have available in your mental toolbox during the game, and the less likely you will be to accidentally mess something up during the game itself. For this reason, it's very important to not abandon your fleet archetype for another one during training unless you're absolutely convinced the entire core idea is unworkable. It's far better to make changes when you meet with failure and continue training than to throw out the entire thing; or to put it more proverbially, "you're more likely to hit water digging one well 60 feet deep than six wells 10 feet deep."

A quick note on the buddy system
If at all possible, do everything with a friend. Going to a tournament solo is doable but it's much more fun going with at least one other person you know and hopefully enjoy the company of. You can talk tournament prep together, train together, carpool in together, watch one another's stuff when the other person is making a food run (for both of you) or using the bathroom, share stuff when necessary, have someone to talk to when there's downtime, etc. It's highly recommended.

Things to do the day before the event
  • Double-check the location of the event and when it begins. Check to see how long of a drive it should be (or whatever method of transit you will be using). If you're carpooling there, make sure everyone is on the same page about the details of doing so.
    • One thing my group loves doing is grabbing breakfast nearby first. Group breakfast has become a cherished tradition and I understand that it's popular among the FFG forum members at the bigger events too. If you can get a group breakfast planned before the event, all the better.
  • Check on what's available near the event location (Google Maps is great for this). This will be what you have available nearby for food and possible entertainment.
  • Double-check the event location's website for their policy on food and drink. This will be important for packing the morning of.
  • (Re)familiarize yourself with the basic tournament rules.
  • Check your fleet list and make sure you have all of the necessary components to use it. Now (or earlier) is the time to start asking friends to borrow upgrade cards if that will be necessary.
  • Go to bed at a reasonable hour so you're well-rested for the following day!
Things to do the morning of the event
  •  Pack up everything you'll need for the event. Double-check you're not missing something.
    • I strongly recommend a tournament tray if you've got one. It makes moving all your everything around during the event much easier. Worst case I'd recommending a cardboard box or edged cookie sheet as a vehicle for transporting your stuff.
      • Bring extra copies of your fleet list for opponents to use. I like putting a post-it-note over the objectives so they can't sneak a peek at those, but can verify you committed to those objectives if they choose to go first by peeling the note off after they've made their decision.
    • Bring a pen. Usually the event provides enough but not always...
    • If the event allows food and drink, try to pack a thermos of water and some easily-transportable not-messy food with some substance, like a basic sandwich or granola bar or fruit.
    • Pack headache medicine. The event is likely to be fun, but a little stressful at times and mentally demanding. It's very easy to get a headache and/or back pain during the day. Cut that nonsense off at the pass with some painkillers and save yourself some pain and grumpiness.
    • Bring something to do if you get the bye. A book, a Kindle, a backup battery for your cell phone so you can play a phone game, whatever. Have a plan. Getting a bye and sitting there doing nothing for 2.5 hours feels like it takes forever.
  • Eat breakfast. If possible, do it with your friends also going to the event because that's fun.
  • Bathe and use deodorant. Please. You're going to be in a somewhat cramped environment with lots of other people. Nobody likes the smell of nerd funk. We're all in this one together, haha.
  • Wear some comfortable but decent clothes. You and your opponent for each round likely don't know one another and are going to be spending the next 2+ hours working together hopefully playing a polite and enjoyable game. Get started on the right foot with a good first impression.
  • Wear supportive shoes. You're going to be standing a lot, hunched over a table covered in plastic spaceships. Your feet are going to hurt if you're not wearing supportive footwear.
Things to do at the actual event
  • Get there early. You want plenty of time to register and get everything set up at a relaxed pace.
  • Submit your fleet list on time. Sometimes the TO will ask you to fill out the official FFG form, but most events will happily take an online fleet builder print-off.
  • Be polite, ask questions, make your intentions known, and seek consensus on the game state. Ideally, you and your opponent should have a clean, polite game. One of you is going to lose, but ideally everyone can walk away from the game feeling like everything was above-board. You don't really know one another (usually), therefore it's difficult to know for sure if the person you just met is trustworthy or not and so you can, if you're not careful, get into a kind of prisoner's dilemma. The best way around this is to give your opponent the benefit of the doubt and be polite. By asking questions when you're unsure of something (are you ready to begin the Ship Phase? which ships haven't activated yet? what upgrades does that ship have, again?) and making your intentions known (I'm activating ship X and it reveals a Y command dial and I bank it as a token, ship X is spending its nav dial to speed up to speed 3 and spending its extra click at this joint, etc.) you can help clear up any uncertainty. It also helps to agree on the game state so nobody is surprised when something happens (squadron X is engaging squadrons Y and Z but is obstructed to squadron A, ship X's side hull zone is at close range of ship Y's front hull zone, etc.). This kind of communication helps substantially when little bumps happen during the game so nobody feels like the other person gained from an error (it's easy to reset to the agreed-upon state) or deliberately cheated. Anything that makes it run smoothly is desirable!
    • The short version of this point is "don't be a dick," but in general I like to extend this all the way to "actively be helpful and try to cooperate with your opponent as much as is reasonable while still doing everything you legally can to win."
  • Call a TO if necessary. I covered this somewhat in the tournament rules article, but if you absolutely need to call over the TO for anything, don't hesitate to do so. The TO is there to help with disputed calls or in particularly bad circumstances, to punish players for cheating or slow-playing.
  • Mind your spine. Hunching over a table while standing for hours and hours is going to destroy your back. Try to stand up straight when possible or sit down. By the end of a tournament day, my back is killing me from lurching my 6'4" self over a table all day. Don't be like me!
  • Eat and drink. When you have downtime between games, take care of your nutritional needs. Your mood and your play skills are going to deteriorate if you get extremely hungry or dehydrated. That's why I recommend packing that water and food if you are allowed. If you aren't allowed, that usually means the event itself provides those amenities or they are offered nearby. Worst case keep them in your car and eat/drink out of your trunk like a classy fellow while a buddy watches your stuff! Side note: soda and candy can do in a pinch but they're really not any kind of serious long-term solution. You need real food and real water, haha.
 Things to do after the event
  • Chill out. Go out for dinner or get a beer or grab some ice cream and chat with friends on the way back home. Something to take the edge off. Even a really fun event where you did well can cause brain burn and some low-level stress/exhaustion, so find a way to let off some steam and give your brain a break.
  • Review your experiences later. Tournaments are a great way to get a peek at how players from outside your normal community build and run fleets and are often a great inspiration for combinations or archetype variants you may not have considered or may have incorrectly sworn off as too weak to merit play. Compare notes with other locals and reflect on what worked for you and what didn't and what interesting things you saw. I find that post-tournament fleet experimentation periods are second only to post-wave-release experimentation periods and it can be very exciting to try out a bunch of new ideas!
Final thoughts
I realize the article got a little long and I guarantee you I didn't follow all the recommendations I made during my first tournament (because I didn't really know what to expect just yet), so don't feel like you're a hopeless loser if you can't do everything I recommended. The more you can follow the basic checklist, though, the smoother the experience should be for you. Good luck!

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