Hi there, I'm Marc and I'm probably one of the newest Flames of War players on this blog having only played for just over a year. My games this year have been mainly at tournaments so I thought I'd share with my fellow Noobs a survival guide to the UK tournament scene.
So you've played a few games of Flames of War and you've heard of tournaments being talked about down the club, indeed you may have read the odd after action report on your favourite blog and for some reason you've decided to give it a go. Until earlier this year I had never entered a wargaming tournament but reading about them piqued my interest. So far this year I've played in five tournaments and have a further two coming up bringing my total for 2014 to a respectable seven, not bad for a new player I think.
So whilst I am by no means a hardened veteran of the tournament scene hopefully my observations will make it easier for fellow tournament noobs to jump in and have the same great time that I have had so far.
Why go to tournaments?
For me it was a good opportunity to get in a good number of games against a mixture of opponents in a short period of time. Having a very busy job and a young family always means time is at a premium and makes going to one of the local clubs or having local games difficult. However putting aside a weekend once in a while is bit of an easier ask.
For others it's a way of testing themselves against opponents that they wouldn't play. Others see it as an opportunity to play the game as it is meant to be played, they often comment that in local clubs or groups that rules often get misinterpreted or overlooked something which doesn't happen in well run tournaments.
So you've decided to take part in a tournament but you're not sure where to find one. Well first off forget looking in the window of your Friendly Local Games Shop in the UK because i) in the UK we haven't actually go that many and ii) the best source of information is actually online.
The current and most comprehensive listing is Robin Spence's very helpful website which he runs for the benefit of the community found here: Robin Spence's Flames of War Events. Once you've identified which tournament you want to attend my next recommended port of call would be the Battlefront forums on their website, Battlefront Forum, where you can find detail on most of the competitions and look at some of the discussions.
Most tournaments in the UK tend to be two day affairs with three games on the Saturday, a social in the evening and then two games on the Sunday and then awards and home. Games tend to be fixed a two and half to three hours in length so if you're used to a leisurely approach when you play you may need to brush up on your rules before you go!
There are however more one day tournaments in the UK now which typically have three games over the day. These can sometimes be a good gentle introduction to tournaments without the big time commitment of an entire weekend.
The next big choice is choosing which one. In my experience there are broadly three types of Flames of War tournament in the UK
The Large Open Tournament
This is the big one. There will be very few list restrictions and the points level will often be set at the official Battlefront points level for the season. Whilst they can be great they can also be quite daunting for an utter noob. Corrivalry can have up to 80 players participating. However some, like the superb The Art of War, have special restrictions in place which create a more balanced playing field and their organisation is especially geared towards encouraging the participation of newer players.
The Local Tournament
Often populated in the main by local gamers, such as the Brighton Bash or Breakthrough Assault, these can be very friendly. Typically smaller they tend to have anything from 16 to 40 players and often have restrictions in place to make them more fun for all concerned by creating a more level playing field. They are heavily influenced by the local meta however, so if the "locals" like to play tank armies you are pretty much guaranteed to play tank armies in the tournament and you might have to think about this when constructing your lists.
The Themed Tournament
My personal favourite. Lists are often restricted to a specific set of army books, which can sometimes have the effect of excluding players, and are based on a specific campaign. In my opinion the Reluctant Conscripts in the UK run some of the best events in the UK of this type. There is often a bit of strategic general-ship involved with nominated faction leaders deciding who plays who and this creates a more collaborative approach. It is also the only type of event where you are guaranteed to only pay red vs blue and as such, again in my opinion, makes it a truer game. My last themed tournament was based on the Siege of Budapest and it was tremendous fun to play as German PanzerSpah (Armoured Recon) on a city board trying to break out against a Soviet Heavy Tankovy in my last game.
Myth Busting and Gamer Stereotypes
If you're anything like me then you will have all sorts of misconceptions in your head around what a Flames of War tournament is like in the UK. This may be due to having attended Warhammer/Malifaux/Warmachine tournaments in the past or from having listened to some of your local gamer friends. In the main they are likely to be false. The tournament scene in the UK is fun, welcoming, friendly, forgiving to new players and all inclusive.
It is not "beardy" (although there can be some impressive facial hair on display!), it is not a haven of social misfits and you will often be surprised at some of the jobs that people do (think high flying estate agents, military officers, doctors, senior civil servants, police officers etc and you won't go far wrong), it is not full of spotty teenagers or dithering old historical gamers shuffling from tournament to tournament with their Essex Miniatures purchased in the 1970s and it most certainly is not mega competitive.
Nevertheless some stereotypes can be found albeit in small numbers and as a gesture of public service it is only appropriate to give the reader an overview of the most common/extreme ones.
1) The Win At All Costs Gamer
Not immediately easy to spot until you actually have to play them the Win At All Costs Gamer is the worst personification of ultra-competiveness. Thankfully rare in the UK Flames of War tournament scene nonetheless they can sometimes be encountered.
Sportsmanship is not something that comes to mind when you play this person. They are very unforgiving for any mistakes you un-intentionally make such as not rolling to un-pin that platoon on the objective in the correct step.
However they are easily mitigated; just be the nicest person you can be when you play them and don't sink to their level. This will often be enough to shame them into their correcting their behaviour. If it doesn't work then just smile and carry on after all it is only a game!
2) The Historical BoreThis person probably made the leap to Flames of War from hardcore historical ancient or horse and musket wargaming. Easy to spot as their lists will be 100% historically accurate and painted in the exact shade of the historical colours. So far no problem and actually very refreshing. However their behaviour will start to manifest itself when you swap lists and he tuts away to himself (it is always a male specimen) at your choices.
Worryingly you'll ask what's wrong and you'll then be given a lecture on how the 2rd Loamshire's didn't receive Shermans in those quantities until after the war finished and that they traditionally didn't operate in this theatre. Things will go rapidly down hill when spies that your army is painted in the wrong shade of British Uniform and that the decals on the tanks are incorrect. Although friendly in nature you will rapidly begin to feel trapped in a condescending discussion and made to feel like your Double First in Political History from Oxbridge is worth the same as your children's Year 1 Gold Star Spelling Award from the local primary school.
After an hour, whilst feeling intellectually richer, you still haven't decided who's attacking or defending let alone rolled any dice. The best way round this is to simply and sagely go "Hmmm that is so interesting, I never knew that...... oh by the way shall we decide who...." every time he steps on his proverbial and historically accurate soap box.
Hard to spot when you first start this person will only become apparent two or three tournaments in. They are almost evangelical in their approach to the game and will continually extol the virtue of their bizarrely obscure list despite getting the wooden spoon in every tournament they attend. Their Brazilian Infantry Company, with self sculpted helmet decorations made out of green stuff, will be wheeled out to anyone who is unwise to stop as they walk past their table.
Like an Alchemist in the Elizabethan era they will persist in finding that perfect combination of tactics and troops that will swoop all comers away from them despite it being an ultimately futile task.
While they are to be admired for their perseverance don't get "converted" by them and continue to maintain an open mind about the game!
4) The "Lad"
Invariably coerced into the tournament by his friends the "Lad" can often be found at local tournaments. He isn't really here for the tournament but for the social in the evenings.
Very gregarious in nature he will always have a drink in hand. He is invariably fun to play in the first game of the Saturday (providing he isn't hung-over from the Friday!) however should you find yourself drawn against him by the third game of the day then it will be a very different experience. His time will be spent either at the bar getting another drink, in the toilet emptying his bladder which is now considerably full of cheap lager or bumping into and chatting to his mates on the way back to the table.
When you do find him at the table he will play you with all the ability of a retarded Sloth, and probably at the same speed, and you will feel dirty for beating him 6-1 in turn 3 after 4 hours of play.
Whilst it can seem attractive to join him on his JaegerBomb train at 10:30 on a Saturday morning save yourself for the night out later!
5) The Cheesy General
This is the person with the latest and greatest toys out of the newest army book (so new that it's still hot from the printers press). When you swap lists you will see that it has been Min-Maxed to an inch of its life.
He will gleefully explain to you how awesome his army is by running you through his army's magic abilities. Your heart will gradually sink as you realise that there is nothing you can ultimately do to beat him due to stupid bullet deflecting tanks or knife wielding kamikaze troops assaulting you before the game even starts.
However your mood will be buoyed at the end when he finishes towards the bottom of the league table as he gets taken apart by ever more experienced players with the surgical precision of a sushi chef. You may even get to see him throw one of his "super-dooper" tanks across the hall in frustration and raise a wry smile.
Preparing For Battle
So you've entered and handed over your hard earned money to the organiser so what now. Well first things first decide on what you want to take. My top tip is take the army you want to play and not the one you think will do well. Tournaments can be a bit of a slog half way through and using a list you enjoy is always better than taking the cheesy super list which doesn't reflect your play style.
Next step is getting the list across to the organiser. Most use Easy Army so this step is a doddle but do it anyway that the two of you find mutually convenient. However make sure get it on time, you don't want to be "That Guy" who they have to chase!
If the tournament isn't local to you then you'll need to make all your travel arrangements such as hotels etc Don't delay this part as I have often found my preferred accommodation being unavailable due to dithering and trying to book late in the day.
Next is sorting out your essential supplies. For me this normally falls into two categories:
1) Gaming Related Materiel - This isn't simply your army. Make sure you take your tape measure, dice, tokens, objective markers, superglue for fixing breakages, a carry case to lug it all around in and a tray. Yes, a tray. If you haven't been to a tournament before you'll soon discover how much of a faff it is to constantly pack and unpack your army. A tray allows you to set out your army nice and neat (and it appeals to my OCD character traits) and move it around the hall with ease.
2) Personal Supplies - Make sure you take some refreshments with you. They can be long days and having a bottle or two of water with you will help keep you refreshed as you go through the day. Additionally don't neglect your clothing so you can be comfortable. Gamers aren't known for being followers of the latest sartorial trends so wear something that you'll feel comfortable in.
On the day
When you arrive try and identify the organisers quickly to introduce yourself and book in. They will be welcoming and will often introduce you to other payers so you're not sat around like a gooseberry waiting for the first game to start.
The first set of match-ups are then announced along with the table numbers that you'll be playing on. Invariably this will either be rankings based or completely random. Switched on tournament organisers won't pair utter noobs with the most experienced players in the first round and will try to avoid red vs blue games in the first round if it isn't a themed event.
Subsequent match-ups will then be on swiss cheese system in most cases. This ensures that you should always fight somebody of a similar score in each round.
When you get to your table I always find it best to introduce myself first and just a have little chat to break the ice, after all this is a social activity and we are here to have fun. Then it comes down to the serious business. It is always good form to swap army lists and talk through what's what in your respective forces to ensure there are no nasty surprises or misunderstandings later. Then it comes to the thorny issue of terrain. Always talk through terrain before you start playing and decide what effects different pieces of terrain have. If you can't agree and it's not in the rule book then either dice for it or ask a tournament organiser.
With introductions made, army lists dissected and terrain discussed it's time to roll some dice and move some tanks and soldiers. As you play always remember you get the game you deserve. What does this mean? In short if you play like an arse, you'll be treated like one and ultimately have a miserable time. If however you play in a gentlemanly and sporting manner and have an ability to laugh at your own bad luck you will have a great time. And more importantly you'll make some great new friends.
At the end of the event there is always an awards ceremony of sorts. Tournaments in the UK are always well supported by local traders and there is often a good selection of prizes. Often there will be the following awards
Best Painted Army (either voted for by the other gamers or the organisers)
Most Sporting Player (either voted for by the other gamers or the organisers)
It is good form to stick around for the awards even if you don't think that you've won anything. Often in the margins there will discussions about who's going to what tournament next so it's a good opportunity to discuss meeting up in the future with all of your new found friends!
When you get home you will still be on that gamer-high and be planning for attending your next tournament. This is all good and perfectly natural however take a moment to look at how you think your army did and use the opportunity, while it's fresh in your head, to tweak your list and get in some practice games for the next event.
I hope you found this rough canter through tournaments both fun and informative. Hopefully it will tipped you over the edge and I will see you at one soon.