Saturday, December 12, 2015

Designing Missions for your Local Scene



One of the great things about adopting the ITC is that you're free to use whatever mission format you want. Our group has been working with the ITC since its inception and we enjoy the exposition and camaraderie. With this in mind, I'd like to discuss mission design for smaller events.

Of course, you can always just use the most popular tournament format in your area. The ITC and the People's Missions are both very popular right now, but a burgeoning scene may need to come to a slow boil before jumping into one of these formats and sometimes something unique and fun can emerge from that process.

Clarity

Clarity isn't just important for new players. Complicated missions might be fun for narrative or casual play, but in a competitive environment they are unwelcome. I've heard some folks question whether it is worth catering to the lowest common denominator, bemoaning the "dumbing down" of the game. Aside from the unwarranted negative connotations that invokes, that mindset is less than inclusive. You want people to attend your event and have a good time. If people have a bad experience because they misinterpreted a mission, they can leave your event unsatisfied and may never return. Never mind whose "fault" it was for the misinterpretation; the reality exists.


What are the Players Looking For?

We, as small-scale tournament organizers, need to keep what our players are looking for at the forefront of our minds. This means that, on a local level more than anything else, giving people what they want. This certainly doesn't mean completely bending your will to the strongest personality in the room, but you should also not rule completely by fiat, riding the ego train all the way to zero attendance town. Start with the familiar, the kinds of missions your local community are used to, then expand on that if needed. Ultimately, what they need is more important than what you want.

What are your Missions Trying to Test?

Besides the social and hobby aspects of this pastime, Warhammer 40,000 is a game of skill. In these types of games, you have fun by playing games, improving, learning, and playing more games, this time armed with a greater understanding. Missions should clearly test skills that can be improved upon over time. Testing attributes which are inherent should take a back seat to those which every player has the opportunity to learn.

Some players have extremely good natural ability in memory and awareness and you may not want to test them specifically because they are already important to the game of 40k.  It is a good way to separate the wheat from the chaff at higher level play, however, and work well as a tiebreaker. Table quarters style missions and multidimensional mission formats are examples of memory and awareness tests. Included in this is the ubiquitous Linebreaker. Remember, however, that many missions which test memory and awareness can slow the game down as the less apt players try to figure out what their score is at the beginning and end of every player turn.

January 2014 Winner: Curtis Bargender

Mental agility
 is a trait which some organizers may choose to test, usually through Maelstrom style missions with a random component. Reacting to changes happening throughout the game, protecting yourself from them, and taking advantage of them is a good skill for any 40k player to learn. This takes months or years of practice. Some players never grasp it and can feel cheated by the random nature of missions with these components. Players can learn to work with these missions by knowing when to take a risk.


Many deficiencies can be mitigated with good decision-making and pure gaul. These are the skills which are very important to test in Warhammer missions. Every book mission highlights these skills in one way or the other. These are also skills which can actually be learned and tested. Decision-making is something that every player should focus on when they try to improve their game and what every organizer should focus on as a measurable skill in their missions.

December 2014 Winner: Charissa Sinclair

The importance of gaul is different for every wargame and it hasn't always been true of 40k. With the advent of progressive missions and the resurgence of assault, the combination of decision-making and gaul, also known as risk management has taken a front seat yet again. In a lot of ways, these modern missions encourage greater opportunities for risk, forcing people to move their miniatures across the board and interact with the other player. This makes for far more entertaining and engaging games.

To succeed, players need to not only know what their army and their opponents' armies can do, but they have to think about those things in the context of the mission. This is part of the reason why some kind of prescribed Objective placement is so important and why some missions (such as The Relic and Linebreaker) force opponents to closely interact with each other on the battlefield.

March 2015 Winner: Todd Silber

The elephants in the room are list building and measuring distances. Fortunately, Games Workshop has eliminated the latter skill from the game. This anachronism was a horribly unfair and largely pointless skill to test in a game of the mind with so many moving parts, particularly in the case of players with disabilities.

List building is unique to all the other skills we've discussed because almost every format has been designed to do the opposite of test it, but to thwart it. Today, the lists test the format, not the other way around. As organizers, we do what we can to even the playing field for the different list types. Of course, we can't help it if a player handicaps themselves by taking an army which is an impediment to their natural abilities, but we can do our best to make sure no one list build can dominate our events.

One size does not fit all. All or none of these skills may be important to you and your players, particularly on a national level. Always keep what your players are looking for in mind when developing your missions. 


Goldensprue Cup 2016 Scenarios/Missions

In order to explain how a local mission format evolves, We'll go over the rationale behind the missions our local scene has evolved over the past couple of years. We started out 7th Edition by combining an Eternal War and Maelstrom of War mission, then quickly adopted the ITC format. We made some adjustments based on what was going on around the country, adopted some old mission guidelines we liked, and streamlined it several times for clarity.

We actually call our games "Scenarios" which are comprised of "Missions".  These scenarios still have a lot in common with the ITC missions; we have two primary missions worth 9 points each, a single secondary mission worth 3 points, and two tertiary missions worth 2 points each. This point spread is meant to allow players with disparate list builds the same opportunity to score primaries while also avoiding ties with the secondary at an odd number.


Primary Missions:

Tactical Objectives: At the end of each of your player turns, score 1 Victory Point for each uncontested Objective you’re holding. Additionally, bonus points from special abilities are applied to this mission’s Victory Point total. The player with the most Victory Points for this mission at the end of the game wins this mission and scores 9 Battle Points. Players score zero points for a tie.

Our Tactical Objectives mission is a very traditional progressive scoring mission. It heavily favors MSU and, to some extent, blobs depending on the Objective placement. Tactical Objectives obviously tests decision-making and encourages carefully-planned risk-taking. Should the player focus on killing threats early in the game and hope to catch up on TacOs later on? Or should they bum rush their opponent, scoring the entire game? Maybe a little of both? Tactical Objectives is a dynamic and simple mission which is fulfilling for both novices to veterans.

Note that the scoring doesn't start on turn 2. Players often forget this mission if they have to score turn 2. Also, starting on turn 1 gives assault armies a slight leg up, allowing them to get their scoring in on the top end of the game while they're being deleted on the bottom end.

Purge: Score 1 Victory Point for each destroyed enemy unit at the end of the game and for every 4 complete Hull Point damage and Wounds dealt to enemy Superheavies and Gargantuan Monstrous Creatures. Additionally, bonus points from special abilities are applied to this mission’s Victory Point total. The player with the most Victory points for this mission scores 9 Battle Points. Players score zero points for a tie.

Clearly, Purge is our Kill Points mission. Purge is an important mission to include in your suite due to the rise in popularity of progressive scoring. Purge creates a tougher row to hoe for MSU armies which seek to take advantage of this environment.

First and foremost, purge has been and always will be a great test of a player's ability to mitigate risk as they decide whether to commit a unit to action or not. Purge also tests player's awareness and memory, though can slow down the game when players feel the need to stop and count the units which have been destroyed in order to decide how much they should risk to eek out a win.

Hold Objectives: The player holding the most uncontested Objectives at the end of the game wins this mission and scores 9 Battle Points. Players score zero points for a tie.

This is the simple, tried and true mission we've used for years. The number and placement of the Objectives can have a big impact on how the game plays, however, insuring some challenge and variety.  This mission favors units which are solid from both a physical and a morale standpoint. This includes multi-character deathstars which can break away or "Voltron Out" endgame. This is a pretty big risk, however, as you can't always be sure the game will end that turn.

Hold Objectives tests a player's perception and wits. They need to keep enough units alive in order to score at the end of the game, so they always have to be wary of what their opponent is doing. While a player is trying to keep their units from being destroyed, however, they'll probably be working towards the four other missions as well, deciding every turn how much or how little to risk in order to score them and stay in position for the end game.


Seecondary/Tertiary Missions:

Slay the Warlord: As per the core rulebook. Both players score zero points if no Warlords are slain during this game, though both players score this mission if both of their Warlords were slain during this game.

Slay forces players to think about whether they want to commit a powerful character to a risky gambit. Of course, if one of their powerful characters isn't made their warlord, then they risk a possibly weaker character being destroyed and giving up crucial points. Slay also feels right from a narrative perspective; of course taking out the enemy leader is an important goal for your forces!

Breakthrough: The player with the most units at least partially within 12" of their opponent's board edge at the end of the game wins this mission. Both Players score zero points if neither has at least one unit 12” from their opponent’s board edge, though both players score this mission in the event of any other kind of tie.

This mission is far less binary than simple Linebreaker. Not only does Breakthrough help reduce the possibility of a tie, but it also rewards players for playing aggressively. Again, it's missions like these that you want to include if you think it's important that players interact with each other.

Big Game Hunter: Of all your opponent’s destroyed units at the end of the game, find the unit which was worth the most points. This is your Big Game. The player whose Big Game was worth the most army creation points scores this mission. Both Players score zero points if neither opponent has any destroyed units, though both players score this mission in the event of any other kind of tie. Note: do not include attached Independent Characters and don’t combine the points of multi-unit force selections (such as Dedicated Transports) when determining this total.

This mission helps, in some small way, to further balance out superheavies and tough units. Players feel a little less bad about trying to kill a unit that might normally feel like a waste of time killing. This mission is a little confusing, however. Players need to be reminded that they don't actually have to kill their opponent's most expensive unit; they just have to be the one to have killed the most expensive of the destroyed units between them. Because of this, this mission is a small boost to MSU armies that don't also take a big unit like a Knight.

King of the Hill:  The player with the most units at least partially within 6" of the center objective scores this mission. Both Players score zero points if neither has at least one unit 6” from the center objective, though both players score this mission in the event of any other kind of tie.

This ITC mission which includes an area control aspect to our scenarios. Table Quarters can be very frustrating to some players because it requires some pretty advanced planning and an analytical mind to execute in a reasonable amount of time. The King of the Hill mission allows for a similar feel, but is far less complicated for players.
Bloodlust & Vengeance: The first player to destroy an enemy unit scores this mission. If the other player also destroys an enemy unit on their next turn, both players score this mission. If no units are destroyed throughout the game, neither player scores this mission.

This mission was a natural progression from First Blood and was independently created by many game groups simultaneously. It's a pretty cool mission and favors durable armies with good shooting, particularly at range.

Hold Ground:  Any player holding at least 2 Objectives at the end of the game scores this mission.

This Secondary/Tertiary Objective is also borrowed from the ITC and it acts to somewhat balance the victory conditions. It's very good to add to scenarios where the paired primary missions are progressive in nature.


Scenarios:

Scenario 1 - Crusade
Objectives: Place 1 Objective in the center of the play area. After that, players take turns placing 2 more Objectives each wherever they want within the normal Objective placement rules for a total of 5 Objectives.
Objective type: Mysterious
Primary Mission 1 (9pts): Hold Objectives
Primary Mission 2 (9pts): Purge
Secondary Mission (3pts): Slay the Warlord
Tertiary Mission 1 (2pts): Breakthrough
Tertiary Mission 2 (2pts): Big Game Hunter

This scenario is a traditional combination of missions which is easy for new players to pick up. I have found that this is a good mission for players new to our area to start practicing with. This scenario works to balance MSU armies, although Breakthrough and Big Game hunter give them a little bit of a leg up.

Scenario 2 - Emperor’s Will
Objectives: 

Each player places 1 Objective each in their opponent's Deployment Zones, then 1 Objective equidistant between them for a total of 3 Objectives
Objective type: Variable
Primary Mission 1 (9pts): Hold Objectives
Primary Mission 2 (9pts): Tactical Objectives
Secondary Mission (3pts): King of the Hill
Tertiary Mission 1 (2pts): Slay the Warlord
Tertiary Mission 2 (2pts): Bloodlust & Vengeance

Emperor's will includes a third no-man's-land Objective at the center of the table to keep things interesting. The fact that this Objective is always equidistant from two player-placed Objectives ensures the game is a little less predictable each time than if all the Objectives were

Scenario 3 - Cleanse and Control
Objectives: 
Players take it in turn placing 1 Objective each in their opponent's Deployment Zone, then 2 more Objectives each wherever they want within the normal Objective placement rules for a total of 6 Objectives.
Objective type:
 Variable
Primary Mission 1 (9pts): Purge
Primary Mission 2 (9pts): Tactical Objectives
Secondary Mission (3pts): Hold Ground
Tertiary Mission 1 (2pts): Slay the Warlord
Tertiary Mission 2 (2pts): Big Game Hunter

Cleanse and Control balances a mission that is very easy for MSU (TacOs) and a mission which is their bane (Purge). The minor missions are also sufficiently mixed. This mission also features 2 Objective placements with restrictions and 4 without, so players with this mission are very much the masters of their own destiny, giving a minor leg-up to deckchair armies.

Scenario 4 - Big Guns Never Tire
Objectives: 
Players take turns placing 2 Objectives each wherever they want within the normal Objective placement rules for a total of 4 Objectives.
Objective type: Mysterious
Primary Mission 1 (9pts): Hold Objectives
Primary Mission 2 (9pts): Purge
Secondary Mission (3pts): Big Game Hunter
Tertiary Mission 1 (2pts): Slay the Warlord
Tertiary Mission 2 (2pts): Breakthrough

Big Guns attempts to maintain the original conceit of the mission. With Hold Objectives and Purge, it partially favors big units blasting away at the enemy, but it also favors armies that can hunt them down and kill them, taking their position (Purge, Big Game Hunter, Breakthrough).

Scenario 5 - The Scouring
Objectives: 
Players take turns placing 3 Objectives each outside their own Deployment Zone and within the normal Objective placement rules for a total of 6 Objectives.
Objective type:
 Variables
Primary Mission 1 (9pts): Purge
Primary Mission 2 (9pts): Tactical Objectives
Secondary Mission (3pts): Hold Ground
Tertiary Mission 1 (2pts): Slay the Warlord
Tertiary Mission 2 (2pts): Bloodlust & Vengeance

The Scouring is very much like Cleanse and Control. The only difference in missions is swapping out Big Game Hunter for Bloodlust & Vengeance. The number of Objectives are even the same. The difference is that the Objectives are placed outside your deployment zone. This ensures that, in most cases, the Objectives will clump along the center deployment lines and in the middle of the board. This creates a far more bloody game than Cleanse & Control.

Scenario 6 - The Relic
Objectives: 
Place 1 Objective in the center of the play area. After that, players take turns placing 1 more Objective each not within 6" of any Deployment Zone for a total of 3 Objectives.
Objective type: Mysterious
Additional special rules:
 The center Objective is the Relic.
Primary Mission 1 (9pts): Hold Objectives
Primary Mission 2 (9pts): Tactical Objectives
Secondary Mission (3pts): Breakthrough
Tertiary Mission 1 (2pts): Slay the Warlord
Tertiary Mission 2 (2pts): Big Game Hunter

The Relic has been tempered by the addition of two Objectives, both in no-man's-land. This mission rewards players who can take the middle of the board and survive it for a long time. The option, also, can be to hold back, shoot, and then move forward when the danger is eliminated.

Evolution

I always work under the assumption that the missions will change over time as our needs change and as playtesting shakes out the problems. For example, we just added some of the new secondary missions from the ITC, some with a few minor tweaks. When you're developing your own missions, don't be afraid to try new things. You never know what you'll innovate.


The Next Outing

So, our next tournament is our flagship event, the Goldensprue Cup. It's on February 6, 2016 at Flipside Gaming in East Greenbush, New York.  Sign up if you're interested.









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