First, some background
Last year at Origins I participated in a Summoner Wars tournament, choosing the Vanguard as my faction. My first game was against Josh Rios playing the Deep Dwarves. Due to solid line of Stalwart Archers on my side and poor dice rolls on his, I was building a dominating board presence. But time was running short, so I went on the offensive, with Sera, one of my Champions and a couple of other units closing in on Tundle. But then he was able to pull several tricks out of his hat all at once, and between his events and Champion abilities he shoved my pieces out of the way and killed Sera in one turn. It was a fun and respectable game on both sides. I forget both my opponent and my faction in my next game, but I was the one with bad dice rolls, and I lost pretty quickly. I was out of that tournament then, because there was no way I could win it. I had mixed feelings at the time: on one hand, I had lots I needed to do and appreciated the extra time; on the other hand, I was in the tournament to play games, and wished I could have played more.
So, this year at Gen Con I enrolled in the 4x4 tournament, where you pick a different faction each round -- the factions are chosen ahead of time. I decided on 1. Vanguard, 2. Benders, 3. Filth and 4. Vargath. Based on my previous experience I wasn't going for wins but the chance to try out different ideas. I was planning to fight hard, learn interesting things, and have fun, but not necessarily do very well. The tournament surpassed my expectations.
In the first round I was paired against Bren, (aka thenightsshadow), a person who has played close to 1000 SWs games over the past year. We were glad to meet face to face and play together, although I figured his vast experience would be hard to beat. He played the Mercenary faction, while I had a Vanguard deck which I customized by removing all the non-setup Guardian Knights and replacing them with Priests and Stalwart Archers, and replacing Raechel Loveguard with Jacob Eldwyn. (Just before the tournament I had purchased a copy of the second printing of the Vanguards Faction Deck to get the extra Commons.)
Bren did a steady advance into my territory while I dithered a bit, trying to figure out the best strategy to take. While I love to get Stalwart Archers together, in this game the draw worked out supporting the more common strategy: I got and summoned several Priests, and got and used all my Holy Judgement Events in the game. I drew Kalon Lightbringer, but considered him not useful in the current battle, and then drew and summoned Jacob, who was very useful: I was able to wound Rallul a couple of times with him from afar, as well as wounding him with a Priest. But Bren used the Mercenary Rygos to good effect, using his attack of 3 to kill a Common unit, and then getting an automatic hit on Sera who had been hidden behind it. Then he took a risk and marched Rallul up and dumped 8 cards from his hand for a Magic Pulse on Sera, and killed her. If he'd failed I might have successfully killed Rallul the next turn with Jacob and a Priest. It was a respectable and fun game. While waiting for the next round, Bren showed me some of his own faction designs, which have quite creative ideas in them.
In the second round James told me that there was an odd number of people in the tournament, so I could take a bye or play a winner from the first round, who ended up being AJ, aka esper88. I groaned internally when I saw he had the Phoenix Elves against my Benders, who have so many 1-hit units. I haven't played with the Benders much and it took me a while to figure what I wanted to do with them; I'd put a few Mind Witches in the deck but did not end up using them at all because of the situation. AJ's deck had a few Stonecloaks in it, and it was fun to use Mind Control on one of them, since it was a cheap takeover; I took control of one or two other units as well. I also used the Mimic Event, and failed to find an Event card to take, but saw two Champions that were in his hand, which was useful to know. I didn't think he'd be able to summon both Fire Drake and Laleya, in part because of 2 Magic Drains I'd played.
He did a very nice combo with Holleas, though: he used a wounded Fire Beast to destroy itself while wounding Tacullu, and then blasted Tacullu with Holleas down the now clear lane of fire, for 3 hits total. The next turn I made the mistake of leaving Tacullu where AJ was able to Greater Burn a guarding Common unit, and use Spirit of the Phoenix on Laleya to do the honors on Tacullu. If I'd been ultra paranoid -- which I should have been -- and fled to a far corner, the game would have lasted longer and I might have been able to something serious to Elien, but AJ would probably still have won.
In the third round I faced a young man who also had a 0-2 record: my Filth vs. his Fallen Kingdom. He had not seen the Filth Reinforcements, and exclaimed happily over the Anointed, the Incanter Mutation, and Her, even as he did his best to kill them. He did kill the first two. I had shut down both of his walls with Possessed Wall, but the FK have their own way of bringing units onto the playing field. I also had destroyed several units, but he had wounded the Demagogue, and was starting to harrass Her though she was behind a wall. Wanting to preserve Her, I moved her aside so Dema could attack the annoying unit, and wounded it but did not destroy it. He then obligingly walked that unit up and gave Dema his final wound. I felt stupid -- I had forgotten that Dema was so vulnerable though it was right in front of my face.
For the fourth round, James told me that I had the lowest record -- I guess I was the only 0-3 player, and given the odd number of players he had paired off all the others, and offered to play me himself or take a bye. I explained that I had had 4 hours of sleep each of the previous 2 nights, and it was starting to show as I lost the last game with a stupid oversight; while I'd love to play James I thought a bye would be best. Instead I went to tour the Exhibitor's Hall for its last 20 minutes of the day, and came back to see AJ win his final game and the whole tournament!
I had fun in all my games, and saw several examples of clever combos to add to my store of knowledge. I played 2 of the best players in the first 2 rounds and didn't feel ashamed of my play even though it could have been better, and I could live with even my worst blunders -- it's one of the best ways of learning, after all. I look forward to more tournaments in conventions in the future, to see how long I can keep up my unwinning streak.
Also at Gen Con
Both Friday and Saturday I demoed Summoner Wars for 4 hours at the Plaid Hat Games booth. I enjoyed teaching the game, explaining the many things I like about it, watching the play, and doing quick enthusiastic sales pitches to passing observers. Most of the demo-ers and passers-by seemed pleased with what they saw, so I don't doubt our numbers will grow.
There were also one or two tables of Dungeon Run demos going on, and three tables of Mice and Mystics demos. I am sorry I did not have the time to play a demo game of M&M: it looks gorgeous (and the miniatures are amazing), and like a fun game to play with my family. I look forward to its release.
Besides all the PHG stuff that dominated my 2 days there I also enjoyed browsing the rest of the Exhibitors' Hall, and enjoying the many costumes that the attendees were wearing -- you couldn't walk 50 feet without seeing someone in costume (10 feet in crowded rooms). If asked they were happy to pose for snapshots, which were fun to show to my family on returning.
There was also the surrounding environment. For lunch on Friday I browsed the many food trucks on Georgia Street, and settled on Indian food -- though I was tempted by the kimchi tacos another truck offered -- and had a pineapple-basil popcicle from another fellow, who I was sorry not to see on Saturday. Saturday night there was also a huge gathering of motorcyclists at the Indiana War Memorial a few blocks away; I was told they were hanging out after the motorcycle races at the speedway that day.
But my favorite meals were the dinners, for I got a chance to hang out with PHG folks I had been communicating with online -- Friday with many of my fellow playtesters, and Saturday with most of the staff of PHG. Not only was I able to see the faces and get to know the people behind the names, it was satisfying to finally learn what Bistro's real name was.
I hope I see them all again next year.
Posted by Bryan Stout