If there’s a thing I could change about competitive gaming, particularly games that combine elements of strategy and chance (Imperial Assault, for example), it would be to imbue it with a culture of humility regarding losses.
We are not very good at recognizing that we can't control every aspect of the game. I can’t control what lists I play against. I can’t control what command cards I draw. I can’t control what I roll for dice results or what my opponent rolls. These are all elements that I can't directly influence. Sometimes these elements will help you and other times they will harm you. In either case, it is important to recognize that this will alter success in a competitive game.
However, we all know there's more to the game than that. The reason these games are compelling is because even though I subject myself to some random elements, there are many elements in my control, such as my list, my command cards, and my choices during the game. Primarily, this is what I’m most interested in and where I believe humility is the most important. I think we’d all like to believe that we are infallible, or at least have the potential to be infallible when playing a competitive game. When we lose, we face the fact that maybe our list wasn’t as efficient or our decisions weren’t as strategic as we thought. It’s an unpleasant truth, but one that I believe we should revel, instead of lament.
For myself, it is important to recognize that sometimes I will not have the cognitive tools to beat my opponent. Sometimes I will bring a list that isn’t very good. I will play command cards at the wrong times. I will make mistakes out of inexperience. While these moments may hurt my pride, these moments are also why I find the game interesting. For Imperial Assault to thrive, the optimal choices can’t be obvious. It can’t and shouldn’t be apparent what the best choice will be. If it were, everyone would make the optimal choice, the game would be formulaic, and many of us wouldn’t be playing it at all.
This is where my desire for humility has its roots - losing is not only part of competitive gaming, it's the best part. Losing gives us the gift of getting to learn. We get to reassess, study our mistakes, and consider what we can do to improve. Losing let's us know that there's progress to be made. The next game is a chance to test our new ideas. However, to enjoy that aspect, we need to get past our lost pride from losing and therefore have humility about our play.
Hence, I’d like to spend the rest of this post discussing the two losses I experienced at the Regional Championship. I debated discussing every game, but ultimately decided that there just wasn’t a lot to say about my wins. However, I made some mistakes during my losses that I believe have some value to that would like to win games in the future, including myself. Enjoy.
Prior to this tournament, I spent a significant amount of time conversing with one of our local players about the list I planned on bringing. Perhaps to his annoyance, he listened to me mull the pros and cons over a multi-week period. There probably wasn’t a strategy or command card that I hadn’t run by him over that time. He watched the list evolve and helped me establish what it would ultimately become. So, I suppose it was serendipitous that he and I would be matched up in the first round of the tournament. In addition to my lack of experience, I knew I was at a disadvantage as he literally knew everything about my list. Yet, I was still excited to show him that I had learned a lot from his advice.
I hadn't. I hadn't learned very much at all it turned out.
This game was played on Anchorhead Cantina (known as Anchorhead Bar in the glory days) (there's an image of the map below) and the mission was Line of Fire (bring the blue crates to the extraction point). I started in the red deployment zone and my opponent in the blue. My opponent was running Devious Scheme, so I started with initiative. Note how far my deployment zone is from the crates, as this is something I should have noticed myself when I deployed. My opponent played the following list (I left out Temporary Alliance so I could have an even amount of cards):
If nothing else, this game was a lesson that you can lose a game in a single round. In my experience, this doesn’t happen very often. Generally, you can make mistakes and lose a few units, but there are still opportunities to correct these mistakes and/or capitalize on mistakes your opponent makes. This was not the case though in this game for me. I lost this game due to a mistake in the first round and my opponent, being the intelligent and experienced player that he is, punished me for that mistake until I had no recourse.
Full disclosure, I had never played this mission. I was very familiar with Gain Favor (the other mission on this map), but I had never played Line of Fire. I knew I had a speed advantage, so I decided early that I wanted to contest the objectives and get some points via the crates. I moved my Inquisitor, Royal Guards, and a set of Jet Troopers up the center hallway and moved the rest of my units into the open area on the right to contest the objectives. This was part of my mistake. The crates were too far away for me to force my opponent to be concerned about me realistically scoring any points from crates. He was more or less free to engage my units in the hallway for the first two rounds before concerning himself with the crates.
Near the end of round 1, this was our positioning. Jedi Luke Skywalker had yet to activate and the Weequay pirates were in position to open the door.
Luke performed two attacks that round without a counterattack from my own units. Moreover, because I had initiative, he had was able to do another 2 attacks before I had a chance to respond.
This basically tells the story of the entire game. During the first three rounds, not only was my opponent able to use Luke and Vinto to do deal punishing amounts of damage to my units in the center hallway, but was able to play both Assassinate and Son of Skywalker from his command deck. In that same time frame, I put about 10 damage on Luke, but was unable to finish him off before my opponent retreated back to his deployment zone. I lost a Jet Trooper, Royal Guard, and my Inquisitor took 13 points of damage in the same time frame. In return, I killed one Weequay Pirate. Moreover, the units that set out to secure the objective never made it that far. By the time they were in position to grab crates, I was forced to move them over to aid the group in the hallway. I was on the back foot and at this point, I knew it was too late.
In hindsight, I should have paid closer attention to my opening position and kept all my units together. During one of my early skirmish experiences, I experienced the pain of a Bantha Rider. I suffered through back-to-back-3 damage Trample rolls– lesson being that I can’t just blindly group my units together, even if that is how my list is supposed to operate. However, I should have recognized that this situation was unlike my Bantha woes. I should have moved my units as a single group. I still could have moved towards the objectives and away from Jedi Luke’s starting position, making the entire engagement a lot more favorable for me.
Beyond what I’ve described, I have only a few other points. First, Salacious B. Crumb is far more annoying than I would have imagined. For his low cost, he gets a lot health and can be a real pain. Generally, you don’t want to shoot at him with any of your units, but you can’t let him run wild among your army, dealing 1-2 damage every turn. I think this card is definitely undervalued and more Mercenary players should consider it. If you’re playing against it, my best advice is that you can always just walk away from him if you want (I had this epiphany during the game and had a good laugh over it after stressing about whether I should attack little Salacious). Second, don’t underestimate Vinto’s damage or overestimate his survivability. Vinto did a ton of damage to my units this game and added conditions with his surges (I had both Weakened and Bleed applied to my Inquisitor in the very first round). For the first few rounds, I didn’t want to engage with Vinto because I believed I wouldn’t be able to kill him or that he wasn’t a high of a priority. Believe me, the two attacks with his Bolt Slinger ability really add up. Later in the game, a single Jet Trooper almost killed Vinto in a single attack. That was the moment where I realized I should have removed him earlier.
I could detail the rest of this match, but honestly there’s not a lot more to tell. Jedi Luke successfully escaped and I think I was able to eliminate Vinto and a Weequay. My opponents remaining units had an easy time cleaning up what was left of my squad after that. All in all, it was a fun game against a great opponent.
My second loss was on ISB Headquarters and the mission was To Your Stations (control the security stations at the end of the round for points and deal 2 damage to an enemy unit in line of sight of the security station). I felt a lot more comfortable on this map because I had at least played it a few times. However, like my other loss, at the end of this match it was still apparent that I had a lot to learn.
My opponent was running the only other Imperial list at the tournament. Moreover, he was running 2 copies of Vader's Finest on 2 sets of Elite Storm Troopers. I felt very good about this match up, as one of my first skirmish lists used Vader's Finest. I knew that Vader's Finest puts you at a disadvantage when it comes to the opening few turns, because the units that you focus on the first turn will be out of the fight until about round 3. I deployed in the red deployment zone and my opponent in the blue. I don't recall who had initiative, but in this game it didn't make as big a difference as the last.
Where in my first loss I did everything wrong during the first round, in this game, I believe I did everything right (probably not, but definitely more so). I used my Royal Guards to take the terminal on the left side of the map and to open the first door. I then immediately moved my Jet Troopers, Inquisitor, and Blaise into the hallway containing the two objectives. He took the single objective on the left side of the map and the terminal near his deployment zone with two Dewback Riders while moving Captain Terro to attack my units.
At this stage, I believed the most important goal was to eliminate Captain Terro while holding the two objectives in the hallway on the right. My units like to clump up, and that means that every time Terro is able to use Flamethrower, I’m taking significant amounts of damage and/or losing command cards. Over two rounds, I was subjected to two Flamethrowers before killing Captain Terro. In that same time, I don't believe I lost any of my own units. For the most part, much of the rest of the match was spent trading shots between Dewback Riders and Jet Troopers.
However, I was making some small mistakes that added up over time. One round, I didn't position any of my units next to one of the objectives in the hallway. So, even though I had practical control of the objective, I didn't score any points for it. This wasn't by design, just a stupid oversight on my part. I also decided to set up in the entrance to the hallway instead of the pockets of the hallway. This enabled his Storm Troopers to pop out, take some shots at my Jet Troopers, and back out again. As a practical matter, my Jet Troopers had no recourse from their position. If I had moved all of my units back and required him to enter the hallway with me, I would have had a much easier time trading blows while taking advantage of my Royal Guards' Sentinel Ability. Furthermore, by holding the hallway entrance, I was continually subjected to the damage from his security terminal at the end of every round.
These small mistakes led to my ultimate demise. I still believe that my plan to hold the hallway with two objectives was sound, but my constant positioning mistakes made the game much closer than it had to be. In the last round, I had 34 points and my opponent had 37. I made a last ditch effort with my Inquisitor to kill two Storm Troopers - Surge, Damage, Surge - I couldn't do anything with that. My opponent killed one more Jet Trooper for the win.
I hope you've enjoyed this retrospective on my losses. As I noted in my previous post, I have some changes I'd like to make tomy list and some match-ups I'd like to give another shot. I'll have another post next week with my thoughts on the Imperial Assault Meta and some other odds and ends. Thanks!