- what Heroscape is
- the demonspawn: my eldest child, currently 18
- the Smaller Animal: my middle child, currently 10
- the Skype Squad: the demonspawn plus three inseparable friends1
- the Smaller Animal’s introduction to the game
- Previous tournaments: NHSD 2012, NHSD 2013, NHSD 2014, NHSD 2015
SoCal Heroscape League members (forum names):
- “warriorneedsfoodbadly,” a.k.a. “wnfb,” a.k.a. our host: the fellow who generously puts up the rec room of his apartment complex for us to play in
- “Leotheanimal87,” a.k.a. “Leo”: league member and past tournament champion
- “hivelord”: league member and past tournament champion; hasn’t been able to attend the past 4 years
- “Detrimentalman,” a.k.a. “Dman”: league member and past tournament champion; hasn’t been able to make the tournament for a couple of years, although often comes after the tourney is over for after-games
- “Xotli”: me
- “Quillon”: the demonspawn
- tourney thread on our Heroscapers forum
Before I tell you how our annual National Heroscape Day tournament went, I should give you a little background on how “Swiss-style” tourneys work, and in particular how ours works. If you want the super-gory-detailed version of Swiss tournaments, Wikipedia exists to fill that need.2 But I’ll give you an abbreviated version.
In Heroscape, each player has an army consisting of a certain number of points. Heroscape itself is very flexible on point values, map sizes, and even what the object of a given game is, but tourneys are generally more constrained. Some areas of the country have more interesting options, but our league is more conservative.3 So it’s pretty basic: we use small-ish, usually symmetrical maps,4 we play 1-on-1 with identical point value armies, and we play “kill ’em all,” which means the object of the game is always just to wipe out your opponent. You bring two armies: one is your primary army, which you start out playing with, and the other is your backup army, which you can switch to if your primary army is not living up to your expectations. We happen to use 520 points, but that’s not really crucial to the outcomes. We generally build 1 or 2 more maps than we absolutely need, to allow a bit of flexibility—the ultimate goal is for no one to have to play on the same map twice.
So the basic way our tourney works is this: The first round, opponents are assigned completely at random. After that, all the winners play each other, and all the losers play each other. Then the people who are 2-0 play each other, and those who are 1-1 play each other, and those who are 0-2 play each other. And so it goes until you’ve played enough rounds. How many rounds you need depends entirely on how many participants you have, and often things don’t work out perfectly: perhaps there are 5 people with the same record and 3 people with the next lowest, or maybe you have an odd number of total players. In those cases you just do the best you can—mostly choosing things at random, although, for an odd number of entrants, there are somewhat complicated rules on who gets the “bye” after the first round, but we needn’t go into that level of detail.
At the end of all the rounds, you look at who won the most games. If there’s a tie for number of games won, you look at the “strength of schedule” (or SoS): that is, the total number of games won by all your opponents. The idea here is that people with higher SoSes played tougher opponents than people with lower SoSes, so they rank higher. If there’s a tie in number of wins and SoS, then you look at “points remaining,” which means how many points you had left on the board at the end of the game. If your opponent succeeded in wiping you out, then you get 0 for that round. But each round is also timed,5 so two good players may not be able to put much of a hurting on each other if both are playing defensively. If neither player is wiped out, then the winner is the one with the most points remaining, so points are important in determining wins as well as figuring out the tiebreaker for the tiebreaker.
This year, we started out with 11 players, 6 of whom came in my car.6 hivelord brought his pop and his roommate; our host was of course there, as was Leo, and Dman would not be arriving until after the tourney. The second round, it was one of the Skype Squad who drew the short straw,7 and I ended up playing the demonspawn while she watched our game. The third round, the Smaller Animal was scheduled to sit out, which he was really unhappy about, but then Dman showed up early, so we just threw him into the tourney,8 bringing us to a total of 12 people. (Side note: not only is this more than last year, it’s more than we’ve had since 2011. I’m pretty happy about that.) So the Smaller Animal got to play with Dman ... and of course my kid got schooled, but I gather that was still better than sitting out entirely. After that, we only needed one more round to settle final standings.
This year I was quite intrigued to try out an army with a Native American theme. There was a brand new unit that had only been out for a few days at the time I was building my army: the Teeth of the Makwa. Combining them with the existing Heroscape tribesmen—the Mohicans—gave me this army, which has the unusual property of having the only “chained bonding” in the game: normally, when one unit bonds with another, if that second unit can bond with a third unit, there is specific language to disallow taking all 3 turns at once. But this combo specifically allows the chain, mainly because it’s both conditional and not a full turn with the third unit. The exact situation is, you take a turn with the Mohican squad, and if you end that turn with 2 of them engaged, then you can take a turn with Brave Arrow (the Mohican hero), and that triggers the ability to move (but not attack with!) 6 Makwa,9 but only up to 3 spaces each. This has two major downsides: 3 spaces is not very much in Herosacpe, and, generally speaking, if you still have 2 Mohicans engaged at the end of their turn, it means they failed to kill their enemies, which makes the triple turn somewhat of a consolation prize.
In any event, my first game was vs the demonspawn and his dwarves, led by the dwarf-ridden giant Mok. This was a fairly close game, but in the end my kid came in 100 or so points ahead of me. I’d like to say that it came down to luck, but honestly I think my kid just played smarter than I did. My second game10 was against one of the Skype Squad who was sporting cybermonkeys, led by Zaeus and those sneaky Nakita agents. This game was much closer: in the end, I lost by a paltry 30 points. The armies were pretty evenly matched: Mohicans are pretty hard to kill at range, Makwa are just plain hard to kill,11 and the whole army has decent range and gets even stronger when you get in their faces. In contrast, Gorillinators are also tough to kill, the whole army is excellent against range because of the Nakita’s Smoke Powder, and they’re way more mobile than the tribesmen. So it was a tight game: with one less round, I would have lost decisively; with one more round, I think I could have come out on top.
In the meantime, the demonspawn had lost his first game, beat me in the second, then went on to win the third (against hivelord’s roommate). The Smaller Animal, meanwhile, had just had a run of three really tough opponents: hivelord’s pop first, then hivelord himself, then Dman (as previously mentioned). In the final round of the tourney, hivelord and his dad went head-to-head and the father beat the son, thus securing the tourney win and consigning his son to second place. Which meant that the Smaller Animal’s first two games were, in fact, against the two players who ended up coming in #1 and #2. So both he and I were scoreless going into the final round, while the demonspawn was 2-1 and looking pretty good.
I drew hivelord’s roommate, the demonspawn ended up with our host, who was also doing pretty well, and the Smaller Animal ended up going against the final member of the Skype Squad, who, like him, had not won any games thus far. I won my game, pushing me back up towards the middle of the pack, which is where I often end up in these sorts of things, and the demonspawn won the final game to end up in third place, which is the highest anyone in our family has ever managed in our ten years of attendance. The Smaller Animal’s game literally came down to the last throw of the dice. By this point, he had given up on his primary army (a Marro army led by the bone dragon) and had gone with a ninja army, led by the mysterious jonin.12 Now, the way the jonin’s leadership works is, the ninja don’t have to be anywhere near him,13 but the jonin himself must be unengaged. Happily, he has Phantom Walk, just like a proper ninja, so, if he is engaged, you just disengage with him and get on with your ninja taking their turns. Because of this, he hardly ever actually attacks anyone,14 and his attack isn’t that impressive anyway. So, it’s the last turn of the last round of the last game in the last round of the tournament. Everyone else has finished playing by this point, and we’re just standing around playing peanut gallery for my kid and his opponent. His final order marker is, of course, on the jonin, who happens to be engaged. He starts to move him away from his enemy. The demonspawn and I, at about the same time, realize that he only has one ninja left—all the others have been taken out already. And, as it happens, she’s too far away to reach anyone. So we point out to him that, while his first instinct would normally be correct, in this case he’s not doing any good disengaging and taking a useless turn. Just go ahead and attack the person you’re next to. It probably won’t do anything, but at least you’ve got a chance of inflicting a final wound or two. He studies the board and then notices that there’s another enemy that he can reach: his opponent is also using her backup army, which is led by an elf wizard on a pegasus, and that exact fellow is just sitting there, 3 spaces and 2 levels down, only 1 wound away from being totally dead. So my child decides this is a better target—partially from being mostly dead and partially from potentially being worth more points, but mostly because being higher gives the jonin one more attack die to roll15—rolls the dice, gets 2 skulls, his oppoenent rolls a single shield, pegasus-boy goes down, and the Smaller Animal wins the game by 3 points. By a single skull, on the last die roll of the tourney. It was pretty spectacular, let me tell you.
To top everything off, Leo’s contribution for the tournarment prizes was a copy of Arena of the Planeswalkers, which is a new-ish game that has a lot of similarities to Heroscape,16 and worth a decent chunk of change. Enough that we had been putting off buying it ever since it came out. Enough that it was a pretty impressive prize sitting there on the prize table. But, as it happens, hivelord and his pop (who came in #1 and #2, you may recall) already had the game, so they went for other prizes.17 Which meant that the demonspawn was able to snatch it up by coming in third. And the Smaller Animal, by dint of having an insane SoS (9 games, all in all), came out ahead of everyone else with his same record, making him 3rd or 4th from the bottom, which he felt pretty good about. All in all, a mighty fine day for the family.
1 From their tendency to stay up until 3 in the morning talking to each other on Skype, obviously.
2 As always.
3 Not from my lack of lobbying for change, I can tell you.
4 As I discussed last week.
5 In our tourney, we play for 45 minutes, then you get to finish the particular round of that game. “Round” is unfortunately an overloaded term in Heroscape tournaments: each round of the tourney consists of several games (one game per pair of opponents), and each game consists of rounds, and each round in a game consists of three turns per player.
6 As mentioned above: myself, the Smaller Animal, and the Skype Squad.
7 So to speak. As I mentioned before, it isn’t really random.
8 Of course, at that point, having missed two games, he had no real chance of winning, but at least nobody had to sit out any more. So he graciously agreed to jump in.
9 By the way, if you’re wondering what “Makwa” are, they’re the bear clan of the Anishinaabe, which is a group of tribes which include the Ojibwe and Algonquins.
10 Remember, this is the third round of the tourney, because I sat out the first round.
11 Well, okay, they should be hard to kill: their Shield of the Great Bear power theoretically keeps them alive 25% of the time when otherwise they would be killed. In practice, however, the Great Bear was not much interested in my poor Makwa this tourney. I think I only hit that die roll 2 or 3 times out of the dozens of times it came up.
12 And, if you’re wondering what a jonin is, then you don’t watch enough Naruto.
13 Unlike, say, an elemental army, where the elementals have to be within 8 spaces of the elementalist. 8 spaces is a pretty long leash in Heroscape terms, but it’s a leash nonetheless.
14 Because, in Heroscape, you must always move first, attack afterwards. Unless you have a special power that says otherwise, of course.
15 My kid is surprisingly analytical for a 10-year-old sometimes.
16 Including reusing some of the terrain for it.
17 Actually, it was my prize donation that was chosen by the #1 winner. So I was pretty pleased about that.