Wednesday, March 29, 2017

ITC Mission 3

I made a commitment to compete earnestly in the Independent Tournament Circuit (ITC) last year.  Sometimes you just want to know where you stand.  It is surprisingly challenging to go to that many "serious" events, along with the pressure of actually caring what happens, instead of my more typical point of view which is that it's just fun to get three games in and hey, only one person can win it so there's no real pressure.  You hope it happens but it's $10 for a good time if it doesn't.  This was different because I actually felt the pressure to win, in every single event.  I won't lie, it's not an entirely pleasant feeling actually, and losing seems to sting more than it does when you're playing just to enjoy the event in general.

Looking at the way they ranked players, I could see that anyone who had 400+ points was in relatively rare air, and so my goal was to both get over the 400+ point mark and be in the top 5% of the 5575 players who gave it a shot this year.  I am happy to report both things happened, and I was in the top 3% without even attending the largest and most points rich tournament, the Las Vegas Open and attending only two majors.  Not too shabby.  I say all that so that you will understand that my experience on this subject of ITC Missions is substantial.

As intensely as I competed this year, I saw the ITC missions many times.  The one I specifically didn't like, and that has generated a LOT of consternation among its players, is Mission 3.  For your reference, here is a link to their missions: ITC Missions link

Take a look at Mission 3.  It is a terrible mission.  It was with shock that I realized they were moving forward to keep it in the list of missions for 2017, given how many negative comments I get about it.  Even more disconcerting is that there isn't a hew and cry over it anywhere that I have seen online,.  Surprising.  So I thought I would raise the hew and cry for you.

The mission uses Vanguard Strike as its deployment zone.  That seems innocuous until you think about the Maelstrom objectives on this one.  The longest possible distance between two points that exists on the board are the diametrically opposed corners.  Its the one Deployment Zone where the models can meaningfully be placed at those distances and still face the enemy and yet capture the Maelstrom objectives of the mission if need be without being isolated from them as much.  All of that is seemingly innocuous.  The reason it becomes not so innocuous is that you will have an objective in your deployment zone to start.  Objective 6 is more or less a given if you are MSU and simply killing the units as they enter your 12" backfield, without moving much if any of your force.  The worst of the Maelstrom objectives is #4.  MSU forces can sit idly within their own deployment zone and casually score Objective 4.

Space Marine Battle Companies essentially win the Maelstrom component of this mission immediately.  They can easily have 26 units units, and possible more.  In comparison, the average number of units tends to be 12-16 for other armies.  It can more or less score most of the Maelstrom objectives at will with the volume of free transports they can employ in that mission.  A Battle Company SHOULD be able to easily score Objective 2 or 3 (whichever one they are sitting on to start the game) with Objective Secured and sheer mass.  They will take Objective 4 by default every time they roll it.  Anyone they face who isn't a Battle Company will be unable to stop it.  Objective 6 can be argued if the enemy gets a death star into the backfield, but otherwise, 6 is a given also, as ITC missions do not allow you to score them until the START of your turn, giving the Battle Company ample time to focus down on the interloper if it means denying them their points and focusing down on an enemy with a vast array of weapons they can afford because of their transports being free is likely.  Gravity Spam is a thing in Battle Companies.  Nothing "normal" will last long enough to stop the Battle Company from scoring 6, but some units can withstand it, so we son't call that a given.  However they can definitely make it hard for an opponent to attempt with sheer bulk.  5 is a debatable one, and probably no easier for either opponent.  Number 1 also debatable, but the Objective Secured in Battle Company makes it unlikely that the opponent will score it even if the Battle Company does not.  Therefore, through addition by subtraction, the Battle Company has the advantage here also.

In ITC missions, you gain half your final Battle Points from the Maelstrom objectives, and half the Battle Points from the Primary objective (8 from each, a total of 16).  Obviously you have some secondaries as well that break ties (worth 1 each).  The Battle Company is not likely to win the Primary objective portion of the mission.  Anything is possible but its fair to note that the Battle Company, for all its winning ways, does have a lot of easy to slay kill points in it, as long as the enemy has anti-tank means.  Therefore you have an 8-8 Battle Point split in all likelihood, barring poor play or bad luck etc...  It comes down to Secondary objectives.  My first question is, should it even come to that and be such an automatic fate?  On this mission the Secondaries are First Strike (having a kill in round 1), Slay the Warlord and King of the Hill (most units within 6" of the center by games end).  The Battle Company has the advantage here, as they are likely to get First Strike like most armies, if they focus down on it, and are likely to have more units in the center simply because they started with a boat load more than their opponent.  A final score of 10-9 is very likely in these match ups.

Herein lies another issue.  A person who wants to win the tournament, at the best of times, is going to win 11-8 in these match ups against a Battle Company.  His chances of being in the number one spot are almost immediately dashed as soon as he sees the opponent, because he knows he's already lost 8 points in the Tournament against such a force even if he wins the match.  Best case, he might even go undefeated against 5 Battle Companies in a row, but so what?  Others will have scored 19x5 = 95 points going undefeated (potentially) while the undefeated guy who faced five battle companies comes away with...55?  You can see the problem clearly.  Even if the mission didn't favor the Battle Company to win (it does slightly because of the tie breakers) it definitely favors the Battle Company to "steal" points from every opponent it faces with sheer numbers of tough hulls they don't pay for.  I mean how are you ever going to get to his Objective when its ringed with so many units?  How are you ever going to outnumber him in no mans land, as the Maelstrom objective 4 demands that you do?  How will you ever stop him from stowing points away for the one he can squat on unless he falls asleep?  Objective 1 will be uphill at best for both forces.  Due to Objective 4, he has ample reason to flood the middle and ensure that.

Mission 3 in the ITC is bad.  People complain about it all the time, yet I was prompted to write this for the lack of anyone else doing it.

Objective 4 needs to be replaced with something more fair.  "Kill two Enemy Units" perhaps to balance it out in its place.  No one would ever argue with that Objective.  Objective 6 should be altered slightly as well.  It isn't nearly as egregious but it still is as simple as pie for an MSU force to get, whereas an elite or assault army suffers.  Assault needs no help in suffering.  Perhaps making it an either/or Objective like "Have at least 3 of your scoring units and no enemy scoring units at least partially within 12" of your deployment edge OR Kill 2 enemy units that are partially within your Deployment Zone at the start of the turn"

Given that it is a Kill Point Mission, it makes more sense to require two kills instead of one, as you would already be required to kill units anyways in order to win in a Purge the Alien situation.  The Deployment Zone could also be changed to a Dawn of War deployment zone which would make conventional movement far more adequate for getting to the Objective 2 and 3 (remember that you place those in your enemies deployment zone so they can be right on the enemy deployment line)

Whatever the change, I think that Mission 3 is just a Tournament killer for anyone forced to play a Battle Company.  A change like this would be very good for the Mission and the play experience.  the new Objectives I mentioned do not disadvantage the Battle Company, they just stop it from stealing an enormous amount of points from their opponent almost by default.

Mission design is a big part of the game experience and as a TO who runs a Major Tournament (defined as 5+ rounds and minimum 32 participants in the ITC) I spend a lot of time every year adjusting the missions we use slightly in order to take into account the new armies and even the new version of the game.  I think the ITC should reconsider Mission 3 in its next poll.  the situation demands a change here, I think.