Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Fleet Muster II - Dropfleet Commander Tournament Report

BACK OUT INTO THE TOURNAMENT SCENE FOR THE UCM
This weekend Adam and I travelled up to the grim northern territories of Cardiff, to the always impressive Firestorm Games gaming centre for their second Dropfleet Commander tournament, Fleet Muster II. We had not attended the first one (I cannot recall why at this time) but we were hot off the success of Midlands Maelstrom and needed some more Dropfleet!

Following some horrible weather there were a few drop-outs who could not make it, but in the end we saw fourteen players, with a good number of Scourge players announcing their intentions! We imagined the usual mixture of new and old players, with a sizable contingent from the Redditch Wargaming Society.

It also helped that an old friend of ours, Army Dave, lives in Cardiff and was hoping to attend. It would be a great opportunity to catch up and maybe even play our long-lost opponent and gaming buddy.

PREPARATION AND THE FLEET
In the lead-up to the event (which we had agreed we would definitely try to attend after enjoying the Maelstrom so much) we had a number of practice games. Our local scene is rather limited, given there are only the two of us (Adam has given a number of people intros, so there is always hope for the future!). This is one of the reasons we like to get up to tournaments - fresh opponents and new opposing fleets. It is also one of the reasons Adam rushed into production a second fleet - the dreaded Shaltari. You may have seen some of his blue and pink models on the forum or Facebook, as well as heard his complaints about painting dots (after edge-highlighting my entire UCM fleet I am not hugely sympathetic...).

We had three games between Midlands Maelstrom and this weekend - the first two Adam ran his usual PHR while I tried some new combinations, and the third game he had managed to scrape together a tournament-worthy Shaltari fleet for me to smash.

The first game was one of the unusual missions not from the tournament pack - Power Grab. Adam ran a launch-light list with a Battleship, while in turn I ran with a pair of Seattles and a New York-class Fleet Carrier, as well as the usual gunnery and drop. I was undone by the slow speed of the New York and the power of the PHR Battleship. Adam outplayed me, and I strung my fleet out badly where the massed Launch Assets could not support each other. The Carriers were not used properly and I was mashed - I think a 0 - 20 LOSS.

The second practice game I decided to have some fun with lasers and dropped my Corvettes and Missile Frigates for a second Avalon-class Battlecruiser. This time we played Station Assault, which was a lot of fun! The game started well, with the lasers shredding his Bulk Landers, but a coordinated attack saw both Battlecruisers disabled and the New Cairo-class Light Cruisers broken. His Battleship endured a huge amount of punishment, and in this game the dice and his cards turned against me - it felt like every Command Card Adam drew was perfect for his situation, while I lost the will to keep going. In the end I was almost tabled, down to my last Strike Carrier, and Adam had done his best to destroy my Stations and hold his own. We played a couple of things incorrectly that would have made his victory a little less sweet, but ultimately it was another LOSS.

In our third practice game Adam had his brand new Shaltari fleet, which featured a Diamond-class Battleship, Basalt-class Carrier, two Motherships, nine Gates, four Glass Corvettes, four Topaz-class Frigates and two Amber-class Cruisers. I ran with my old tournament list, the same as I had used at Midlands Maelstrom and probably my most consistent loadout. The mission was Mixed Engagement, and started out well, with the Shaltari causing minor damage while a series of traps were sprung that saw the Taipei-class Missile Frigates destroy a Gate and an Amber-class Cruiser, and the Avalon-class Battlecruiser obliterate a Mothership.

Things turned as the Diamond-class Battleship started deleting entire squadrons from the board. I held my own on the ground, but was forced to abandon the space around my home Space Station and this clinched the game. A lone, invulnerable Topaz-class Frigate claimed the crucial Critical Location, and then on Kill Points Adam swung the game into a 9 - 11 LOSS. He had lost the majority of his fleet, down to a lone Frigate, handful of Gates and the Battleship, but my fleet was similarly in ruins, down to the Corvettes and a few Strike Carriers.

A big learning experience for us both! I am happy with the way the fleet performed, and decided in our next mission I would try something slightly different with a second Battlecruiser and more Strike Carriers, in place of the forlorn San Francisco-class Bulk Lander. In the end we never had our fourth practice game, as Real Life got in the way.

Time ran out, but I decided I would bite the bullet and use a slightly different list for Fleet Muster II. It was about time I started running new lists in tournaments - in Dropzone Commander and Infinity I have a reputation for using the same, solid-but-tired lists. Time to break that habit!

The decision to drop the San Francisco-class Bulk Lander and concentrate on solely New Orleans-class Strike Carriers was not an easy one. I have a massive dislike of the general feeling online that spamming Strike Carriers is the best way to win - I don't like the way it sounds or looks, and hope that is does not develop into a "meta" that could damage the game. For one thing, it is boring.

This list runs ten, which I don't think is too much... but who's to judge? We will have to see how it does on the day. I got tired of losing my San Francisco so quickly all the time, and feel they could definitely do with a small change to give them some extra durability - especially after playing Adam's PHR every week for the past few months.

The next big change was the second Avalon-class Battlecruiser. This is a replacement for the New Cairo-class Light Cruisers, who I have always enjoyed running but feel that a second Battlecruiser is an alternative I need to try. The four dice for the Viper Super Heavy Laser is better than two sets of two dice for the pair of Light Cruiser, albeit less versatile, while the single bigger hull beats them on many other metrics. I also wanted to run both of my painted Avalons at the same time.

The last change was to save points to afford all these new toys. Losing one Santiago-class Corvette is painful, as I really feel four is comfortable, and losing one level on the Admiral was also pretty bad. I guess I will have to survive. The idea to lose one of the Jakarta-class Aegis Frigates and bring both of these things back was a great suggestion from Adam, but it turns out 1pt too expensive! Rather than compromise I will stick with my original, almost symmetrical list.

The small squadron of three Taipei is staying, don't try to convince me otherwise. So many people run a "Wolf Pack" of four ships that running three is the perfect counter, and I have had a lot of success with them in previous tournaments. I am also sticking with Taipei rather than dropping to Toulons and enjoying the discount (to spend on things mentioned in the previous paragraph) because I really rate the amount of firepower they can put out - averaging twenty three Close Action attacks makes most enemy ships feel the strain.

Lacking practice with this list is going to hurt, I am sure, but it could work out well. I just need to remember to play cautiously with the Avalon-class Battlecruisers and not get to excited about those lasers! Onto the list...

Carrier Group Cervantes
Six Launch Assets

Vanguard Battle Group - SR11
Avalon-class Battlecruiser (Level Three Admiral incl. bonus)
Jakarta-class Aegis Frigate

Vanguard Battle Group - SR11
Avalon-class Battlecruiser
Jakarta-class Aegis Frigate

Line Battle Group - SR9
Seattle-class Carrier
Two New Orleans-class Strike Carriers
Two New Orleans-class Strike Carriers

Line Battle Group - SR9
Seattle-class Carrier
Two New Orleans-class Strike Carriers
Two New Orleans-class Strike Carriers

Pathfinder Battle Group - SR5
Three Santiago-class Corvettes
Two New Orleans-class Strike Carriers

Pathfinder Battle Group - SR3
Three Taipei-class Missile Frigates
Task Group Cervantes, on the warpath
THE TOURNAMENT
As mentioned above there were fourteen players, with the breakdown as five UCM (including myself), three Shaltari, two PHR and four Scourge players. The majority of the fleets were painted, which was nice to see, with two of the other UCM players running the Studio grey/white scheme like mine. I was particularly interested in Matt's (from Scanners Offline) Scourge with their brown/bone scheme, and was also impressed with a lovely purple and gold Shaltari fleet.

The tournament itself was plagued by the ice and snow - the tournament organiser himself had been taken out of action by some snow, and as mentioned above, only fourteen players managed to get through the weather. A shame, but luckily one of the local players stepped up and we got on with the tournament.

The missions were the same as Midlands Maelstrom with Mixed Engagement opening the day.

GAME ONE - Mixed Engagement versus Shaltari
The first game of the day was drawn against Chris, an experienced Shaltari player with a fairly unsurprising list - Diamond-class Battleship, three Motherships, one Amber-class Cruiser and Basalt-class Carrier, three Topaz-class Frigates, four Glass Corvettes and twelve (!) Void Gates. One peculiar setup was having nine Void Gates in their own Battle Group - I'd not seen that run before.

This would be my fourth game against Shaltari, and though I was fairly up with their capabilities I was still stymied by their natural advantages. Chris was very good at keeping his fleet in just the right ranges to deny my shooting while causing damage himself, and though he was fairly alarmed when I managed to destroy two of the Motherships by Turn Three, his counter-attack all but wiped me from the board.

I had been forced to expose the fleet in order to score these kills, and Chris took full advantage to cripple my fleet. His use of Debris Fields was particularly impressive, hiding his ships from the worst of my shooting with skill.

By the end of Turn Five it was a Draw in Objective Points (he was definitely winning on Kill Points), and though the organiser was telling games to wind down I was given the chance to keep playing. I knew I would be consigning myself to a bigger loss if we went to Turn Six, but it felt pretty shitty to end the game there so I went for it and promptly lost a number of Critical Locations in the last moments. I was holding my own on the ground (given his lack of Drop), but losing the Critical Locations clinched it into Chris' favour, and with the bonus from the Kill Points, it ended a 7 - 13 LOSS.

A hard-fought game, and I must apologise to Chris for the little slips I kept making - forgetting an Armour Cracked result despite the token being next to my flagship being particularly embarrassing! Chris was gracious given it was Sunday morning, and a pleasure to play.

GAME TWO - Grid Control versus Scourge
My first official game against Scourge! Nice. My opponent was Jon, the stand-in organiser, and his fleet was led by a Dragon-class Battleship. The rest of the fleet (if I can remember) featured a one Wyvern, Chimera with four Gargoyles, four Djinn, a pair of Hydras and four Charybdis. A nice varied list, but lacking in ground troops.

Jon went for two Gargoyles on each flank Cluster (with the Orbital Guns) and the Chimera down the centre, while the Dragon came on at full speed with a Max Thrust order. His Charybdis also headed straight for the centre, while the Djinn sped on and targeted the Santiago-class Corvettes.

It was a bold attack, but I felt he went for it far too early - and I could tell Jon felt the same when I ambushed the Djinn with the Taipei-class Missile Frigates, gutted the Dragon with an Avalon-class Battlecruiser, smashed the Charybdis squadron with the Seattle-class Carriers and destroyed the Chimera with my flagship.

A brief counter-attack from the Hydras and the Wyvern saw a Seattle-class Carrier destroyed and my second Avalon-class Battlecruiser fall out of a sky with a nasty Critical Hit, but these were acceptable losses to lure the enemy Cruisers into my kill zone.

Everything went to my advantage very quickly, and by the final turns he had lost everything above Atmosphere. The Ground Combat took a while to consolidate, but in the end I had secured four Clusters and all of the Critical Locations, and reduced the enemy fleet to a handful of Strike Carriers. It was a brutal 20 - 0 VICTORY.

GAME THREE - Moonshot versus Scourge
The final mach was drawn against Matt of Scanners Offline fame, a notably good player who had won his previous tournament and was currently rocking around 35 Tournament Points - rather alarmingly more than my 27. Apparently there had been some issue with the allocation of opponents (I would love to have seen Matt versus Charlie, the previous winner of Midlands Maelstrom), but I was not worried as I had wanted to get a chance to play Matt, and the alternative was to probably play my common opponent Adam (he was on a comparable number of points).

Matt had a nicely balanced force with an impressive amount of drop - a Basilisk, Sphinx, Hydra, Chimera, eight Gargoyles, four Djinn, four Nickar and three Scylla - the nasty bastards who hide in Atmosphere. In fact, Matt chose to really show off the Atmospheric abilities of the Scourge and by Turn Three all of his Frigates and equivalents were down there. This was... a little frustrating to say the least, as I could ill afford to play chicken with a squadron of Djinn while the Basilisk was bearing down on me!

Ultimately, as with all Moonshot games, the fleets split. On one side, the flagship Avalon-class Battlecruiser, one Seattle-class Carrier, four New Orleans, the Taipei squadron and the Santiago squadron headed for the port Cluster  to face the Scylla squadron, four Gargoyles, the Sphinx, Hydra and (eventually) Chimera, who committed to that flank after dropping troops into the Scourge space station.

This side of the game was frustrating, as the Taipei squadron were denied their chance to hit the Scylla early with a well-played Command Card that shuffled my Strategy Deck. My plan was thrown into confusion on Turn Two, and the Scourge took full advantage! The Scylla (Scyllae?) dived into the clouds and were no longer a legitimate target, but happily started causing damage to my ships, crucially culling one of the New Orleans-class Strike Carriers and giving the Matt the advantage on the ground. I was hoping the Santiago-class Corvettes would swing it back into my favour, but they were largely ineffective, and in sending them to that flank I had left the other side undefended against four Nickar-class Corvettes.

The fighting went a bit better, with the Avalon-class Battlecruiser obliterating the Hydra while the Taipei reduced the Sphinx to one Hull Point. The Chimera made it through the firestorm, and was able to land some troops to my chagrin, before hiding in a Debris Field that denied my Close Action weaponry and Launch Assets - nice tactics! There I secured the Critical Location and then the Avalon secured the Scourge space station, but the ground was lost.

On the other side, the second Avalon and the second Carrier Group headed for the starboard Cluster. Two New Orleans-class Strike Carriers stayed back, holding the home space station. Matt played cautiously with the Djinn, leaving them in Atmosphere ready to pounce for almost the entire game. Unable to escape their trap, the UCM Cruisers bludgeoned forward and gambled on Active Scanning to reveal the Silent Running Basilisk. Unmasked, the Avalon-class Battlecruiser leapt forward and destroyed it with a crucial Overcharged Lasers Command Card. Sweet!

The Seattle tried to secure the Critical Location but was shredded by the Djinn in a single round of shooting, and then the Avalon was brutalised as it tried to follow. We had reached Turn Five by this point and were running out of time - this would be the last turn of the game and both my Avalon and Matt's Djinn were too high to score the Critical Location.

Luckily for him, there were still four Gargoyles in Atmosphere. Two of them hit Max Thrust and achieved the Critical Location on my space station, while the other two rose up with the Nickar to finish off my Strike Carriers. The Ground game was lost entirely at this point, leaving the scoring decidedly in Matt's favour. I had scored more Kill Points, but not enough for any more bonus points than Matt. The difference led to a 5 - 15 LOSS.

Key early points in the battle were my decision to send the Corvettes to the port-side Cluster rather than intercept the Nickar-class Corvettes on the starboard side, which did not pay off as I failed to destroy more than one of the enemy Strike Carriers, while eventually losing all of my Strike Carriers to the enemy Corvettes. Matt's Command Card that threw my Strategy Deck out of order was also crucial to ruining the Taipei squadron's chance to intercept the Scylla or Gargoyles.

As I had feared, Matt played very well indeed and I never felt like I was in control. The Atmospheric nature of the Scourge Frigates was hellish, as I could not stop them from rising and shooting as they wished, while his superiority in dropping troops overwhelmed my ground forces. The destruction of his Cruisers was very satisfying in this context.

RESULTS AND THE FUTURE
After three games, I had scored a reasonable 32 Tournament Points, which put me in FIFTH PLACE. Not bad, not as awesome as the Maelstrom, but I did manage to win Best UCM player! Huzzah, now I have achieved my goal and finally won that cool tag!

I guess that means UCM did not do so well at this tournament, oh dear. The Scourge players were doing well, and the Shaltari all had some nasty lists - overall I think the top performers were a nice mixture. I was surprised at the lack of PHR players overall, but one did finish Third which shows their power.
The Results Table
There was no Best Painted award which was a big shame.

Overall a nice and simple tournament with some seriously challenging opponents and my first ever experiences against the mighty Scourge! Great to see them in action, and feel first hand how horrible they can be when played right. Their playstyle looks like something I would enjoy a lot.

The organisers did well to cope with the troubling weather and loss of the main organiser, though I am surprised that my games lasted as long as they did - I managed to get to six turns in all of my games at the Maelstrom but this time it was a struggle.

So what about the future? Now the entire UCM fleet has been painted and I have run them through three tournaments and twenty five games or so, I feel it is time to start a new fleet - Scourge. If I could just work out what colour scheme to do I would be sorted...

UCMS Rocinante and a Jakarta-class Aegis Frigate

The flagship performed well over the course of the three games, destroying a Shaltari Mothership in Game One, several Scourge Cruisers in Game Two and taking on half the Scourge fleet in the last match - bringing down a Hydra, finishing the Sphinx and drawing the fire of several squadrons. It went on to secure a Critical Location in that game, which was nice! 
UCMS Dulcinea and another Jakarta-class Aegis Frigate

The second Avalon-class Battle Cruiser suffered a lot, obliterated by a Shaltari Battleship and knocked out of the sky by a Wyvern disabling its engines, but it did cause an awesome amount of damage and earned its place other the less reliable New Cairo-class Light Cruisers I usually run
Pathfinders - three Santiago-class Corvettes and a pair of New Orleans-class Strike Carriers

It was generally found that three Santiago-class Corvettes was not enough to cause any significant damage - I believe over the course of three games they only brought down a couple of Void Gates and a couple of Scourge Gargoyles - an extra pair of New Orleans would have been more effective overall

Wolf Pack - three Taipei-class Missile Frigates

These were consistently good, even they tended to only destroy one target and then suffer swift retribution. An early Mothership kill against the Shaltari was welcome, Game Two they struck down an entire squadron of Djinn before securing a Critical Location, while in Game Three they were undone by a Scourge Command Card that denied their alpha strike - though they did manage to go on to all-but destroy a Sphinx

Carrier Group Numantia, Seattle-class Carrier and four New Orleans-class Strike Carriers

The Carrier Groups were effective and brutally simply. The Seattle-class Carrier is still one of my favourite ships, though I was never able to truly use their Launch Assets as aggressively as I would have liked

Carrier Group Zama, Seattle-class Carrier and four Poole-class Light Carriers

These four Light Carrier conversion were used as New Orleans-class Strike Carriers to make it easier to tell the difference between the different groups and because I only have eight New Orleans painted


Thanks for reading,

George

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