Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Midlands Maelstrom 2018 - Dropfleet Commander Tournament Report

This weekend saw Adam and myself head up to the wilds of Worcester for our second Midlands Maelstrom Dropfleet Commander Tournament, a grand affair run by the guys from the Scanners Offline podcast - and one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Dropfleet Commander tournament of the year so far. It may be a horrendous car journey north, but we'd enjoyed ourselves a great deal last year and those guys came down to our tournament, so we could only keep up appearances!

Arranging the weekend was a bit of a struggle, as Adam initially could not make it and he is my driver. I had managed to trick a friend (Good Friend Ben) into taking up Dropfleet Commander, teaching him how to play and making him drive up there, but ultimately Adam pulled some strings around the same time Ben regretfully dropped out due to family commitments. George and Adam heading to another tournament as usual then!

After the Battle for Tlalacon, I had decided to return to my beloved UCM. Scourge were a lot of fun but I enjoy the character of the UCM a lot more... and I love Burnthrough Lasers. Adam would be running his usual Shaltari shenanigans.

We had played a good number of games with the Redditch Wargaming Society's special Errata and new Tournament Pack, which were a nice twist on the old rulebook missions. They certainly made UCM feel a little better with the improvements to the San Francisco-class Troopship and the Santiago-class Corvettes, while the enhanced scoring for Critical Locations made the space game feel more important. I think Adam and I managed five or six practice games between the Maelstrom and the Battle for Tlalacon, and I actually managed to win one of them! They were a lot of fun and I should probably get round to offering a more in-depth consideration when I have the time.

One thing that should be noted is that the final score for each player would be influenced by how well their opponents did over the weekend - bonus points for each win your three opponents scored in their other games. This was called the Strength of Schedule, and something debated by a lot of community as a leveller given the difference in experience within the relatively small Dropfleet Commander tournament scene. It had been looked at after our Battle for Tlalacon tournament, and the organisers of the Maelstrom had wanted to give it a go. You can see how it affected the final results in the Results section below.

Onto the tournament itself...
My pair of Avalon-class Battlecruisers

Wolf Pack - thee Taipei-class Missile Frigates

Four Poole-class Fast Insertion Strike Ships and a Seattle-class Carrier
Carrier Group Cervantes
Six Launch Assets

Vanguard Battle Group - SR11
Avalon-class Battlecruiser (Level Three Admiral incl. bonus)
New Orleans-class Strike Carrier

Vanguard Battle Group - SR11
Avalon-class Battlecruiser
New Orleans-class Strike Carrier

Line Battle Group - SR12
Seattle-class Carrier
San Francisco-class Troopship
Two New Orleans-class Strike Carriers

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

Pathfinder Battle Group - SR4
Four Santiago-class Corvettes

Pathfinder Battle Group - SR3
Three Taipei-class Missile Frigates

This list was an evolution of my fleet for Fleet Muster II, where I had run a pair of Avalon-class Battlecruisers with ten Strike Carriers and no Troopships, and a pair of Jakarta-class Aegis Frigates. This time I had dropped a number of Strike Carriers and taken a San Francisco-class Troopship as well as an extra Santiago-class Corvette (I had wanted at least five...) and replaced the Jakarta-class Aegis Frigates with a pair of New Orleans-class Strike Carriers to bring the number back up to eight.

In composition it now looked like something between the list run for the last Midlands Maelstrom and Fleet Muster II. I enjoyed running this list, even if it had suffered (as usual) in my practice games against Adam. I had tried running a list without any Seattle-class Carriers, instead running even more Burnthrough Lasers with New Cairo-class Light Cruisers or a pair of Berlin-class Cruisers, but they had underperformed. Seattle-class Carriers would bring a little more flexibility and a pair of good Mass Drivers.

Aims for the weekend were to be a little more cautious with my Battlecruisers and Taipei-class Missile Frigates - all too often I had thrown them forward and lost them far too early. I would also have to be patient with the Troopship and learn the value of Silent Running even when I could be dropping - better to keep it alive and in the right place than lose it on Turn Two.

Refused Flank versus Will's UCM
The fleet moves in two groups against their foe

The first match was drawn through some form of Seeding against Will of Scanners Offline fame, and his extreme UCM fleet. He was running a Beijing-class Battleship with a pair of Lima-class Detector Frigates, a Moscow-class Heavy Cruiser with a pair of Lima-class Detector Frigates, a second Moscow-class Heavy Cruiser, one Rio-class Cruiser with three New Orleans-class Strike Carriers and two Battle Groups of six Santiago-class Corvettes. Very, very aggressive, with no Launch and virtually no Drop! The mission would allow for this, however, as the Clusters were fairly sparse and far apart.

The game was extremely cagey at the start, as we both advanced with Silent Running and our Active Scanning failed to reveal our chosen targets. In the shadow of the moon Will deployed his flagship and the Corvettes against one of my Carriers, a Battlecruiser and a large number of Strike Carriers. Following them up, I sent in my own Corvettes and the Missile Frigate squadron.

I tried to deal with the massed squadrons of Santiago-class Corvettes by first unleashing my Avalon-class Battlecruiser and then following up with the Taipei-class Missile Frigates and my Santiago-class Corvettes, using the advantage of their low Strategy Rating. A key Command Card scuppered my Alpha Strike as the enemy Santiagos leapt forward to all but obliterate my Taipei squadron, while the Beijing went Weapons Free to cripple my Seattle-class Carrier on that flank.

Fire from the survivors destroyed several of the enemy Corvettes and my Battlecruiser started attacking the enemy Battleship, hurting it before it finished the Seattle-class Carrier. As it died, a massive chain reaction of Reactor Explosions finished all of his Corvettes, my last Taipei-class Missile Frigate, three of my New Orleans-class Strike Carriers and took four Hull Points off both my Battlecruiser and his Battleship. Carnage!

This left us both in a weak position behind the moon, especially after my Battlecruiser was crippled and suffered Weapons Offline. Unable to finish the Battleship, which was now down to three Hull Points, I could not stop him finishing the Battlecruiser and claiming the Critical Location. I contested the other one and denied either of us any points, while on the ground we were both holding our respective Clusters.

The loss of my New Orleans-class Strike Carriers here in the freak explosion meant I could not threaten his Cluster, while the sky above was a mess following the chain explosion and the crucial Crippling Table result.

On the other side of the board, my own flagship (the second Avalon-class Battlecruiser), the other Seattle-class Carrier and the San Francisco-class Troopship took on the two Moscow-class Heavy Cruisers and the Rio-class Cruiser. Several key moves saw the enemy ships destroyed, the last Moscow finished by my own Santiagos sweeping in from the flank, but I was unable to secure the opposing Critical Location as my flagship was sacrificed and my other ships had been forced to stay back above my Cluster.

The game ended with my UCM winning by a handful of Objective Points, securing the Space Station and running even on Critical Locations, but his advantage in Kill Points left it a 10 - 10 DRAW. What a bloody mess! So many ships destroyed by Catastrophic Damage explosions. Will's fleet was impressively shooty, making up for the lack of Drop with sheer firepower, and over the course of the game a lot of fun results and unexpected Reactor Explosions threw both of our plans out of the window. A key Taking The Initiative card cost me the starboard flank, but equally a Reactor Explosion took out his entire fleet of Santiago-class Corvettes. Unexpected results like that happened throughout the game, and it was really one of the most unpredictable, fun games I've had in a long time. Kudos to Will for a great game and a well-deserved Draw.

Station Assault versus Hector's Scourge
CQB around the central Space Station

UCMS Rocinante feels the heat as the plasma storm engulfs it

My second game was drawn against another new opponent, Hector and his insanely aggressive Scourge fleet. Hector was running an Akuma-class Battlecruiser, two pairs of two Wyvern-class Cruisers, a pair of Chimera-class Troopships, a Chimera-class Troopship with three Nickar-class Corvettes and a Gargoyle-class Strike Carrier, and another set of three Nickar-class Corvettes with some more Gargoyle-class Strike Carriers.

I do not have a good record with Station Assault, but figured I could work against the Scourge with good rolls... somehow. The important thing was to secure the troops on the stations, as Hector's Troopships would be easy targets. He sent his Wyverns and Akuma down the middle with the Corvettes and a handful of Strike Carriers, while the paired Troopships and another Strike Carrier went down my starboard flank. Against this flanking force, I deployed three Strike Carriers and my Taipei-class Missile Frigates, who Hector misjudged and allowed to get in close with the Troopships. In a pair of stunning Activations they destroyed both of the Troopships, then caused a massive chain reaction that claimed Hector's Strike Carrier, one of my own Strike Carriers and a pair of Taipeis. Ouch! At this point I could not stop him holding the starboard Space Station as he had already achieved a good amount of Drop onto it, but my ships could lurk and secure the Critical Location.

In the centre, I sacrificed my Santiago-class Corvettes early to take the bite out of the Nickar-class Corvettes. My Battlecruisers and Carriers marched up the centre, targeting the third Chimera before shooting the Wyverns in the centre of the board and trying to flush out the Akuma. I foolishly split my fire and fluffed a lot of rolls with my Bombers, and though I did manage to destroy the third Chimera and almost finish one of the Wyvern-class Cruiser squadrons, he launched a counter-attack that destroyed most of my main fleet.

The bloody combat that swirled around the centre saw the Wyverns dominate with their plasma storms, and my fleet was mauled. Nonetheless, I had secured two of the Critical Locations and held three of the five Space Stations with troops on Turn Four. In the closing moments of the game he managed to wrestle back one of the Critical Locations with a pair of badly damaged Wyverns, but it was not enough and despite his Kill Point advantage, the game ended a 12 - 8 VICTORY.

Hector was undone by crucially missing the three Taipei-class Missile Frigates that took out most of his Drop capacity, and lost points on not holding the Space Stations. I should have played better with the distribution of my shots, but they were choices that felt right at the time and would have paid off if the dice had been good.

Once again an opponent running a fleet very heavy on firepower and utterly lacking in Launch - if my own Launch had been able to roll better I'm sure it would have felt worse for Hector. He had a lot of Drop, but concentrated in Chimera-class Troopships that I managed to take out of the game quick enough to secure my victory. Another great game against a new opponent, one I hope he enjoyed as much as I did.

Line Breaker versus Adam D's UCM
Wideshot of the carnage as the UCM cross the line

Killfrenzy comes in to offer its own brand of support

The last game of the day was drawn against Adam and his UCM - not my common opponent Adam thankfully. This Adam was running a pretty threatening list; one Avalon-class Battlecruiser, one Johannesburg-class Battlecruiser, a pair of Berlin-class Cruisers with five Santiago-class Corvettes, a San Francisco-class Troopship with three New Orleans-class Strike Carriers, one San Francisco-class Troopship with two New Orleans-class Strike Carriers, and a funky little Battle Group with one New Orleans-class Strike Carrier, one Jakarta-class Aegis Frigate and one Lima-class Detector Frigate.

It was a tasty list, with a lot of firepower and a lot of Drop, but relatively little Launch and quite large Battle Groups - my smaller Battle Groups would appreciate that, especially given the mission.

Line Breaker is an interesting scenario given the line that runs down the centre of the board, interfering with all High Orbit interactions. It was a personal favourite, and one of the only missions I had beaten my friend Adam at in the past year. My tactic was to use Silent Running to approach, split his fleet and then spring my trap and launch over the line, driving through debris if needed to take the initiative.

The plan worked well. Adam sent his Troopships and Strike Carriers to the corners of the board, while his heavy Battlecruisers and Cruiser squadron advanced cautiously down the centre. On the port-flank his Troopship and three Strike Carriers were pounced upon by my Taipei-class Missile Frigates, who had used their low Strategy Rating to first cripple the enemy Santiago-class Corvettes before ripping apart the Troopship. My own Corvettes then shredded the three New Orleans-class Strike Carriers and finished the enemy Corvettes.

In the other corner, my Strike Carriers and Troopship were supported by a backup Rio-class Cruiser from a perfectly-timed Command Card, represented by the infamous Killfrenzy. It took them all game, but they secured the large Cluster and eventually destroyed the enemy Troopship - this was one tough beast!

The centre of the board saw more violence as the enemy Battlecruisers and Cruisers took on my Battlecruisers and Carriers. I crossed the line first, though it cost me one of my Battlecruisers in the process - crazily I forgot I was holding a Taking The Initiative Command Card and it was immolated without firing a shot. This Card came in useful later though, as the Seattle-class Carriers and my flagship took out all four of the enemy capital ships. My flagship was destroyed in the process, but the wounded Seattle-class Carriers smashed through the wreckage, destroyed the last enemy vessels and secured the Critical Locations. Launch really came to play a big role here, and I was surprised at how effective it was in clearing the last stragglers.

As the debris settled into a stable orbit we counted the cost, and my UCM fleet had come out on top - with the full Kill Point bonus and significant points in Critical Locations and on the ground, it was a 16 - 4 VICTORY. Nice! A great way to end the tournament.

Adam played well and it never felt comfortable, but some crucial rolls went against him and my Strategic flexibility gave me an advantage in the early turns. Crossing the line first and scoring some important hits first really helped, knocking the enemy UCM back to a point they could not recover from.

The final results table

One draw, one minor win and a big win put me in a good position, and with the bonus from Strength of Schedule I finished FOURTH. Nice! On pure Tournament Points I had finished a good few ahead of Chris Rogers and his Scourge, but his opponents were more successful and the bonus points there pushed him to Third. I did finish second on Kill Points and achieve Best in Faction for UCM - a second win for this since Fleet Muster II - feels pretty good to maintain that.

My colleague Adam finished Second (again, Strength of Schedule pushing the overall winner Charlie over him). Well done to him - personally I'm gutted as he said he would retire the Shaltari if he won, but I think he will be going back to PHR for a while now anyway.

It was... interesting to see the top two players were both running Shaltari, with very similar lists!

I had a great time at the Midland's Maelstrom - three fun games with opponents I had not played before, some good results and an overall strong feeling from the whole weekend of relaxed professionalism. The games were well organised and there was a good timetable that allowed me plenty of time between games to relax, find some food and buy some new models (mainly for Necromunda, I must admit...).

The UCM felt fine to run, but then I did not have to face any Shaltari or PHR. My opponents fielded some interesting fleets with some unconventional choices that made the games very interesting - from the outrageous firepower from Will, the close action horror of Hector and the wall of cruiser-hulls from Adam D.

Most of the fleets focused more on firepower than Drop, perhaps due to the increased value of Critical Locations for this tournament, and the new Scenarios relative lower number of Clusters. I also only faced one opponent with any Launch Assets - Adam D and his three from the Johannesburg-class Battlecruiser. This made the Seattle-class Carriers feel very comfortable, though they did not achieve a huge amount in my second game against the Scourge due to poor dice. I'm not sure where this meta-shift came from - by contrast I looked positively old school with my fleet of New Orleans-class Strike Carriers and pair of Carriers. Perhaps this was just a fluke of my draw - both Will and Hector admitted their lists were a little unusual.

I learned a couple of things that I had been playing wrong in the past - the Aegis rule was clarified, and the true HP value for some of the Sectors was discovered, which would make my games with a Adam somewhat different in the future.

Going forward it is difficult to to imagine playing without the new Destroyers involved somehow - game changers for a lot of people in how they will be running their fleets. With that in mind, it makes it difficult to say what I have learned from the tournament and what I would change if I could, given that the Destroyers will be appearing in my lists for at least the next few games. Perhaps a Jakarta instead of a New Orleans here or there. There are certainly a few things I would like to try with my Scourge fleet now, and some fun ideas with UCM from Will and Adam D, but ultimately I think the list I ran was great and would be happy to keep it as it was.

We will see when the next tournament comes along... nothing planned at the moment as we cannot make it to the UK Games Expo, but we hold out hope for TTCon in the Autumn.

Overall a great set of games and a great result - another excellent Midlands Maelstrom from the Redditch Wargaming Society - well done Matt and JJ!

I will post some further thoughts on the RedWarSoc special Experimental Tournament Pack when I have the chance... watch this space.

It is honestly difficult for me to judge the Experimental Rules that were run throughout this tournament, as Adam and I have been playing with them for nearly three months now, and would have to give serious thought to NOT using them for our own tournaments. I'll give it a shot though.

Looking over the UCM changes, my main experience during this tournament was the strength of giving Santiago-class Corvettes Calibre (Light), the Linking of all UF-4200 turrets and the bonuses to the San Francisco-class Troopship.

Starting with the latter, the San Francisco-class Troopship is now worth taking and not a massive, wasteful points sink. The weaponry boost is minor, but enough to give it some teeth and help out the its more violent brethren, and no longer feels like an empty activation. Perhaps something should be done to make the Chimera-class Troopship a little more competitive now, but I've honestly never felt the same level of disdain for it as I have the San Francisco. A lot of the UCM players at the tournament were running two, though usually not in the same Battle Group so it is difficult to see if massed Close Action weaponry would cause a problem. I doubt many UCM players would run two together with the express purpose of massed Close Action, so don't consider it a problem.

The Linking of all the smaller UF-4200 turrets is a nice change and boosts the San Francisco and Madrid without overtly affecting the other ships in the fleet. One aspect that has come up, however, the Command Card Gunnery Masters. This allows an Avalon-class Battlecruiser to fire it's mega-laser and eight additional shots from the turrets, even on a Special Order like Course Change, as it has UF-4200 turrets with four shots each. It's situational, but powerful when I was running two of them! This occurred twice during the tournament and helped immeasurably, but I wonder if the RedWarSoc guys had come across this combination.

Lastly the change to the Corvettes made them worth taking. End of. I destroyed a large number of enemy Strike Carriers and Corvettes, and, outside of the tournament, this change has helped me ravage enemy Frigates and Destroyers. It was telling that Will of the RedWarSoc group was running two Battle Groups of six!

I feel this change makes them perhaps too reliable, and also boosts them in space far more than perhaps it should. I have certainly considered running more than one squadron, and had good success with a large number of Nickar-class Corvettes in the recent past. If I was to recommend anything here it would be to make the Calibre (L) only come into play when the ship and the target is in Atmosphere. Still great for hunting Strike Carriers and Corvettes, but not so hot for destroying enemy Light squadrons in space.

Some of my favourite pictures from Matt and JJ showing off the games and painted fleets on display!
The gaming area was divided into two rows of tables

Ten individual mats made the tables all feel unique

Greg's beautiful PHR

Close-up as the UCM engage

Ian's subtle Scourge

Shaltari unleash hell on their Scourge opponent

Adam's Shaltari secure their second big win

Battle lines form

A bold colour scheme for the UCM

Adam's Shaltari again causing havoc

Adam played all three of his games on the Top Table... yuck
Thanks for reading,


1 comment:

  1. Good report. I am looking at the experimental ship changes. Corvettes worry me though. They worry me because the better you make them the more you force a mentality of taking more strike carriers or more Troopships. Now PHR doesn't care about this but it hits Shaltari extremely hard and forces them to take more gates I think.

    This may prove me wrong though.

    Hmmmm will have to see how the scoring stacks up to my Category Scoring. I do need testers for that.... Hmmmm