Last spring I knew that I was going to be headed to GenCon and playing in the North American Championships for Armada. I had fiddled around with a list and thought that I liked it, so I started playing some games.
I got crushed. Repeatedly.
But, I believed in the fleet so I kept using it. The game was relatively new and people were still figuring out tactics, but I really believed that an Assault Frigate conga line led by Garm could be really good. (It may seem obvious now, but at the time no one was doing it.) I played variations of the list over and over. Swapped in upgrades, tried different squadrons, and added or removed other ships. Still, the core was the same. I flew my ships really close together for overlapping firepower. And ran into myself over and over until I learned how to fly better.
Eventually I started winning, but not before really practicing how to fly the fleet well. Part of that went to deployment. I sat down in my basement and practiced different deployments that let me setup my conga line in the most efficient fashion. I would play through the first couple of turns of maneuvering. I figured out that if I moved a certain way, I could surprise my opponent by moving my rear ship ahead of my lead ship.
So, I practiced, planned, and prepared. Went to GenCon and in my first round match forgot my plan and winged it. I lost badly. Oops.
I returned to my plan and managed to win the rest of my games handily, taking second overall.
After GenCon the game progressed and people started to figure out new tactics. People got used to playing against conga-lines and I wasn't winning by as large of margins. I started to notice that when faced with double-whale fleets, many opponents would react similarly. I adjusted my fleet and tactics and I started to employ a Trailer. This adjustment allowed me to roll through 3 Massing at Sullust events without a single loss.
I had learned that given certain things you do, your opponent will often act in predictable fashions. That is a powerful tool.
After wave 2 hit, like most folks I started experimenting with the new ships and upgrade cards. I started playing with high activation Rebel swarms and won a Store Championship with one of them. In my other experimenting I started fooling around with Imperial formations and found I could use them to get a predictable response with them as well. I took one of those to a Store Championships and lost the first round when I didn't stick to my plan. Oops. Managed to recover and take second place. Anyone else seeing a pattern?
Which brings me to now. I took a fleet to the FLGS that I had a plan worked up with. On a whim I decided to play Fire Lanes as the 2nd player to see how well I could do. I focused too much on the objective and forgot my plan. I was tabled in 5 rounds...oops.
Now I am thinking ahead to GenCon 2016 and the Armada North American Championships. I have been brainstorming the type of fleet that I want to play and deciding what ships and admiral will best fit my plan. I am thinking a small gunline with a trailer and perhaps another wrinkle. The trick then will be to practice with that fleet over and over, determine my best deployment options, and formulate my plan. My experience with Armada (and other games) tells me a plan is valuable for the following reasons:
- It keeps me from making dumb mistakes. If I have a plan that I have thought through and practiced several times it will hopefully have the bugs worked out before a large tournament. While my opponent might have some surprise that wrecks my plan I should be able to at least stay out of my own way. Having a plan would help prevent me from bumping my own ships, keep me from mis-deploying where my ships are out of position to support each other, or otherwise tripping over myself in the first couple of turns.
- It helps me take the initiative. A strong plan should have my opponent reacting to what I want to do. By deploying and moving in a consistent fashion, you are following your plan and hopefully getting your opponent to modify his.
- Most plans have an obvious counter. This may seem like a bad thing, but I think it is a potential strength. Experienced players should be able to see the obvious counters to your plan. Every Armada player quickly learns to dodge the front arc of ISDs or to try and block an Ackbar conga line. Well, you now know and have dictated a part of what your opponent will be doing. That is really useful information and you can fold it into your plan. If you play the same fleet with the same essential deployment and opening several times, you should start to see patterns in how your opponents will try to attack you. When something starts to stand out, you can build a counter to that in your plan. You get to maintain the initiative and control of the flow of the game.
- Tournaments are tiring. If you play in a big tournament, it will have many rounds and mental fatigue starts to become an issue. Having a plan will help you combat that by taking some of the decision making out of the early game.
- Plans are not dogma. I tend to think of my plan as a rough outline for the first three turns of the game. It is flexible as the opposing fleet, objective, and deployment call for. this also comes with practice. Knowing the alterations you can make to the basic outline given the circumstances.
Unless I do what I often do and forget to follow my plan in the first round....oops!