Thursday, 22 November 2018

Herdy Gerdy - Reporting Back from 3rd at the Nerf Herder Open

Not too long ago I managed to snaffle some last minute tickets and go along to the 3rd Annual 'Nerf Herder Open', which had moved from it's usual home to my nearby store due to ever-expanding popularity.

The Nerf Herder Open is a UK charity event to support the children's ward at Hull hospital and each year it grows in size and profile, helped in no small part by the fact that it's last two winners have gone on to be crowned European and World Champions!  Two years ago it was George Dellapina who took the inaugural nerf herding crown, and then second time around it was Dellapina the Younger on his way to being the last 1st Edition World Champion.

Having outgrown it's original home the Nerfs had been Herded over to Element Games, and 132 of the UK's top players were in attendance to test their mettle in the first big UK event for Second Edition.  World Champs, European Champs, National Champs... Nerf Herder promised a stacked room of tough competition but also, as a charity event, a bit of a more relaxed atmosphere.  Perfect X-Wing conditions, in fact.

I'd recommitted to trying to get to more big X-Wing events for Second Edition so getting in at the ground floor for Nerf Herder was an opportunity I didn't want to miss out on!

And what did I play?

Wretched Hive / Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Pretty much 100% of the credit goes to Dan Slobodian for this squad.  After the Spanish Nationals weekend I happened to pop along to Element Games and alongside the locals who were busy trying to work out why the Spanish list was so good I felt like Dan had quietly already gone one further with his squad by managing to squeeze in four strong ships with only minimal compromises made.  The second I saw what Dan had on the table that evening I did a double take and the potential for a four ship Scum squad stayed with me long after I'd left.

Because I'm an awkward man I then spent the next few weeks trying out every possible combination I could think of to avoid playing Kavil and thus copying Dan's list slavishly.  For long time it was my trusty Scum Han in the Falcon, this time with Hotshot Gunner to cover the rest of my team.  If it wasn't Han Gunner then it could be Old Teroch, or Torani Kulda, or a cheap Guri, or Sol Sixxa, or Talonbane Cobra... a real strength of Scum is how many solid options there are!

The day before Nerf Herder the indecision became too much.  I threw in the towel and decided to play my Junkyard Falcon list after all, then headed out for a last evening of practice games.  It took about two hours to knock the Junkyard Falcon out of me.  Playing against a Scum list with Kavil I was just routinely getting hammered with four dice attacks every turn, and I just couldn't seem to leverage Nym's bombs the same way that I had done in the past.

Junkyard was out and Kavil was in.  I'd never played the squad with Kavil before so I was heading for a trainwreck... I'd just have to work it out on the table.

ROUND ONE - Matt Farr - Fenn/Teroch/Torani Kulda

Round One is brought to you by this gif...

Somewhere during the opening engagement against Matt going horribly horribly wrong for me I said something along the lines of "Yeah, I don't believe in this list at all.  Mechanically it's really strong but I don't think there's enough play in it to outfly people".

As opening statements go this one turned out to be a **teensy** bit off base.  Spin forward to 36 hours later and I'd tell anyone who was within 10 yards of me that the squad is really good and I completely believe in it, that it's mechanically incredibly strong and that once I found out where the 'play' was I spent rounds 4 onwards flying it pretty darn well.  But we're getting ahead of ourselves, now, and this is still round one.

It was a disaster.  Matt flanked Fenn in like a champ, Teroch stripped Palob of his tokens and then Torani Kulda did Torani Kulda things and I was rapidly down to just 4-LOM and Kavil against all three of Matt's ships.  Fortunately 4-LOM turned out to be a total hero and hauled me back into the game, repatedly bumping and stressing the Fangs while I got the last couple of damage onto Torani then turned my guns onto Teroch.

From being way way behind after the initial engagement I now had my two best ships trying to reel Fenn in as he wriggled on the end of the line.  Mist Hunter title probably bought me this win - it was critical in crab-walking to bump Fenn, and then later it allowed me to reposition and 1-turn to keep guns on Fenn while still keeping him in Range 1 of 4-LOM to sustain double-stress.


ROUND TWO - Richard Nicholas-Pearson - Fenn/Palob/4-LOM

Of all my games this one is the haziest and all I can do is piece together what I can tell happened in the couple of photos I got from the game.  

Richard deployed his team on opposite flanks but I was able to funnel Fenn Rau back over into the rest of his team then trap him in a killbox.  He went down fast.  His Palob got a little bit separated and I just ground his 4-LOM down before rounding the remainder of my squad to finish off the HWK.

I think this one was pretty straight forward after I managed to scare Fenn Rau away from exposing my flank, but I seem to remember Richard wasn't happy with his green dice so maybe that made it a lot easier than it should have been?  Like I said, I'm really hazy on this game.


ROUND THREE - Anthony Horstead - Wedge/Luke/Jan

Out of 9 rounds of X-Wing that I played at Nerf Herder Anthony was the only opponent I faced who wasn't running Scum - he was also the opponent who most deserved to beat me, even including the semi-final that I actually lost!  What I hadn't noticed before starting this match was that Anthony was sitting atop the standing table with a massive MoV of 741.  If I'd clocked that I might have been a little more cautious about just laying it all out for him on the initial engage for his X-Wings to alpha strike me in the face.

TBH that's being a little unfair on myself.  I was actually super-cautious about his alpha strike potential and very aware that Kavil would be struggling to get his target locks onto Luke or Wedge.  In approach I played it very cagily and kept my distance for a couple of turns,then when I judged the moment was right, and that I didn't think Anthony had seen the potential for it, I Advanced Sensored a Barrel Roll from 4-LOM then 3-banked him into a blocking position right in front of Anthony's X-Wings.  The medium base had actually thrown me across & forwards more than I expected and I was right up there blocking his big straight or banks that would have seen him racing in for the target locks... the positioning was fantastic.

Artists Impression
Then Anthony revealed a 1 Forward, Luke rolled in half a centimetre from 4-LOM's face, Wedge hopped in behind, and 4-LOM took 12 red dice to the face and was dead before he even knew what had hit him!

The game descended into a fierce brawl and I gave as good as I got, but without 4-LOM's knife-fighting skills I was behind the entire way.  That lasted right up until the last turn of the game, when Anthony's untouched Luke traded Proton Torpedoes with Kavil to wipe my Y-Wing off the board but take 3 damage back, then blanked out when my stressed Jakku Gunrunner rolled 3 natural hits at range 1.  

Luke went from hero to zero in two shots and I'd won.  By sheer goddamn raw brawling power and with an utterly enormous slice of luck.  But I'd won.


ROUND FOUR - Robert Ramm - Drea/2xSkull/2xJakku

Robert Ramm was part of the UK's all-conquering team at the recent European Team Championships and although he hailed from a neighbouring store - Harlequins just 50 miles up the road in Preston - I'd seen his Drea-fuelled squad tearing it up on the Element Games stream a couple of times.  I was pretty happy about the matchup as the Fang Fighters he's relying on are made of papier mache, but given how I was only on 3-0 by sheer blind luck I was ready for my run to end.

It didn't, and in the approach I formulated to this match - a variation on the plan that had almost worked in the last game - I found my secret formula for how to fly my squad.  I slow-rolled my way out of the corner, and when I say I slow-rolled I mean I slow-rolled.  Right down to dirty tricks like barrel-rolling 4-LOM in behind the Quadjumper then reversing the Quad back onto him while the HWK stopped, I just waited and waited and waited - I wanted it to be Rob's Quadjumpers that were in the rocks and I definitely wasn't going to be flying into there to go and get him!

Rob obliged me, fronting his Quadjumpers up through the rocks while the Skull Squadron pilots tried to flank my corner-hogging position.  Judging the right moment I stopped my slow-roll and leapt forward into an engage, to decisive effect.  A Quadjumper melted to no effect and the next turn I bagged a Skull Squadron Fang that got all tangled up in all my control effects - range 1 of 4-LOM, range 1 of Palob.

With the fight happening in the right place, and in a tight mass where all my control effects were active and my lack of speed wasn't a factor, it was incredibly one-sided.  I think Rob was another opponent who felt like his green dice betrayed him but I think the way I'd been able to force the engage meant I was a strong favourite to win regardless of the dice.

After three rounds where I felt I didn't deserve to be on 3-0 everything had finally clicked for me in round 4.


ROUND FIVE - Ian Kafka - Boba/Teroch/Palob

You can watch the whole of this match on stream at First Earth. 

Looking across at Ian's squad I was mostly happy with the matchup.  By this time in the tournament I had faced enough Fangs to know that Teroch wasn't going to be a problem, and I know I can maul Palob down.  Boba was going to be my problem but I decided not to waste much energy worrying about him at first - I was going to focus on getting to the point where I could go after Boba and that meant Teroch was my big problem.

I deployed with a similar formation to the one I'd used successfully in my game against Rob Ramm but advanced a bit faster, especially with Kavil.  This was a bit of a repeat of my first round, when Matt Farr had threatened to flank with Fenn and I'd pushed him back into the rest of the squad.  This time I used Kavil to bully Teroch off the flank and back into a killbox next to Boba.  Rather than keep running with Teroch Ian finally cut back in to get his guns online for the engage, but unfortunately that meant Teroch ate a big Proton Torpedo shot from and then Palob and the Quadjumper finished him off.

Although I was really happy with how I'd executed my plan and bullied the table for the opening engage it's about here that I have to say that Ian's dice made the rest of the game completely farcical.  Everything I threw at him landed with crits while Ian couldn't have rolled an Evade if you gave him 100 dice.

With Teroch gone I swung all my guns onto Palob and the HWK went down in a hail of laser fire on the very next turn.  Boba tried to make a game of it but there's only so many times you can reroll blank evade dice into more blank evade dice and stay on the table.


ROUND SIX - Geoff Ball - Boba/Palob/2xJakku

This final round saw me paired against my friend Geoff, who was just as surprised to be on a 5-0 record as I was.  With qualification for the Sunday already locked down we had very little to play for other than a theoretically 'better' matchup in the Top-16 tomorrow morning.  Even though we were technically table 1 in a prestigious tournament this game played out a lot more like beer & pretzels X-Wing than you'd maybe expect considering the occasion.

And anyway, it didn't take long.  My slow roll opening carried me halfway across the table then Geoff backed up his Quadjumpers to try and range control the engagement and I saw my opportunity to leap forwards.  It worked perfectly for me - Geoff's Palob was caught way out of position trying to flank where my slow-moving squad used to be and I pounced on his Quadjumpers as they moved forwards again to clear their stress.

I smashed into Geoff's disorganised squad like a sledgehammer, annihilated his Quadjumpers and then tied Boba up with bumps, tractors and stress.  It was massacre and my cleanest win of the day as I only gave up half points on Kavil in return for sweeping Geoff off the table.


TOP-16 - Phil (X-Wing Dad) - Boba/Fenn/Unkar

Before I headed home on the Saturday I found Phil and we traded the short form version of what we were playing - I knew his pilots and he knew mine but we didn't share the complete squad lists.  After spending Saturday despatching Fangs, Firesprays and Quadjumpers in various configurations I hadn't lost much sleep over what Phil would have in store for me.  It's X-Wing so you can always lose any given game and we were in the Top-16 of a big tournament so I knew that none of my opponents would be slouches, but there was nothing in his squad that I hadn't already beaten a couple of times already.

That it was such a familiar opponent meant I could deploy and approach an engagement just doing what had already worked so well in rounds 4-6... and it worked again here.  The Fangs and Quadjumpers are just so scared of the damage and control I can kick out - especially Kavil's big range 3 Proton Torpedoes arc - that I could just bully the table and force Phil into responding to my moves.  Kavil once again hared up the flank as quickly as he could (which ain't that quickly, but seeing as the rest of my squad are tortoises too it's all relative), and that ultimately forced all Phil's ships to turn away and run.

To be honest I think this had probably been Phil's plan all along - in running away he was baiting me into the rocks and Boba's rear arc - but it also been my plan too and the way it worked out put me in the box seat.  Phil's Unkar Plutt comes with Contraband Cybernetics that allow him to put in a second turn of tractor beam shenanigans after either a sloop or reverse, but against me Unkar used his Cybernetics to just throw a second reverse move trying to get away from Kavil's big gun.  It was only a temporary reprieve, though, and once it had burned its illicit charge the Quad had to come forwards and meet its fate anyway.

In turning Fenn and Boba away into the rocks Phil had passed up on dealing a lot of damage.  I fed him 4-LOM to Boba's rear arc and was certainly fortunate to get away with only losing 2 shields (I think I got 3 natural evades on 4 green dice), but that was a beating I'd been prepared to sacrifice for the table position and now Phil was down to 2 ships while I'd only only lost 2 shields.

My guys regrouped then turned their control effects on Fenn and once again I demonstrated that I've just got too much nasty stuff for the Fang Fighters to deal with.  They don't like tractor beams, they don't like having Palob steal their tokens, they don't like taking stress tokens, and they don't like being hit with fully modded Proton Torpedoes either.  

Fenn wriggled and squirmed but was likely a dead man walking long before an unlucky Disabled Power Regulator saw him Ioned onto a rock for lethal damage.

That left Boba Fett and although I'm sure I would have won from the position I was in it was made into a formality by Boba's dice once again crapping out.  That Phil's game ended to taking four damage from a Fuel Leak-Direct Hit combination of crits after rerolling blank-focus green dice into blank-focus just sums it all up, really.


TOP-8 - Colm Browne - Drea/3xKimo/L3-37

It's not really possible to look at Colm's list and not think "OMG that fits?".  He gets three big bruising Kimogilas with Drea Renthal providing them rerolls.  That's all fine... that he gets an Escape Craft with Tobias Beckett on top as well???  Jeez.

I was not looking forward to this game at all.  In case you've not done the maths yet there's 39 hull sitting across the the table from me, and those bullseye arcs will put an end to Palob and his token stack pretty darn quickly.  And on top of that those 3 Kimos take up a massive amount of table space and can be so hard to fly around.  The one downside I know they've got is that the Kimo's are super-clumsy and can't turn for toffee.  It's a weakness I've watched other squads expose, but not one that my squad of geriatrics are likely to be able to take advantage of.

Bowing out against a good player in bad matchup in the quarter finals isn't a bad way to go. 

But what do we say to the God of Death?

"Not today."

Tobias Beckett gives Colm control over most of the asteroid placement and he built up a diagonal wall that boxed me into the corner I deployed in while he had all the space in the world to plan his approach and maneuver his big hogs.  I responded by going back to my ultimate turtle opening and baiting him as far forward as possible so the rocks would interfere with his k-turns after the initial engage.  While that occupied 4-LOM, Palob and the Quad I sent Kavil out on a mission to get in around the flank of the Kimo's.

After a cagey opening and some careful positioning from both Colm and myself, the battle lines were drawn...

...and then the dice meant I won.

TBH I think I got my side the engagement spot on while Colm fluffed his a bit and managed to bump a couple of his Kimo's on the first turn of firing while Drea was out of range of providing rerolls.  But even so, the fact that after two rounds of firing I'd killed one Kimo and badly wounded a second at the cost of only losing 1 shield token was better than I could reasonably expect.

The second Kimo went down then I turned on Drea and Colm had seen enough, conceding the game before it unraveled any further.


SEMI-FINAL - Adam Shipley - Boba/Palob/2xJakku

You can watch this game in full on the First Earth stream.

I'd beaten basically this same squad 200-26 when I played Geoff at the end of day one.  While I was playing Adam the same matchup was being played out in the other semi-final, where Dan Slobodanian also rapidly mopped Geoff up.

I lost this game, though, and the reason I lost is mainly because I screwed up enormously.

The opening engage was really favourable for me - Kavil got brutally hammered and was lucky to live but I got right in among Adam's ships and destroyed Palob and a Quadjumper.  The first pivotal thing that went wrong was I failed to kill his second Quadjumper as it responded to all my best attacks with pure natural Evades.

The second pivotal thing that went wrong was that, with the Quadjumper still on the table a turn longer than expected, I was completely blind to the threat that he was going to walk Palob off the board with his tractor beam.  How blind was completely blind?  Blind enough that I would move my own Quad into the perfect position to tractor Adam's quad into a harmless spot and instead just give it a tractor token and didn't move him.  Palob was forced off the board and at the time I felt like it had been inevitable, but watching the stream back I had every chance to stop it.  Crap.

It changed the game.  With Palob gone and Kavil almost dead the points were suddenly really close and although neither Adam nor I took time to properly work them out we both came to the conclusion that Adam was probably slightly ahead on points, but we didn't really appreciate just how delicate the balance was.  

Maybe in the semi-final of Worlds we'd have played differently but Adam and I both chose to go out on our feet by hurling dice.  When he was ahead he chose to leave Boba in range and kill Kavil rather than run away, then when I was ahead I chose to press ahead and go for the kill rather than slam on the red stops/reverses and take the win.  My naked aggression cost me the win as a damage from an asteroid was the difference in Adam taking half points from my Quadjumper.

In the end a paltry 5 MoV decided a game that should never have been close as I should still have had all 4 ships on the table.  

My winning streak was at an end.


Justice was done eventually though, as the originator of my squad, Dan Slobodian, went on to crush Adam in a joust-off in the final to secure the Nerf Herder trophy for our Scum squad!

You can hear both myself and the Nerf Herder champion Dan Slobodian talking about the event and our squad on the latest 186th Squadron Podcast.  Well worth a listen!

3rd Place in the stacked room of UK luminaries? Very happy indeed, and big props to Dan Slb for both winning the thing and for feeding me his potent squad creation. Thanks also to Carl Walker and Tim King for creating and organising and running this fantastic event (and raising some stonking cash for charidee) and making the difference in raising £4,000 for the hospital!

I had a great time, I chatted to a lot of people who've only ever really been names next to profile pictures online up to now, I played some great games, and I lost an incredibly close game... what's not to like? Overall did far far better than I expected considering that I was playing a squad I'd never played before round 1 on Saturday morning.

Except, I realised overnight that I had played it before... that combination of pilots was actually one of my 'Wretched Hive' casual lists in 1st Edition. The rules of Wretched Hive were there had to be four named Scum pilots and none of them could be 'good', so in 1.0 that meant it looked something like this...

Wretched Hive 1.0
  • 4-LOM (27)
  • Palob Godalhi - Attani Mindlnk, Dorsal Turret (24)
  • Unkar Plutt - Spacetug Tractor Array, Primed Thrusters (20)
  • Kavil - Attani Mindlink, Synced Turret (29)

So in the conversion to Second Edition the list gained:

  1. 4-LOM buffed (action economy, extra hull, better dial)
  2. Palob buffed (2 dice basic turret, Jam, boost etc)
  3. Jakku Gunrunner buffed (can move Medium bases)
  4. Kavil buffed (dice out of front arc, better dial)
  5. FREE Moldy Crow token-stacking title & 3 dice main gun
  6. FREE Han Solo action economy
  7. FREE Advanced Sensors
  8. FREE Mist Hunter title
  9. FREE Proton Torpedoes with Extra Munitions

That's a lot of buffs and free gear!

The one big takeaway for me from my deep run into the tournament with the Scum list is that it felt incredibly forgiving... like a Paratanni level of being able to shrug your shoulders when bad things happen and just win anyway.  I said in my interview after round 5 on stream that the list had pulled me to 3-0 and that's completely true: I was awful with it and it just refused to lose.  Round 4 onwards I basically shouldn't have lost because I worked out how to play it, and the only reason it wasn't a mirror match final was because I threw my semi-final away with a major mistake.

Remember us?
We used to complain about how Attani Mindlink meant you were able to get actions even if you got bumped or stressed or whatever - ss long as one ship got free everyone was ok.  In this list everyone is self-serving that sort of thing.  Palob is stacking his tokens up in advance and still steal tokens, Kavil can turn any direction to clear stress and still get focus and an extra dice on his attack, 4-LOM with Advanced Sensors can't be stopped from taking 2 actions and passing you a stress.  Yeah Kavil and Palob have rotate arcs not turrets, but so long as you're halfway planning ahead that's still getting you shots 90% of the time.

It's really, really dirty.  One list shouldn't be able to joust this hard, have this much action economy, this much toughness, this much control AND be resilient to opponent's plays.  Playing Kavil felt like playing Attani, playing 4-LOM felt like playing Commonwealth Defenders... overall it just felt like I had too many advantages.

Come January I expect this list to cost over 220 points and you have to give up the Quadjumper. 

Until then I, for one, welcome our new Scum overlords!