Thursday, December 22, 2011

VtES History: Mastering Tournament Play

This is an article way back from 1997 written by Robert Goudie around the time when the VEKN was founded (to be exact on December 15th, 1997). Originally appeared on the then official VEKN website, The Madness Network.

This article endeavors to provide an edge to players who have already achieved a measure of proficiency playing VTES. Nothing written here will make an inferior deck-builder or tactician a winning tournament player.

Together, we'll look at the issues unique to the Duelists' Convocation International's tournament environment and how the tournament setting changes the way we approach the game.

The Player's Objective

This should be no surprise. Your objective is to win. However, before we can tackle the task of winning a final round, we must earn entry to the final round. As entry to the final round is your first objective, make every effort to keep this goal in mind throughout the preliminary rounds. It has been my experience that a player needs to average just slightly over two victory points per round to advance to the finals. This is rarely accomplished by getting exactly two victory points per round but rather by getting three to five victory points in one round and then gaining other victory points here and there throughout other rounds. Never pass up an opportunity to get a victory point. I’ve seen players play a round to a draw because they only needed a half victory point to advance. I’ve personally used a Life Boon on my Predator and moved all of my blood to him, thereby ousting myself and gaining the victory point that my Predator would have gained for my demise. Being the last one alive at your table or even having the most victory points at your table is a false victory and does not meet your first objective. Be single-minded in your pursuit of victory points and get yourself into the finals.

Understanding the Tournament Environment

Analyis of the DCI Tournament Rules

The first thing to do is read the tournament rules. I mean really read the tournament rules. What differences are there compared to your typical play environment? First of all, there is a time limit imposed for each round. Also, there are rounds. Three to be exact. The top five finishers play a fourth, final round. What else? A banned list. Also, there is a sixty to ninety card limit for library sizes. Don't miss that there is a restriction that allows a minion to take a given action only once per turn. Anything else? There is a restriction on when vote cards played for additional votes during a political action can be replaced into your hand. Lastly, there is are optional rules regarding card backs in your library and crypt.

Follow the Rules

The first tip seems obvious but bears examination anyway. Obey the deck construction rules. Make sure you put the proper number of cards in your library and crypt. I once mishandled my cards in a preliminary round and during the final round of a tournament, after drawing a card from my library, I noticed that the next library card had the brown crypt coloration. I was in violation of the crypt rule (my crypt was now 11 vampires) and my library contained 91 cards. I was fortunate that the players at my table were generous and allowed me to continue. Don't always count on this sort of goodwill, though. During a weekend of tournaments, the optional rule regarding library card backings was in effect. The rule states that between forty and sixty percent of your library must have the Jyhad backing if you choose to mix Jyhad and Vampire cards. Players were letting each other slide all weekend because they thought the rule was unfair and enforcement didn't really affect game play. Sure enough, in the last tournament of the weekend, one player asked the judge to check libraries for proper adherence to the 40%-60% rule. After the judge made the check of libraries, about a dozen people were disqualified. Be sure your deck is legal before the tournament and check it again between each round.

Know Your Limit

The time limit plays an important role in tournament play. If you don't know what the limit is in advance, assume that the minimum 2 hour time limit will be used. The time limit should be taken into account when you choose the deck you will use. If you are playing with the 2 hour limit, you should avoid playing decks that develop slowly. Remember, your initial objective is to earn enough victory points to advance to the final round. A combat deck that aims to be the "last one standing" would probably gain 2 victory points if everything goes well. It may even win the table. However, it doesn’t have a very good chance of advancing to the finals. Play decks that you think can sweep a table. If you get a sweep in any preliminary round you’ll almost certainly advance.

The time limit affects the game well beyond the selection of the deck you should compete with. During play, the time limit can be a friend or an adversary. Put time on your side. It is a good idea to keep your own timepiece to gauge how the round is progressing. The judges are only required to give a five minute warning before the end of a round but it may be useful to know personally how much time is left. Stalling is not permitted but players are allowed to take their turn and think about what they are going to do. If necessary, don’t hesitate to walk that fine line between stalling and simply slowing down play. Each player left in the game at the end of the round receives one-half victory point. Every little bit helps.

On the other hand, if you are in a hurry and someone is playing slowly, call a judge over to watch the game. Even if you believe the other player is well within the rule’s prohibition against stalling, the judge may have a different tolerance level than you. An added benefit of this tactic is that the other player may become flustered and try to rush through their turn. This will inevitably lead to some mistakes by the opposing player which you will certainly take advantage of.

When seating is decided for a round, a table with inferior players is often thought of as a good thing by a quality player. You start to think how you’ll make quick work of them and sweep the table. Then the game starts and your prey is taking too long a time and even making errors like trying to play Master Cards during his minion phase, etc. Every inept player is a potential easy victory point but those players are also stealing your time. The entire table’s time is slipping away. I’ve had other players help me oust my inept prey because they realized my prey was affecting the table ability to complete our game before time is up. Don’t let these players stick around. Don’t help them. Destroy them! Get help from other players if necessary, calling on them to observe their time being wasted by this inferior player.

The Art of the Deal

The negotiation that takes place during a game of VTES is common in almost all playgroups. However, we often don’t think of negotiation as part of the game and refer to it as something extraneous. I am of the opinion that it is an essential aspect of the game. I often liken players who neglect this aspect to playing with less than a full hand. Negotiation is a way of creating resources. You can negotiate with other players to help oust your prey. You can negotiate a cease-fire with your predator or prey to gain time for refortification. You can negotiate to allow satisfactory outcome of votes, contestations, etc. While these negotiations often take place within our playgroups, they are rarely attempted at tournaments. Oftentimes nervousness or shyness prevent players from working deals during tournament games. This can be attributed to the fact that you are probably playing with strangers. Try to be outgoing and friendly and don’t let the opportunity to strike a deal pass you buy.

Liar Liar

Ok, we’re not stupid. Most of us have learned the lesson that if we make a deal and then break it we end up hurting ourselves in the long run. We will gain the immediate benefit of the surprise attach when we break our word but we are forever reminded of our trespass by our friends. In the end, keeping our word helps us win more games than not. Tournaments may be a different story. If you at a National tournament or somewhere you don’t plan to be again, you may want to try your hand at a little backstabbing. Don’t feel bad about it. When playing the game you are a Methuselah not a banker, student, or minister. You’re integrity as a person is not in question (though all of the other players may doubt yours!). Just a few months ago I saw a player in a final round who desperately needed to make a deal with another player. It would have been a mutually beneficial situation for them. Unfortunately, they had played a preliminary round together where the first player broke his word. Needless to say, this other player was not willing to make himself vulnerable with the "Liar" sitting next to him. The deal-breaker verbalized his remorse over the earlier event and repented of it when he saw that it cost him the game. The same weekend I passed on an opportunity to win a game because I felt I had to keep my word. Don’t get me wrong. I was tempted. I just decided that the one victory was not worth the hell I’d experience at the other eight tournaments a year that I would participate in.

All Things Being Equal

Don’t take for granted that the playing field is level. Before the start of each round verify that everyone has the proper number of pool to start with. At a minimum you should check your prey. Discovery of an overage in someone’s pool supply is a serious infraction—even if the error was unintentional. Obviously it is easier to oust an opponent who has 30 pool instead of 35 and that difference could be a deciding factor in the outcome of your game.

It is also important to watch other cards being played. I know I have played cards in their superior form without realizing that the vampire only has the inferior skill. This was unintentional, of course, but the mistake is made over and over by veteran and new players. Pay close attention to your own cards and those being played by other Methuselahs. Verify those prerequisites!

Tricks of the Trade

A couple of nice little tricks I've observed some top players use are worth sharing. One is to hide your discard pile. Now I know you can't really hide it. And I know that anyone can check your ashheap at any time. However, what I've seen done is to simply place your discards in a plastic case (or similar case) in a standing position facing you. If someone really wants to check out your discards, make them ask. What you gain by doing this is that other players will not see your discards accidentally and realize what you have. It forces your opponents to wonder what you have played and then act on their suspicions by asking you to see the discard pile. Some shy players may even be reluctant to ask.

The other equally obnoxious thing to do is keep track of your life points with a Scrye life counter or keep your pool in a cup or other such manner. Again, keeping this hidden will avoid anyone just scanning the table and then noticing that you have a ton of pool. Instead, they will have to realize first that you have been gaining a lot of pool recently and then they may confirm that suspicion by asking you.


Ankha said...

The "Tricks of the Trade" would be seen as unsportsmanship nowadays :)

extrala said...

True. Concealing the game statement would be considered at least as unsportsmanlike conduct. But the article is really historical, for example, at that point in time there were no gamewins, only VPs in tournaments.

Robert Goudie said...

Yeah, its embarrassing to read that stuff now. But hey, I was young and dumb. Such is the way of things put on the web. Don't do anything I told you to do in the article...or i'll throw you out of my tournament. :-)

aaron_clark said...

Well, Robert is from LA, and we still see vestiges of those kinds of shenanigans around here.