Gaming the Grognards

Do you have what it takes to compete in “The Russian Campaign” at the World Boardgaming Championships?  It may come as no surprise to you but the competition in TRC at WBC is fierce, grueling, and, in many ways, not directly tied to your skills in the game itself!  What I’ll now outline are some broader tournament strategies that will help maximize your chances of succeeding in this WBC event.

The first thing to consider is the tournament structure.  Using what’s known as the “Grognard” format, the event features a week-long process that eventually yields four people who advance to a single elimination bracket on the final Saturday.  The first priority is to maximize your chances of advancing to this segment.  Please note that this treatise is NOT aimed at those who really have no interest in advancing.
Getting out of the open portion of the event to SE requires one to score ‘Tournament Points’.  You get 10 points for each win, up to a maximum of 30 points, and then 2 extra points for each victory your defeated opponents have.  If you beat Bobby, for example, and he as three wins, you’ll get 16 points.  Theoretically, you could advance by playing, and defeating, three players who have a lot of wins.  In reality, the likelihood that you’ll accomplish this is unlikely for a variety of reasons:
  • You often have no way of knowing who is going to play (and win) a lot of games
  • Expecting to win against the best players is not something you can reliably count on
  • Being able to line up matches against specific opponents is often limited by availability and timing.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, you need to make sure that your opponent has a reason to play you.
The last two bullets are the ones I am going to focus on as those are things you can control.  If you stand by passively waiting for good players to come up to play you, you could be in for a long wait.  My recommendation is to go up to a ‘good player’, even if they’re in a game, and ask them if they’d like to play at some point in the future.  It’s very likely they’ll say “yes”, and you’ll then want to pin down a time and place to meet.  SHOW UP, ON TIME, READY TO PLAY.  Have your game set up, let the GM know you’re going to be playing player X, and do what it takes to make sure the game happens.
Who are the ‘good players’?  Surprisingly, for tournament purposes, it’s not necessarily the players with the most experience or skills in the game.  In a nut shell, here are the characteristics of good players:
  • They are likely to win a lot of games.  From a selfish point of view, you actually want to play someone who is not that skilled in the game but will rack up victories through sheer quantity of playing.   It should be noted, however, that these players often develop their skills quite rapidly and could easily surprise you by trouncing you on the cardboard battlefield.
  • They have a lot of wins under their belt.  Not only will this assure you of a certain number of tournament points, it’s generally a sign that your opponent is serious about competing in the event and will continue playing.
  • They are likely to continue playing.  Beating someone early in the week who decides not to play any more is not likely to help you in the long run.  By the last few days of the open portion of the tournament, I recommend you not play newbies if that will preclude you from getting into a match with someone who will improve your chances of advancing.
  • While there may be a temptation to dodge particular opponents, prior tourney champions for example, I highly discourage this.  While your chance of winning may be low, the rewards associated with such an unlikely win are tremendous and historically have been THE NUMBER ONE REASON you get new names into the single elimination portion of the tournament.  My recommendation is that you try to play these folks earlier in the week as you may not be able to line up matches with them in the latter portion of the open section as they may not be available.
How do you make someone ‘want’ to play you?  Several suggestions are offered here to ensure that you are an ‘attractive’ opponent for a wide range of players, from novices to tourney champions.
  • Perhaps the most important thing, at least from my perspective to not develop a history or reputation of being a pain in the ass to play.  IMHO, these are the people who are late in showing up for their matches, make a game drag out unnecessarily long, are argumentative, or display any number of other attributes and behaviors that make a contest less than desired.
  • To attract good players, have some wins, indicate that you are not a “dabbler”, and take the time to set up matches in advance.  (A “dabbler” is the participant who just shows up for a game or two and then moves on to other events.  There’s nothing wrong with playing, or being, a dabbler but you have to recognize that this match may not advance you to your goal of making it to the semis.
  • To attract newbies, be willing to play them and maximize the fun factor for both of you, regardless of their actual competitiveness on the battlefield.
  • Being available to play is a key consideration.  Tell the GM you’re looking for a match and communicate your availability and contact information.  Look for set up games with one person sitting next to the game – that’s often a good sign that somebody is ready to play!
Now that you understand the tournament structure and have been offered some ideas on how maximize your chance to advance, here are some additional thoughts on enhancing your skills or elevating your ‘fun quotient’ at this event.
  • Get to know as many fellow TRC players as possible.  It’s a big community but everybody’s connected and getting into the network ensures that you’ll be aware of what’s going on, even outside of the TRC event.
  • Nobody is going to be striving to help you advance, particularly via illegal or unethical means.  I will not countenance sham matches and there will be full transparency with regards to standings and rulings.
  • No whining if you don’t advance, despite going 3-0.   Generalizing the stats over the last five years, those who advance generally play about 6-8 games, play the strong players, play briskly, and, most importantly, know the game.  The expert players have no problem joining in mid-week; they advance by making sure they play against people with a lot of wins.
A few warnings are probably in order because the late stages of the event are a little different.  I am specifically referring to the atmosphere when the  ‘contenders for advancement’ play on the last two days (Thursday-Friday) of the open portion of the event.
  • Nobody is forced to play.  Do not expect someone to play you if it doesn’t benefit them and playing you forgoes the opportunity to play someone where a victory would help their chances of advancing.
  • Talk to the GM if you’re having trouble finding a match.  The GM has a good view into the standings, who’s looking, and will help ensure appropriate matchups occur.
  • There is intense pressure to complete games the last few days.  Do not dawdle, disappear, or otherwise waste your opponent’s time with long lunches or smoke breaks.  Take care of your necessary duties during your opponent’s move, not your own.
  • There is some jockeying by contenders to play opponents who have a lot of wins.  Be gracious and do not come across as a barracuda attacking a guppy.
The most important takeway:  This is a game, treat it as such!
See you at WBC!
Tom Gregorio

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