My First ITC Tournament: Why Competitive Play is Important

Yesterday was June 22nd, 2019, and it was the day I would play my first official ITC tournament after being in the hobby for 20+ years.

But what is ITC?  It’s the Independent Tournament Circuit, the largely accepted standard for competitive tabletop wargaming for several game systems.  It is a universal standard of scoring rules and missions to use for a (relatively) consistent level of tracking standings across multiple regions globally.  But with these ITC rules, they have an entirely new, sometimes byzantine, method of scoring points per round compared to the usual Games Workshop official tournaments. The real difference is that ITC tournaments have a set of “Secondary Objectives” from which you must choose three for your game.  Facing a bunch of vehicles?  Choose “Big Game Hunter” where you get a point for each high-powered unit you kill.  Facing a horde of Tyranids?  Try “Reaper” where you earn a point for every 20 models slain.  In theory these are fun and exciting, giving you multiple ways to win a game.  In practice, they add a decent amount of bookkeeping to an already litigious game, particularly for new players.  I find some of the objectives can be easily ‘gamed’ to rack up dozens of points using certain armies.  But this isn’t a post about the merits of ITC, that can come at a later date.  For now, I enjoyed it, if it was a bit of a challenge to get used to.

I never fancied myself a tournament player using these ITC rules, but when I saw this event listed, I was open to giving it a go.  Namely because it was billed as a “beginners” tournament at my local store.  The concept of tournaments is something I enjoy; I do like the idea of competing to see how well you do in the pursuit of a great, calculable victory.  To put your carefully constructed plans up against an equally invested opponent in a true test of skill is very appealing.

I had no expectations going into this.  It would just be a fun day spent doing the hobby I enjoy so much, meeting local players who I otherwise wouldn’t know, and have the ability to learn so much from this first-time experience.  I have to also give a tremendous thanks to my wife for affording me the time to do this while she cared for our young children all day (no easy task!).  So To make the most of this rare excursion, I spent the weeks leading up to this event pouring over my books, forces, and supplements and worked on a list:

Selecting the Army List

Since being dubbed a “beginner” tournament, and having personally ran a Warhammer school club with brand new students for over a decade, I went into this process knowing to pull back the reigns on my list.  I would play my part fitting into this “beginner” role. I was a veteran player, sure, but this was still my first ITC event. I wouldn’t look up winning “net-lists” from past tournaments, or min/maxing my list to such a degree that would discourage new players.  The trick, of course, was that this was still a tournament, and I would need some element of competitive list building.

So I considered that the vanilla Space Marine codex is arguably one of the worst current codexes in the game system, and additionally decided to not take a single vehicle, dreadnought, or anything that didn’t have the <Infantry> keyword.  To my reluctance, I also opted out of Centurion warsuits, as they are the hotness right now, and I didn’t want to be seen as abusing the notion of it being a beginner tournament.  I also decided to play thematically, as an Imperial Fist force would.  This meant that I would utilize a “castle” strategy, meaning I’d deploy my forces in such a way as to create an immobile power-base and do little moving and not chase objectives, which would give opponents ample opportunity to outplay me.  I saw this as a middle-of-the-road option I could take to have a very specific plan, that was obvious from the start to my opponent, that there were no surprises or hidden tricks.  This was a beginner tournament, after all.

With my self imposed restrictions, I set out to make a competitive list, trying to push the boundaries of my infantry-only vanilla marine force and how I could make it as efficient as possible while remaining inside the 1,750 point limit.  Here’s what I chose:

  • HQ
    • Primaris Captain (Chapter Master)
    • Primaris Lieutenant (Warlord)
    • Librarian
    • Chaplain (Jump Pack)
  • Troops
    • 10x Intercessors
    • 10x Intercessors
    • 10x Scout Snipers
  • Elites
    • 5x Vanguard Veterans (TH/SS)
    • 3x Aggressors (Boltstorm / grenades)
    • Primaris Ancient (SotEA relic)
  • Heavy Support
    • 5x Hellblasters (Heavy)
    • 5x Hellblasters (Heavy)
    • 6x Devastators (Lascannons)

This brought me to 1,750 points on the nose, and gave me 10 Command Points.  It was a one-trick pony, being a castle gun-line, and could easily be blasted to oblivion with clever playing, so I had to juice it up just a little bit in the hopes of staying competitive in light of my arbitrary restrictions I was using.  But I wanted to balance out my desire to give the force an edge, so I said to myself, “What if I didn’t have any command points during the game itself?”  And with that, I set to work spending 80% of my command points before a single model was ever going to placed on the table.  Was this madness?  Was this what top-tier players did? I had no idea, I wasn’t researching stuff online!

Command Point Expenditure

My plan was to spend 3CP upgrading the Captain to a Chapter Master, the re-roll all hits within 6″ would exponentially increase the effectiveness of my castle strategy, particularly when paired with the Lieutenant re-rolling wound rolls of 1.  I additionally spent 3CP total to utilize the Vigilus Defiant formations making my battalion Indomitus Crusade Veterans (1CP to unlock it, and 1CP for each Intercessor squad to become actual Veteran squads).  This made my Primaris Intercessors absolute monsters granting +1A and +1Ld, meaning they would pump out 31 melee attacks if they got charged, with the sergeant having a mind-blowing four power fist attacks.  I then spent 2CP on another Vigilus detachment, the Imperial Fists Siegebreaker Cohort, which is fantastic if I were running Centurions and Dreadnoughts (a good choice for truly competitive play, in my opinion).  Alas, I would only spend 1CP to unlock the formation, wasting the rest of the perks to only spend 1CP more and make my Captain a ‘Field Commander’ for that detachment, which allows one character to take a bonus warlord trait, much like you can pay to take additional relics.  This meant I had the “Indomitable” warlord trait from the Siegebreaker Cohort, and the Imperial Fists “Architect of War” trait amongst my commanders. Meaning a 6″ aura granted all my castle units permanent cover, immunity to morale, and ignoring AP -1 for incoming fire. This effectively gave all of my ground troops a 2+ save, whether in actual cover or not, requiring enemies to have at least AP2 weapons to attempt to degrade that. Fortified indeed!

The final 2CP I wanted to spend on a Culexus assassin, but I’d need to drop 85 points from my already very tight list.  So I opted out of that and relied on my sole old-school librarian to shoulder the psychic burden.

This left me with 2CP for actual gameplay, which I would sit on for a single burst of mega shooting though utilizing the Rapid Fire stratagem available to Veteran Intercessors, making their boltguns Rapid Fire 2.  Yes, that means 40 shots at 30″ from a single squad, generating additional shots on 6’s when I spend the final command point for the Bolter Drill stratagem.  Very rough math, with re-rolls means I’d land approximately 30 hits and wounds on a GEQ unit, woof.  Alternatively I would use it on Auspex Scan to shoot incoming deep strikers if the situation arose.

So that’s my list and my command points sorted.  Let’s see if the theorycrafting holds up to real-world conditions!

The Actual Tournament

I had arrived at Big Easy Comics ready for the tournament around 9:15.  My army was packed, energy drink in hand, anxiously waiting to see what my opponents armies looked like, all with a reasonably sound plan in my head of how I was going to fortify all the positions.  A brief summary of the ITC rules by the tournament organizer brought us straight into the first of three rounds of play.  Opponents were assigned through the use of the app, as well as the table number I was to play on.  I immediately checked:

ROUND 1

ANDREW DART (Imperial Fists) v [REDACTED] (Death Skulls, Orks), TABLE 8.

Oh boy, Orks.  I play against orks all the time at work, my colleague and fellow club moderator has an absolutely immense Ork army.  He gives me a run for my money all the time, and that’s when I’m using lists that are more competitive than what I’m bringing to the table!  But I had a volume of boltgun shots on my side with my Intercessors and Aggressors, and my heavy support could deal with any big nasties.  Maybe my snipers could take out a weirdboy before casting the ever-ubiquitous Da Jump, who knows!

Making the Orks come to me. I almost felt dirty.

I won’t go through the whole game, but recall some major points of note.  I selected Reaper as one of my three secondary objectives, where every 20 models killed earned me a point.  This paid off, as I mowed through 80+ models with incredibly destructive volleys of boltgun fire.  I obliterated the Morkanaut with lascannon and hellblaster fire, and nearly killed the Gorkanaut (but that damned Big Mek kept hammering on it with his tools to keep it alive!).  My Vanguard Veterans and Chaplain smashed their way to the Warboss / Warlord earning me more points, but died immediately afterward.  The Vanguard Veterans hit like a truck in every game I played them in, but they died incredibly easy, even with their 3++ storm shields.  I can sense a full Primaris army in my future.  My opponent had a mind for competitive play, he said it was his third tournament; he was keen on daisy-chaining his massive Ork mobs back to range of his aura-granting buffs and weirdboy spells.  A massive 20-25 blob of Orks with a single tadpole tail snaking back to the source of the buff.  Not a tactic I’m fond of, but I was happy to see him pursue such a ‘play-to-win’ style, which I fully expected to face here.  It’s what I need to engage with to get better competitively.  I must say my opponent was very polite, and a pleasure to play against.  He was a slow player, on top of also playing Orks, resulting in a game progressing through the fewest turns, with a very low final score.  It was a satisfying game, because like any son of Dorn, we were just happy to be slaughtering Orks.

Final result: Win (13-8)

ROUND 2

ANDREW DART (Imperial Fists) v [REDACTED] (Thousand Sons, CSM), TABLE 4.

I’ll come out the gate and say this was my most challenging game in terms of dealing with mechanics.  As soon as I saw the pairing, I instantly regretted not taking that Culexus assassin.  My opponent deployed effectively, and played very well.  Cultist blobs sitting on rear objectives, Ahriman, two daemon princes, a Heldrake, Forgefiend, Occult Terminators, Rubrics, a massive Tzaangor blob which materialized in front of my force and did some work (before being shredded by disciplined boltgun fire!).  What threw me off initially was his list on the app.  It was a 2,000 point list with not only the above big nasties, but Magnus the Red, Be’lakor, and some other deviations from what I actually faced.  I asked to see his printed list when we were setting up the game to get my bearings, but it was definitely a curveball dealing with this 30 seconds before the start time that I otherwise could have spent dealing with my own setup.

Lots of power-combos, spells stacking, buffing, and shenanigans you’d expect at an ITC tournament.  The Tzaangor bomb charging in and effectively wrapping around some of my units and putting single models within an inch of others to nullify my effectiveness for the next turn was a major factor.  If I wouldn’t have blown my 2CP on Auspex Scan for that unit it would’ve been much worse — I managed to shred about half of the 25-man unit.  This didn’t help enough to make a mess of my plans, however, he was playing very well! My opponent was very quiet, stand-offish but warmed a little as the game progressed; perhaps when I allowed him to cast a spell he had forgotten that ended up burning so many of my precious yellow boys.  My moment of glory in that game was when I hammered his Heldrake to death with my Vanguard Veterans, and again when a souped-up daemon prince thought he had me dead to rights amidst my gunline.  But let me tell you: remember that 10-man squad of Veteran Intercessors with 31 attacks, with the power fist?  It pairs nicely with the librarian getting a cheeky Null Zone cast off, ignoring all those insane 2/3++ saves.

Overall this was the most thrilling game, but I must confess it was a loss, albeit a close one.  I will contend that it should have been a tie, if I was smarter about being in the moment.  But no excuses! That was my own fault and my opponent clearly outplayed me. My major blunder was that one of my crucial secondary objectives was “Engineers” which essentially gives you a point per turn (starting on turn 2) if the controlling unit doesn’t act (no shooting, charging).  In my decades of playing Warhammer, it is ingrained in me to shoot all of my units systematically so I don’t forget anyone.  Even bolt pistols and mundane weapons – everything can chip away at something!  Had I not forgotten to restrain from shooting for a single turn, the game perhaps would have been tied.  The score here is testament to the knock-down-drag-out fight it was, a great battle between loyalist and traitor.  We exchanged blows back and forth and it was a very satisfying game, despite the outcome.

Final result: Loss (12-14)

ROUND 3

ANDREW DART (Imperial Fists) v [REDACTED] (Steel Legion, Astra Militarum ), TABLE 4.

This game was my most fun, and my opponent said as much as well.  He was an older gentleman, a few years younger than my father, perhaps, that had literally just moved into the area from Florida the week prior.  He was here to have a good time, and I could sense in his demeanor that he was having a ball.  This was his first ITC tournament as well, and we got to talking about how he had played a little in previous editions, and was finally getting fully invested in 8th Edition.  His list was well constructed, with three all-plasma tank commanders, some supremely anti-infantry leman russ variants, a veteran squad, and a horde of guardsmen with a sprinkling of plasma.

To be quite honest, playing with him reminded me of playing historical wargames with the old grognards at Bayou Wars decades ago in my youth.  Wholly enthusiastic gentlemen playing with a true passion for the game, for the history, and for the story unfolding on the tabletop.  I don’t know if it was the tinge of nostalgia in sharing this moment with an old warhorse, or whether it was his genuine attitude of enjoying the moment, but it was absolutely a top-ten favorite game of all time on my list.

I blasted his tanks with Hellblasters and Devastators, he vaporized my scouts and intercessors.  I returned fire with my aggressors and mowed down infantry by the dozen.  It went back and forth for four turns and I honestly couldn’t remember to tell you all the details here, but it was exceedingly enjoyable.  The MVP of my army in this particular game was my Primaris Ancient.  The lascannon and plasma losses I suffered weren’t good for facing a major mechanized force, but those ‘last chance’ shots are what broke the back of the enemy.  It was a close game, and only in turn four did I run away with a marginal lead.  I hope I can get another game in with him soon!

Final result: Win (20-16)

First Impressions

It was a blast.  I will absolutely do it again, if real-life permits and my wife doesn’t go crazy watching the little ones at home for ten hours straight without me.  Meeting the new people, reconnecting with old friends, and having a chance to simply play the game was so rewarding.  I seldom have time to actually play — even in my school club it’s only for 30 minutes at a time, and with students.  The ability to play whole, uninterrupted games with people also eager to play with you is beyond exciting. The only negative was that I never really played a full game, my most progressed game was only into turn four. So much depends on your opponents speed, so plan accordingly!

Everyone was a good sport.  At least those that I played against.  There was one younger guy, perhaps still in high school, who seemed to get down on himself mid-game if things weren’t going his way.  But I heard others cheering him on and reminding him to stick it out.  Overall, it was not this terrible experience of neckbeards flipping tables and win-at-all-costs assholes some may expect to be at a tournament.  Those people do exist, but they are indeed in the minority.  The general climate of the event was amicable and welcoming, and it was invigorating to see that in my first ITC tournament ever.  I am happy to report back to all my narrative campaign players and open-play aficionados that if you wanted to dip a toe into competitive play, you won’t regret it.

 A Fleeting Moment of Doubt

I need to outright say the entire tournament experience was incredible.  I will absolutely participate again.  There was, however, a singular negative experience I had, which left a very minor bad taste in my mouth — but not nearly enough to spoil the entire event.  It’s something I can easily let slide once, or even all the time if it’s the norm for these events, but I was caught off-guard by it.  I didn’t want to bring it up at the event, either, because I felt it may just make me look like a whining turd.  I’m only putting this into writing to collect my thoughts on the issue and get input, not to chastise.

The instructions for the event were quite clear, and published weeks in advance for all to see that it was a beginners tournament.  I knew, of course, this was subjective and would be pushed to the limits.  The fact that some people really stretched the limits of an ‘entry level’ list did not bother me.  I anticipated people coming with powerful net-lists and had no qualms with it.  What did bother me, however, was that the rules stated army lists must be submitted by June 15th, a week ahead of the tournament date.  Seemed reasonable.  When that day came and passed, only myself, Rivers (a former school club member), and one or two others had submitted their lists out of eighteen participants.  No one else.  Now, could all of the other participants have emailed their lists to the tournament organizer outside the app?  Possibly.  He said that was an option if you couldn’t figure out the app, which is fine.  Accepting late list entries doesn’t necessarily bother me, but the way it played out potentially handicapped those that had actually adhered to the rules.  The lists were public to anyone viewing it through the app.  Again, this doesn’t bother me if everyone submitted by the deadline and made a level playing field to skim opponent lists.  But I find it very hard to believe some of the lists were not tailored to those published to meet the deadline.

Is there a chance this didn’t happen, and people just submitted late without ulterior motive?  Absolutely.  And I like to think that’s the case.  But in the back of my mind, as is likely human nature, I felt slighted for following the rules.  I was put at a potential disadvantage for being a good participant.  Let’s pretend it’s a worst case scenario: everyone willfully ‘cheated’ in this way.  Given the circumstances of a friendly, beginner tournament — that can get a pass.  This was never a try-hard, prove you’re the best event.  This happening once is no big deal, I won’t think twice about it in the future.  But if I shell out another entry fee at a ‘more serious’ tournament, and see the handling of lists in that way, I would be less inclined to continue participating.  This doesn’t speak ill of the tournament organizer, as I don’t think any of this was maliciously or intentionally done.  I would just hope there to be more clarity in future events.  This event was great, and I hope it acts as a gateway for our local community to branch into a larger official New Orleans ITC tournament.  I hope it was just a one-time mistake to publish the lists as it happened.

Final Thoughts

Competitive play is important because it’s a part of the game. Too many players vocalize their disdain for that aspect of the hobby, and I don’t like it any more than when a tournament player criticizes the modeling / painting aspect of the hobby. We are all in the same community of hobbyists that enjoy different facets of it. Embrace this. Try a competitive game out, you’ll be surprised at how pleasant the experience can be. I got to play the game I love, with people that also enjoy playing the game.  I performed better than anticipated, placing 7th out of 18 participants, with my intentionally static army list.  I wouldn’t have changed a thing about the day’s events, barring minor strategic decisions that I goofed up.  Overall I’d highly recommend the experience to anyone remotely considering it.  A local brewery is the site of the next local ITC tournament, in August, which I would love to attend, maybe bring my co-workers and some friends that play along for the ride.  It would be a 2,000 point no-holds-barred event, anything goes, a proper tournament.  So that would be a better venue to discuss the actual experience at a truly competitive tournament, particularly with the presence of libations.

So, tell me what y’all think!  Comment below, I really do enjoy hearing what you guys get from these write-ups.  If nothing else, drop a commend on Instagram or Twitter!  And consider joining my Discord server. Thanks for reading!

 

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