Tips on Preparing to Compete in Your First War Gaming Tournament

Despite the dismal economy and the scowls from your wife, you’ve finally decided, after years of putting it off, to take the plunge and make the trek to a major war gaming tournament convention this year. It’s something that you’ve wanted to do for as long as you can remember, and now it’s time. To minimize the stress of the trip, you’ve even gone to the trouble of planning ahead: hotel reservations and flight arrangements have all been made well in advance, and you’ve even preregistered to compete in the convention tournaments that feature your favorite games; so, now what? How do you prepare for your first tournament competition before you actually arrive at the convention site?

These are all questions that go through the mind of every first-time tournament attendee; I know that they nagged at me before I made my first trip to AvalonCon, over two and half decades ago. And, fortunately, there are things that a player can do, in advance, to make sure that his first journey into the arena of tournament competition is everything that he hoped it would be. Now, I don’t claim to be an authority on tournament preparation, but based on my own experience, here are a few ideas that may help a first-time tournament participant get off to a strong and enjoyable start.

1. Make sure that you bring a copy of every game that you expect to play once you arrive at the tournament convention site. And make sure that the game you bring — and are familiar with — is the same game that everyone else is going to be playing. Some popular games go through multiple republications with usually minor modifications to the rules, maps, and/or counters with each new edition. In fact, games like THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN and PANZERKRIEG have had more comeback tours (with different publishers) than Cher, so it is always wise to make sure that the edition that you bring is the same one that all the other players plan to play.

2. Know the rules and victory conditions, all of them; and know them well. Also be aware that there may be special tournament changes to the rules or to the victory conditions, so prepare in advance by practicing with the tournament version of the game. I know that this sounds obvious, but even an old stalwart like WATERLOO is played at the WBC Convention using a special tournament Turn Record/Reinforcement Chart, 10-sided die, and tournament CRT. These changes can materially affect the way the game is played. Check into this possibility in advance so you don’t get a surprise when you sit down to play your first competitive match.

3. Read everything that you can find in the hobby press on the games that you intend to play before you get to the convention. This means digging through your old copies of the General or Fire and Movement — if you are lucky enough to still have them — so that you can get a refresher on the game theories and approaches that you are virtually certain to encounter at the tournament. Remember, some of these games have been around a long time and, believe it or not, some pretty innovative and cunning players have actually written articles that enhance the reader’s understanding and command of the game. You personally may not care for the “Egg” strategy in PANZERGRÜPPE GUDERIAN, or the “Palaveda Gambit” in AFRIKA KORPS, but there is a pretty good chance that you are going to encounter someone across the game table from you who does.

4. Finally, play and then play some more. And not with your fifteen-year old nephew or the guy with the body piercings who works in the video store down the street, but with the very best players that you can find. If you can’t find top level competition locally, go on line. There are a number of sites, as well as a number of PBeM tournaments that will hook you up with some of the best players around. The video store guy may be a great player, but you still need to broaden your experience with a wide spectrum of different opponents and styles of play. The time to do it is before you sit down for your first tournament game!

Of course, even if you follow all of this advice, I cannot guarantee that you will end up hauling a tournament plaque or two with you when you head home after the convention. But this advance preparation certainly won’t hurt your prospects, and it should significantly improve both your chances of getting through the first round or two, and of having a truly enjoyable time.

This is the second of three installments on tournament play that I am posting in advance of the World Boardgaming Championships Convention in Lancaster, PA, on 3 August of this year. The third and final installment will look at the peculiar demands and pressures of face-to-face competitive play, and at a few approaches, that I have found helpful, for managing the sweat-inducing stress that inevitably comes with the tournament experience.


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