First off I'd like to say that I love the Doomtown community. I look forward to meeting all you lovely folks again at future Gencons where there will still be casual events along with tournaments in one capacity or another. Special thanks also go to David Orange for organizing a fun and crazy Outlaw culminating event, which definitely highlighted the con for me.
Speaking of getting shot down, that pretty much summarized my Gencon 2016 experience. I felt like I struggled for 3 days to climb a very tall and steep mountain, only to be shot right down when I reached the top. The finals match wasn't even really close - I found myself sitting across from a player with a finely tuned deck, but also playing an impossibly airtight game. Congratulations to David Lapp for taking the tournament by storm!
Before going into rounds, I'd like to share some of my learning experiences. I think I can narrow down the skills needed to play Doomtown: Reloaded at a high competitive level to five items:
1 - Construction 2 - Piloting 3 - Research 4 - Nerves 5 - Luck
Construction: You need to build a deck prepared to either execute a plan and/or respond to those executed by your opponents. I've heard it said that North American players "play to win," whereas European Union players "play to not lose." Both of these play styles are valid to me. Personally, I do tend to favor the latter style, because I enjoy exploring the unmatched strategic depth this game offers compared to any other card game that I know of. That said, I do believe that the Den of Thieves, coupled with some powerful card/information-gathering grifters, is particularly strong because of the flexibility it offers. Some homes commit you immediately to defending the town square whether you are ready or not (Desolation Row, Eagle Wardens, Oddities of Nature). Others necessitate that you stay safe at home to build up first (Morgan, Fourth Ring, Beyond the Veil). I prefer a third type of home that offers the flexibility of choosing between the two, allowing you to make your big moves when you are good and ready. The Den of Thieves really excels at both of these. First, having lots of cheap (discounted) dudes to either use as casualties to back up a few solid shooters and early aggression. Second, by allowing you to camp your home and develop your economy and combos first mostly undisturbed by interaction. It's one of my favorite homes, if admittedly a little too good with the options available to it.
Piloting: I have been playing iterations of this deck against my Berkeley, California playgroup for a while now - pretty much the moment Hustled made an appearance in the card pool. But, as a late-comer to Reloaded, I knew I didn't have the sheer number of games under my belt needed to play at the level of competition that Gencon offers. Fortunately, I had two days and three mini-tournaments to get in as many games as I could with some veteran players who travelled from all over. I managed to do a lot of learning about how to play my deck against people other than my home group. However, the last minute changes I made to the deck included cards that I had not really gotten used to playing. I thus made many play mistakes partially as a result of that, leaning on the strength of the deck (and home) to allow me to bounce back in many cases. The deck, even if really strong, won't pilot itself, and I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Research: It's one thing to casually peruse the database and take a look at strong archetypes and quite another to actually play against them. Again, I used two days worth of Sheriff events to explore the Gencon meta, not really having an idea what to expect (except "watch out for slide"). I saw other players doing this as well. But as I was focusing on still learning how to play my own deck, I wasn't really ready to assimilate all of the information gleaned from watching other people play theirs. The last minute changes I made to the original version included pulling back my structure a little bit to add Jacqueline and Mugging and to replace my Devil's Jokers with regular ones. I saw a lot of aggressive decks that used tricky goods/attachments and had lots of Cheatin' punishment. So I tried to adjust accordingly.
Nerves: This one got to me especially. This is the biggest tournament I have been to and had lots of stellar players that have developed their skills over the two years since Reloaded's release. Some of these folks have impenetrable poker faces and nerves of steel. I found myself intimidated at times by the composure my opponents would keep across the table from me - whether they were ahead or behind! Between games, because of the intensity of the match-ups, I needed to walk off some nervous energy - a need that has never surfaced for me in casual play.
Luck: Is luck a skill? Not entirely sure but I caught a few lucky breaks at a few critical moments where I gambled that my deck would come through for me in one way or another - usually in pitching and redrawing for a draw hand or play hand - and it did. Other times, especially in the earlier tournaments or for my finals match, I felt my luck had run out.
The Three Finals Cut Rounds
My first match-up found me squaring off agianst my longtime Classic friend Mike Zaret. We actually had dinner the night before and discussed how to beat each other's decks. He ran an aggressive Jia Mein and Forced Quarantine deck. Each turn for several turns, he took out one of my dudes and accumulated control points, and got just shy of winning on day 3 or 4. It started to look bleak, so I decided that instead of saving my Coachwhips for fighting him (he didn't cheat), I would use them to boot Jia during lowball. This strategy bought me some time to build up for a couple turns, and I eventually turned it around with the culminating event of serving Avie Cline with papers via the Tax Office.
My second round opponent, Stanton Lackey, had defeated me the day before with a Warden Blockade deck. Today, he showed Morgan, and I pulled out my "slide starters." Duped into thinking that if he ran Force Fields, that he'd choose a different home card. Whoops. Rico saved my tail here, and a lucky opening draw gave me 3 extra dudes to his 3 extra gadgets. I wanted to play a big deed uncontested, so I sent Travis to town to Hustle his Jen. I then sent Miranda out to lure his other dude out of position, and sacrificing them both, dropped Market Street without contest. Next turn I drew and played Sloane and slid everybody into the town square. Retaining a numerical dude advantage won an attrition shootout that sealed me the win.
Which meant I now sat across from David Lapp and his Den of Thieves. Yep, two Dens of Thieves vying for one coveted Marshal Badge. I won the coin flip, and four grifters did their thing. Finally, after the long pre-game planning, I made an early bid to contest a deed and got beat in a long shootout where he played a key Sun in Yer Eyes on the third round, sending my posse home booted. He pressed the advantage from there, forcing me into a situation where my only "good" moves were desperate ones. Game two played out only slightly differently, with me trying out a different starting posse. I attempted to move him out of position by offering Allie Hensman as Shotgun bait, which he didn't take, leaving me with a whittled posse. Again I tried to rebuild economy to no avail. Yup. Gomorra doesn't have enough room for two Dens...
POSTSCRIPT: I also want to further explore the genteel art of Rico starting strategies. I start a combination of Starters, Dupes, and Replacements.
Starters: Rico (always), Travis (always unless I suspect slide or semi-slide), plus 2-4 Dupes who I typically swap out picked from among dudes who I feel will contribute the least based on opponent's Home information.
Dupes: Typically Sanford, Ulysses, and/or Sammy, who get subbed in for the Replacements. If I need a fourth, I usually go for another dude who I would rather draw later than sooner - usually Lawrence as he can contest a deed while exercising a persistent threat, or another non-A-4-7 dude if I expect an early fight.
Replacements: These folks will replace the Dupes based on the information gained from my opponent's first play hand (courtesy Rico):
• Allie if I need to ignite immediate board pressure
• Lawrence similarly and if they are running deeds
• Jake if I expect to build up at home a few turns.
• Clementine if I draw a saloon.
• Marion if I want to contest deeds and their cheatin' resolutions look loose.
• Barton if I draw a Kidnappin' and they lack an opening cheatin' resolution and I need to strike early.
• Makaio and Milt for mirror matches or if I see moderate aggression and plan on also developing economy while defending my own deeds (this is probably the most frequent).
• Willa Mae if I expect aggression, but their cheatin' punishments are likely only rank-based.
• Angélica if I expect shootout actions that can remove my dudes from a fight (like Mariel or Wendy).
• Jacqueline if I need a second cheap stud for "passive aggression" (like having more influence at their deed, or to protect Allie or Sammy from their call out).
•I may switch back in Ulysses if I see them running Clementine or Sammy or if they are playing an early turtling gadget or goods deck.
Against Slide: I will usually finalize with Rico, Jake, Allie, Lawrence, and Makaio - this combination maximizes economy and allows the immediate contest of 3 deeds. If they don't draw 3 deeds and I draw a Hustled, I will use Travis in place of Lawrence here for an even bigger cash boost.
It's worth noting that as the deck has 20 dudes, I can usually count on drawing a few more over the first few turns - I will frequently take an early chance with my starting dudes by going a little lighter than needed in order to save extra cash and drop some bigger players in the adolescent phase of the game - Hustled really helps here because it allows me to not only make money but also potentially stall their onboard threat cards (big studs, dangerous attachments, or even clutch deed abilities) - I can frequently take my opponent by surprise with it.
I almost feel bad about the amount of time this takes in the early game where most decks are ready for lowball - but these early knowledge-based decisions are really half the fight for the Den player, and the true source of power for the home.