Before we jump into the cancon battle reports I want to run through the ITC Missions and my thoughts around them, both the good and bad.
Firstly, I will say that I much, much prefer this year’s missions than last years Maelstrom random crapola. We all now by now that I do not like random and the more random something is the worse off. While this may balance itself out over a tournament, you should not have missions swinging that wildly (it’s your own prerogative to take and accommodate units within your list like this). I will give ITC nice props then for changing this system and bringing in the primary and secondary missions.
With that out of the way…
Primary Missions – are way, way too similar. There are six “champion” missions and they are all effectively the same bar the bonus. Gain 1 point for holding an objective. Gain 1 point for killing a unit. Gain 1 extra point if you have hold more objectives than your opponent and gain 1 extra point if you killed more units than your opponent. Each missions has this with no variation except for the bonus point (i.e. hold 4+ objectives, hold three objectives with characters, etc.). So effectively, 80% of each primary mission is the same and sometimes the bonus is impossible to get (i.e. you have only have two character models).
While the main rulebook missions are often atrocities of mission attempts, they do guide us and the most successful missions from 5th through 8th have tried to incorporate those components into each game. They also add different weightings to unit and army types which can help balance rules. Static gunlines for example very rarely do well given the need to grab objectives. This holds true for ITC but they have disregarded things like Big Guns Don’t Tire, the Relic and Kill Point / Objective balance.
I would really like to see these brought back in. You can keep a similar 1 for 1 concept but in the Kill Points mission for example, provide 1 point for every 2 units killed per turn. In the Relic, have four setup objectives (either placed or done by players) and a middle objective that can be moved but otherwise counts as an objective at the end game (you know, like we changed in 6th edition). In Big Guns Don’t Tire or Scouring, have objectives that are held by Heavy Support / Fast Attack units count as 2 points and / or have objective secured for the game, etc. Non Kill Point games require two / three units killed in the turn to earn the point, etc.
I like the ITC scoring concept in that the game goes on over time, they are trying to reduce the impact of alpha strikes but it is very easy to get 12 points just by sitting on objectives and killing a unit a turn (ignoring secondaries completely). There needs to be more emphasis on differences for the primary mission and a larger allotment of available points.
I’m also not a fan of always set placement of objectives, I know it cuts down on time (see point below re mission setup) and mission consistency (though this runs counter intuitively to the way mission set up is done, see below) but I think it’s an important skill to have and would add variability to missions. Even if it’s a set number of objectives are set and then more are placed by players (with different weightings?), I feel this would improve the blandness of primary missions. That being said, I acknowledge that set objectives have their merits as well.
Secondary Missions – I also like the majority of the secondary missions, they allow you to account for your opponent’s list to identify what the best way to achieve points are. Despite this, given that you can literally build these options into your own list and the primary missions variance is small, you can effectively go into each game knowing exactly what you want to do. With changes to Conscripts, many lists for example do not have a huge board presence so it is very easy to get Recon / Behind Enemy Lines for four out of six turns (and these also offer you the opportunity to not neuter yourself every turn, you have two turns of leeway effectively). What ends up happening then is some lists always take those secondaries and then will occasionally swap a couple depending upon what they are fighting (3+ RBacks? Big Game Hunter; three Knights? Titan Slayer) that don’t actually separate the play – you need to take out the RBacks / Knights for example or you’re likely losing anyway.
These leads me back to putting more emphasis on the Primary Mission; easily getting eight points from movement based secondary missions does not seem as potent if the primary mission is worth 40-50 points and not just a basic way of accessing 12 points.
How to balance this though is tricky as any parameter you put, players will adapt. Instead of 20x strong units for example, people are taking 19x to limit the number of points they give up. This is not a huge list change but shows there are ways around whatever parameters are put into play. A more restrictive list of secondary missions based upon the primary mission may be more appropriate. i.e. not having Recon in the Scouring where there are six objectives across the table quarters. If you are not getting out to the objectives, you are losing anyway and this should not be compounded.
Mission Setup – I like that ITC has effectively given six mission templates and then allowed the option for different deployments (i.e. 36 missions); variety is the spice of life. Games Workshop did well in providing three more deployments and we have an even split of 24″ and 18″ separations. I have no idea why the deployments are random for ITC missions. Their intention perhaps is for TO’s to decide on mission deployment for the tournament (though LVO had each game randomly rolled for so I do not think so) but the fact that it is identified as rolled for by the players has not a fan of me made. A combat army which gets 5/6 24″ deployments is then disadvantaged while a shooting army getting 5/6 18″ deployments is disadvantaged. It’s really simple to just set them before the tournament, even if it is random. Do not leave this up to individual players (as it is extra time taken as well).
I am not saying this is the worst thing, I think the more pressing issue is the similar feeling of every single mission, but I think having set deployments for missions allows that to be balanced OR while keeping it random, choosing rounds to be 18″ deployments or 24″ deployments (i.e. Round 1 would roll from Hammer and Anvil, Pitched Battle or Vanguard; the 24″ deployments while Round 2 would roll from the remaining 18″ deployments, and so on and so forth).
This also leads to different deployment types on different tables and while I know many tournaments have tables in big long lines ——- like so, the more efficient -l – l – l separation then puts people potentially on the same side and running into each other again. Not a huge issue as we as gamers have learned to rub butts quite well but something to add.
Terrain – is so important and big tournaments are always going to have issues with terrain (even smaller tournaments depending on who is attending and bringing terrain). It’s not just about coverage but typing, particularly given that terrain no longer slows movement except in the charge phase. ITC has made rulings with regards to terrain, most notably ruins lower levels BLoS which I think helps people with their terrain setup, but each board really needs three LoS blockers of medium size. ITC is trying to limit the power of the alpha strike and I do not think the Primary Mission does this enough but having proper terrain along with those mission changes and proper list building can.
Overall Thoughts – Again, I much prefer ITC missions over what they had last year, the main rulebook missions or the non-tested, random stuff that TOs can occasionally put out. I think they have done a decent job of making going second have its advantages given the outrage of the advantage of going first in 8th edition. It is no where near as potent as I think people feel and the missions are no where near as powerful as going second was in 5th edition (where 3++ vehicles could contest objectives end game). However, compared to the mission variability, depth and balance we had in 5th and 6th edition, these missions are lacking in those departments and I do not feel like I really have to modify my thought process mission wise, round to round. If that is the goal of literally having a blank slate of a mission, great – achieved; however, I do not think that this is the goal and takes away some key components of 8th edition (though to be fair, all fan-made missions / TO rules do this to some extent).
What I would like to see is more variation in the primary missions and potentially more secondaries (where’s king of the hill!?) or restrictions on how the secondaries interact with the primary mission to add more variety. ITC missions were a step in the right direction in trying to curb alpha strikes (though terrain plays a big role in this) and give more control to the players themselves. Let’s up the ante here and now make the missions more variable while trying to maintain those lofty goals.
I know mission balancing and design is not easy – I have done it before and there is always someone who thinks they could do it better or does not like what the missions propose. I again am pleased with what ITC have done compared to what they have done before and am not suggesting they change everything at once (I believe they are reviewing secondaries currently as Old School was very widely used at LVO while I saw Recon used widely at Cancon) but slowly tweaking things will hopefully get us the best mission set possible.