We just got back Sunday night from Strategicon Gateway out by LAX. I staffed an Ars Victor tournament all weekend at the con. We ran a tournament with $500 in cash prizes for the third time (Gateway 2012, Gamex 2013, Gateway 2013).

I am so blown away at the outcome of this tournament through the final two rounds. This game continues to show me surprising new depth, even after playing for well over a year. Players are continuing to try new things and discover new ways of defeating their enemies. In this Labor Day tournament, I was shown how new strategies can flourish in the minds of new players and result in epic unexpected victories.

In 2012, David narrowly defeated Jackson for the $400 grand prize. The competition was fierce, and the game was well-played on both sides. David lasted much of the endgame with a single red Assault in the middle of the table, and Jackson has always considered his decision to Engage David’s Assault with his Assault rather than Shoot on the final turn to be the decision that cost him the grand prize.

At Gamex 2013, Jackson crushed all comers on his way to the $400 grand prize. The field was strong but nobody seemed ready for the Jackson Eight, a list featuring 3 Cavalry and a Mortar in the Vanguard. The list revolves around getting to two Cap Points by the end of the first turn, and using Bug Out liberally to keep the Cavalry alive and unwounded.

At Gateway 2013, Jackson held the first place spot in open play with a record of 7-0. David entered Finals day with a record of 2-0. He checked the standings about ten minutes before the match start cutoff, and noticed he was not in fact qualified for the finals. He thought about it for five minutes and then grabbed a game with another tournament finalist. He won handily and rocketed onto the finals bracket with a 3-0 record and the fifth seed.

We all called David and Jackson as favorites to win due to their experience. Ars Victor, however, is a game that has cards and dice, and near-infinite variability in unit mix and terrain layout, allowing for some amazing surprises. There were other really strong players in the top eight, too. In particular Frank stood out as the second seed, with something like 10 games played. Frank caught my attention when he approached me on Saturday morning with cash in his hand, seeking a preorder, complimenting the game mightily after trying it a couple times the previous evening. He was seen playing games in Camp Ars Victor all weekend.

Jackson had been making hay with a 4 Assault Vanguard list all weekend. Players just couldn’t deal with it, since few folks put things in their Vanguard that could deal with Assaults. Jackson characterized it as ‘Really Fun’.

David had been honing this Attacker-friendly list that I did not ever expect to see. He said to me “Give me all the 3 point pieces” when I asked him if he wanted help drawing hils list up. I believe he fielded 6 Conscripts, 5 Scavengers, and a Cavalry HQ, resulting in a massive starting glory and a bunch of units he didn’t care about losing.

David beat Jackson this year in the second round because of strategy. Jackson commented “Last time I got beat because of two blunders. This time I got beat by a superior strategy.” He said he felt better about the game this year.

David was up against Frank in the finals. Frank won initiative and elected to Defend as Blue, so David brought out the el cheapo list again. David’s use of the list was amazing. He Vanguarded very silver-heavy, and moved every Van unit plus his HQ on the first turn. A couple of turns later he played a big Gold card, and brought on everything else he could. The net result was a giant pile of cheap units all over the board, placed carefully so nobody’s lines of retreats were blocked.

Frank brought something like two Light, two Cav, a Medium, a Heavy, and an Assault HQ.

David set up camp on Cap Points early. His meat shield Conscripts absorbed lots of fire holding them, while the Scavengers moved like lightning through heavy terrain to try to push back Frank’s onslaught. Frank started bleeding 3-4 points per turn very early in the game. He proceeded with confidence and slowly but surely pushed a couple of David’s units off the cap points.

As the midgame turned into the endgame, I could see both Glory markers converging on zero around the same turn. It looked like a really close game for the last 10 or so turns. Once Frank stopped the bleeding he began the process of murdering as many of David’s units as he could. David stubbornly held the rightmost Cap Point with his HQ cavalry, until a big shot by Frank wounded him heavily despite a Bug Out.

With the bleeding evened out, it was a race to kill a big unit. Frank did a good job of keeping his expensive units out of real trouble, except for one of his Cavalry. Twice, David was able to attack Frank’s Cavalry with a Scavenger as it stood on Frank’s leftmost Cap Point. Frank’s Cavalry had ended up on the cap point but its lines of retreat were blocked by two of Frank’s other units. David’s Scavenger TWICE failed to land a killing strike that might have won the game.

It came down to Frank’s strike against David’s Scavenger with only a couple points of Glory remaining. Frank rolled a big attack and ended the game with one Glory left.

This was a super-exciting finish to a really fun tournament. I’m happy to see new effective strategies come from new players. A big congrats to the tournament winner, Frank!

Edit: Corrected left vs. right flank