The Mediocre Gamer Presents: The Mediocre Tournament Format


The mediocre gamer is back to relate the tournament format he’s been using at his events!

Hello everyone, Bronson here, the Mediocre Gamer.  I’m also known as AgentP on Frontline and forums.  As CaptainA referenced in one of his posts, I’ve been experimenting with some Maelstrom tournament formats lately, in small scale, using the events as testbeds.  I wanted to share with everyone how that has been going, and what’s on the horizon.


First off, I’m a huge fan of Maelstrom.  Let me get that out in the open.  Maybe it’s the addition of dice and cards, maybe it’s the game dynamic it creates, I don’t know, but I love Maelstrom.  It single handedly rekindled my love of 40k and dragged me away from the Fantasy tournaments that had captured my attention for the previous 5 years.  I do not subscribe to the belief that Maelstrom is only for friendly play.  I do agree, however, that it needs a bit of tweaking to make it ideal.

In devising this tournament format I borrowed from some European formats I read about, as well as discussions I had with players around the country.  I also did some things that I thought would work, but had not heard of anyone specifically trying.

My goals going into this were multiple.  First, I wanted to prevent Maelstrom points being run up 10 – nil in the first turn and creating a game that was a foregone conclusion.  Second, I wanted to keep the card aspect, but inject at least some ability to build a deck of cards to pull from.  Third, I wanted to create some ability to mulligan, or redraw a hand if you absolutely had to.

I had some other goals too.  I absolutely hate random game length.  I despise it.  Players who that Maelstrom is too random, yet never voice an objection to random game length are completely missing the ball to me.  I cannot count the number of games I have played, or seen played, where a single roll of a random game length dice determined the winner.  You know you’ve seen those games, you know you’ve played them – those games where “I really need the game to end now because it’s clear that next turn you’re going to win.”  So I wanted that out.

Additionally, I wanted to discourage an emphasis on late game play and objective grabs.  Someone once said that basketball should just spot each team 100 and play the game for two minutes.  Warhammer can be like that at times, and I want a game that is exciting from turn one, not just beginning on turn five.  Now Maelstrom does this naturally, which is one reason I like it.  But I wanted to ensure each round mattered, that players had to see a serious consequence for not taking bold and aggressive steps in each round.

Lastly, I wanted to give people rerolls.  I’ve found over the years that rerolls are great psychologically for people.  Just having that little extra chance to not remove your favorite model from the board, or not having your grand plan go completely in the toilet can be a big help, even if the reroll doesn’t work out.  Just having it helps the attitude of many players, and that better attitude results in games that are more fun and relaxed, and everyone walks away cheerful, and the tournament goes smoother.  You may not think a reroll can deliver all that, but oddly enough in my experience it can.

So, all that long prelude aside, here is the rules set I’m using for the next event in Portland, currently set for mid June.  If you’re in the area and want to play, you can sign up here:

I’m sure that after this event I will make future tweaks.  I already have some in mind, which I will discuss at the end of this article.


Deck Building

Each player must bring a deck of 28 tactical objective cards.  Since the basic deck contains 36 cards, this will mean players will customize the deck they bring.  Decks must be built from the same source, ie you can use the main deck, or a race specific deck, but you cannot mix or combine.  Players must thoroughly shuffle their decks in front of their opponent before each game.

Card Draw

When you draw a card, if it is impossible to achieve because of your opponent’s army, you may immediately discard it and draw another.  (This does not apply if it is impossible to achieve because of your own army choices.  You had the chance to fix that in customizing your deck.)

Cards that award d3 victory points award 2.  If a card were to award more than 4+ points, it awards 3.

Twist of Fate Tokens

In each game, a player gets two Twist of Fate Tokens.  These can be spent to re-roll a single dice.  So you could re-roll a scatter dice, an armor save, warlord trait, a to hit roll, a reserves roll, one psychic dice, etc.   You may only re-roll a single dice.

You may spend a single token to discard a single maelstrom card and immediately draw a new card.

You may spend both tokens to discard and redraw your entire hand.

Tokens may be spent at any time, in either your turn or your opponent’s.

Maelstrom Victory Points

You score tactical objective points as normal, ie at the end of each player turn.  At the end of each GAME TURN you total who got the most points for that turn.  You only count points achieved that game turn, you do not carry over from previous game turns.   (So unlike typical Maelstrom games, you don’t keep a running tally for the entire game).  Whoever achieved the most victory points “won” that turn.  In the case of a tie, both players are credited with a “win” for the game turn.

The first player to “win” four game turns wins the primary objective. The game ends when a player wins four turns, whether that is at the end of turn 4, or turn 7 (the maximum the game could go).  Think of it like a tennis match, and each game turn is a set, and when you win enough sets you win the match.

If both players tie the first four turns (unlikely but possible), the game continues until a turn resolves without a tie.  If both players are tied at the end of turn seven, the game ends and neither player achieves the primary objective.

Winning the primary objective is worth 5 battle points.  In addition, you get one battle point for each of the following:

·      Slay the Warlord (per rulebook)

·      Linebreaker (per rulebook)

·      First Blood (per rulebook)

·      Twist of Fate:  Each Twist of Fate token you use awards your opponent a single battle point (max 2).

For a maximum possible 10 battle points each round.



The first thing people need to be aware of about this format, and what I have learned the hard way, is that time is critical.  Slow players kill this format.  Because these games are played like tennis, needing four of a potential seven rounds to determine a winner, it is essential that players play quickly and afford themselves enough time to play seven rounds if need be.  The first time I ran this format each round was 2.5 hours and that was not enough.  This next tournament I’m going to 3-hour rounds.  But TOs need to be aware of slow play, and be ready to address it.

Maelstrom Missions

I find Cleanse and Control to be the all-around best mission for this format.  Spoils of War and Cloak and Shadows can also work.  Missions where you start with one card and increase each round, or where you start with 7 and decrease work okay, but are not ideal.


The reroll token concept is prevalent in Fantasy, and it has always worked well in tournaments I’ve ran, or participated in.  The term “Twist of Fate” is borrowed from Adepticon nomenclature.  Giving your opponent battle points for using the token is key, I think.  It adds another tactical decision to the game, and that is always a good thing.  However, that does mean that your opponent has the ability to deny you a perfect score, and some may find that unfair.  To those people, I say one word: poker.

There is no better competitive, yet random, game than poker.  And part of poker is bluffing, drawing your opponent into a trap, reading your opponent, and generally engaging in psychological manipulation.  Poker has a social skill component to the play.  This adds that to Warhammer.  Want to get your extra two points?  Convince your opponent to use their tokens.  Make them afraid.  Make them convinced they have no choice.   Engage them in banter and talk them into it.  Now, let me apologize in advance if this leads to players wearing hoodies and sunglasses at your Warhammer tournament.

Potential Future Changes

Formats should change only when evidence has shown a need.  Change for change’s sake is not ideal.  That being said, I do have some ideas to tweaks that could be implemented in the future if the need arises.

First, I’m not a fan of first blood.  I’m wondering if replacing it with Big Game Hunter might not be better.  That’s an option.

Second, Fantasy is very much a game about unit values.  You target a unit based upon how much it costs, and thus how many victory points it will give.  That is missing in 40k.  I’ve been wondering if who controls an objective should be based on a comparison of points within 3” of the objective.  Surely that 375 knights controls that spot more than the single kroot.   I’m not sold on this, but the idea is kicking around my brain.


We’ll be running our next tournament using this format on June 13, 2015 in Portland and I’ll report back to the community.  Is the format perfect?  Of course not, nothing ever is.  I am – after all – the Mediocre Gamer.  This is the mediocre tournament format.

But experimentation is critical to the hobby.  We need to keep trying new things and seeing what does and doesn’t work or we become stagnant.  If anyone feels like trying this out, be my guest.  If you are in Portland and what to play in June, sign up at  I would love to hear your experiences and incorporate that feedback into future changes.


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

28 Responses to “The Mediocre Gamer Presents: The Mediocre Tournament Format”

  1. Davis Centis April 6, 2015 10:00 am #

    I like the deck building and changing the random victory points of a d3 roll to a 2 (with 4+ points scoring 3 points).

    I dislike the Twist of Fate rules. It sucks to see a game that you just won turn into a loss because your opponent pulled a surprise re-roll. Making the cost of Twist of Fate be so high also makes it unlikely to be used unless it will win a game, which again, causes more sourness than awesomeness.

  2. Chip April 6, 2015 10:13 am #

    I… don’t hate this. And that is saying something, since I’m in general vehemently against Maelstrom (or random turn objectives at all) in competitive game play.

    I wonder if the deck should be smaller? Why did you pick 28?

    • AgentP April 6, 2015 12:03 pm #

      I went with 28 because you have to plan for a worst case of seven rounds, three cards per round, or 21. 28 seemed a good enough number that you were not assured of going through the entire deck and preserved some “random draw” aspects, but allowed some culling of the full deck. Nothing magical about the number though, and it can be changed to whatever the TO thinks best.

  3. Andrew April 6, 2015 10:53 am #

    I like the majority of this idea, but the one thing I’m not sold on is point-based objective holding (MC’s being even more valuable? boo!). I’ve always thought of objective-grabbing as having to download data from a computer or plant a bomb, something small and finnicky that infantry can do better than big bulky monsters or vehicles (and hence obsec). I know that’s fluffy but it also helps balance emphasis on troops choices versus just the big guys.

  4. MVBrandt April 6, 2015 11:14 am #

    Better than most maelstrom, though still maelstrom. Well-developed mission packs already exist, also, that emphasize more than just late game objective grabs.

    There are also very well-developed formats out there that are expressly based upon designing the game for the “average” player and providing the “best” players only with the ability to evaluate themselves as they see fit over the course of the weekend.

    Yes, talking about the formats we run in the third person again.

    This isn’t so much to say “well you don’t need to do it.” More the opposite. It’s been done, succeeded on a very large scale, so you should stick to your goals here – it can be done, you’re not on a bad course at all. Good stuff.

  5. Tarrasq April 6, 2015 11:32 am #

    I’m still not convinced maelstrom is the solution to 40k competitive ailments. I think it takes too much from the actual wargaming.

    Objectives are a largely non-interactive part of the game. You are taking and holding static areas of the table. Maelstorm compounds the issue here. Sure it adds a bit of mystery and suprise to your gameplan at the expense of even more interaction. The game boils down to two players for the most part independently racking up points, that are tough to deny and can not be taken away. Imagine a baketball game with 6 hoops and everyone gets a ball. Denial only matters if your point output is even with the opponent, otherwise just score as much as possible.

    It also promotes short-term gains over long term success, the Wall Street of 40k! Skirmishgaming not Wargaming.

    I agree about RGL and first blood being detrimental though.

    I see the most potential in modified versions of the relic mission. The relic gives objectives some dynanmism and creates a focus for the game. Capture the Flag, both sides get a relic and try to maintain control of both their own and their oppnent’s relic. Attack/Defend same as CTF but only one side has a relic. Movement rules with relics could use some variation/tweaks. Different troop types could interact with the relics in their own way (elites score more points/FA can move the relic more etc).

    Another idea is an attrition tourney format. This would encourage appropriate for war conservative tactics. Basically, when you lose models they stay dead for the next battle. Of course between battles you can reinforce your army with a certain amount of points because the next battle would likely be very short otherwise. This has an added benefit of reducing game times as the tourney progresses.

  6. Sam April 6, 2015 11:48 am #

    I really like some aspects of this. Not a huge fan of the re-roll. I can see that being used to really ensure the more broken aspects of lists become even more broken. (Get that perfect psychic power, etc).

    I love (in the kindergarten, yes, I’d marry it sense) Maelstrom. It’s the first big change for 40k that I’ve seen in the last 20+ years I’ve been playing that brings back a real concept of strategic and tactical play that isn’t solely “kill the other guy”. I do agree that the big points Maelstrom objectives seem to be too much. These changes make a lot of sense to me.

    Chip, I do disagree with you a bit on randomness in competitive play. I prefer the random game length, and even random objectives. Those types of systems encourage people to bring lists that are less mission tailored, and more “all comers”.

    Throughout 6th, I ran local tournaments about once a month. I used the FLG scenarios almost exclusively. They were wonderful, adding a lot of variety and winning options above and beyond the 6 book scenarios. I find in this current set of scenarios, that they seem more restrictive than before. I also see army after army tailored specifically to the mission scenarios, with no need or thought to consider other possibilities. The very lack of randomness (in my opinion, and no slight on FLG) seems to encourage cookie cutter lists.

    While I can’t see myself adopting this style 100%, I’m certain I’m going to run some variation of it in one of our upcoming tournaments. This has a lot of potential to me.

    • AgentP April 6, 2015 12:06 pm #

      In my experience scenario based re-rolls are used less than 50% of the time. Many players forget about them entirely. I’ve rarely heard complaints. And the positive feedback has always outweighed the negative. But your mileage may vary.

      • AbusePuppy April 6, 2015 4:24 pm #

        “People forget to use this really powerful thing at the most opportune time” isn’t really an argument for its balance. Sooner or later, someone will figure it out and start abusing it, and soon most other players will follow suit (or lose to the players that do.)

        • Agentp April 6, 2015 5:49 pm #

          Perhaps. All I can say is that based on my observations, it hadn’t been an issue. And more people have liked it than complained by a large margin. So until those real world observations change, I’m less receptive to theoretical arguments about why it doesn’t work. That being said, I’m just one TO, and others can certainly make opposite calls. Reasonable minds can differ.

          • AbusePuppy April 6, 2015 8:23 pm

            Well, I’m sure that the GW designers thought that the Serpent Shield being 60″ and d6+1 shots was a “theoretical argument” as well at the time, but actual experience tends to bear that theory out.

            Perhaps it hasn’t been an issue for you so far- not having played in any of your tournaments, I can’t really say. But the possibility of using it to do extremely strong things- to reroll game-end dice, the dice to go first, etc- seems extremely prominent, since it’s literally the first thing I thought of when I realized that it wasn’t just for hit/wound/save rolls. That seems like a bad indicator right there.

          • Jural April 7, 2015 10:52 am

            I think I would like the re-rolls better if they were limited somehow too. A couple of things (sieze, game end, warlord trait, etc.) shouldn’t be re-rollable for various reasons.

    • AbusePuppy April 6, 2015 4:25 pm #

      > I also see army after army tailored specifically to the mission scenarios, with no need or thought to consider other possibilities.

      What sort of “tailoring” do you see happening with the Frontline scenarios? Since they for the most part follow the book missions almost exactly, any “tailoring” you could do would seem to really be more of just “building a good army.”

      • Sam April 6, 2015 8:25 pm #

        First, I want to point out that I love what everyone at Frontline does for the hobby, and I certainly don’t want to take away from that. Also, I don’t really want to derail this conversation too much, but, since I made the point about the list tailoring, I’ll give a brief explanation of my point.

        (Also note that I’m not really comparing these to the book missions, more to the amount of additional tactical options and challenges presented in the 7th ed ITC missions vs the 6th ed ITC missions).

        Mission 1: 2 maelstrom, 2 Emperor’s Will objectives (that only matter at the last turn).
        Mission 2: 3 maelstrom, no primary objectives – kill points.
        Mission 3: 2 maelstrom, 1 relic
        Mission 4: 6 total objectives, count for primary & secondary.
        Mission 5: 4 total objectives, count for primary & secondary.
        Mission 6: 4 total objectives, count for primary & secondary.

        The total number of objectives is fairly small, and allows for more elite / deathstar types of army lists to succeed, where missions with larger numbers of objectives might favor smaller unit (MSU) type lists.

        Within those missions, 4 & 6 have “Hold either Maelstrom Objective X” as some of the maelstrom missions – which subtracts a bit from the number of objectives you must fight over.

        Looking at these, deathstar based armies have a real advantage in missions 1 -3. They are also basically evenly set in missions 5 & 6 as long as they have at least a few backfield support units, and have a disadvantage in #4.

        Not that all winning armies are “deathstars”, but you can see where with this particular set of missions might encourage them a bit. That, combined with a low degree of randomness tends towards hyper specialized list building because you know with 100% accuracy what you’ll need to accomplish (even if you don’t know what army you’ll be up against).

        The limited nature of the 1d6 maelstrom missions does provide some variability, but (in my opinion) comes down a bit too firmly on the “efficiency – randomness” continuum.

        With all that, I’m not saying it’s a massive issue – just that I think it tends to “nudge” people into certain styles of play. I think a bit more randomness (this mediocre maelstrom thing is excellent) would force players to build a bit more adaptability, and a little less efficiency into their armies.

        • AbusePuppy April 7, 2015 8:20 am #

          >The total number of objectives is fairly small,

          Er… by your own listing, no mission has less than three objectives and four of the six missions have at least four objectives- that’s actually HIGHER than the “standard” book missions.

          You seem to think that deathstars are at an advantage in ITC missions, but I don’t think the evidence bears that out at all- LVO had two in the top eight, but neither were the winning army. BAO I believe only had one. TSHFT was… one? Maybe not even that. In any case, deathstars have not been winning events consistently; I would say, if anything, they are disadvantaged by the ITC format because they essentially have to concede the Maelstrom mission to the enemy in many cases, putting them in a perilous position.

          I do agree that the d6 chart feels a bit “small” much of the time, but the simplicity of it keeps the game moving more quickly, which I feel overall outweighs the benefits of adding more results.

          ITC heavily encourages objective-based play, to the point where it’s almost to the exclusion of anything else. Kill Points, though appearing in one of the six missions, still have to deal with the Maelstrom (which is entirely objective/scoring-based in that mission) and thus can’t simply concede that portion of the game to the enemy. I don’t feel this runs counter to the way GW designs the game at all- all of GW’s mission, Eternal War and Maelstrom of War both are heavily objective-focused as well, so I feel like the two designs are in sync with each other in that regard.

          • Sam April 7, 2015 10:59 am

            Well, like I said, I’m not comparing it to the book missions. I’m comparing to the added gameplay that ITC missions gave in the 6th ed mission sets versus the current set. The real comparison would be the current maelstrom-lite in ITC 7th ed vs the 6th ed “second primary as secondary” method. The maelstrom-lite doesn’t add as much to the difficulty of play (and thus, separation of player skill) as the older method.

  7. Requizen April 6, 2015 12:07 pm #

    I’m with a lot of people above. The token idea is interesting, but very volatile. Free rerolls in a dice game are powerful, 2VP to your opponent or not. It’s one of the reasons that Fateweaver is considered necessary in any Daemons army despite his high cost (that, and his trait/ML4, but the Reroll plays a big part as well).

    Deck Building is a very cool idea – one that makes for very interesting games. It makes for very interesting scenarios, like “Oh, I didn’t include any of the Secure Marker 4 cards in my deck, so I never have to worry about that one”. It can really make your army feel more effective without limiting the effectiveness of the opponent’s army, which is a *very good thing*.

    End of turn scoring is a neat thought. I’m not… entirely sold on it, but it’s not bad. It would really suck for you to lose by one point every turn for 3 turns, then on Turn 4 win by like 8 points, but still lose because he has 3 Turn Victories to your 1. Overall I don’t think something like that is a big problem, but it could come up and cause some grudges.

    Overall, neat idea. It’s very good to see multiple different tournaments like this, hopefully we start to see different TOs look at one another’s events and see what works/what doesn’t work and mix those ideas with their own.

    • AgentP April 6, 2015 12:27 pm #

      To be clear, in the scenario you describe, the game would continue. You don’t play four rounds, you play until someone wins four. So, just like in tennis, if you don’t get your s**t together until the fourth set you can still win, but you have to sweep the remaining sets.

      • Requizen April 6, 2015 12:59 pm #

        Well sure, but by that point you’re still down 3 Turn Victories. It makes what should have been a close game into a situation where you need to reverse sweep.

        Now, of course this is a very unlikely scenario, and you can lessen the blow by taking the secondaries, so take it with a grain of salt. I’m just thinking of potentially toxic downsides to the setting.

  8. Sam April 6, 2015 12:15 pm #

    Two more thoughts:

    End of turn scoring… How does that work out on certain army types vs. others. Specifically, assault armies that tend to win late game, versus a Tau gunline that might rack up early points? Just interested in hearing some specifics on how it has worked in practice.

    On the reroll thing. What if instead of giving your opponent a battle point, it actually costs you a battle point, or grants the opponent a maelstrom point or two for that game turn?

    I’d be a little concerened that in some small number of cases, someone who happened to roll through getting max points on their games would lose the overall tournament (or placing somewhere else) because none of their opponents felt the need to use rerolls.

    • AgentP April 6, 2015 12:29 pm #

      Yes, some armies peak early, some late. It evens out, and all can complete. But an army built to wait around for half the game and jump in at the last will suffer.

      Your ideas on changing the tokens are perfectly viable and worth experimenting.

    • Jural April 7, 2015 10:54 am #

      I would take it a step further- if you use your token you can’t win (but can tie) that turn’s maelstorms. That way you make sure the token is used in dire events only (or after you have already locked up maelstorm…)

  9. Rolling thunder April 6, 2015 1:43 pm #

    I actually think that this is a great idea. I find it funny when people say that “straight” maelstrom missions (with no changes) is not good for competitive play versus objective based missions which are ALREADY changed for every major tournament. Never do you go to a tournament and play standard eternal war missions…

    With that being said, I like the idea of the tokens taking away a battle point as opposed to giving your opponent one… That means the re-roll can mess up YOUR standing, and makes you that much less likely to use it (unless absolutely necessary). I also like the “tennis” version of 4 sets to “win” the game… Random game length has determined so many games in a random way, as you wisely stated! If you were winning T5 and T6, and lost on T7, should you have really lost?

    Your changes to the maelstrom card deck to lower to 28, while an interesting idea, may not be necessary if you do the 2 house rules that many maelstrom players are already doing (discard objectives you can’t do, and d3=2)

  10. CaptainA April 6, 2015 4:13 pm #

    I had a good time at the event, and I hate Maelstrom!

    The only thing that I’d like to look at is that you have to win the Maelstrom portion to win with it being worth 5 points. I’d wonder if making 3 pts would make the game more dynamic.

    I hope to come out and reclaim my 2nd place win!

  11. WestRider April 6, 2015 11:15 pm #

    Random Game Length is an important balancing factor in Scenarios where Last Turn Objective Grabs can be a viable strategy. I’ve had a number of very frustrating Games against Lists (usually Eldar Jetbikes) that just Castled up all Game and then jumped on Objectives at the last minute in Fixed Length Games.

    However, in situations with Progressive Scoring like this, that no longer becomes an issue, and going to a (relatively) fixed game length works just fine.

    I would prefer to see the Re-rolls give me a Point if I don’t use them myself rather than giving my Opponent a Point if I do. It’s frustrating to have a scoring condition that’s (essentially) entirely in my Opponent’s hands, and I’d rather be faced with a choice between using those Re-rolls at a critical point for an 8 Point win or struggling to try to pull out the full 10 and risking a 3 Point loss.

    Weighting Objectives by Unit Points Value works out OK with End Game Scoring, but it’s a total hassle in Progressive Scoring, and even more so in a format that already has time issues. It can also end up rewarding DeathStars, which you seem to want to avoid. If you do go that way, I would throw in something to still reward Troops or whatever, maybe have Units with Objective Secured count as double their Points Value for claiming purposes.

    Finally, the more I’ve played of 6th/7th, the more I’ve liked First Blood. It’s another deterrent to super-defensive Lists that are frustrating to play against, it discourages both full MSU and DeathStars with tiny required Units, and it’s another aspect that helps make the early game relevant.

    • Rolling thunder April 7, 2015 3:51 am #

      I agree with you on most points Westrider… random game length does help prevent that kind of situation where eldar or other bikes grab objectives the last turn, but I do think that this tennis scoring system prevents this as well: You do not know how many turns the game will be (it can go from 4 to 7), but at least it is not completely random. Jetbikes jumping to objectives on one turn will only score for that turn, and then likely get killed off.

      I think that the weighing holding objectives by points value is too problematic, and would then essentially get rid of objective secured bonus, making the main benefit of CADs (over codex formations) non-existent. This will make Troops even less important

      • westrider April 7, 2015 7:16 pm #

        Hence my second paragraph, talking about how this system provided an alternate solution to the same issue.

  12. Deuce11 April 7, 2015 9:10 am #

    Wouldn’t it be simpler, quicker, and more easily adaptable if you simply awarded a Victory point at the end of each game turn to the player that achieved the most Maelstrom points during that turn? That way to have the primary mission to play for as well as a chance to wrack up a point each turn for maelstrom and the tertiary points like StWL, LB, FB etc.?

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