[Meta Gaming] The Prevalence of Tournaments

Inspired by this post on Galaxy in Flames.  Ran on longer than is appropriate for a comment, and so posting it here.  You may want to listen to this while you’re reading.

I want more events that are not tournaments, not called tournaments, not promoted as tournaments and not focused on finding the Official Best Nerd like tournaments are.

In and of themselves, tournaments are fine.  A prevalence of tournaments, or things that are presented as tournaments and so draw a tourney crowd, is poisonous, and that’s the problem for me.  Even the events which the competent tourney players deride as ‘hobby’ are still promoted and conceived of as competitive, and so people come with their competing hat on, with all the emotional investment and self-esteem associations which that implies.

I’d like more events which have an explicit focus on… I don’t know, something else.  Creating a good story.  Playing the most games over the weekend, rather than winning the most (Privateer’s Eternal War format always seemed a bit like this).  Conquering a giant Mighty Empires board.  Playing totally different styles of game to the usual line-up-and-fight Pitched Battle.

That last one’s my favourite.  GW used to do something like this… the Open, I think, back in the mid-nineties.  You had to bring something like 1500 points of one army (including at least one special character) and 500 of another, and then all the games were… something weird.  A straightforward 1500 pointer with weird deployment and narrative victory conditions, a game with the 500 points and the special character and just that, a big game with everything where you swapped armies at the start and just had to KILL ALL THEY DUDES to win and a single-model race round a table with everyone involved.  Oh, and I think there was a quiz involved somewhere too.  Look, it was fourteen years ago and I wasn’t that interested at the time, do you really expect details?

Of course, they called it a tournament, which was a misnomer if you’re asking me: a tournament is a test of skill, in which players compete in the most balanced environment possible using the given rules set, in order to find out which of the players who turned up is the Official Best At Playing Wargames (or the Official Best At Playing Wargames Plus Other Sundry Stuff That Isn’t Mutually Inclusive With Playing Wargames, which is what most events with conflated painting/sports/comp/winning/narrative scores end up being, much to the frustration of many attendees).  Whatever the Open was, it wasn’t a tournament.  It was something different, something about playing a kind of game you wouldn’t normally play against a person you’d never met before, rather than deplying a well-rehearsed, endlessly-practiced with Plan For Ultimate Victory into operation.

Yes, there’s still an element of competition in many of my alternative suggestions, in that there is a goal to be achieved, and some people will do better at achieving that goal than others.  Also, these games are games with victory conditions, so you’re never going to eliminate competition entirely.  The point is, though, that nobody walks away having won or lost the event – there’s no Best At Everything award for one person to win and the rest to lose out on.

This allows space for personal goals to be set – and yes, you can do that at a proper tournament, but there’s an argument that not going in for the Big Prize skews the results or strength of schedule or what have you.  Not sure I agree with it, but the whole potential for drama can be avoided if the people who come to tournaments with personal goals, rather than with the Big Prize in mind, have access to an event where those sorts of goals are appropriate and encouraged rather than interpretable as somehow deviant.

While I’m on the subject, I might as well add that I was dreading reading Big Jim’s post a little bit, on account of the title.  I came in expecting a call to arms and was pleasantly surprised to find an incisive question about the variety in the events scene.

If I’d like more variety, I’d also like less badges of honour and flags to rally behind, less bloody labels for people to become entrenched in and defensive over.  We’re all people here.  We have different priorities, but nailing our colours to the mast as a Hobby Gamer or a Competitive Gamer or a Narrative Gamer or whatever is just limiting ourselves and inviting conflict.  More variety, less lines in the sand.  That’s the short version.

[WM/H] Beasts from the East: "and then Morghoul basically tickled him to death."

The boys at Dice and Decks ran a little battle box tournament last night; myself and Neal as old hands at this Hordesmachine stuff, and the new locals Robbie, Pete, Paul, Martin and Alex who’ve all picked up starter boxes, been learning the rules and wanted to try out some timed games.  Rather than be boring and enter with the Cryx box (for a start, Pete was running Cryx too, and for a finish, I have about four years’ experience with that box and most of the others have about four weeks’), I decided to pack up my new Skorne and see if I could still work a Hordes army worth a damn.

I won all three games quite handily, the first two being quite close, and it turned out Robbie had commissioned a little trophy which I promise I’ll take a picture of when I can lay my paws on a decent camera.

Since the Skorne have been doing such a good job of subjugating the foolish, decadent westerners, they’ve also had their paint jobs kicked back to the top of the queue (a sunny afternoon with no crushing work priorities = the perfect opportunity to recolour all the ropes and straps on the army and get a Cyclops basecoated up and ready to go), so there’ll be photos of them in the pipeline too.

Last time the Skorne were mentioned, I was having trouble with Morghoul; apart from handing out Abuse and Rush to my warbeasts and keeping himself out of trouble with Admonition, he wasn’t really doing much for me.  I am now rather more enamoured of Morghoul than I was, thanks in particular to the first game of the night against Robbie’s lush-looking Cygnar box, in which Morghoul’s melee potential actually bagged me a win.  It turns out that using Admonition to hop him into the back arc of a wounded Stryker, knocking Stryker down with a Cyclops headbutt and then using Morghoul’s highly efficient additional attacks (one fury buys you two, and he’ll always inflict one point of damage if he hits) to bypass Stryker’s respectable, feated-up ARM stat is actually a rather enjoyable experience.

The second game, against young Alex and his Khador box, led me to a new understanding of Pain and Suffering, as well as the conclusion that I shouldn’t even contemplate the new Dark Eldar on account of how there’s enough torture in my faction choices already, thanks.  Playing Morghoul more aggressively essentially means that I can send my warbeasts into melee, beat up an opponent’s ‘jacks, and then use Pain and Suffering to prevent any real retaliation from those ‘jacks, stalling the opponent for a turn and giving me time to finish the job (that is, assuming my Gladiator can actually hit DEF 10 and roll five on two dice, which took rather longer than it should have done).

I’m also learning a lot about fury management and placement.  Two of the games could have been shorter and more efficient if I hadn’t had frenzied warbeasts charging into models I’d been intending to target with something else, thus blocking charge and slam lanes for their more restrained compatriots.  I have been running the battlebox rather hot – seldom is there a turn after the second when I don’t have most of my beasts tanked up on full Fury – and while this has worked to my advantage when an irritable Cyclops is already in melee with something I just want it to hit very hard, it’s put the kybosh on some more complex approaches.  I think a few more battlebox games in which I concentrate on heat management (it’s okay for the Titan to run hot if it’s going to slam anyway; it’s okay for the Cyclopes to run hot if they’re already in position) are in order: I want to get these mechanics down pat before I start introducing management crutches like Beast Handlers.

ADDITIONAL: Morghoul’s Tier list would appear to have absolutely everything I want to add to my Skorne army in it. What fortunate circumstance be this! Clearly I need to chase up my second-hand Skorne book and secure more such knowledge…

[WM/H] Beasts from the East: Back To Basics

It’s been a surprisingly hectic couple of weeks for gaming, and while I have some resources for reports on every single game I’ve played, what I don’t have is time to type them all up and fiddle about with BATTLE CHRONICLER (it took me the better part of an hour and a half this morning just to set up pictures of a table, deploy two fifty point Warmachine armies and move the first one…), so things are a little bit delayed at the minute.  It is entirely due to the amount of very serious work I have to do over the half-term break, and entirely not due to my renewed WoW access and the challenge of coming to grips with the new Warlock mechanics.  Just so we’re clear.

Continue reading “[WM/H] Beasts from the East: Back To Basics”

[WM/H] Fear and Loathing at the FQD 3: A Welshman Fears Not The Unknown

Six minute timed turns and five rounds in a day mean no time for pictures even if I did have a decent camera.  I can’t even copy and paste anyone else’s to Photobucket because library computers don’t let me use right-click menus.  FAIL.

Game the first, without so much as a cup of tea inside me, was against a nice chap called Rich who’d brought Magnus the Traitor, a couple of ‘jacks and Boomhowler’s merry troll minions.  He’d also not played much Warmachine before, and if I’d known that before I chose which list to use I might not have forced epic Deneghra on him.  The scenario proved slightly irrelevant, even with the house rule that control points wouldn’t be counted until the bottom of round two (to stop the move-move-feat-win non-tactic beloved of epic Deneghra fans everywhere, which I actually approve of as it means she gets to use her spell list once in a while).  With his movement locked down on the third turn, and Curse of Shadows allowing movement through Boomhowler’s boys, Rich could do little to stop the Nightmare from closing in and pulling Magnus’ head off.  I didn’t have the range of hitsies necessary to kill everything in the big circle we were fighting over, so it was assassination or nothing.  Took longer than the usual Wraith Witch game, and Rich had a couple of shots at me that didn’t materialise, but I don’t think he had masses of fun and I sort of wish I’d run the Iron Lich list instead.

One cup of tea later and along comes an even nicer chap called Drew who’d played ten games beforehand.  If you’re starting to see a pattern in these early games, well done.  It would later prove to be my downfall.  This time I brought in epic Skarre to face Sorscha, her Widowmakers and two chunky melee ‘jacks.  Drew had me on the rocks here, and he knew it; some excellent target priority on his part saw the Necrosurgeon stripped clean off the board and one of my Pistol Wraiths copped after Death Chilling Beast-09.  However, he’d left Sorscha with no focus and a DEF9 or 10 warjack next to her; dropping a Blood Rain on the ‘jack, boosting the damage on her, and finishing her off with the other Pistol Wraith proved easy enough.  Game of the day for me; Drew was a fine and fun opponent, and I think it was him who sold me… no, we’ll come back to that later.

After hanging around bothering the chaps from Invasion, who’d been good enough to bring their mobile shop down and tolerate my indecisive buying-no-wait-not-buying habits, the draws for the third round were announced and… oh crap.  Former UK number one Martyn Jenkins and his Cryx.  Not to worry, I thought, Martyn’s a nice bloke, I’ve almost beaten him before…

Fool’s words.  Martyn’s damn good.  He’s a past master of formation management and board control, and he’d brought along so many Thralls of various flavours and set them up so cunningly that no AOE or Reach weapon would kill more than maybe two at a time, and the rest would be positioned to pounce me right back.  Given that my Asphyxious army relied on these things to clear crowds, and couldn’t really take a counter-punch, I was onto a wrong ‘un from the start.  When we remembered that Asphyxious’ feat doesn’t damage undead models, that was about all she wrote.  My Satyxis were scared to go near Terminus, I gave away a free strike that crippled my Soulhunters, and Martyn’s adept placement skills gave him the scenario on turn three.  Still, it’s always a pleasure losing to the best, and Martyn’s definitely one of the best; proper gent and I always learn a lot from playing him.

Losing to him trapped me on the middle boards to face up-and-coming ace Aaron (third place in this year’s Nationals… yes, those two relatively easy games were coming back to bite me in the arse now, and the tension was starting to build).  Aaron brought Ashlynn, Gun Mages with a UA and marshalled Mule, a Nomad and Aiyana and Holt.  I had melee pieces with poor DEF and ARM.  It was a bloody mess.  This was my first unsatisfactory game – not because Aaron was anything less than pleasant (he was a bit more intense than is my preference in opposition, but not rudely so – just focused), but because it was such a poor matchup and because I played it so badly.  No spells arced onto the back of my own Thralls to catch Gun Mages in the blast, no Skarre moving up and feating early on (I actually forgot to move her at all on turn one), I forgot Ashy had Admonition up to escape charges (even though Skarre’s got it and I used it in the second game) and her stupid feat made any counter-attack an impossibility.  I might have been able to make good in an untimed game with some thinking room and the chance to observe exactly what was falling on the dice and use Seas of Fate to dodge the feat, but it was not to be.

I confess that I was less than gentlemanly after this round.  I’d had a pint after the game with Martyn – big mistake, I should NEVER drink at tournaments – and I was halfway to the bar before we’d finished shaking hands in this one.  I did apologise, and Aaron was good enough to say he hadn’t noticed anything, it was a bad matchup, had I considered trying this/that/the other, but I still feel a bit guilty.  Good advice though; I definitely agree with him about the list changes that need making.

Final game was against my own colleague Neal, who’d been battering his way up from the bottom tables all day.  He had the High Reclaimer and a LOT of infantry against an Epic Deneghra list designed to kill lots of infantry and assassinate.  It’s the first time in ages that I’ve had a list do exactly what it was designed to do and, in doing so, give away a game.  We were able to pinpoint some obvious mistakes (like choosing to go second – I’m a ninny sometimes), and I could scrape together the insight to suggest things might have been different with a Siren and some better target priority on my part (Curse of Shadows the front stuff, walk through and Purge to clear a route for the Nightmare to kill the Reclaimer before his souls turned into focus, and pick a more sensible Prey so the Nightmare could notch up some more speed), but this was my third bad list pairing of the day and it left something of a bad taste in my mouth.  We might restage this one in an untimed, casual environment and see if we can crack it, or we might not.

As I thought before I went in, my collection isn’t really appropriate for tourney play in this day and age.  Goreshade would have been a solid caster choice, maybe more so than Asphyxious; Sirens and some sort of gun-toting helljack would have come in very handy at least twice.

New toys are going to have to wait, however, as right now I want a break from the Cryx.  The tinfoil armour, limited shooting and dependence on debuffs are starting to weary me a bit, and I have an itch to do a Hordes faction, ideally one that has the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t gameplay the Menites frustrated me with.

The Beasts from the East are back on.  I play Skorne now.  The Invasion lads sold me a battlebox, Drew (I’m sure it was Drew) sold me a faction book, and I still have that Hexeris model lying around.  They still don’t shoot all that much, but they can take some punches as well as dish them out and they don’t seem to have the embarrassingly one-pip-shy statlines Cryx troops are often burdened with.  Only problem is it’s more red and bronze and that’s what I’ve done on the Dark Elves.  We’ll see how it works out.

[WM/H] Fear and Loathing at the FQD 2: The Agony of Choice

Bit later than planned, owing to a misunderstanding about exactly when my home Internet connection was due to be switched on (i.e. it hasn’t been), but better late than never: here are the lists I ended up taking to the Minster of Kiddies for Fun, Quick and Dirty last weekend.  Game reports are (hopefully) scheduled for later in the week…

Having looked at the scenarios and known no Destruction would be present, success seemed to boil down to either ‘hold this one shape in the middle’ or ‘hold this one shape on the other side and keep the other guy out of the shape on your side’.

Army: FQD List 1
Type: Skirmish (1 caster, 25pts)
Points: 20

Wraith Witch Deneghra (*6pts)
* Deathripper (4pts)
* Deathripper (4pts)
* Nightmare (10pts)

Bile Thralls (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)

Otherwise known as the Proper List, this was the one I was planning on using in single-area scenarios akin to Mosh Pit.  The idea was that Deneghra’s feat would lock down movement and debuff DEF allowing the Bile Thralls and Nightmare free rein to clear out everything from an area or, in the Nightmare’s case and in a pinch, mount an assassination attempt.  This would later prove to be my downfall, as I hadn’t quite expected the number of infantry lists that were built and played to resist this sort of thing…

Army: FQD List 2
Type: Skirmish (1 caster, 25pts)
Points: 20

Iron Lich Asphyxious (*6pts)
* Defiler (5pts)
* Defiler (5pts)

Satyxis Raiders (Leader and 9 Grunts) (8pts)
* Satyxis Raider Sea Witch (2pts)
Soulhunters (Leader and 2 Grunts) (6pts)

Defilers provide the Lich with the sprays he doesn’t have, Satyxis and Soulhunters are both fast and good with Scything Touch on them and Parasite on what they’re beating.  This list was built to contest multiple areas or to rush the other side of the board and clear out everything it could reach.  It didn’t quite work out like that…

Army: FQD List 3
Type: Skirmish (1 caster, 25pts)
Points: 20

Skarre, Queen of the Broken Coast (*6pts)
* Cankerworm (5pts)
* Nightwretch (4pts)
* Nightwretch (4pts)

Mechanithralls (Leader and 5 Grunts) (3pts)
* 2 Brute Thrall (2pts)
Necrosurgeon & 3 Stitch Thralls (2pts)

Pistol Wraith (3pts)
Pistol Wraith (3pts)

This one’s the wild card.  I really like Big Skarre but I’ve hardly used her and don’t really know what she’s capable of.  Not being brave enough to try full Shooty Solo Spam at a tournament, I went for this little build with the Cankerworm and Mechanithralls to crack armour, the Pistol Wraiths to hopefully shoot up units with the help of Black Spot, and Skarre’s feat to preserve the key pieces long enough to finish the job.  It worked once.

FQD: five games, first two rounds randomly drawn, remaining three by strength of schedule.  Use each list once, then pick one to not use again.  Simple enough.  Six minute timed turns with a once-per-game three minute extension.  Not so simple.  Finding my way across Gloucester to the bus station at eight in the morning so I could catch m’colleague’s kindly offered lift?  Apparently almost impossible.  Made it in the end, though, and off to the deep Midlands…