[WM/H] Road to SmogCon: How Would You Finish This List?

I’m currently tinkering with the 35 point list I’ll be taking to SmogCon in February. The two events I’m going to be entering are Hydra (35 points with a random caster from a pool of five chosen by myself – four rounds so someone’s gonna get benched – assume 5 warjack points) and Scalpel (35 points with a sideboard – can swap anything represented by a whole card in or out, so no min units for max units).

The core of the list is pretty much decided:

[caster]
* Phoenix
* Sylys

10 Houseguard Halberdiers
10 Dawnguard Invictors
Stormfall Archers

While I wanted so so badly to take the Hydra to Hydra, I’ve been forced to accept that the sheer utility of the Phoenix puts it ahead. In the first three games of the club league, it’s carved up a Dire Troll (freeing up my infantry to finish off Mulg in the same turn) and enabled me to arc some doom spells onto Epic Doomshaper’s stupid troll face; it’s let me Arcantrik Bolt Kraye’s battlegroup from a position of safety; and it’s dealt the killing blows to both the Black 13th and Mr. Kraye himself in short order. The arc node and gun on the same chassis also means it can be set up in the second wave and still, well, get to do something, although I haven’t actually fired the gun yet – it’s always been easier to charge the target and hit it slightly more reliably.

Sylys is in because some of the casters need him and I think everyone at least wants him if he’s available – and he is. The Houseguard are, to my mind, one of the best chaff units in the game; they have absolutely everything they need on their cards (Set Defence, Shield Wall and Ranked Attack – Brutal Charge and CMA are very tasty gravy that mean the survivors are very likely to do some good). Likewise, the Dawnguard get in for their sheer utility and their in-Faction status (I was tempted by the Nyss Hunters for the same points, but the thought of replacing the unit again made my fingers cramp up in terror). The Stormfalls are, well, they’re Stormfalls, they run, then they Snipe, then they either set you on fire or Brutal Damage you until your eyes drop off.

The ‘caster pool I’m thinking of is Kaelyssa, Ravyn, Garryth and Ossyran, with the final slot tied between Vyros and Rahn. Rahn seems to need more stuff with ‘House Shyeel’ in its name than not, for the sake of his feat; but then, Vyros seems to demand a decent-sized battlegroup and at the moment I’m only rocking one ‘jack.

Which brings me to the rest of the list. By my calculation I have six points left. Combinations of possibilities throng before my mind, chiefly around a 4:2 split.

For 4 points I can get UAs for both units, a Griffon or Aiyana and Holt (the budget option since I already own them). The Griffon is most tempting; it gives me something to set up Flank on the Dawnguard, and a second ‘jack to ensure some mileage out of Vyros’ feat. Does mean spending money, of course, but I’m pretty much resigned to that.

For 2, the options are a single UA, or one of the oddball solos – a Mage Hunter Assassin or House Shyeel Magister or Ghost Sniper. A pair of Arcanists seems slightly redundant when I only have two warjack; although there is the prospect of an Arcanist and a Soulless Escort, I guess?

As Unit Attachments go I’m torn; if I had to pick one I’m not sure whether I’d go for the Dawnguard’s or the Houseguard’s. The Houseguard have been surprisingly effective combatants, so I’m edging toward theirs, but the Dawnguard seem to need the UA more in order to do what I want them to do, i.e. drop scary Combined Ranged Attacks from a reasonable distance away.

There’s also the outsider option in a 5:1 split – a second unit of Stormfall Archers, or a unit of Battle Mages (I’d consider running Rahn instead of Vyros, in that case) and an Arcanist. It’s not often that I put my hand up to wanting two units of something, but I am very fond of Stormfall Archers.

So, bearing in mind the whole ‘random caster’ thing, what would you do? How would you spend those last six points, and would Rahn or Vyros occupy your last slot?

[Meta Gaming] Vintage Years For Grimdark

In a comment thread on the House of Paincakes, resident genius Mr. Cedric Ballbusch staked out the idea that it was a terrible, terrible mistake on the part of Games Workshop to set its space fantasy dakkafest at the end of the titular forty-first millennium. Easy enough to say with the benefit of hindsight, says I, but at the time I don’t think a) Messrs Priestly, Stillman, Halliwell et al were expecting the game to last for twenty-six years and counting, and b) they could have done things any differently.

Perhaps some context will help.

I was born in 1985; the same year that, for the first time since its launch, Doctor Who was deemed too shite for public broadcast, and the same year that The Sisters of Mercy sold out the Royal Albert Hall. It took another couple of years for the other great loves of my life to materialise – Hark was born in 1986 (obligatory mushy stuff here) and, in 1987, the aforementioned Sisters released Floodland and Games Workshop launched this funny thing called Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.

While I don’t think there’s an explicit link between these latter two concepts, you have to understand that in the third term of Thatcher’s Britain, living with the rattling madwoman-in-the-attic spasms of the Cold War’s final years and under the dusty toxic shadow of Chernobyl, a definite sense of fin de siecle seems to have hung in the air, which the two products under the microscope here illustrate beautifully. While not the literal turn of a century in the same sense that the Decadence of the 1890s was, there’s a definite sense of closure, shutting down, boarding up the old shop windows and getting ready to call it a day. How else does one explain the brief fashionable flourish of gothic rock, a prevailing cultural mindset in which the Sisters can nab three Top Ten hits in a year?

The associations between the Games Workshop of the 1980s and the seemingly-invincible Iron Lady have been well documented (here and also here). Everywhere North of Watford and west of, say, Oxfordshire, there’s a sense of hard times, watching the skies, wondering if the rising waters or the falling bombs are going to kill us first. It’s no accident that The Sisters Of Mercy emerged from Yorkshire and no accident at all that 1987 saw them metamorphose into a synth-driven brooding engine, dropping out three singles around three themes – personal revenge elevated to pompous epic, geopolitical economics reduced to a semi-plausible adventure of loss and betrayal, and a seething, sexy, fuck-it-all-let’s-have-a-dance-in-the-ruins post-industrial foot-tapper. What else are you going to do in all those empty mills? Floodland is a personal breakdown wedded to a political quagmire, the one serving as metaphor for the other; it’s unrelentingly, gloriously doom-laden and yet there’s three songs which are basically elaborate sex metaphors and one about soaring away on an amphetamine-fuelled high. Steve Sutherland said at the time:

Dying on record is a dicey business, especially when it’s world destruction that dogs your every waking minute because there’s nowhere to go artistically – the bomb doesn’t get worse, it’s just there. Facing up to that, Floodland is a triumph of sorts, neither optimistic enough to suggest there’s a Noah’s Ark nor pessimistic enough to accuse us all of navigating like a ship of fools. It simply says rust never sleeps and this is what it sounds like.

I’m of the opinion that Warhammer 40,000, with its looming fin de grande siecle feel, is tapping into that same sense that there’s nowhere left to go but that we might as well have fun while we’re waiting for the bombs to start falling. The sense that there may soon be nowhere else to go, that our leader is simply not going to go away any time soon, that everything is falling apart but we keep it together because what else is there? That’s Thatcher’s Britain writ large. That’s the vision at the heart of Floodland. That’s the essence of 40K right there.

How could they not set it when they did? The ol’ China (Mieville, of course) never spoke truer words than “when you sit down to write, society is in the chair with you”, and the society of the mid-to-late-Eighties was one in which, for a brief moment, Mr. Eldritch and his drum machine were right on the cultural button.

It couldn’t last, of course. 40K’s black humour and smirk in the face of oblivion would be exaggerated and distorted as we moved toward the actual end of the millennium and realised that the end of the world has still failed to arrive on time.

The process started, I think, in 1993. Doctor Who‘s thirtieth anniversary, ‘celebrated’ with the cack-awful ‘Dimensions In Time’, a special which – sweet, nourishing irony! – crossed-over with the very programme in favour of which Who was cancelled. (Incidentally, if you think goth music and 40K are depressing, watch EastEnders for a month. Especially at Christmas.) The Sisters released their last single, and have since lurched along on permanent strike, touring every couple of years, trotting out a few new songs every time, but refusing to release either Jack or Shit.

Meanwhile, 40K received its Tom Kirby Big Box Game treatment (although this is where I came in, so I can’t be too hard on it). The words on the front of the box? IN THE GRIM DARKNESS OF THE FAR FUTURE THERE IS ONLY WAR. ‘Grim Darkness’ has become ‘grimdark’ since then, said with a sneer, in much the same way as “I still like The Sisters Of Mercy!” has become perfect shorthand for being sad, out of touch, trapped in one’s own memories. 40K wallows in its own pomposity, cranking its own release cycle like mad, subsequent Codices acting as ever-bigger giants, turning full circle back to random tables, Vortex grenades and psychic powers on cards (y’know, those things from… 1993’s second edition); forever ramping up the thread of an apocalypse it’ll never have the balls to see through.

At the time, it made perfect sense. Now? I don’t know. All the things I love have turned into zombies. I’ve spoken of my love for ‘dead’ things before, things which aren’t going to be fucked around with in order to produce a new iteration for the sake of paying the bills, and yet I can’t quite put down Doctor Who, or The Sisters Of Mercy, or indeed 40K.

I’m still selling my Necrons, though. And I still type things in Caslon Antique.

[WM/H] Road to SmogCon: The Houseguard, the Dawnguard and I

Long-term readers may have received the impression that I am not very good at using units in Warmachine (or Hordes for that matter). This is blatantly and horribly true. It’s something to do with the way in which they work; each model activating, moving, attacking and existing individually is a bit taxing to someone who cut their teeth on the “just roll for all of ’em” approach of WFB and post-second-edition 40K.  That they don’t have to shackle one another within 2″ but are instead free to move around within a circle of diameter usually between 16″ and 20″ which moves with one key model only adds to the brain-fatigue, as does the presence of two or three such units in the successful Warmachine army, which is the ultimate cake-taker.

And yet… I’ve been doing all right with the Retribution, so far, with one unit of ten, one of six, one of four and one of two angry elves making their appearance in my 25 point list.

Partly it’s down to the rules on the units. The Houseguard Halberdiers, for instance, have Shield Wall and Combined Melee Attack, which encourages them to bunch up into little tight-knit groups of three or four, moving and attacking together. They also, crucially, have Ranked Attack, which eliminates many of the cludge-up problems I usually experience with units; the rest of my army shoots and consequently can pretend the Houseguard aren’t there. The Dawnguard Invictors have a similar principle; Defensive Line jumps them from ARM 15 to ARM 17 if two of them are standing together, and two of them standing together are pumping out the effective RAT 8 POW 12 Combined Ranged Attacks that I’ve been finding so effective of late. Aiyana and Holt tend to stand next to each other in order for Ayisla’s Veil to do its thing and make them both Stealthy. Only the Stormfall Archers are actually individual actors: the rest of my units are pairs or small groups, such that a unit of ten models might comprise five or fewer actual actors, since models will tow others after them to maintain Shield Wall or Defensive Line, or to share targets for Combined Attacks.

Partly it’s my sense of what the army should be doing. The Houseguard are chaff which occasionally charge to clear routes or tie up enemies; their activation is generally “run and fan out” in the first turn, then “close in and Shield Wall” in the second, then “charge” in the third. The Stormfall Archers like to close the distance so they can pick more fun things than just Snipe; their activation is usually run on turn one, move and shoot or aim and shoot on turn two, aim and shoot on turn three and thereafter. Only the Dawnguard are complicated and even they are basically moving and shooting or aiming and shooting until lanes are clear for them to charge. Everything has a job to do and does it.

Partly it’s that the actual games I’ve played have suggested roles for the infantry.

Against Skorne, in a No Man’s Land mission, the infantry were necessary to keep those marauding Titans at bay. By maintaining some depth between the Halberdiers and Dawnguard, I could ensure that any Trampling Titan would get free-struck and Dawnguard-charged into ineffectiveness; by keeping the Halberdiers in tight knots I could back-stop them against slams and prevent the Titans ploughing into my lines that way. That the early push with the Halberdiers left one in charge range of Hexeris to actually seal a game was sheer blind luck and not something which I planned for or deserved at all, but still!

Against Khador, meanwhile, the infantry’s job was to contest the Mosh Pit scenario area, and create overlapping threat ranges through which it’d be tricky for him to advance his Demo Corps without, again, entering Free Strike City. I don’t know what possessed me to bunch them up in deployment – it made them spray-bait for the fully armed and operational Winter Guard Death Star – but their acceptable ARM kept them going and they did conveniently block Sorscha’s Line of Sight to the Stormfall Archers and Ravyn, on whom I was relying to actually eliminate those Khadoran infantry and claim the Pit.

For someone who dislikes infantry, I’m actually finding them easier going than the warjacks. I’ve been finding that the potential of the Retribution ‘jacks isn’t quite met by their actual impact; not that they’re bad, just that I seldom have much to do with them other than move, pot-shot, and put them somewhere where they’ll draw attention by looking scary. Perhaps I’ll review the House Shyeel heavy chassis next week?

[Off Topic] Outside The Wall

Technically, I do have something game-ish to write about. Quite a few things, actually. There’s some thoughts on my first game with the Retribution infantry, there’s the Mines of Moria table Hark and I are working on, there’s a Gaming Curriculum post for the first time in quite some time. Any and all of these things could have been written, but for once I feel like shivering my way past the prime directive of GAME OVER – this is Von’s blog about games, not Von’s blog about whatever happens to cross his mind on a Wednesday or Sunday morning – and saying a few quick words about something real.

Being me, of course, I can’t come right out and say it, so I’m going to talk about Pink Floyd instead. The Wall is one of my favourite albums and possibly my favourite film. Pompous, relentless and cruel, tragic and cuttingly cynical, it builds up a gifted, fragile central character, shows the slow process by which, as Larkin said, ‘they fuck you up, your mum and dad’, and in the fucking-up of you ensure that you are good for fucking up your friends, your colleagues and your lovers in turn. It pities the poor suffering rock star and savagely undermines him at the same turn; he’s fucked-up and complicit in his own fucking-up, withdrawing behind a metaphorical Wall built out of every bad thing that’s ever happened to him and cemented with his vindictive fantasies of revenge and self-punishment. And it ends with this faint, sad shadow of a song, only a minute or two long:

All alone, or in twos,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down
Outside the Wall.
Some walk hand in hand
Some gather together in bands
The bleeding hearts, and the artistes,
Make their stand.
And when they’ve given you their all
Some stagger, and fall
After all, it’s not easy
Banging your head against some mad bugger’s Wall.
— 
Pink Floyd, ‘Outside the Wall’

I am painfully aware that this is what it’s like being friends with me sometimes. A lot of the time, actually.

I don’t mean to take refuge in this sort of thing, but it is something that you may or may not know about me; I am not well in the head. In 2008, shortly before I started all this noise and nonsense you’re reading now, I was diagnosed with cyclothymia, which – for those not in the know – is the Diet Coke of bipolar illnesses (it’s not as bad for you as the others but it’ll still rot your teeth in the end). I don’t so much ‘suffer from’ as ‘live with’ the condition, arcing gently back and forth between a ‘keep going forward, don’t get killed’ state of quiet depression, and bouts of ‘I could conquer the world and sex up a million nuns in my head without even needing to get out of bed, now FUCK OFF I’M NOT MAKING THE TEA’ manic energy.

I do know, however, that it’s not easy to live with me, or play games with me for that matter. I am volatile, moody, insecure and prone to throwing time and money at things in a hypomanic fit only to regret it a week later when I’ve coasted back to the state of two-drinks-and-an-hour’s-sleep-under-par self-detesting misery that passes for ‘normal’ around here. The condition is best treated by avoiding intoxicants and sleeping regularly and thinking positively; things which are not exactly compatible with a community of night owls engaged in a practice where luck or ineptitude can result in an experience turning negative oh so quickly.

And yet people do put up with me. People are kind enough to tolerate my constant “yes but why do you want me around when I’m rubbish at everything” prattling, and to ride out the periods when I want to do ALL THE THINGS and invariably overcommit. The thing is, I think, that I don’t behave that differently to anyone else; cyclothymia is classified as a ‘mild’ mental illness (perhaps to the detriment of those so afflicted) and most of the time I can just, well, live with it, get on with the day and not seem any different to other folks. I feel the same feelings as you, respond to the same things as you; I just feel them a little more intensely, respond to them in ways that are a little less logical.

I don’t always remember to thank people, but. Well. Thank you all. Thank you for giving me something to do with myself, something toward which I can direct that surplus energy or drag myself when I can’t be bothered to do anything. Thank you for helping me roll with the punches and encouraging me not to be at the mercy of my misfiring neurons and just give up or bully on through experiences. Thank you for helping me get past the poor choices, which I’m slightly more prone to making than you might be. Thank you for not mentioning the apparent hypocrisies inherent in the mood swings, and for being patient with me when I over- or under-react to things.

Every so often, I pass by a gap in the Wall, and I can see outside. It’s good to know you’re out there. I’m sure you’re not really waiting for me; I’m sure you’re just getting on with your lives; but I do appreciate it when you stop, and reach inside to take my hand for a while.

[WM/H] Road to SmogCon: Decisions and Revisions

For those canny folks who bought their SmogCon tickets ahead of the game, last night marked the pre-registration for the tournaments and organised casual hobby time (you know what I mean, the stuff where a space needs to be set aside, like speed painting or RPG stuff). With my fingers a-hoverin’ over the trackball, I was there right on time, eager to shimmy into the 35 point events while everyone else was battering for the generally-preferred 50-pointers. In order to make sure that everyone got some formal games in and nobody over-committed and burned out, registrants were allowed to pick two tournaments and two non-tournaments for the course of the weekend.

My original plan was to take on the Hydra (hail Hydra!) event, on the grounds that I’d only have to buy and build one 35 point army plus four alternate casters; a much more achievable prospect than three 50 point armies with no FA: C choices repeated, and then to dip my toes into competitive Malifaux with the Hardcore event on the Saturday.

And then I thought about the £60 I’d just spent on the two infantry units for my Retribution – I went for Houseguard Halberdiers and Dawnguard Invictors in the end, incidentally – and the £10 or so that each run to the Clapham club for a practice game sets me back, and the current confusing state of Malifaux (I still can’t walk into the shop and see the rulebook on the shelf, which is kind of a bummer when you’re trying to get into a game), and I said to myself, “self, do you really think you’re going to be able to practice a 35 point Retribution list with five different casters and learn to play Malifaux to a standard where you won’t slow-play and get your head around the IKRPG by February?”

“Probably not, no,” said I.

So here’s the new plan. I’m still taking the Gremlins to SmogCon, but I don’t intend to inflict myself on the tournaments for that system. Instead, I’m signing up for Midnight Madness: Scalpel on the Saturday. Another 35 point Warmachine event, single list but with a sideboard capacity (you can swap out things that cost the same number of points, but you have to swap out actual cards, not just upsize and downsize units). That sounds… fun, and within my financial and tactical remit.

Admittedly, there’s the small problem of my being a career Morning Person and so usually braindead by about nine p/m. However, I also live less than an hour’s train ride from the convention. This is promising.

My cunning plan is still slightly nebulous. If someone is kind enough to lend me floor space in their hotel room on the Saturday – someone who’s playing in a daytime tournament and so won’t be needing it – I’ll crash at SmogCon and buy them dinner or something. If not, I’ll just catch the first train home on Saturday morning, sleep in the comfort of my own sweet bed, dine in on Saturday evening and then troop back out for Midnight Madness. My two casual sign-ups have been expended on some IKRPG time on the Sunday – a nice, no-pressure come-down that I can probably walk into with naught but a nap and a shower to my name – so it won’t be worth coming home on that day anyway.

Things like food can also be manipulated around this; I’m trying to avoid paying stockbroker-belt hotel prices for too many meals. At some point closer to the event I’ll have to weigh up the available cash and establish whether it’s cheaper to eat/sleep at home and pay extra train fares, or crash at the convention and eat out all weekend. At the moment I lean toward the former option, but we’ll see.

There is a budgetary constraint on this operation, but it’s looser than might be thought; basically, whatever money I get from selling off my Necrons is going towards building the Retribution and attending SmogCon. I’m not sad to see the Necrons go; I’ve had fun with them over the last couple of years but 40K is such a massive palaver and I only play it a couple of times a year, a long way from home, with people with whom I can just play other games.

At present, the financial situation looks like this:

  • IN
    £80 from sale of Necron units (after eBay fees)
  • OUT
    £53 – ticket
    £60 on extra Retribution stuff required for competitions
  • SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT
    Projected £200 from selling remaining Necrons, surfeit of 40K tokens, unused RPG rulebooks &c. &c.

So, slightly over budget at present. Better hope those Necrons shift.