A Tragedy in Three Acts
This post will cover the Saturday event, the three round tournament; the next will cover the Sunday event, the map campaign day; the last will be an army list walkthrough because frankly, I need to work some things out.
The tournament used a special scenario pack derived from modern wargaming (some of the scenarios were very Warmachiney, with their row of three objectives and two in the corners and so on), and I’ll be making some separate comments on these as we go along.
As per the B.I.G. Bash, I didn’t take my usual blow by blow notes or turn by turn photos. The full battle report experience takes four hours at 2000 points and we had about two and a half for each game. I did have some time on my hands to wander around and take photos of other people’s armies: these have made it onto the ‘gram but I’m going to repost some of them here to give a flavour of the event and sneak a few other people’s stories into the frame.
Act One: Your Correspondent is Stupid, But Lucky
Phil Ashton, Bretonnians: Take and Hold
Phil’s army featured a Trebuchet, a lance of Questing Knights with a banner that let them save on 4+ against anything remotely projectile-shaped, a big lance of Knights Errant, a small lance of Knights Errant, a big lance of Knights of the Realm, two lines of Yeomen, a Damsel with two scrolls stuffed down her top and a Lord on Great Big Enormous Hippogryph. (I really liked how this thing was modelled, perched on a tower which was itself showing the correct 50mm by 50mm base, but stuck on a wider bit of board for balance’s sake, yet with enough room to put models on the flank if they needed to go there. Very well done.)
This one got away from me. I opened up well enough by panicking one unit of Yeomen off the board and badly marmalising another, but discovered that I couldn’t really do anything to the Questing Knights as they had about three layers of save against Master of Stone and the usual 2+ against Glade Guard shooting. They did at least get Mistress of the Marsh cast on them to try and slow them down a wee bit until I could deal with them. The Lord on Great Big Enormous Hippogryph ploughed into my Tree-Kin, whiffed spectacularly despite having a magical great weapon that ignored armour saves and, being magical, also bypassed Forest Spirit Ward Saves, and I nearly killed the Great Big Enormous Hippogryph in return. The big Knights Errant wedge got stuck into my Treeman where I knew they’d remain more or less indefinitely.
So far, I’d been lucky (in landing my spells and having any Tree-Kin left). Now it was time to be stupid. Instead of ripping the last wound off the Great Big Enormous Hippogryph, I allocated my attacks to the Lord thinking that I had nine of them and he really should get what’s coming to him. Instead he took one wound, he and his big bird went through the Tree-Kin properly, and while I did manage to machine-gun the beast off next turn with some point blank Glade Guard archery, the left flank had more or less collapsed.
In the centre I decided to try and help the Treeman out by moving the Maven and her Dryads forward and trying to charge them in with Call of the Wild Hunt. It was optimistic at best, since she doesn’t have fantastic odds of casting it, and I don’t remember if Phil scrolled it or if it just didn’t cast in the first place. In the next turn the Questing Knights rampaged over the Dryads (the Maven held her own in the challenge but her unit disintegrated around her) and proceeded to chew through most of my army over the next two turns. The Eternal Guard held out a bit longer thanks to Stubborn but couldn’t get through 3+ saves and the Blessing on top of that. I called it at the bottom of turn four after the Treeman finally failed a Break test and got run down too.
Phil went on to sweep the event and I am delighted to have played a part in his victory. This was a total stonking against any army I’d not really played before (the game with Lee a couple of years ago was a hardly a typical engagement) and a opponent who never once made me feel bad about the kicking I was taking. Next time I’ll bring something undead and give him a proper stand up fight.
I had time to whip round and take some photos of the other tables, too. The notorious Tom Jones (Warboss of the Green Green Grass) was sighted in or adjacent to combat instead of cowering behind the tallest building on the table, some Big Hat Chaos Dwarfs were in evidence doing their best in the face of a misbehaving Earthshaker, and some glorious Heresy MIniatures Daemons were doing the Plaguefather’s work in a venue otherwise tested free from the fashionable pestilence of the day.
Intermission: a Grievance over Take and Hold
I didn’t quite manage to communicate this on the day (this will be a recurring theme throughout this event), but I felt this scenario was a bit wonky.
Alex insists that it “forces you to play differently” and yes, it does, having to decide where you’re going to make your push and whether you’re going to go for big points in the other deployment zone is certainly a challenge.
My issue is that it’s a faff. Each objective is worth some points, and you have to add up how many points you have and compare them to how many points your opponent has and then convert the difference in those points into another entirely different sort of points for tournament scoring purposes, and those points exist in a scale apart from the Victory Points based scoring in the other scenarios so the first round is weirdly out of kilter with everything else. I wasn’t particularly bothered about this given how badly my own games went, but some of the players who were top-of-the-middle felt their wins were somewhat devalued because a first round win resulted in lower scores than a second or third, and it’s a fair cop.
The issue here is one of complexity not being the same thing as depth. The other scenarios added depth by adjusting the Victory Points system we all know and tolerate; this scenario added needless complexity by being scored in a completely different way.
I don’t like to present a problem without offering a solution so here it is. Put Victory Points back in, and have the “Take and Hold” condition interact with the table quarters that we already know about. Both players pick a table quarter on the opponent’s side of the board and put a marker in the middle of it; they score 100 extra Victory Points for each of their own units that’s in that quarter at the end of the game. It’s like the normal “holding a table quarter” points in a normal game but bigger.
This discourages castling (you have to go out there and get stuck in to get the big bonus points) but affords a bit of control over where you’re going to push (you can attempt to separate your forces, refuse a flank, concentrate both armies on one side, it’ll lead to some interesting setups) and, crucially, it talks to the same basic economy of scoring as everything else in the pack.
Act Two: Your Correspondent is Less Stupid, but More Unlucky
Paul Frith, Beasts of Chaos: Headhunters
The Beastmen were notable for showing up unmarked and unsouped: a Beastlord, two Bray-Shamans (Shamen? I’m never sure), a Battle Standard Bearer, three good sized Beast Herds, a Warhound pack, two small units of Minotaurs, eight Centigor, two Chariots and a Shaggoth. Gotta love a Shaggoth.
Paul had crashed down to the bottom table after his first game of WFB in seven years turning a bit sour. He’d been facing another Wood Elf army which had managed to panic his General off the table in turn one, deny him his Ambush, keep a whole load of his points from ever turning up on the table and, well, the rest writes itself.
He had a better time of it here. My Tree-Kin didn’t manage to hold up a Beast Herd with a Beastlord in it quite as well as they had the Bretonnian Lord. I’d been hoping they’d at least stand their ground, but they didn’t and the Beastlord and co. ran on into my Branchwraith and Dryads and went through them in one round flat as well. That wasn’t clever.
Some brutal work from Strangleroots and Master of Stone whittled down some of his Minotaurs to the point where my Eternal Guard could beat them in combat and get into Paul’s side of the table, and I think I killed a Chariot with Master of Stone?
I’d also charged my Treeman into Paul’s Shaggoth (well, no, I’d charged a Beast Herd who had legged it and redirected into the Shaggoth). Despite Paul’s Ambush going off without a hitch and putting Beastmen all over my back line I genuinely think I had a chance with this one: I was confident the Eternal Guard could see off most of the remaining Beastmen units as long as they didn’t have to fight all of them together.
Then I realised my Eternal Guard had ended up just within six inches of the Shaggoth. They failed their terror test, and legged it back into the middle of the field: a fleeing unit, within an inch of the rampaging Beastlord and surviving Chariot. To cap it all off, the Treeman took enough of a beating from the slightly superior Shaggoth (a point ahead in both Weapon Skill and Strength) and, since my General and Battle Standard were both fleeing, he managed to break as well.
Two failed Leadership tests and my army crumpled like a crisp packet. Why in God’s name do I bother playing armies that aren’t undead, again?
I don’t want to take anything away from Paul here, he played a solid game with a bread and butter Beastman list, proving Chaos don’t need to go across books and mark everything and soup up like it’s modern 40K to be scary. I think I’d have been playing for the draw at best. But it is hard to keep my smiley happy face on when I’ve gone from “credible shot at a draw” to “no point playing this out” in two rolls.
That’s probably why this the game where the mask slipped a little. I am sufficiently autistic that, on a hot day in a crowded noisy place when I’m already having to think hard about rules and regulate emotions and remember to laugh at banter like a real boy and talk to strangers, I start to lose things. Like “the power of speech” and “short term memory” and “my temper”. Paul (correctly) called me out on my poor communication of what I was rolling and why. Imprecise communication is bad practice, bad practice induces guilt, guilt is a big trigger and this is the point where I had to step outside for a few because nobody wants to see a grown man behaving like a toddler. I say this not as argument nor excuse, but explanation.
Anyway, nothing against the bloke but I’m glad we could call the game there.
Intermission: a whinge about the table
I have endured a certain amount of good-natured negging since I declared I’d be bringing Wood Elves to this event. Up front, I was very sure to confirm that no, none of these games would be Pitched Battles, therefore I would not get to bring a free wood, and furthermore I would not be guaranteed a table with any woods on it whatsoever.
Which is fine. Really, it is. However, that bottom table on which I spent the whole day stuck was really Wood Elf hostile: no woods, no hills, barely any cover. I know a Proper General doesn’t get to pick favourable terrain (yes, I’ve read all the WD battle reports too) and it’s all part of the challenge et hoc genus omne. I don’t think it made a massive difference to the outcome, except maybe against the Bretonnians, and because I’d bothered to ask up front I was sure to bring the Lore of Life and pick some magic items that would be good come what may.
But three games on a tactically difficult board where a good chunk of my army’s rules didn’t matter did get a bit weary, and I didn’t quite realise how much of the Wood Elf army book expects you’ll have a wood on the table until I was tinkering with an army list for the second day and realised how many items interact with Tree Singing or flat out don’t work if you’re not in or near arboreal terrain, on top of the Forest Strider rule being pretty important for keeping your lads alive.
Act Three: Your Correspondent Cannot Even Win At Losing
Max Cooper, Dogs of War: Provisions
Max was another contender from Road to Reikland, but by this time in the afternoon he’d abandoned his jester’s outfit (and I can’t blame him, it was getting proper sweaty and we were in the comparatively uncrowded losers’ room: the main room must have been jam hot). He’d crashed and burned just as hard as I had and we were both racing for the wooden spoon at this point – as the man himself put it, “it’s probably worse coming second to last.”
Hi, folks. I’m Probably Worse, and I’ll be your host for the one game I managed to win this weekend.
Max’s army was quite large and I didn’t take the best photo of it, but I’ll try and catch everything: General and Paymaster on foot, two Wizards (Max asked if he could drop his Dispel Scrolls for the Staff of Sorcery and of course I said yes), two Pikemen blocks, two Crossbowmen lines, ten Halfling archers, two Light Cavalry units, three Ogre Ironguts and a Giant.
Max and I had both picked the Lore of Life. He had Master of Stone on both wizards, I had it on one but with better odds of casting. This was important because all the objective markers were either within 12″ of a rocky feature or actually on one. That spell was going to be mayhem.
After the initial mind games Max went first and decided retrieval was the best option: he ran two units of light cavalry onto the objectives and then pulled them back as far as they’d go. A unit of pikemen shuffled onto another, in the corner of his deployment area, and proceeded to remain there indefinitely.
I decided on a different approach. I’d take the barrel in my own lines, leaving the Scouts to look after it as they’re really hard to shoot at long range, but I wanted to clear out the things that scared me – the cannon, the wizards, the giant – and collect what objectives I could along the way. I was also determined to make the Rhymer’s Harp play for itself and sent my Eternal Guard up the right flank toward those pikes who were holding a barrel.
At the end of my first turn I’d shot some big holes in the Giant, thanks to deadly Glade Guard shooting and a solid Strangleroots performance (and a cheeky shot from a longbow that shouldn’t have been able to fire). I’d also, crucially, panicked the cannon crew off the board with my first Master of Stone, and they’d taken a wizard with them. Said Giant charged my Treeman, ate another Strangleroots to the face and keeled over (fortunately not landing on the nearby pikemen). Max, proper gent that he is, let me off for the longbow shot we’d both not realised shouldn’t have happened (eh?) as the Giant was on one wound and would probably have been walloped anyway, just a few inches further forward. Max’s other wizard panicked and legged it.
Instead of charging the pikemen and spending the whole game trying not to fail a Break test, I had the Treeman storm off into the Dogs’ back line, throwing around Strangleroots and trying to cause some terror tests, while the Eternal Guard continued their march and the Glade Guard started shooting up light cavalry units, panicking them both.
(This threw up an interesting lacuna in the scenario as Alex apparently hadn’t considered what would happen if a unit carrying provisions fled off the board. I have a suggestion, as ever: why not treat them exactly the same way as captured standards, right down to being worth 100 VP a throw? That way they interact with rules that are already in the book, already signed, sealed, errata’d and known to all parties. More depth, without extra complexity. Just a thought.)
We must have been playing those early rounds really slowly, as time was called before we could see this one through. I’d picked up a 2-1 lead on barrels, plus the victory points for light cavalry and a Giant, and only lost a couple of Eternal Guard and half a unit of Scouts. An unspectacular 605-60-odd win which was still enough to put me in twenty-third place out of twenty-four.
Max went on to take Most Sporting as well as the Wooden Spoon and as far as I’m concerned both were very well deserved. I’d love to play any of these opponents again under less sweaty conditions, although I might not want to do it with Wood Elves. We’ll get into why later on. For now, here are some more photos of round three, and then it’s on to story time.