2000 points. Pitched Battle. Hold your breath: tournament prep.
With a week off work and Warhammer: Resurrection on the horizon (still touch and go whether the event can go ahead or not, but we’re assuming yes until we hear no), it was about damn time I took the Deadwood Covenant out for a spin against a real live other person. People’s Prince Ben was available with his usual Elves of a rather loftier persuasion (he also brought Skaven, but under the circumstances we opted for one solid, considered, properly documented game). The venue was a recently re-opened Bristol Independent Gaming, and a pleasure it was to be back there too.
Partial? Me? Far from it. As we continue our trawl through the Silver Age of White Dwarf*, I turn the ship toward the competitive end of the spectrum and go off about an article I never read at the time. It’s Australian, you see, and since I live literally half a world away from the land where beer does flow and men chunder, I never had the chance. But I do know who Lachlan MacWhirter is, if only because I avidly read Alex Kin-Wilde’s battle reports before the Warhammer Forum took its final nosedive. The point is he was quite good, and that he thinks about armies in a way that I think about armies.
You will notice that this army is not a photocopy special. There is thought put into what it will be like to play with and against, and how to ensure it does well, but there is also thought put into who leads it and why the force is the way it is.
I bring this up because there’s a nasty, pernicious tendency among certain elements of the wargaming community to pretend that certain things are anathema. Opposed. Mutually irreconcilable. Like a Venn diagram where the orbs remain utterly parted, lest their touching blast a hole in our tiny minds the size of Belgium.
You often hear “having fun” and “playing to win” pitched into these false dichotomies, along with “crunch” and “fluff”, and in role playing circles you hear “rollplaying” and “roleplaying.” My favourite one one is named the Stormwind Fallacy, after a Wizards of the Coast forumite who described and debunked it beautifully**.
The Stormwind Fallacy is the claim that one who optimises his character is, de facto, a bad roleplayer. The claim is wrong, false, and otherwise incorrect because number-crunching and make-believe are quite different skill sets and they can co-exist happily in the same brain tissue and the one does not in any way detract from the other. The fact that most people are more skilled in or inclined toward one direction than the other does not mean they are automatically exclusive.
And in wargaming-land, the same applies. It is not impossible to produce an army which is powerful, efficient, effective, and also entirely on-theme and fun to play with and against. People will claim otherwise. They will claim that “competitive” is anathema to some other nebulously defined concept. Often, they are talking about their own preference for leaning in one direction or another and elevating that to the status of universal truth – which it does not deserve.
Look at that! He’s written backstory, for pity’s sake (and just enough for it not to become weary, too)! True, he’s put a lot of thought into gearing and tricking out his Vampire, and to the roles that will be performed on table by his units, but you can’t pretend that there isn’t character there.
You may, if cynical, suspect that this is done because there are bonus points to be had at the tournament in question for turning up with a themed army in which the theme is transparent and illustrated with some associated text, and I say this is no bad thing. Let game mechanics make real the ideologies of the people what it is who make them. A system that rewards the desired behaviour is a good system.
I don’t have masses to say about the army itself, except that I’d probably have gone for the Vampire Lord and damned the consequences, but I do want to hover my digit over this notion of spending half your points on Core units (that the rest of the sections put together do not outnumber them). I don’t think I’ve ever done that, outside of fifth edition Chaos armies which, er, sort of had to work like that unless you were pulling something extremely niche with the summoning rules for Greater Daemons. There are eighty Skeletons in this army and that’s about twice as many Skeletons as I could ever be arsed painting without dramatically phoning it in. I suddenly understand the appeal in the totally bollock naked Skeletons of yesteryear or Warlord Games; at least those could be bashed out with relative haste, if you didn’t go full White Dwarf 211 and lovingly highlight their bony bonces.
I wonder what would happen if I tried to put together an army like this?
Clarimonde: Vampire Countess with extra magic level, Black Periapt and Ring of the Night: 285 Romuald: Vampire Thrall with Army Standard, Walking Death and Talisman of Protection: 155
30 Skeleton Warriors with spears, light armour, and full command group: 355 30 Zombies with standard and musician: 195 10 Ghouls with Ghast: 90 11 Dire Wolves with Doom Wolf: 120 2 Bat Swarm bases: 120
8 Black Knights with barded Nightmares and full command group: 240 8 Black Knights with barded Nightmares and full command group: 240
Banshee: 90 Banshee: 90
This is, of course, working with the models I own and my particular proclivities. I like to have a Battle Standard Bearer in my armies and prefer to bury my characters in the infantry units, using my Knights and Wolves as a flanking force. Also, I only have about 800 points of Core: everything I have gives me one of each unit and a handful of spares for raising. But it’s good enough for jazz and close enough for jam, or something like that. 20 points of spare change which will probably go on a Sword of Might for Clarimonde or something of the ilk.
This is just the list, because I’m still… working on… the backstory for these people. Everything’s still a bit fluid in that department.
It’s all making me realise a couple of things. Firstly, as much as I detest the Citadel Fell Bats, I’d quite like more fast chaff in the collection. Secondly, I really do need to do something about my Core situation; with so many Dire Wolves having gone for a burton while the army was out of my hands, I’m dangerously low on bread and butter troops, and it’s only going to get worse if I look towards playing eighth edition.
The longer I go on with this, the more I realise that my old army is deeply beloved and quite special but also surprisingly small and bitty. Adding more models is a bit of a tall order when the odds of picking up the “right” models in ready-to-kitbash-so-they-match condition are so high. Two options present themselves. Either I align with the Von Carstein theme force in the back of the book and pick up some living auxiliaries to bolster my lacklustre Troops selection, or I bite the bullet and accept that it’s time to slowly build up…
… oh God…
… a new Vampire Counts army.
*I call it this largely to avoid nonsense from any hardcore edition warriors who will come at me if I don’t give the number one spot to Paul Sawyer/Robin Dews/Jake Thornton/Ian Livingstone/Your Mum (delete as applicable). You are welcome to argue about which White Dwarf editor was the best ever on your own time, and ideally on your own planet.
**Potentially, there’s a contrived dig here at the crowd who hang around in the Alliance capital city on any World of Warcraft RP server, filling the air with arbitrary nonsense and imaginary rules about how to play magical fund pretend time… but even by my standards, that’s reaching a bit.
Oldhammer people are generally opposed to tournaments. Hell, in the modern sense of the word ‘tournament’ I agree with them. Playing five or six or seven cutthroat timed games, under pressure, knowing that to drop out is to bodge up the strength of schedule and ruin it for everyone, sucks balls. I am a soft and sleepy autist and a slow player par excellence: this is not my natural environment.
And yet, and yet. In the medieval sense of the word – as I believe my good friend and colleague Handsome Mr. Webb once said in one of his many hacked, redacted-when-he-became-the-industry’s-bitch or otherwise lost bloggeries – ‘tournament’ means something else entirely.
It was an opportunity for every knight of fair means and foul intentions (or vice versa), every man who owned a few peasants and a murdering tool, to come together and have their preferred barney. There would be archery, and the grand melee, and a joust or two, and you could win one of those events in their own right. There was variety.
When I think back to my first contact with the Grand Tournament (a writeup of the 1995 event by the esteemed Jervis Johnson, its organiser) I recall just such variety.
Attendees brought along a 1500 point force, a 500 point allied contingent from another army, and a special character.
One round was a straight 1500 point battle – but victory was awarded to the table with the highest Victory Points score, meaning no incentive to play Borehammer – solving the game through points denial or a ‘combo’ of abilities that tables the foe with little effort. Only mutually assured destruction would do: a proper gory game. You and your opponent had to work together to ensure maximum carnage.
Another was a battle with only your 500 points of Allies and your Special Character. Yes, I’m sure it was very gameable, let’s take Mannfred von Carstein and as many Pump Wagons as we can. It was there to generate absurdities, unusual games, games worth travelling and paying money to access, not the usual 2000 point pick-up (which in our modern times would often be someone’s ‘tournament prep’ anyway, to really cement that ‘more of the same’ feel).
There’d be an Arena of Death, in the classic style. Personally, to encourage the appearance of ‘lesser’ special characters like your Korhils and Kourans, I’d be tempted to bracket this: featherweights worth 1 or 2 VP all the way up to heavyweights like Nagash or Malekith. Or you could be boring and cap the special character’s cost at X hundred points or something.
And then, if you’d been very very good, you might just get to fight something resembling a 2000 point game, with the maximum 500 points spent on allies, and a special character – the quintessential Herohammer experience everyone remembers, only you wouldn’t have paid points for the special character so you’d actually have a proper army to go with them.
The main thing to consider here is that I don’t think there was a Best Overall, or if there was, it wasn’t the Only Thing for which everyone was shooting. You could win the Arena of Death and you’d win something worth winning. I approve of this. It ensures that there’s something at stake in every round, without sinking into the territory of participation medals or ‘best in faction’ or non-prizes like that.
If I were to run something like this, I can see two ways in which I’d do it. Either those four rounds, with a free lunch or tea (the meal of tea, eaten in the evening, to avoid controversies over what’s ‘dinner’) at stake for the winner of each round, OR those four events, four rounds of each.
That way people who like the single character approach (the Arena of Death) could do that for the whole weekend if they wanted to; people who enjoyed the wacky “500 points of Allies plus a Special Character from another army” round could repeat that one; people who like the ‘standard’ Herohammer game could just play their four 2000 pointers if they really wanted to.
Happy days. I don’t know if there’s a gathering point for Herohammer, like Bring Out Your Lead for the Oldhammer crowd, but maybe… there should be?
EDITED TO ADD:
There is such an event, it runs at Warhammer World in early September. Huzzah!
I have of course talked up the old tournament format before, in a post that the helpful “you may also like” widget dug out of my archives. In eight years of blogging it is almost impossible not to repeat oneself, which is why I don’t post as much as I used to.
I forgot the “chariot race” round. Pick one model from your army and have a race round the table. Yes, you’re allowed to shoot other competitors. It was, apparently, hilarious to bring a Dreadnought and try to win by blasting all the Land Speeders and suchlike out of the sky.
It seems odd that someone of my die-hard casual convictions (a contradiction in terms, I’m sure, but I will fight to the death for my right to not have to fight to the death, or at least until I’m bored) would embrace Hardcore, and yet, and yet…
Hardcore’s not perfect, in its current incarnation, but it has always had the seeds of glory in it and here’s why.
We are not tinboys. The spectacle of the wargame is important; if it weren’t we would all be playing chess or something. There is something about these tactile objects which speaks to us on a level that has nothing to do with rules and other abstract notions. They don’t have to be perfectly airbrushed hyper-realistic works of art, they just have to be doneproperly, they have to look like you were trying to achieve something by painting them. If you commission someone to do this, there is no shame in that. If you commission someone to do this and you accept a painting prize for yourself, you are a heel and a rotter and you deserve a slap.
List chicken is a needless faff. I think you’re going to drop ARM-skew so I drop my ARM-cracking list and then you drop your high-DEF infantry swarm instead, and we have ended up in the exact situation that the multiple lists are supposed to avoid. All we’ve done is stress each other out and second-guess each other and start the game with bluff and suspicion and “gotcha!” – in bad faith, as the current discourse has it. There will always be players who struggle to beat other players and lists which struggle to beat other lists. No amount of extra lists are going to absolutively posilutely prepare you for everything you are likely to see across the table. Cut the crap, build one list and accept that you’ll meet your hard counter eventually.
Any points value
All points values have their virtue. 15 points skips the preamble and gets right in at the deathblow. 100 points is an art form seldom practiced in our unfortunate, uncivilised age. 50 points is still an acceptable median for most and I accept the argument that it allows you to balance and fine-tune your list’s capabilities so that it has some tech for everyone. My dislike is largely down to a personal inadequacy: I’ve never quite managed to build a 50 point list that I can run smoothly.
In Stallroller – sorry, Steamroller – 1 and 2, Nationals finals seldom went to round three, and events were often won by the player who could manage the clock to combine the alpha strike with the last chance to move models in the game – bugger that. Timed turns have one very significant flaw – nobody uses up all their time on turn one and everyone needs an extra minute every turn when facing denial-heavy forces (like, say, most Protectorate armies, where you have to work out what you’re allowed to do and to whom). Death Clock is the way forward. Here is your time: one minute per point. You have agency, you have control. Divide and use your time as you see fit.
This game is quite complicated enough without adding in “choose your objective type and track its damage and remember which one your opponent has bearing in mind they probably all look the same”, or “you get this many points for controlling and this many points for dominating the flag and that many for controlling and that many for dominating the abstract zone and – ” No. Enough. Elegant design involves paring down rules, not adding more.
There is a circle in the middle of the board, 24″ in diameter. If you have a model completely within it and your opponent has no models completely within it, you win. If your caster is alive and your opponent’s caster is dead, you win. If you have somehow managed to go through the entire event round with neither of these things happening, you both lose.
What’s that? Some jackass is playing keep-away? OK, fine. We had a rule for that back in the Mark One days. If your caster ends their activation completely within 7″ of a table edge on any turn, you lose. Job’s done. Current Hardcore’s POW 14 is too easy to soak; this is a more effective deterrent which allows even a SPD4 caster on the very board edge to get back into play if they run. This matters: the point is to discourage hiding in corners, not encourage convoluted chain-Telekinesis shenanigans.
Fastest caster kill. Most games won. Most opposing points destroyed. Nicest looking army, according to the judges.
These prizes are easy to administrate and they reward individuals who have taken an aspect of the game as far as they can go (efficiency, generalship, sheer mayhem and the craft of miniature wrangling). No ‘best overall’ which invariably leaves someone feeling gipped, and no sportsmanship scores for people to tank or act like jackasses to earn or scare them away from using the judges for their intended purpose. Besides, the thing about sportsmanship scores is that they depend on who’s met/drawn whom – it’s not like painting where you can go around and inspect everyone’s contribution during the lunch break.
And on the fifth page:
You don’t have to make the kind of plays which require the precise marking of arcs, the turning of games on laser-thin lines between bases which don’t quite fit snugly because the models are bigger than their game volumes, and the abolition of three-dimensional terrain. Somewhere along the line, this game for alleged post-pubescents has become one of counting millimetres to avoid free strikes, and touching woods for a bonus without standing in them for a penalty, and blaming yourself if your opponent takes the game way more seriously than you do.
This is not what Warmachine and Hordes are about.
Having a Pair means that you’ve grown up and admitted that being the best at toy soldiers doesn’t mean jack shit and isn’t a life-defining goal. Nobody worth sleeping with cares that you can auto-win on control points with your teleporting Circle army without a single model needing to make an attack.
What I like about Hardcore is that it’s fast and furious and fun. You don’t have time to quibble over every rule or measurement because you’ll run down your clock; you have to keep things simple and brutal and straightforward instead of gimmicky and bean-counterish. I’ll even let you bring your laser lines if you’ll let me declare the intent to leave no gaps. Deal?
Hydra, as a format, could be tailor-made for a player like me who prefers small games, doesn’t have the disposable income for two or three lists’ worth of stuff, and is a long-term believer in the whole ‘run the same good stuff with a different caster and see how much the game changes’ approach to Warmachine.
It demands a single 35 point list, assuming that 5 warjack points are available, and five different warcasters, to whom numbers are assigned. At the top of each round, the caster choice is randomised; if a four is rolled, everyone in that round uses their number four caster. It’s a four-round event, so there’ll be one caster you just don’t get to use. This is not only within lunging distance for me, but the kind of scale toward which I’d be working anyway; the list suggested by Capture and Control as a decent ‘starter’ force happens to include a whole bunch of things I think are good.
The list features Dawnguard Invictors and a Griffin for solid Flank-tastic fun; the ‘jack of all trades Phoenix (although mine seems rather lacklustre, maybe because I don’t at present own an Arcanist, maybe because it’s having to take point in my games, maybe because I keep forgetting that it has a sodding gun); the cheap Houseguard Halberdiers who provide one-way see-through chaff; and the potentially-devastating-if-they-ever-hit-anything Stormfall Archers.
There are, however, problems.
One: that list has six warjack points, not five, and I’m reluctant to just chuck out the Arcanist (that little sod is needed to make the Retribution heavies do anything worth doing). I’m also very much aware that some of the warcasters I’ll be running would really, really benefit from having Sylys Wyshnalyrr around, for the extra range on the spells and the free upkeep and the help with getting those Arcantrik Bolts, Strangleholds and Death Sentences off.
Two: that list doesn’t use everything I already own, and it includes a couple of high-cost low-volume pay-for-rules options in the form of the Unit Attachments. They’re certainly good, and I’d like to have them, but money is not abundant and if I can get the list ticking with stuff I own rather than stuff I’d have to buy, I’ll be in a generally more comfortable position.
The simplest way to get to 35 points is just to drop the Halberdiers down to minimum size, freeing up 3 points – one for the rogue warjack point and two for Sylys. I’m not sure that an eight-man chaff unit is really a good chaff unit, though, and I’m also not sure I want to buy ten Halberdiers and only field six. Does anyone else miss the days when Privateer Press sold minimum-sized units? If I wanted a maxed-out unit I’d just buy two boxes – two minimum or one maximum, problem solved, no need for blisters.
Other options include chucking the Unit Attachments (frees up four points and a lot of cash – maybe a Soulless Escort for somebody, or a second Arcanist to get both the ‘jacks swinging harder), or downgrading the Phoenix to a slightly cheaper heavy.
This last has a certain appeal – the Phoenix is excellent but I struggle to get the most out of mine, possibly because I don’t have other pieces to do the heavy hitting but possibly because the gun and the arc node and the decent melee weapon and the Combustion are a few too many options for me. The thought occurs that with Sylys in the list, the arc node may not even be essential. With extra range on the non-channelled spells, the casters could potentially operate closer to the front lines; most of them have some sort of weapon or ability which encourages being played up-front, too. I used to play Epic Magnus that way and blimey, it was fun getting to use stuff other than focus!
The other options with the kit I’ve built are the Manticore (sufficiently punchy to not need the Arcanist, and could be fielded with Aiyana and Holt or both UAs if I can afford them, but a right old focus hog) or the Hydra (more economical in terms of focus, could be fielded with Eiryss or an Arcanist and one UA if I can afford them).
Decisions, decisions. At the moment, here’s how it’s shaking down.
[House Shyeel heavy of some sort]
Full Dawnguard Invictors / Nyss Hunters (always an option, and could serve in other faction contexts)
Full Houseguard Halberdiers
PLUS – exact choice dependent on cash and points available
Aiyana and Holt
Unit Attachments for Invictors and/or Halberdiers
Eiryss + Arcanist
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.