[WFB] The Platonic Ideal

I have, in the past, had some things to say about pick-up gaming, tournament practice, Pitched Battle and the unsatisfactory takeaway of the soul that this kind of setup tends to result in. Of course, it’s very easy to thump one’s tub on the dot-coms and tell people they’re doing Warhammer wrong, which is why I’ve decided to “share best practice” like what my teacher training taught me to do.

What follows is an attempt to lead by example: a wargaming day myself and Mr. Ben staged in the summer of 2019 before the borders were closed and Trafnidiaeth Cymru nerfed into the ground. As hosting player, I had a look through the available resources and picked some scenarios appropriate to the participants, the terrain, and the timeframe we had available.

The forces in these little engagements are my Tomb Kings, in their embryonic “first attempt at a paint job” state, and Ben’s Skaven, in their “what do you mean you’re doing another new army” launch condition. The terrain selection is the Age of Sigmar stuff I acquired in a good-faith attempt to give Soul Wars a go during my year off blogging. The timeframe was a long afternoon, kicking off about noon and ending about six with late lunch at the local hostelry. (We’d reserved the evening for a round of Drunkhammer featuring our “main” armies, and that may see the light of day at some point too.)

I – The Border Patrol

(Rules for which can be found in Warhammer Chronicles 2004, if you’re interested. A Border Patrol usually takes sixty minutes or less to play, if you’re on form and keep your bustle hustled.)

This little encounter represented a Skaven incursion into the outer reaches of the necropolis of Rasetra. The scenery was set up to suggest the outer edge of a poorly fortified settlement; we had a house rule that attacking Skaven units could charge the fences and spend a combat phase knocking them down, as they weren’t terribly robust. The forces were deployed in opposite corners because that made most sense with the orientation of the buildings (and corner deployment always makes a nice change).

Ben lost this one. This is mostly because the Screaming Skull Catapult is very, very good at panicking Skaven units and the compulsory Liche Priest did nothing but ensure it could shoot twice every turn. Some Clanrats did make it some way into the Necropolis and regained a little glory by beating up my Skeleton Archers, but it wasn’t to last. All of this meant I would be setting up second and going first in the final game, as the Tomb Kings seized the initiative above ground.

II – The Skirmish

For our second game we played the Lost Tomb of Hamon Ra scenario from Warhammer Skirmish (the book of scenarios which expands on the Skirmish rules in the core manual; I believe most of it’s available in other forms online).

Some jimmying of the forces to suit available models was required – I had an Ushabti instead of the two Tomb Swarm bases – and we house ruled a little regarding the “crumble” moment, allowing my Tomb Prince a small radius of Leadership to keep some of his associates on their feet after my Liche Priest was destroyed.

Victory for the Skaven would deny the Tomb Kings 10% of their forces in the final battle (and if we’d been playing 2000 points as we originally hoped to, would also deny me the Crown of Kings).

The scenery here is set up to denote the outer walls of the Tomb and provide some internal decoration. There’s not a great deal of cover, although we were generous regarding figures stood immediately behind a sarcophagus or gravestone.

We were at this one for something like two hours as models fluffed hit rolls, wound rolls, injury rolls, and the endless loop of “can’t disengage from melee, can’t roll fives or sixes” set in. In retrospect I now know that Mordheim has a workaround for this (knocked down or stunned models are automatically taken out if wounded) and if Skirmish doesn’t have that I advise bringing it in. The other option is playing Warbands instead: Warbands has the traditional “fail save, lose last wound, you’re dead” resolution and tends to result in faster, more decisive games.

On the flipside, Skirmish also generates moments of real excitement, as even the disposable single-wound trooper can roll over, dust themself down and stage a comeback.

In our game the Skaven Assassin gave his all to destroy the Liche Priest, only to be cut down by a Tomb Prince moments later, and it was a mere Clanrat who retrieved the prize and dodged past an enraged Ushabti to make his final break for the surface, a lone survivor carrying the treasure of the Tomb.

(Ben won, that’s what I’m trying to say here.)

III – The Battle

With the Crown in the hands of the Skaven, we opted for a Breakthrough scenario, in which the Rodents of Unusual Size attempted to make their escape with their ill-gotten gains. I only had 1500 points of Tomb Kings so 1500 points is what we played, or rather 1500 vs 1350 as I’d lost the second game. I think I left out two Ushabti and my Icon Bearer’s magic flag. The terrain was essentially a flip of the first encounter; this time the Skaven would have the open space and the Tomb Kings holding the line on the fenced side of the battlefield.

I don’t really remember much about this game other than struggling to get anything done magically (turns out one Liche Priest isn’t enough at 1500 points, especially against two Warlock Engineers) and my Catapult not putting in the same sterling performance (only one shot per turn and an early misfire). It only went to about four turns – once my Ushabti had folded I didn’t have the speed to close off every avenue of assault and most of Ben’s army had free reign to move off the board.

What I do remember is the context of it. Because we’d set it up with the distraction raid and the temple pillaging, there were mechanical twists to an otherwise routine engagement, rewards for having done well in the early stages. Continuity was furthered by the terrain we used for the first and third battles.

Beyond that, because Ben won (again), my Tomb Kings now have something to do with themselves in future encounters, to whit going out to recover the Crown or maybe fighting their way home after having done so. All my future games with Ben, and maybe the entire backstory of my new army, can be shaped by the outcome of this only-slightly-curated day of play.

All of this was done with by-the-book armies, published scenarios, and terrain I already owned. I don’t think I’d even named my characters at the time! No extraordinary or even especial effort on our part was called for – we were just curious and selective about the wealth of additional material on offer in sixth edition WFB.

We could have simply played a Breakthrough scenario at 1500 points, and when we might have three people wanting a game each on neutral ground with strict departure times hanging over our head, that’s the sort of thing we settle for. But if you have the opportunity to do even a little prelude or aftermath for a game, to make a day of it and weave a little context and set the scenario up as something more than yet another points matched game of Borehammer, I heartily recommend you do so.