I’m apparently podcasting once more this week!
Thanks to yesterday’s battle report, I’m still reeling a bit from reliving that terrible outcome of the battle I played against Scott’s Elven Galadhrim at the start of the month. I thought of more things to comment about in the game while writing that battle report; but, rather than than making the already-long battle report even lengthier with these extra thoughts tacked on at the bottom of the post, I thought I’d just do a new post….of a more easy-to-digest size.
I won’t lie: this is a post where I piss and moan about the unfairness of life–or in this case, the unfairness of pretend life in a pretend setting that I play games in.
Today’s post covers a War of the Ring game that I played near the start of the month–two weeks ago now. It was against a friend who’s played WotR a couple times and has now decided to get into it full bore with an army of Galadhrim: the Elves of Lothlorien.
I fielded my Angmar army last Wednesday in War of the Ring against my friend’s newly-assembled Galadhrim force, lead by Galadriel (and backed up by Celeborn and Radagast). I’m planning on giving some sort of treatment of that game as I managed to take pictures at the start of every turn—I suspect I won’t remember enough details for a full-on battle report, but I’ll certainly remember enough to give some broad brush strokes. (That and the burning hasn’t gone down yet, so there will be parts I’ll be able to recount with vivid detail: Angmar got pantsed by Scott’s Galadhrim!) But I’ll leave the reasons (excuses?) for such an utter defeat for that battle report post; I probably should reflect a little more on what went so wrong.
NO, not Games Workshop, but the store I managed: Great White.
After shaky spring sales were followed by a disastrous May, the store in Calgary closed its doors for good at the end of June–just in time for me to go on a two-week vacation! (I had no choice: the flights had been booked months ago; and in the stress surrounding the store’s death rattle, I managed to forget to change my flights; luckily, the trip was visiting family, so it was a holiday on the cheap!)
With some decent job prospects coming my way closer to the end of summer, at the moment things don’t look too grim and dark for me. My goal is now to get more hobby and game time in over the summer.
Responsible? Not really. Irresponsible? Also…not really.
So Where Does this Leave me?
I read this over at The One Ring forum (for all things Lord of the Rings miniatures gaming); it’s about a list a guy brought to Games Workshop’s ‘Forging of Fates’. I posted a lengthy reply and then thought to post it on my blog, seeing as how my opinion about this reaches past just the War of the Ring game.
The Forging of Fates
This tournament is the War of the Rings version of an ‘Ard Boyz tournament. As GW says on their website, “[u]nlike the traditional tournament format you may be familiar with, [one] that takes into consideration your painting and sportsmanship, the ‘Ard Boyz Tournaments focus on one thing and one thing only; how well you play the game! These tournaments are the place to field that nasty list you felt guilty about playing, or that massive horde army you couldn’t hope to paint it in time. . . . There are no sportsmanship or painting scores to hide behind, pounding your foes to paste is all that matters.”
Also with these tournaments come considerable prizes; as GW says–again, on its website–for getting past the preliminary round and going on to win a regional semi-final the winning player “will get a 2,000 point army of the race of their choice and the 2nd and 3rd place winners will receive generous online vouchers for our Web Store. These top three Semifinalists will be eligible to attend the Finals. . . .[and] will compete for buckets of prizes”.
Here’s some quick War of the Rings terminology so the next part makes more sense: a ‘formation’ is War of the Ring’s term for a squad or regiment. A formation can be made up of one or several ‘Companies’ of 8 models–each Company is basically 1 movement tray: for infantry models, a movement tray holds 8 guys. No more than half of a single Company/movement tray can be made up of heroes, but other than that there are no restrictions regarding how many heroes can be in a single formation; and there are no restrictions on how many heroes / points worth of heroes can be in a single army. The only real restrictions are: only 25% of your army can be made up of allies, and once a Formation’s last remaining Company (movement tray) is reduced to half its 8 models, the formation instantly dies, regardless of whether its last remaining models are all high-points cost heroes or just rank and file models.
So here’s the run down of what the guy in question brought with my explanation of what it all means:
One Formation of six Companies of High Elf archers (360 pts). Added to that formation is every elven hero that has the Epic Shot ability [Epic Shot: spend 1 Might point to cause D6 automatic casualties to any Formation within 12″], so Thranduil (125 pts), Legolas (200 pts) and Haldir (760 pts) are added to the army. Also add every hero that can cast the ‘Command’ list of spells: Galadriel (175 pts), Celeborn (175 pts), Elrond (215pts) and Cirdan (75 pts). Added to this mix as allies are Gandalf the White (300 pts) and Radagast the Brown (160 pts), bringing the army total to 1860 points.
Why Gandalf the White and Radagast you ask? Well, Gandalf has Counselor [Gandalf spends 1 Might point to replenish 1-3 Might points of an ally within 24″] and Overlord [any friendly formation within 24″ can use Gandalf’s Might points]; Radagast has Epic Tranquility [charges may not be made against the formation Radagast is in]. Put these two together with another counselor (Galadriel) and you have an unwieldy amount of Might points that Radagast can use at any time to keep all enemies from assaulting them.
Elrond and anyone with Command spells can bring back the dead [Blessing of the Valar spell can heal D3 or D6 casualties]; also, because four of the heroes have Epic Defense, they can raise the Defense of their formation to 10 (making it very hard to kill them at range). Cirdan’s ‘Gift of Foresight’ ability [essentially a 6+ invulnerable save for every hit made against that formation] makes it even harder for them to be killed–and remember, enemies using their Might points to bump up their dice rolls is not really a solution when playing a game that is going to go on for ten or more turns: the enemy will run out of Might within the first few turns if using his Might for this purpose.
The three heroes with Epic Shot can kill 3d6 members of an enemy formation each turn and the casters are using the spells of Command and Dismay to stop anything that gets in their way with Light of the Valar [reduce the Courage of target enemy formation] and Transfix [on a failed Courage test, enemy formation cannot move, shoot or charge]. Also available is spells of Wilderness’ Nature’s Wrath spell [does D6+3 instant hits to any one formation within 24″].
With your 2000-point army’s last available 140pts, Arwen can be thrown into the list giving the army a total of 7 spell casters. Yes, this is a one-formation army, but it is SO resilient that this one formation went all three rounds in the Forging of Fates Semi-Final without losing a single company of 8 models!
I think the ‘Ard Boyz tourneys are a step in the opposite direction for Games Workshop, a company that describes themselves–and the way they do business–as one who thinks long-term, aims to do what is right (as opposed to what’s easy), and would rather make regular, constant growth rather than quick rises and sharp declines. This army list above is a symptom of what happens when you offer HUGE prizes, demand no social graces from players and add in the phrase “anything goes.”
It sounds to me like Mr-Elf-Army knew enough rules to decide that if he were to bone up on the game a bit and do plenty of math-hammer, he’d have an excellent chance at getting GW’s soopa’ prize for winning an ‘Ard Boyz tourney. I haven’t met this guy, nor seen him play; I’m not trying to say he’s an all-around terrible guy (really, I’m not…but I bet he is!). For all I know, he could be a really nice guy, on the table and off. But lists like Mr-Elf-Army’s are rarely concocted and played by all-around great guys; even if I’m wrong about that statement, I do know what I think about the people who bring point-and-click armies (you know them, even if you haven’t heard the term: armies that practically run themselves, that even drooling post-lobotomy patients could win with; all that’s required is a warm body to roll dice…and possibly move the models forward). I will concede that it does take a certain level of skill to construct lists such as the one above…around as much skill as it does to make a killer deck for Magic the Gathering. I really dislike Magic the Gathering.
I suck at MtG, deck construction and optimized army-list building, so some of my attitude could just be professional jealousy.
It seems to me that the purpose behind tournaments, at their most fundamental level, is to create and nurture a community. Some would argue that tournaments exists solely to sell more miniatures–it isn’t; but sales are the (some might say wonderful) side-effect of having a healthy gaming community. With all I’ve said already, I don’t think it’s surprising that I my opinion is that ‘Ard Boyz tournaments do nothing to create or nurture a community of players. Whereas I’m sure ‘Ard Boyz tournaments probably do create some increases in sales, I don’t believe there’s any honest enthusiasm for the hobby driving players’ involvement in ‘Ard Boyz. I get more the feeling that GW is endorsing Cold-War style escalation tactics rather than player excitement: ‘Ard Boyz aims to force people into buying more stuff (so players will feel their armies are competitive enough to win the final prize), and that mindset will do more to harm GW than help them.
Let me explain: there’s an old parable (or what have you) where the sun and the wind are discussing which one of them is stronger and decide to prove themselves by seeing who can remove the coat of a man, walking by below them. The wind blows as hard as he can, trying to blow the jacket off; the man bundles himself against the blowing wind…and the coat stays on. On the sun’s turn, he decides to shine as bright as he can; the man decides to sit down and enjoy the now beautiful weather and takes off his coat to do so. And the moral: persuasion is better than force.
To quote Princess Leia talking to Grand Moff Tarkin upon her arrival to the Death Star, “the more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” The more GW “forces” people to buy in order to feel competitive, the more people will decide to get out of the hobby–which is not to say that GW wanting people to buy more stuff is itself bad, it’s the way they’re trying to make people want to buy more stuff that’s bad.
In contrast, creating and nurturing a decent gaming community gets pretty similar end-results (sales and increases) but does so in a different way. The result of assembling a group of like-minded people together to take part in the activity all of them are passionate about is that enthusiasm greater than the sum of its parts is generated. I know I’m saying this pretty wonkily, but it is a truism: despite the fact that television and stereos exist, people still go to hockey games, people still go to rock concerts and people still go to movies instead of just seeing / experiencing them in the comfort of their own homes. And why? Because the social and tribal nature of our psyches relishes the shared experience that all these events give us. This also applies to games: despite the existence of computer games, console games and online MMOs, board games are still played. A lot. Indeed, they’re even enjoying a renaissance right now. The shared experience of a healthy, active player community does the same thing for us gamers, and tournaments are just one facet of a gaming community.
If Games Workshop was trying to do the “right thing” as opposed to the easy thing, they’d encourage as much community construction as they could. Instead of having the vitality and perpetual motion that communities provide, GW has thrown their hat in with their ‘Ard Boyz tournaments. which give the players ONE event, one where they are not asked to contribute or have a hand at creating long-lasting excitement, just to win. “Pounding your opponent to paste is all that matters.” The camaraderie, the excitement for creativity, the good-natured rivalries created by networks of players gaming together regularly are tossed aside in favour of a once-a-year spectacle that stresses only that we think about ourselves and give no consideration to others.
At their best, ‘Ard Boyz tournaments might give us a small taste of community, but that taste–all of us gaming in the same room for a day is fleeting: GAmes Workshop has no intention of going past their win-at-all-costs douche-fest. Is it GW’s responsibility to create a community for us? Not at all. But it’s in their best interest to not undermine healthy gaming habits. Encouraging play styles such as Mr-Elf-Army’s list above does NOTHING to help bring people together, and quite probably does a certain portion of harm to any community that is till fledgling. I know if I faced that player’s army, I’d be wondering why I was still in this hobby….and if maybe it was now time for me to check out. Heck, just seeing that list has had me angry at Games Workshop for FIVE days now and not at all interested in playing any of their games.
So kudos to Games Workshop: this round of ‘Ard Boyz helped them sell ten hero models and a half-a-dozen “Last Alliance of Men and Elves” miniatures boxes. All for the mere cost of cheesing off several established players-and making me want to throw away 21 years of loyalty to Games Workshop’s games. (And contrary to what they think about ‘veteran’ gamers such as myself, I have not stopped buying product because I have an army for each game). I’m having a hard time seeing how their love of this style of tournament is good in the long run, how this provides for regular, constant growth or how this is the ‘right’ way to promote the hobby, as opposed to the easy way.
Rant over. Sorry, just needed to vent.
OH THE IRONY!
More full disclosure:
It burns! It bites! It stings–did I mention my store will be running a 40k ‘Ard Boyz preliminary on may 15, 2010?
I think part of the reason I’m so upset by the abuse-the-rules-at-all-costs Elf army above is that I’ve realised that by agreeing to host an ‘Ard Boyz preliminary, I’ve agreed to shake hands with the devil. Whereas my motivation back in the first week of January for agreeing to hosting this was just to get the store’s name out there: so people who probably never come to my mall (which is often perceived as being at the far south tip of Calgary–which it may have been back in the late seventies but certainly hasn’t been for some time now), who might not even know of the store’s existence might actually have us register on their radars through GW’s promoting the tournament in White Dwarf and on their website.
After seeing the above War of the Rings list, I’m realising just what level of assholery is inside the realm of possibilities for me to expect on May 15th. Ugh. Already the store has had one of the more…ahem ” ‘Ard ” players from past tournaments phone us repeatedly trying to be the first to sign up for May 15th. When he was told we’re not yet taking registrations, he demanded we phone him the moment we start accepting players; just last night he phoned the store repeatedly after we were closed–eight times in a row, to be precise (we don’t answer our phones while doing closing procedures)–presumably to, again, be first on the ‘Ard Boyz list. the more I think about this, the closer we get to May 15th, the more I just want to pull out of doing this ‘Ard Boyz preliminary round.
I feel like the price of this tournament is my dignity.
While the staff tournament waits to wrap up, I thought I’d shine the light on a couple board games that have recently caught my fancy; first up: Middle Earth Quest!
Middle Earth Quest is a semi-co-operative game newly released from Fantasy Flight Games this fall (or thereabouts) which, at a glance, feels like it is a cross between FFG’s Descent and Arkham Horror games in that it combines the ‘team-of-heroes-versus-the-evil-overlord’ format that Descent has with the ‘running-around-the-game-board-trying-to-put-out-fires’ style of game play that powers Arkham Horror.
Before I knew anything about gameplay, I was excited as it (1) had to do with Middle Earth and (2) was designed by Corey Koneiczka –he did the Battlestar Galactica board game (which is PHENOMINAL). Did I mentin that early on I found out the game doesn’t use any dice? None. That also had me intrigued.
Middle Earth Quest takes place during the seventeen-year period from when Bilbo leaves the Shire to when Frodo leaves the Shire (so, the game follows the canon put forth from the books not the movies). Gandalf, aware that Sauron has re-taken Barad-Dur, has suspicions as to the true nature of Bilbo’s ‘magic ring’ and needs to keep Sauron’s shadow at bay in the world long enough to uncover the truth about the ring and(ultimately) get Frodo safely out of the Shire.
That’s where the unsung heroes of the Free Peoples come in: each player chooses one of the five possible heroes, and it’s their job to stem Sauron’s influence from spreading too quickly while at the same time, embarking on quests that further Gandalf’s goals. Though the players don’t get to play as any of the famous personages from the books, Tolkein’s characters are present and treated as a resources for the player-heroes.
The entire game is on a countdown to the end game, and there’s no real way to slow the game down (speed it up, yes; slow it down…not so much). This “count-down clock” is represented by the Story Track: eighteen squares that all the players move their markers on to show how much time is left in the game, as well who is currently winning. The Heroes get one marker to move along the track, signifying the passage of time (or, more accurately, the time it takes Gandalf to realise what he’s dealing with and formulate a plan). Sauron gets three markers, signifying how close he is to: corrupting all the leaders of the Free Peoples, unveiling Gandalf’s plans, and mustering sufficient forces to wage open war. When any one of those four markes reaches the last spot on the STory Track, the game ends (more on that below).
Each game turn is split in half: Sauron’s phase and the Heroes’ phase. In Sauron’s phase, he takes actions to place influence tokens on game-board locations, summon/move/control his minions and monsters, or add more cards to his arsenal of plots cards and shadow cards (both can be used to make uncomfortable things happen to the heroes). Also in his phase, the Sauron player draws an event card (which can affect everyone on the board, good and evil, for good or for ill) and moves all the markers on the Story Track forward (the Good tracker always gets moved forward two spots; Sauron’s markers only get moved according to his Plot cards currently in play).
In the Heroes’ phase, the other players each take their turn starting with one player and continuing clockwise (not willy-nilly however-you-choose as in Descent). Players move across Middle Earth, trying to defeat Sauron’s minions, consult with famous characters, and complete quests to become more powerful and collect Favour tokens (which are spent to ‘foil’ Sauron’s plots ie: stall Sauron).
The central focus of the game is Sauron’s Plot cards: up to three can be in play and though each one can sometimes give Sauron an advantage in game play, it usually just speeds up the rate at which one of his counters moves along the Story Track (thereby making the game end quicker, ensuring the heroes can’t complete their objectives and aren’t powerful enough to stop Sauron’s minions). Each focus card in play has a corresponding location and Favours cost: if a hero travels to said location and pays the Favours cost, the Plot card is removed from play and Sauron is less likely to be able to end the game quickly (and thus, less likely to win).
To ensure that traipsing across the board and foiling his plots isn’t so cut and dry for the Heroes, Sauron can control his minions to harry the Heroes’ progress –but monsters can only move to locations that are influenced by evil, so it’s important that Sauron place sufficient influence tokens on the board every turn to ensure his monsters have freedom of movement. What all this turns out to be in actual game play: Sauron is constantly juggling his resources keeping his Plots in play, placing influence tokens on locations and moving his forces around to get in the way/combat the group of heroes he’s up against. And it’s quite the juggling act.
But the Heroes fare no better; they juggle completing their own personal quests (they get them at the start the game) with completing the quests that are geased to them during the game, while also trying to collect Favour tokens and also moving to Sauron’s different Plot locations (to get rid of said Plots). All of this is done while trying not to get killed by Sauron’s monsters and minions (the minions are Sauron’s hero-level monsters). Yes, the Heroes have a harder job; but there’s two or three of them to share the load (heh).
Once a marker (any one) gets to the end of the Story Track, the game ends and a winning side must be declared. The winning of the game rests entirely on the part during the game set up where each side draws a card from their respective Mission deck, with the card drawn revealing to its player(s) what needs to be accomplished by the end of the game for that side to count as having “won.” This objective is kept secret throughout the game.
The act of winning the game is not dissimilar to how close combat in Warhammer is done. This is the only part of the game that isn’t absolutely excellent –due mainly to the very “sudden-death-overtime” way it plays out: just like in Warhammer, where whoever gets the charge gets first crack at winning close combat, the side in Middle Earth Quest whose marker gets to the ed of the Story Track first gets first chance at winning the game by revealing his/their Mission card first. Once revealed, if said conditions are met, he/they win the game instantly. Just like that. Regardless of what the other side did.
BUT, if they FAIL to achieve their mission, as stated on their randomly-drawn mission card, the other side gets to reveal its mission. If the second-place side’s mission WAS accomplished, they win the game. Lastly, if neither side completes their secret mission, then the side of Good chooses which one of them will fight the Ringwraiths all by himself, with the game being won by the side who is victorious in that fight.
The only reason I feel a little off-put by the way the game comes to a conclusion is because the rest of the game is well thought out –checks and balances abound throughout the game to ensure the game remains a neck’n’neck nail biter to the very end. It’s not a bad way of ending the game, it just doesn’t feel like the same sensibilities behind the game’s mechanics were used to create the end game.
Still, even with that criticism, the game is awesome. It was designed to always play out as a close game; it emulates a lot of the feel of Middle Earth found in the novels and its production values are top notch: plenty of counters, plastic figures, cards AND a wicked double-sized game board/map of Middle Earth with all its most interesting spots marked off as game-location places.
I feel like I’ve written w-a-a-a-a-y too much already and haven’t even touched on how the game uses NO DICE. I think I’ll leave that for the FFG website: they post the full rules to all their games, and the rules book does do a pretty good job explaining how the cards are used without one needing to “play” in tandem to reading that part of the rules.