Marines WIP….After the Fact


A bit of back story:

In 2006 Games Workshop Canada–before it was shut down and enveloped by GW USA and renamed GW North America–was doing their cross-country tour of Conflict tournaments/hobby celebrations–think of them as a biggish tournament accompanied by a Games-Day-type set up but 1/100th the size of Games Day. Anyways, ‘Workshop had asked retailers to run megabattle-style gaming tables at the Conflict. We decided to do a beach landing table that would also double as a city fight table. Highly unlikely table, you say? No more unlikely than what greeted the Canadian soldiers in  World War II who stormed Juno Beach in Normandy or raided the port of Dieppe. (Both beaches were met almost immediately by a sea wall and buildings.)

Dieppe. Note how close the city is to the beach.

Canadians on Juno Beach: June of '44.

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By that I mean Yu-Gi-Oh wrecked how we play 40k.

From my running the 14th Black Crusade tournament to being present for the gaming nights at the store I work at to being a regular visitor at Bell of Lost Souls,  I’ve caught enough snippets and chatter that I feel my above statement is pretty accurate.  (To be fair, maybe I should say instead that Magic the Gathering killed the Warhammer hobby –but where’s the fun in being on the internet if I can’t take a stab at causing some nerd rage?)

This idea has been forming and stewing in my brain for a bit now, and it has to do with how the hobby has been changing the last few years. I’m sure by posting on my blog how not all change is necessarily good, I’m going to come across as a salty old crusty gamer who is resistant to any and all change. But I don’t think that description quite fits me: I’ve been selling the newest, shiniest most up-to-date versions of Warhammer and allaying customers’ fears and resistance to changing systems since 40k’s  Battle Manual and Vehicle Manual first hit the shelves so many years ago.

I’ve been playing 40k since 1989; over that time, I’ve done more than just played the game. Within 3 years of starting up in 40k, I worked for a couple independent stores selling the game (and doing my best to open peoples’ eyes to 40k and Warhammer). After a few years, I then worked for Games Workshop not just selling the game but running store events to promote the hobby further (I was even part of an ‘inner circle’ meeting at the Canadian HQ to help plan the national events being organised for an upcoming year). After 5 years there, I’m now, once again, working at an independent store selling the game and introducing people to the hobby. Of most relevance, I’ve immersed myself over the last year in running Warhammer tournaments, the 14th Black Crusade being the most recent one I’ve helped create, organise and run.

So what makes me different from all those at Bell of Lost Souls who live, breathe and type about Warhammer more fervently than I do?

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Railing against ‘Ard Boyz

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!

My Rant

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.

Full Disclosure:

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.


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.

Quick edit: looks like I’m not the only one with disdain for ‘Ard Boyz.

New Painting Contest & Updates!

Well, looks like it’s painting competition time again!

I was striving to get something going for March fifteenth, but with my running the Rolling Thunder tournament for Warhammer 40,000 and with getting prepared for my shop’s attendance at Cal-Con this year, a March painting competition just wasn’t in the books.

Ah well. Mayday has as much ring to it as Ides of March.

This competition will follow the same format as the previous ones I’ve run: two categories determined by model size where models from the three main Games Workshop systems will be judged against each other along with a third category for inexperienced hobbyists. The departure this time will be the addition of a staff-painted models category. All those who enter will be allowed to judge (through voting) the models submitted by the store staff. From the sounds of it, all the staffers want to paint up larger models, so I need to figure out what I have that’s of comparable size to what they’re all talking about; there’s no point in submitting a Sartosan Vampire three contenders are talking about Carnifexes, Steam Tanks and Carnosaurs.

I have a few things in the works:  Buhrdur  (Angmar Troll chieftain from Lord of the Rings). an Eldar Falcon grav tank, a Space Marine Venerable Dreadnought and Gulavhar (again from Angmar-Lord of the Rings). Both Buhrdur and my grav tank are about 25% done, while Gulavhar and my Venerable Dreadnought are just past the gap-filling stage. I’ll have to make up my mind pretty quickly as to which model will be my entry. (And if I really have my  act together, perhaps I’ll even do some work in progress posts!)

Rolling Thunder Results

On the sixth of March, 2010, I ran my fourth tournament put on by Great White. Rolling Thunder was the store’s second Warhammer 40k tourney (and my third one which had custom scenarios whose aim was to give players two challengers in the each game they played: the player opposite them at the table and that scenario’s victory conditions). All in all, things went extremely well: despite being the consummate procrastinator, I’m managing to get more and more organised with each passing tournament (I’ve left the realm of ‘simply embarrassing’ far behind and can now be solidly ranked among those ‘a  tad disorganised’); I’m also still managing to avoid gaining enemies in real life due to the tournament missions I put the players through.

This time through, we had twelve players: eleven registered plus a ringer spot (which was occupied by a couple of friends who helped me once I realised I was in a jam: twelfth player had registered quite early on and then summarily dropped off the face of the earth–and I hadn’t figured it out until a couple of days before the tournament). Still, things went off pretty smoothly, even with the mall stealing some of our tables first thing in the morning!


Player            —      Army

1.   Kevin K.     — White Scars Marines

2 .  Trevor B.   — Space Wolves

3 .  Jason H.     — Eldar

4 .  Rob D.        — Tyranids

5 .  Scott S.       — Space Wolves

6 .  Mike D.       — Tyranids

7 .  Alem A.     — Salamanders Marines

8 .  Nick G.       — Chaos Marines

9 .  Ryan F.       — Necrons

10.  Conor M.  — Khorne Marines

11.  Peter H.     — Ultra Marines

–an okay variety of armies but still a bit too Marine-heavy for my tastes. Despite that, I am pleased that every list was distinctly different from every other list.

Again, I’m very pleased with all the work put into the armies that took part in Rolling Thunder; the players that keep showing up for the tournaments I run are doing a lot to claw back the poor reputation that ( in my experience) a bulk  of 40k players have established: namely that 40k players care more about gaming than they do gaming with good-looking armies.

Let me explain that comment. During my five-year tenure at Games Workshop, from the GW staff down, I had noticed Fantasy players always tended to have their armies fully painted while 40k players’ armies–who, I might add, had less models–tended to be works in progress…or painted only to the barest of minimums. I had even been to a couple of the annual staff tournaments (held for all the Ontario staff and cell managers, plus one staffer from each province);  both years I went, there were one–maybe two–armies that showed up being either bare plastic/metal or primer only–and remember this was a staff tournament during the era of  “you can’t play in a GW store if your army isn’t completely painted–invariably the offending armies were 40k armies. And I’ll reiterate it: this was happening at a tournament attended by those who were supposed to be setting the standard for their customers. (In following years, I had also heard similar accounts of a 40k army or two showing up for the staff tourney sans paint job.)

I’m not trying to crap on 40k players by saying all this; I’m trying to describe the level of pleased I am at the quality of paint jobs brought to the tables at this tournament; not only were all these armies fully painted, but all were painted to a level well above bare minimum. Up until this tournament, I had always lived under the presumption that 40k players were more gaming-minded and Fantasy players were more hobby-minded; it looks like the two may have reached an equilibrium.

Tournament Results

Name Army Battle
Sports Comp Painting Total
Kevin K. White Scars 21 32.5 28 35.5 117
Trevor B. Space Wolves 19 34.5 26 23 112.5
Jason H. Eldar 39 49.5 23 39.5 151
Rob D. Tyranids 24 32 25 25 106
Scott S. Space Wolves 29 34 34 41 138
Mike Davey Tyranids 41 34.5 31 47.5 154
Alem A. Salamanders 31 34.5 29 20 114.5
Nick G. Chaos Marines 42 37 20 24 123
Ryan F. Necrons 21 34.5 31 23 109.5
Conor M. Khorne Marines 31 32 30 30 123
Peter H. Ultramarines 27 25 23 8 83

Best Overall: Mike D.

Best Sportsman: Jason H.

Best Painted: Scott S.

Lessons Learned

Organise! Organise! Organise! The opportunity to do this tournament came at me quickly and unexpectedly, with a local gaming convention organiser approaching me to run a tournament with tickets to the con as prizes. I agreed running a tournament would be  a win-win situation, thus leaving me only a few scant weeks to organise, advertise and create all the missions. It was pretty hectic for me at times because I wasn’t well prepared to get all this up and going in just a few weeks; luckily I have a (very) little bit of a routine with how I put together my tournaments that this was able to fall together with a bit of hard work and late nights–but thankfully not much stress.

The show went off without a hitch (more or less); and what’s better: I had not only new attendees, but three first-time tournament players! I also noticed quite a few players exchanging contact information,which I suspect is a pretty good indicator of a community growing. And I mean, really, that’s the main hope I have behind doing tournaments: grow the gaming community and have a hand at bringing what I love about gaming to the table.

Warhammer 40,000 Tournament: March 6

So, Christmas is done. Post-Christmas is over. Year-end analysis is completed. And I’ve attended the trade shows for the new year.

Now to get back to semi-regular updates of the blog!

CalCon is coming at the end of March, and I’ll be running a 40k tournament to give some tickets away for the event–and to  get myself back in to the swing of things. I’ll include more information over the coming days.