My First Warhammer Tournament: K'Wars 7: Power is Knowing
This is a blow-by-blow account of my first-ever WH40K tournament, Dec 14, 2006 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. If you were there, my name's Jono, I was the newbie with the blue-and-grey Tau and the crazy sideburns. If you have no interest in Warhammer you will probably want to skim this post or skip it entirely. If you have a little bit of interest in Warhammer, I have tried to avoid using specialized slang without explaining it, so you should find this article at least comprehensible, and a decent account of what the game is like.
I was painting frantically right up until the night before the tournament, trying to just get the minimum three base colors on every model so the army would be legal (tournaments don't allow unpainted dudes). Thursday I was invited down to Hyde Park for dinner with Jeremy and Cat. I said "Would you think it horribly rude of me if I brought some models and paints with me and worked on them while we're hanging out?" Cat said, "No, we'd think it's typical Jono." We stayed up way past midnight watching weird TV shows while I frantically drybrushed stealthsuits etc. The Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special came on. Man, I forgot how utterly disturbing that show was. One of the characters is a part of the floor that talks, named Floory, and it has this deep demonic sounding voice. Also because this special was a major TV event back in the day, there were cameos by dozens of late-80s celebrities, which is kind of hilarious now that thye've been removed from the context where anybody cared who they were. Pee-Wee: HI CHER! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE! (as Cher puts garlands on Pee-Wee's robot).
So yeah, there was lots of sleep-deprivation but I got the basecoats done on all my pieces except for six firewarriors who are still in an older color scheme that doesn't match the rest of the army. Most of my models still don't have hilighting or shading, there's lots of mistakes I need to touch up, and lots of the details and weapons remain unpainted. But no time for that! I had to get up at quarter of six on Saturday morning so I could ride my bike to the nearest Metra station for a 6:40 train to Kenosha.
At the Kenosha station I was picked up by a guy named Leed. I didn't even know his real-life name because I only knew him from the AWC forums and I only knew his handle there. Anyway, Leed (it's short for Waleed, he's middle-eastern) was very kind to offer to pick up a stranger on short notice. He's obviously a very smart guy, studying up for med school. The time we were in the car together we talked about all kinds of fascinating subjects, from work and school experiences to whether or not the Tau would ever allow a Kroot to pilot a battlesuit. His army was Daemonhunters, actually just a few Grey Knights and mostly inducted Ultramarines, with really nice looking rock bases made out of cork.
Oh yeah, Leed said "So, are you in high school?" HA HA HA HA. If looking young is good I guess that's flattering. Bzzzzzt, No, I'm 26 and I have a master's degree, but thanks for playing.
So, after a classy McDonald's breakfast (where they put ham on his breakfast sandwich twice in a row even though he specifically asked them not to because pork is totally haram) we found the public museum where the gaming club had rented a room for the event. (It was a nice venue, with the one drawback that the museum had to have the doors wide open, so random people occasionally wandered into the room and gawked at us like we were a museum exhibit.)
There were 16 players (hot dog! A power of two! Nobody has to sit out!) representing a great variety of armies:
- Four Space Marines: Space Wolves, Imperial Fists, a Black Templar successor chapter painted red and white, and Leed's Daemonhunters.
- Three Necrons. One of them was painted bright purple. Another one had like ten destroyers, and his Necron Lord had cheese for a head. Like, he had literally replaced the model's head with a triangular yellow plastic cheese wedge from some kind of kitchen toy set. I guess he was acknowledging that using ten destroyers is a pretty cheesy move (yuk, yuk).
- Two "Nidzilla"s. That's the Tyranid army where you have two Hive Tyrants and six Carnifexes, so basically eight gigantic bugs with all the options and accessories: horns, fangs, antlers, segmented eyes, proboscis, power windows... and little else. One of these players had emphasized the 'zilla-ness of his 'nids by decorating each base with a tiny little road with tiny cars and tiny screaming people on it.
- One Chaos (Nurgle)
- Three Tau, counting mine
- One Orks
- One Imperial Guard
...that only adds up to 15, so I'm forgetting one... there might have been a fourth Necron or a second Imperial Guard. Conspicuosly absent were the Eldar; they have a new codex so I was expecting to see some, but maybe all the Eldar players were still in the process of reworking their armies, or maybe they just didn't want to be called new-codex-bandwagon-jumpers.
Not only was this my first tournament, it was also my first time playing against Necrons or Orks; my first game with 1500 pts (I'd only played up to 1000 previously); and my first game with a more-or-less completely painted Tau army! So, I was basically this total newbie wandering straight into the Jaws of Death. I knew that, and I was expecting to get trounced. My personal goal for the day was to win one of my matches; I did, barely, so I'm happy.
Even more surprising, when I looked at the final scores, apparently one person had voted for my army as the best-looking one. This blows my mind, because the army wasn't even finished yet! I've already explained how ghetto-looking it was. It looks OK from a distance, and I think it will look pretty good once I'm done, but for somebody to vote it best-looking army over the other ones there -- man, he must have forgotten to put his contact lenses in that day or something. ;-)
The way the tournament was run was very cool in that it had a storyline almost like a mini-campaign. In our first game, we had discovered that a research installation on some planet had stopped transmitting so we were going down to investigate, when we spotted signs of the enemy. In the second game, we were engaging the enemy and had to outmaneuver him and control the battlefield. In the third game, the cause of the research installation's demise was discovered: they had created a genetically engineered monster which had escaped and killed everybody; our final goal was to capture it and take it home for study while our enemy was trying to do the same thing. Each battle had special rules and mission objectives corresponding to the story. Fun fun fun!
Tau Empire, 1498 points:
- Shas'O Commander with Plasma, Fusion, VRT, Stims, HWMT: 132 pts
- Shas'El Commander with Plasma, Fusion, TA, HWMT: 97 pts
- Elite Crisis Team Leader with Plasma, Missiles, TA, HWMT: 77 pts
- Elite Crisis Team Leader with Plasma, Missiles, TA, HWMT: 77 pts
- 6-man Stealth Team, no upgrades: 180 pts
- 10 Fire Warriors in Devilfish with decoy launchers: 185 pts
- 10 Fire Warriors in Devilfish with decoy launchers: 185 pts
- Piranha Skimmer with Fusion, TA: 70 pts
- Piranha Skimmer with Fusion, TA: 70 pts
- Broadside Battlesuit Team Leader with ASS, Shield Drone: 100 pts
- Hammerhead Tank with Ion Cannon, SMS, MT, TL, DL: 145 pts
- Hammerhead Tank with Railgun, SMS, MT, TL, DL: 180 pts
Game One: Necrons
My first opponent, John G, had painted his Necrons all bright purple and decorated them with the Chinese character for "death". It was pretty classy. He had lots of variety in his list, and no Monolith; instead he had The Deciever, one of the C'Tan, who is this crazy gold-skinned avatar of a star god with like a zillion special rules, including the ability to rearrange your units after the deployment phase is done, and the ability to force morale checks on units of his line of sight ("The Deciever goes BOO!" as my opponent put it). He had Pariahs, who reduce leadership to 7 (aha, a combo I see), a squad of Immortals, two Heavy Destroyers, a Lord with the typical goodies, four Wraiths, and two squads of regular Necron Warriors.
There was a special mission objective that said we were supposed to designate one of our troop units a "hunter" and one of the enemy troop units the "prey"; our hunter gets a bonus to attack the prey and we get extra points for killing it. Sounds like a good idea but immediately runs into the problem that lots of armies field multiple identical troop squads -- both me and my opponent did, for sure -- so we had to invent a way to distinguish one from the other.
It turned out not to matter much anyway, since the necrons wiped out all my troops and I didn't hurt any of his. This was my first time playing against Necrons, and I had heard they were a really bad match-up for Mech Tau to face.
Yes, they were. |=`) They pack lots of firepower, they keep getting back up after you kill them, their basic troop weapons can glance any vehicle, their lord can teleport guys around, and they have loads of special rules.
When the timer ran out for the first round, it saw my commander and crisis suits making a last stand in the middle of a ring of wrecked vehicles, with enemies closing in from all sides. Quite a dramatic board position; I wished I had brought a camera. I had lost on all mision objectives, but I had some consolation in the fact that it wasn't a totally one-sided battle; I had killed all his Pariahs, all his Immortals, and all his Destroyers. I overheard him telling another player later that I had played well, so I will take some consolation in that too!
It seems like the thing to do against Necrons is to try to isolate one unit at a time and concentrate all fire on it until it dies; if you knock an entire unit down, none of them can get back up. Even using that strategy, things are really iffy, since the necrons are amazingly tough defensively and have lots of return firepower. The best strategy for most races is to tie the Necrons up in close combat so they can't shoot you; but telling that to a Tau player is like telling a man in a wheelchair that he should climb a tree to get away from bears. It ain't happening.
John G's T-shirt said "Ask me about the purple ticket" so I asked him about the Purple Ticket. His friends all started giggling. He said, with a very straight face, "You have to talk to the worm if you want a Purple Ticket". His friends all started cracking up. "Clearly I have wandered into the boundaries of some kind of ridiculous inside joke here", I said, recalling that I had seen a guy on the AWC forum with that same cryptic line as his signature, and realizing that I was probably talking to him. "You have to talk to the worm if you want a Purple Ticket". It sounds like either a reference to something that happened in a role-playing game, or else like a bizzare euphemism for oral sex. I wonder.
Game Two: Bad Moon Orks
My second match was against a totally sweet-looking Orkish mob, played by an older gentleman named Ernie -- the kind of grizzled veteran gamer who probably started painting minis for some system or other before I was born. This game was an absolute blast. I should explain that in the current version of the rules and with the current codices, Orks are generally not considered one of the more competitive armies. But they are just about the most entertaining army, as their attitude towards war is something like a British soccer hooligan in a barroom brawl, and the apperance of their vehicles and technology suggests a bunch of mad scientists run amok in a junkyard. They're kind of the "comedy relief" of 40K, and the game wouldn't be the same without them. This is exactly the attitude Ernie had; he made it clear that he didn't expect to win much but he was happy as long as he could do things his way and make each match as crazy as possible.
His army was totally asymmetrical, with no two units being the same, and it had a freakin' great paint job and lots of little banners and conversions and details everywhere. It was the one that I had voted best-looking army of the day. He had, let's see, a warboss and five mega-armored nobs riding on a scratch-built flatbed truck; a looted Leman Russ tank that had been modeled with Orks peeking out from all the hatches; a couple mobs of flash gitz (I think); a mob of Gretchin driven by a slaver with a whip and a pet Squigg; and then there was the custom battlewagon. This thing was made out of land-raider parts, but imagine the land-raider was split down the middle and the two halves separated, so between one set of treads and the other set was this sort of cage with a slavering horde of like fifty orks inside it, and on top of the cage was mounted a scary-looking Zzap Gun and five or six twin-linked shootas and bolters. There were Grot Riggers with wrenches hanging off the sides and chunks of dirt and grass stuck in the tank treads, and the whole model had to have been like a foot and a half wide! When I first saw this monstrosity I thought it was just part of his cool diorama display base -- I never would have thought it was a playable model until he placed it on the board!
Oh, I forgot to mention that Ernie was wearing a homemade yellow vest covered with Bad Moon tribe insignia over his clothes. He was dressed up to match his Orks, in other words. That is style right there.
The mission in this game was to control the battlefield: points were awarded for holding table quarters and for holding the center, and there was a weird special rule that after both armies deployed either player could choose to move a piece of terrain 6 inches in any direction in exchange for a penalty on the roll to go first. Neither of us decided to use this option, however.
So, I set up all my skimmers behind the one large piece of terrain in my corner -- which was this amazing looking alien rock formation with several tinted glass bubbles embedded in it, and old Tyranid hormagaunt models behind them, so it looked like the Tyranids were ancient creatures trapped in amber. So cool! I held my crisis suits back for deep strike, and infiltrated the stealths behind a rock spire near the center.
He sent his trukk full of mega nobs (these are huge hulking cyborg Orks with stompy feet and huge robotic claws -- and a 2+ armor save) zipping full speed across the board to attack me from the north, and the gigantic battlewagon swung around to attack me from the west; he was trying to catch me in a pincer movement behind the rock formation. Meanwhile his Gretchin and Boyz advanced on my Stealth position and tried to shoot them up with no effect.
I was pretty scared of those cyborg Orks and their trukk that can go 24 inches in one turn, so I shot their truck up with my hammerhead smart missiles (front av 10, so smart missiles were enough to penetrate) resulting in an explosion that took out one of the nobs and entangled the rest in burning wreckage for a turn. That's good enough for me -- I took that opportunity to get as far away from those guys as I could. And with their mobility wrecked, they never managed to catch up with me for the rest of the game.
The Leman Russ lobbed a couple of shots at me before I destroyed its main weapon with railgun fire, but the gigantic battlewagon just kept coming and coming, with all my railgun and ion cannon and missile pod shots just bouncing off it harmlessly. Meanwhile his gretchin and Flash Gitz were having a firefight with my steadily retreating stealth suits. He mocked me as a coward for running away from Gretchin, which are I believe officially the weakest individual model in the game. "The Tau see no value in holding ground per se and attatch no dishonor to an orderly retreat", I said, paraphrasing the codex. "We shoot you and run away. That's what we do." Later in the day I heard Ernie across the roop whooping with glee because his gretchin had wounded a Carnifex or something.
Various primitive and silly Ork weapons wiped out my stealth suits, destroyed both my piranhas, and knocked the weapons off of my hammerheads, but I had escaped from his attempted pincer movement and swooped all my surviving vehicles towards the middle of the board. On turn three all of my crisis suits finally decided to come in; I deep struck them into his starting quarter so they could shoot into the back of the huge mob of orks near the center. One of them scattered off the board ("He was jumping down from orbit and he missed the planet, see") but the rest of them, combined with a double-fish-of-fury (that's Mech Tau slang for when I swing my Devilfish up next to an enemy and drop all my fire warriors off into rapid-fire range for a turn of decisive shooting) pretty much wiped out the horde of Greenskins from the middle of the board.
At one point he failed a pinning test from a carbine, and I thought I was about to see the carbine pinning effect actually work for the first time ever, but the WAAAAAGGGHHHH! foiled it.
That was the situation when time was called. We each held one table quarter, the other two were contested, I had killed only slightly more VPs than he had, so it would have been a draw except that I controlled the center of the table (tertiary mission objective) so it was a narrow win for the Tau.
Game Three: Imperial Fists
My third opponent was Chris playing Imperial Fists Space Marines (aka The Yellow Ones). Chris was a tall skinny guy. He was pretty serious and didn't joke around as much during the game as my other two opponents; also he knew the rules down cold. He knew the stats for all the units in my army better than I knew them myself. I'm not saying he was unfriendly or a rules lawyer or anything; he was completely polite and an ideal guy to play against. He used his superior rules knowledge to finish all of his turns very quickly so we could fit in more gaming in the time we had, and never tried to twist them to his advantage or anything.
And his Imperial Fists were extremely "fluffy", which is Warhammer slang for an army composed in accordance with the fictional background material (aka "the fluff") and what the player thinks a particular race or faction probably would send out onto a given battlefield according to this background material. This often means a fluffy army has a lot of basic troops with only a few Elite/Heavy Support/Fast Attack units. As opposed to an army composed with the sole thought of winning, which might take the absolute minimum number of basic troops and maximum number of Elites/Heavy Support/Fast Attack (Nidzilla is a perfect example of this kind of unfluffy army: Nidzilla is inarguably effective, but the fluff says that Tyranids are a swarming horde unstoppable because of sheer uncountable numbers. Nidzilla is eight guys. Eight guys is not an uncountable horde, people.)
So Chris' Imperial Fists were almost entirely tactical squads, with just one squad of Assault Marines led by a Chaplain, and one squad of Devastators. He didn't have any Terminators, for instance, because his army is the Sixth Company of the Imperial Fists and all the Terminators are in the First Company, like, duhh, so obviously he can't have Terminators. That's what a fluffy army means. It was like I was facing an actual Space Marine Company and not some munchkinish delivery vehicle for maximum Assault Cannons.
Chris was obviously really deep into the background of the 40K setting, because the printed army list he gave me had two full pages of background information explaining the origin of the 6th Company, a biography of his leader (Brother Chaplain Martias, Defender of Terra), and the part they play in galactic history in the wake of the 13th Black Crusade. It's always nice to see people who bring a role-player's attitude to wargaming. Oh yeah, he also had his army's name engraved on a brass plaque attatched to his display base.
Chris made up for his self-imposed handicap of limited specialist troops with pure tactical acumen. He didn't make a single mistake that I could capitalize on, and he had obviously fought armies just like mine many times, and knew exactly how to beat me. Hats off to that!
My biggest mistake of the whole day was in this game. I must have been getting tired. I jumped three crisis suits back behind a rock in the assault phase, but I was careless in placing them and they were just a little too close to his assault marines who were hiding behind a forest. I realized it as soon as he started moving them. Sure enough, they were just barely able to get into combat with one; and when they wiped him out, they consolidated into the others before I could do anything. Very bad. Those battlesuits were the core of my anti-marine shooting power. Well, that and the Ionhead, which kept getting stunned.
The mission was generally pretty bad for me anyway, since getting the test subject and the research data was kind of like a variant of take-and-hold. Take-and-hold is always a challenge for Tau because it forces me to do exactly what I don't want to do, which is sit still in a big pile in the middle of the board.
My strategy was to infiltrate the stealth suits close to the ogre where they could act as bait to lure him towards my side. It was working perfectly for about one turn, but then the Marines shot the ogre to death which forced me to try to get an infantry unit over there to start dragging its corpse back. This led me into the clump-up kind of situation described above, and after his assault marines finished off my crisis suits he rolled 6 inches to consolidate, and of course this was at the end of my turn so I never even got a chance to shoot at them before they were plowing into the swirling carnage in the center. Basically his assault marines were able to leapfrog from one unit to another on their stupid jetpacks and chop me all up with their stupid chainsaw swords. Stupid stupid assault marines. Stupid me for putting my crisis suits there. It was a total massacre.
Turns out Leed lives in Skokie so he offered to drive me back. We got totally lost on the back roads of Wisconsin trying to follow a printout of Google Map directions in reverse. We overshot this big intersection where we were supposed to turn left onto Green Bay Road, so we did a U-turn and went back and turned left, then I pointed out that since we were going the other way, we should have gone right in order to go left relative to the way we were going first, so we did another U-turn and went back through the intersection again. But then we realized that the "left" we were supposed to turn was part of the instructions for going to Kenosha, so we should have reversed it, which means we were actually going the right way after the first mistake, and so we did a third U-turn. Grumble!
And then we got onto this potholey back road that ran paralell to the highway for miles and miles and miles with no on-ramp. Or streetlights. It was like the twilight zone: we could see the highway clearly just a stone's throw to our left but we were on some kind of paralell road system which a deranged civil engineer had decided would never be allowed to connect to the highway system.
I finally made it back, obviously, but I think it would have been faster to take the train...
What I learned from this tournament:
I should build a display board for my army. Once the tournament starts, you are immediately faced with the question of how to rapidly move all your army men from one table to another to fight different opponents. Most people use a tray, and since these are crazy miniature painting nerds we're talking about, they make their trays into a sort of diorama where their army stands dramatically inside a fortress or a craggy canyon or a starship transport bay or something. I carried my army around on a spare bucket lid I found in the corner of the room. I felt inadequate. Oh well.
Assault marines are much much more of a threat than devestators. I would have done much better in game three if I had not been so worried about the devestators and instead deployed where I could get shot more but assaulted less. I needed to kill those assault marines with shooting early on, so I should have planned to lure them out from where they were and then try to spring the double fish-o-fury on them with fireknife support, or something. I thought my battlesuits were safe, but he was just barely able to reach them, and that miscalculation cost me dearly.
My heavy support units seemed to underperform in all of my games. My railguns kept either missing or rolling "1"s to wound. Railguns are great if they can hit, but it's all riding on a single die. If I spent the same amount of points on a greater number of weaker guns, regression-to-the-mean says that the greater number of dice I'd be rolling would deviate less and usually perform closer to the expected results. On the other hand, once I rolled three Ion Cannon shots and got three ones (a 1 in 216 chance) so maybe it was just because all my Heavy Support gunners had a party the night before (to celebrate finally being painted) and were hung-over the day of the battle.
My fusion-wielding Piranhas also didn't get much of a chance to shine, since I faced many fewer vehicles than I was expecting. The Piranhas were still useful, since a fusion blast to the face will kill a Necron or a Marine pretty good, but that's just one kill so it's not the most efficient way to use the Piranha. The ability to drop two drones off wherever I please always seems to come in handy. I was thinking that I would use my Piranhas to zoom over and grab objectives in the final round, but the thing is I never played the final round -- time ran out in my first two games, and in my last one I was mercilessly slaughtered long before the last round.
My crisis suits were extremely effective and always vital to my battle plans. I'm keeping them just the way they are, except to reconsider the VRT and stims on my Shas'O; those upgrades never did anything useful for me. In two games he finished without ever taking a wound or getting into an assault; in the last game he was crushed instantly by some ridiculous souped-up Chaplain powerfist, and no upgrades would have helped him survive. Maybe a shield generator... or just keep my HQ cheap and spend points elsewhere.
The mounted fire warriors did great; I was able to pull off a drop into rapid-fire range at least once in each game, and the results were always satisfying. Decoy launchers saved me a couple times. I found I kept wishing I had taken the multitrackers for the devilfish, because I was usually moving their full move and then wishing for just three more shots.
Finally, the unexpected star of the show in every game was the Stealth team! Six guys with no upgrades were able to infiltrate up next to the objective in every mission and they survived much longer than they had any right to. In every single game, my opponent went to absurd lengths trying to kill them, turn after turn. They attracted the attention of so many enemy units away from my more important stuff. You might say they were quite the opposite of "stealthy", in fact -- they were more like a decoy with a big red target painted on it. In other words, they were perfect bait for a Kauyon maneuver -- if only I had planned ahead enough to set one up. I must work on this tactic.
I'm not dead I'm just being a nerd
Hey guys, sorry I haven't written anything in a while; I've been crazy busy between fixing Enso bugs, drawing comic pages, and getting my army ready for my first Warhammer 40K tournament, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Saturday.
Yeah, I'm going to a tournament, I'm crazy. First problem is how the heck do you carry several dozen tiny army men plus their mecha and hovertanks to Wisconsin? If you just throw them in a bag they'll get smashed up, their arms will break off, and their painstaking paint job will get all chipped up. Seriously, warhammer 40k is the most impractical game I've ever played from a logistics standpoint. You can't even play until you've bought all these boxes of models, snipped the parts off the sprue, glued them together, and painted them (well, you could play without paint but that would be SO LAME), and then there's the transport problem, and then there's the fact that the standard board size is six feet by four feet so in order to play you basically have to either go to a specialized game store or club which has boards like that, or build your own and find some place to store the monstrous thing, which is hard if you live in an apartment and don't have a garage.
In this age of GameBoys that automatically detect each other and form ad-hoc wireless networks, miniatures wargames seem unbelievably quaint and inconvenient. You know, I think that's actually part of the appeal. Just getting to the point where you can put your army down on a board and start playing feels like a major achievement.
I found a web forum for Chicago-area wargamers and met a few people on the North Side who meet up at each other's apartments every so often for gaming. I had another game with them last Sunday. It's a pretty cool group; they're all adults, most of them have girlfriends or even wives and kids, so none of them fits the unwashed antisocial hardcore gamer geek stereotype. Well... on Sunday I met a guy who showed me the gigantic tattoo he got across his back of the two-headed eagle logo of the Imperium of Man. So I guess that qualifies him as a hardcore gamer geek anyway (wow).
So, to carry my army (specifically, my Dal'yth Sept Mechanized Tau Hunter Cadre) to Kenosha, last night I took $5 worth of foam rubber blocks from the craft store, traced the outlines of my models onto them, and chopped holes out with scissors, so now I have a custom army carrying case which will protect all of their fragile pointy bits and antennae from breaking off in the journey. Compare the $5 I spent on this project to the $90 that Games Workshop charges for basically the same thing.
I'm sure I will be thoroughly trounced at the tournament, since I'm a n00b and the rest of the people there will probably be master tacticians with perfectly min/maxed army lists, but I expect it will still be fun. It's round-robin, not elimination, so I'll at least get to play three full games. Besides, my favorite thing about Warhammer isn't winning, it's seeing all the creativity that people put into their armies! People put lots of work into custom modeling and insanely detailed custom paint jobs, and sometimes even custom scratch-built war machines. The culture surrounding this game is such that the artistic quality of your army is just as important as the outcome of the battle. At tournaments, the judges' rating of your paint job is even taken into account to decide your final ranking.
I'll try to get some photos of the tournament armies (including mine) to post here after I get back.