Saturday, April 12, 2014

Blog Wars 7 - A Different Kind of Tournament (Part 1)

There's just over two months to go until Blog Wars 7 (there are still tickets left - hint hint) and I thought I'd take the opportunity to give you some background to the event and discuss a few queries people have had about the latest incarnation. Hopefully by the end of these 2-3 articles I'll have addressed all of the issues that have arisen or may arise. If not, please let me know but wait until I've finished these articles as I may be addressing your concern in a later post.

Over the last few years of running Blog Wars I've learnt a lot of things about how to create a tournament that everyone will enjoy. The process is equal parts frustrating and rewarding. For every person you make happy with the event you piss one off it seems. All of the decisions I make about Blog Wars are intended to make the day more enjoyable for the players whilst streamlining things so that organisation is easier. This in turn makes the event more enjoyable as, in theory at least, it should run smoothly. I can't pretend the event is perfect though, I've certainly made mistakes in the past but hopefully the next event is always better as a result.

The way GW are messing with 40K at the moment there are a number of issues I need to address and explain why I've made the decisions that I have. I don't want to put anyone off from attending Blog Wars (which is why it isn't blogger only despite the name) but at the same time I want to run a tournament that's a departure from the norm. It's very easy to feel pressured into making a decision about something but you have to keep telling yourself that no one has to attend the tournament. I'm sure the compulsory special character thing puts people off, as does the tabling rules (more on that in a bit) but ultimately if people don't like it there are other tournaments out there that do things differently. Might sound harsh but it comes back to not being able to please everyone and forcing myself to stop (somewhat forlornly) trying.

Forge World
There's no question that Forge World units are now perfectly 40K legal. Well at least to me there isn't. The current rules allow for FW units in conventional games of 40K. That being said, they aren't allowed at Blog Wars. I'm always in two minds about this decision. On the one hand there's a lot of interesting units and new combinations that are possible and FW units can often plug gaps in some of the older/weaker codices making them more viable. On the other hand there are some stupidly good units in there (I hesitate to use the term "broken"). One example is the Red Scorpions librarian (Severin Loth) who can simply choose his powers from particular disciplines. It wouldn't have sounded so bad in 5th but since every other psyker (pretty much at least) rolls for random powers it seems a bit unreasonable that you can take him and be sure to get what you need. There are other examples too but like so many other things in 40K a few powerful units give some perfectly reasonable ones a bad rep.

Perhaps my decision to ban Forge World is, in part at least, down to me never having dabbled with the IA books. There's no question the hobby is expensive but FW takes it to another level. It's a shame though that some of the more interesting armies (e.g. Elysians) are prevented by a blanket ban. However, Blog Wars often features tournament newbies and they're unlikely to have had much exposure to FW. It's another set of rules to learn, another set of books for me to consult when checking lists and a difficult expense to justify for some. For now at least I'm sticking with the ban.

Allies and Inquisition
I've said on many occasions that I'm not a fan of the allies system. It's fine in principle but let down by abuse in tournament lists (like soo many things). The Inquisition book has similar issues for me, I can see why they might be present from a fluff perspective but ultimately they'll get used to bring in Coteaz and/or a few servo skulls. That being said this is the first Blog Wars where there Inquisition Codex has been available so I want to use BW7 as an experiment to see how many people will actually make use of it and if they do, how much effect it actually has.

I know some events use a system where Inquisition (or knight titans etc) take up the allies slot but I want to leave things as they are for now and perhaps look down that path if I think it's necessary for BW8. Similarly for allies, there are a lot of powerful combinations that can be created but by banning those you only make some mono-codex builds stronger. In this case at least I think banning allies would piss off more people than it would please so both allies and Inquistion are permitted at BW7.

Dataslates and Formations
As it stands at the moment there aren't really any overpowered dataslates. Of course Cypher is useful but he's quite a points sink and not especially tricky to kill. He hasn't been too much of an issue in the games we've had with him. I've not had much chance to play test the formations but again none of them seem especially "broken". For now at least both will be permitted at Blog Wars and I'll review them after BW7 to see if that's the right call or not.

Escalation, Stronghold Assault and Imperial Knights
I've lumped these together here but I could actually discuss all three at length in individual posts. Ultimately my problem with Escalation comes down to the Revenant and the Transcendant C'Tan. These two units can potentially win games on their own irrespective of their opponent and even their own supporting units. There are other Lords of War that are powerful but these two simply aren't much fun at 1,850pts. Playing against them in the right environment can be fun. The kind of game where you tailor your lists to try and take them down can actually be enjoyable but in a tournament setting, particularly Blog Wars, I think they'd ruin people's days. Of course people tout them as the ultimate counter to some of the deathstars but for the most part those armies don't feature at Blog Wars and I hope BW7 will be no different. The scenarios will hopefully make the common deathstars less effective anyway.

Stronghold Assault is inextricably linked to Escalation in a lot of ways. One book counters the other. Without having Escalation I don't feel the Stronghold Assault stuff is necessary. Both are perfectly reasonable in Apocalypse or even higher point limit games of 40K but they're too much for 1,850pts. For that reason neither will be allowed at Blog Wars 7.

Finally we come to Imperial Knights. I don't for a second think that they're overpowered. I don't think they're indestructible and I don't think they're especially deadly. So why am I not allowing them? Well I'm pretty torn to be honest. On the one hand they aren't too tricky to deal with but there's that potential for their D weaponry (either the CC weapon or Stomp) to achieve something devastating. I'm of the opinion that D-weapons have no place in regular 40K and despite them being worlds away from a Revenant I'm still not happy to allow them. I appreciate the irony when I'm giving one away in the raffle but of all of the things that I'm prohibiting at Blog Wars they're probably the most likely to be permitted at future events.

Making decisions about these things without testing them is always difficult. That isn't to say I don't playtest them at all but rather that I can't hope to test them on a full tournament scale. No matter how much testing I can do in my own games or by visiting other events, there's still the possibility that things will be very different at Blog Wars. Perhaps there'll be something that I should've permitted that I haven't or vice versa but unfortunately the only way to find out is by experimenting.

I've said before and it's still true that I want Blog Wars to be different from other events. What works on the competitive scene doesn't always mesh well with my (perhaps naive) ideal of a friendly tournament. I hope people appreciate the thought that goes into my events and that it shows in the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Anyway, in the next post I'll be talking more about the scenarios and scoring. I appreciate I've done these kind of posts before but there are new issues (mostly of GW's creation) that I wanted to address so please bear with me.

As ever, I want your feedback on these decisions and I'm always prepared to listen to compelling arguments for why I'm making the wrong choice about something.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Challenges of Introducing New Players to 40K

Warhammer 40,000 is at a very difficult stage at the moment. Games Workshop are moving the goal posts on an almost weekly basis. This has been brought to the fore recently for me as I'm trying to introduce a colleague to 40K. We've had a couple of games and he's already picking a lot up but the problem is that there's just so much to learn. I keep on telling him that the mechanic is pretty simple. Basically you need to roll a certain score and there are modifiers which either make it easier or more difficult. Sounds easy enough.

He's never done any wargaming in the past so all of the concepts are new. Obviously it's easier to introduce 40K to someone who's ever role played or even played Risk. My original idea was to start with Kill Team as a means of learning the basic mechanics without drowning in depth. Still though you find all the exceptions creeping in. Think about the different rules required to play a legal game of 40K. There's the core rulebook, codices, supplements, dataslates, Forge World, White Dwarf, Escalation and Stronghold Assault. You could potentially add Planetstrike, Cities of Death, etc to the list but they don't usually feature in games. Still that's quite a list. I'm sure if you listed out all of the individual publications there'd be a huge number. Of course some of these are optional and in casual games you can pick and choose. Go to an official GW tournament though and all of those things are legal.

You might say that you only need to know the rules for your army. That's true to an extent. When you play a new army for the first time your opponent will explain what his units do. Think about it though, if you play an army you've never played before, how much of that explanation do you actually take in? If I'm running my Wolves and I play Dark Eldar or Tau there's very little an opponent can do to surprise me (rules-wise at least). That isn't to say I won't lose but I'll know exactly what his army is capable of and I'll tailor my tactics accordingly. Every time I play a tournament game I learn something new though. There's always some rule I thought I understood but I realise I've been interpreting incorrectly.

To really be any good at the game you need to understand the capabilities of your opponent's list. That doesn't mean you need to have a thorough read of his codex but you at least need to know what his army is capable of and what units need to be avoided or else killed first. There's already a huge number of factions in the game and each has it's own little nuances. Having played the game for a few years (since I restarted that is) I've got a fair grasp of all of the books. Writing this blog helps as I review each new codex and learn a lot about the army in the process.

Trouble is, even if you think you've got a handle on everything involved in 40K as it is today, there's the potential that a new codex will be released next week (and indeed the AM book is out Saturday) that could change things dramatically. Before 6th edition you realistically had 3-4 months (if not more) to learn about a new codex before another army got an update. Some armies rules stayed the same for years at a time. Of course it's in GW's interest to keep updating army books so we buy them and the new units they introduce but this is a difficult concept for a new player.

I don't think this problem is limited to 40K. I don't have much knowledge of other games like Warmachine, Malifaux, Infinity, etc but I'm sure they have similar new player issues. Still though, the way 40K is going recently I'm amazed anyone manages to pick it up. Veteran players are being put off by the constantly changing rules and poor FAQ support. They're the ones with hundreds/thousands of pounds/dollars/euros invested in the game. New players may have only bought a few units so they're much more likely to be put off.

Has anyone else had difficulty introducing a new player to 40K? How did you go about it? What could I be doing differently?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

X-wing Battle Report - Taking on the TIE Swarm

As Matt and I move ever closer to getting competitive with X-wing we had a few games a couple of weeks back that I'm finally getting chance to write up today! It's proving ever more difficult to fit in some blogging amongst the parenting and hobbying. Anyway, since Matt forgot his X-wing stuff (somehow?) we had to proxy a few ships in the first game and struggled for movement dials. We had limited time too after the morning's 40K had taken longer than planned.

Game One - 4 X-wings
I've been trying to work out lists based on the models we've got between us so, assuming Matt had brought his stuff we'd have had 4 x-wings. As it was we had to proxy a B-wing and Y-wing. Similarly Matt didn't have all the TIEs he needed so there was an A-wing that'd gone over to the dark side.

Wedge w/ Veteran Instincts
2 Rookies

Darth Vader w/ Veteran Instincts
3 Academy Pilots (TIEs)
2 Named TIE Pilots (Dark Curse and Night Beast I think)

This game was over pretty sharpish. I'd arranged my X-wings in a box formation with the rookies out front. The rebel opening salvo was able to damage a couple of TIEs but I realised quickly that I should've focussed fire on a single target since I was at range 3 and they were evading. Over the next couple of rounds I quickly started to lose X-wings to the sheer volume of green beams coming my way.

It was tricky to pin down a particularly TIE so several of them ended up with damage without being totally destroyed. One by one the X-wings fell (Darth had a lot to do with it) and Wedge found himself alone with three TIEs and Vader to deal with solo. He put up a brave fight, managing to down a TIE and damage another, but with limit mobility the result was somewhat inevitable and Darth finished him off pretty sharpish.

The good news was that meant we'd got time for a second game!

Game Two (the photo uploader is being useless so I'll add photos soon)
This time I wanted to try out a mixture of Rebel ships so in stark contrast to the previous game I ran 4 different ships. This gave me a chance to try out ion weaponry and put the Y-wing through it's paces. This time there'd be no proxies as with Matt taking named pilots there'd be enough TIEs to go around.

Red Squadron Pilot (X-wing) - some upgrade I forget
Gold Squadron Pilot (Y-wing) - Ion cannon turret, R2 Astromech
Dagger Squadron Pilot (B-wing) - Ion cannon, Engine Upgrade
Green Squadron Pilot (A-wing)

Empire (from hazy memory)
Tempest Squadron Pilot (TIE Advanced) - Cluster Missiles
Turr Phennir (TIE Interceptor)
Night Beast (TIE fighter)
Mauler Mithel (TIE fighter)
Dark Curse (TIE fighter)

This time arround I paired up my ships with the Y-wing and X-wing taking the left flank and the A-wing and B-wing taking the right. Expecting Matt to blast his ships forward at full pelt I decided to play more conservatively and keep my range and my options open. Pretty early on (might have even been first phase) I was able to down one of the TIEs which took away the number advantage of the Empire. The shields on the Rebel ships would now come into play.

As per usual the game ended up with a bit of a close quarters melee in the middle of the board with the B-wing managing to score an ion hit on one of the TIEs. This game me a huge advantage as I could plan my moves knowing exactly where the TIE would be. In the subsequent turn it was easily downed by the B-wing's primary weaponry. On the other side the Y-wing and X-wing had combined well to do damage to the TIE advanced and without Darth Vader's two actions Matt was struggling to make it effective. His cluster missiles had failed miserably to do damage. Sadly the Y-wing's poor manoeuvrability had left it exposed and it was downed by combined fire from the TIEs.

The TIE Advanced was destroyed a short time later and Matt was now limited to Turr Phenir and Night Beast, both of whom had damage. They'd have an uphill struggle to down the three remaining rebel ships despite them all having little or no shields remaining. Unfortunately at this point we'd run out of time and Matt had to concede there as it was unlikely to end favourably for him.

Another couple of excellent battles here. I have to say these went against the grain of our previous games which have all been pretty close and usually come down to shootout between a single ship each. I apologise for my poor recollection of the squadrons involved and details of the fights. Also the pictures have come out badly in places thanks to the bright sunlight so again apologies.

The first game taught be a valuable lesson about target priority. There's no point having several enemy ships with face-down damage on them as it has no effect on their capabilities. I'm pretty sure I forgot Wedge's pilot ability a fair amount but I don't think it would've made much difference. X-wings are far from weak but I think they need support from other ships to be more effective.

We've yet to understand the benefits of secondary weapons. They seem like a waste of points and target locks to us but I can only assume we're missing something. Care to enlighten us anyone? On the other hand I can certainly see the benefit of ion weaponry. Knowing exactly where an enemy ship will end up next turn is huge and with the right moves you can almost guarantee it's demise. I'm not totally convinced the B-wing is the right platform for it though as it feels like a waste of it's primary weaponry, especially at range 1.

I'm off to Matt's tonight for a few more games (in fact I'll be playing when this post goes up). There'll be no 40K at all tonight so I'm hoping we get plenty of X-wing battles in. I will, of course, write these up as soon as I can.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Fantasy Flight X-wing Support - Are you listening GW?

As you may have noticed, I'm pretty obsessed with the X-wing Miniatures Game from Fantasy Flight Games at the moment. I could extol the virtues of the game until the cows come home but others have already done that. What I want to talk about instead is FFG's approach to competitive play. Now, you may remember that Matt and I were determined not to play X-wing tournaments so that our enjoyment of our casual games wasn't spoiled by always wanting to test tournament combos.

We all knew that wasn't going to last right? Well we're at the stage now where we're both naturally finding the best combinations we can and playing the games more competitively. At some point we'll play through all of the missions as fun games but in the mean time we want to try and work out what we'd run at a tournament when we inevitably can't resist any longer.

To this end I decided to do some research into what the rules were for playing in X-wing events. The first thing I came across was their Tournament Rules PDF which details exactly how competitive X-wing works. These rules couldn't be clearer and, whilst I haven't tried them out, it appears they've covered most eventualities. Tournament games are all played for what 40K players would know as VPs where you score based on how many points you've killed of the opponent's squadron. This obviously makes things simple and minimises the problems of coming up against a particularly enemy squadron which would make a mission impossible for your list. This is only possible because there's an excellent balance to the game. There's nothing that seems particularly overpowered (in my limited experience) and all the ships seem to have a place. I'll be interested to see if this trend continues as they add more ships.

The GW tournament packs for their official events are nowhere near as well written. Now I appreciate that X-wing is a LOT simpler than 40K but still it's clear there's been a lot of thought about how tournaments will play out. Another interesting thing is that ships are only tournament legal once they've been through the FAQ process. Can you imagine if the same rule was applied to 40K? There's obviously only two factions and limited releases but still. There's no reason GW couldn't be on top of their FAQs like this. As far as I can remember there hasn't been a decent round of FAQs from GW since something like September last year! Of course, you could argue that both companies should be play testing these rules to minimise the need for corrections and clarifications but you have to be realistic, there's always going to be unexpected issues. I have to say the FFG FAQs are pretty thorough though and it's rare that something isn't covered. Could you say the same of GW ones?

I know it's been whinged about at length on the interwebs but seriously, how difficult would it be for GW to produce some FAQs? Hell I'd happily work on them on their behalf for free just so I could play a game without so many grey areas! Whenever we do get FAQ updates they seem to barely cover the main issues. There's a list as long as my arm of units that are either unusable or with questionable rules. You shouldn't need to check with a TO or individual opponent about which version of a rule they adhere to.

FFG have a system of official tournaments which start at store level followed by Regional, National and the World Championship! As I understand it FFG fly the players over to America to play in the World Championship event. GW wouldn't even give you bus fare. These tournaments have prize support provided by FFG. Now these aren't amazing prize and rarely involve models but still, it's an infinite improvement on what GW offer.

Rules for Free
Another thing that surprised me is that FFG offer the rules for X-wing FOR FREE on the website in PDF format! Again, the rules are a lot simpler but why couldn't GW offer the core rulebook for free with people still paying for individual army books? FFG insist on official products at their tournaments (like GW do at WHW) but that really isn't an issue. Games Workshop are always quick to tout themselves as a model company who just happens to supply rules. If that's the case there's no reason those rules couldn't be free. Of course there's a lot more fluff involved in their books but I'm sure people would still buy books. Let's face it there are plenty of illegal versions of their rules on the internet no matter how much work they do to stop it. Why not take control of that and release rules for free?

Release Schedule
FFG have recently announced that the Rebel Aces pack will be hitting the shelves in Q3 of this year. That's roughly six months in advance. Official announcements of models from GW are now somewhere between a week and a fortnight in advance. We all know GW have this idea that if they tell us what's coming we won't buy it but simply wait for the other product later but how realistic is this? When FFG announce a product they not only show us pictures of the models but also give a thorough breakdown of the rules with preview articles and suggested tactics. They then encourage players to discuss the new releases on their own forums meaning Warseer and their ilk don't need to exist.

GW make noise about trying to control the rumour mill but if anything the hype built up by the rumours helps sales. Fantasy Flight can't physically make the models quick enough to keep up with demand at the moment. This for me is the main problem FFG have at the moment. Some ships simply aren't available for months at a time and when they come back in stock they quickly sell out again. GW may have had the odd time when they're hit by unexpected demand but for the most part you can get your hands on everything in their extensive catalog pretty easily.

When there's a new release FFG also encourage stores to run events where the new models are promoted and there's a chance of winning one of the kits long before release day. For example they're running Assault on Imdaar Alpha (or something like that) at the end of May to preview their Wave 4 ships.

There's no question that FFG and GW have wildly different approaches to customer relations. It's such a shame that GW can't learn a thing or two from their American counterparts. FFG aren't perfect but you can forgive them because miniatures are a relatively new avenue for them.

To an extent comparing these two game systems is unfair. 40K is significantly deeper and more complex which makes it naturally harder to regulate and balance but it just never feels like GW really try. The way 40K is at the moment I'm not hugely keen on playing in tournaments and I'm finding it more and more difficult to find the enthusiasm for running one either.

The key difference is the secrecy of GW contrasting the openness of FFG. Both companies seem perfectly capable of shifting kits but I know who's strategy I prefer. Of course I'll still be buying GW models but it doesn't mean I'm any less frustrated about the way they do business. I can't say this is anything new but my experience with FFG in the early stages of X-wing addiction have been a lot more pleasant and brought my dislike of GW's tactics to the fore.


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