It's been a event-packed month here, which has kept me both busy and distracted from my 40K hobby. Other than tinkering with army lists, all I've been able to make time for is assembling and reworking a few miniatures. I've put together a few more Noise Marines for my Slaanesh list, and I disassembled and re-glued a Crisis Suit to change it into a Fireknife commander (note to self: in the future, magnetize), but beyond that, I've gotten little done.
Fortunately, I have next week off for vacation, so I have plans for both gaming and hobby work. I have Tau to paint, Slaanesh Marines to base and prime, and armies to test (even if I have to proxy some things). I'm also using this time to start planning for the future and where I want to take my wargaming. For example, I've been kicking around the idea of starting up a podcast; I just need to go ahead and pull the trigger and do it. There's a few things I need to get lined up - intro/outro music, and deciding on a co-host - but I'm close enough to getting it done that I should take the leap.
I'm also starting to look at plans on where to go next year... physically. With Adepticon 2011 signups open, I'm contemplating taking my show on the road and taking part in a gaming convention. Both Adepticon and WarGamesCon are relatively easy to get to, and even the NOVA Open would be doable if I take a plane. I'd probably only be able to go to one event, maybe two if I'm lucky (or can split costs with someone), but I'd definitely like to take a step into the larger 40K world. Granted, I don't know if there's a place for me there - these are events geared towards tournament play, and I am definitely not a tournament player - but it's still something I think I should experience at least once.
Of course, if I go, I have to get serious about getting my armies completely painted. My Tau are just about there, and I could easily have 2000 points painted together by the end of the year. On the other hand, I'm starting from scratch with my Chaos army - not that I'd necessarily take it to a tournament event, but it's still something to spur me into action. I'd also have to get some real transport together for my minis - a milk crate filled with Sabol foam trays isn't going to cut it. I'm vacillating on whether to just get a Sabol case to hold my existing trays, or if I should go for broke and get Battlefoam trays and the case to go with them.
So much to do, and deceptively little time to do it. Decisions, decisions...
I've made no secret about the fact that I'm not a tournament player. I like the idea of tournaments, of getting to play outside my normal group and face new opponents and new armies, but I rarely participate. Partially, it's a distance and scheduling thing (although once my Friendly Local Gaming Store gets its new game room finished, that will change somewhat), and partially it's a social anxiety thing (I'm a huge introvert, and very shy until I get comfortable). Mostly, though, it's the fact that playing in a tournament - playing at a high technical level with actual stakes - makes me very tense and nervous. This goes back to my collectible card gaming days, when I would participate in tournaments with some regularity. The most tense, least fun games I've ever played are ones where I made it into the the final elimination rounds, and while there is some satisfaction in winning such a game, for me there's no... enjoyment. There's no elation. Just a feeling of, "Man, I'm glad that's over," and feeling vaguely ill from the stress.
That said, I think having supported outlets for competition-level play is very important. There's a large section of the 40K player base that loves the thrill of playing hardcore no-holds-barred tactical wargaming, and they deserve to be supported just as much as we more casual players do. They're the players that push the envelope on the game, that strive to discover the underpinning theories behind the rules and codexes, and to take what they find and apply it as efficiently as they can. That's where they derive their enjoyment. Fortunately, they also share what they find, because they want to encourage others to join them on the competitive field. Even though I don't consider myself a competition-level player, I still enjoy reading sites like 3++ Is the New Black and Yes The Truth Hurts to see how the other half lives and plays, and to pick up tips and tactics. I may not always agree with their point of view (more on that a bit later), but I can't deny their passion for the game and their efforts to raise the level of the entire community.
Also, I'll go on record and say that for competitive play, I prefer the W/L model that's been pushed lately over the old Battle Points model. I think that if you're going to compete, you should be going for the win, and that some of the best games are the ones where one good opponent barely edges the other one out. I'm not a fan of soft scores, either; I'm not vehemently against them, but I think they dilute the point of the tournament. Painting belongs in the painting competition, not on the tabletop competition, and sportsmanship should be a given. If someone wants to cheat or to be an ass, let a judge call him on it. On the other hand, I don't have a problem with composition rules, as long as the goal of them - to create an alternate environment - is clear. I'm used to limitations on deck building in different environments from my CCG days, so having something similar in the tabletop environment doesn't bother me. However, I prefer composition to be presented as an alternate format, and that the standard remain comp-free.
However, the name of this article is "My Love/Hate Relationship with Competition Play", and my general nerves about tournaments are not the "hate" portion. To illustrate that, let me share with you a story about Street Fighter world champion Daigo Umehara. To celebrate the release of Super Street Fighter 4, the game's producer, Yoshinori Ono, invited Daigo to play him in a friendly game. How did it go? Here's what Ono said:
"We once played a so-called ‘friendly match’. He’s such a serious guy. He always studies the game to improve himself, but he has no sense of fun. I tried to inject some into him, saying, ‘You’re playing with the producer of Street Fighter IV, it’s a nice chance! Ok, you shouldn’t let me win but at least let’s try to have fun together and show the spectacular things the game can offer…’ He replied ‘ah’ and continued to butcher me without batting an eye. He KO’ed me in few seconds…"
Daigo has become such a high-level player that it's almost impossible for him to see the game any other way than as he would in a competition. The concept of the friendly game has become lost to him. My worry is that the same thing could happen to 40K. When every game becomes a tournament game, or practice for a tournament, or for developing tournament lists, there becomes less and less room for the casual gamer. I've seen it happen before in the CCG arena. There reached a point in my experience with one of my favorite card games, Legend of the Five Rings, where I literally could not get a game with anyone if it wasn't testing a deck for an upcoming tournament, and if I brought a deck that wasn't tournament-tuned, I couldn't even get that much. Even if I did manage to get a game in, they were all played tournament-style: no nonsense, cutthroat, and tense. When the game became more about the work to keep up with the tournament environment, rather than the fun of kicking back with some casual play, I left. What I was looking for wasn't there any more. I don't want to see that happen with 40K, and I pray that it doesn't.
Now, I'm hoping that competition-style 40K players understand where I'm coming from here, and I hope they understand that I'm not attacking them or denigrating the aspects of the game that they love. As I said above, I think the tournament environment should be encouraged to flourish, and I think GW could do a lot more towards that goal (timely errata and regularly-updated FAQs would be a huge start). However, I just ask people who have adopted the tournament-only mindset to remember that it's not the only way to play, and I ask them to encourage and support the casual gamer side of the hobby as well. There's room for both of us in this game. Remember, if I play Slaaneshi Chaos Marines, or if I take a Hammerhead in my army because I like it and it fits my playstyle, it's because that's just how I roll. Yes, the competitive players might tell you that they're bad choices, and perhaps they aren't always the most optimized options, but I'd rather play on my own terms, win or lose.
And know that if I do play in a tournament, even if I don't bring the most finely-tuned list ever because I want to play what I want, and even if you eventually table me, I will do my best to make you have to fight as hard as possible for that victory. I may be a casual gamer, but I never said I wasn't competitive.
Games Workshop has just announced that the Island of Blood starter set for Warhammer Fantasy Battles is available for pre-order, and I know at least a couple of my friends (namely, WDR and Hooligan from the Undergopher podcast) are planning on picking up a couple. WDR has been on a big Fantasy kick lately, and has been talking up the game to anyone in our group who will listen. It's understandable; Fantasy was his first Warhammer gaming love, and from everything I've heard the newest edition is very good. He's even managed to get me to contemplate getting into the game, to the point where I've been on GW's website pricing out various options.
However, I just don't see myself taking it any further and actually putting anything in a shopping cart. I enjoy wargaming, and I've been pretty happy with Warhammer 40K, but crossing over into Fantasy-land just doesn't click for me. Why is that? What makes me so adverse to getting into square-basing? Let me break it down a bit.
- I'm cheap. WFB is not an inexpensive game, especially compared to 40K. There's the fact that the standard army is 2000 points, as compared to 1500 for 40K, and from what WDR has told me, even that's starting to give way to 2500-point armies. That's not a small investment, and when you consider that units in WFB generally cost less points-wise than they do in 40K, you're having to buy even more minis to fill out that point budget. Even the newer, mostly-plastic armies start to get expensive. Take Skaven, for example. Two Island of Blood sets and a Skaven Battalion box gets you a good number of minis - 120 Clanrats, 20 Plague Monks, 6 Rat Ogres, 2 Warlords, 2 Warlock Engineers, 2 Plague Wind Mortars, 2 Warpfire Throwers, 2 Master Moulders, and 3 Packmasters. It looks like it'd be a decent-sized force if it were a 40K army, but in Fantasy, that doesn't even crack 1500 points. And that's roughly $220 of plastic (assuming you split the starter sets with someone). it's enough to get you started, but it's not a complete army by any means. Granted, it's still a good deal, but that's thanks to the starter set; most armies won't be that good a deal.
To compare, I started my Tau army with a Battle Force and a Megaforce. That was also around $220, but that got me 32 Fire Warriors, 12 Kroot, 3 Crisis Suits, 6 Stealth Suits, 3 Piranhas, 2 Devilfish, a Hammerhead, and assorted Gun and Marker Drones. It's not quite 1500 points, but add a Commander Crisis Suit, and you're within spitting distance, and it's a relatively complete army. You have at least one unit in each FOC group, and you can get a feel for most different Tau units.
- I like smaller armies. Going along with being cheap, I don't like armies with tons of miniatures. There's a reason why I don't play Imperial Guard, or Tyranids, or Orks. The "massive horde of troops" army style just doesn't appeal to me, either in a tactical sense or in a hobbying sense. I'm a slow painter, and the idea of having to paint all the figures required in a Fantasy army does not sound fun. At any rate, I wouldn't finish it anytime soon, especially with two other 40K armies in the queue already.
- I prefer 40K's fluff. I'm a sci-fi nerd first and foremost. That doesn't mean that I don't like fantasy - my D&D shelf at home is a testament to the contrary - but the fluff for Warhammer Fantasy has never really caught my fancy. I don't know what specifically about Fantasy's dark grim-and-grittiness doesn't work for me, but it's just never held much interest. None of the factions really appeal to me either (other than Skaven, for their 'mad science' vibe, and maybe Warriors of Chaos or Dark Elves, but even that's iffy). On the other hand, 40K's sci-fi fluff grabs my attention, and as odd as the fluff can occasionally be, I can discuss it for hours with friends, and I enjoy delving into it. One of these days, I need to pick up a Black Library novel, but I have enough books in my reading queue as it is...
- I prefer 40K's skirmish feel. Another thing about Fantasy that doesn't appeal is wheeling large blocks of troops around. Whenever I look at a picture of a Fantasy battle, there's something about it that feels very static, and I think it's because all the minis are locked into these nice, neat rectangles. I understand that it fits the pseudo-historical style of combat that it's supposed to emulate, but it's something that just holds no interest for me. Instead, I prefer the looser feel of 40K's units and movement. Granted, Fantasy's movement trays make it much easier to move large units (anyone who's played against a mob of 30 Ork Boyz will appreciate that), but I like the freedom of 40K's fluid troop formations.
- I'm running out of space! Let's say that I had the money for a full-sized Fantasy army, and that I overlooked my other issues with Fantasy. I'd still have one more major issue - I have nowhere to put a Fantasy army. As it is now, I'm already storing the largest part of my Tau army at a friend's house. Partially, this is due to convenience - that's where we play - but it's also due to the fact that we're trying to declutter our small house right now. Until we get a bigger place, or I get rid of enough other things to have a lot more space (and we already have a good chunk of our belongings in storage), I've got nowhere to put a third army, especially one the size of a WFB army.
Now, none of these issues are saying that WFB is a bad game, or that I'm refusing to play it because of its lack of quality. In fact, if a friend invited me to play, and provided an army for me to use, I'd give it a go. These are just my personal reasons for not diving into it myself. Of course, I'll be interesting in hearing WDR's response to this...
EDIT: It's been pointed out to me that my math was wrong on the point values on two Island of Blood boxes. In fact, you can get to over 1200 points between the two of them, and adding a Battalion box gets the total up to just shy of 1800 points. Okay, that's a much better deal for $220. Add in something from the Rare Units list, and you could easily hit 2000 points for less than $300. That's not bad at all, so the "I'm cheap" point above is questionable. Of course, I am still cheap, and can't really afford to drop $300 on a new army, but the game itself isn't to blame... as much. If I wanted to play something other than Skaven or High Elves, I'm back to square one.
A couple of hours ago, I finished my recording session with 8one6 and W.D.R over at Undergopher.com, along with Tim from ThatDamnPunk.com. The subject for this episode was 'An Introduction to Wargaming', and over the hour or so we recorded, I think we covered a lot of the basics, with plenty more to discuss for later visits. We discussed the history of the hobby, both overall and for each of us, what facets of the hobby appeal to us, games for beginners, what we actively play, and a (very simple) breakdown of play. The focus was mostly on Warhammer 40K, as it's the one game that W.D.R., Tim, and I all share, but we also touched on Flames of War, Warmachine, Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and Arcane Legions.
I want to give props out to the Undergopher crew for creating a comfortable environment where we were able to just converse freely without worrying about technical issues. Even though this was only their fourth podcast, they've really been working on stepping up their game and putting more polish on the finished product. In the end, we were able to just sit back on a couch, knock back a beer or two, and geek out on about one of our favorite hobbies - with the added bonus of having people around the world able to listen in. I hope that I get invited back to talk again; it was a lot of fun!
The podcast should be up before midnight Monday night. Please, go check it out!