[40K] Eighth For Eighth

Eighth Edition 40K looms and I’m back on the Eighth Legion bandwagon. Synchronicity, innit?

Well, the shiny new 40K is out on pre-order, the complete rules have been ‘leaked’ so the blogosphere can get on with calling out what’s a must-take and what’s unplayable garbage (the only unit types that really matter), and we’re back to business as usual. For me, of course, that means adamantly refusing any pre-emptive Thought Leadership and probably not even playing the damn thing until three months after release.

If you want a line, here it is: “funny how we’ve ended up back in second edition again”, what with all these movement stats and modifiers, albeit with the best of the subsequent editions – Force Organisation Charts, formal game modes for cityfighting and planetary assaults, dice-based psychic phase, and no cocking templates. Finally. “Hits d6 guys” worked fine in Cityfight and it’ll work fine here; bending double over the table, trying to centre the template, rolling partial hits… good sodding riddance. I hate those things, they make me hurt my back and strain my eyes and they generate fussiness over precision and half the time you still end up rolling a bunch of dice to see if that millimetre graze on a base counts for anything or not. Roll one die, it hits that many targets, lovely. Your resident cripple is delighted.

Anyway, I’m taking the opportunity to break out my Drakenhof Nightshade again and crack on with my Night Lords project. There was some brief uncertainty about exactly what I’d be doing with my Astartes models, but in the end I had to listen to my heart. Besides, Forge World sent me those extra chainglaives a while back (very fine customer service there), and I came into Something Big that I think I could fit in better than with Thousand Sons. Eighth Legion it is. For Eighth Edition too. See what I did there?

Here’s what I did of a lazy Sunday afternoon. Ten lads with boltguns, the backbone of the Legion, in some fairly bog-standard posing – getting an idea of the basics the kit can do.

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I don’t plan on barging ahead and building every single Mark III body I possess, because there’s a lot of them…

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The approximate plan here is to use the Forge World bodies and chainglaives to build some suitable squad leaders, and put together squads that’ll be broadly useful for Heresy-era gaming as well. (While the Horus Heresy is staying with the old 40K, I predict something like the lil’ red books will come along and enable people who prefer the new rules to rock those.)

Of course, they’re not going to look particularly Chaosy, but I have a fix for that; lost Legion brothers, imprisoned in an oubliette of imaginary time? Or a captured foundry world cranking out new Mark III suits for new recruits? Either works. I’ll have a hard core of more Chaos-touched Marines and break these guys out when more manpower’s demanded. (I am feeling like I might flog off the Tartaros Terminators though; I’m not especially keen on them aesthetically and goodness knows those rulebooks and Forge World transfer sheets don’t come cheap.)

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Not that there’s not a lot of good stuff on there. I like the presence of a banner or two, and I like the huge ominous grim reapers too. I have a use for those in mind. See, in amongst my pile o’plastic is this little gem I acquired on the relatively cheap a while back:

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This ‘un can wait though. I don’t want to have big things staring me in the face. I’ve built up a stash of stuff to work on one squad, or half a squad, at a time. It’s all very ‘mature hobbyist’. This lot’ll keep me going through the summer, or at least until I stop being interested again.

[Theory Thursday] The Ultimate Spirit of Wargaming

Part I – Dethroning Pedantry

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There’s a story behind this, but it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that, toward the end of my time with Warmachine and Hordes, I had to go and hunt out the first No Quarter that I ever bought, just to make sure I remembered “don’t quibble about millimetres in a game of inches”. Finding it gave me a few slaps in the face and reminded me what a sinner I am. I have kvetched about #3 and #4, I will be dead before I cam capable of #7 and I have indulged in #8 a few times, admittedly because I’m either dying of heatstroke or because someone’s due a bye anyway and I’ve had three miserable games. Finding it also vindicated me. See #1, #6, #9 and #10.

When I started playing (2005, would you credit it?), Playing Like You Had A Pair didn’t involve sticking the lip of your base right-next-to-but-not-within the woods so you could have the bonus without the penalty, or hanging one laser-calculated millimetre inside someone’s melee arc so you didn’t take a free strike. We accepted that blast templates are awkward, that one careless buttock passing by the table could send everything whole inches out of place, and that these awkward tactile objects of ours mean we’ll never be perfectly precise in our measuring and placing. We got on with the business at hand and gave a certain benefit of the doubt provided that intent was declared and mutually understood as acceptable.

Nowadays it seems unreasonable to expect a quiet game of giant robot smackdown fun after work without precision-cut measuring widgets in a range of sizes, a grab-the-geometry scenario presented in layers of legalese, a laser line and a cry of GOTCHA! for when someone forgets exactly what one of the two hundred or so warlocks or warcasters in the game can do.

At some point in the last decade, the game I loved has been taken over by, and become engineered for, rules lawyers and pedants and bean-counters. I find the resulting culture toxic: it brings out the worst in people who are often perfectly pleasant away from the game. Back in the day the most hardcore competitors I knew were the most chill, at-the-end-of-the-day-it’s-just-toy-soldiers guys you could imagine, and I can’t imagine anyone from Komitatus revelling in the pedantry that characterises the modern game.

I don’t begrudge people their high-end BE! ALL! THAT! YOU! CAN! BE! HUT HUT HUT! playstyle, if that’s what gets them through the day, but for me to have my fun I need at least a few people to cool their tits and remember that wargames will earn no paycheques, save no lives, and herald nobody’s place in Valhalla.

Part II – The Apparent Hypocrisy of Nigel Stillman

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Something similar was recommended to me in the Dark Ages of Warmachine (Mark I!) by a fellow from the Komitatus. “You people spend too much time and money on this shit,” he said. “Pick an army, pick a points value, build it, paint it, stick to it.”

When we discussed this over on the House of Paincakes, Stillmania was referred to as “a purist’s form of pick-up gaming”, and I think in this extreme form it is. The thing is, despite my general contempt for the pick-up form, this holds a certain weird appeal to me.

I think it’s the opportunity for closure. Malich over at Tabletop Gamers UK brought this up a while ago: when is an army finished? In the past my efforts have often petered out once the event which stimulated me to collect the force in the first place is gone, or once I’ve had enough of the league (or game system), or simply when there’s a lack of regular gameplay to encourage me. The last few models have lingered, either unpainted or forced for completion’s sake – and it’s always obvious when a model was forced above and beyond the normal level of “I don’t know if I like painting…”

Stillmania offers a rigid, unyielding sense of completion. It includes the deep and fundamental obligation to create Your Dudes and abide by them. It refutes the theoryhammer tinkering beloved of people who spend too much time talking about wargames on the Internet. It forces people to paint and to reject the czars of fashion. It is… compelling.

It is also not how Nigel himself seemed to end up doing things. When unleashed at article length the great Stillmaniac acknowledged playing smaller games with a champion and a handful of followers, and building the 1000-2000-3000 point blocks that were commonplace back in the Day. There’s an implied flexibility and nuance there which isn’t present in his principles as directly articulated… and it’s that flexibility, that sense that I have my 3000 point army and will pick units from it and make small variations for smaller games, that I’ve managed to achieve only once in my long career of wargaming.

It’s what I’m edging toward doing with the Chaos lads, though. I have a vision, with its core elements strictly defined, and other things not collected until they have ceased being nebulous and collapsed into something concrete. The list itself is tinkered with, thought about, adjusted as part of a process in which the collection grows and changes, but it will one day, probably when just shy of Apocalypse, be considered Done. There will be a collection to which no further models are added. There will be a List or two for games of various sizes and these Lists will only change when the rules on which they are based change. I am going to get this right, one more time.

Part III – Pick-Up Gamers Are Doin It Rong

Before any game, players must agree how they are going to select their armies, and if any restrictions apply to the number and type of models they can use.
— Warhammer 40K rulebook, ‘Choosing an Army’, emphasis theirs

I’m of the opinion that ‘any’ might as well read ‘every’.

We take this stage for granted: in the interests of a nice easy game we speed through this section and rely on unspoken standards, un-negotiated social contracts and undiscussed expectations.

This is why new players get flattened by melts who throw three Knights at them in their very first game. This is why tournament players wail and lament when they encounter an army that doesn’t use their preferred comp. This is why I reject the pick-up game: the idea that I and Joseph K. Meltsworth, who I don’t know from Adam, can whip out our respective 1500 point lists and have that be “good enough”, ready to play, sight unseen.

This is barking mad. I don’t know if Joseph has the same understandings of what is and is not acceptable as I do. I don’t know what he considers to be fluff, or cheese, or beard. He may have brought the latest donkeyflop laswing tri-Knight D-spam 30 warp charge psychic malarkey and I may have brought a handful of desperate Chosen tooled for melee and hiding out behind Cultists and shambolic vehicles.

Neither of us is Doin It Rong but both of us think the other guy is. We need to discover that before we begin preparing to play, not when we’ve already sunk time into writing a list and packed our case and come straight from work to get our game on. That way lies madness, disappointment, and Nerd Rage.

Fie on that noise. Skip the pre-game agreement and negotiation stage at your peril. Curate your experience. Don’t be afraid to say no to a game if you can’t agree on how to play it. No gaming is better than sad gaming and good gaming is better than either.

GW doesn’t develop its games to be played in the way that we normally play them. Look at all the occasions on which they describe building an army as “organising a collection” – you collect the dudes and then you fret about the army list and the Detachments and the Formations.

We have turned our back on this Way for valid reasons: an army we’ve planned is a collection and an expense we can  control, a pick-up game using by-the-book scenarios relieves us of potentially having to say no to someone. Nonetheless, when we play pick-up games, we are Doin It Rong in a subtle and insidious way that extends beyond the unwritten rules and assumptions that we all bring to pick-up games and which are far more valid on a subjective level.

I no longer drag myself down to the Friendly Local Gaming Store once a week for a ‘blind’ game against whoever’s there. I only really play wargames a handful of times in a year, by appointment and arrangement, in this more curated environment where we have to make agreements about things in order for the game to happen at all.

According to Da Roolz, this seems to be the Right Way. The Ultimate Spirit of Wargaming, at least as Games Workshop envisages it.

Discuss.

[30K] Burning of Prospero – Unboxing & Readthrough Review

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I cracked, didn’t I?

First impression, which will be obvious to 95% of more of you reading this – the Burning of Prospero game is an afterthought. A nice afterthought, it turns out, but let’s not kid ourselves: this is essentially a plastic core for a Horus Heresy army, and 95% of the people buying it will be using it to build one Legiones Astartes army for ‘proper’ wargaming with. I certainly will be. In fact I’ve already sold the Sisters of Silence because I knew I’d end up keeping some of them “in case I ever play Burning of Prospero”, which a) I won’t and b) wasn’t part of the deal by which I’d make these boxes pay for themselves. That said, I was tempted…

As you’ll see from the images above, this is not a starter set. None of that snap-together malarkey here. These are full-on multi-part plastic models, in more parts than the majority of the GW range since the legs aren’t one-piece squatty poses. The target market for this ain’t people who’ve read a couple of New York Times best-selling novels and decided they want to give the game a try – this is for people who are already in deep and not afraid to get polystyrene cement on their hands.

Despite including a board, this is nobody’s board game. It’s a wargame played without measuring sticks. Those tiles create a 2D terrain environment, similar to the sort of thing competitive Warmahordsers like and I grudgingly endorse because it’s flat-packable. The rules use ‘zones’ rather than mucking around with range rules, tape measures and laser lines: a ‘zone’ is delineated by a black border around an area of the tile, and either blocks line of sight or doesn’t. Models move two zones; zones may include up to four models, with big lads like Terminators counting as two; everyone in a zone shoots together or fights stuff in an adjacent zone together. It’s oddly elegant and does away with all that micro-measuring of squad consistency and arbitrary distances between squads and general spod-rod management to which the parent game is prone.

Mechanics are basically a dice pool: add up all the various d6s, d8s, d10s and d12s your models have available for their weapons, and beat the opponent’s roll on the various dice they have to save. The complexity isn’t in the mundane combat, but in the psychic powers. There are fifteen (three from each of the Proserpine cults), and each mission provides the Traitors with five (might be a full cult’s discipline plus a couple of randoms, or five randoms). Warp cards are flipped to cast them; Willpower cards are flipped to deny them; card flipping continues until both players have decided to let the result stand. This card fencing aspect takes place before the actual combat, and much like 40K’s psychic phase, seems likely to set the tone for the round to come.

There’s one way in which it’s decidedly unlike the parent game, though: in wargamerese, it uses Igo-Ugo for movement (players roll off, the winner gets to move all their dudes first, and the Imperials automatically win ties because they’re on the attack and dictating the flow of the engagement), but alternating activations for combat (so one zone’s worth of Imperials shoots/fights, then one zone’s worth of Traitors, and so on – if one side has more activations it gets to take them all in sequence at the end, cheerfully back-to-backing for the rest of the round). This mixed approach isn’t something I’ve seen before, and I’d have to play it to have any real idea how well it works… and as discussed, I’m unlikely to actually play this game because I’m selling off all the Imperial stuff to recoup some costs. I’m sure someone will pick up the Talons of the Emperor at some point and maybe agree to sit down and give Burning of Prospero a whirl as a side thing.

In the meantime, I have two sets of the card tiles, which should make for quite a fun 2D battlefield, easily enough to cover the 4′ x 3′ kitchen table and possibly enough for the 4′ x 4′ upstairs. As a bonus, it’ll be hella portable, which is kind of a watchword for me where terrain is concerned. I also have quite a lot of plastic Astartes to build. I don’t know if they’ll be pre-Prospero red or post-Prospero blue at this stage, but in either case they’ll be something I can batch out of an evening now that the sun’s staying out for longer.