[Event Report] Corehammer Fest 2016: worth spending six sodding hours on the train

Have you ever wanted to see a fat bloke with a gammy leg do a three-mile dash, in the dark, at least half on unlit footpaths and the last mile uphill? Tough, ’cause I’m not doing it again.

The Corehammer Fest was a top day out despite my phone deciding to mute its alarm because it was too early in the morning, even though I’d deliberately set an alarm for too early in the morning on account of needing to be up too early in the morning. Attempts at planning and prep and arriving suave, chill and generally in control were therefore wasted as I was already a sweaty wreckage before the first train to Stockport had even arrived. I’d brought my Advanced Fighting Fantasy books, expecting stand-in DM duty after Nate lost his voice, and my SAGA Revenants on the off-chance that I might actually get to play a game with them.

Rumour has it that the North West Gaming Centre was formerly a foetid factory floor, magnet for catpissmen and Kippers, and in essence a gaming venue of the old school – which is to say the shit school, in which dysfunctional adults put up with dingy conditions and unadulterated nonsense because they don’t expect or demand anything better. I am delighted to say that the North West Gaming Centre is definitely not like that now: Element Games have done a nice job of making it into a gaming venue of the new school, which is to say ‘well lit, well ventilated, well supplied for terrain and beverages, staff are nice, and catpissmen are conspicuous by their absence’.

(Apropos of nothing: next time I get into an argument about Inclusion and Gaming, remind me that “wanting to get more birds into RPGs” is not the same thing as “creating an inclusive space in which all are welcome”, because I feel no obligation to include catpissmen, bra-droolers, nobbers and spods in my utopian elitist gaming scene. Fortunately, the morning’s exertions hadn’t left me too smelly – normally I’d consider the prospect that everyone was too polite to mention it, but this is Corehammer, nobody would be too polite to mention gamer funk.)

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Room full of top lads (and a couple of top lasses)

Wild In The Streets

I’ve had models for Wild In The Streets since last year, when Chris Kohler was nice enough to send me a batch to review. I built them, and then left them in a drawer for ages. This was a mistake, as Wild In The Streets is actually quite a good game. It’s a short, sweet urban brawler, where each player brings a handful of crusties, edgemen, skaters, goths or other yoof culture types and they smack each other about. For reasons. Apparently this is life in California. I made up the numbers for a four-way demo and was landed with the goths. For reasons.

Deployment. Everyone shuffles their models’ stat cards together to form a deck. You flip cards from said deck and deploy in that order, anywhere on the board that’s more than a double move from anyone else.

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I went first and stuck a death rock girl in the middle of the board to control the space or some such. My other death rock girl and Dave, the Vanianesque leader, are cowering beside the bin on the right.

Turn one: As before, shuffle the stat cards into a deck, flip cards from it, play proceeds in that order. Models can stand still and throw something, move and throw something less accurately, or run and not throw anything at all; at the end of their move they can fight anyone in contact with them. Mechanics are basically opposed d10+stat rolls. It’s very elegant.

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Here we see one death rock girl pegging it behind a car and throwing eyeliner pencils at drunk punks, while Dave and his other lady friend get mobbed by straight edgers.
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Goths getting beaten up. Grave injustice. A-ha. Turns out goths aren’t very good at fighting, but they’re quite cheap: cheap enough that you can afford to sneak in some special equipment and event cards that mess with die rolls, stats and actions for the next card to come out of the deck.
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Judicious use of home-made whizz sees Dave and his young lady successfully escape the melee and take out the drunk punks on the way, only to be chased down by some yob with a scarf. Pretty much game over as I’d run out of events and everyone was down to one wound. The edgemen finished each other off and I slunk off to the catering table. Nice nachos too.

Verdict: lightweight, casual, anarchic game, perfect for an event like this where you might have four or five people kicking around. Really easy to get the hang of and refreshingly non-spoddy. I’ve dug out my goths and murder cult girls and they’re next in the painting queue.

SAGA

Cometh the afternoon I heroically volunteered to get Brinton warmed up for his title fight against Boxall. (Every time Boxall gets into a new wargame, Brinton has to beat him at it. It’s a Thing.) Brinton, like myself, had bought the Revenants thinking they’d sell out, and then done bugger all with them for months. (At least I painted mine. Sort of. Made an artistic statement, anyway.) Unlike myself, Brinton had played SAGA before. Quite a lot of SAGA actually. That said… well, this game was a bit of a learning curve for him too, since a lot of his Pagan Rus trickery apparently doesn’t work on the walking dead.

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We’re playing the special Revenant scenario: Brinton’s warband have looted a monastery, farm or settlement and are making off with the treasure when oh no, the mists come down and the dead start to walk! The Revenants win if they slaughter everyone, the Rus win if they get themselves and their loot off the far side of the board. Eight Rus Hearthguard set up to break through on the right flank, another eight  Hearthguard plus eight Warriors and the Warlord go for a big push up the middle.
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Revenants come through in waves: stacked deep around the Necromancer, with one unit on either flank to block attempts at escaping that way, and the grave pits positioned to barf out more Revenants on a flank that needs reinforcing/pile them into the middle.
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Fanning out. Brinton discovers that the mobile deceased are actually quite nippy. I discover that having someone say “actually you can’t do that” to any unit’s second activation is a deterrent to shenanigans.
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The Revenants’ first assault is blunted. I discover that the Revenant Battle Board allows one unit of the buggers to become a huge unit of Warriors for a turn; Brinton attempts to break through anyway and loses some of his skirmish screen in the process.
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The Revenants on the left are about to get MULCHED by those Hearthguard; the remaining Revenants in the centre are about to make a suicidal charge so I have a full unit’s worth to raise from the Grave Pit. My Necromancer is about to disgrace himself casting evil dark spooky spells on Brinton’s Warriors and failing to even unnerve them.
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Brinton is able to delay the charge of a souped-up Revenant unit into his Warlord, but he’s not able to stop a fresh unit being raised and placed to block off other escape routes. He does some counting on his fingers and concludes that he can’t really salvage this one; everyone’s heavily fatigued and he’d basically have to escape with no casualties to outweigh the points I’ve already accumulated. Plus Boxall’s free for their title fight.
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I had the privilege to watch the potato-hurling Irish “gimp themselves to death” against Brinton’s Rus. Turns out the Rus’ gimmick is ‘never start a land war in Russia’ – quite a few of their battle board mechanics involve unpleasant weather happening to enemy units with Fatigue, which was devastating to a unit of Irish Hearthguard who’d tired themselves out trying for an early win.

Verdict: I thought I’d like SAGA and I wasn’t wrong. It does have That Thing That Modern Wargames Have, where it’s less a simulation of conflict and ‘true’ military tactics and more an arena in which rules interact. This doesn’t bother me in itself provided the rules themselves are elegant, straightforward and discourage nobbers and spods. SAGA goes out of its way to discourage nobbers and spods by allowing pre-measuring and sticking to a rigid set of pre-defined distances for everything in the game, and also by flat out telling players not to be picky moos. “If your opponent moves his figures so that they stay out of range of your bows, be content that they are out of range, do not fuss over a few millimetres here and a few millimetres there.” Direct quote. “Honestly, cover is very easy to determine in SAGA, so don’t complicate things that are stupidly simple.” Another direct quote. That’s you told.

Anyway. Yes. SAGA is definitely a ‘theatre of rules’ game rather than a ‘military simulator’ game, but my gamist/narrativist streak doesn’t really give a monkey’s about that sort of thing as long as I’m having fun and I understand why my blokes are fighting. I might have bought a box of plastic Foot Sergeants (for making Norman or Crusader infantry) from our friendly pewter crack dealer Annie, and dug out that metal Simon de Montfort from Salute last year (for being a Norman or Crusader Warlord). Apparently it’s my turn to trash Boxall next. Times are good.

The bottom line

Sadly that was it for me: the early morning and the running about had caught up with me, as had Nathan’s bloody diseases, and it was left for me to drag myself back to Stockport station, realise my phone had died, and resign myself to another, slower walk across Monmouthshire in the dark. Grand day out, nice to see the crew and put some people to some Facebook profiles and play a couple of new games, but maybe the next one could be in Cardiff, eh chaps?

Five Apologies and Fifty Miniatures

Firstly: I must apologise for my silence. I’m prone to interest cycles, mood swings, wide arcs of engagement with particular pastimes and personas, and right now I’m strung out on the end of a long arm, interested in things a little (a lot) further out than usual. Don’t panic. I’m not dead.

Secondly: I must apologise for the oddball vision quest style of writing that’s intruding on my web presence. It’s not how I speak; it’s not plain and it’s not clear; but it seems to be coming naturally at the moment. Might be the circles I’m moving in; might be a transformative event or three.

Thirdly: I must apologise for not gaming much or blogging much in the last month or so. Salute was fun, the Revenants are ‘finished’ (they may get more love, but there is paint on them and they are on bases and I await the resounding mockery of people who don’t understand my aesthetic, damn their eyes).

Fourthly: I must apologise for the lack of podcast in May. Not with a bang but with a whimper has this beast been born; the truth is, I was either busy, lazy, or taking urgent time away from the screen, or simply disinclined to talk about GAMES. There are things I want to talk about, to do with GAMES, but they will have to wait until GAMES are something I wish to talk about again. Plus nobody got back to me about their Patreon rewards; it’s difficult to go forward from here. You have paid money in the expectation that I will do something for you – answer your questions and devote time to subjects of your choosing. If you don’t ask me questions or supply me with subjects, it’s difficult to go forward; I have a strong sense of obligation, and I am reluctant to provide a podcast that doesn’t fulfil the obligations which I stated it would fulfil. Also, I am lazy and distracted. But it’s mostly your fault.

Fifthly: I must apologise for all this apologising. The truth is, I’m not sorry, nor am I really fishing for sympathy when I say that I’m still in pain, feeling more and more trapped in London, and yearning for a few things: the move to cooler, quieter Celtic climes, the presence of increasingly close companions, and to explain to the world a few things about myself which have come to light of late, but which are firmly, uh, Tumblr Stuff. Things for ‘safe spaces’. Things that will doubtless have repercussions if I discuss them less than obliquely, or with the wrong people, or without careful management. It’s all a little tiresome, but it must be done.

Rest assured that, while radio silence will continue for the foreseeable future, I am ‘working’ on hobby projects. Wasn’t that telling, when GW employees asked “what are you working on?” – not “what do you play?” or “what do you collect?” None of the feedback at ArmadaCon convinced me that I was wrong about the relationship between games and labour, nor yet that there is a corresponding one between games and consumption, that we are what we buy. Basically we’re all in the death spiral of late capitalism together, although I think there’s more to what we do than either – I think it’s the playing of games, not the collecting (i.e. purchasing) of them, that defines the best of us – we use our toys to gratify ourselves, to steal a phrase.

What was all that about? Ah, yes. I remember. I am doing stuff. You can read my sporadic D&D/fantasy storytelling world-building discovery development stuff here; I am also in a play-by-post Risk/OD&D mashup game on the same board. I play Catherine the Red, Tsarina of Slavia, wielder of the Empowerer and proud illiterate. It’s fun flexing my writing style a bit for these fully-in-character transmissions that we do. Resources are being collected to inspire and shape a D&D game (the Blues for the Red Sun campaign) here; I am also collecting resources for Dark Ages Vampire here.

While we’re talking about Vampire, I did start codifying my house rules and then I realised that I was reinventing the wheel and not going far enough at the same time. I am feeling in a perverse and diceless mood, and I may guide that game toward a single-die resolution model, using the difficulty scores provided by the rules instead of discarding them and making work for myself in redefining everything. That would lose the simple tactility of handing over and taking back dice as an expression of the Sums, but I think it might be the right route to take in streamlining the system; “I roll to hit, I roll to damage, you roll to soak” feels a little overburdened at the moment.

Have some pictures of tiny undead.

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