Monday, April 19, 2010

How To Play Frustrating 40k

I'd like to make a basic gaming assertion, a postulate, if you will.  Here goes:

Losing a game feels better if you feel like you could have changed the outcome by doing something different.

Whether that "something different" is not trying a risky deep strike, assaulting something instead of rapid firing against it, etc., it implies that you made choices during the game that affected the outcome.  If you've played a great deal of Nethack, you know what I mean.  Death is infuriatingly frequent in that game, but you (almost) always feel like you could have prevented it by doing something different.  You earn death in Nethack through stupidity, impatience or failing to use all the tools at your disposal. 

I have told this story many times before, I know.  Let me take you back to the early 90's...
I was not a wargamer then.  I was a computer gamer (and programmer) and found the miniature wargaming hobby to be intriguing but somewhat steep to enter in terms of initial price and time to paint an army.  A friend offered to run a demo game for me in which we would each play one of his Epic 40k armies.  It sounded like fun, so we blocked off a Saturday.  After that day I would not even consider going back to tabletop gaming for almost 15 years.

Here are the mistakes he made for the intro game:
  1. He deferred too many of the parameters to me.  Having never played, I didn't know how many points would make a reasonable game.  I didn't know which army would be the best for me.  I didn't know how to make a reasonable army list.  By insisting that I make these choices he immediately caused me confusion and frustration.
  2. He made it far too big.  We had a huge area of the living room cordoned off with little cardboard buildings and paper rivers, etc.  It was visually impressive, but for someone playing the game for the first time it was easy to lose my units or lose track of who had moved or shot.  
  3. He used too many "tricks."  My Squats were pummeled by his Eldar with an endless series of maneuvers that weren't basic rules.  Flying plows that kill everything in their path.  A giant vortex that consumes a huge part of my army.  Jetbikes that jump up from behind cover and shoot me, only to be untouchable during my turn.  Every turn was a new explanation of an attack I had never heard about before and for which there was no defense.
  4. He had partial knowledge of the rules, or at least partial willingness to apply them all the time.  Granted, in the days before the internet having rules meant lots of photocopied sheets in manila envelopes, but even some of the basic rules conveniently escaped him at the crucial moment.  One of my units was this unstoppable armored Dwarf train that had lots of shooty cars on it.  He zoomed up to it with some jetbikes and claimed that it was immobilized because it was locked in combat.  To me it was like one of those Wild West train robbery scenes, except the steam locomotive comes to a grinding halt as soon as the bad guys ride up to it.  Yeah, not likely.  As it turns out, he conveniently found the rule stating that the huge train couldn't be locked in combat by the tiny jetbikes after the game ended.  The whole game felt like this to me.
  5. He rolled me hard.  This one was the icing on the cake.  If the other issues had been absent then this one wouldn't have bothered me, but it felt like he was evening some unspoken score with me in every way he could imagine.  I was massacred with gusto, and everything I tried against him came to naught.  By about halfway through the game I was just hoping it would be over soon because this was the opposite of fun.

Okay, back to the present.  This weekend I played a 2k points game of my Marines against a force of Blood Angels.  I'll admit, I don't know the BA codex at all, but this game was just ridiculous.  It was my ninth game of 40k ever, so I feel like I have to take a lot on faith when people say what their army can/can't do.  Whether this guy was playing straight or not is a mystery to me, but here are the things he was doing that left me feeling frustrated.
  1. Sliding tape measure syndrome.  I watched this guy get an extra 2" of movement by sliding his tape measure while moving his models.  Then, after three or so of the models had been moved, he'd just pick up the rest of the unit and move them into coherency.  The last model would move somewhere between 12" and 16" depending on how spread out the unit was initially and how close he wanted them afterward.
  2. Introduce as much chaos as possible into the saves.  I cannot tell you how many times I asked him to make n saves, and he'd pick up a bunch of dice, mumble something, roll various groups of dice which visibly includes at least one "1", and then pick up more dice, saying "oh that's right, so-and-so gets a something-or-other save" and rolling them again and finally looking up at me and saying "they're all good."  A few times I stopped him long enough to ask, "Okay, what just happened?" but the answer was always convoluted and seemed reasonable insomuch as I couldn't trace it back to show any obvious malfeasance.  It just always seemed like something wasn't quite right there.
  3. Joke about the capabilities of an army your opponent doesn't know about.  This one got old real quick.  He was constantly saying things like "these guys get 36 inch bolter shots," or "all these attacks are AP3" or "these guys have 4 attacks base" or something.  When I'd look shocked, he'd smile and say, "just kidding." The result was that throughout the whole game I didn't know what crazy rule was a joke and what was just a crazy BA rule.  It constantly left me guessing.
  4. Make last minute list changes.  Agree to a points value, start to move models onto the table, then at the last minute remember that your list is 250 points shy and start handwriting crazily on a notebook.  In the end, he brought 20 jump troops, 7 devastators, a Vindicator, a Storm Raven, 2 Baal Preds, 10 Death Company, Dante, Corbulo, a couple priesets, a librarian, a couple Furioso Dreads and that crazy dread that keep swinging as long as you keep dying.  I had 30 tactical marines, 6 assault marines, 5 scouts, 5 devastators, a LR Crusader, two razorbacks and a Librarian.  I didn't think of it much at the time, but as the game progressed I wondered how cheap BA's must be for him to field 42 infantry (most of them with jump packs), 3 tanks, a flier and three dreads to my 47 infantry (including one non-character HQ and Sgt. Telion), three tanks and three dreads.  Are BA's really that cheap, points wise?
I'm new enough to this gaming venue that I wasn't comfortable calling the guy a cheater (intentional or inadvertent) but there were enough tell-tale signs that I just felt icky about playing.  I don't think I realized how frustrated I was getting until someone wandered over and asked us how it was going.  I stammered something like, "Great, except for all the re-rollable 2+ invulnerable saves that these guys over here get."  It was meant to mimic the capability jokes he had been making all through the game, but my voice shook when I said it.  I swear, it sounded to me like I was going to cry.  How embarrassing...  The fellow who wandered over gave an alarmed look at my opponent and started to question what he was doing, but I waved it off and said, "No, I'm joking.  I'm just having a hard time killing these guys" as I pointed to Dante's invincible jump squad; I wish I had just kept my mouth shut.  In the end we drew the game, each having captured one objective.

So here's where my flashback becomes important.  A fellow had just bought a painted 1k Daemons of Chaos army, and was looking to get a first game in.  He had played WHFB years ago but never 40k.  The opponent of the previous game gave me the option to play against the new guy, or he would.  I chose to play, and I'm glad I did.  We played a few things wrong but nothing overwhelming, and I got massacred by the Daemons.  I had fun doing it too.  We talked every die roll through, and looked lots of stuff up in the books.  After the game, I gave him my rulebook (a mini AoBR version... I have several) since he didn't have one.  I thought it was a good experience for both of us.  I can imagine what being steamrolled with mysterious rules would have been like if I had just purchased an army, so hopefully I made the inaugural game for this guy one that will lead to future play rather than just shelving the army and walking.

On a positive note, I played another 2k game of 40k earlier in the day, got a draw and had a great time.  My solo winless steak continues, but I'm  having fun.

    Friday, April 16, 2010

    Now that's a ....

    Taken near the parking structure at EMU, in a spot labeled "15 Minute Parking."

    Now that's a long 15 minutes.
    Ordered last Friday to eat while playing the "Ticket To Ride" card game.

    Now that's a giant pizza.
    Found spray-painted at the edge of a parking lot on the south-east side of EMU's campus.

    Now that's a militant carrot fan.

    Conspicuously trying to drive my truck.

    Now that's an ambitious spider.

    Monday, April 12, 2010

    Three Games: Three Questions

    I'm getting ready to play three games, and these questions keep haunting me....

    WHFB: I know Skaven are a horde army, but do I really want to push 280 models around the table in 2500 points?

    WH40K:  Is Eldrad overpowered or is a regular Farseer just ridiculously overpriced?

    Warmachine: Considering how much I love these models, why can't I seem to sit down and paint them.

    Oh, and a quick observation.... my last two games of 40k did not include even a hint of "Turn 4 Fatigue" (that spastic yawn and wandering attention that seems to set in about the bottom of turn 4 of either Fantasy or 40k.)  Have I finally managed to control what I eat to the point where I'm not insulin crashing, or am I just having more fun playing?

    Wednesday, April 07, 2010

    The New Digs

    Our regular building is being renovated, so for the time being my department will be in the parking structure.  On the left, you see what life was like during the preparation to move.  On the right is my new office setup, at least for the next year or so.  I think I made out pretty good.

    I painted today at lunch, hence the toolbox on the floor, the GW toolkit on the desk and the Harlequin on the desk.  Life is good, 60 minutes at a time.

    Monday, April 05, 2010

    40k Victory #1 *

    * 2v2 game, 1500 pts per player

    Yes!  After years of 40k I finally have a definite victory on my record.  Well, sort of.... I put an asterisk there because is was a 2v2 battle.  On my side of the table, my Blood Ravens and Charles' Space Wolves.  On the opposite side, Damien's Blood Angels and Lauren's Witch Hunters.  The final battle result was 13 kill points to 6 in a Dawn of War setup.

    If you look down the edge of the table, you may be able to spot plasma cannons.  Lots and lots of plasma cannons.  I think Woofies had 9 of them in two units. Nothing wrecks the day of a unit that has to embark a blowed-up transport like having multiple plasma templates dropped on it.  I actually started to feel kind of bad for them when Charles would say, "okay that's 19 S7 hits."  BA's took a Storm Raven, Sanguiary Guard, a big ol' unit of Terminators, and a Librarian Dreadnought.  Storm Raven 'splode real nice on turn one, dropping the Sanguinary Guard in a nice tight pattern.  I charged with my Librarian/Termies, and Dante pretty much had them for lunch until Dread/Lib failed a psychic hood test and I managed to Force Weapon poor Dante to death.

    Rules note:  Psychic hoods are used when your opponent makes a successful psychic test.  Force Weapon is a psychic test, and therefore can be hooded.  I hadn't considered it before.

    Turn 3, BA Termies came in via deep strike, only to scatter right into my Land Raider and mishap a "unit destroyed."  I was sorely disappointed.  It would have been big fun to have a fight back there.  (Hmmm... maybe this is why I had never won a game before Saturday.  I want an interesting battle more than I want a victorious battle.)

    SoB's took three Exorcists, which proved S8 AP1 scary.   I just loved seeing the model on the table, and I desperately hope GW redoes this model in plastic when the Ordos get redone.

    So thanks to the great gang at Shenanigans in Taylor, MI.  The store has a great variety of games, actually stocks things, and the gaming group is fun and personable.  I will be back!

    Thursday, April 01, 2010

    You Can Thank Me Later

    Today a Scientist, a Medic and an Operations Expert teamed up to save the world from four color coded diseases, all in the course of one hour.

    You're welcome.