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.


    1. I call shenanigans on the Blood Angels player...

    2. Ach, I HATE players like that. Say EXACTLY what you are going to roll for when you roll it. Say what you need to hit, what you need to wound, and know your army list. Forgivable for new armies/players, but this sounds dicey to me.

      Moving units up is generally fine so long as the first couple of units were actually moved the distance they were supposed to, and the models are moved roughly where they were supposed to be. Otherwise horde armies would be unplayable. Screwing up that first movement, though, is unacceptable.

      And I agree on the newbie game- talk over everything even more than usual, explain what your army is capable of over the game, and give tactical advice. If it's a REAL newbie, start even simpler.

    3. Ugh. I call cheater. Here's the list w points:
      Dante (225, HQ)
      Librarian (100, HQ)
      Corbulo + 2 Sanguinary Priests (205, Elites)
      Furioso Dread (125, Elites)
      Furioso Dread (125, Elites)
      10-man Assault Squad (190, Troops)
      10-man Assault Squad (190, Troops)
      10-man Death Company (200, Troops)
      Death Company Dread w Blood Talons (125, Troops)
      Baal Predator (115, FA)
      Baal Predator (115, FA)
      Storm Raven (200, HS)
      7 Devastators w 4 Missile Launchers (178, HS)
      Vindicator (145, HS)

      Without ANY special weapons, wargear upgrades or otherwise, that list still totals up to 2238.

      It's possible that it was all a grievous error and the guy's not a jackass... but I doubt it. I'd ask around and maybe blacklist him based on the feedback.

    4. lol @Dverning, thanks for the list. That drives it home. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the Death Company unit included Lemartes if he's not included in the points. To make things funnier, the guy actually borrowed a devastator from me to be his 5th heavy weapon in the squad.

      I feel extremely reluctant to call someone out on their "home turf" but this guy will get extra scrutiny if I see him playing again.

    5. *head=>desk*
      Lemartes adds another 130 points if he's part of that 10-man count, 150 otherwise.
      Also, Blood Angels Devastator squads can only field up to 4 Heavy Weapons.

      Maybe he thought you were play 2.5K in preparation for Ard Boyz? :-p Sadly, I'm going to bet he's just a WAAC player.

      As a note, I'm really glad you grabbed that Daemon player... he might actually stick around because of it. I've taken national level competitions and I don't think I've EVER won against someone playing their first game of 40k. On the first game, I believe in playing everything completely open, showing them why (or why not) to do something, and how to best exploit every flaw or weakness in my army. I won't play the game for them: they make the decisions and take the risks. I just make sure those are informed decisions and calculated risks.

      Cheers and thanks for keeping my faith in humanity alive a bit longer.

    6. I've played a few first time games with people. Granted they had battle for Macrage and whatnot prebuilt sets, but I still taught him everything he needed to know plus a few things from my own bag of tricks. We covered everything from shooting to LoS to movement as well as some special rules. I also got to teach him about leadership and morale checks and heck he almost ate me for breakfast. When i finally did die off, about 15 turns later. I the battle ended with only a faseer and a guardian left. I am still amazed we covered everything that we needed to, but we both had a blast, in both senses

    7. I think you're absolutely spot on. When I teach new players to play Warmachine, I deliberately avoid any pieces that have a "you can't do that" effect on them - I pick an army that fights fair and doesn't deny any rules or any capabilities. I don't roll out my fifty point tournament list that runs on the principle of playing the opponent's game for them and expect them to handle an equivalent amount of stuff straight off the bat. That would be cruel.


    I had to add anti-spam measures because, let's face it, almost nobody comments on blogs anymore unless they are spamming. Sorry.