Monday, January 23, 2017

A Big Day of Tiny Battles

On Saturday, I played my first one-on-one game of Warhammer 40,000 in perhaps 8 years.

40K, as it is sometimes known, has been a part of Gaming & Guinness up through G&G IX, in Ottawa, but these are group games, usually involving 4 or more players. I played a smaller scale game with my friend Jeff and his son Connor some years back, but I just checked the date on my blog, and that is going back 5 years this March. Half a decade, already? Surely not.

I spent almost 12 years working for Games Workshop, the manufacturers of the game, playing it at least a couple of times a month while I did. But I played it before I worked there too, and afterwards as well. What the hell happened?

In preparing for this week's match-up, I may have found my answer.

Scott's wife called back in November and said that instead of getting him more models or paints or rules for Christmas (as he already has plenty; most of us adult hobbyists do!), she was arranging play-dates for him with friends that she knew had armies.

I thought this was a fantastic idea, and agreed, staking out the 21st, knowing that Glory and Audrey would be out of town at a feis. This week has been a frenzy of re-learned rules, uncrating of various armies and models, and no small amount of repair and touch-ups. Even digging up my old army lists and determining what to field took me a couple of hours.  

We had initially planned on a massive, all-day, 5,000 point Apocalypse-sized game, but layering those massive rules on top of a system I was already a couple of years rusty on seemed a bad idea. Thankfully Scott found the idea of 2 x 1500 point games just as agreeable.

Dusting off the wargames scenery, unpacking old models, selecting my forces; it all felt pretty good, but it underscored the primary reason that I don't play as much. This was probably 3-4 hours work spent just preparing for the game, outside of the hours spent buying, building and painting the models themselves.  And while multi-player games are possible, and even enjoyable, most miniature wargames are designed as a head-to-head, one-on-one pastime, so all that effort is spent on entertaining just two people, in the end.

Comparatively, I might spend the same amount of time preparing for a game of Spirit of 77, and that falls on me as the gamemaster. I have to pay a lot more attention while we play as well, since I have to direct the narrative (to some degree, at least). But that same amount of effort goes into entertaining a half-dozen people, including myself.

As I prepare to turn the page on my first half-century later this year, I have to wonder how much of a factor that this effectiveness plays in my gaming choices. Even if more of my friends played 40K, we are lucky to get together once or twice a month, and almost never in December. Spending gaming time with a single other person feels kind of like...splurging?

But let me tell you, there is a tremendously positive feeling to be had in splurging, so Saturday ended up being a hoot!

Scott brought his Orks over and we were ready to start gaming by mid-morning. His first opponents were my Tyranids: a ravenous alien swarm, ready to pit selectively bred troops and bio-engineered weapons against whatever the 41st millennium could throw at them.

The backbone of Scott's Ork army is an incredibly tough unit that I don't believe I have ever bested: 30 Ork Boyz, kitted out for close combat, led by a character called Mad Doc Grotsnik. Now, that many Orks running across the table at you is already a terrifying prospect, since you would need to kill 8 of them just to force a panic test, which they will automatically pass until their numbers dip below 10. When Grotsnik joins them though, he shoots 'em up full of fightin' juice which a) makes them fearless and b) makes them feel no pain, giving them the ability to ignore almost any wound on a dice roll of 4+. That's right: Orks on steroids.

My hardest battle when facing this particular mob is overcoming an ever-growing sense of futility.

But knowing they were coming, I could build my Tyranid list appropriately, stripping out the weaker, more numerous elements and making a list composed almost entirely of Genestealers (arguably the best hand-to-hand troop choice in the game) and Carnifexes (lumbering monsters that work like living tanks, able to shoot and melee). Against any other force I might have felt a little dirty, but as soon as the Doc hit the table, a feeling of justification settled over me like a cozy blanket.

We rolled a scenario that required us to designate an objective in our starting table quarter, and defend it while simultaneously trying to conquer that of our opponent. I placed a nest-looking piece next to the power station scenery we were using (a la sub-level 3 in Aliens), while Scott placed an Orky icon on the ground behind a hill he had covered with his shootiest Orks. 

After he deployed, I put a squad of Genestealers in the station itself, another by the nest, and Old One-Eye, a legendary Carnifex, behind the station to help guard it.

One lesson I have finally begun to apply to my wargaming is this notion of timing. Too many times have I run a unit out of cover, eager to get them into the fight, worried they might be left out, anxious at having paid precious points for something not providing an immediate return on investment, only to have them annihilated in due course. 

For this game, I not only deployed my best unit of Genestealers behind the crest of a hill, I actually held them back and left them there for the first turn, a degree of subtlety and nuance in my play that I found almost off-putting in its unfamiliarity.

Rather then waste time making his way toward the bridge or the ford in the river, Scott charged Grotsnik and his boys directly into it, losing a couple to the current, but saving himself at least two turns in getting to his objective.  It took me a turn or two to get my Hive Tyrant (the boss bug) and two of the shootier Carnifexes to the crest of the hill, but the mob was so big, I was actually able to shoot at it as I went, for all the good it did.

Meanwhile, Scott's Dethkoptas flew in from the flank and shot at my hidden 'Stealers, but the dice conspired against him, and he only managed to kill a couple of them. Furious at this failure, and well aware that the 'Stealers were holding up the rest of his army on that flank, he charged them into hand to hand to finish me off.

Well, given his target's specialization in this area, the assault phase didn't go that well for him. After dispatching the rest of the 'Koptas, the Broodlord and remaining Genestealers were able to dash across the river, engage his bike squad the following turn, and see them off as well.

On the opposite flank, another group of Genestealers made their way across the bridge, hoping to destroy or delay the light armour Scott was marching around in the form of three Killer Kans, miniature dreadnoughts. And although they all eventually perished, it took long enough that the two remaining Kans were effectively out of the fight.

No, the heart of the battle was at the heart of the table, where Grotsnik's PED-enhanced hooligans were frantically swimming through a raging torrent under heavy fire from the largest models in my army, relentlessly pushing forward.

As soon as I was able to, I charged my three monstrosities into the fray, thinking I could carve my way to the Doc and eliminate that Feel No Pain rule, and failing that, at least whittle them down to a more manageable number. Either Grotsnik would die, or nearly a third of my totals points value would!

Grotsnik wouldn't die.

I couldn't believe it! His Cybork body saved him from my Hive Tyrant's bonesword, and his frenzied Orks dragged my larger, tougher models down with their superior numbers and tireless choppers. True, there weren't nearly as many as there were before by the end of it, but he was still in a position to get to my nest and claim that objective.

As the Broodlord and his crew were joined by Old One Eye around the Ork objective, I threw my largest remaining Carnifex at the mob, and the Genestealers surged out of the power station to support him. But in my zeal, I ran the Chatterbug forward instead of shooting, which meant he was unable to assault! He was subsequently charged by the Orks, and Grotsnik's power claw demolished 192 points worth of bio-warmachine. 

My Genestealers whittled him down some more, but the Mad Doc and his now tiny retinue powered on towards the nest, and to victory if my sole remaining Genestealer squd couldn't stop him.

Grotsnik died within sight of the objective, pulled down by Genestealers, in a frenzied final clash I expected to find more satisfying, but I was too busy feeling relieved. A rare victory over the Mad Doc's boyz!

Then in our second game, he took my Valhallans to the 41st millennium's equivalent of the woodshed and tied a gawdawful whuppin' on 'em.

This, despite having the same deployment setup, despite having a river to impede movement and a diagonal axis along which to pour prodigious amounts of artillery fire. 

He walloped my Imperial Guard force something fierce, with a final score something like 10-3. 

Three of his points came courtesy of my doggedly committing subsequent waves of Conscripts to the fight in a futile effort to slow his advance by using Commander Chenkov's special rule,"send in the next wave". But he slaughtered them upon their appearance for three consecutive turns.

"Forward, you dogs!"
There were a couple of bright moments: I finally got to use my Chimera APCs often forgotten amphibious ability, and my Bom Squad Veterans piled out and took Scott's Ork Kommandos out in close combat! The same squad, aded by Konfessor Grigori, a Ministorum priest with an unremarkable profile but a double-handed chainsword to make up for it, almost managed to killed the Ork Warboss as well! 


But his gobliny Grots wrecked my Leman Russ tank and his Dethkoptas blew up my Basilisk, and by the end of the game, not a single human was left alive, and the future truly was green. Well, whatever; my army still looks better. ; )

Still, one win each was a pretty good way to spend a Saturday, and a great return to full-scale battle games after a long absence! Long enough for us to notice how much sorer our feet and backs were afterwards, sadly...

Best of all though, Fenya had asked earlier in the week if she could have a game with me, since everything was already unpacked, and I was only too happy (ecstatic, really) to accommodate her!

I dusted off my Space Marines army, picked 1,000 points for her and a Tyranid force for me, and we started this afternoon, finishing up after supper. Some of those Dark Angels models have seen better days, and I bet it has been 7-8 years since I have played with any of them as well, having three other armies I use more often.

It took a while for her to wrap her head around it, and I had to make an effort to tell her where to find all the numbers I was referencing, in contrast to years of shorthand and memorized statistics and tables. She was diligent about wanting to know, to her credit.

Breaking for supper really seemed to help, and before too long she was moving through the sequence quite comfortably, needed only the barest prompting from me, and managed to have all my Tyranids off the table by the end of turn 5.

As we packed up the models and dice afterwards, I asked her what had made her want to play. She said she had always found the models and background intriguing, but mostly, it was because she wanted to see what had been such a big part of my life, both personally and professionally, for so long. 

I found this gratifying and a little ironic, since I had clearly taken it for granted and very nearly made it into something that I used to do.

She had a great time, and surprised me a little when she said she would like to get another game in at some point.  It appears that our basement may not have seen the last of Warhammer 40,000's grim, dark future. And that's no bad thing, I figure.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Steve, that was a great day. I appreciate you hosting and putting up with the doc.