Warmachine: The joy of playing with noobs

I’ve been playing Warmachine for about three and a half years now, and I think it is fair to say that during that time, I reached a point where my love for the game started to wane. I’m not sure it was one specific thing, but rather an accumulation of a bunch of small issues, negative experiences, and constant exposure to the internet that caused my relationship with the game to sour.

This manifested itself as burnout. At some point, I stopped going to tournaments. I started finding them to be too stressful. Having to lug army boxes across town on the bus and spend an entire day at a game store just became too much. A one-day tournament is half your weekend. There could be long breaks between rounds where you have nothing to do but look at the wall of products in the store for the 34th time and struggle to manage your anxiety level. You eventually tire of the same basic scenario, only with six variations that have different geometry. You end up stressing out over your next matchup – am I going to end up having to play my next round against “that guy,” or the guy who brought the really scary list that absolutely dunks on my army and makes the game almost pointless? What if I lose list chicken and am trapped for the next two hours in a hellishly bad matchup?

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For the last time, Harkevich is not OP!

On top of all that, there is the pressure to perform. In competitive pursuits, all too often, how much you are valued in your community and your own self-worth gets tied to your win/loss record. So, you end up pushing too hard, stressing out over every little mistake, trying to git gud and not fall off the competitive play treadmill. And do it all on clock. And when you finally win… well, a not insignificant amount of the time, you are quickly reminded that it is no great accomplishment because this model in your army is OP, that model is OP, and your entire faction is the easy mode newbie faction that any moron can win with.

Between that and consistent exposure to negativity on the internet on top of some baseline social anxiety, I was starting to get burned out on the game.

It was against this backdrop that a coworker expressed some interest in wargaming. He was a Lego collector so we started by doing a demo of Mobile Frame Zero, after which I offered him a demo of Warmachine. Of course, the first step was that I would have to paint up a second army, but I figured it was worth it.

So, I got together some Cygnar models and met him in the dingy basement of my FLGS for a battlebox game. I compressed all the important rules down to one sheet of paper and gave it to him, explained a few things, and ran him through the activation of a warjack, letting his Juggernaut spend some focus beating on my Ironclad. Then, we lined up against each other with a simple scenario consisting of a single circle in the middle of the table, and bashed each other’s faces in.

He enjoyed it and came back for more. But, as we gradually worked up from battlebox games to 35 points with themes and more complex scenarios, a funny thing started happening.

I started having fun playing Warmachine again.

Fun? That’s heresy!

In the Warmachine community it can sometimes be easy to lose track of the idea that the game is supposed to be fun. If you’re on the internet, most of the media you consume is focused on competitive play. Just about all of the micro-celebrities who are worshipped in this community are people who have won major tournaments. When you get caught up in this scene, you often end up grinding out practice games, paying the same few scenarios over and over and it can start to get boring. Then you have to keep it up because there is always a new boogeyman list in CID that you need to either figure out how to play or figure out how to beat to stay on top. “This is Warmachine; it’s not supposed to be fun!” or something to that effect is a common joke, but there can be a grain of truth to it.

At some point, it can just become mentally and emotionally draining. Your hobby starts to feel like work, and you start thinking you would rather stay home and paint than go to a tournament.

But, playing smaller games in a more casual setting with a friend was completely different. There wasn’t the stress of trying to perform at a tournament, because it was just a fun casual game and my objective was to help him learn and show him the possibilities of the game. We weren’t playing Steamroller, so we could set up whatever fancy terrain we wanted (including hills!) and create a little spectacle that looked fairly cool. Once he got the jist of it, we could finish a game in a reasonable amount of time, and if there was an early assassination, we had time to re-rack and try again. In short, we were playing for fun.

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Pictured: fun

The other thing is that at lower points levels, the information overload is lessened. One of the most challenging experiences in Warmachine is looking at your opponent’s list and realizing that you are up against an entire table of “what does this model do again?” At 35 points, there is still a lot of depth due to the caster and her interactions with the army, but the complexity is a lot less overwhelming when you aren’t up against the likes of multiple units and six different beasts, all with different stat profiles, roles and animi. Since you are less overwhelmed, you tend to have more complete of a tactical picture and can really play a good game with that engaging back and forth as the battle ebbs and flows rather than a “what just happened?” game where one feels “gotcha’d” into submission.

Fun is infectious

The other interesting thing about new players is that they often bring a sense of wonder into the game that has long since vanished from the heart of the veteran player. Everything is cool and new to them, and that excitement is contagious. Getting new players to try a power attack for the first time is just such an awesome cinematic experience that you can’t help but smile as his big ugly beast throws your giant robit at a swarm of infantry. Seeing the guy I’m getting into the game start talking about lists, lore and painting and getting excited about it gets me excited and has rekindled my passion for the game.

It also reminded me of why I, and likely why a lot of other players, got into the game. I didn’t start playing because someone told me that there was this intense tournament grind and maybe someday I could become the next Iron Gauntlet winner or go to the WTC. I started playing because me and the guy who got me a battlebox for Christmas one year went out one night had fun pushing our little painted dudes around. And also because I got the starter box and read about how Sorscha was this badass warrior wizard who commanded this awesome giant coal-powered robit to deliver a giant axe to the faces of all foes of the motherland.

The bottom line

New players are the lifeblood of a community, but judging by some of the internet chatter that I’ve seen, some players consider it a chore to onboard them into the game. Playing below 75 points in a non-tournament standard format and using lists that are a little watered down to provide an enjoyable experience rather than the optimum way to stomp someone into the ground is anathema to a certain section of the player base. If you are stuck on that competitive treadmill, taking a night away from practice games for tournaments to help someone who can barely allocate focus is a costly proposition.

However, new players are the lifeblood of a game like Warmachine. But don’t play a battlebox game with a new player for the game or for the “meta”; do it for yourself. Rather than being a chore, if you go into it with the right attitude, you may find bringing new players into the game to be more enjoyable than doing yet another 75 point steamroller game. And, if your enthusiasm for the game is flagging, seeing it through the eyes of a new player can help remind you what got you into the game to begin with.

Bonus: Hot take!

After a few 35 point games, I asked my coworker if he would like to move on up to 50 and then the tournament standard of 75. He told me that he was comfortable at this level and didn’t want to add to it for the time being. Which, it turned out I was completely fine with, as by this time, I had learned that Warmachine is much more fun at 35 points than at the tournament standard of 75.

Warmachine: State of the Game 2019

So, one of the things they’ve been doing at the Southern Ontario Open for the past few years was getting together all the Warmachine talking heads into one big room for a discussion on the state of the game. This year, I thought I would share my thoughts in a written format, as I’m not cool enough to have a podcast and don’t have the voice for radio anyways.

Evolving Meta or Power Creep?

They started off with a discussion about how the meta seems to be constantly evolving, and how it was great to see people constantly trying out new stuff. However, I would argue that this has less to do with a meta where people are trying interesting stuff to try to counter what other factions are playing, then other players trying to counter the new interesting stuff, then that leading to a state of flux as everyone cycles between rock, paper, scissors, lizard and Spock, trying to stay ahead of everyone else. I think it has more to do with the CID process breaking down a little and causing some power creep. I mean, when one considers all the boogeymen that have reared their head in the meta over the past year, just about all of them save perhaps Nemo3 was a direct result of some new release or rules change that may have been slightly overtuned as a result of clamouring in CID.

I feel like the competitive balance of the game is healthiest when there is no boogeyman. While I’m not necessarily the best player, I think the few months between when Una2 got taken down a notch and someone figured out that Ghost Fleet is good was a great time for Warmachine, where there weren’t really any extreme outliers dominating the tournament scene, and people were doing a lot of experimentation. Since then, the internet chatter feels like it’s been just one boogeyman list after another.

I think the proof is going to be in the pudding in the next few months. With Privateer Press taking a CID break, it will be interesting to see if the meta settles down a little and we start seeing more flux and experimentation or if people are still going to be complaining about Lord of the Feast and Iona until the next new hotness drops.

Cutting models?

A large portion of the cast was devoted to the question of whether Privateer Press should start eliminating models from their range and from the game, and the general consensus seemed to be that it is time to do it. Two rationales were discussed for this – the idea that there are just too many SKUs clogging up the supply chain and making it hard on retailers and distributors, and that the number of models is a barrier to new players.

To be honest, I’m not sold. I’m not sure that SKU bloat is that much of an issue, because I’ve only ever seen one or two stores actually attempt to stock at least one of everything, and both of those stores do online sales as well as in person. Most stores tend to stock a limited number of models and get in some of the new releases, but for the rest, they generally order on demand.

Rather than cut SKUs by eliminating models, if SKU bloat is an issue, then what PP could do is consolidate some SKUs by bundling existing products. The three Man-O-War units could be combined into one multikit with the same bodies and different arms. Units could be bundled with attachments and non-character solos instead of sold separately. And, more importantly, PP could help provide stores with a little more guidance as to what products in their back catalogue are the sort of things that are popular or are starter products and should be stocked, and what you can get away with being special order only. Perhaps just classifying all those SKUs as starter, core, and supplemental would help a retailer with the daunting task of figuring out which of these hundreds of SKUs they should stock. They’ve already made steps in that direction by changing how they did distribution and by doing direct order for new huge based models that tend to sit on shelves for a long time and not move.

Not to mention that if the goal is to help retailers and distributors who are carrying Warmachine and make them more likely to want to carry the game, rendering a portion of the stock that they currently have on the shelves completely useless is likely going to have the opposite effect.

As for the idea that the sheer number of models is hard on new players, I have to counter that with one question: are new players really being turned off from Warmachine because they keep getting their faces kicked in by Assault Kommandos and Kossite Woodsmen? Or is the real negative play experience for new players running up against Iona and Lord of the Feast and not knowing that they need to place all their models exactly 3.2 inches apart and answer a geometry final exam question with shield guards and blocking models to not instantly lose? And, of these, which of the two is a new player more likely to actually run into in the first round of his first tournament?

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Kossites OP, plz nerf

I get that the sheer scale of WMH can be overwhelming, but I don’t think the solution is simply cutting models from the game. Miniature games fundamentally aren’t card games. There is a more intense connection with game elements in a miniatures game than there is in a card game. Hobbyists spend hours lovingly crafting and customizing their models and sometimes even take models in their army based on their visual appeal more than their combat effectiveness; telling them that they can’t use them anymore is going to frustrate a lot of people. There are ways to address this such as through promoting limited formats and lower points games where there aren’t as many models on the table with rules that need remembering that aren’t as drastic as telling people they can’t play with their toys anymore.

Which brings me to Champions.

As for Champions, the main problem is that it has an identity crisis. People think that it is supposed to be a limited format to make it easier for new players, but if you actually read the document and the dev notes in the CID, that’s not what it is. It is supposed to be an alternative format for experienced players to prove their skill; one where the limited roster changes up the meta and allows these players to showcase the skill with all their faction’s casters (including the off-meta ones) as they rotate through ADR, not just stick with the few in their faction that are the most powerful and/or slightly broken.

The problem with that is that the ADR has historically been somewhat difficult to balance; there is often one or two factions that are on top because their restrictions are that they are only allowed to take the best stuff in the faction, while everyone else has to try to counter it with their B-team. Further, removing the painting requirement also took away one point of distinction between it and masters.

However, the fact that people keep saying that Masters is an introductory tournament format indicates to me that there is a recognition that there is a need for this sort of thing. In my opinion, if you want a truly limited format for new players, you need lower points and a more static, more limited roster that only includes the relatively straightforward things in each faction and fewer really obnoxious gear checks. Call it Warmachine: Core and push it as an alternative to no-restriction steamrollers. The catch is that with the current community, at least those who regularly go to events and are loud on the internet, getting them to embrace anything that isn’t standard, 75 point steamrollers is a challenge to say the least.

Bringing in new players

As is par for the course in these “state of the game” podcasts, Evan hit the nail on the head when he identified onboarding new players as the biggest issue with the growth of Warmachine. While part of it has to do with the density and steep learning curve of the game, it is also the fact that the community, while it can be very friendly once you get into it, can also be very intimidating for new players.

Another important point that was made was that people get into WMH because it is fun and because they identify with the cinematics of the game and the badass warcasters that they love. The ones that got hooked had some exciting cinematic moments that brought them to the edge of their seat; for me it was getting my ass handed to me by Haley2 until I figured out how to assassinate people with Sorscha1. From that moment on, I was on Team Sorscha and refused to play Butcher because he was the jerk who killed Sorscha’s dad.

I didn’t get into this game because someone told me that it is the most competitively balanced tournament game and that I should look forward to getting my face kicked in 50 times before I am able to git gud enough that every game isn’t a miserable experience. If I was that masochistic, I would play competitive Starcraft or some other e-sport.

However, as someone who is currently in the process of dragging a coworker into this world, I think the biggest challenge is that to an outsider, competitive Warmachine doesn’t look fun. You generally have two people crouched over a flat table with flat scenery and unpainted models, staring intently at the apps on their phones. As often as not, one of the two players is frustrated and afterwards, they engage in a loud discussion about what is OP and what needs CID and what little things they hate about the game. That’s not conducive to bringing in new players.

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At its finest, wargaming is a social affair. It requires much more agreement and back and forth between opponents as you discuss movement, measurement, terrain, etc. While one of the strengths of Warmachine is that there is a lot of clarity in the rules and it lends itself to competitive play about as well as any wargame can, pure competitive gaming can at times be a little soulless and doesn’t look fun to outsiders.

Conclusions

Perhaps this article ended up being a little more negative than intended, but that wasn’t my intention. I love Warmachine. I love the steampunk aesthetic, the bell curve probability distribution of 2d6, and the resource management and push your luck aspects of the focus/fury system. And I’m not on the doom train; I think this game is going to be around for a while and I’m excited for things like Archons and Oblivion.

But, while I disagree with a few of the points made in the cast, these conversations are important. So much of the growth and longevity of the game is down to the community these days. We can’t just rely on being the system that is the default for castaways ragequitting That Other Game.

Moreso than a lot of other games, a player’s experience in a wargame is directly related to the people they play it with. Even if we aren’t up to the task of being community leaders, it’s up to all of us to make that community and each other’s experiences the best that it can be.

Warhammer School Clubs, Part 1: The Unboxening

The following article was written by a friend who works as an Early Child Educator in a before and after school program. It is about his participation in the Warhammer School Clubs program, a program by Games Workshop intended to promote the hobby within schools. The intention is for this to be part one in a series taking the program from the box to week six and beyond. I welcome his contributions, and hope to see more from him in the future.

I’ve been in the hobby for a few years now, and as an Early Childhood Educator (ECE) working with children from ages 8 to 12, I’ve experimented with bringing the hobby into the classroom.  Most of these attempts have been small, such as getting plastic army men from the dollar store and painting them with craft paint. The challenges of running a program on a limited budget meant that the full hobby experience was out of reach for the children in my group unless I dump my own personal income into the project.  

In walks Games Workshop. In August 2018, Games Workshop (GW) launched in North America the Warhammer School Clubs program. This program offered official support to educators from GW in developing the hobby with young people in school and after school youth programs. I was able to have the the manager of our local GW store into our program, and do a simple painting tutorial with a group of our children. While talking with him, he told me about the launch of the School Clubs program. At the beginning of the school year I contacted GW HQ and I was accepted into the program.  

Unboxing

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A good thing these “not children’s products” are going to this school…

The process of signing up for the Warhammer School Program was fairly simple. I emailed Travis, the director of the school program at warhammer.schoolclub@gwplc.com, and he sent me a form to fill out. You need to have an adult be prepared to be the sponsor of the club, and your school or program needs to have a website, location, and employee ID, but other than that, there weren’t any invasive questions.

One piece of advice is to inform your school that the package is coming — Games Workshop sent me the box addressed to me personally, and not the program that I work with. Since our program is run out of the school, the package was delivered to the main office, who didn’t recognize my name, and were unsure what to do with a big package with the words “NOT CHILDREN’S PRODUCTS” written on the side. Also it arrived the same week that prominent American politicians were receiving mail bombs, which gave them cause for concern about this random box out of Texas was coming. They were prepared to send it back, but the receptionists at the desk called GW and it was eventually found its way to our office in the afterschool program.

Altogether, I signed up on thursday, was approved by Friday and received the package on Monday the following week. Considering it was a package coming from Texas to Winnipeg, I thought it was going to be a much longer wait, so I really give credit to GW North America for the quick turnaround.  

And what was in the box?  Well….

Lit

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For both 40K and Age of Sigmar there came a collection of short stories and a “Getting started with…” magazine.

The 40k novel is Crusade + Other Stories which includes 12 short stories as well as the novella Crusade.  The AoS novel is Hammerhal & Other Stories, which includes 7 short stories as well as the Novella Hammerhal.  Although I haven’t done a deep dive into the novels yet, just from the look at it I think they may be a bit intimidating for all but the more accomplished young reader.  I can only assume that the upcoming Warhammer Adventures Series  would be a better replacement for young people when they come out.

The magazines each come with a miniature attached, and are really thorough when it comes to an introduction to the series and games.  Although I plan on writing more on some of the issues that I foresee arising, I see myself more likely to use the AoS magazine as a free tool for the children to pick up and read, while the 40K magazine something I’m more likely to be selective and photocopy pages out of.

Paints and Brushes

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The set came with the Citadel Base Paint Set, The Warhammer: Age of Sigmar Paint & Tool Set, and two packs of 3 size S base Brushes (interesting to note, the invoice listed three sets of brushes, but only two where in the package. But I’m not complaining).

The Citadel Base paint set includes:

  • S Base brush
  • Leadbelcher
  • Macragge Blue
  • Waaagh! Flesh
  • Bugman’s Glow
  • Mephiston Red
  • Mournfang Brown
  • Abaddon Black
  • Ceramite White
  • Zandri Dust
  • Averland Sunset
  • Balthasar Gold

The Warhammer: Age of Sigmar Paint & Tool Set includes:

  • Clippers
  • Mouldline remover
  • S Base Brush
  • Retributor Armour
  • Abaddon Black
  • Armageddon Dust
  • Kantor Blue
  • Reikland Fleshshade
  • White Scar
  • Leadbelcher
  • Mournfang Brown
  • Celestra Grey
  • Khorne Red
  • Nighthaunt Gloom
  • Rakarth Flesh
  • Bugman’s Glow

This is a really good spread of different paints – there’s only three that overlap in the two sets, and the AoS set includes some of the newer ‘ghostly’ technical paints.  

The only thing that is noticeable is that there isn’t any paint that is a primer. I think within the books they intend you to use Abaddon Black as a ‘undercoat’ but I’m skeptical on how will it will act as a primer in the long run.

Starter Sets

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The school club comes with two starter sets: the Storm Strike starter from AoS and the First Strike set from 40K. Each come with about 15 miniatures each. They are all push fit, which is great for starting off with. In my classroom I have around 30 children, and although I don’t anticipate them all wanting to participate, having one miniature for each of them to explore and paint is a big help.  

The Storm Strike set comes with two factions, the Stormcast Eternals and the Nighthaunts. The Stormcast Eternals come with  3 Castigators, a loyal Gryph-hound and 3 Sequitors, while the Nighthaunts come with 4 Glaivewraith Stalkers and Myrmourn Banshees. It also comes with a play mat, dice, ruler, and rulebook. The box insert also flips around to be a simple piece of terrain.

On the 40K side,  First Strike comes with 15 push fit miniatures with the Ultramarines being pitted against the Death Guard, and well as the double-sided gaming mat, dice and measuring ruler, and rule book. With the Ultramarines, you get 3 Primaris Intercessors and 3 Primaris Reivers, while the death guard you get 3 Plague Marines and 6 Poxwalkers.

Just looking at the sprues, I feel like the 40K figures are much better made and have a thicker fell to them, while the AoS figures are a thinner plastic. Both have amazing detail and I’m really looking forward to putting them together with the children.

I can’t comment on the makeup of the lists, as I’m not really into Warhammer, but I’ve seen people comment that when it comes to the time to play these forces need more models need some reinforcements to play the game in any realistic way, but we’ll see about that at a later time.

Curriculum books

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The two curriculum books are the real stars of the show.  Book One is designed to be the things the adult organizer (called the “coach”) need to understand and go through before organizing as a club.  The second is a total outline of a 6 week curriculum starting with first organizing the club to building and playing Warhammer games.

I’m going to do a deeper dive into the curriculum books at a later time, but GW really has put together a focused set of learning objectives together. While their intent is to put together an afterschool or lunchtime “club”, it’s easily adaptable to teaching in a afterschool program.  There’s a lot of different roles that the children are asked to step into and it really works towards a student led learning experience.

Conclusion

GW is the juggernaut in tabletop wargaming, and it is because of this status they are able to put together a program like this. They are unique that they have the resources to send around $300 worth of product to schools and afterschool organizations for free. It’s a big show of trust to the community that they would allow wargaming educators and those interested into this without any guarantees. Of course, some maybe cynical and say that this is just an attempt to make a sales pitch to younger consumers. But if we are interested in building tabletop wargaming and miniature painting, getting young people involved and excited is the first step, and we should try and be supportive of their introduction into the hobby.

The importance of hobby cross-pollination

Whether I’m painting my miniatures or slaving away at the numbers factory, I like to have a podcast on in the background to keep me focused and prevent myself from being left alone with my thoughts. One of the newer ones in my feed is a scale model podcast aptly, if not particularly creatively, named the Scale Model Podcast. In the most recent episodes, he had Jon Bius as a guest. During their conversation, Jon discussed his experiences with starting out building almost exclusively aircraft and then moving into non-traditional subjects such as Gundam and Warhammer models. That got me thinking a little more about what I like to call hobby cross-pollination; that is, looking for the common ground between similar but disparate hobby communities.

Hobby groups

When I step back, look around, and ask myself “who makes little versions of things out of plastic,” I generally see a few disparate hobby groups. First, there are what I like to call the traditional scale modellers – the often-greying folks who make up groups like the IPMS and who build mainly historical subjects such as cars, tanks and military aircraft. There are the gundam guys, who are younger and into anime and build mecha models from their favourite Japanese cartoons. You have wargamers who build and (hopefully) paint their armies, and figure painters who are often ex-wargamers that at some point discovered they were bad at wargames. There are also model railroaders, toy soldier collectors, whoever keeps buying those Space:1999 kits, and likely some others that I don’t even know about.

The catch is that all too often, these people have their own groups and rarely talk to each other. The gunpla guys have their own clubs, as do the traditional scale modellers and miniature painters. They also all tend to do things just a little differently; for example, armour modellers do great weathering and add lots of little photoetch bits, while figure painters tend to focus more on rendering light and shadow in their pieces. Traditionalists may turn their noses up at models that look too “cartoony” for their tastes, while the gundam guys literally make giant robots from a cartoon. Figure painters use almost exclusively acrylics, while people who work in other genres use a lot smellier and worse tasting paints.

There is just so much that these groups can learn from each other that it’s a shame that they tend to self-segregate and these unique skills don’t get spread around. There are plenty of techniques that I picked up from IPMS members that I use to weather my big stompy robots. Also, there is just a certain cool factor in seeing what each other is doing; when all you see is space marines, a finely detailed Spitfire is a breath of fresh air.

Additionally, some of these groups can use either a bit of fresh blood or some old hands to teach some tricks. One of the perhaps slightly morbid things that Jon and Stuart discussed on the podcast was that given the remaining life expectancy of the average IPMS member, the industry that supports their hobby may struggle in coming decades as their customers literally start dying off. Some people get a little melodramatic about it and start wondering if their hobby and industry is dying. However, if you step back from your Tamiyas and Hasegawas for a moment, you will see that Bandai sells millions of Gundam kits a year and Games Workshop is the best-performing company on the London Stock Exchange. Maybe modelling isn’t dying; rather, younger modellers are just not as interested in cars made 30 years before they were born and military vehicles from a war that ended 75 years ago. But those younger modellers are still interested in the techniques they can learn from the old guys and their decades of experience in the hobby.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that there are organizations that cater to all of these groups as they all have their own specialized interests. A lecture on the changes in the rivet patterns on the glacis plate of the Panzer IV between the early-war and late-war variants is something that is going to be very interesting and valuable for only one of those groups, and perhaps the gunpla guys can skip that meeting. And, if you’re only interested in Swedish military aircraft of the WW2 era and are having a blast building them, then maybe you shouldn’t feel pressured to make one of those newfangled gumdan things unless you’re feeling particularly adventurous one day. But sometimes it seems like a shame that the hobby of “making little plastic versions of big things” is so compartmentalized and that people tend not to venture outside their little boxes a whole lot.

My story

When I joined my local IPMS chapter, I have to admit I was a little anxious at first. In part, that was due the background social anxiety that I deal with on a daily basis and the awkward feelings surrounding being the one new guy in the room, but there was a little more to it. I had a couple model airplanes in the stash, but I hadn’t actually built anything that falls into traditional scale modelling since I was about 13. Further, there was a definite demographic difference, which is a polite way of saying that the average age in the room was about twice my own. Finally, there were some other little differences as well that were palpable.

To better explain by way of an analogy, it felt a little like showing up with a tuned-up Honda Civic to a meeting of a classic car group. While it’s fundamentally the same thing – making cars look cool and go fast – there is a bit of a cultural and language difference that can make things awkward. Traditional scale modellers focus more on references and accuracy, while people with a fantasy wargaming background don’t usually worry about getting the exact shade of German panzer grey and instead try for bright contrasting colours that look good from across a 4’x6’ table. One group talks about brands like Tamiya, Airfix, and Mr. Hobby, the other group refers to Games Workshop, Reaper, and Privateer Press. 1/48 or 30mm scale. Unbuilt kits versus unpainted miniatures. Glue-sniffers versus brush-lickers. And so on.

However, instead of being a bunch of crotchety old guys and self-appointed gatekeepers of the hobby, the local group was very friendly and welcoming. They didn’t turn their noses up at my weird pink and purple Khador models, and were genuinely interested in some of the techniques I used. And on my end, despite not actually building model airplanes in a long time, I still had a genuine interest in the subject that goes back to my childhood and my couple years working on 1:1 scale airliners. I like to think that we both learned a lot from each other; I learned a lot about weathering, scratchbuilding, and decals** and actually picked up a couple aircraft kits for my stash. On the flip side, I gave a presentation on painting figures to the group and sold someone a Reaper C’thulhu that he enjoyed and did some nice work on.

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Pictured: not a T-34

Conclusion

One of the strange things about the hobby of “making small versions of things out of plastic and painting them” is that there is often this segregation between traditional scale modellers, wargamers, and gunpla guys even though they are all doing basically the same thing. A little cross-pollination is good for everyone as people can learn new techniques from each other and inject a little fresh blood into each other’s groups. And that can start with you – if you’re a wargamer, go to an IPMS meeting and ask someone how they did the weathering on their tank. If you’re a traditional scale modeller, try a gundam kit or a space marine. And if you’re a Gundam guy, check out how the Warhammer crowd paints their big titans.

Look into other aspects of the hobby, and you’ll probably have fun, meet new people, and you might even learn a thing or two.

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Pictured: A well-balanced hobby diet. Don’t hate me for the Cygnar model in the top right; I swear I only bought it for parts for a conversion.

 

** A little post-script that illustrates the point of this article. There generally aren’t a lot of decals in figure painting or fantasy wargaming; while there are some included in Games Workshop kits, there is a lot more freehand painting in wargaming. So, when I decided to finish painting my first airplane in 15 years, I thought it would be an appropriate subject for an IPMS build day. Since I spent about three dollars on a kit from Communist-era Poland mainly just for something to spray when I started out airbrushing, the decals had long since yellowed and gone completely useless. So, I did what made sense to me — threw them out, googled the plane on my phone, found a nice three-view, and freehand painted all the markings. Which turned out to be quite the shock to some of the other modellers present; I’m still not sure whether they were more shocked that I was mad enough to say something like “these decals are no good; I’ll just hand-paint all the markings” or that it actually turned out not half bad.

One year – retrospective

So, it’s been almost a year of writing this blog, and the anniversary has happened at kind of an awkward time. I’m currently taking a break from Warmachine, my primary miniatures game, partly over some frustrations with certain aspects of tournament play that have been festering for a little while, but partly also because of some of the reactions to some of my recent content. Additionally, I’m deep in preparations for the Sword and Brush figure show, and have a few half-finished articles in the can that I should probably get out sometime. But, I suppose it’s as good of a time as any…

Being a content creator

Being a content creator can be a little tricky. This blog has been one of my longest-standing writing projects, and it has emphasized how challenging it can be to create content. Sometimes, you just don’t know what to write, and sometimes you get bored with a topic before you finish an article and move on to the next half-finished thing. Finally, the act of taking pictures of your minis and documenting your work can be difficult. It’s pretty common for me to take an in-progress photo, tell myself that I’m going to document my work in detail for the blog, then completely forget to take any more photos until I’m basically done.

The other thing I’ve learned is that if you want to do something, it’s also important to make it a part of your routine. I think one of my new year’s resolutions was to try to put out an article a week, but there have been a couple months, July in particular, where that kind of fell off.

Self-promotion can be a tricky thing as well. I mean, we all get nice and fuzzy feelings when we check the stats and see that a lot of people are reading your stuff. But getting it out there can be difficult. There are often a lot of unwritten or otherwise vague rules about when it’s appropriate to post a link to your articles, and it can be hard to navigate the etiquette online. I don’t want to spam pages, but if I write something good, I want people to see it and I feel like in some way, it’s doing them a favour to point them towards free content they may like. It’s one of the things that I think a lot of people struggle with; we feel awkward really trying to sell ourselves.

Finally, it can be difficult to keep things in perspective when you get negative responses, especially if you are the sort of person who has any sort of anxiety issue. On the internet, it’s easy for a few negative comments to get overwhelming. But for everyone who says, in the words of an anonymous redditor, that your article is the stupidest thing he’s ever seen and that you should fuck off to Games Workshop games, there are at least ten people who either like the article or at least think it is interesting, even if they disagree with some of it.

At least, I hope so…

Content review

Speaking about how my content has been received, I think some of the most well-received articles I’ve written had to do with dice math, which is a series that I could pick up again to address some of the more interesting things about probability and dice math.

Definitely the articles that got the most negative reaction were some of the ones where I talked about the importance of painting in wargaming, and advocated more of an emphasis on playing it painted. This is an issue that I tend to think a lot about, as someone who is a hobby gamer at heart and who has no ambition to compete at the world championships of Warmachine. But it’s hard to talk about in the Warmachine community, because it feels very much like it is basically heresy for some people.

In terms of engagement, I feel like I’ve gotten the most out of documenting my visits to various model shows. I think people like it when they see something they worked on pop up, and I’ve met a couple people from them recognizing me because I posted a picture of their model on the blog.

One other thing I would like to focus on is on content like tutorials. Part of my motivation for this blog was to share knowledge, and I feel like tutorials are a little more evergreen content than some of the other things I post. I could do a write-up on some new release from Privateer Press, or the latest #fakerules out of CID, but that stuff changes and gets stale. On the other hand, articles about how to do NMM say relevant for a long time.

I think it is safe to say that over the past year, I have grown as a painter. Sometimes I get a little impatient with my progress as a miniature painter, especially when I see awesome stuff that other people painted and get a little jealous. However, I feel that looking back on my previous work is a great way to put things in perspective.

One other thing where I have definitely improved is in miniature photography. If I look back at some of my old articles, the models in question look kinda bad. But over the past year, I feel like I’ve really learned to get more out of my iPhone camera, what with buying a light box and using some of the settings.

Future plans?

I’m not sure exactly where I will take this. I’ve been thinking of getting an actual domain name, rather than a .wordpress.com address, in the hopes that that may help grow my audience. The other thing I’ve discussed is doing some twitch streaming of my painting, but that’s going to be down the road as there is some technical knowledge and equipment that is necessary for that.

So… here’s to another year.

My best game of Warmachine

So, I made it to the Southern Ontario Open on the weekend, and I plan to write an article about my experience sometime over the next week or so (protip: go to the SOO), but I wanted to touch on one experience in particular and give a shout out to a fellow Warmachine player.

By the time Saturday night rolled around, I had spent a good chunk of the day in the hobby lounge painting my Femris and recovering from Friday’s Champions tournament, but I did want to pick up some Iron Arena points because there was one prize that I had my eye on for a friend. For the uninitiated, Iron Arena is just an area to play casual games and get points for playing which can be redeemed for prizes which are generally donated to the event. Anyways, I was strolling around, looking for an opponent, and found one in a Mercenary player named Jeremy from London, Ontario, who was rocking an Ashlynn list.

Little did I know that my little exercise in farming Iron Arena points was going to provide me with best game of Warmachine I had ever played.

The Game

So, my opponent was running Ashlynn in the Llaelese Resistance theme with a couple Nomads, a unit of Trenchers, a unit of Stormblades, and some other miscellaneous stuff. I brought out my Strakhov1 list that I had been playing just about all the time into literally everything right up until I fractured my hand and took a break from the game for a couple months. Both of us were fully painted, and the scenario was The Pit II from the SR2017 packet, also known as “wrestling belt.”

Anyways, I got to go first and I knew that Ashlynn has an upkeep spell that grants her and her battlegroup no-knockdown, so I decided to put Superiority on Torch instead as it seemed like with sustained attack, Torch would be much more effective as an assassination piece than the Grolar. Both me and my opponent ran forward, me positioning aggressively with the jacks and him using Dig In to give his Trenchers cover.

At this point, the first thing I do at the start of my turn is measure the distance between Torch and Ashlynn. I’ve done the top of two Strakhov1 assassination many times, so it’s kind of old hat for me. With Ashlynn “only” about 16 inches out and with just a few trenchers between me and her, it was going to be an easy assassination. At this point, I started to feel a little bad, and offered to proxy base out my assassination run and maybe do a take-back. After all, killing someone top of two is kind of a “gotcha” move and can leave an opponent with a bad taste in his mouth. I chat about it for a bit, and decide to go for it. After allocating focus and activating my support models, Strakhov1 casts overrun on himself, feats, and charges the nearest trencher, killing him. This triggers overrun, allowing Torch to take an out-of-activation movement, getting him to within charge range of Ashlynn. Strakhov sprints back to relative safety, keeping Ashlynn barely within his control range to allow Torch to get on-target.

Next, my eliminiators activate, charge across the board under Strakhov’s feat and clear out the trenchers in the way, side stepping out of the charge lane that Torch needed to get to Ashlynn. So, I go in on Ashlynn, killing Sylys with the assault shot, and bring the saw down to bear, boost the attack roll to ensure a hit… and miss.

Damn. That’s not good. Missing with the initial reduces the amount of damage I can do, doesn’t trigger sustained attack, and makes this assassination run a lot harder. I swing with the fist and go at her with the saw, connecting and giving her a couple good hits, but it’s not enough to kill her. She ends up sitting there, with one hit point, taunting me for my failure.

So, this is bad. Leaving a caster on one box sucks with no focus kind of sucks, and if I don’t kill her, I’ve basically given away an 18 point warjack for free. So, I come up with a plan to do that final point. I’ll have Behemoth walk forward and boost a shot into the back of my own warjack and kill her with the blast damage. No problem, right?

Well, the first shot hits, and I roll to finish off the game, needing a nine on three dice. And… I roll an eight. Okay, no biggie, I have a second shot. Boost the attack roll… and I miss.

Okay, well, if I get lucky, the AoE will deviate onto Ashlynn and… nope, straight back, far enough to not contact Ashlynn. With nothing else in range to possibly put any damage into her, I have to accept my failure on the assassination run.

It’s at this point that I look down and see Eilish Garrity, a model I could have activated before my assassination run to get a reroll on one of my horrible dice and probably succeed on the assassination.

Damn. I’m rusty with this list.

So, I do what I can to try to protect Strakhov from the possibility of counter-assassination, running forwards with some jacks and battle mechaniks to protect him, while other models do what they can to engage or damage my opponent’s army and pass the clock over to my opponent, who is sitting there with his caster on one box and Torch in his face.

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Fuck this guy and his fuck his cat too.

People who are familiar with Harrison Gibbs will know what happens next. He has a once per game ability to restore Llaelese warrior models back to full health. Fun fact: Ashlynn is a Llaelese warrior model.

So, my opponent got to live the dream, restoring Ashlynn from one hit point back to full health. At this point, I’m pretty sure I’m boned, but instead of trying to go after Strakhov, he easily kills Torch on the counter-attack, gets some work done with the Nomads, contests his zone, and moves his gunmages towards mine.

So, with my feat gone and Torch lost in exchange for nothing in return, I’m definitely down but not out. I look at the board and see that if things go well for me, I could get up on scenario points and get into a good position. There’s a Nomad in my opponent’s zone, but it’s at that point that I remember that Strakhov has Battering Ram, a spell that I always forget he has because I never cast it, and which can be used to push a model out. Things go well; I manage to kill my opponent’s objective and score his zone, as well as snagging a point in another zone to get up 3-0.

We keep going, and things start looking up for me. I get some luck here and there, and have some fun plays, such as a Forge Seer charging a Trencher, killing him, and triggering Battle Wizard, which allows him to throw a snowball at a couple of gunmages and kill them both. My models get a lot of work done, my Eliminators are really hard and annoying to remove, and eventually I start seriously threatening a scenario victory.

At some point I clock out, but the game is so damn fun that we keep playing it out. Eventually, it comes down to him needing to kill my objective to get enough points to prevent me from easily winning on my next turn. The objective had taken some damage, so between the surviving gunmages and Taryn, he should be able to easily destroy it and stay in the game so long as his dice don’t totally fail him.

You can guess what happens next. With the objective left with one hit box remaining and no more models to activate, he passes the clock to me. Behemoth blows away the last gunmage with a bombard shot, and just saunters into the zone to give me the last control point I need to win.

We shake hands and report our games, then a little while later I see my opponent staring at his phone in the hall and offer to buy him a beer in the hotel bar because that was a great game. He accepts, and we discuss controversial issues like Khador jack costs (Marauder and Juggernaut should both be 12 points), and my theories on Mercenary list-building (Take Shae, Devil Dogs, a couple Jack Marshals, and about eight freebooters).

Why was this game great?

There were a lot of reasons why this was the best game of my life. First, I’m not saying that this was the best-played match that I had ever played; far from it. We both made a lot of mistakes, and probably a couple rules mistakes (“Hmmmmm, would that AoE have hit and killed Gibbs last turn?”), but it was just a hell of a lot of fun, and I think there were a few reasons for this.

First, fully painted armies. I know this is controversial to some, but I agree with the concept in the Steamroller packet that fully painted armies makes for a more enjoyable experience for all. With both of us fully painted, this made the game just that much more visually appealing.

Second, the game didn’t matter. It wasn’t a tournament game where the winner advances and the loser is knocked out. It was just a casual Iron Arena game, and since there are no points for winning in Iron Arena, there were no stakes and no pressure, so we were both in it to give the opponent a fun and challenging experience.

Since it didn’t matter, we didn’t get hung up on trying to correct things we forgot and rules issues. I’m not saying there were no take-backs, but if one of us forgot something on our card or went scrambling to War Room to figure something out, we just said “screw it” and kept going. I could likely have killed Gibbs with blast damage before he fixed up Ashlynn, but we were so focused on Ashlynn that I totally forgot to even roll for it. Then he forgot some damage buff and took an extra activation or two to kill Torch. Then I charged something, not noticing a cloud that was staring me in the face and I had already moved the model and neither of us knew whether it started out in the cloud or not and could actually draw line of sight. In fact, from a technical perspective, it was kind of a comedy of errors. But, we just took the D&D approach of “if it takes this long to figure it out, make a decision and go with it.”

Also, since it didn’t matter, it meant we could laugh at stupid stuff like dice which would normally make us frustrated. During the Champions tournament the previous day, I had one game where I couldn’t roll worth crap, including rolling two triple-ones on the same turn and flubbing some key attacks that I in all probably should have hit. Then I had one game where my dice were on fire, and one game where my opponent’s dice just went cold. One game I lost by not making a tough roll, and another game I won when my opponent’s caster failed a tough roll. Overall, I had been on enough dice roller coasters the previous day that I resolved not to get mad and just laugh at it.

This is one thing that I’m really happy with my play on this game was going hard for scenario and utilizing every rule on Strakhov’s card (yes, I even cast Battering Ram) to get a point here and a point there and keep the scenario pressure going. Instead of getting angry that my assassination run failed and now Ashlynn is going to go back up to full health, I knew that so long as I didn’t get counter-assassinated, I had a lot of pieces threatening deep into his scenario elements and even with the failed assassination run, I killed a fair chunk of his infantry just to clear a path. By realizing the potential for assassination was not great after I screwed up the first try, and that I was threatening deep enough to make a serious play for scenario, I managed to pull out a victory that I wouldn’t have been able to had my reaction been to get angry, go on tilt, and basically give up.

Finally, I have to give a big thanks to my opponent. The game was a thoroughly enjoyable roller coaster, and we both got to live the dream on a couple things (see: Hot Meal restoring Ashlynn from one hit box to full health). This wasn’t the sort of game that people are going to watch on a stream to see our strategic genius, but it was a hell of a good time.

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what truly matters? My goal as a Warmachine player isn’t to win the WTC, but if I can laugh at failing a Strakhov1 assassination run, then I think that qualifies as winning regardless.

Should you #playitpainted? (spoiler: yes)

I’d like to preface this by saying that my views on this subject have changed over time, likely in proportion to the percentage of my army that I have painted.  Also, as a single guy with no children, I recognize that I have a little bit more hobby time than some other people. Finally, I’m not writing this article to judge anyone or shame them for playing with unpainted armies… okay, maybe a little bit.

Warmachine has a bit of a reputation as a game focused solely on the tournament scene, with painting being an afterthought at best. Most tournaments don’t have any painting requirements, and there aren’t any soft scores like in Warhammer games. While the Steamroller packet strongly encourages the use of painted models and best-painted awards, this doesn’t always happen. Finally, between the complexity of the game and the focus on the competitive aspect, the sheer time requirement for someone to get to the level of “internet microcelebrity” can preclude someone from developing their painting skills because they’re spending their free time studying War Room rather than painting techniques.

Personally, while I recognize that when they started out they had to do a lot to distinguish themselves from their main competitor, and while I see Privateer Press putting more of a focus on the hobby aspect in recent years, I feel that it is sad that Warmachine has that reputation. It’s not fair because there are a lot of great painters who play and paint Warmachine and a lot of really nice armies out there, but it’s also not totally undeserved given the number of grey armies out there and the fact that most Warmachine media focuses more on competitive tactics rather than hobby content.

Anyways, it’s a reputation that I think we need to shake off, and we need to do that by getting our stuff painted.

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A fully painted battlegroup advancing up the table, led by Kommander Strakhov

Why should you play it painted

First, painting is fun. It’s a great hobby, and I honestly don’t see it as a chore to paint my figures for a tournament. In fact, lately, I’ve been enjoying it so much that I’ve been having a hard time pulling myself away from the painting table to squeeze a game in. There isn’t much in this hobby that is more rewarding than admiring a fully painted army, and that sense of pride and accomplishment when you bring it onto the battlefield only to get mulched by some Cryx-playing jerkwad.

Second, aesthetics are a vital component of any sort of wargaming. While I’m not the sort of guy who is such a stickler for immersion that I will accuse someone of ruining a D&D game for cracking a Monty Python joke, it is a hobby which more fun and immersive for both parties when you both have fully painted armies. That fun and immersion is why we spend hundreds of dollars on models instead of playing with cardboard chits or just playing on Vassal. As such, striving to play fully painted will make the experience that much better for you and your opponent. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement; even the Steamroller document, bible of the hardcore competitive scene, agrees with me on this.

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The document also “highly recommends” Best-Painted awards, and lays out alternate rules for tournaments with painting requirements.

Playing it painted also makes the game more attractive to bystanders. The visual aspect is the first thing that a newbie to tabletop wargaming in general or Warmachine in particular sees. It’s why companies like Privateer Press and Games Workshop put so many resources into art and sculpting; nothing sells models like cool models and pictures thereof on the box. We all want to grow our communities, and playing with painted models can help add some visual interest to our tables and catch the eye of potential marks to be suckered into this money pit of a hobby.

Finally, in a game like Warmachine, fully painted armies can make it easier for your opponent to distinguish models from each other. Our miniatures aren’t very big, and when they are just a big blob of black-primed infantry, it can be difficult to make them out at a glance from across the table. Especially for newer players who may not know the subtle differences between models enough to spot them on a black-primed miniature from a couple feet away. Further, sometimes you can paint your army to make it easier for both you and your opponent to distinguish the models. Personally, I have a system that clearly identifies my leader and attachment models with the most cursory of glances, which is of benefit to both me and my opponent.

As one bad example of this, I had a game a long time ago where I was playing against a Circle opponent who had both an Argus and a Winter Argus in his list. These are both two-headed dogs with a little bit of barding each, and the main way to distinguish them is by the fact that in the art, Winter Arguses have white fur like a husky. As you can imagine, “this one has brown fur, this one has white fur, and neither of them are painted” made it a little more confusing for me than necessary and resulted in the untimely death of some poor Winter Guards who made a tactical error as a result.

Are there excuses?

All that said, there are some legitimate excuses for not playing painted models. First, new players can’t be expected to have a fully painted army. It took me several months to manage to have a decent fully painted list in Warmachine. For a lot of new players, playing and painting motivate each other, and being told to pick up an army and then go away until they can come back fully painted means that they will never come back. So, it makes sense that a lot of new players are going to be rolling with unpainted miniatures for months while they feel out what kind of army they want to play and get up to speed on painting it.

Also, none of us are perfect, and sometimes life happens. Occasionally, we will have a unit that we really really want to play but is still on the painting table, or perhaps we want to try something out to see if it “earns its paint” before going all in on committing to buying and painting that list. Or we may forget a model at home and have to borrow or buy one on short notice. I don’t think committing to playing it painted necessarily means that 100% of your figures will be completely painted 100% of the time. While that may be a worthwhile goal to strive for, other factors get in the way sometimes, and that is completely understandable.

Further, not everyone paints to the same level of quality or at the same rate. I like to think my army is painted to a pretty high standard, so it does take me a little longer than someone whose idea of painting involves dipping a miniature in a can of wood stain. As a result, it may take me a little bit longer to get my army painted because I’m putting a lot of care into every highlight rather than just banging out something that meets the bare requirements. Being too strict on painting requirements can actually have an adverse effect, where players half-ass their paint jobs just to get them done and end up with something that they are unsatisfied with instead of taking the time to do it right.

Finally, there are formats such as journeyman leagues or other escalation type campaigns where collecting and painting new models are part of the game. I’m thinking of starting up a Minions army next time there is a Journeyman league locally, and quite frankly, I doubt that I will be able to stay completely caught up on my painting while participating in this league. That’s also completely understandable, because the whole point of the Journeyman League, aside from welcoming new players, is to collect, paint, and build more and more plasticrack.

When should you commit to playing it painted?

Between those very good reasons to play it painted and those few caveats, I feel like we can lay down some rules as to when you should play it painted. Again, these are more personal things than anything hard and fast in the ruleset, but I’m throwing these out to start the conversation.

  1. You are playing on a stream on the internet. Seriously, if you’re trying to show off the game online, at least do it fully painted. The internet lasts forever, as will the shame of video evidence of your unpainted miniatures.
  2. You have been at this for a while. It’s totally okay for new players to not be fully painted, but if you’re coming in week after week with the same unpainted army for years, it might be time to pick up the brush and at least give it a go.
  3. You are playing in a very public place where you are showing off the game. If you’re at a big convention with a lot of people walking by, one of the goals of being there is to try to attract bystanders to check it out and maybe hook them into buying a battlebox and coming out on game night. However, if you have a bunch of grey plastic armies duking it out on flat terrain, you’re not going to have the same level of visual interest that is going to encourage new players to check it out.
  4. You are a community leader. With the destruction of the Press Gang program, who exactly is a “community leader” is not so well defined anymore. But this can include people who do all sorts of different things, whether it is organize tournaments, run painting sessions, volunteer to show new players the ropes, or talk about stuff a lot on the internet. However, these people tend to be ambassadors for the game, and as such, they should be leading by example and promoting the game. And part of that involves holding one’s self to a higher level of painting and sportsmanship than the average player.

Conclusion

Wargaming is better for everyone when we can all #playitpainted. It may not be a goal that we will ever reach, but it is good to aspire towards fielding only painted models. After all, the most important battle on the tabletop is not the fight between Khador and those filthy Cygnaran pig-dogs, but the ongoing war against the forces of black primer and bare plastic.