Wednesday, May 28, 2014

SAWS Challenge Keeps the Indy GT Spirit Alive. by Seth Oakley

I’m never really sure how Google knows what is going on. I mean, they could have a lot of really smart people that research issues and make predictions. They could collect a lot of data and then use it to predict trends. That was the conclusion of classical mechanics as I understand them: If you knew the location and velocity of every particle, you could predict everything that was to come. Further research has shown that you can’t know both pieces of information, but still Google is able to predict, almost to the minute, how long it will take me to drive up to Sacramento to hang out with my friend Dan and cover the SAWS Challenge, a 5 round Warhammer Fantasy Grand Tournament. Google Maps put the drive at 2 hours, 10 minutes. I would be leaving San Francisco on a Friday evening, so traffic would be rough. Maybe the estimate went up. I ride a motorcycle and can cut through most of it, so maybe the estimate went down. I would be taking 80, and there was road construction, so the estimate goes up. It’s 80, so people are going like 75 mph, so the estimate goes down. I got lost and had to stop and look at a map, estimate goes up. Still, 2 hours and 10 minutes later, there I was, at the hotel, right at the time Google had told me I would be there. Can they manipulate traffic signals to control this flow of cars? Did they turn off the lights of the signs that would have guided me? All good questions for another time.

I spoke with Mark Havener, the tournament organizer and host of the Challenge, and he told me about some of the history of the SAWS Challenge. SAWS stands for Sacramento Area Warhammer Society, which is a collection of tabletop gamers that have been hosting the event for 14 years now. It started as an invitation only tournament, but was opened to the public after a few years. Initially it was a gathering of about 12 gamers or so, but it has grown over the years to as many as 70 players. This year there were 60 registered players and 2 ringers. Mark said that he likes that number. It covers the cost to rent out the space at Great Escape Games, provides lunch, terrain, prizes and allows him to organize the tournament. Players register and pay an entry fee ranging from $40 to $60 (depending on date) for 5 games, scoring and reporting. You can view the scores from the previous years on their website

The venue at Great Escape Games is pretty cool too. They have a lot of games from a lot of different genres: role playing games, collectable card games, board games, and miniature games. They have several rooms, and a huge back room that has been subdivided into different regions for gaming. While I was there, they had 30 tables set up for the tournament, and a front desk with computers and speakers for announcements and raffle prizes. The desk is elevated, so Mark stares at you over the top of his spectacles, down from his lofty perch and judges if you worthy of his attention. I guess I was, since I got some answers. Further in the back is a crafting area that I assume is devoted to terrain construction. The bathroom sinks are filthy, but upon further inspection you realize it is just years of waste water from a 1000 nerds’ paint water jars, so it comes across as well loved and kind of homey. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. They were able to talk to me about a few different subjects, and I know I was impressed in the past with the honesty I received about products they sold. They also have a decent collection of used role playing games, so if you are looking to pick up those last few 3.5 books you can’t find, you might want to check it out. I saw the Book of Nine Swords there, but I don’t remember the price. One last thing to keep in mind: It’s in Sacramento. I saw at least 4 fans running, including 2 industrial sized air pushers. “Hot as Balls” is not the worst description. You can find them here:

Warhammer Fantasy, for those of you not in the know, is a tabletop miniature game played by two or more players. Each player selects a race and builds a force from the rules governing that race. Armed with tape measures and a fist full of dice, they do battle by moving their models over a terrain-filled table, resolving cannon fire and monsters breathing fire by comparing their die rolls to unit statistics and charts. Armies are comprised of several different sorts of units: Characters, the great leaders; mages and fighters that command units; Infantry, the grunt troops that slog into battle on their own two feet; Cavalry, units that ride into the fight atop all manner of mounts; Flyers, units that are able to travel great distances over the heads of their foes; Monsters, including monstrous infantry or monstrous cavalry, whose presence alone can make troops turn tail and flee; and War Machines, engines of destruction that lob great stones, or launch spears through the air. Each unit has a point cost and an availability, so players put together 2500 points worth of models and deploy them on the battlefield. Games last for 6 turns, and the winner is typically the one who destroys the most stuff.

Each round grants the player 5, 10, 14, or 17 points based on finally tally of how much they destroyed compared to their opponent. They can receive 3 each points if they achieve a secret objective chosen by them at the start of game. Even if that sounds really simple, it’s not. These objectives could be something like killing the enemy leadership, or capturing their standards. That’s up to 100 points for perfect generalship. The player with this highest score is given the award for best general. Armies are also scored on their composition, or how strong of a list they selected. Again, this might sound counter intuitive, but it encourages participation. It also encourages players to “win the fight with the smallest knife.” In the end, it is an objective gauge based on an arbitrary list, and a subjective input from your opponent. It reflects an army’s fairness, and is worth up to 45 points.

Armies are given a paint score, also objective and arbitrary. They are judged by Mark and his accomplices, granting up to 27 points. Players can vote on their favorite, which gives another 3 points to one person. If you didn’t paint your own army, you take a 10% penalty (or don’t get the 10% bonus that everyone else does). There is an award for the best painted army. There is a sportsmanship score that is generated by your opponents’ input. There is an award for best sportsman, a well respected and honorable position to hold. You get points for being selected by your opponents as Favorite Opponent. This maxes out at 30 points.  These sums are totaled up and the person with the most points get the award for Best Overall. Last year it went to a player with 181 out of 205, a really decent showing.

SAWS Challenge is a great event for spectators. With the exception of 2, the armies were all fully painted with great themes and conversions. The highlights of the gallery include an entire hand sculpted army of despicable minions, an 8 inch hand sculpted soul grinder daemon, several display tables featuring full castles or backdrops, an entire Japanese samurai and ninja themed ogre army, another Ogre Kingdoms army made entirely of giant rat ogres, snake surfing skeletons, an entire Roman legion themed Chaos host, and one Street Shark.

The final results are posted on the SAWS website. You can view the overall results here:

Donovan Gilliland did exceedingly well with a perfect 100 battle points, but kinda took a hit with the lowest composition of 14. Jeff Suess took overall greatest score, and Jason Walsh had the best sportsmanship score. You can find overall total scores on a downloadable excel file as well.

The most popular army was the Dark Elves, with 8 armies representing. This most recent book was released in October, which would give people time to pick it up and decide if they would play or not. (And often, the newest book is considered the most "broken" for a few months. -Ed) Tied for second were Ogre Kingdoms and High Elves. High Elves were re-released in May of last year, and got a new unit that was fielded heavily, the Frostheart Phoenix. Ogres are rocking the same book from 2011, but feature a low model count and a lot of easy customization potential that some gamers find attractive. Bringing up the bottom, only one player held the torch for the Beastmen and for the Tomb Kings. Even Bretonnians, the oldest army book coming up on it’s 10th anniversary, had two players. Chaos Dwarves had two players as well, staying strong since their revival by Warhammer Forge in 2011.

It might be the atmosphere that SAWS cultivates, or the people who attend, or maybe the state of the hobby, but this tournament seemed like the exception rather than the norm for most of these players. I overheard a lot of conversations from people about the number of games they play. Most of these could be counted on one hand. “I haven’t played in 3 months,” or “I only play twice a year at these tournaments.” Make no mistake, many of these players dedicate days worth of time carefully constructing their armies, sculpting and painting and crafting. The dedication to the hobby was evident by looking what they had brought with them, but for many of these players, they don’t play regularly.

 When Mark Havener told me about the history of the event, he said a lot of things that echoed these sentiments. There used to be an organization of local Grand Tournament organizers. There used to be reciprocity between tournaments, where one winning player would attend another GT hosted by another organizer. Games Workshop, the company that produces Warhammer Fantasy, used to provide $500 worth of terrain for tournaments, give prize support to qualifying tournaments, and give invitations to Grand Tournaments they held. Now Mark doesn’t coordinate with any other organizers. The national ranking tracking website RankingsHQ folded earlier this year. Great Escape Games wanted to include events for Warhammer 40,000 (the sci fi game from the same company) along with the Fantasy tournament, but could not get enough sign ups. Mark said he isn’t sure if that is due to publicity, market saturation, or what, but they had to cancel it at the last minute due to lack of sign ups. Maybe things will turn back around. Games Workshop is releasing 7th Edition of Warhammer 40,000 in the next few months. It might be what it takes to turn the hobby back around.

Seth Oakley is an educator and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in Daly City, CA. He loves costuming, analog gaming and role playing games. He got this job in a bar after making poor life choices and has to work through 95 more articles before Mike will give him his soul back. If there is an event you would like to see covered, let him know.

  Did you enjoy this article? Follow us on Facebook to get more great content! We have a weekly podcast you can find on our main site. Also follow us on Twitter and Tumblr!

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.