Monday, July 28, 2014

What's shaking in the Largest Warhammer Fantasy GT on the West Coast

Saturday and Sunday of the July 19th and 20th weekend saw a great deal of violence in San Francisco at Fort Mason. Blood was shed, brave warriors fell, and cries of great beasts were heard throughout the land. You did well to avoid this conflict if you are 28 mm high and made of plastic, resin or pewter. However, if you are closer to 6 feet, flesh and blood, and interested in the game of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, you may have missed the Quake City Rumble.

I’ve written about this game before, so skip this paragraph if you know what’s going on. For those of you new to my column, Warhammer Fantasy is a tabletop miniature game played by two or more players. Each player selects an 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 battlefield, resolving cannon shot and monsters breathing fire by comparing their die rolls to unit statistics and charts. Armies are comprised of several different sorts of troop types: 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 for this tournament, 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. At least, I assume that’s true, since I wrote it last time, and no one called me out on it.

"Yeah, that guy's right!"

The Quake City Rumble (QCR) is one of the big names of Grand Tournaments in the country, and organized by the gaming club Leadership 2. You might recognize this name from a host of finalist lists around the country. These guys get around, and place highly pretty much everywhere they go. They also have one of the snazziest websites that I have I seen for a gaming club.  By the way, the name is a play on the Leadership stat from Warhammer. A Leadership score of 2 is the lowest in the game. For a bunch of guys that make goblins look disciplined, they sure know how to put a tournament together.

A Grand Tournament is a minimum of 2 days, 5 rounds, but they usually run extra days with events before or after so people who come in from out of town get a few more games. The Quake City Rumble is no exception. I talked to Jared and Rex, members of the Low Comp Crew, who played a team tournament Friday night against their rivals, Bizarro Hammer. LCC went 1 for 4 in that match up, and continued the friendly rivalry between their two clubs. These sort of competitions build friendships and bring together people from different areas to see new armies they haven’t played against before. LCC pulled no punches laying the blame on each other on Sunday when I spoke to them about it. Wherever gaming goes, good old fashion shit talking is never far behind.

The primary reason they are called the Low Comp Crew
That was one of the motivations of the players that I talked to: you go to a tournament, meet other like minded people, and play against people that you haven’t seen in a while. In the first round of the tournament, no one has any standing or score, so (in theory) everyone is on an equal footing. QCR is set up to allow you to request a specific opponent for the first match, in what is called a Grudge Match. Some players request friends from other clubs, people they played against in the past, or someone new they might not get a chance to play against. I also heard talk of last round grudge matches. These keep things interesting for people who have taken enough losses to knock them out of the race for prizes, and would like to play a game against a friend, or another interesting army. Maybe you played 3 games against Elves, and you can’t stand to face another pointy eared bowman, you can request to play empire with cannons, or daemons with 100% fear causing models. Ok, maybe I’m not selling it, but you get the idea.

I got a chance to talk to Mike Hengl, the tournament organizer of QCR for the past 4 years. Along with Ivan Jen, Josh Frick and Jeff Suess, Hengl rents out building D at Fort Mason. They bring in dozens of tables, game boards filled with terrain, a concessions stand, and two or three kegs of beer. If you were one of the lucky first 60 people to early register, you are given a commemorative pint glass and a bracelet that entitles you to all the beer that you can drink until the kegs run dry. Ages 21 or older, void where prohibited, please drink responsibly, alcohol may inhibit your ability to make sound tactical decision and in some cases handle models safely. In case there is any question about the nature of this pre-registration policy, it has a really convenient title: FREE BEER.

He wants some Free Beer.

Hengl said that they received 107 sign-ups this year, and that this is pretty typical for them. Over the course of the 5 years he has run it, they have stayed steady at 90-100 people. Their limit is 112, so they shoot for a fairly precise target. After a few cancellations and withdrawals, they had final scores for 99 people. What makes QCR so big is the draw of people from across the country. Leadership 2 has a rivalry going with Hangover Heroes of Texas, a club that runs The Alamo GT in San Antonio, Texas. HHoT sent a contingent of 8 armies out to try to take the trophies of LD2. Hengl said they had gamers from South Carolina, Wisconsin, and in past years Alaska. One of the downsides to having this many people, Hengl said, is that they can’t run a 40k tournament at the same time. They have some players that mainly play 40k but dust off their Fantasy models once a year to play QCR. They would need another set of organizers, and another location. The only other one that would work is three times as large, a little too spacious for a start up tournament.

Like SAWS Challenge and the other North American Indy GT’s, QCR has no escalation or official participation to other tournaments. These are all done for the love of the game, bragging rights, and a handful of prizes given out to the winners. Hengl does talk to the organizers of SAWS, West Coast GT, and other GT’s to coordinate a few details, like tournament rule interpretations, and composition scores. He says that he wants to keep a diverse tournament environment for players. While QCR has comp score awarded by the decision of judges, SAWS Challenge uses an objective scoring sheet that players score on their own. Other tournaments say play what you want, as long as it is legal. For QCR, they back this score up by sending the “Best General” award to the player with the highest combined Battle Score and Comp Score.

Prize support from the manufacturer, Games Workshop, is non-existent. Endgame of Oakland helps out with prizes as a portion of their sponsorship of the event, and some of the registration money goes to paying for prizes, while other prizes are donated by people who want to see the tournament continue. This is one of the primary reasons that GT’s like QCR continue: people want to play Warhammer Fantasy as a community, not as a strictly competitive sport. To that end, QCR is considering a paint requirement in the future. Hengl is tossing it back and forth: on one hand you don’t want to invite a club from 2 states over and have them turn up and play against a bare plastic army. On the other hand, there are players he knows that started their first tournament with half unpainted models, and are now serious contender for the painting awards.

I talked to some of the players about their experience in Warhammer Fantasy and in the tournament scene. Jared Briscoe of the Low Comp Crew says that the number of people playing stays about the same. New people will show up, older people will leave, but the game lives on. He noticed more and more people are coming in from further away. Hengl mentioned this as an attraction for a lot of players: QCR is one of the few tournaments set in the middle of a tourist city. Fort Mason is a national park, and if you step outside the venue, you are deep in the heart of San Francisco. West Coast GT is an hour out of Los Angeles. SAWS Challenge is a 20 minutes drive from downtown Sacramento. A tournament set up in the middle of a city with an over the top nightlife is a draw for a lot of players.

Jen Starling came up from Orange County with Club Capri. When I spoke to her at the end of the 4th round, she was 3 and 1, and looking for a good fifth game. Her Daemons of Chaos list is called Attack of the Poop Monsters, and thoroughly disgusting to look upon. I asked her about the game and the tournament scene, and not surprisingly, she enjoys it. She used to play Warhammer 40k until a few years ago when the game became more competitive. She noticed a very different attitude between the 40k and Fantasy players, and didn’t really like the spirit of the game any more. She’s been playing Fantasy for 4 years now, and performing decently at it: 38th of 99 in QCR, 54th of 100 at Waaaghpaca in Wisconsin (yes, that is a real tournament, and no, it is not easy to find if you have never seen it spelled before), 54th of 68 at the Alamo GT in San Antonia, Texas, and 16th of 54 at the West Coast GT, local to her in Southern California.

Hengl is hitting up a bunch of these tournaments as well. Crossroads GT in New York had 102 players, Lone Wolf if Dallas Texas had 82, SAWS Challenge had 60 players, and Bragging Rights Team Tournament had 72 (18 teams of 4). There are also a ton of smaller 3 round tournaments all over the country, to numerous to name. If you want see one covered on Ace of Geeks, let us know.

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 93 more articles before Mike will give him his soul back. If you would like to see the complete album of photos taken, tell Mike in the comment box. I took 60 photos, so a gallery or slideshow would be cool, right guys? Right?
(Please also leave a note telling Mike how to DO that on Blogspot. - Ed)

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