Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Necromancy at the Bay Area Open 2014

Spoiler Warning: These guys win.
The first time I ever heard about Warhammer 40,000 was when my neighbor Corby came over and saw my brother and I playing Weapons & Warriors. He said it looked similar, and we thought that was cool, so he tried to teach us. We tried to get into it, but he wisely warned us not to. The cost of this particular wargame is little much for a 10 year old. We loved looking at the pictures, and my first memories of this game are pictures in a magazine and extrapolations from our imaginations. 16 years later, the hobby has changed significantly, and my understanding for the game, the lore, and the hobby have developed. The magic, the possibility, that wild, unfounded extrapolation born of inspired imagination is mostly dead. I say “mostly,” because after last Sunday, I will never say “dead” again. Well, except that I will, but I’m reminiscing here, cut me some slack.

Cut him some slack too, it's not easy being green.
I started playing Warhammer 40k when I was about 14. My friend got a bunch of models from his dad, and I bought some with my allowance, and we tried to figure out how to play. We went down to the local comic book shop on Saturdays and bit ankles until people took pity on us and let us join in. We met nerds for all walks of life, all ages, genres, and stereotypes. Goths, bikers, teachers, bouncers, software developers, insurance agents, we all had something in common and it brought us together once a week. I was raised by my parents every morning and evening, by my teachers 5 days a week, and by the foul mouthed, uncouth, irreverent, tough loving nerds of DNA cards and comics one day out of seven.

Not those kind of bikers
With this kind of background in the hobby and carrying around Warhammer 40k like cultural anchor, you can probably imagine my feeling when Games Workshop killed it. It wasn’t a natural death either; there were a lot of games they put out to pasture that went out quietly and are still talked about fondly around gaming tables across 4 continents. The death of Warhammer 40k was really bloody. I’m not going to try to cite sources, or recount facts (though it might draw comments……) because it didn’t matter. Games Workshop tore out the intestines of the game, power hosed them, tied them in knots, and shoved them back inside, and closed up the wound with those staple looking things you see on Space Marines. They then repeated the process over and over again with each organ in turn, until people didn’t want to hang out with this thing that was left. It looked really contagious, sick, puking all the time, smelled bad, and its wounds kept leaking pus over your Codex. You knew that you couldn’t catch anything from it, but why take the chance? 

It was a horrible, horrible death, and when it finally stopped twitching and the dust settled, people were really sorry to see it go. The emotion was the sorrow you feel when you see a young life taken before its time. It was sad to watch it lay there in the dirt, so people started walking away. They turned their backs and left it to decay and turn into what ever games turn into when they go like that. I know that I didn’t want to find out. I wanted to close my eyes and remember the good old days. 

The size of the hearse they needed to carry away my hopes and dreams.
Something must have happened when I wasn’t looking. As far as I know, it’s magic, and if you know, don’t fucking tell me, because this is my goddamn christmas miracle, and I want it to stay that way. Something happened to what I thought was a corpse on the ground, because when I opened my eyes, it was walking around and talking being completely normal. It’s like that friend you have that you haven’t seen in a while, and you meet up, and they dyed their hair, and now wear contacts, and have normal clothes, and so they seem totally different until they open their mouth. And when they do open their mouth, holy shit, they are a totally different person, and you don’t know them, but hey, you might as well get to know them again. (This metaphor is really getting away from you. -Ed)

Yeah, it's kinda like that.
That’s what happened last Sunday July 27th, 2014. I went to the Bay Area Open and I was re-introduced to something I thought I knew before, but definitely don’t know now. 

Warhammer 40,000 is 28mm combined arms, unit focused Sci-Fi miniature wargame. It is played between two people on a 6’x4’ table covered with terrain. Each player has a force made up of different types of units. There are infantry, bikers, jetpacks, armored transports, monstrous creatures, battle tanks, flying vehicles and more. You can choose your troops from your own list of choices, or you can take allies from other factions, so there are a lot of themes and customization options available to people. Games take about 2 hours to play, wherein players take turns moving troops, firing weapons, rushing into combat, all while trying to wipe out the opponent and grab objectives. 

This is my flag.  There are many like it, but this one is mine.
The Bay Area Open is a 6 or 7 round tournament held on top of the Summit Center in San Jose. It is organized by Frankie and Reese, the guys who run Frontline Gaming out in Martinez California. This is the fourth year that they have run this tournament, and they sold out, with tickets bought by 128 people. 115 got scores in the end, but it is still an extremely impressive showing for an event organized for one game. Players play 6 games, single elimination style, over the course of 2 days (there may be a tie breaking round if there are 2 undefeated players after 6 rounds). The winner gets their name on the belt and bragging rights for the next year. There are 6 different missions, a variety of objectives and deployment methods, and a different opponent each time. Games are timed, and I saw both extremes: the games that over with an hour to go, and those that went all the way down to the wire. 

Different kind of wire.
It was after one of these first extremes that I got to speak to Steve Sisk, the unbeknownst-to-me-at-the-time-and-probably-unbeknownst-to-him-as-well future champion of the tournament. Sisk brought a Space Marine force riding bikes, one flyer and one big bad ass walking machine called an Imperial Knight. He had just wrapped up a game with a score of 9 to 1 when he let me ask him some questions. Sisk used to be the Games Workshop store manager in Brentwood.   He is well versed in the hobby, but he was always organizing tournaments rather than participating in them, so he is glad to have a change of pace for a bit. He’s been playing since the beginning of 2nd edition, and also plays Malifaux and Warhammer Fantasy. He plays Ogre Kingdoms since, as he puts it, he looks like an Ogre. As a member of the Mercy Killers club, he was rocking his club shirt and gunning for his rival club, the Ultimate Commanders. The two clubs have a belt, currently in the possession of the Mercy Killers, that gets traded back and forth if the owner loses to a member of the opposing club in a tournament.

Sisk stressed the need for a versatile or mobile army to grab objectives in this environment. He played a list of 5 squads of bikes, a Knight, and a flyer, so mobility was the key in this case. Sisk pointed out that you could win a game on all secondary and tertiary objectives, so getting those objectives and keeping your eye on the prize is more important than blasting the crap out of the other guy. He likes the new edition, but says it seems more like 6.5 than 7th editions. His biggest worry at the tournament was the list that was made up of five Imperial Knights.
Hey, "That guy."  Yeah, you're being "That guy."
Reese and Frankie are an interesting pair to run this tournament. Reese started playing with Rogue Trader (the published term for what you might call Warhammer 40,000 1st edition). Frankie started in 5th edition (not too long ago), but don’t let that fool you: he knows his tournament rules. He should, together they are members of the Independent Tournament Circuit Council (ITCC), the governing body that publishes tournament rules for Warhammer 40k, records standing of players, and organizes events. Unlike the tournaments I have covered in the past, these winners do have escalation to larger events in other areas of the country. Frontline Gaming also organizes the Las Vegas Open (LVO), kinda like the World Series of Warhammer. It’s not as bad of an analogy as you might think, given that they structure their scoring system off the World Series of Poker. Each player is given standing points based on where they placed in the tournament (you get a decent amount just for showing up) and then they are scaled based on the size of the tournament. Each player also plays for their faction, so there are standings for the best Space Marine player (a coveted title) (Because everyone plays bloody Space Marines. -Ed) or the best Sister of Battle player (a somewhat slower race). There are 15 tournaments in the circuit, and you take your best 4 scores as your rank. The winner is crowned at LVO.

It doubles as a cat bed in the off months.
There are some interesting rules governing the entry into the tournament. The minimum paint requirement was only 3 colors, but I saw some amazing armies on the table. There is no score for painting, the standings are strictly win/loss/draw, but the showing from players was phenomenal. Frankie said that this was their largest year on record. They started 4 years ago with 70 players, and are maxing out their space this year. He shows up at 5:30 in the morning and goes until they have everything packed up and put away. Coffee and energy drinks get a certain amount of credit to that success, I suppose. The general consensus is that 7th edition is a little more refined that 6th edition. With the tournament rulings from the ITCC, they make the game ready to play for people in different clubs and different locations. They feel it is important to have predictable rules for the players ahead of time, and consistent rules among tournaments. Reese admitted, at start, 7th edition was a shit storm. There are always rules questions, I must have seen at least 3 answered during my conversation with them. However, Reese said, once you define the expectation of the game, you are able to get a much better result. Initially there was a lot of push back from players who found themselves talking a company of Scout Marines into battle against 10 story tall death walkers. (The new rules did away with any limitations in how you make up your army, allowing crazy setups like the five Knights aboe.) With people leaving in droves at the end of 6th, 10 year veterans selling off their armies, people are really pleased about how this turned out. There are differences; you see a lot more flyers than you used to, which necessitates more anti-air units. I saw on average 2 giant death machine/devouring creature per army. Some fielded more, but very few went without. 

Haters gonna hate.
At the end of the round I got a chance to talk to Lizz Foster, the tournament champion from 2013. She played 5th Edition Daemons of Chaos last year, and is really feeling the change to the new book. Foster said that this year she is playing more of a horde army, and as some of the units are worse, she needed to fill out the ranks. I asked her about the edition changes, and biggest change she mentioned was the psychic phase change. Now it is more interactive, more fun for both players. It may not be as strong as it was, but it makes for a better game in the long run. She also mentioned that Jink Saves are particularly strong in this edition. That helps to explain the number of high bike armies I saw around. When I asked what she was afraid of, Foster kept coming back to Grey Knights. Yes, it was what she played last round and lost to. Yes, it was the best thing to kill her daemons. Yes, she is still afraid of facing them again. The only other thing I could get out of her was Land Raiders, which of course, Grey Knights have. Foster is a member of Team Powered Play, sponsored by Powered Play Gaming, a company that makes LED circuits and boards for installation into miniatures. 

Here daemon, daemon, daemon.....
How can you become a part of this next year? Well, that’s an excellent question to segway into the next section. Registration costs $65 for the Warhammer 40k championship, or $45 for the friendly tournament. You can get single day event passes for $25 each day. 

Wait for it….. 

Yes, in addition to a 6 round, multi-day, 128 player Warhammer 40,000 championship, the Bay Area Open also runs 2 Warma-Hordes events, (that’s Warmachine and Hordes, a skirmish miniature game put out by Privateer Press that I promise I will write about some day, probably, maybe), a friendly Warhammer 40,000 event, and a Dropzone Commander 3 round event. These had between 4 and 10 players in each event, but the inclusion of these other games is remarkable. I asked Frankie why there was no Warhammer Fantasy tournament here. 

“Not enough space.” 

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 92 more articles before Mike will give him his soul back. If you want Seth to cover an event in particular, leave a comment to let him know. His next article will (probably) be coverage of a Star Wars X-Wing tournament in San Francisco, so if you have a catchy title for that, post it. I’m terrible at that part,  and you people have to read them.

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  1. Excellent article Seth. You definitely need to cover the "Seaside Slaughter"

  2. So.......... When are we getting in a game of 7th edition!!!!!

  3. Hey Seth did you read the article about steve sisk committing acts of cheating, so filthy that decorum prevents their very mention?

  4. Hey, thanks for the review, that was awesome!

  5. Cheapskate: Yes, now I have read a few articles alleging cheating. With respect to Reese and Frankie, they attracted 128 people to sign up. Clearly they are doing something right to organize the tournament that people want to see. I also think that you have to compete in the tournament environment. If you can cheat and get away with it, then you performed better IN THE TOURNAMENT than the other players. The guy making the allegation had a lot of options available to him. I talked to Reese and Frankie for 10-15 minutes, and they were approached or called away numerous times to officiate games. A judge could have been called, army sheets reviewed, books consulted. Additionally, who is to say that the alleger did not commit the same level of filth? You hardly ever hear of someone saying, "I won, but man, that guy was a filthy cheater." (Well, ok, unless you have ever talked to my opponents). At this point, it seems like a reputation destroying action, which, again, is perfectly fine in my eyes, IN A TOURNAMENT ENVIRONMENT. The organizers will establish rules as they see fit, and players work within those rules.

    Dice Abides has their own reputation as well. I have talked to them in the past, and got a general anti-competitive vibe from them. I don't know if that is from all of them or just one guy, but if you are against hyper competitive gaming, I guess now he knows what the BAO is like.