Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Starting warmachine again

I used to play miniature war games all the time. Back in 2001, a random guy at Alternate worlds started me down the path of 40k. That was back when sweeping advance was a thing and most missions were essentially wreck-face-until well blended. Every Sunday I’d go up to the LGS with my case on my back and deploy my space marines, or my Tau, or my necrons. I even played fantasy before they did unmentionable things to the beastman army. My best man would come over when the brunette was working till 1 in the morning and we’d slug it out with our warmachine box sets. That was back when he worked at Alliance and the game was fresh and new—not a single expansion. We’d start the evening with an order from Bubba’s. Then we’d put a table cloth over books and other items to create a terrained board on my dining room table. There were seven or eight models per faction so the game was more about learning the rules than tweaking lists. I fondly remember reducing Striker to component elements with a destroyer shot. Later the brunette and Deathquaker joined us with their own factions. I remember going to a MKI warmachine tournament in Ocean city, having several warmachine players in our home at one time, and competing in a 40k tournament up in Pennsylvania all in one month. Those were the good old days before friends moved away, kids “happened”, and life intruded on all that free time we had. Since then WMTrainguy, Cherylkat, corc, the brunette, and I have played different RPGs and strategy games. There was a stretch where we were playing dragon dice once or twice a week. WMTrainguy and I played FOW once a month all while expanding multiple forces. I contracted with Goat boy, of Bell of lost souls fame, to assemble and paint up a jack force. I thought that even then with the reduction in available time that it would all work out— proving that once a year even I can be mistaken. We play dragon dice now, but not with the fervor of months past. I sold off my GW products and magic cards to fund other projects. I’ve played a few games with my Khador, but they’ve lain largely forgotten and broken for the last two years. The spriggan won’t stay together, Vlad is missing an arm, and both my berserkers broke off their bases—I haven’t gotten up the gumption to get them repaired. I have two full armies for FOW, one beautifully painted by lady Deathquaker and the other likely to make its way into her aesthetically superior hands. I have stuff to play—if I wanted to—if I could find the time—if I could find a regular group to play with. I’ve done a lot of thinking on the subject and what it comes down to is that we all start playing games with the best of intentions. Then some of us go down the rabbit hole farther than others. You know—Bob is still trying to remember what the order of turn is while Jack has the exact probabilities calculated and implemented to make sure his deck always draws him exactly what he needs when he needs it. That sucks for Bob because Jack has him out classed in skill, in knowledge, and probably in quality of cards as well. That sucks for Jack because Bob is unlikely to put in the time, the practice, or the money to get his game up to Jack’s level. Bob and Jack aren’t going to have much fun playing against each other long term because their comparative skill levels, resources, and goals are different. This happens in every gaming group I get sucked into—and yes, I’m pissed about it. Somebody suckers me in with the standard demo/first one’s free gambit, hoping for a new person to widen their pool of players. I go home, do some research, and in some cases decide the games worth dropping time and money on. I devote a few weeks of intensive round-the-clock obsession to the topic and either give up entirely or jump in with both feet. At this point everything’s golden. I’m having more fun building and collecting than actually playing. When I win it’s great and when I lose I’m learning things. Every game is a new discovery, a new anecdote, a new path to fresh wonder. That’s where issues start popping up. There’s no humble way to say this. I’m a good strategy gamer—not epic, not legendary, but solid, with good instincts. It usually takes a few times getting my teeth kicked in, but at some point I “get” the game. When this happens, there’s a part of the group that doesn’t keep pace with the metaphorical arms race of strategy and list building. It isn’t that my friends and opponents are bad players, many of them have the raw talent to out class me if they put their minds too it, but they just don’t see the point. The Brunette is much better at considering patterns and random variables than I am. She just doesn’t obsess the way I do. If you’re reading this and you think you fall into that category, please don’t take any of this personally. Just about everyone I know would utterly destroy me if it was worth it to them to read four hours of strategy articles a day, spend 50% of their disposable income on the hobby, and hone their skills every time they got the chance. It isn’t worth it to most of them. At some point, the purpose of playing the game is to win. Yes, yes, it’s to have fun—seconded, agreed, motion passed with acclaim. But really, the point of “the game” is to win. The point of playing is to have fun, but the point of the game is to do your damndest to win—and often by as large a margin and with as spectacular a show as possible. If you have no reasonable hope of winning—ever, it takes the zing out of the experience. Likewise, if there’s very little chance of ever losing, the zest fades. Games like Apples to Apples don’t have real winners and losers. Points are kept, but mainly for show. Those games are truly for fun. When WMTrainguy and I throw down with FOW, we play so rarely and we both have such improbable dice luck, that the object is to see what unexpected thing is going to happen. Neither of us cares who wins, we just care about having a drink and seeing two guys with binoculars take out a tank platoon—yes, I’m still pissed about that too. “Screw you Italians.” I won that game, but the most memorable moment was two unarmed guys saying Chao to my unstoppable armored assault. That is a good time. FOW is also built and pointed to approximate the forces available in a given theatre of WWII. So there are absolutely situations where one of us will end up at a huge disadvantage because that’s how it was back then. That’s cool. It’s not for realsies. Granted we’re trying to win, but neither of us is advancing beyond the entry skill level. There are games, for some definition of the word, where winning isn’t the objective per say. However in most cases the objective is to win. I really hate it when people get this superior tone and say that winning isn’t everything. Of course it isn’t. But, that’s not the point. It may not be everything, but it’s a darned big part of the experience. If it didn’t matter, then tournament players would be happy playing fluff players in 40k all the time. The fluff player would get their game and the tournament player would get their win—everybody’s happy right? Part of the fun of playing competitive games is that if you’re a sub-par player you need the chance to come out on top. If you’re a superior player, you need to face people who can conceivably defeat you or your victories are meaningless. No, the challenge isn’t having fun. The challenge with miniature gaming is keeping it fun, for everybody, for more than a few months. Which brings me to the point of this article. Corc has decided to get back into warmachine. I greeted this news with mixed feelings. On one hand, he’s the dominant miniature gamer in our group. He’s the only person I know who spends more time and resources obsessing over games than I do. If he’s going to get into a game, I’m assured of a confidant of like mind and purpose should I choose to follow down the rabbit hole. On the other, his affections are inconstant, lasting a few months and then moving on to that new shiny game on the horizon. There’s a part of me that says “go for it, you know you want to.” The other part says, “How much will you spend on this and how much use will you get out of it? You know it’s all going to be over in a few months; so why bother?” That last I can answer at least. Warmachine has been around in the larger friends’ circle for years now. Even after I sold off my first Khador army, do I ever regret that decision now, Squish and Shogoth had their Menoth. Deathquaker had her dragon zombie legions. Cherylkat and the brunette had their Cygnar. WMTrainguy had his mercenaries—somewhere. All of that still holds true. There’s a shiny new gaming store nearby with fancy tables. I could have begged and browbeat my way into a regular game if I really wanted to. It was the fact that everyone else was waiting for someone else to make a move that frustrated me. So I let my interest, my skills, and my models languish. I didn’t want to force people to play when they didn’t want to—that way lead to the kind of disparate skill associations and unhappy experiences that I was trying to avoid. So if I want to find a game, I likely can even if Corc drops out. The question then becomes which army? That-too is easily answered. Khador! Big bad red robots? Ex-plo-sions! Me smash! Dah, I is crushing you for the motherland. I’ve always been from the savage North; there really never was any other choice. So what caster? That requires a bit more thought. And here we come to past lessons learned. If Blindfury picks most powerful caster in faction, he will regret it. If he picks the most powerful army he can lay hands on, nobody is going to be happy. The trick then is laying off the weird rules, the Twinkie lists, the assassination combos that end the game in a single turn, and focus on the fundamentals. The decision is fairly easy for me because Corc wants to use PP’s modified league rules. There are only so many casters with permitted lists. I know right off that the ice queen is out. She may be the basic box set caster for my faction, but she’s dickish enough that people are going to get tired of her feet very quickly. No, the one I want, the one that really shines for me is the butcher. Who doesn’t want to play a seven and a half foot tall homicidal monster wielding a polearm? No tricks, no funky magic shenanigans, just plane brute force incarnate. His theme list adds the man-o-wars (some of my favorite units.) Yes, there’s power there, and room to grow. I’m in the process of procuring his league-approved battle group and a few expansion jacks so I’ll have everything in one tidy package. I’m considering just shipping out my old Khador as credit toward this project. In any case, I’m committed now.

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