Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Spirit of the Game?

Greetings once more, fellow wargamers!

I recently took a trip to Warhammer World for a big game with some buddies from the club I used to attend at Leicester University. We planned a pretty huge Warhammer 40,000 clash, as you obviously have to when playing on the tables in the gaming hall at Warhammer World. I mean, how often can you play really large games without having to commandeer someones entire downstairs floor?

The game was set at six thousand points per side, and broke down into me with three thousand points of Dark Angels with the new book, and my co-commander with three thousand points of Blood Angels (though with Lysander thrown in for good measure), versus two brothers each fielding three thousand points of Tyranids. Each player selected their force to fit one Force Organisation Chart, so two FoC's per side.

The armies looked great on the table. The Marines included a quarter of the Deathwing planned for a turn 1 Deathwing Assault, and between us we had four Devastator Squads, Tactical Squads, Ravenwing Bikers, A Nephilim Jetfighter, Assault Marines and most other things you can think of, though neither of us included a single Tank or Dreadnought, given how Monstrous Creatures can shred armour like tin foil.

The Tyranids included the Swarmlord, a second Tyrant, a Harpy, a Mawloc, Trygon Prime, Tervigon, Tyrannofex and two Carnifex with 2+ saves and Regen - nine monstrous creatures in all, plus a roiling, screeching mass of smaller creatures.

The Tyranids won the roll for deployment, and elected to deploy first and take first turn. We had agreed to go with 'Dawn of War' deployment and the 'Purge the Alien' mission because it was appropriate and simple. The Xenos deployed wide across the twelve feet of battlefield we were playing across, and kept both Carnifexes, the Trygon Prime, Mawloc and Harpy all in reserve.

We then deployed the Marines in a harsh refused flank, deploying most of the army on our right opposite the fastest wing of the Tyranid force, and leaving the slower half of the Tyranid army stuck out with a long slog to get into the action. All we had deployed towards the centre of the deployment area to hold up the Nids on that side were a couple of Tactical Squads in Rhinos covered by a Devastator Squad, and I planned to bring on the Nephilim to shoot up their swarms, as they were nigh on defenceless against it with most of their ranged attacks if I avoided Impaler Cannons and the like and kept out of their Deathspitter range.

I deployed my two squads of Ravenwing Bikers as far forward as possible, planning to strike out towards the Nid line, and bring the Deathwing I had selected with shooting galore plus a Master and close combat equipped squad down on their filthy Xenos heads. My first ever Deathwing Assault!

Then came the giant punch in the teeth. The Marines managed to steal the initiative...

Needless to say, I put plan 'Shoot the bugs till they're nothing more than a fine purple mist' into action, Scouting the Ravenwing forward 12", then on turn 1, moving them forward again, then Deepstriking with twenty six Deathwing Terminators and a Company Master right in the face of the Tyranids on that flank. This was on top of about half a company of Marines and two Ravenwing Attack Squadrons with guns trained on them.

Now I'm going to pause and say that if anyone can find anything that specifies when Deepstriking units have to be brought on, other than in the movement phase, please let me know, because I and others have scoured the Rulebook, Codex and FAQ's and couldn't find anything to say I couldn't bring on the Deathwing after moving the Ravenwing bikers on my Turn 1. The only stipulation was that the unit with the Teleport Homer must be on the table at the start of the turn to be used to prevent scattering, and that the roll for reseves (which doesn't apply to Deathwing Assaults anyway), happens at the start of the turn.

This initial assault took down a unit of twelve Gargoyles (netting us an easy 'First Blood'), a couple of Winged Warriors, a unit of Hive Guard and a Tervigon, all but exterminating the Nids far flank, and putting us on four Victory Points off the bat. This is bearing in mind that we now had a truck load of fire power right on their flank, and they had little to throw back at us, so we were poised to simply march up their line, shooting them to bits as we went.

Because the Nids were yet to have a turn, it was bound to look bleak, but one of my opponents turned to me, understandably vexed by the situation and said that, 'though what we had just accomplished was within the rules, he didn't think that going ahead and lannding all those Terminators and Bikers right in their face and ripping a chunk out of their army on Turn 1 was in the spirit of the game'.

At the time I was quite surprised by this, as I thought I was playing to the fluff and in the way the Dark Angels had been intended to be played, and I tried to argue as gently as possible that this was what the new Dark Angels army was designed to do. I had spent nearly half my points on stuff other than Deathwing and Ravenwing, had no Special Characters and only one HQ. I said it looked bad because they hadn't had a turn to retalliate yet, but he was insistent that with so many Terminators already in their back line, and half their army out of the picture for at least a couple more turns, they stood no chance of taking us down before being shot to pieces.

Because this debate went on for a good quater of an hour, it left something of a bitter taste, and I spent a great deal of time after the game thinking about what he had said.

I concluded that my opponent, who I have great respect for and consider a friend, could not have read either the new Dark Angels Codex, or the White Dwarf battle report that showcased what the army could do, because that would have told him exactly what to expect and it wouldn't have been a surprise. At the same time, it did make me question where we draw the line between what is within the rules and 'sportsman-like' and what is within the rules but not in the spirit of the game? Maybe I should remember that not eveyone keeps up with the latest White Dwarf and online dissection of every new rule, and so doesn't know what to expect when a book changes, so maybe I should have run through the changes in the book, just in case.

This is after all is said and done, a game intended for one side to be victorious over the other in the majority of games, dependant on what victory conditions are used to determine success and failure, but having said that, is it in the spirit of the game for one side to get trounced? We come back to the age old argument between gamer types, and whether we plan a friendly battle or a competitive one, and making sure everyone is on the same page beforehand.

Personally, I didn't think that I had selected a 'power army', unless playing the latest Codex out of the gates automatically quialifies it as a 'power army'. I am certainly not a 'Win At All Costs Player', by virtue of the fact that I play the models I have they way I like to play them, which typically means balanced lists. Plus, I'm just not good enough to be a WAAC player. I don't generally play tournaments, and at the moment I'll be happy to simply win more games than I lose.

So I'll ask the question again. What is the 'spirit of the game'?

I think the answer is simply to play the game we love, and enjoy doing so - us and our opponents. To play the rules (generally speaking) as intended, rather than taking too much advantage of loopholes that allow really nasty selections within the rules, but that might not have been designed with that application in mind.

This definition is my own, and may differ from yours. In fact, I'd like to hear what other players definition of the 'spirit of the game' are, if anyone wants to comment. If anyone has been following my Club 40K League progress, then they will know that I have played three games and lost two of those, one being tabled by the end of turn 3. I know what it is to lose, and how it feels afterwards.

No one wins every game. Not even Ben Curry. Except maybe Marneus Calgar.

Closing statement:

It's just a game. We might win, we might lose, but we should remember we play games for enjoyment. If we don't win this game, we should learn what we can from our defeat, and enjoy being given the opportunity for revenge next time around. We get better at this game by playing against better opponents, which for most of us means losing plenty, but improving our game to the point where beating us gets harder and, less likely. As players, we need to plan for victory, but be prepared for defeat and be able to deal with it constructively to allow us to evolve into better players.

Final note:

The Marines vs Tyranids game ended at the close of turn two due to the time such big affairs take to play. I wish I had enjoyed it a little more than I did. The Victory Points ended up being 7 - 6 to the Marines. Just as I expected, hardly a white wash after the Tyranids got their chance to fight back.

Thanks for reading.


  1. My opinion is that 40k is so unbalanced at the moment that these things will naturally occur in larger games, where percentages of 'cool' stuff is generally higher.

    Once the 'nids have their 6th Ed codex it will fall more in line. However, 40k has never been very balanced anyway so it's just the nature of the game. I've been on the end of similar kickings and it is demoralising, but that is the nature of this particular game and mentally throwing in the towel when it happens isn't very sportsmanlike either. You didn't deserve to come away feeling like crap for doing what your army was designed to do.

  2. Thanks for the comments. I guess it goes to show that play to your army strengths and play on your opponents perceived weaknesses, and then you steal the initiative as well, it just all stacks up to give a.somewhat skewed result. The answer is probably always going to be 'play again next week and see what happens'. 

    Personally, I wouldn't have kept any of the Monstrous Creatures in reserve, which would have given the Marines three times more of the things to be concerned about from turn 1. Too many targets, that's the way to play it I think.

  3. Hi Frank. Seems to me that playing to the fluff of an army IS the spirit of the game. A massed Deathwing/Ravenwing assault seems like a very Dark Angels thing to do to me - especially in a 6000 pt game. Having said which I'm mildly concerned by your ability to field 26 Termies - though, I'm not familiar with the Deathwing orbat, so it may be perfectly normal for them. Anyway, in a 6k pointer, I would have thought pretty much anything goes - even special guests for Blood Angels ;-) Re Marneus Calgar btw - he doesn't always win. In another (in)famous (depending on which side you were on) big Warhammer World game, he was hoofed half way across a planet by an Eldar Phantom Titan. That initiative 1 can be a bitch...

    1. Hi mate, thanks for the input. I can confirm that in the new Dark Angels book, Deathwing squads can number up to ten ass whuppin Terminators, with mix and match weapons. This allows you to field up to thirty Terminators in just three Elite slots!I had two ten man units and one five man, plus the Company Master. For the Lion!

  4. I've always seen playing in the spirit of the game to mean two things:
    1. Having an army selection that doesn't seem out of character (for example who'd expect to see a blood angels army with three devastator squads and no frothing loonies, er, i mean death company)
    2. Not spending hours poring over the codex to find the tiniest little wrong word that would let you do something your opponent isn't expecting.
    In your case, combining Deathwing and Ravenwing to get a massive alpha strike is perfectly within the spirit of the Dark Angels. I think it's difficult to watch a massive portion of your army get toasted before you have a chance to strike back, but in fairness, 'kill everything as early as possible' is pretty much the POINT of the game.