Tuesday 27 August 2013

The Rules of Competitive Gaming

Greetings wargamers and hobbyists. Today, you find me in my library. I am studying the conventions of wargaming. I don't mean 'wargaming conventions' in the sense of a gathering of gamers and industry professionals, I mean behaviour that is acceptable in the theatre of competitive tabletop wargaming...

I have wanted to write up my thoughts on what it means to be a competitive wargamer ever since I listened to a segment on a podcast about the subject, and in which opinion seemed quite split about the lengths a wargamer should go to 'assist' their opponent during a competitive game, and what our obligations are as gamers.

The impression I got from listening to the various view points was that there are two distinct lines of thought. The first deals with your opponent (remembering this is a tournament setting) committing grave tactical errors, either through inexperience playing with or against a particular army or armies, or through overlooking or forgetting to do something.

In my opinion, if a gamer chooses to play in a competitive environment, they do so at their own risk. 

If you lack the tactical ability to be successful in that kind of cut-throat engagement, then you will more than likely lose, but strategy and being able to use your army to best effect is your own look out and no one else's. Equally, you can't complain if you don't know enough about how your opponent's army plays, what it's strengths and weaknesses are, if you haven't taken some time to research your potential enemies before the event. A good general gathers intelligence before committing his (or her) forces to battle, to give his troops the greatest chance of success possible.

I think that we can pretty much agree that everyone at a tournament plays with the intent of winning, otherwise they wouldn't be there as a gamer, and no one can expect their opponent to help them beat their army by explaining what their failings are. That's the first line of discussion dealt with, nice and straight forward...

The second line of discussion seemed to illicit a more varied response, and it's on this point that I would love to get your views, because although it seems obvious to me how a person should behave in this regard, not everyone seemed to agree.

The line in question regards the breaking of game rules by your opponent and, in cases where you are aware of the rule breaking yourself, whether you should alert your opponent to the fact when their error works in your favour. Bearing in mind that there could be a great deal riding on the outcome of the battle, is it ever acceptable to knowingly allow a rule to be played incorrectly in order to help you win (or allow your opponent to lose, depending on how you look at it)?

The view of some people was that it is not your responsibility to correct your opponent if they aren't playing the rules correctly, and it works in your favour. A tournament is a hard core gaming environment, where no quarter is asked and none given. Gamers are playing to win, which means their opponents have to lose. Fair enough, sometimes mistakes happen and no one realises until it's far too late to do anything about it, and I also agree that you can't be expected to know every rule governing your opponents armies, but having said that, I think that to knowingly allow a rule to be played incorrectly, no matter the impact on the game, amounts to cheating.

Now if anyone thinks that's a harsh view to take, please let me know, but I think it's simple enough to explain like this: if you are playing any game competitively in a tournament environment, then you are playing to win that tournament, be it Warhammer Fantasy, 40K, Flames of War or Tiddly Winks. And the key is right there. In order to win a game, you first have to play the game, and the playing of the game is defined by the game rules.

You might be able to change the rules according to your tastes in the comfort of your own home or local club by agreement with your opponent, but not in a tournament where the rules that every participant is expected to play by are fixed. If you aren't playing by the rules, then you aren't really playing the same game as everyone else. If you aren't playing the same game as everyone else, how can you claim to have won?

If I am going to win a game of anything, I want it to be because I played it better and was luckier on the day, not because I allowed my opponent to play a rule incorrectly and give me an unfair advantage. Those are my thoughts on the subject at any rate, and I welcome any comments you might have.

Until next time, thanks for reading.

Can't make Me! - Sprue Cutters Union #6

Greetings fellow wargamers and hobbyists! Welcome to my workshop.

It has been said that you can lead a modeller to a workbench, but you can make them assemble. Well, it probably hasn't, but you get what I mean I hope. Miniature modelling is a very involved and personal hobby, and any project we decide to have a go at needs to fulfil certain needs to make it enjoyable and rewarding, in order to justify the amount effort that each and every project requires.
Because we have such a vast array of options regarding what kind of models we would like to work on, from multiple manufacturers, genres, game systems and eras, we can pick up pretty much whatever the cutting, gluing and painting portions of our brains desire, but there are some kits that we simply will not (ever) purchase and modelling projects we will never embark on.

This is the topic for the Sprue Cutters Union task number 6: What will never make its way onto your Workbench?

I guess my approach to this topic will be slightly different to that of many of my fellow Union members, because I am a tabletop wargamer first, and a modeller second, so my considerations are influenced as much by how a model or army plays on the table and its background material as much as the practicalities of assembling and painting the kit itself. It is also limited by the fact that I only play Games Workshop games, and will rarely purchase models made by other companies, although special mentions should go to Mantic Games, whose Ghouls I use in my Vampire Counts army because I don't like the GW Ghouls, and Hasslefree Miniatures, who make some great models that I really love, and some I have even bought just because I like them so much! I recommend checking them out.

Generally speaking, I am not the kind of collector that will buy a model unless I intend to field it in battle. This in turn means that I will generally only buy models that can be fielded in the armies that I play, and to go even further, the models I choose to field as part of that army are down to my play style and theming preferences for the army in question.

The choice about which armies to play is one with almost infinite factors to consider, but the main ones I find tend to be a combination of three:

  • Do I like the models?
  • Does the army fit my play style?
  • Do I like the background material for the army?

I should be clear that I tend to put great emphasis on the background material that accompanies the games and armies that I play (Games Workshop games all). My armies, characters and units are named, my armies have additional background material that I have written for them, and the army as it is represented in the game setting has at least some bearing on my army (and by extension model) selection.

For this reason, there are certain armies I will play, and certain armies I won't. I have to admit that I have been tempted in the past, but no more. Of all the armies available for the two game systems I play the most (Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000), there are indeed some armies I will NEVER collect or play, and this decision is probably down to the background material more than anything else. None of the reasons are related to the practicalities of the modelling itself.

Now, onto the armies (and models) for Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000, I will never (he says confidently) collect. Let’s start by listing the ones I already own.

For Warhammer Fantasy, I collect:

Bretonnia - A Knightly army a la French Knights meets Arthurian Legend. A bus load of charging cavalry supported by archers and trebuchet. How cool is that?!

Warriors of Chaos - An army of Slaaneshi Chaos Warriors, chosen because they are diametrically opposed to my Bretonnians. These boys are really, really mean.

Dwarfs - My dad bought these originally, but they're Dwarfs, and they're stubborn as all hell, and they drink lots of ale. What more need I say?

Ogre Kingdoms - I traded away all of my Epic models to buy this army, because I like the models, and I wanted something different. An army of monsters, and the background material has been very well done. My Tribe are the Bonegrinder tribe. They'll grind your bones to make their...you know the rest.

Vampire Counts - An army of archetypal Vampires, a true Von Carstein force, lots of elite Grave Guard and Black Knights, Skeletons and Zombies, with some kick ass Vampires to lead. None of this Master Necromancer and Necrarch foolishness! The story of Vlad and Isabella Von Carstein is the best in Warhammer in my opinion.

And for Warhammer 40,000:

Dark Angels Space Marines - everyone collects Space Marines at some point, I just never stopped. Chosen because of how cool they looked in the art work on the 'Space Marine' (Epic) game box with their winged sword emblem, and then I started to find out about things like their Deathwing Terminators, the Ravenwing...stoic doesn't quite cover it, which is a big part of why I like them.

Imperial Guard - Humans, easy to relate to, the feel of all the 20th/21st century war films I ever saw, plus the sci-fi ones. And tanks. Big tanks.

Orks - inherited from my brother, then added to and turned into an army by me. I like my Orks because all the finesse and high tech gizmos and wotnots in the galaxy won't matter when there is a tsunami of mean green rushing towards you...

Dark Eldar - Spiteful aliens that just want to hurt you. And your family. And your pets. And your neighbours pets. A chance to inflict (imaginary) pain and not feel an ounce of remorse. Plus all those blades...

Sisters of Battle - Nuns with guns, hunters of heretics and traitors. I hate traitors. A traitor will find no peace in this world or the next. There is nothing as wretched or as hated in all the world as a traitor. And don't forget, the Inquisition is watching you...

Tyranids - Seen the film 'Aliens'? Liked it? How about Starship Troopers? You get the idea. There's even less reasoning to be done with the Tyranids than with the Orks. They just want to eat, well, everything in the entire Universe. And they have cool models, especially they really big ones...another army that looks the high and mighty in the eye, and bites it's face off.

So, those are the armies I collect. Of the multiple remaining armies for both systems, there are some I would consider if I ever had the time, the money, and above all the space. Empire and Orcs and Goblins for Fantasy, perhaps Chaos Space Marines for 40K, but the others?

In most cases, it's something simple - The High, Wood and Dark Elves for Fantasy for example. They're Elves, which typically means haughty and arrogant, an utter belief in their superiority. Not my cup of tea at all. The Tau and Eldar for 40K; same deal, arrogant to the point of denial. The Tau in particular. And the rules for both these armies with their shiny new rule books hasn't helped one bit. The rules back up their 'my shiny stuff is better than your shiny stuff' mentality.

I don't actively dislike the other armies I haven't mentioned, but those few - the Elves plus the Eldar and Tau - I would never play. The Tau and Eldar because they're so convinced that their way is better, and that Humanity is some kind of stain on the Galaxy, and the Elves in Fantasy because they're so sure that the rest of the world owes them, well, everything, because they managed to stave off the first great incursion of Chaos.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I will never play armies that I perceive to be arrogant in the extreme, although this is obviously subject to my opinions about the background material and my view from the stance of the armies I do play. It's not a reflection of the people who play these armies. In fact, I like playing against them, so that I can give them a taste of cold steel or blessed bolter fire, depending on which game I'm playing.

Maybe I take the fluff too seriously when I let it dictate which models I choose to collect, maybe I'm not the only one. Who knows? At the end of the day, a set of rules is a set of rules, but for me it's the game setting that gets me hooked, and ultimately that leads to me buying models. That's why I play Games Workshop games rather than any others: the setting is second to none in my book.

Feel free to let me know your views. But before you do, I am aware of the multi-layered hypocrisy of some of the reasons I've given for disliking the armies I have talked about, as if the Bretonnians aren't themselves arrogant, or the Imperium of Man does claim for itself the entire Galaxy in the name of the God Emperor of Mankind. I guess those are the breaks when you immerse yourself in the game background. The blinkered views of the absolutist! Think of this as a semi 'in character' post.

As a member of the Sprue Cutters Union, I am proud to be able to direct you to other members blogs for some quality articles. If you would like to read posts on this topic by some proper modellers, check the links below:

Once more, thanks for reading...

Friday 23 August 2013

What Is Your Modelling Philosophy? - Sprue Cutters Union #5

Greetings hobbyists, and welcome to my chamber of reflection. Yes, there are a lot of mirrors in here, and no they don't all show you the same thing when you look into their depths, but look up, beyond the glass of the viewing dome above our heads, and the entire universe is laid bare...

'Oooo', I hear you say. 'What the hell is he blathering on about?' Well, this is where I come to think about anything and everything, and ponder the nature of existence, and this week's Sprue Cutters Union topic called for some introspection.

What is your modelling philosophy?

I guess this isn't really something that we might conciously consider while we're painting our latest modelling project,  playing a game or deciding what to buy next to add to our collection, but I bet the undercurrents of our ingrained philosophy reverberate through our entire hobby experience.

Our task is to talk about our own philosophy, so here goes. I am of course speaking as a wargaming hobbyist, and I partake of every aspect of the hobby, from playing games to collecting to painting and even a little simple sculpting, but when I ask myself why I do the things I do, what is my answer? Why do I play the armies I do, why do I paint and model the way I do? What is it about my collection that is important to me, and most significantly: do I do these things in the same way as every other hobbyist, and if not, why?

When pressed, I think I'd have to say that mine is a philosophy of stoicism, or equally, stubbornness, depending on your point of view. Typically, I don't like my collection of models to be the same as everyone elses. I tend to go against the grain in most things, and this is evident in every aspect of my hobbying.

The acts of purchasing models, assembling and painting them, and choosing an army to command on the tabletop battlefield are all interconnected, and it's difficult to say which comes first because each influences the other. What I know is that I have a concious desire to buy and use the units I like, regardless of whether the wider community think that the unit is any good, or that another unit would be a better choice. I play certain units because they fit my idea of what my chosen army should be, and this in turn makes me determined to include them.

An example might be my Dwarf army for Warhammer, which many tournament players consider to be lacking in viable strategic options to allow a player to win consistently, and so we hear accounts about how boring Dwarfs are to play, because they just sit in a corner of the battlefield surrounded by artillery and shoot you to death. This just isn't my idea of what an army of cantankerous, bearded, beer swilling, axe toting grudgebearers is like.

They aren't depicted in the background material as afraid of the enemy, or stand-offish, they yell 'taste my axe foul grobi!' as they methodically hew their way through the enemy army, never giving ground, with the 'Old Boys Club' (my Longbeards) grumbling away at any sign of un-Dwarfish behaviour. So that's what I play. A solid shield-wall of Dwarf Warriors, marching towards the enemy and engaging them toe to toe. And with that many high weapon skill, high toughness heavily armoured Dwarfs backing you into a corner, not every enemy army has an answer for it, where they might have an answer for a straight gunline.

The same applies to my painting. While other people might scour the internet looking for schemes they like and might use on their own models, I am looking at how the majority of other models are painted so I can do something different. I play a Dark Angels army for Warhammer 40,000, which is the only army I play with specific and established background written about them, but even then I have tried to be different. The Games Workshop army is (or was) the Dark Angels 5th Company, and though I like the company markings for the 5th, I have chosen to have my army represent the 4th, despite the small and fiddly check pattern I have to paint onto each marine's kneepad.

I am a rebel. I want to do things my way, the way I feel they should be, and actively try to avoid copying what others have done. Does this make me a bit anal? Perhaps. Does it mean the models I choose to buy and field might not be the best possible option from the respective army list? Certainly. But will I give in and go with the majority? Not a chance. My connection to my models is personal to a point where they have to be what I want them to be and look like I want them to look, otherwise they barely even feel like 'my army'.

I want people to look at my models and say 'that's different, haven't seen that before', and that's what I think about when I'm working on a project. Another example for you: Vampire Counts. Many people advocate the Master Necromancer list as a strong alternative to a very expensive Vampire Lord, which makes degrees of sense as far as list building goes, but in my mind it's a Vampire Counts army, and a Vampire should lead it. That is until I hit on the idea of an army that uses the Vampire Counts book, but contains no Vampires at all and is commanded by a coven of witches. This is my way of doing something that makes sense to me, and is quite different from anything else I have seen.

Having thought about it, my philosophy can probably best be described as two things: underdog mentality and a desire to swim against the tide, come what may.

So, I hope that my rambling hasn't gone on too long, and has perhaps even got you thinking about your own hobby philosophy. What sets the course of your hobby goals and drives, and where does it come from?

If you have enjoyed reading the Sprue Cutters Union threads, and might be interested in joining the Union, look here.

The members of the Sprue Cutters Union are a great bunch of modellers with a variety of backgrounds and skill sets, but all are passionate about our shared hobby. To read posts by other members on this topic, check out the links below:

And finally, just to hammer the point home, here are some of my purple Ogres...

As always, thanks for reading.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

What is the worst experience you've had with this hobby? - Sprue Cutters Union #4

Greetings fellow wargamers, or I guess that these days, while I maintain my place among the illustrious Sprue Cutters Union (#spruecutters), it should probably be 'fellow hobbyists'!

Here (and as is plain from the post title), is my fourth offering to the sprue god, and as usual, the Lord High Sprue Cutter has come up trumps. As an aside before I tread the path of doom and destruction, if you might like to become a membernof the Sprue Cutters Union, check the details out here.

Now, despite the endless hours of excitement, engagement and rarely rivalled goodness that can come with this hobby, there can also come to pass moments of pain and anguish. A paint job can end up looking like the model was dunked and left to dry over night; pieces of models can come warped and despite sustained effort with hot and cold water, Vlad von Carstein's Sword of Unholy Power will always be a little bit 'kinky', or perhaps, maybe worst of all, is the terror that is the 'outside influence', which has seem entire armies wiped out in an instant.

This week's topic is 'What is the worst experience you've had with this hobby?', or, as I like to call it 'Daemon Princes can't fly, even if they have wings'.

My horrendous (well, horrendous in modelling terms. It's not like anybody died) experience centres around a converted Daemon Prince model I built and painted a couple of years or so ago. I had made the decision to start an online 'Work In Progress' (WIP) thread on the Astronomican Wargaming Community forum. It was the first time I had ever put pictures of my miniature modelling and painting projects online, and as you would expect, I experienced a degree of apprehension at the prospect of my efforts being laid bare for my peers to critique.

I needn't have been concerned. The Astronomican bunch are a friendly lot and full of positive comments or useful and constructive advice, as well as being great modellers and painters themselves. I posted the step by step progression of my build, taking my time and paying careful attention to feedback as I steadily constructed the model, converted bespoke parts, pinned pieces in place, sculpted over joins, and eventually painted the model and dressed the base.

I was chuffed, it must be said, and although the abundance of deep purple that I used for the skin of my Daemon Prince wasn't to everyone's taste, I got great feedback. The community liked the model, I liked the model, I was proud of what I had achieved. All was well with the world.


Once upon a time, on the top of a writing bureau, and well out of the way of grasping little hands, there rested a Daemon Prince of Slaanesh, beloved of the Dark Prince and scourge of mortal men. From his lofty perch, the Daemon Prince did survey the comings and goings of the mortal world below. Then, one fateful day, a colossal feline felon of unfathomed fiendishness did spy the plateau on which the Daemon Prince stood.

Low, the Daemon was a greedy soul and left naught room for another to share his privileged place in the heavens, but the dosy feline cared not for the laws of physics or spacial displacement, and, heedless of the dangers, leapt up towards the top of the writing bureau.

Alas! There was indeed no room upon the platform for the feline to land, though this was plain to all but the stupid cat, and down the front of the bureau did she plummet, but not before the Daemon Prince was struck a glancing blow by a feline toe!

Woe of woes! The proud Daemon Prince did topple and fall, nay, plunge, nay, PLUMMET down from the top of the writing bureau and into the abyss. Down and down and still further down he fell, until at last he struck the laminate floor with the force of a twin tailed comet, and was dashed into his multitudinous constituent parts.

Needless to say, I was rather vexed by this event, so much so that, where I might typically rage and shout at the cat and bowl it out of the room like I'm playing nine-pins, I simply did nothing. I think I must have been in shock, as I calmly got down on my hands and knees and started collecting up the bits of my prized conversion. Even more frustrating was that a piece of his sword, which I had painstakingly constructed from multiple other weapons, was nowhere to be found, despite moving the furniture around.

I simply piled the pieces I could find back onto the top of the bureau in a heap. Where usually I would be breaking out the files and superglue and initiating emergency repair protocols, I couldn't even look at it, especially with a piece still unaccounted for. And there the pile of pieces sat until, a few days later I managed to find the final piece, and set about assessing the damage and putting the model back together. I should say that, despite some scrapes and chips and a couple of unsightly bent pieces, the individual components had survived unbroken, and just needed a bit of a clean up before being re-assembled.

Even now,  I haven't got as far as doing all the touch up paintwork required to really get the model close to what it was, but I feel like it'll never be quite as good as it was when I first completed it. Below are a number of pictures taken as part of the original build, to give you an idea of how much work went into the model. One day, he will get the attention he deserves. Soon, when I focus my efforts on my Warriors of Chaos. Soon.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday 10 August 2013

My Favourite Model - Sprue Cutters Union #3

Greetings Wargamers, and welcome once more to my humble hearth.

Today I bring you the Sprue Cutters Union Task number three. The Sprue Cutters Union is a collection of like-minded modellers working on a variety of projects and with differing modelling experiences, but all with a passion for our shared hobby. Could you be a Sprue Cutter?

In the spirit of supporting this fine venture, I encourage you to click on the links below and read posts by other members on this same topic:

Task number three is in many ways quite an obvious choice as a topic, but as with the previous task (Words of Wisdom), can be a tricky question to answer easily.

#3: My Favourite Model - which, of all the models and kits you own, is your favourite?

Well, I am a wargamer first and foremost, which means lots and lots of models and kits, and in my case, eleven different armies (five for Warhammer Fantasy and six for Warhammer 40,000), Imperial and Chaos fleets for Battlefleet Gothic (Games Workshop's game of space naval battles in the 41st millenium), several different fleets for Man O' War (GW's game of naval warfare on the seas of the Warhammer World), as well as models for Necromunda, Blood Bowl and a range of 54mm models for GW's Inquisitor skirmish roleplay game. That's a great many models and kits to choose between.
Whilst having a think, I went through the largest and most impressive models I have collected for my various armies and sets of miniatures. The 'centrepiece models'.

I considered the now 'classic' Wight Lord riding a Zombie Dragon all metal kit from my Vampire Counts army, with it's peeling hide and exposed ribs and hanging organs. I also considered the Giants from my Ogre Kingdoms and Warriors of Chaos collections. I looked at my Slaaneshi Daemon Prince, heavily converted from the Ghulavhar miniature from the Lord of the Rings game, which is the most comprehensive conversion I have yet completed.

The really big contenders were probably the Carnifex and Trygon kits from my Tyranid army (with their ferocious gribblyness and endless assembly options), the Thundertusk from my Ogre Kingdoms army (for it's sheer beefyness and cool extra details), and the Mortis Engine from my Vampire Counts army (which is not only impressive in it's size and variety of textures and painting options, but also with the ease that it goes together), but the number one choice, my favourite of all the kits I own is one that I hope the scale model builders among you will appreciate...the Imperial Guard Shadowsword Superheavy Battle Tank!

My reasons for settling on this particular kit are several. Firstly, it's probably the largest wargaming model I posess. Second is the practical side of the kit itself. It is a kit that can be assembled as one of two main designs of vehicle: the Shadowsword Superheavy Battle Tank, and the Stormlord Superheavy Assault Transporter. In addition to these two configurations, the Shadowsword can be altered to represent up to five (I believe) other variants of tank, just by changing the barrel on the main gun using the pieces that come in the kit. The different barrel sections just slot in and out, making it very easy to tailor your vehicle choice dependent on the enemy you will face, or just for a change.

My final reason for selecting this kit is that, for me, the Shadowsword (along with the Reaver Battle Titan) is an iconic fighting vehicle. A company of three of these immense tanks appeared as part of the Imperial Guard army in the 'Space Marine' ('Epic') Battle Report 'Assault on Barbarius' in issue 160 of White Dwarf (the first issue I ever bought), putting their equally iconic 'Volcano Cannons' to use blasting Eldar Fire Prisms out of the sky as they made 'pop-up attacks' from behind city buildings. Each turn an Eldar tank would rise up into the air and take potshots at the Imperial forces, and each turn the Shadowswords would be waiting...

This was the Battle Report that got me into the Games Workshop and miniature collecting hobby, so when the opportunity to own a Shadowsword for my own 40K Imperial Guard army came up (despite the cries of those who swear by the versatility of the Baneblade, another Imperial Superheavy Tank with a smaller main gun but a greater volume of fire overall) I decided I should have one. The thought of unleashing the mighty Volcano Cannon against the superheavy vehicles of my opponents was too much to resist.

The picture below is not of my tank, which is yet to be painted. But soon...soon.