We update from me, super busy. Like really busy! Anyway below is an article from one of the organisers of the Scottish Masters & The Captain of the Scottish ETC team, James Esland. James was one of the main writers of the scenarios and pack and he wanted to write down his thoughts on the ethos of the event and nuances of the event. More info can be found here: (http://warhammer.org.uk/phpBB/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=126367). Once again here is the awesome video that Mike Callaghan produced to set the tone....
The UK Masters is the top 16 players in no-holds barred battlelines. Last time out our very own Andy Potter of ETC Team Scotland fame won it with denial dark elves - needing only 100vps or so for a win this style of Warhammer feels to me like the boxing equivalent of 12 rounds of circling your opponent and landing a single jab just before the final bell. Don’t get me wrong, Andy is an epic Warhammer player - but he was responding logically to the incentive structure of this tournament to do what was required to win. When I was speaking with Pash about the Scottish Masters, I thought we could do better.
Looking at the Scottish scene, we have events like forgotten heroes - which had a profound effect on me in past years. Having to name your characters and units and write a bit of fluff about them requires a bit more effort; but it feels like you are controlling an army that you associate with - the models have genuine character and accentuating that leads to more fun that treating them as game counters (otherwise we could all play with bits of card). Having read a fair few of the pulp warhammer books I was also keen to draw players in and view scenarios more as a story unfolding than as unwelcome alterations to game parameters. There is an amazing intro video (done by our own Mike Callaghan) to set the scene for the tournament, and hopefully to set the mood too - I recommend you watch this if you have not already. The prizes have been ordered and are epic. This event, then, is a treat for all those who support the Scottish scene and perhaps an incentive to make next year even more awesome.
Having been to the ETC and English tournaments and played under various comp systems my conclusion is this: changing the comp and changing the scenarios means you try out different units. This engine of change in turn drives list design for future events (i.e. you get out of your rut, try something new and realise that’s awesome too, and it then makes it into your ‘filth’ lists). Likewise the old UKGT used to have secret missions in play and I found these added an extra dimension - balancing out scenarios and making it more of a mental sparring game between players. It also echoes the incentives of a general in a campaign; it’s not simply about smashing the other guys army. Sometimes it’s about securing supplies, taking high ground, capturing or killing a key personality etc. So, the grand plan is to have a tournament pack that puts players squarely ‘into’ the game, make it story driven, while at the same time encouraging different approaches to playing and managing to several sets of constraints and objectives at once - this to me is a far keener test of ‘generalship’ than a sterile battleline where your only objective is killing their models. And most importantly, much more fun than 6 battlelines. Below I discuss each of the scenarios and my thought process when I was writing them:
As the first battle on the island of Karmon Gaeems (a nod to the venue ‘Common Ground Games’) it fit the story well to have it be an unexpected clash of armies. My thoughts here were that meeting engagement as it comes from the rulebook has two drawbacks:
1) A lot of the time, nothing of consequence starts off -> so I made it a 1 or 2 rather than just a 1.
2) and can just move on anyway in T1, so starting off is advantageous for fast things and disadvantageous for warmachines etc -> it now has to roll to come on on T2 onwards. An upside is it can ambush on a 6! This means players have to do some risk management when they set up - and there is more of a genuine response-counter to the way units are kept off and brought on, functioning like actual reserves.
3) because this could hurt people too much if their general and BSB start off, or their only cannon etc one unit can auto start on (or off). This allows for some mitigation/tactics - you can even go for the longshot of trying to ambush your hammer unit behind their army.
The idea here is to incentivise people to take an army that can work in parts rather than a set ‘phalanx’. An army which deploys the same every game does not really lend itself to increasing the enjoyment or skill of either player. You have to roll with the punches! And the player who sets up for this mission and manages risk/opportunity the best should win. You can’t say ‘oh my big unit started off so I lost, so it’s a stupid scenario’ - I think that would just speak more to your inflexibility and overreliance on one element of your army. Hopefully this will encourage redundancy in army design, and a degree of movement and response.
Blood of Heroes:
As the story develops, it becomes clearer that something on the island is forcing you to battle, to ensure only the most worthy progress. As such, Blood and Glory felt appropriate here. Fortitude means people have to take proper armies - it hurts monster mash type lists (which are a prime example of the ‘works in many parts’ type that might do well in the first game, so perhaps need balancing out here). But no one likes an auto-win lose game so it’s a vp bonus instead. And you can clawback if you lose your fortitude so there’s reason to fight on. As a further filip, you get vp bonuses for killing characters in challenges here - this is a bit of fun and felt appropriate to the idea of this scenario being about trying to break the will of the opposition, rather than a ‘capture the flag’ abstraction. It also means there’s a point to killing all characters aside from the general and BSB. This should hurt deathstars as well.
Take and Hold! This is another challenge, and should incentivise big proper units (although you can still chaff this up if you have enough…). Warhams is fun when big units smash off each other - this scenario kind of forces the issue. The magic defence you get on the cairn is meant to encourage combat as a means of taking it - but terrorbombing can work too given the psych modifiers on the cairn. The main reason for these is that the strongest combat unit should win - not the cheesey dart of stubborn troops getting ground out slowly over several turns. Likewise DoC and VC are likely to crumble faster here so you can’t just wait it out. I’m hoping the random game length (capped 5-7 turns) makes it more dramatic as you try desperately to claim the cairn. This mission rewards the big blocks of elite troops (with good psych rules, like black guard, phoenix guard, greatswords etc) which in the backghround are epic, but just don’t seem to cut it in battleline as they can be avoided or shazzammed off too easily.. their mental discipline comes into its own here and you’ll be proud of their stubborn/ITP/high leadership or whatever. Too often a general, crown of command, banner of discipline and BSB hold an army of choppy - but mediocre leadership troops together. This scenario should remind people that chasing people away is easily that killing them (if sometimes harder to achieve).
Originally intended for Sunday morning (where the tiredness and possible hangovers should make it easy to associate with the story), this is now played on Saturdaynight (4thgame in a row will be rough!). This is another one to discourage table edge play, and encourage a more flowing approach. I’m aware at this stage I’m basically imposing my subjective ideas about ‘proper’ warhams onto the tournament but… I think mixing things up can only improve the player base - any game is to an extent optimising your approach within parameters. Shifting those parameters exercises the ‘gamey’ part of your mind; you can’t just whip out the netlist that other people have developed and point-and-click. War machines/shooting reliant armies and low ld non-ITP troops suffer here - it also encourages players to push their armies towards each other to get out of flee range of the table edge (note that warmachines less likely to fire but panic more likely to happen sort of evens out). I hope this encourages fewer deathstars and maybe the odd mad character (VC lord on zombie dragon? Anyone?). And generally ‘positive play’, as opposed to the typical top table Fabianism. Once again, nails high Ld troops should shine as players are incentivised to move away from table edges, decrease their reliance on LD bubbles, and shooting is toned down.
Valley of Champions:
As the narrative is unfolding to show the island and Moralltach testing the champions that would claim it, this is the final mad test. Probably the ‘most nuts’ scenario here. I want to put players who like to be in control (like me) on the back foot. The chance of someone going all ‘fast-zombie’ with their champions towards you in a mad bid to cut down your characters (who I hope by now the players are properly ‘in the shoes’ of) should be pretty exciting. With a narrow board, it’s going to be hard to get away. The flipside of this is that units with characters can’t vanguard - so if you go haring off with all your champs and fail a frenzy test, your line will approach all higgledly and get picked off one by one. I hope as well as the drama, this can teach people something about charge/counter charge management etc. Should be a good one for beastmen, dwarf infantry etc too - if you can fill 4 foot of board, vanguard forward and crush the opponent against their board edge…. Proper line infantry tactics etc. Awesome.
With the scoring so nuanced I’m hoping this tournament goes to the wire. As such, the last (and hopefully deciding) game is unmolested by my heavy hands… so people can’t moan too hard about their carefully laid plans being upset by stupid scenarios. The last mission will be in play though - so mission management in the earlier games will be key. Just one more thing to think about!
And in case that isn’t enough the Lord of Skulls is a super addition and another dimension here. Basically if you get creamed in G1/2 or are getting beaten in a game you have less incentive to play on in a normal tournament. Here though, you can switch into ‘nutter mode’ and go all out trying to claim skulls for this alternative trophy (I have it in place of the wooden spoon basically). And thus, you become a ravening loon doing the bidding of Moralltach. Do you keep your eye on the prize or get distracted for this other.. prize? And after a game is basically sewn up, its something else to do for the last turn or two. This should mean every player is enfranchised at all times and no one is just going through the motions for G5 and 6.
The missions are intended to help people balance out scenarios which are harder for them, but also play a crucial role in people’s list design:
- Taking only the best specials and rares is a bad idea. Go baws-deep into each section or don’t bother. I expect this to make rares rarer.
- Taking vulnerable scroll caddy wizards is a bad idea - and taking something that can go and kill them and then run off is a good idea.
- A fighty general is a bonus here. L4 general is hit by two missions! And keeping your general alive is important. But he also needs to be able to chop face to claim those challenge VPs. I hope this means the big dogs come out - fighty lords in hard units, like papa warhams intended.
- Claiming woods - more scoring units is a good idea (and likely in for fortitude anyway). But keeping them scoring is harder - and you need to plan how they are going to get into the woods. If you park them there early doors your opponent will probably cotton on (but this is a a great way to double bluff him with distraction units, while picking another mission). This mission should therefore encourage a bit of guesswork/psychology
- Fortitude in their DZ - again, this discourages corner play and rewards people who can ‘go forth’. 3 fortitude makes it hard to achieve - I imagine a general-and-bsb unit will be most people’s approach here. But a flying general with a bannered fast cav unit works too (but is perhaps easier to stop).
Also importantly the missions being secret prevent people from taking their foot off the gas when they have nosed ahead - the mission could put you behind again. The VP scoring table also makes it very hard to achieve a 20-0; so the field should be nicely stratified but also the leader should be catchable so every game counts. As we will be using Pash’s innovative ‘random table’ system, no one will know who the leader is. There can therefore be no secret calculation that you can win overall with a draw in the last game… so you’ll need to find tooth and nail right til the end of game 6 for every inch. “And I'll tell you this: in any fight, it is the guy who is willing to die who is going to win that inch.”. So the control player who hopes to secure a small win and play out time may lose to the gunslinger who is prepared to push all his toys in and leave it to the dice.
All in all, I’m really excited to see how people try and solve this list design puzzle, and what ends up working. I’m hoping its ‘proper’ armies and not warriors hero-spam (but the Scotcomp should address a lot of that). I suspect some people may give up trying to solve it and just take something nuts to shove in people’s faces - and lord of skulls it up. There should be something for everyone here - and everyone attending has a shot at a prize (and thus the inclusive nature of the invites is justified). Most importantly, I hope this event means we all have fun (win or lose), we all learn to play a bit better and can take some of the tactics and thought processes from this back to our battlelines, and the Scottish scene moves from strength to strength. It’s going to be really hard to top this event for next year’s masters!