Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Where do you stand on a table?

Two gaming events happened over the weekend that got a fair amount of coverage in the nerdy social media world. One was a tournament and one was a games show. They are obviously different things to us 'in the hobby' but to the general pleb in the street they both involve a load of people in a big room with toy soldiers on the tables. If you take a look at both events from that point of view then the difference in outcome is horribly alarming. What also made me think was about what kind of gamer I am, which event would I want to attend and therefore what kind of game would I prefer to play. I think the juxtaposition of these two events makes for an interesting point of conversation. So here goes.



First off we need to recap on these two events so that the slow-coaches and foreigners no what we are talking about. Then we need to loop this back into the 'Oldhammer' scene as that is where a fair majority of readers come from (I check me stats!).



So the two events were The 40k Grand Tournament in London and the Partizan Games show in Newark. Straight off the bat i'm aware that directly comparing these two events is a little unfair. The number of tables at the GT was in the hundreds and therefore a small organising team was responsible for all of them whereas at Partizan each table was the responsibility of a group of gamers. The GT is a tournament and therefore it's a bout competitive gaming rather than showing off a spectacle on the table like at Partizan. Finally the GT was a 40K tournament and the Partizan show is pretty much focused on historical mini's. I'm sure there are other areas that could be discussed as differences but it should be suffice it to say that i'm aware that the two events are different in many ways and that's kind of the point i'm trying to make. But more of that later.....


As you can see the London Event was billed as the Largest GT in London and events were being run for AoS, 40K, Necromunda and Narrative events as well. The event seems to be run by a reputable set of organisers who have been featured on the GW community pages and is in fact advertised on their pages as 'The Glastonbury Music Festival for Warhammer'.




The photos of the GT were bouncing around on social media all weekend and although their were photos of some nicer looking tables it was the 40K tournament tables that were garnering all the attention. The above photo was the image that sums up the gossip round the event. Row upon row of mats (i think their may have been a sponsor involved) with identical piles of polystyrene foam scenery, some painted, some not. Now, the reason the are identical is to avoid giving any one and advantage because of terrain features. I think the look on the guys face says more than a million of my words could.


It was obvious from some tables that the terrain builders had made an attempt at texturing some of the terrain before either getting bored or running out of time (more likely the latter).


The problem is that the terrain wasn't the only feature of the tournament that makes me sad. Look for instance at the car park on the top right in the above photo. So many things about that makes me sad. Oh my poor rogue trader heart.



In addition to the dullest terrain in the world there was next to no room for anybody to play. There is so little room between tables that it would be impossible to move around the table without having to negotiate passage with your neighbour. Now do you go bum to bum, bum to front or front to front?


As we all know, a room full of gamers on a sweltering hot day is going to produce a lovely hum and having all those lovely hairy men in such close proximity is bound to have produced a lovely bouquet.


Your other choice for the weekend was Partizan at Newark. Partizan is a long running games show and is a pretty relaxed affair. There is plenty of room and the vibe is generally of the grey haired gamer wandering around taking in the sight in an unhurried manner. 

Partizan, even more so than salute, has gathered a reputation for having games that are visually stunning and quick look at some of the pics that I again pulled of social media (mostly twitter) and you can see the sort of thing that is on display.

A Very British Civil War Forum

James Morris/ Lenton Gamers Crete 1941

Adrian Deacon (and friends) Earlswood War-games group - Stalingrad Chain of Command

Dave Andrews and Aly Morrison/ Great War Miniatures - La Gorgue Airfield

Barry Hilton/ League of Augsburg

You've got a bit of drool on your chin. Fair play to all the guys for making all these amazing tables congratulations. 

So the two events are ostensibly parts of the same hobby and were on in the same weekend. Which would you rather be playing? And more importantly, which one of these would you want to be producing?

I, like many of you, would feel like we have a foot on both camps. We are, after all Warhammer players and in the photos of the GT event we recognise the figures, the game an even the tournament mentality that so many players feel is the main attraction of the game. We all have a huge amount invested in Warhammer and the background and figures are something that we enjoy and want to stay part of. Some of us may be historical gamers as well and feel the pull towards the spectacle of a game. The idea that the gaming board is equally (if not more) important than the figures you put on it  should really be self explanatory.

So where do we sit as a gaming community? The focus for a long time as been on the need to make sure that you use painted figures, that you are seen to be making the effort to have an army that is attractive and unique. And many gamers will still see that as the main effort of the hobby as producing such an army. The problem is, by only seeing your army as 'the hobby' thats all you end up with. A fully painted army ready to fight on whatever surface you are presented with. This is the life of a Tournament gamer. The immersion in the spectacle is secondary to having a game that can be won. The game is not a story telling exercise but simply reduced to a competitive maths contest. With a view of the game like that, you can see that painting your figures is actually a bit of a pain in the arse. A hurdle to be climbed in order to get in to a tournament. This tournament attitude has become the prevalent view of the Warhammer wargame over the last 20 years. Age of Sigmar only really took off when the Generals Handbook came out and gave players points to go with their army lists. They wanted to compete.

The games that are on show at Partizan come at the hobby from an entirely different point of view. Obviously some of these games have figure lines or rulesets connected to them and so the boards you see are almost like advertisements but that is not the case for all of them. Many of the boards are the results of a years worth of effort from individuals and clubs. The point is to produce a 'whole game' experience. Not just a nice army but a board and scenery that is a delight to play on. That people stop and look at and study. That they take pictures of and share them on the internet. I'd like to think that the folks in the Oldhammer community feel that that is the ideal. Rather than this.


So. We are older guys, not quite as old as the Partizan regulars but getting there. We are still fantasy and sci-fi gamers for the most part (though we are dabbling in Historicals) so we should be the guys that put on amazing games on amazing tables. That show off that the Fantasy/Sci-fi gamers can do it as well as the Historical guys. We can produce amazing stuff, we just need to show it off.



Let's not just be boring old guys playing with crappy scenery and unpainted figures.

Let's be the top of the Fantasy and Sci-fi game. 

Your challenge starts now. You've got till BOYL 18. GO!

(well, ok Maybe BOYL 19 is more realistic but you know what I mean.)

37 comments:

  1. Interesting that you mention Salute. This was my first year attending Salute (as a punter) and the thing I was looking forward to was beautiful tables. I'd heard the reputation of the event, seen some photos from previous years and knew a couple of people who were building display tables for it. I was really very disappointed by the turnout. A couple of stirling efforts aside there was nothing very special about a lot of the demo and display games that were going on, they could have been seen in any gaming club. The whole thing was more of a gaming supermarket than an engaging event. I do several shows a year as a trader and organise a convention in Bristol so I appreciate the importance of traders. I am very much of the mindset, however, that these events need to feel special, there needs to be something to gaze at, like the big tables at Games Day used to be.

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    1. I did mention that Partizan certainly has a reputation for more attractive, impressive tables. Salute really is just a Gamers supermarket. It is the prime shopping opportunity for most gamers. I'm not unhappy with that. There are still some great games to be seen.

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  2. Anyone telling you playing in Matts garage with bits of polystyrene from his dads new dishwasher for scenery isn't Oldhammer, probably never understood Oldhammer in the first place, but if Matt started charging £40 for the privilege, and banging on about being Grand and supported by the "Warhammer Community", getting your army appearing on "Warhammer TV". Then he could do one.

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    1. If Matt tried to charge me £40 to get into his garage he'd be getting told where he can sticks his Dad's new dishwasher.

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  3. I'm not a tournament gamer - let's be clear from the start - but I know it's an important part of the hobby we all enjoy. But seeing that terrain (if you can call it that) at the GT made me want to cry. Shockingly awful doesn't begin to describe how poor it looks. I like the spectacle games at shows but I also like seeing the tables that regular clubs put on, but I have rarely seen anything so shabby. Not a great advert for our hobby and hardly likely to inspire new gamers into the arena.

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    1. There is no spectacle to those kinds of games. It's the game at it's lowest denominator. There is no immersion, only mechanisms.

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  4. Each to their own but that combination of polystyrene and car park really is everything I don't like about 40k in one image. Terrain has always been really important to me: much of my gaming inspiration comes from the old terrain that appeared in WD and Warhammer books before it got standardised into purely GW stuff. I think it comes from the same place as not wanting to use unpainted models.

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    1. The car park made me cry. Can you imagine that player turning up at a new mates house with that army? "Oh you play 40K too? We should get together and have a game...."

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  5. I'm no tournament gamer, but if I arrived to play on tables like those in the tournament above I would have walked away. It's poles apart from what I do.

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    1. It's like a different hobby. I know we're not at the level of the Partizan tables but it's nice to think we want to be.

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  6. God Dammit, Enough!
    Your think pieces are really starting to piss me off.
    There's so much awesomeness packed in and so much I want to respond to and dialog about. And this is a terrible venue for that.

    I will limit my self to two things, and then make a proposal.

    1. I have another comparison to your Partizan and the London GT. At WargamesCon in Austin, the Narrative Guys run their event right alongside the ITS GT. Holy crap what a contrast. All the fun and noise is coming from the Narrative Event, which is easily only 1/3 the size, and while the Tournament tables don't look as bad as the London GT, they identically suffer from symmetrical layouts and the minimalist/utilitarian aesthetic. I observed at the time, we are two separate hobbies using the same set of rules. Weird.

    2. I challenge your assertion: "Age of Sigmar only really took off when the Generals Handbook came out and gave players points to go with their army lists."
    I assert that 90% of all customers will never play in an organized event, and "large" events (for this example, read: tournaments) only occur once a critical mass of gamers have "bought in". In other words, Tournaments are not a cause of mass adoption, but an effect of mass adoption.

    Having written these 2 points, I have a proposal. In post after post, you keep coming up with these amazing insights, and I would like to engage you on these points further and share with the community. Sending you a PM soonest.

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    1. Apparently the narrative tables at the GT were really nice and the guys were having great games but the competitive guys had wanted tables that were mirrored and exactly the same.
      You can challenge my assertion about AoS all you like but it's popularity has blossomed since points costs were published. Not because of the competition circuit, but because players had spent years building army lists based on points and the lack of them in the first iteration of AoS had confused and bewildered so many players that they hadn't taken the leap. Most guys play pick up matches against foes in clubs or stores and not have a fixed point cost for their armies just wasn't floating the collective boat.

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    2. This is why this is a terrible venue to tease the meat out of these points.
      I completely agree, points values are a language for gamers to use, and go a long way towards player adoption. They do not just communicate how many units, but also invoke the unwritten etiquette of how "powerful" those units should be (i.e. a low points game should not have Special Characters), how long of a time commitment for the game and other things. That's a lot of information contained in one number.
      I plucked the quote from a larger paragraph and the comparison to adoption I was going for got lost.

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  7. Great article. I enjoy tournaments, but only really as a way to play 4-5 games in a weekend as I don't care enough about meat lists. So even at a tournament I'd want better terrain that that to make it worthwhile. Feels a but like Warmahordes which seems to now uses 2D terrain templates instead of 3D terrain these days? As I get older I realise that well painted/converted armies look cool, but awesome terrain is what makes me start new games.

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    1. Thanks. I reckon tournaments are not the best way to have multiple games in a weekend. A campaign weekend or a narrative event are so much more fun and much more immersive. I'm not even talking about hundreds of players but having a dozen or so players fighting over shared objectives over two days gaming would make for a fantastic weekend.

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  8. The carpark photo is exactly what pushed me out of 40k many editions ago. Faced an army (not even at a tournament) just like that and decided the game had jumped the shark.

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    1. I feel your pain. We've all been there.

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  9. I hate the "carpark" and that is at least 50% of why I play 2nd edition 40K still. Otherwise this is a great exploration of the tension between being a Warhammer/Oldhammer fan and the disappointments that entails. Good stuff.

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    1. 2nd Edition has it's stinky tactics too. I think it comes down to the head space that the player inhabits. Does he want to have an army that will feel cohesive, have a theme, feel like a 'real' force with a story and character? Or does he want win at all costs?

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    2. Indeed... so much is the attitude of you and your opponent--2nd ed is open to grossest of abuses but in our hands it is fun and the freedom to do what we want.

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  10. I think guys like Mr. "Wargamer" on TMP would argue that they got in more games than those of us who want to play on nice looking tables with painted figures. I agree with the above statement that the carpark conga line picture with shabby terrain is everything that is wrong with the tournament aspect of the hobby. If that is what you want to play, why aren't you just playing hex and chit wargames? The hobby shouldn't only be about painting figures and building scenery, but they are all important facets of the same thing. Like I said before, my main objection to the Adepticon thing was calling it Oldhammer. I see Zhu's point that back in the day we played with what we had, and I'll admit it, I played with almost nothing finished back when I started. But we were kids then. We're adults now, some of us with uninterrupted decades in the hobby. We need to set some kind of example. Not just say "when I were a nipper!" BOYL 19 FTW!

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    1. I think thats the whole point of my argument. We are well on our way to be the age of the guys busting out awesome boards at games shows like partizan. We shouldn't be anywhere near satisfied with unpainted polystrene and to be fair, neither should the guys at that tournament. Is there a age curve that relates scenery quality with age? Of course not. But at the same time, we have the time, the money and the technology so there is very little stopping us.

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    2. The argument of “I got more games in that you do!” is a misleading claim anyway. Yes more games, but I prefer one slower higher quality game where people take their time and enjoy it over three “get it done, get the result” style games

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  11. Full disclaimer: The only tournament I've played in was a Blood Bowl tournament and I've never attended an event.

    However the photos from the London GT make me really sad. I get the idea of trying to make each table fair and balanced, but that's also boring. If you can't take advantage of different terrain on different tables then you're really just comparing lists right?

    I've recently gotten into the Hobbit Strategy Battle Game over the past year, but the photos I see of those events combine the best of both worlds presented at Partizan mixed with the competitive tourney play of the London GT. Lord of the Rings fans really combine the best of both worlds in my opinion. Check out this video to see some of the boards at last year's Ardacon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeCOjQE7KUc&index=6&list=PLzZ6-_-l-0I4m5A6Xct7lRB5-KQLNtTYm&t=0s

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    1. I've heard good things about the Hobbit game. I quite fancy using the Northstar orcs for it. But you shouldn't be tempting me with another project, you naughty person you!

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    2. You mean the Oathmark goblins? I've seen comparison pics with LotR minis and they work quite well. What's really nice, and ties in to your LotR art post from the other day, are the orcs available from Warlord Games (I think they're Wargames Factory sculpts technically) but are very much based on the Angus McBride art.

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  12. Nice article and a particularly bold question to ask - I've been in the hobby for more then thirty years playing both historical, sci-fi and fantasy, and yes I've played on purpose built terrain, and used plant pots to form hills and canyons and have to say I really don't have a problem with either, as long as the games played with a degree of fun and sportsmanship, I'm happy.

    However, I do see wargame shows, conventions, competitions - has show-cases to outsiders, which should show the hobby off to those that know nothing of the intricacies of the rules, figures or history - and therefore should be either eye-catching, technical or enjoyable, which can be appreciated by spectators and participants alike.

    Hope this helps, though I think not.

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    1. You always make the effort with the Boards at BOYL and it was your boards that I was considering when mentioning the stuff that is on display. Yeah shows are showcases but I think BOYL kind of sits in it's own place and it would nice to have that place as a eye-catching and awe-inspiring one.

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  13. I've been a Tournament 40K Player in the past*, and what I've seen from the London GT is appalling to me, too. Even as a competitive player, the aesthetic is still a substantial part of the game. If it weren't, I'd be playing something with a rules set that was far, far better-designed for competitive play. I've been to some events that were pushing their limits on how much Terrain, but I've never seen an event sacrifice quality for quantity to this extent before. Heck, I've been to an event that was literally run on some dude's porch that had better terrain and room around the tables than this. For an event that's trying to bill itself as such a big deal, this is just unacceptable.

    *Health issues mean I'm not capable of giving my all to 3 games of 40K in one day right now, so casual play for the time being.

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    1. 3 games in one day is fucking exhausting no matter what your health situation but saying that I remember games of Rogue Trader lasting 3days at a time. I have no idea what made us so slow.

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  14. Great article but the thing to remember is that Partizan is a showcase of the hobby, with people bringing their "Sunday Best" so that they can engage with other gamers. The 40k tournament on the other hand is purely a showcase of personal skill, if you could say that about a game like 40k, where the important thing is pushing the lists and rules to their maximum n order to prove a point.

    Neither is particularly representative of the hobby, I would think. WIth most games coming somewhere in between. People using whatever terrain they have in their collection, that they can safely store to playtheir games with, while occasionally improvising a piece that they need for a particular scenario.

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    1. I'm well aware that they are very different to each other but they are both extreme ends of a continuum of our hobby and as they were both public events on the same weekend then they were a very obvious comparison. I'm not suggesting that your games have to be one or the other but I would hope that on a line drawn from one to the other we would all want our games to be closer to the Partizan experience than the London GT one.

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  15. It really comes down to individual choice doesn’t it. Personally the tournament thing does nothing for me as my day job involves rules lawyering. I don’t want to do that for fun. I have to admit that whilst I love those tables at partisan I just don’t have the time, money or skill to produce such things. Painted minis though I can do with reasonable looking terrain. And that works for me

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    1. Those tables are labour of love and you have to take your hats off to the guys. If we were all doing it they wouldn't be so inspiring.

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  16. I have played on some diabolical terrain but we always made the minimum effort for immersion. Like... drawing doors on the cardboard boxes and... putting a green sheet over the book piles to hide our shame. But the goal was always to have nicer stuff to play on 'one day'. For some that day never comes due to losing interest or whatever, but there was at least the knowledge that the piles of books and interesting shaped foam blocks were a stop-gap and not the end game. There should definitely be a feeling of guilt involved to drive people to better their wargaming experience! It's up to the community to foster that guilt and shame and apply it liberally when deserved!

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    1. We are old enough now to feel that 'One day' should be very, very soon.

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