Simulating the occasional tournament is about as close as I’ll ever come to the top tables at an event like the Las Vegas Open. When it comes down to it, I’m not a competitive player. That’s not to say that I don’t really like events. I just prefer them a little…rounded off at the edges. After my experience with last year’s 40K Friendly, I was very interested to hear that this year, there was going to be a multi-day narrative event, hosted by The Narrative Guys.
So my brother and I signed up. What follows is our experiences, our thoughts, and our lessons learned.
Day One: “Kill Team and Cocktails”
The first day of the narrative event was “Kill Team and Cocktails”, or more accurately, “Kill Team and There’s An Over Priced Bar in the Back of the Hall.”
Given that the rest of the event was organized into several mutually exclusive groups of players, it was nice to be able to mix and mingle with people you otherwise wouldn’t see over the weekend. Kill Team is light, and fun, and set a good tone for the rest of the event – namely that this was for fun, and that when it came down to it, the outcome really doesn’t matter.
The tables available to play on were absolutely stunning – combining Tablewar & Frontline’s FAT Mats with some amazing terrain sets.
The afternoon was quite fun – good for meeting some people, having some fun games with small unit actions, etc. I’ll confess there was a good bit of awkwardness at the beginning, with trying to find a partner out of a mass of people, but everyone seemed to settle into groups in time. At the very least, people were getting games in and rolling dice.
The highlight, for me, was a Kill Team game matching up against my brother, with Skitarii defending an Adeptus Mechanicus station from Eldar Corsairs on a beautiful Forge World Zone Mortalis tables.
Days Two and Three: Surprise Apocalypse
The main event was on the 2nd and 3rd day of the LVO, and came in an unexpected form. Namely, that people were sorted into fairly large teams of three to four people per side, and given a mission briefing. Rather than playing a bunch of separate games and trying to integrate those outcomes, everyone was tossed together in a much larger 3×3 or 4×4 style game. Beginning with a simple recon mission, with a small number of points per side, but just about a full game when all told, this first game was intended to set the stage – determine deployment zones, some bonuses, etc.
In my case, this was a small force of Eldar trying to gather information on an Imperial prison camp where it was believed a Farseer was being held.
In another, elements of the Dark Angels Deathwing were trying to secure an abandoned airbase.
These missions were fun, but not terribly well balanced. Some armies need a good portion of their forces to be effective, while to be blunt, a fluffy Eldar recon force can be made up of Hornets and Windriders, which is simply a brutally effective set of units. The organizers did their best at keeping the game going by allowing a steady stream of units onto the board, but I could tell there were some frustrations mounting in my game.
Then came the true Surprise Apocalypse games – in my case, an 16,000 combined points narrative game, a Webway assault on said prison camp.
These games seemed to cause the most mixed feelings. A lot of people weren’t expecting an all-day Apocalypse game, and would have designed their armies differently if they had. Personally, I lament that Apocalypse so often devolves into “Your Superheavies vs. My Superheavies”, and I’ve always been a fan of the idea of a very troops-heavy Apocalypse game, where whole companies of Space Marines are dropping down to counter assaults from massive Ork Waaaghs. This…gets pretty close to that, and while I’d like to believe people would keep to the spirit of those games if they had been told…to be frank, I don’t.
As I said, mixed feelings. A little bit ambushed, but also a little bit grateful.
The second day, which wrapped up the results of the first day, followed much the same pattern. This time – as my table had liberated the Seer but the other Eldar table hadn’t definitively secured our escape – the scenario was trying to stop Imperial supply drops that would let them continue the fight and complete the encirclement of the Eldar rear guard. This time, a 3×3 game, but similarly massive.
Similar missions were had by other groups – supply drops, securing bases, preventing something from getting sucked into the warp – standard 40K fare. So how did this work out?
Good, but far from perfect.
There Are No Winners, But There Are Losers
As opposed to last year, which was essentially “A Tournament, But Nicer”, this year’s narrative event was a complete departure from any sort of competitive format. One of the central concepts behind that is that it’s not about winning, it’s about the game itself. Those cool moments, etc.
That’s very easy to say when you’re winning.
It’s much less easy when you’re losing. Especially if you’re losing models while you do it. In my track, smaller, elite armies seemed to be a source of frustration. Many are designed to get in your face, and trying to get in the face of several thousand points of Eldar, across a 48″ span, is a good way to end up taking models off the table.
As with most games, the groups that had closer games seemed to have a better time – losing decisively is never fun, and losing decisively in a big game that’s supposed to be about narrative coolness is…certainly frustrating.
Keeping Up With the Crowd
The next issue, and one that I think is unavoidable, is pacing. Apocalypse games are slow, they just are. While some downtime is alright, this does mean there are a limited number of turns available. And with extremely tight tables, this means much of your army is kept in reserve (the basic rule of thumb being half on the table, 25% coming on in Turn 2 and the remainder in Turn 3). In one game, the “core” of my army, in the form of three troop-laden Wave Serpents, didn’t appear until the end of the game, and one not at all. Similarly, the most active and dynamic part of my army, a Crimson Death formation, usually only had a turn or two to do its work. This also exacerbates the problems elite armies seemed to have – a Grey Knight army is scary because of target saturation. It’s less scary if you can deal with it in nice, bite-sized chunks. If you came to a narrative event, odds are its because you wanted to play with your toys.
I don’t normally play Eternal War missions, and the reason for this is they often feel like, in the end, they turn into “Operation Table Your Opponent”. I noticed the same issue in many of the custom scenarios used – there is a single, massive objective that will determine the winner, and for one side or the other, that objective is predicated on essentially crushing your opponent. I feel like a little more playtesting, and a larger supply of secondary objectives might have helped with this, or at the very least, helped the losing side feel like they were actually doing something.
So, with those caveats in mind, was the event a success? In my mind, the answer to that is an unqualified “Yes”. I had a great time, played on beautiful tables, and the event reminded me what it is I love about 40K. It’s a fun game and all, but there are lots of games that are fun, and arguably better games. But 40K, especially when you’re playing with people who use “Forge the Narrative” unironically, has a certain je ne sais quoi to it.
My frustrations are things that can be attributed to growing pains and this being the first time the LVO has had an event like this – more tables with more space would have been helpful for letting people get more of their toys on the board. And while Surprise Apocalypse seemed to upset some people, I rather liked it.
And seriously, playing on beautiful, thematic terrain is just 10x better than not.
Now is it necessary? I like having some form of friendly, 40K-focused event at the LVO, under the official aegis of the organization. “We’ll just have open pickup gaming” sounds like my very own personal nightmare, and a good way to introduce the stray ultra-competitive player into the mix. I will say though that the quality of the narrative that emerged from it wasn’t, in my experience, any better than that that comes from any arbitrary game with someone else who wants to know why we’re fighting. Those stories, and those cool moments of gameplay, are emergent within games, they can’t actually be forced. Though I believe with perhaps a more dynamic set of scenarios, and some slightly more elaborate storytelling based on results, that The Narrative Guys could take a step in that direction. So while the experience of the event could definitely be assembled at home as well as the LVO, and acknowledging that narrative gaming can take place at basically any time, I still think it was well worth it.
And the bottom line? If they said they were doing the same thing next year, I’d gladly sign up to do it again.
Overall Rating: 8/10. Beautiful tables, some great ideas, but with some growing pains.
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