NOVA 2016 40k Trios

nova-40k-150pxThis year Colin and I assumed direction of the 40k Team Trios Tournament at the NOVA Open wargaming convention. It turned out a huge success. Eighteen teams (54 players) participated, doubling the previous participation record. Everything went smoothly, and we had a great group of players and armies. This is a quick recap of the event.

A few more photos than those here are in my Flickr gallery. There are also many more in NOVA’s official Flickr gallery for day 1 of this year’s convention.

2016 NOVA 40k Trios underway!

2016 NOVA 40k Trios underway!

Trios

NOVA 40k Trios is a somewhat unique format. Players register in teams of three.  Over three game rounds they play a doubles games with each of their teammates, and one solo game on their own. It’s a very friendly format because you’re guaranteed two games playing alongside friends, so relative newcomers tend to enjoy it. Meanwhile, you also get one game to bring out all your toys. That’s actually a big mental challenge, especially for the final solo player of the day. It’s hard to go from playing 1000pts alongside a friend for two games in a row and then suddenly have to efficiently command 1850 points on your own.

In addition, NOVA Trios puts a big emphasis on the theme of the armies and crafting a narrative about why these three forces are fighting together. There’s a separate prize for that, and many teams prepare detailed stories, display boards, and supporting materials to present that background.

A display board themed around a Jurassic Park of Tyranids.

A display board themed around a Jurassic Park of Tyranids.

Updates

For 2016 we made a number of big updates to the tournament. You can check out the full event rulebook for details. In general we put a lot of effort into simply formalizing the event: Fully specified & objective theme scoring, comprehensive mission writeups, and so on, all available online a full nine months in advance. Beyond that, we also added or changed several components.

First we dialed the solo game points down a bit, from 2000 to 1850. Historically Trios has always run very late and delayed the start of the 40k Narrative well into the night. So we shaved off these points to better foster finishing rounds on time. I also believe that playing smaller games reduces many, though not all, of the rock/paper/scissors effects and arguable balance problems present in 40k currently (balance in 40k is a whole other topic—I personally don’t agree that it’s “imbalanced,” but do feel its balance paradigm does not line up with most players’ assumptions and expectations).

Conversely, we also allowed superheavies and gargantuan creatures. I just don’t think it’s realistic to not allow these in standard games anymore. Many factions have access to a big model and rely on them to counter other army designs like deathstars. They’re also a huge part of the product line, with multiple fantastic models available, and players want to use their favorite toys. However, there’s a strong argument that many are undercosted, and many casual players are still not prepared to fight them. Our missions therefore include several penalties. Each superheavy or gargantuan in the opposing army gives a +1 bonus to the roll to determine turn order. In addition, every 2 hull points or wounds taken off a big model awards a victory point. We’ve used these rules in tournaments throughout the past two years. I personally found them a severe disadvantage and stopped fielding my Imperial Knight, while other players felt such models were still worthwhile. So, I think they strike a reasonable compromise, allowing these still controversial models while also reining them in a bit.

NOVA campaign badges marking the shoulders of a Space Marne army.

NOVA campaign badges marking the shoulders of a Space Marne army.

We also permitted 30k armies. A bunch of questions came up about how exactly Age of Darkness armies fit in, but nothing too problematic. With no 30k events scheduled for Thursday, a fair number of Heresy players joined in and brought great looking armies.

To boost those remaining armies that don’t have access to a codex detachment or useful formations, we also added our Quick Reaction Force detachment. It’s basically a way to take an army with a bunch of elites, focus on either fast attack or heavy support, and in return choose your warlord trait and get objective secured. A number of players made use of it, but not nearly so many as to make clear that it’s overpowered.

Finally, we added an individual Warmaster scoring track separate from the team scoring. Players were given a list of achievements for their warlord to accomplish and earn points. The primary intent here was to give something for good players on weaker teams to work toward, something for weaker players getting clobbered on the actual missions to try and achieve, and to bring some narrative flair to the games.

Warlord achievements.

Warlord achievements.

Missions

For some time now we’ve been designing missions around a primary, secondary, and tertiary objective structure, respectively scoring up to 9, 6, and 5 points. The tertiaries are the standard First Blood, Linebreaker, and Slay, but with the latter two doubled in value, and with an additional Victory Through Attrition objective for damaging superheavies and gargantuan creatures. A list of secondary objectives is made available, either for each mission or events as a whole, from which players choose. The goal is that they have to play to the mission, as captured by the primary objective. But in choosing a secondary they can tailor their strategic objectives to their strengths and preferences. For example, faced with a number of primary objectives, a player with few but robust units might opt for an annihilation-oriented secondary. Meanwhile, their opponent with a number of small, mobile forces, might double down on ground control and choose a secondary for claiming terrain or additional objective markers.

The first mission had players placing four objectives, resulting in one in each deployment zone and two in neutral ground. Players then had a choice of scoring those continuously, at the end of their turns, or at the end of the game. This choice enables alpha strike, high mobility, and attrition oriented armies to all play toward their preferred style and strengths.

Booklet presenting the history of the campaign bringing one team's armies together.

Booklet presenting the history of the campaign bringing one team’s armies together.

Next up was an annihilation mission, based around eliminating quartiles of the opponent’s army. For breaking 25%, 50%, and 75% of their army by unit count, players got 2, 4, and 6 victory points. This structure attempts to address some of the imbalances in standard kill point accounting, without incurring complex point cost calculations. The challenge is that armies with many small units, including transports, are inherently at a disadvantage to armies with just a few rock hard or huge units if scoring is done just by counting units removed. My Kingbreakers pretty regularly field ~20 units, so there’s no way I’ll eliminate more units than, say, a Grey Knights army fielding 4 units. In the quartiles system though it’s more balanced: Eliminating just one of those units is worth eliminating ~5 of mine. Importantly, we’re also able to calculate that outcome without delving into tallying up army points, it’s all based around simple accounting of units.

Rounding out the tournament was my take on a Maelstrom mission. I have a separate lengthy discussion about that, but the core idea is removing much of the silly randomness and forced play in GW’s format, while preserving the required tactical flexibility and also giving more strategic control.

This arrangement of missions is not happenstance. We open the day with a relatively simple, standard mission to get people going quickly and give nearly all armies an even chance through the choice of continuous or endgame scoring. Then the annihilation and Maelstrom missions play off each other. The former somewhat favors armies built around rock units, while the latter somewhat favors armies with many highly mobile, small units. You can’t pass through the tournament doing well by having just one or the other, you need to be able to play against your army’s weaknesses.

Dewey (right), NOVA's head of ops, makes time to compete in the Trios.

Dewey (right), NOVA’s head of ops, makes time to compete in the Trios.

Outcomes

One of the big stories from this year’s NOVA is Games Workshop’s return to organized play. The company donated a tremendous amount of product to both the 40k prize bags and the SuperNOVA swag bags. In addition, it provided impressive chainsword trophies to go with the top prizes in each 40k & 30k event, custom sculpted specifically for NOVA. As the first 40k event of the convention, we had the honor to give out the very first NOVA chainsword trophies, carried by hand by Mike Brandt direct from Nottingham in order to be at the event on time, to our Renaissance Trio, the top team from battle points, sportsmanship, craftsmanship, and theme scoring.

40k Trios chainsword trophies, straight from Nottingham.

40k Trios chainsword trophies, straight from Nottingham.

Full final results are available in ODS and  XLSX format. Our winners were:

  • Artists: Team Judicious—Jonathan Fisher, Kris Rader, Jason Baldwin
  • Storytellers: Teams Bellicose and Heinous—Clemente Berrios, Trevor Alen, Michael Hayes; Stephen Duall, Sebastian Duall, Alex Duall
  • Strategists: Team Gallant—Paul Bowman, Jessica Bowman, Dave Penfold
  • Warmaster: Jhason Hardy
  • Renaissance Trios: Team Determined—Chris Bimbo, Steven Pampreen, Jhason Hardy

Congratulations to Chris, Steve, and Jhason, for an excellent effort across all fronts and taking top honors!

Our storytellers, winners of the theme prize, also deserve special mention. The Victory Gamers club from Northern Virginia had two teams enter, and together they put up a massive display board of the two armies fighting each other. They also had an impressive booklet narrating the battle and armies involved. Team Bellicose won the tiebreaker, painting scores from the NOVA Capital Pallette judges, and claimed the prize bags, but all six players deserve commendation.

Victory Gamers' display board.

Victory Gamers’ display board.

Wrap

All told this year’s NOVA 40k Trios was an excellent day of gaming. A ton of great people, lots of cool themes and armies, and many fun games. Again, a few more photos than those here are in my Flickr gallery, and there are also many more in NOVA’s official Flickr gallery for day 1 of this year’s convention.

Currently we expect to lead next year’s NOVA’s 40k Trios again, and would love to hear your thoughts. Participants should be receiving a survey email from NOVA, and we hope you’ll all make use of that to provide feedback, or contact us directly. At the moment we’re not planning major changes, just new missions and maybe some revisions to the Warmaster achievements to make that scoring even more thematic and independent from winning games. See you next year!

Colin (right) and I entering match results.

Colin (right) and I entering match results.

Medea Refinery

Medea Refinery.

Medea Refinery.

My new Medea Refinery terrain set is complete, and all set to be one of the centerpiece boards for our LibertyHammer 40k narrative event later this month!

Process

The whole build took about a month of work off and on over evenings and weekends. Tons of photos, notes, and 3D models are in the WIP writeups:

I also have up a general walkthrough on 3D printing terrain.

But the short story is, Medea Refinery started from some boards…

Hardboard terrain bases cut and sanded.

Hardboard terrain bases cut and sanded.

Proceeded with some serious traditional scratchbuilding…

Scratchbuilding the first piece.

Scratchbuilding the first piece.

Grew to incorporate a bunch of bespoke 3D modeling and printing…

Modeling the outlet spigot.

Modeling the outlet spigot.

Then took a small crew to get it all painted…

My 9-month old supervising.

My 9-month old supervising.

Later I took some photos…

Medea Refinery photo shoot.

Medea Refinery photo shoot.

And now it’s done. We could spend a lot more time working on it. There’s enough detail to spend forever on weathering, let alone anything else. But we’re at a good balance between great looking terrain, robust and playable terrain, and actually getting it finished in time for our summer event.

Action Shots

A few photos of the refinery in the thick of battle; more photos are in this gallery.

medea-left

medea-right

medea-pump-building

medea-pump-sign

medea-pump-station

medea-truck

medea-processing

medea-tower-feet

medea-water-tower

The fire background is from Argaz, used without permission.

Wrap-Up

Again, more photos are in the gallery, tons of construction notes are in the WIP writeups and 3D printing walkthrough, and all of the 3D models are available for free download via Thingiverse. Thanks to everybody that’s followed along, it’s been really encouraging to receive so many positive comments throughout.

Many many thanks of course also go to Alex, Colin, Jason, and Tom for doing such an awesome job bringing the pieces to life. In our club we’re really big on community storytelling, group projects, and fun events, and it was a great time to build yet another whole new world for our space dollies to fight over and forge the narrative.

I’m not sure when I’ll get to another big terrain project. In the immediate future I need to make the mission packet for our LibertyHammer event, and then roll right into the same for the NOVA 40k Narrative. But a couple small projects are already in the works, and building the refinery has reminded me that terrain building is one of my favorite aspects of the hobby, so I’ll be back at it soon. See you out there!

medea-refinery-low

Medea Refinery, WIP Part 6

Looking at a large amount of terrain to get painted for the Medea Refinery and needing to get it done so I can move on to other LibertyHammer projects, I did the smart thing—called for help. A small PAGE crew came out and pretty much took care of the whole task while I just kept things moving as the assembly line chugged away:

  • Alex did some ninja spraypaint voodoo base coating, some details, and made a smoke column, in addition to also building a mine shaft entrance LOS blocker;
  • Colin drybrushed all the ground surfaces and rocks, did the details on the utility truck scene, and tried real hard to start a game of Infinity;
  • Jason cleaned his airbrush a whole bunch of times, and also managed to find time to paint some trucks and building details in between;
  • Tom did details on all the tubing, mechanical bits, consoles, and so on, and even got to an unrelated bonus piece I’d built previously but never painted.

The fact that the whole set got done in an afternoon was pretty amazing, and it’s really great that this board is now ready to go a full month ahead of the event. But it was also just a fun afternoon of gaming projects with the guys. For me as the builder having sunk a lot of time into this, it was immensely rewarding to watch all these pieces come to life through a group effort among good friends. At the start I literally told them “I want it dark red, but otherwise I don’t care, just get it done and make it look awesome.” That they did, and in many ways quite differently than I would have, which was really neat to watch and gave the terrain a life of its own as I didn’t direct every detail or know what was going to happen.

I don’t have great photos of the final results yet; hopefully late this week. But this is a run-through of how we painted all this stuff.

My 9-month old supervising.

My 9-month old supervising.

Prep

First up was some basic preparatory work wrapping up construction. All of the ground pieces already had some gravel sprinkled on and larger rocks here and there. But that’s not nearly enough variety for a rocky, barren refinery world. Plus I wanted to base coat everything rust red but start the ground off darker to pre-shade it a bit. So I mixed some paint texture flakes with black paint, thinned it out a lot with water, and slopped and stippled it on covering all the ground surfaces. I would perhaps consider doing this step in latex paint for toughness, but I needed to get it done indoors late at night, and the latex needs significant ventilation. This coating took some time to dry because it was so wet and thick, but it really gave a lot of variation and interesting texture to the ground.

Next I covered all the foam and paper surfaces in Mod Podge. I’m a sucker for trash packaging foam. Besides wanting to recycle the stuff rather than toss it, I find a lot of inspiration in the various shapes and sizes it comes in. But two of the costs are that it takes dings easily in play, and, more importantly, gets destroyed by spray paint. Two layers of Mod Podge though sealed it up from the spray paint and should be a plenty hard surface for play. Similarly, in a few places I made papercraft constructions for various components. The Mod Podg coats basically lacquered those, giving them a hard protective shell to prevent crushing.

Covering the ground surfaces in black texture paint.

Covering the ground surfaces in black texture paint.

End result of the texture paint.

End result of the texture paint.

Mod Podging all the foam and paper surfaces.

Mod Podging all the foam and paper surfaces.

Primer and Base Colors

Next step was priming and base coloring all of the pieces. We used a mix of colors for priming. As noted above, the ground was initially primed black. Other pieces such as the smoke stack were also primed black. Almost everything then was sprayed dull rust red. A couple thin coats of that served as both primer and base coat for the un-blacked surfaces. A few areas though were primed and based in grey instead, such as the pump columns. In addition, before all this, the large plastic surfaces like the smoke stack were sprayed with a very fine texture paint to eliminate the smoothness and make it much less obviously plastic. Unfortunately this had to be done very carefully and sparingly because a quick test confirmed that the texture spray would burn through the Mod Podge and eat the foam.

Tom gets ready to prime the reservoir tank to start the day.

Tom gets ready to prime the reservoir tank to start the day.

Priming the water tower and resting place rust red.

Priming the water tower and resting place rust red.

Alex undercoating the smoke stack in black.

Alex undercoating the smoke stack in black.

With the basic colors blocked out, Alex went to town spray-ninja style. With very careful can control and repeated cleaning of the spray can heads, he rapidly base colored a number of the smaller elements, such as the barrels, hatches, tanks, exhaust vents, and so on. Critical here is to not just accept, but to embrace, some amount of overspray. In many cases it helps accentuate the component, in other cases it gives variety,  and for this style of terrain in no way does it detract from the pieces. Large surfaces were similarly striped with colors from our rust, black, and grey palette to give variety. The end result was that the pieces were already very playable in impressively short order.

The pump station all blocked out.

The pump station all blocked out.

Basic coloring on the pump station's mechanical building.

Basic coloring on the pump station’s mechanical building.

Hatches on the back of the pump station base coated.

Hatches on the back of the pump station base coated.

The pipeworks blocked out.

The pipeworks blocked out.

Drybrushing and Details

Coming out of priming and base coating, the pieces went into a loop between Tom and Colin hitting the drybrushing and detail work, with Alex joined them as the spray painting wrapped up. Colin took charge of drybrushing the ground surfaces two shades of yellow-ish reds, making nice contrasting highlights. Then he painted the rocks dark grey and drybrushed them a lighter shade to really bring them out from the mostly red and black ground surface. Meanwhile, Tom went through and heavily drybrushed all of the mechanical components in various metallics. This was done heavily enough to make those pieces distinctly that color, but by drybrushing instead of painting he preserved hints of the variations and underlying colors from the sprayed base as well as leaving the recesses as dark shadows.

Once all the many mechanical components had been hit and the ground surfaces done, Colin focused in on painting and washing the detailed bits of the truck scene while Tom painted various consoles and other small details. For the consoles he again used a drybrushing technique but with brightly colored blue, purple, and green metallics that make the screens and buttons stand out and glitter against the dark base colors.

Colin drybrushing ground surfaces.

Colin drybrushing ground surfaces.

Tom doing metallic mechanicals.

Tom doing metallic mechanicals.

Alex brushing some details.

Alex brushing some details.

Hatch details drybrushed.

Hatch details drybrushed.

Colin works on details of the truck scene.

Colin works on details of the truck scene.

Airbrush

Meanwhile, Jason cranked up his compressor and got down to business with his airbrush. He started with the Medea truck, and then it turned out Alex had three more trucks to go on another board he’s working on. All of these were spray primed black and then airbrushed. Alex wanted his in lighter tan shades, while Jason went with a drab olive army green for the Medea truck to complement the primarily red terrain. In absolutely no way did this take only the “3 minutes” Jason swore it would. However, the results were stellar.

Jason working away like a servitor with an airbrush grafted onto his arm.

Jason working away like a servitor with an airbrush grafted onto his arm.

The Medea mini-diorama truck in progress.

The Medea mini-diorama truck in progress.

Other trucks for a board Alex is making.

Other trucks for a board Alex is making.

The Medea truck cab in progress.

The Medea truck cab in progress.

Another truck just in need of some detail work.

Another truck just in need of some detail work.

With our surprisingly sizable fleet of trucks complete, Jason moved on to various airbrush-appropriate details on the buildings. Besides some stenciled building markers, some sort of large hatch built into the ground got hazard striped. A key detail in how Jason did this is the very gentle airbrushing of a brown gradient to make it seem worn, and to blend the hatch into the dark, grungy surroundings a bit. Combined with some drybrushing of the frame around the doors, this element came out really well and is a great contrasting color detail against the dark terrain.

Hazard stripes taped off and sprayed.

Hazard stripes taped off and sprayed.

The end result; this is a hatch I would definitely understand to be hazardous.

The end result; this is a hatch I would definitely understand to be hazardous.

Smoke Column

Along the way, Alex tackled the smoke stack for the furnace. I really wanted a huge column of thick dark smoke to convey that Medea Refinery is your standard Imperial eco-hostile facility. Importantly, I also wanted to put something so people couldn’t put figures in the stack. Besides the aesthetics of dudes standing there, it would raise a lot of gameplay questions. It’s too tall for anything but jump troops or similar to get up there, and has a substantial lip around the rim but not enough to stand on. So a bunch of Scouts or such could infiltrate into the position and be near invulnerable to assault, while also facing a lot of questions about how far the charge range would actually be, how many models could engage, and so on. Meanwhile, if the Scouts (it’s always Scouts causing these kinds of problems) in turn chose to leave the position, it would be too far for them to get down. 40k unfortunately has no clear rules for climbing up or jumping down heights you can’t cover in a single move. So, we obviated these and a few other questions by adding a smoke column to make it intuitively obvious that the stack is impassible.

For easier transport we made this as a separate piece that just drops into the smoke stack. That will also make it easy to deal with flyers and such passing through the region, the smoke can just be popped out to rest their base there. The smoke itself was done with cotton balls glued to a circle cut from PVC sheet, shaped into place and affixed with dull coat spray, and spray painted black, red, and yellow. As a bonus, there is a hole in the center of the construction to insert a tea light for a glowing effect. The final product makes pretty clear you don’t want to stand around the refinery taking deep breathes.

Alex gluing cotton balls into rough positions to start the smoke column.

Alex gluing cotton balls into rough positions to start the smoke column.

The final smoke column.

The final smoke column.

Finishing Touches

Fortunately we got all of that done just in time to get all the brand new terrain into the house right as the day switched from gloriously sunny to lightly raining. The next morning I did just a few finishing touches. I realized during the day that the furnace would disintegrate over time from people grasping it under the edges and slowly tearing at the foam underneath. So I broke out the Mod Podge again to coat the underside and give it a hard shell.

Mod Podging the underside of the furnace.

Mod Podging the underside of the furnace.

After that, I took the much more exciting step of adding printed advisory notices and building badges around the site. I’d included various signboards and other locations for these in the build. Artsy detailed notices came from Gitsplitta’s collection on DakkaDakka. The Medea building badges I made, using a grimdark-appropriate clip art gas mask I found and a vector art Imperial Aquila I made previously. My inkjet printer is not very good at all, but slight graininess is totally fine for this use and not very visible anyway.

I sized everything precisely in Inkscape (open source vector drawing software), cut them out carefully, and glued them on with spray adhesive. This is cleaner to work with than rubber cement and will not warp paper products (rubber cement in turn is much better than white glue for the same reasons). You spray the piece on a scrap sheet off to the side and then attach it, using a clean napkin to press and gently rub it into place. This yields a very clean placement with no risk to messing up the existing paint job. You just need to be very precise at putting the piece into position, as it attaches permanently almost instantly.

Once in place I washed the posters and signboards in sepia and the badges and their positions in camo green. Finally, I went around and just quickly washed a bunch of the mechanical bits in brown, sepia, and green to deepen the depths, add some additional variation, and tone down some of the brighter spots.

Posting important advisory notices and building badges.

Posting important advisory notices and building badges.

One of the signboards before being washed; the mutant powers poster is one of both me and Colin's all-time favorite 40k details.

One of the signboards before being washed; the mutant powers poster is one of both me and Colin’s all-time favorite 40k details.

Done

We finished a project! Medea Refinery is complete. The only additional work I can see perhaps doing sometime is making matching table boards. However, it’s not necessary at the moment. Our home shop and host for LibertyHammer already has several dark brown tables; this was one consideration in choosing a color scheme.

From this point we could continue on endlessly just doing weathering, let alone any other work, but this is a good place to stop. The set already strikes a great tradeoff between high quality visuals, playability, durability, and the simple requirement of getting it done. Anything further hits diminishing returns, and we all have other projects to work on toward the event.

This has been a great project, and I’m really excited to see this terrain in action. It was made even better by being completed by a group of great friends, and hopefully we’ll have many amazing games on it. Still and finally to come, late this week I hope to take high quality glamour photos of all the final finished pieces and post them along with some of my observations and lessons learned.

Various efforts underway.

Various efforts underway.