September ITS

Infinity

Yesterday I was able to hit up the monthly Infinity tournament at Redcap’s for the first time in a while. Our group is in a rebuilding phase following a lot of growth in 2017 and a dip in 2018, so I was happy to see a showing of 8 players that was simultaneously small but solid (below our late 2017 average, bit higher than 2018). Don handled scoring & pairing and it was a low key, fun day.

For me it was another datapoint toward my half-serious suspicion that I have a narrow band in which I play Infinity best, because… I won! That band is basically “Have played enough recently to remember core rules and dynamics, but am not playing enough to try to get tricksy.” Some of our group’s heaviest hitters weren’t in attendance, but I directly faced two of our top tier players and was happy with my play. This batrep has some quick notes on what I was thinking.

Shock Army

Shock Army of AcontecimentoComing back after a bit of a hiatus, I decided to build and field a squad from the Shock Army of Acontecimento. I’ve played RECON+ firefights with the faction but had never previously prepared enough troops for full games. I really really like a lot of the models though, so I just committed to using this event as a forcing function to get together a 300pt army. Entertainingly, literally as I was sitting down to paint a bunch of the models, Adam H sends Don & I a message “Did you see that Shock Army got discontinued?” and I was like “¡¿WUT?!” (Corvus Belli is rotating a number of the models out of production, but the faction will remain playable)

I then decided to orient my army around Bagh Maris, mostly because I love the most recent sculpts. It also didn’t hurt, though not a huge consideration either, that the Season 10 ITS rules gave the unit Forward Deployment. I’d had a box sitting on my shelf for ~18 months now, and I had picked up the HMG blister at an event two weeks ago just to support that shop (Maplewood Hobbies). So I guess on average the turnaround time from box-to-table for these models was… almost reasonable??

Looking at the recent faction updates I also decided to add Dart just because the profile grabbed me and I had a cool model for it. I’ve never played with Camo except for mostly trivial uses of TO Camo (pop out from hiding and tap an objective or surprise shot something) and she seemed like fun. Last week I’d noticed the new CSU blister at Redcap’s, had randomly picked it up just because it looked cool, and it clicked that it could be a passable Dart proxy: S2 profile, Uzi-style pistol for a Submachine Gun, funky shotgun-thing to stand in as a Viral Tactical Bow. Personally I really like the image of this Corporate Security character playing with Dart’s very mobile abilities—she’s so skilled, so tough, so cool under fire, that she’s out there sneaking around (Camo), climbing walls (Climbing+), and tanking hits (No Wound Incapacitation), all in her business suit. It’s the James Bond firefight aesthetic, which I really enjoy.

So I got to work. Wednesday evening I assembled the models, Thursday I got in a practice game to have played the units at least once, overnight Saturday I painted them, Sunday they were the core of winning three games—I actually couldn’t even put them in my cases to drive down to the shop because the final washes were still drying.

Bagh Maris and CSU-Dart freshly out of the cloning vats or whatever.

Missions

The three missions for the event were Acquisition, Supremacy, and Unmasking. I’m not a big fan of ITS missions generally (many are a bit overly complicated, the Classified Deck has issues with balance and negative play, and the writeups are unnecessarily confusing and poorly presented). These were enjoyable though. For my intended primary units they worked well in that they each require some specialists to work objectives and there’s a lot of mid-field play. Bagh Maris, for example, are suited to those because they have Paramedic and Hacker specialists, a good selection of ranged and close quarters weapons, and at least in this season have Forward Deployment.

Importantly in hindsight, the morning of the event I sat down and wrote a quick summary of the missions. My primary motivation was to share with the group and help keep things moving and people informed. But that also meant I’d closely read all of the scoring conditions and had better familiarity with the missions than I usually have.

Lists

In thinking about army lists I applied a standard top level rubric of mine:

  1. Keep it simple—one or two tricks;
  2. Need some redundancy but can’t spend on too many heavy hitters;
  3. Pick cool models.

I also constrained myself to only painted models, with the Bagh Maris and Dart being all the new models I could stretch to realistically get done before the event. Those added to the Akal Commandos, Regulars (and Fusiliers if needed), Montesa Knight, and variety of Pan-O bots that I had on hand ready-to-go.

In the end I chose two lists:

Bagh Mari Runaround list for Acquisition and Unmasking.

Akal Commando Drop for Supremacy.

As with the overall army direction, some of these selections are just about cool models. Why a Regular Sapper Sniper over a Bagh Mari Sniper? On our group’s tables Sapper on the Regular is a wash with Mimetism on the Bagh Mari, the latter can likely deploy in cover. The Regular is 6pts cheaper, but not as well equipped (weaker armor, no MSV1, mines, etc.). Ultimately I just wanted to play the Sapper. They’re both really cool models, but the former I’ve had painted for a while but never used because it doesn’t make sense on the small tables of RECON+, so she got her chance.

But, I did put some thought into these selections.

Bagh Mari Runaround

The core idea in the Bagh Mari Runaround list is a big ‘ole 5-man fireteam with a bunch of tools to roll forward onto objectives while Dart and the Naga provide mid-field surprises and the Sierra & Sapper long range reactive coverage from my backfield.

The “one or two tricks” is the 5-man team along with Dart & the Naga. I have very very rarely played a full fireteam like that, so managing it and using it effectively was going to be a challenge. Camo games are also not something I have much experience with so I was worried about using the latter two well. The Naga was a late addition that I’d also never used before but happened to have a painted one from a trade some time ago. I figured it might synergize well with Dart, and at minimum could play a lot like my beloved TO Camo Order Sergeants in my Military Orders lists: A specialist that can be deployed close to the objectives and not have to spend orders running upfield. Between the big team and the Camo, that was about all the complication I wanted.

For heavy hitting I thought a lot about including a Montesa Knight in this list. I absolutely love the starter box model and it’s been the core of my RECON+ Shock Army lists (deploying forward with a Spitfire, a Lieutenant order, and good armor can be very strong on those tables). But I couldn’t justify it here because of the investment in the Bagh Mari fireteam. That was going to be my primary driver, consume most of my orders, and need as many of those as I could get. I would also already have two HMGs on the table, plus a Sniper. So, following my second guide of not having too many heavy hitters, the Montesa Knight sat out. I was also thinking the Montesa Knight would be too far backfield to step in if the team got wiped, but on second thought with its Mechanized Deployment that’s not true so I’ll think about it again in the future.

Bagh Mari Hacker works on an antenna while his fireteam defends their position.

Akal Commando Drop

The core idea and “one or two tricks” in the Akal Commando Drop list is having a bunch of Akalis to drop into the enemy sectors for domination points, while the Haris option on the Bagh Maris lets me have two fireteams to efficiently advance onto objectives.

Notably, the Akalis are all organized into one combat group so I can put coordinated orders on them right away. The cute idea here is ideally I’d bring all four onto the board, take just a couple actions, and then use coordinated orders to move them all into safe positions and Suppressive Fire to rack up points in the domination sectors. This is really risky, effectively starting very low on orders with at best just six on the table in the primary combat group at game start. But I play a lot of AD-heavy lists and single combat groups all the time with my Military Orders, so I felt comfortable with it.

Fight!

My two lists and (very) freshly painted models in hand, I headed into the tournament.

Round 1: Acquisition

First up I faced Wayne and his Nomads, trying to hack Antennas and be in base-to-base with a Tech-Coffin on the centerline in Acquisition.

Acquisition table configuration.

Wayne brought a very small list focused around a Gecko and a fireteam with multiple HMGs. He went first and made a solid firebase with the Gecko in a central position overlooking the Tech-Coffin while the HMGs provided overwatch. I lost my Sierra TR turret and Regular Sniper very early in a string of unlucky rolls. The Bagh Mari team got into a good position covering an Antenna and the Tech-Coffin, and the HMG had a sustained fight with the opposing team. Eventually though something was able to sneak around the building they’d camped out on and take him down with a Chain Rifle. I also played my Commandos poorly, a little too aggressively and a lot too carelessly. I didn’t check line of sight well enough and one got pipped right away on landing. The other held on, took out a model, and absorbed some orders, but wasn’t well spent. Dart spent a lot of orders on a very lucky specialist on the other Antenna, but eventually was able to clear the latter and then break the HMG team.

Outcome: Major victory.

The big success here was to not stress about losing my heavy shooters early. I took a moment to settle, then focused on line of sight and Careful Moves around terrain and onto the objectives without the benefit of big covering fire. Importantly, I didn’t try to press an attack or maximize my quantity of AROs. I mostly held to my table half, kept my models alive, and did just enough to continually trim down Wayne’s orders and keep his advancing units off the objectives but not actively go forward to further engage his army or lean my guys out to get whittled down.

Sapper waits for action.

Round 2: Supremacy

Next up was Tom and his Nomads, trying to hack Consoles and dominate (have more army points in) quadrant sectors in Supremacy. I think of Tom as my benchmark player: We’ve been closely matched for a little while now, but he has much deeper experience with the game. So if I play very well I might beat him, but it’s always a real tough battle and we’ve been going back and forth 50/50 on wins, which is great.

Supremacy table configuration.

At the start of this battle I realized “Oh snap, I did not practice this at all and have not thought this through!” My list had no good model with which to sync the mission’s Xenotech (i.e., without breaking a fireteam). Ironically I had made comments about that problem for my typical Military Orders lists when Season 10 came out, but just didn’t think about this mission too much coming in. Sooo my Xenotech wound up synced to my Sniper in their Foxhole, which audibly confused Tom when I declared it. I carefully maintained a stoic visage of grand strategery…

On the one hand I made some dumb moves throughout this game. The Bagh Maris could have trivially deployed much closer to an objective and saved an order. I spent the last order in my primary combat group Turn 1 to put my Akalis into Suppressive Fire, kept one out because I didn’t want to activate it in sight of a TR bot, only to then realize my Sniper actually had a shot on that bot and took it down, so by not staging orders properly I had blown what could have been a very strong position for that Commando. Very late in the game I could have positioned Dart better to cover the approach to an objective. Lots of little but important missteps like these.

On the other hand, that I was picking up on those inefficiencies was a good sign that I was generally on my game. As planned, early on the Akalis took the battle forward and acted as speed bumps, so we were fighting over Tom’s sectors rather than mine. That created space for my fireteams to run up into my quadrants and claim the Console objectives. Dart shored up the center, and the fireteam of Regulars came forward on the side and denied Tom’s last minute attempts to claim a second objective.

Bagh Maris sweep and clear a laboratory.

The Xenotech syncing turned out… weird. It actually wasn’t terrible to be synced to the Sniper—the Sniper did its thing, then moved forward enough to get the Xenotech just short of placing the Multiscanner but inside a quadrant. The Sniper died but an Akal re-synced the Xenotech, only for the latter to fail dropping the Multiscanner and the Commando to get shot down. Upshot was for three turns I had the Xenotech in a dominated quadrant but not synced and the rules-as-written seem to clash with plausible intent as to whether or not that met one of the scoring conditions. After a good amount of discussion and searching books & Google among Don, Tom, and I—the rules debate we prompted is still going in the WGC Infinity Facebook group—we went with the former. That put the game in my favor, from a 1 point loss to a 2 point victory.

Outcome: Minor victory.

I had two big successes here. One was taking the fight up into Tom’s sectors and putting him squarely on the defensive. The other was that I had strength in depth on the center and a supporting flank. So, for example, a Taskmaster started coming forward but got held in check by a series of speed bumps—two Akalis, another Akalis Hacker, Dart, a Spitfire Regular—and eventually put down, yielding its sector.

Regulars take a breather advancing on the right flank.

Round 3: Unmasking

Last up was Don and his new OSS trying to hack Consoles while identifying and eliminating a Designated Target hidden among several decoy civilians in Unmasking. Don and I have been playing games for 15 years now, ever since he was the first one to stand up and say hi when my friend Daryl & I walked into our first PAGE meeting. So I was really happy when he started playing Infinity… and then dismayed when he started practicing a lot and got good at it! (kidding) (about getting good at it! oh, snap!)

Table configuration for Unmasking.

The terrain and limited independent units in my army composition kind of forced my deployment to be concentrated to one side, leaving the left-most civilian looking entirely unprotected. Don teased me about it, that I better not be taking a wild flyer making that the Designated Target hoping he would assume it couldn’t possibly be. I thought about it! But I also knew that I had Commandos waiting to drop in on that side if necessary. However, I went for a conservative option and chose my centrally placed civilian. I figured Don would have to hedge his bets by moving toward my heavily defended civilian, but if my defenses failed I didn’t want my Designated Target to be at the point of that thrust. Those defenses were also mostly applicable to the center one.

A bigger risk was that the Bagh Mari team all camped out behind a barricade on the flank, absolutely ripe to be surprised by some kind of Airborne troop or a Smoke warband running up to template them. But there wasn’t much cover on the available buildings, I wanted to be upfield a bit, and from that position they’d have a good angle on one of the two main approaches, so I very hesitantly went for it.

That was ultimately a critical decision. Backed up by the 5-man team (so +3 BS, +1 B) and its MSV1, the Bagh Mari HMG eventually won a gunfight with an advancing team and took a ton of energy out of Don’s forward advance. The Naga worked terrain angles to run up to the center Console and find Don’s Designated Target, then settled into a good position to defend mine. Dart came up and Spiderwomanned into her own excellent defensive position on the other Console. Going into Turn 2 Don was in Loss of Lieutenant and my forces in really strong defensive positions covering all the major arteries. I didn’t lose much and then was able to swarm forward to take out his Designated Target and move the action decidedly onto his side of the table.

Bagh Mari team overwatching a firelane, waiting for the OSS to come.

Outcome: Major victory.

A big success here was actually meta-game, the physiology of tournament play. The game with Tom was tough and I’d just barely held on mentally, let alone in the score. It was getting late in the day, hadn’t slept much, getting hungry, etc.. So at the top of this round I had to drink some water, spend a quiet moment refocusing, and explicitly think toward pushing on to win rather than relaxing and settling for second or third.

Game-wise, my big success here was deployment. We’d actually joked during it that “This is the whole game, right here, we’re just gonna set up models and then think about it, decide who would win.” That turned out true to a large extent. I had a good mental map on all the different angles across the board and all my units either in strong positions or able to get into them. Importantly, my first turn I didn’t worry about killing or even too much claiming objectives. I spent all my orders just getting troops ready to rebuff Don’s next turn and then go forward in mine, and it worked out.

Conclusion

With two major victories and a minor, I came out ahead on tournament points and objective points. Winning is obviously good, but I was happy just to play well. I hadn’t actually played Infinity between mid-April and mid-September, and it was nice to get back into the groove fairly quickly and do well against a couple tough opponents in good games with friends. Looking forward to playing more!

Dart defends a critical position at all cost.

2018 NOVA 40K Narrative

Literally immediately following our 40K Trios Team Tournament, Colin and I again hosted this year’s NOVA 40K Narrative, our third outing as leads.

A good way to succinctly describe the event is that I made a boardgame which 160+ people then played, with each move and action resolved by playing an entire miniatures wargame. Another is that many dozens of us, with many many more dropping in & out, spent ~4 days leveraging the casino-lit unreality of a convention hall, running games almost continuously from 9pm Thursday to 6pm Sunday, to live in and breathe life to another universe complete with maps, factions, heroes, villains. Though not without its challenges, it was pretty amazing.

All told we had seven rounds of standard 40K (including two doubles rounds), four Kill Team rounds, and one Apocalypse, plus four War Council meetings. Most of the regular rounds had 48 players, with one squeezing in 52. The Kill Team skirmishes had 20–26 players and the Apocalypse featured 30 players. Over 160 unique players participated in the 40k Narrative over the course of the convention this year.

There’s really too much to say about everything that happened, so this post is a very quick recap and an overview of the mechanics, how the campaign worked.

Several collections of photos are available:

There is also a newly formed Facebook group for the 40K Narrative community.

Humanity Warlords hold a strategy discussion.

Battles underway.

The Apocalyptic finale.

The Apocalyptic finale.

Forge the narrative!

Gateway

The NOVA 40K Narrative is set in its own fictional universe, originally so that factions could be combined in any fashion as players teamed up and now mostly because that framework has a lot of inertia and attachment among the people who’ve been playing in it for years. There is a recounting of the ongoing story in the event primer. The basic idea though is that the Virtue are an advanced, galaxy-spanning hegemony. Centuries ago, over the course of the first couple NOVA 40K Narratives, the Virtue came to Earth, deemed humans wanting, and wound up destroying the planet. And then again. Humanity though escaped out into the stars. Our story over the past few editions of the NOVA 40K Narrative picks up hundreds of years later, with humanity having regrouped and begun a revolution on the fringe of Virtue space.

Two years ago, we played out the beginning stages of that rebellion, with players securing a foothold for humanity in Virtue space from their hiding places on the Fringe. Last year humanity seized Kaipan, a critical bend gate facilitating interstellar travel in and out of their sector of space. This year they tried to exploit that to spread deeper into Virtue space and attack Gateway, the regional governance center.

2018 NOVA 40K Narrative starting map.

Suffice to say, humanity as roleplayed by the 40K Narrative players tends to have a very “YOLO!!” take on strategy, confident that the species will be retconned back into existence if they screw up. Hence the multiple burnings of Earth. This year they went for broke to claim Gateway, and they… broke? The early going was promising as they seized the important bend gate facilities at Toman and Pau. Virtue came back strong however, counterattacking into humanity’s base in the Fringe while defending Gateway and pushing back on Toman and Pau. This lead into a final apocalyptic showdown in the Fringe, which humanity defended with gusto but ultimately could not hold.

So, coming out of 2018, humanity retained control of the bend gate facility at Kaipain and gained the industrial world of Folr, but is deeply on the backfoot with the Virtue quickly expunging the rebellion’s forces throughout the Fringe.

Final status.

Terrain

A big upgrade for this year was that one of our players, Chris Stover, brought literally a trailer full of super high quality terrain. Black Maria Designs also donated several of their Gantry System and Table-in-a-Box sets to NOVA. Victory Gamers and another of our 40K Trios teams also lent their display boards spur of the moment to be tables, and I brought a handful by my friend Matt and I. TABLEWAR also previously donated stacks of F.A.T. Mats to NOVA. All told that meant we had a full slate of gorgeous, thematic, wonderful battlefields on which to play out the 40K Narrative. Photos of the tables specifically can be found in this gallery. Special thanks goes to Chris, bringing in all that terrain was a huge effort, with setup and teardown a full day before and after the convention proper, and it really leveled up the event.

Just one of Chris’ tables.

Armies

Matching the terrain, we as usual had an astounding collection of armies in play. Some of them on display are viewable in this gallery. The full effect of looking out over a room full of battles with both beautiful terrain and miniatures can’t be understated, and so many of them greatly rewarded getting in close to really enjoy the details.

Rainbow Warriors advance on an abandoned depot.

Imperial Guard hull down in a desert canyon.

Raven Guard lead the charge.

The Tau invade (photo by NOVA).

Missions & Civilians

The core of the Narrative these past three years has been twofold: Thematic missions, and civilians. We use the same core mission packet here as our LibertyHammer event (June in Philadelphia, join us!). Each of the nine missions is symmetric, so individual players aren’t put at a disadvantage in their games as the alliances attack or defend, but six are themed and have some interesting mechanics. Shuttles crash and pilots have to be captured/rescued; comms facilities have to be taken or destroyed; supply depots and refineries raided; convoys ambushed or escorted; and VIPs protected or assassinated. Each round, half the players get to play a mission of their choosing.

In addition, the 40K Narrative does not happen in a vacuum. Civilians are present in each match which players can either save or slaughter. They’re Neutral NPCs which players can either attach to their units to escort them back to their deployment zones, or attack as though any other enemy unit. Doing so gains players’ armies Fame or Infamy as they build a reputation for savagery or heroism throughout the campaign. Many players focus a lot more on these than they do on winning games, which is perfectly valid, and leads to a lot of roleplaying and interesting dynamics.

Opposing bands of Scouts clash hand-to-hand in an industrial facility as one tries to also protect a civilian.

Stealth Suits save a civilian.

Campaign Mechanics

On top of those core elements is built the campaign. Key to that are the Warlords, players who’ve registered for one of sixteen slots to make strategic decisions for the Humanity or Virtue alliances. In large part to manage our increasing number of players, this year the Warlords divided up into pairs leading four campaign groups on each side, to which other players were assigned and fought together throughout the convention.

This year we also campaigned over the explicit map above, adapting mechanics from the ~6 month Solypsus-9 campaign I ran in Philly several years ago. At their twice-daily War Councils, the Warlords chose attacks on that map which were then played out in the games. The mechanics are simple:

  • Each alliance starts out in control of some subset of locations based on last year (i.e., the humans controlled Kaipan from their victory last year, while no one controlled Satakad, reflecting the continuing unrest on the edge planets).
  • At each War Council, both alliances get six order tokens, two each of Attack, Defend, and Support.
  • The alliances simultaneously place four orders facedown on the map. They must place their two Attacks, and have a choice to Defend or Support or both with their other two orders. Orders are placed on locations controlled by the alliance, and multiple orders may be placed on any one location.
  • Orders are then revealed and the alliances alternate in initiative order choosing an Attack of theirs and designating an adjacent map target and a campaign group to make the attack. The opposing alliance responds with a defending campaign group and a theater—Fear, Blood, Hope, or Death, one of our four rows of primary tables. Each matched campaign group then paired individual players (or doubles teams in some rounds), alternating between one side putting forward a player and a mission and the other responding with a player and a table within their theater.
  • The battle for each map location is then resolved per round with some straightforward calculations:
    • The battle points from each game in a location under Attack are summed.
    • Defend tokens add +7 to the campaign results (not individual games) for each match in the designated location.
    • Support tokens add +3 to the campaign results for each match in the designated location and each adjacent location.
    • The alliance with higher sum in each location wins the round there.
  • Instead of accumulating direct scores though, to help prevent runaway leads, winning a round for a location awarded the current round number.

The specific numbers here (two Attacks, four theaters, etc.) are derived from our particular configuration at NOVA—two factions, four campaign groups, and so on. More generalized mechanics are in the original Solypsus-9 writeup, supporting two or three factions and a variable number of actors (either players directly as there, or campaign groups as in NOVA’s much larger event). The key though is permitting a lot of flexibility for players to come in and out; avoiding players or groups either repeatedly fighting the same opponents, as happens in many map campaigns, or being pushed off the map entirely; and keeping the campaign simple & understandable while also creating an additional layer of strategy. Striking that latter balance is critical as there is already so much going on in 40k, the campaign, and the convention as a whole, but connecting the games all together is of course a huge draw for the event.

Campaign orders.

Sign for one of our campaign theaters (sets of tables).

Warlords gathering for one of the War Councils.

Assets & Advantages

In addition, each round the Warlords chose Recon Squad missions for their campaign groups. These were played out as Kill Team games, mostly by other players just joining the 40K Narrative over lunch or dinner for quick skirmishes. Each mission in the Kill Team mission packet that Games Workshop put together for NOVA was associated with a particular benefit. By winning games, Recon Squad players claimed cards for those benefits that Warlords gave out within their campaign groups to assist their players.

Several other Assets & Advantages were also dungeon-mastered into the event as it ran. For example, to help deal with there being too many Imperial Knights around, we threw in a Saboteurs card that let players use Civilians to deal mortal wounds to vehicles trying to escort them. Several players also got cards for being helpful, like ordering a megaphone to be delivered mid-round so I stopped tearing my vocal chords.

Recon Squad missions and benefits.

The Voice of Authority asset…

Characters

In part because the traditional stratagems have less meaning, or are at least more difficult to make interesting without stepping on any particular faction’s unique advantage, now that the core game itself has so many, this year we also introduced several special characters. These drew from the past several years of storyline, the little bits of fluff here and there in the event primers. So, for example, the 2016 primer had a prominent quote from Premiere Thyx, who finally made an in-game appearance.

Prominent quote from the 2016 primer.

Datasheet for Premiere Thyx.

Three of the five special characters: Phoenix Scout Harris, Premiere Thyx, and the assassin Krass.

Apocalypse

Finally, the last round of the campaign is a giant Apocalypse, with everybody fighting all at once for a particular battle. The specific setup for this gets dungeon-mastered a good bit. Last year we made this the battle for the six gravitic generators on Kaipan. This year, following the evolution of the map over the weekend, it was quite naturally humanity’s last stand at one of their bases in the Fringe.

We’ve been running one or more major (~20+ players) Apocalypse battles annually for six years now, so we have a well established and tested set of rules, procedures, and mission archetypes. For this year’s NOVA 40K Narrative finale we had thirty players fielding a total of 91,000 points, all fighting over a 6×24 table. Four primary objectives were placed by us, secondary objectives by each player, and the alliances given L-shaped deployment zones. Our rules and table layouts help ensure these aren’t just shoot-outs among the biggest units, with much of the game coming down to individual troop movements. This match ended exactly on time, running from 10am to 5pm sharp, with Virtue edging out Humanity in the final rounds for a 160–112 win.

Apocalypse finale map.

Apocalypse table all set up.

The Apocalypse in-progress.

Crew

At this point, the NOVA 40K Narrative is somewhat overwhelming. Suffice to say, probably not too many TOs’ kits include a sleeping bag and a laminating machine. Fortunately we’re building a good crew as we go to keep the campaign running smoothly even as it gets bigger and more complex. Colin oversees all the table and round management, keeping games going and ending on time, on top of a bunch of other tasks. Chris has taken on ensuring we have tons of amazing terrain. Dan, Scott, and Katie work people marshaling and rules development. Greg and Todd do appearance judging. Many people help out. And, of course, the Warlords are now executing much of the campaign mechanics and pairings themselves. We’re already working on designating and delegating more roles for the coming year, so I’m optimistic about both the continued excellence and the sustainability of the event.

Ready for the night watches.

Some pre-dawn narrative forging.

Narrative

Sometimes people ask what “narrative” wargaming means. I’ve had some thoughts over the years. To a lot of people it means playing for fun, rather than competitively, and throwing in a bunch of goofy elements—unusual terrain, environments, stratagems, characters, weird missions, whatever. It is all those things, but I emphasize doing so in service of crafting a story. We try to keep the mechanics somewhat light in the NOVA 40K Narrative, but add just enough to enable meaningful roleplaying and storytelling in a multi-game and even multi-year context. Although simple, our maps and other mechanics present real strategic decisions and create just enough opportunities for participants to make decisions toward their chosen characters. That might be an individual focused on gaining Infamy for their butcherous army, or a group roleplaying collectively, such as Humanity’s continued commitment to just going for it and damn their home base. At several points this year the human alliance knew what the smart campaign decision was and instead played to that reckless character it’s developed over years of play now among this community. That’s what we hope to enable, and it’s great to watch.

Recon Squads fighting to acquire assets & advantages for their alliances.

Next Year

For 2019 we’ll probably make some notable changes, but all in keeping with the basic approach and tone of the event that has worked so well the past three years.

I expect the core mission set to remain similar, but tweaked to freshen it up. If civilians stick around they’ll likely switch to 8th edition Characters rather than using 7e-style rules, which was discussed at length for this year but not implemented.

Also very likely is essentially dropping individual scoring. Games will obviously be scored to determine who wins and by how much, in order to advance the campaign if nothing else, but we just won’t track individual standings. It’s also possible that Fame and Infamy will either use different mechanisms or also be unscored. There’s some ongoing discussion about awarding titles in completely different ways, e.g., accumulating points from some kind of voting for most dramatic or thematic play each round, but this is all very up in the air. The goal is just to continue tweaking the formal rules to match what we all want to get out of the event. All our participants are already pretty low key about results, and these kinds of changes would just further emphasize that it’s a campaign and a collaborative narrative, not a tournament.

Other, sometimes mutually exclusive, idea fragments include:

  • Rebooting to a story in the 40k universe, possibly with the same alliance labels;
  • Removing a round from each day to make the schedule more relaxed;
  • Collecting the Recon Squad rounds into a single multi-round time slot;
  • Having more briefings and executing them a bit more formally, so players beyond the Warlords can more readily follow the developing campaign;
  • More prominent army display & judging, possibly as a social gathering;
  • Expanding to more tables if possible, probably the case for at least Nightfights.

Long story short, the only thing we’re totally sure of is that next year will be another great event. Comments and ideas on all these topics are extremely welcome (in comments below, on the NOVA survey, or please feel free to email).

Blood Angels search a heretical temple.

A Knight strides forth to war.

Facebook

One small step we’ve already taken for next year is to create a NOVA 40K Narrative Facebook group. We hope this will become a fun community forum to display projects from this year, share progress on projects for next year, and coordinate. Please join us!

Wrap Up

Another year of the NOVA 40K Narrative in the books! We thought it was great, and hope you enjoyed it as well. If you like this kind of gaming and are anywhere near Philadelphia, you should check out our other events, either on the Web or Facebook.

Again, there are several collections of photos available from this year:

And don’t forget the new Facebook group.

See you next year!

Doubles games in-progress.

The Green Tide rolls forward.

The Virtue prepare for victory.

2018 NOVA 40K Trios

This past weekend Colin and I organized the Warhammer 40,000 Trios Team Tournament at the NOVA Open, our third year hosting the event.

Trios is kind of an unusual format: Players register in teams of three. Each round two partner up with 1000pt armies for a doubles game, and the third plays a 2000pt standalone game. It’s a tough format to hold in a smaller scene because you need a bunch of players, but it works well at NOVA. Somewhat uniquely, in addition to the usual painting competition, the event also has a strong theme component. There’s a whole major prize category not strictly tied to technical hobby execution but just the storymaking and cohesiveness of a team’s assembled armies, and this is a huge component of the event for many participants.

I think by all accounts this year was again a huge success. Three years ago NOVA expected us to get 8 or 9 teams and we got 18. This year we had 34 teams, 102 players! That’s largest event we have organized (our NOVA 40k Narrative has more participants overall, but not in any given round), and a legit tournament by any measure. Fortunately we had done just a bit of work to hone our processes a bit—such as improving our scoring spreadsheet to be faster to work with, and bringing in friends to help with appearance and theme judging—and it went very smoothly, meeting tight schedule constraints (I literally give out the last award, go to the bathroom, then come back to immediately kickoff the 40k Narrative). Many amazing armies were on display and in play, and for the third year running we had not a single sportsmanship report!

More photos are in this Flickr gallery and this Facebook album. Greg Hess also has many 40K Trios photos in his gallery, as does NOVA in its convention-wide galleries, including podium shots. As discussed below, we have also launched a NOVA 40K Trios Facebook group for teams and players to share and coordinate.

2018 NOVA 40k Trios underway.

Winners

Trios awards 5 categories, and our 2018 winners are:

  • Renaissance: Team Vengeful—Paul Bowman, Jessica Bowman, David Penfold
    • Sum total highest battle points, sportsmanship, theme, and hobby scores.
  • Storytellers: Team Quarrelsome—Patsy Kovac, Phil Kovac, Josh LeBlanc
    • Best combined theme, following the 40k Trios rubrics.
  • Artists: Team Judicious—Fernando Villanea, Jason Woolf, Alexander Cragg
    • Best painting and hobby work, following convention-wide NOVA rubrics.
  • Strategists: Team Nefarious—Brian Silkey, Gabe Lewis, Avilan Hiem
    • Most battle points (Vengeful & all teams being only eligible for a single prize).
  • Warmaster: Jonathan Grasser, Team Dogmatic
    • Highest scoring individual on our list of warlord achievements.

These awards were deeply satisfying for me. Trios now has a really great community of players who’ve been coming back each year, and almost all of these winners are prominent parts of that. Phil & Patsy have lead teams to winning the theme competition twice in a row now and are really committed to it. Paul, Jessica, and David—better known as Team Warhammered—have previously won the Strategists title, were really close last year, and finally claimed the overall title this year, awarding their dedication in coming all the way from California.

Best of all for me, my friends Fer, Jason, and Alex won the artistry competition (we have independent judges for that somewhat more subjective category in part because we have multiple teams of friends participating). It was really something to announce their title. Jason, Colin, and I first went to NOVA five years ago to play in the 40k Trios and the 40k Narrative, and Jason’s been chasing that artistry title ever since. Our good local friends Lovell, Tim, and Carlo of the Crew Shaken podcast also claimed second place overall, a huge achievement in a big field. Lovell got me started in 40k many years ago when he gave me a couple sprues of 2nd edition Tactical Marines, a metal Champion to use as a Captain, and talked me into some demo games. Just look at us all now—organizing some of the biggest events at a premiere convention, and placing in true competitions! All this was icing on an already good event.

Team Judicious’ artistry-winning display.

One of Alex’s many nightmares.

Theme

A highlight of the Trios event is the theme competition. So much so that this is really what many of the teams are focused on, more so than gameplay. Importantly, the scoring for this is objective and straightforward. The event primer has a whole set of rubrics on exactly how “theme” is evaluated. Team Quarrelsome’s title-winning entry of course demonstrates almost all of it, including elements such as:

  • A cohesive display board;
  • Plausibly allied armies;
  • Cohesively painted armies;
  • Team flare, t-shirts in their case;
  • A story, told by video in their case!

Notably, “cohesively painted armies” doesn’t mean all sharing the same paint scheme. What it does mean are things like figures’ basing roughly matching each other and the display board. Many top entrants over the years, including this one, have also had matching campaign badges on all of their major figures.

The theme competition also doesn’t strictly relate to technical execution. Team Quarrelsome always has excellent models and great display boards. This year though I thought at least one display board exhibited better technical mastery, a stunning piece of terrain work. But this competition is about having and presenting a narrative through a bunch of different elements, and Quarrelsome nailed that holistic storytelling and group presentation once more this year in a tight competition–the theme track was hotly contested and the title basically came down to having team flare or not.

Team Quarrelsome’s theme-winning forces.

Wrong turn!

Campaign badge on one of the Knights.

Second place theme finishers Team Courageous made an incredible fortress gate for their display. Grand scale like this is always compelling, but what’s really amazing is how crisp all of the elements are when you look closely. This is masterclass terrain building among the best I’ve seen, and will no doubt go on to be an amazing centerpiece display for their local shop. Courageous also had a great handwritten book for their story, and only lost out on the Storytellers title by a couple points.

Display from Team Courageous.

Balcony detail.

Incredibly crisp terrain work, carried out on a large scale.

Team Ubiquitous, former theme winners who took third place on the podium this year, also put together a neat video for their forces:

Terrain

One nice touch this year complementing all these great armies and themes is that one of the 40k Narrative players (Chris Stover) brought in a literal truck full of high quality terrain. Combined with a few boards by my friend Matt and I, we had a large number of comparatively fancy layouts. They varied quite a bit in type and density though. So we split the field, with the more competitive top half playing on standard NOVA GT competition-oriented setups, and everybody else playing on the narrative terrain. I hope to do something similar again next year.

Next Year

Our version of the Trios format and rules have held up fairly well. We’re not currently planning dramatic overhauls, but here are a couple ideas kicking around:

  • Rebalancing points. Given the focus of most teams, we’ll likely shift the ratio of points toward the overall scoring to being more equal across the categories, increasing those for theme and hobby work versus match results.
  • Freshening up the missions. In particular, I would expect the Open Ground mission and some of the secondaries to be replaced or tweaked to be more interesting and more in line with the general feel of 8th edition 40k.
  • New warmaster achievements. We talked about replacing these for this year, but didn’t come up with a system we particularly liked. Fortunately, this year’s warmaster was indeed on a team that did not win one of the other prizes, as we more or less hope, despite strong competition from several of them. Regardless, we have some ideas coming out of this NOVA that we will work on to improve this aspect of the event. The goals here are two-fold: Make a broader slate of warlord units viable for the competition, not just the more aggressive types; and better decouple the achievements from winning games, so even players struggling to win matches might go for the warlord title.

Games in play.

  • Better highlighting of the army displays. A lot of players are putting a ton of time into the hobby aspects of the competition, particularly the themes, which is amazing. So we would like to dedicate more visibility to those efforts than the hour of judging they currently get. In general space is at a premium at NOVA, but unless additional events are slated for Thursday next year we might be able to coordinate with the convention’s operations leadership for tables dedicated to putting armies on display. The bigger issue is time. We would love to spend more like two hours with the boards on display, and maybe even make a real social gathering of it. But we don’t want to start much earlier in the day given that many teams are arriving at the convention either late the night before or that morning. And we can’t end any later without also adjusting the 40k Narrative. So this will take some real thought. One half-wild, half-plausible idea is to have the final round cut to the top 8 or so teams to battle it out, and everybody else have a social gathering with food, beverages, and army displays to kickoff NOVA.
  • Display board rules. All that said about giving more attention to the themes and displays, expect some basic rules placing a limit on how big the display boards can be, before things get further out of control. On the other hand, it’s possible we’ll add a benefit for making a playable board which we can use throughout the weekend for the 40k Narrative. Several teams coincidentally did so this year, and it was really fun. It would also be an interesting challenge to make the boards good at both displaying armies, and being a good battlefield. Obviously this is also working against having size restrictions, but a possible compromise is encouraging display boards that include sections appropriate for playing Kill Team.

Comments and ideas on all these topics are extremely welcome (in comments below, on the NOVA survey, or please feel free to email).

Bert gets it.

Facebook

One small but important step we’ve already taken for next year is to create a NOVA 40K Trios Facebook group. We hope this will become a fun community forum to display their team projects from this year, share their progress on projects for next year, and to coordinate. Fielding a trio can be challenging. It might be hard to find three players to come to NOVA, and if any one of a team’s members have something come up then they’re all out of luck. So we hope this forum can provide some support for potential players to find each other and form new teams, and for teams to reach out for replacements on short notice when members have to drop. Please join us!

Wrap Up

That’s a wrap for another year. Full results are available here (XLSX). Many more photos of all the luscious armies and great displays are in the Flickr gallery and the Facebook album. Greg Hess also has many 40k Trios photos in his gallery, as does NOVA in its convention-wide galleries, including podium shots. The NOVA 40k Trios seems to have again gone very well this year, and I personally enjoyed it quite a bit. We hope you all enjoyed it too! We expect to continue most of the main ideas for next year, but have some thoughts in progress to make it even better, a topic on which we welcome your feedback. See you next year!

We have a great group of competitors.