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.


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.


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:


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.


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.

2017 NOVA 40k Trios

Colin and I headed up the NOVA 40k Trios Team Tournament again this year. We had 21 teams for 63 players, up from 18 teams last year. Trios features a somewhat unique format, in which teams of three play a doubles game and an individual game against an opposing team each round. It really only works at a large event like NOVA because of how many players are needed to have a good number of teams, but it works really well there. It’s a great way to start off the convention because you spend the whole first day hanging out and playing with friends.

This year seemed to be a big success, continuing on from last year’s well regarded event overhaul. As mostly expected, Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition seems to be holding up well to large competitions. We had extremely few rules questions come up and they were all easy to resolve. There were of course some powerful units kicking around, but no grumbling about specific units and armies at anything approaching the scale of last year. Games Workshop also again donated really awesome trophies for our top team. In addition, something I especially appreciated as someone who takes a lot of photos and spends almost literally 4 straight days at NOVA staring at games, TABLEWAR donated F.A.T. Mats to cover all the tables. Combined with numerous excellently crafted armies, the visual appeal of all the games was really high this year.

Many more photos from the event are available in the gallery here.

2017 NOVA 40k Trios underway!


We ran our three most traditional missions, battle tested now over many events:

  • Open Ground: Controlling markers, choosing to score continuously or game end.
  • Slaughter Zone: Our take on Annihilation, using percentages of units killed.
  • Battlefield: Players choose from several primary objectives to either hold specific markers, kill enemy units, or preserve their own units.

Each of those missions also has a selection of secondary objectives, enabling players to either double down on the primary objective style or go for something else. For example, an army good at holding ground might choose a secondary to claim terrain pieces in addition to the objective markers, while an army better at killing units might choose a kill points secondary objective.

In addition, special to the 40k Trios and our local annual Tournament of Blood, each player is working toward a set of ten Warlord Achievements each round. These award the head of the army for personally capturing objectives or slaying enemies.

The full event primer with missions and details is available as a PDF here.

Rough Riders are apparently a thing now, there were several armies of them!


NOVA 40k Trios awards five titles:

  • Renaissance Trios: Overall winners across battle points, sportsmanship, craftsmanship, and theme.
  • Strategists: The team with the most wins and then battle points.
  • Artists: Best painted team as judged by NOVA/Capital Palette painting judges.
  • Storytellers: The most original and best presented story of why a team’s forces are fighting together.
  • Warmaster: The individual who scored the most Warlord Achievements.

Our winners this year:

  • Renaissance: Zac Schooley, Ashwin Ooi, David Beardwood.
  • Strategists: Sam Thorn, Aaron Beeson, Sawyer Philbrick
  • Artists: Jesse Gaskins, Trevor Aleho, Casey ?
  • Storytellers: Phil Kovac, Patsy Kovac, Billy Evans
  • Warmaster: Sawyer Philbruck

Full results are available as either XLSX or PDF.

Final overall standings.

Final overall standings.

Everyone, even the simplest soldier, has at least their life to offer the Emperor.


Lots of teams really get into the narrative aspect of why their teams are fighting together, making extensive writeups and display boards. We very much enjoy seeing that effort each year, especially as it was our primary interest when we were Trios players. There were many great displays this year, so please check out the photo gallery. But four teams came up tops in our scoring matrix (detailed in the primer).

Team Audacious, our eventual overall winners, had an amazing, cohesive display of an Eldar force escorting Ultramarines through The Webway to reinforce Imperial Guard under Necron siege in their Ceresia Campaign background story.

Teams Gallant and Indignant, last year’s theme winners, again had an extensive writeup and display for their Liberation of Bellatain Prime storyline.

But our Storytellers title went to Team Courageous for their Crystal V and Hive Hyatt Prime storyline. You can read their introduction here. The competition was really close between all four of these teams, but what put Courageous ahead were three totally aligned factions and small details tying the armies and story together, like HQs having campaign shoulder pads shared across the armies.

This year’s event again though featured numerous incredible army displays in addition to these. More photos are in the gallery.

Next Year

Overall I think the NOVA 40k Trios is working well. Major changes for 2018 aren’t expected, mostly procedural tuning and the usual mission rotation and tweaking. However, a few larger changes come to mind.

One possible addition are small buffs to help the second player defend against a first turn onslaught. That needs more thought, testing, and consensus building as 8th edition continues to shake out, but it sure seems like among most players the first turn is perhaps overly strong. A return of tertiary points for killing Lords of War is also probable. We kept those in the Narrative this year but tested Trios without. We’ll probably also adjust Sudden Death and Boots on the Ground to also include Lords of War with the Fly keyword, or a similar ruling. Their technical exclusion from the errata for those rules came up in both 40k Trios and 40k Narrative, and I think goes against their intent and is probably inadvertent.

Another great army display, from Team Sacrosanct (CREW SHAKEN!).

Another great army display, from Team Sacrosanct (CREW SHAKEN!).

The most significant potential change on the docket right now is a very different slate of Warlord Achievements. Both years now the Warmaster title has gone to a player on the Strategists-winning team. To some extent that’s not surprising and maybe inevitable. However, the current set of achievements encourages that by being goals you generally want to attain anyway, like slaying the opposing Warlord. It would be interesting if the achievements were just enough off track that you had to make a stronger choice between playing toward the mission or the achievements. We’ve thought about this idea a fair amount and haven’t yet come up with anything which we didn’t think was either overly complex or too distracting from the main mission, but will put more thought into it. It would be great for this title to wind up landing in another team, much like how we’ve seen a good spread among the team titles.

These are all somewhat minor issues though. It was another great year for the 40k Trios, and I look forward to yet another in 2018. Don’t forget to check out all the other awesome armies in the gallery!

UPDATE: Greg Hess also has pictures up of the 40k Trios.

One of the team shirts, dispensing important advice.

2016 NOVA 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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.