Part 2: SteamStorm And Beyond
In the first article of this pair, I talked a bit about how at the Irish Masters I was disappointed in my attitude. Because I really enjoy playing Warmachine and Hordes, I want others around me to do so too. This starts right where you live, if you bring a good disposition to a game then your opponent feels more like meeting you halfway. For many of us, particularly if things are not going our way, being sociable and “playing nice” might take a back seat to focusing on the win. I’m not saying don’t try to win, I’m saying if you find yourself in the middle or bottom bracket at a tournament, take a moment. Look at where you are. Surrounded by people who have been having the same kind of day or worse. Look at how many sour expressions there are. You’re all here to play a game you enjoy, so why shouldn’t it be pleasant however you do?
Too often, however, it isn’t great to be mid-table or low-table. As the day wears on, players start becoming more frustrated. I’ve seen some games where every single dice roll was the subject of exasperation by one player, naturally theirs were appalling and their opponent’s spectacular. As games wear on (and they do wear on, some of those later rounds seem much longer than two hours) players sometimes get distracted by their own gloom, if they don’t check out altogether. Giving up a game for lost is one of the only surefire ways to throw a game away in Warmachine. The moment when that happens is usually apparent even from a few tables away. Instead of the interplay between two engaged players, suddenly everything one player says it met with “Mmm-hmm”, “Sure, whatever”, “Armour 19, not that it matters with the way your dice have been going today”.
What is this?! I know it’s sometimes hard to keep track of it, this being the Internet and all, but we like Warmachine right? We think it’s a pretty neat game, that’s why we spend hundreds upon hundreds of Euro/pesos/tugriks on it, spend hours assembling everything, maybe even further hours painting all of it, and who knows how many hours discussing it, talking about it at length online or in person or just plain thinking about it. Playing in tournaments is probably a minority activity for most Warmachine and Hordes enthusiasts in comparison to all of the above, and it should be a highlight. Meeting like-minded folks and playing games with them should be FUN! Let’s make it so!
Keep Your Head While All About You Are Losing Theirs: Rediscovering Your Love Of The Game
The best games I’ve played are where both players are having a good time, the whole time. Not just when it’s your turn to exact some payback after the auto-crit-devastating Conquest has had its wicked way with your frontline. Not just when your opponent fluffs their continuous effect rolls. During both turns in these games, both my opponent and I have been genuinely enthused by what was going on in the game, even if it means that half our army is getting wiped out. This happens most often when both players are playing the same faction, I think. It’s easier to appreciate Protectorate stonewalling or Molik bulleting when you are capable of doing it too. I think players who have more than one faction do it as a reflex too, perhaps because they have an eye on playing it themselves but anyway. As I mentioned in the first part of this essay, the current emphasis on game mastery and accurate play means that some players view each game as a stepping stone towards expertise, rather than an enjoyable experience in itself.
If we’re agreed that Warmachine and Hordes is a good game, then we should appreciate it as a whole. This isn’t the same as being uncritical or slavishly devoted to Privateer Press or whatever hyperbole is being used this week. It’s recognising that the game is what it is and not what you would like it to be. It’s easy – especially if like me you only collect a single faction – to develop an attachment to a particular part of the game and to consider all other parts to be overpowered or basically akin to cheating. Whether that’s your faction or whether that’s the “other” game within Warmachine and Hordes, it can become habit to grit your teeth whenever you see certain things across the table from you. Already you have begun to disown any responsibility for how this game will go, and at the same time the standard set for your own behaviour during this game is slipping away. There’s one faction that gets this reaction more than anyone else, and that’s Cryx.
There’s tons of negativity towards Cryx as a faction and Cryx players. With the latest furor over the change to formation rules, one comment that cropped up over and over was “At least Cryx players now have to play the game”, and that’s emblematic of a prevailing attitude. Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure Cryx players were already playing the game. It’s the same game whatever faction or playstyle you use, or whether you’re playing a Warmachine faction or a Hordes faction. The game is a sum of its parts, and developing loyalties is not an admirable practice if those loyalties are misplaced. The fact is, playing Cryx looks like enormous fun, and the Cryx players I know are generally the players who take the most pure enjoyment out of playing this game. But it’s not just Cryx that gets this treatment, everyone has their pet peeve or even hate about the game, and it colours their experience.
As a community we need to put this sort of thing aside and get on with the real business of playing the game. Criticism has its place, there are many arenas where you can gather to voice your opinion, but I don’t think mid-game at a tournament is one of them, particularly if what you’re going to say is negative. There needs to be a different mode there, one that is focused on getting a good experience for both players rather than just a win or an opportunity to dust off your soapbox. It’s tempting to show off how much you know about the state of the game. I should know, I’m on a podcast, the sound of my own voice is sweet music to me. Look at each game for what it is, think of the amount of time that both players have put into getting to this point. There’s dedication there, even if it ends up in a poor tournament record. Respect that, be positive, and talk about the game in hand.
Never Breathe A Word About Your Loss – My Trip To SteamStorm
In the intervening weeks between the Irish Masters and SteamStorm I took a trip up to Belfast to have a day of games with my teammates for Team Northern Ireland, with whom I will be travelling to Poland in October for the World Team Championship. We recorded a podcast episode while we were up there in which the guys spoke eloquently about how they saw their role as a cross-community team in representing their country, which as you know has some divisive history. This confirmed my resolve to be a good ambassador for Irish Warmachine and Hordes while over in Slovakia. Being a good sport is something that becomes more important the further you are from home, by taking losses on the chin you console yourself, and by being magnanimous in victory you salve the sting for your opponent.
My decision to go to SteamStorm was fairly spur of the moment as trips to foreign countries go, I made the decision about a month beforehand. I got my lists together, played each of them once and thought I might be pretty set. I had been playing my three Kreoss lists for several months before the Irish Masters to get my all-time record of two wins and four losses, but I wasn’t perturbed by this. However I did in Bratislava I was resolved to enjoy myself and to make sure my opponents had a good time too. My last-minute arrangements for accommodation gave me a great foundation for this, I had to cancel my original accommodation but I was offered a bed with the big group of Swedish players who were attending. I had met one of them before at the Irish Masters, but the others were all new to me. Gaming communities are the best for this, I’ve found. They may have thought I was Eoin Brennan, but dammit they were being hospitable!
The morning after an introductory night at a pub where it was possible to order a child’s burger and get a beer free, we went along to the venue, which was on the fourth floor of an office block, in one of the best setups for a tournament I’ve seen. It was two open-plan offices, with four by four battlefields set up in the middle of the big desks, and every table had two big comfortable office chairs, just the thing for sitting and considering your next move! Stu (of Whatever I Picked Up Somewhere Or Other At Some Stage fame) and I went around the place in a state of excitement, checking out the awesome armies, and being a little starstruck when we saw the work of the very talented Baffo. Well, I was excited and starstruck, Stu is a bit more laconic than that. Then it was time to start. With my armies set up on a handy tray I had robbed from a nearby kitchen, the battle was joined!
My first round was against Brin, a Slovenian who brought the only Retribution army. When we revealed our lists he asked me if I had seen the Griffon spam list with Vyros2 before, which I hadn’t. I could see I was in for a treat as he outlined the list for me: “Basically I cast two spells and the Griffons do all the work.” It was a good game. My list was mismatched as I couldn’t get through the amount of armour that was being brought my way, but I blasted away at his infantry with the Vessel of Judgement (my first time playing it!) and the Harbinger got to be obstreperous before being forced out of scenario. In my second round, I was playing against the inimitable Dr Norbert, who brought Kreuger2. Kreuger2 is naturally a match-up I fear and loathe as a Protectorate player, and so this was a game I was committed to enjoying as best I could. Anyone who knows Norbert will tell you that enjoying a game against him is no chore at all, and we had some fun times as my Incinerate templates destroyed my Wracks and other wacky stuff went down. Norbert is pretty much the exemplar of enjoying yourself while playing Warmachine, he’s made it his business to travel all over Europe and meet like-minded folks, and he balances clean and accurate play with a great attitude and sense of humour.
My last round of the day was against Loránd, a Trollbloods player who brought Doomshaper1, and against whom I played Harbinger once again. Loránd happened to be cosplaying as Martin the tournament organiser, who has a habit of leather waistcoats over rock shirts, and all the Hungarian guys showed up dressed like this on Friday. Not realising this I thought at first it was a fashion thing in
Eastern Central Europe! Anyway Loránd had two losses under his belt, as did I, but he knew the rules for my army inside and out, and as it turned out we both managed to forget to place fairly pivotal models. He found his mistake first, a Runebearer. Boy was I glad I had agreed to him putting it down when I was sifting through my cards and realised the Covenant was missing! I was finding out as the day went on that my Harbinger list was no good against lots of armour, so in the end with only Harby and a few ragtag elements left I charged Mulg with her and we called that a win for Doomshaper. As many gracious winners will, Loránd attributed my loss to poor luck and forgetfulness rather than a lack of tactical acumen. My secret was safe!
A night of drinking followed, where we recorded a segment for a future podcast which as far as I can recall involved mostly shouting at people who weren’t there. Somewhat delicate the next morning, I ate my strange Slovakian breakfast of ham and bread and proceeded to the tournament hall where I drank Kofola and waited. My opponent was Rob, who has one of the best-looking armies I’ve ever seen. As a massive Classics nerd, his converted Iron Fang Pikemen as Spartan hoplites with matching Conquest really impressed me. My Protectorate army is made up of three different people’s collections so they don’t look very cohesive. Everything in Rob’s was beautiful and matched the theme, and getting to admire the stuff on the table was just another fun aspect of the game. I was playing my Feora list today, but I had reckoned not with Black Dragons.
My last game was probably my favourite. I was playing against Matthew, a Hungarian Mercenary player, who brought Durgen Madhammer with an Earthbreaker to the fight. Since I had Feora out on the table I played her again, and I figure it’s always good to bring a Colossal to face a Colossal. This game had so many shenanigans, with Feora’s feat as a counter to Eiryss disrupting my jacks, and me trying to engineer a ridiculous flamethrower-based assassination run. It was exciting stuff, with one plucky Steelhead Halberdier free-striking my Judicator to disable its right arm and preserve the Earthbreaker for another turn of mayhem. Afterwards, while we were taking the photos, someone commented that the more I lost the more I smiled. I replied that I was just happy to be playing games, and it was true.
At SteamStorm I was determined to have a good time however I performed, but I realised that it wasn’t such a tall order. I like playing Warmachine after all, and it’s a pleasure to do so. There’s some self-help maxim about acting positive even if you don’t necessarily feel it and the rest will follow, and I think it’s quite right. If you tell yourself you’re going to have a good day and enjoy yourself regardless of how the games pan out, you’ll start to notice that your games are good fun, you’ll feel less tense and as a result your opponent will have a better time too!
I had intended to go into what I think the elements of good sportsmanship are and what can be done to change some bad habits in this article and finish today, but I think it’s going to have to be a three-parter! Thanks to everyone for the helpful comments and advice, I’ll see you next week!