[WFB] Getting Schooled by Dr. Shiny

Ten years ago this month, I started teaching my arch-rival and nemesis and bestest friend ever Lawrence how to play Warmachine. I also started a blog, because I’d come home at the drop of a hat to start my teacher training and left the Warmachine scene of Greater Manchester behind and frankly, I was feeling a bit lonely. It’s been a long ten years and it hasn’t always been much fun, and a lot of things have had to be left behind in the meantime.

But not everything.

Lawrence and I go way, way back. We’ve known each other for well over twenty years. And in that time, Lawrence’s long-suffering, long-serving Skaven – the first opponents for my putative Army of Sylvania fifteen years ago last Christmas – have never managed to beat my Vampire Counts.

Until now.

Preamble

I won’t say that playing Lawrence again was the only reason I went down to the Exeter Games Gathering, but it was certainly up there. It’s only an hour’s train ride for him, so he had no excuse. By the time he arrived I was struggling to formulate a coherent thought and so we opted for a nice straightforward Pitched Battle, bo-ring as it might be.

I was testing out my new “three casters? take Death!” approach and, at the last moment, dropped both my Bound Spells in favour of a single base Spirit Host because I felt myself wanting for chaff. The resultant army looked like this:

  • Countess Carmilla: level 2 wizard, Death magic (Death Dealer, Wind of Death), Sword of Striking, Ring of the Night, Black Periapt, Aura of Dark Majesty
  • Rosenkratz: level 2 wizard, Necromancy (Invocation of Nehek, Hand of Dust)
  • Guildenstern: level 2 wizard, Necromancy (Invocation of Nehek, Gaze of Nagash)
  • Whispering Nell: Wraith with Cursed Book
  • 30 Skeletons: light armour, spears, full command
  • 20 Zombies: standard and musician
  • 10 Huntsmen
  • Spirit Host (1 base)
  • 8 Black Knights: barding, full command
  • 8 Black Knights: barding, full command
  • Banshee
  • Banshee

Lawrence, it turned out, was also testing out a new approach, which he’d never had the balls to attempt back in the day:

  • Grey Seer Makkiavelli: level 4 wizard (Skitterleap, Pestilent Breath, Vermintide, Plague): Death Globes, whatever the Skaven equivalent of the Wristbands of Black Gold are called
  • Fooko: Warlock Engineer with all the trimmings plus Storm Daemon and Dispel Scroll
  • Derridaa: Warlock Engineer with all the trimmings plus Warpscroll
  • Kirkegaad: Chieftain with shield, heavy armour, Bands of Power and Sword of Battle
  • 30 Clanrats: full command, Warpfire Thrower team
  • 30 Clanrats: full command, Ratling Gun team
  • 4 Giant Rat packs
  • 5 Rat Swarm bases
  • 10 Night Runners: slings, additional hand weapons
  • 28 Plague Monks: additional hand weapons, full command
  • Warp Lightning Cannon
  • 6 Plague Censer Bearers

This is, as you’ll appreciate, quite a toothy Skaven army. I remember Lawrence’s Skaven not being this tuned. It’s my own fault, I know perfectly well that plastic Plague Monks have happened since the day, I was there when he built the cannon, and Skaven have ALWAYS had the option of four Warp Lightnings in a turn. It’s just… a lot of that slipped my mind, lulled out of consciousness by Lawrence’s relentless whinging about how rubbish his Skaven are. And back in the day, I was being carried along by a bullshit Storm of Chaos list which could put Magic Resistance on everything worth zapping and yeet three units of Dire Wolves into the back of his army on turn two. This sort of thing annoyed and/or worried Lawrence and left me able to coast over the top of the Skaven blocks quite effectively once the Rat Swarm was out of the way.

That’s why I felt confident enough to set up like this.

The plan was to set up a picket line with the Huntsmen, fleeing when Lawrence’s troops started to close, and pull a unit of Knights over to that side as well, with the remaining units jammed up his grill to occupy the Plague Monks and Rats. And that worked fine.

But that was the entire extent of the plan. The rest of my game boiled down to “try and win a magic-missile-off with the army which has the best magic missile in the game and can cast it three times, two with better-than-average odds of Irresistible Force, every turn, and also outshoots me by a country mile.”

And the other thing I hadn’t expected was that Lawrence would Skitterleap his Grey Seer into the back of my army and proceed to chain cast Vermintide and Pestilent Breath into the back of my Skeleton unit two turns on the trot. This after he wiped half of them out with an Irresistible Plague on the very first turn.

Frankly, it was courteous of him to blow up his own Warpfire Thrower, kill a rank of Clanrats with an overenthusiastic Vermintide, fall short with all but one of his Warp Lightning Cannon shots, and have Makkiavelli drop his Death Globes on his own feet twice. That, plus panicking his Night Runners off the table and making the one good move at the start, at least kept me in the game until the fourth round. At that point, once my Knights had been shot to shit trying to get into a decent position, I opted to call it a day.

Maybe if I’d had a bigger Spirit Host, and a Book of Arkhan somewhere to guarantee me a Vanhel’s Danse to cast… maybe if I’d not decided to play a defensive game against an army that had no reason to close the distance when it could slaughter me from 18-24″ away… maybe if I’d had a better night’s sleep beforehand… maybe if I’d treated my oldest friend with something more than contempt and actually planned to give him a proper fight…

If ifs and buts were candies and nuts we’d all be diabetic, I suppose. I did consider leaving the army in a skip or something on the way home – it’s been fifteen years, and I often feel trapped by nostalgia, like I’m trying to get back to 2004 and pretend the time between then and now didn’t happen, and I can’t deny the symbolism of anniversaries and old enemies and final defeats. I didn’t. But I’m not ruling out burning it all before Christmas.

[Off Topic] Feels Like A Hundred Years

I’ve been at this for a while now. My first gaming blog launched in 2009, which was apparently peak time for new blogs to start – before the glut of everyone and their dog doing it brought on a state of content shock. The volume of free content positively exploded over the next five years, leaving us all feeling glutted, sated, bloated and positively flatulent with free stuff to read and argue about.

By 2014 I was also extremely depressed and, consequently, started churning money through the hobby, buying things to cheer myself up and selling them off again every time I needed to move house, which was too damn often. This rootlessness is a hallmark of my generation (for my sins, I’m just about young enough to qualify as one of those millennials who are killing all the industries everywhere) and, as a consequence, it means I don’t really have the usual Middlehammer experience.

You know the one I mean. “Oh, I played that a lot when I was at school, then I went to uni/got a girlfriend/sorted my life out, but when I bought a house my mum went through the attic and sent my old stuff over…”

Not round ‘ere, mate. Anything that’s not been played with in a couple of years is a calcified asset, money waiting to be freed up; any project that’s ceased to move and live and satisfy will go the same way before long. It’s the only way I could free up space and funding for the next thing and, often, the only way the rent would be paid next month.

I haven’t been able to keep stuff, ever, and to be honest, the wheeling and dealing and bargain hunting was always part of the fun for me. (Obviously, in this day and age it’s all eBay scalpers and mass-produced skeletons going for £25 a pop or take your business elsewhere, a seller’s market if ever there was one – but that’s another story.)

But I was lucky enough to get one of my Middlehammer armies back, and even luckier to stumble into a nice bunch of lads who are still playing proper Warhammer on square bases like we did when I was a wee ‘un. And truth be told, it’s been a lot more fun than all the years of slogging through the fashionable what’s-meta-this-year of competitive Warmachine and the can-I-really-be-arsed-learning-a-whole-new-game of 40K’s edition cycle and the rise of Age of Sigmar.

Whenever I stop and think about this sort of thing I become terribly maudlin, and maudlin’s not a good frame of mind for me. Last time it went out of control and I deleted my entire web presence – all the social media, the blog and its archives, everything went in one night.

Let it burn is what I say. I don’t want to drag everything I said or did over the last nine years behind me like a forty thousand word dingleberry. My most popular post by far was me getting my knackers in a knot over Heinrich Kemmler’s name, which is so utterly trivial now that the gaming kultur war has boiled over into something that distorts lives, careers, the fates of nations…

But I can’t let it all go. I still play, and even more occasionally paint, and sometimes it’s fun to talk about what I’ve been up to. So here we all are, in the looming shadow of Nagashizzar where all fates come to dust. Nine years down the line from registering the original GAME OVER, with a lot of mistakes made and lessons learned along the way. One hundred posts (well, ninety-nine) survived the cull.

Glad to have you back.

Shall we, then?