The Fabulous Orcboy’s NovaCon 2023 Diary (Part 6)

  • Read Part 1 of The Fabulous Orcboy’s NovaCon 2023 Diary here
  • Read Part 2 here
  • Read Part 3 here
  • Read Part 4 here
  • Read Part 5 here

I had thoroughly enjoyed the previous day’s Nova Open narrative events, and showed up bright and (not so) early on the next day, ready to continue the fun. Although it definitely was nice that I won both prior games, but I had a blast facing Sharvel’s Necrons regardless, having mostly resigned myself to losing at the start of that game, given what the mission objectives and point values were. It’s a scenario that heavily favors an aggressive attacker, and not the defender. 

My game against Keegan’s Orks had been somewhat more disappointing, but I’d chalked it up to red-hot dice on my part, ice-cold dice on his part, and the particular combination of both of those with the underlying flaw in 40K’s game design, the I-go-you-go turn based structure. Keegan was still a relaxed and friendly opponent throughout – in a tournament setting, I’d readily nominate him for Best Sportsman, without hesitation.

Regardless, all my games had been at least somewhat entertaining, even my brutal introduction to 10e and the one-sided mauling I’d received in my first game, against Paul’s Chaos Marines, where he’d been very patient and willing to explain the rules variations and interactions of the latest edition. Thus far, the narrative campaign had been worth the preparations, the time (before and during), and the cost of admission.

Melta weapons: an excellent solution to all your 40K problems

I did make one tweak the night before, however. I had noticed that torrent weapons really don’t do well against the new generation of T4 3+ armor BolterBoys, probably because that extra Wound makes a world of difference. Furthermore, none of my lists really had much beyond the Exorcists to threaten vehicle-heavy armies, of which there were more than a few in attendance: Space Dwarves, Space Cultists, Space Elves, Space WWI, Space Anime, and Giant Robots… most of the non-BolterBoy forces in attendance had a bunch of vehicles; I had just gotten lucky in my matchups against a vehicle-light Necron list and an all-infantry Ork list.

Accordingly, after consultation with the tournament organizers, I tweaked two of the army lists that I had crafted, but hadn’t used yet. As they were still un-fielded, the organizers encouraged me to modify them in advance of the remaining games. So, I simply redesigned my two “bodies” lists (the ones with lots and lots of infantry, intended to swamp opponents with small, elite forces that struggle to deal with all the objective-grabbers). And with the 10e data-sheets, it was simplicity itself to just swap out all the torrent/flamer weapons with melta weapons… and in most cases, I even had the spare models to pull it off.

Game Four (1500 pts)

Opponent: “Gabe” (Chaos Knights)

My List: revised Enduring Exorcist Mandate (Inquisitor + Sisters with Multi/melta + Immolator; 2x Sisters with Multi/melta; 2x Novitiates; 2x Seraphim with Infernos; 2x Dominions w/ meltas; 2x Exorcists; Dialogus with one Dominion squad)… plus bonus Ork Megaboss

Table: Ignotix Prime – Administratum Sector

Planetary Objectives: Six zones; one per deployment, four in no-man’s land. Plus an additional central objective that is also a ruined building (and part of the battlefield objective, see below)

Battlefield Objective: During your Movement Phase, move your ‘data specialist’ model (a bonus model that is a non-combatant with Independent Operator rule) into the central objective if your HQ/retinue is within 3″ of that objective. If your ‘data specialist’ remains in the central objective until the end of your next Command Phase (and you retain control of the objective), you gain +10 BV. You can gain points multiple times. If your ‘data specialist’ survives the battle (1/6 chance of losing him if opponent seizes control of central ruin), you gain +15 BV per turn, instead of +10 BV. Side who wins the Battle gains intel for their side.

Campaign Objective: Score +2VP per enemy unit destroyed, to a maximum of +5VP per turn.

Turns out, this would prove to be Highly Beneficial, as my very next opponent was fielding Chaos Knights. “Gabe” (not his real name) was fielding a beautiful Chaos Knights list, with a very small number of models: just five. 

He had two big Knights, his Warlord Exitium Morbidum “Morbid Destruction” kitted out with a pair of high-Strength, high-Damage, long-ranged weapons (perfect for popping any of my vehicles, or shredding any of my units), and a second Knight kitted out for close combat with two massive chainsaw arms, easily capable of ripping through multiple Sororitas units in a single turn (as I discovered to my chagrin). Accompanying were four of the smaller Armiger types, two with close combat gear, and two with heavy weapons of various sorts.

As “Gabe” said with a sort of practiced cheeriness, this was his ‘non-competitive’ list. Apparently, he was trying his hand at a narrative campaign, rather than the competitive tournaments he typically signed up for.

Now if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to go on a bit of a tangent here. Back in the day, I used to play a lot of 40K, so as a result, I’ve faced a lot of “bad” gamers. That’s pretty much inevitable when you play a ton of pick-up games, and I also played competitive 40K for a good span of years. When prizes and money are on the line, well… you get some unsavory behavior. 

For example, I remember facing a very friendly Ork player (and his wife, who was effectively his ‘co-player’ at the table) at a tournament in North Carolina, and they comprehensively tabled my forces. Then I realized well after the fact — when writing up the game for a battle-report — that they’d brought waaaaay too many points of Orks to the tabletop. That certainly explains why they only had “just the one copy” of his army list and didn’t have any extras to give to opponents… or the tournament organizer. I suppose that’s one way to win a bunch of store credit.

I also remember facing a fast-talking Eldar player at a tournament in Pennsylvania. He consistently kept moving an extra base width or two with each model when shifting his Aspect Warriors around the table-top. Against my close-combat oriented Tyranid army, that meant an extra turn or two of Eldar firepower before I could catch up and get into close combat, and along with a few shenanigans with the number of dice he kept rolling (and quickly picking up the “misses”), he managed the slight victory. 

However, I had the great satisfaction of telling one of my friends at the event (a very talented gamer named Wilson, who I’ll name drop later in my NovaCon diaries here) to watch out for this nonsense, and Wilson ended up tabling the dude and winning the tournament. So, almost instant karma, very satisfying.

That moment when you realize that “C” is incorrect

Point being, I’ve generally enjoyed the game itself, even when facing rogues and sharps. But there is a single game that stands out in my memory as the very worst game of 40K I’ve ever played. It was about two decades ago, I was at a tournament in Maryland, my opponent (playing Dark Angels, I believe, not that it really matters) was blatantly cheating, and the tournament organizer was utterly uninterested in doing anything about it. A totally hands-off, “deal with it yourself” libertarian philosophy in refereeing.  

At the time, I was very familiar with the 40K ruleset, and so given the guidelines that had been laid down (“do whatever you want”), I subsequently completely cheesed every single rule in the book, taking every one of them in this “Perfectly Balanced” wargame to the (absurd) breaking point. 

I mean nonsense like driving vehicles up onto the tops of forests for better LOS, playing shenanigans with unit coherency rules in order to get better arcs of fire… or sling-shotting back-line models to the front of a unit for extra inches of range, that sort of thing. I also contested every remotely sketchy thing my opponent tried to do and forced him to justify it in the rules. 

And finally, for the remainder of the game I “soft rolled” the dice, just gently flipping them onto the table. It’s the sort of thing that would get you banned from Vegas or Atlantic City in a heartbeat, but some gamer friends of mine had shown me how to do it. My opponent still was cheating like crazy, but I made certain that he didn’t enjoy a minute of the game… and ultimately, I beat his slimy ass and knocked him out of the standings for contention.

The ironic twist is this: the cheater spent the rest of the tournament griping to his friendship cohort about what had happened… and one of those friends not only won the whole kit-and-kaboodle with a notorious and hyper-optimized “leaf-blower” Astra Militarum (Imperial Guard) list, but a year or two later became one of the founders of the Nova Open. Strange how things in life seem to all connect together.

At any rate, I bring this all up because even though I WON that game, even though I had my complete vengeance on a cheater, even though I was a much angrier and more competitive person at the time and thus willing to indulge myself in such a way, I still recall the entire experience as utterly awful… not because the guy was a cheater, but because the entirety of my interaction with him was just relentlessly antagonistic for the entire game.

This match against “Gabe” reminded me of that long-ago memory within minutes of our meeting. During the set-up phase, he contested every single unit placement I made. Readers, I’m not exaggerating – “Gabe” wanted me to defend the placement of EVERY. SINGLE. UNIT. I. DEPLOYED. 

He wanted me to cite the specific mission criteria or unit ability that allowed me to deploy in specific locations. He wanted precision measuring, and twice (!!) checked my deployment setups, even though I habitually deploy slightly behind the limit of a deployment zone, because I know how math works (in short, unless my opponent is hyperaggressive or an idiot and sets up his units exactly on, or slightly past, his deployment limit, effectively giving me an extra “inch” of movement in the process – unless he does that, there’s no real game difference between being short by 0.01 inches or being short by 0.99 inches on an assault). Plus, and I want to emphasize this, my Sisters of Battle are NOT AN ASSAULT ARMY.

The LEFT side of pink dice mark the leftmost edge of my deployment zone. I know because I was lucky enough to measure five or six or A DOZEN separate times.

After over twenty minutes of this utter misery (still in the setup phase!), “Gabe” suddenly decided that the objectives described in the mission were not actually the objectives that should be used. He brought this up after I made a Scout move with a unit (which I had to defend as legal, including showing him the wording of the tournament special reward that enabled this) in order to place them inside the PRIMARY OBJECTIVE building in the center of the board, at the start of the game.

So, let us review the ways in which “Gabe” was being, to use some historical terms, a scoundrel, a scalawag, and a sleiveen.

(a) “Gabe” didn’t bring up this issue at any point prior, including the period in the game when he was aggressively contesting EVERY PART of my deployment and insisting on careful determination of which were the “deployment zone” objectives and which were not. So, he had basically decided that his interpretation was Correct, and that he didn’t need to confer or confirm this because why would my input be necessary?

(b) His “logic”, such as it was, was based on a fallacious assumption. “Gabe” had seen the six red circles on the table, he was used to competitive 40K games with equidistant objectives that are clearly marked by such red circles, and had ASSUMED – and I want to make it crystal clear that this was purely an assumption on his part – that this strictly non-competitive narrative game, which has MULTIPLE tables with unconventional rules – would not have an objective that wasn’t clearly marked with a red circle.

See all the red circles? It really seems like they’re orbiting something.

(c) Plus, the damn thing was literally called an objective in the mission rules. His “logic” here was that an objective cannot simultaneously be a planetary and battlefield objective, which are different categories. This, despite the fact that many of the tables in this event happily mixed the two, including LITERALLY THE TABLE NEXT TO US which was an obvious and clear counter-example (As well as my Game 2 the prior day, not that my prior experience to the contrary was at all convincing to him).

(d) “Gabe’s” argument, such as it was, was that he would have set up differently had he known. This is (to put it bluntly) a shameless appeal to the other person’s innate sense of charity, cooperation, and humanity. I proved his insincerity by offering to start the entire deployment phase over, so that “Gabe” could modify his existing deployment to take advantage of this knowledge… and emphasizing that my deployment wasn’t going to change, so he could effectively redeploy unilaterally. 

Keep in mind that Gabe has a grand total of SIX MODELS in his entire list – seven if you include the non-combatant bonus model for the battlefield mission. That’s seven total models. Just seven. But accepting my offer would have meant that “Gabe” was also accepting that his ‘interpretation’ was incorrect. Instead, he declined, stating that redoing ONLY his own deployment would take too much extra time.

(e) Then he wanted to bring over one of the team captains to rule on this “ambiguity”. And when the team captain subsequently confirmed my interpretation, “Gabe” then wanted to move up the chain to grab a tournament organizer to get an overriding ruling.

The approximate expression on my face at this point

At that point, I stopped this nonsense and said, more or less verbatim, “Gabe, this is already the worst game of 40K I’ve played all weekend, and possibly one of the worst games I’ve ever played in my life. I’m here for fun and for spectacle, that’s why I chose to play in the narrative campaign. I’m happy to settle this stupid fight right here with a dice roll: high, I’m right, low, you’re right. But if you keep pulling this shit, I’m done. You win, you get all the points, congratulations, I’m going to pack my miniatures and leave.”

That surprised him. Apparently, “Gabe” does not see himself as a bad gamer. He clearly takes pride in the fact that he is a sportsmanlike, competition tournament gamer. This is his entire self-image. He spent the rest of the game working very hard to convince me of this, sharing anecdotes about his personal life (including his relationship status), about his career (he’s a young prosecutor; giant shock), about his time playing 40K games (he picked it up during Covid). 

He became very conspicuously helpful about explaining 9e and 10e changes to the rules for an old grognard like me that hadn’t played since 7e (and hadn’t been a regular gamer since 5e). He showed me his Instagram, full of very cool miniatures conversions, and asked me to share the photos I took of this game.

The picture of innocence!

Gentle reader, it was very blatant. And yes, as an educator that works with grades- obsessed teenagers, I may have learned to be inherently wary of people who try to suck up to me. But the positive takeaway was that “Gabe” did at least tone things down from there, and we did end up having a fairly competitive game.

But for those of you who believe in the redemptive power of forgiveness, I want to add three additional points of emphasis:

(f) After his come-to-Jesus moment, “Gabe” still wanted me to roll that die to see whether that central objective really did count as an objective. And was not interested in extending me the same courtesy of redeploying my units if my ‘interpretation’ turned out to be ‘incorrect’. C’mon, man.

(g) When helpfully walking me through the 10e rules, “Gabe” still defaulted to assumptions (for example, about terrain type, or about unit design of my own forces) that inherently benefited his army. He would then affirm that there were alternative interpretations that were less beneficial for him only AFTER I looked up the rules on my own and read them. Seriously, dude.

(h) “Gabe” offered to exchange pictures from the game, as well as share his Instagram handle, which I offered to include in the writeup here. Instead, after getting copies of my photos of the game, he ghosted me and shared nothing. Shocker.

Younger Me would have spent four hours of gameplay upping the ante. Younger Me would have pulled a Teddy Roosevelt, and simply insisted that “Gabe” prove to me that I could NOT do a thing by the letter of the rules… and then challenged his understandings and assumptions, pointed out the logical fallacies, and at the very least force him to constantly roll a die just to finalize any interpretation of even the most basic rules. Younger Me would have responded by making sure that “Gabe” had an absolutely miserable experience, possibly one that forever seared itself into his memory. 

Current Me remembers that I did that once in my life already, and that it was the opposite of fun.

The game itself was pretty straight-forward: that’s what happens when your opponent has just five (combatant) models, and most of your weapons struggle to damage any of them. Fortunately, I had loaded up on meltas the night before for this revised “Enduring Exorcist” Mandate. And the dice gods apparently felt that a little karmic retribution was in order, because I won the initiative for the first turn.

I promptly moved up with all units (including my Warlord and his retinue, who immediately jumped into the central objective) and blew away one of his close-combat Armigers with long-ranged Exorcist fire, putting significant damage onto the second. I was much more concerned (rightly, as I soon found out) about the damage that could be inflicted on my forces by melee Giant Robos than the shooty ones.

Chaos Knights advancing toward the central “objective”

“Gabe” then took his first turn, and tried to blast both my Exorcists to oblivion, but his Armigers simply didn’t have the height to see my low-profile tanks over the various ruins. Instead, he split fire with his Warlord Knight, and failed to take out either Exorcist for a few turns  (I kept rolling quite well on Invulnerable Saves). He did manage to wipe out a half a squad of Dominions on foot, but naturally that left all my meltaguns in that unit intact and ready to run up on him. 

Ultimately, “Gabe” moved forward cautiously with all his walkers, and poured the bulk of his short-range firepower into my Warlord, while I huddled down in the objective with his retinue (and his pet Ork Warboss!) and weathered the storm. Mostly.

Then I moved forward with multiple units full of meltaguns, and started dropping Armigers. I blew up two more in my second turn, with help from my Seraphim with melta pistols dropping down from above, and badly damaged the last Armiger (long-ranged) with massed bolter fire. In return, “Gabe” shredded two units of Sororitas. I mostly ignored the two Knights until Turn Three, while “Gabe” put the majority of his focus on my Exorcists, the only units in my list with long-range firepower, and continued to fail to destroy either (“Faith in the Emperor!”). Brilliant spectacle – exactly what I was looking for in a narrative wargame!

In the fourth turn, I surrounded his Warlord Knight with multiple meltagun-toting units, and with supporting Exorcist missiles, managed to burn through most of its armor, but all the protective fields and reroll shenanigans left the bastard with three remaining Wounds. But no problem – Inquisitor Powers and his retinue charged into melee, and the Powerklaw on the Ork Megaboss did just enough damage to bring the Exitium Morbidum crashing to the ground! Glorious spectacle – exactly what I was looking for in a narrative wargame!

That is an EX-Exorcist

“Gabe” had sprinted his other Knight past the center objective, and charged into one Exorcist on the bottom of Turn Four, tearing it apart with his giant chainsaw arms, and then carving through multiple units of Sisters that tried to lock him up in close combat at the top of Turn Five.

Those giant chainsaw arms are going to cut through the Novitiates like a hot knife through butter

Pro tip: units of T3 humans absolutely cannot tie up a close-combat Chaos Knight in melee. The double-chainsaw Giant Robo threw out an astronomical number of melee attacks and hit with ‘merely’ 16 on that particular turn, rerolling wounds and easily ripping through 15 Sisters of Battle (granted, mostly Novitiates, but with that AP there wasn’t much difference between them and Battle Sisters) in a single Fight Phase without breaking a sweat. Gruesome spectacle – exactly what I was looking for in a narrative wargame!


In the bottom of the fifth turn, the Chainsaw Knight charged into the central objective building and went to town on my Warlord (Inquisitor Powers) and the Battle Sisters retinue. To everyone’s surprise, the Ork Megaboss somehow survived the carnage with just a Wound left, and fled from the scene. My NPC “data specialist” model managed to skedaddle as well, so I think of it as the Ork taking it on himself to escort the “Little Guy” to safety. As a result of them getting out safely, that meant that the final score turned out:

Planetary Objectives: I won on objectives, simply because I had more models that could hold objectives, and had done so for longer. I had been a bit surprised that “Gabe” had failed to contest or claim multiple objectives with his giant-base robots (he had in fact advanced very cautiously up his right flank, instead of sprinting forward with Armigers to immediately contest the objectives on my left flank with his six OC bots). When I pointed out he could do this halfway through the game (the issue arose because he was “concerned” about my Battle Sisters doing so in order to maximize Miracle generation), I learned that competitive tournament-playing “Gabe” had not realized he could do this. *facepalm*

Battle Objectives: I had held the central objective and data-mined it thoroughly for three turns (turns two through four), with my NPC model successfully escaping to safety, giving me 45 total points here. “Gabe” had prevented me from data-mining for a fourth time (through to Turn Five), but had failed to kill the NPC specialist model, and with the game ending in five turns, was not able to earn any points in this category at all.

Campaign Objective: I had killed a grand total of five models. Five. So I maxed out at 10 points here, while “Gabe” had merrily ripped through sliiiiiiightly more units. He had taken this one.

So in the end, a “split decision!” That said, I was moderately impressed at just how well the Sisters had done against an army of giant stompy robots. I had expected a more one-sided mauling, but the mobility and firepower of melta sisters (particularly in transports) is quite formidable! 

I suspect the melta-equipped option is the most reliable general-purpose load out in most 40K games, simply because they can put down vehicles and monsters and T4 BolterBoys more effectively than torrent flamers can. Shame, because I do like the burnination!

And with that, a game that explicitly was NOT the worst 40K game I had ever played, came to an end. I was hoping that the rest of the day would go a bit better. Come back next time, and I’ll tell you about it.