The Fabulous Orcboy’s NovaCon 2023 Diary (Part 7)

  • 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
  • Read Part 6 here

My fifth (and ultimately, it turned out, final) game of the NovaCon weekend was a bit of a barnburner. “Jack” (not his real name), a vociferous veteran with a strong Irish brogue, was looking to put together a megabattle, having failed to do so over multiple rounds of narrative gameplay thus far. For some reason, “Jack” was having trouble convincing any of his team-mates to take up the offer, although “Jack” had half-convinced two Ork players from the opposing team to face him. Ever open to a bit more spectacle, I cheerfully volunteered to participate, switching to a different Saltus Praetus (“save the planet”) team temporarily and helping “Jack” out.

Game Five (4000 pts Megabattle)

Opponents: Ben & Keegan (Orks)

Ally: “Jack” (Adeptus Mechanicus)

My List: Pious Celebrant Mandate (Inquisitor+Sisters+Immolator, 2x Sisters, 3x Novitiates, 2x Seraphim, 2x Dominions+Immolators, 3x Exorcists, Dialogus accompanying a Dominion)

Table: Ignotix Prime – Unknown Hab Block

Planetary Objectives: Five zones spaced equidistantly

Battlefield Objective: Three characters on each side count as “rally points.” Each player gains points during their turn and their opponent’s turn. On your turn, gain +2 BV per enemy unit that was destroyed when they were outside 5″ (or 7″ for Warlord) of a “rally point.” On your opponent’s turn, gain +1 BV per enemy OC (the stat for the unit, not combined OC of all individual models) that is outside 5″/7″ of a “rally point.” Side with most OC (calculated normally) within “rally point” range at end of game gets bonus +15 BV. Side who wins the battle gains one bonus campaign honor of their choice for one of their three “rally point” characters, or their retinues. If all three “rally point” characters died, the honor is still gained, but is generated randomly for one of the three characters of winner’s choice.

Campaign Objective: At end of your movement phase, if you control no-man’s land objective and at least one home-side objective, gain +5 VP

It turned out that Keegan, my opponent from the second day (and third game) of the campaign, was one of the two Ork players we were facing. The other was a young, high-energy, and fast-talking fellow named Ben, and although it would probably have been wiser to field 1500 point lists, or even pared-down 1000 point lists, “Jack” was raring for a massive megabattle of 2000 points per player, putting 4000 points of models on each side of the table. Ultimately, the rest of us agreed to the points total and began setting up models for the game.

At this point, I began to rather quickly realize four things: FIRST, the scenario didn’t readily allow multiple Warlords per side, so we decided to treat one as the primary Warlord, to make the second player’s HQ unit a secondary lieutenant, and then a third character model from each side’s shared lists was nominated to be the third lieutenant.

The Imperial side included the swarms of Sororitas in my 2000-point, the same Mandate I had already used once (against Chaos Marines), full of flamers and a ton of T3 bodies.  I anticipated they would do somewhat better against Orks, especially with several games of practice in 10e, and especially with “Jack’s” Adeptus Mechanicus list as a backup.  And that Mechanicus list, dear reader, was elite beyond elite.

On the left flank was an Adeptus Knight, packed to the gills with long-range firepower. At its feet were my Inquisitor (demoted from Warlord to Lieutenant), along with two units of Novitiates and two half-squads of Dominions.

On the right flank was a second Adeptus Knight, packed to the gills with long-range firepower, and promoted to Lieutenant. At its feet were a pair of Exorcists, a unit of Battle Sisters, and two handfuls of Seraphim – by far the most vulnerable of our flanks to an all-out Ork assault.

Mucho dakka. Molto big badda-boom.

However, the center also featured two Immolators with half-squads of Dominions, able to rush to the right as reinforcements. Also in the center were a unit of Novitiates and a unit of Battle Sisters, all as an infantry screen for two very firepower-heavy units of four Kastelan Robots, led by an Adeptus Warlord (some fellow named “Cawl”) that bestowed crazy shooting shenanigans to the Kastelans.

In all, this was a team-up made in wargaming heaven: the Adeptus Mechanicus were hyper-specialized long-range elites, while my Sororitas were a model-heavy swarm of short-range combatants; I could keep Ork Boyz from tying up long-ranged Mechanicus units, while “Jack’s” big stompy robots could blast enemies to pieces from the back lines. Plus, the Sisters are small enough models that the infantry (and many of the vehicles) could easily stay within range of our Character Objectives and readily deny our opponents Battlefield victory points.

Opposing us were Ben and Keegan, who had between them:

  • 4 big units of Beastboyz
  • 6 units of Slugga Boys, two in Trukks
  • 2 big units of Rokkit Deffkoptas
  • 2 unit of six Meganobz on foot
  • 1 unit of Nobz in a Battlewagon
  • 1 battery of Grot Artillery
  • 1 big mob of Grots
  • 1 Ork Boss on Carnosaur (also chosen to be a character objective)
  • 1 Ork Runtherd secondary Warlord, with Grot retinue
  • 1 Ork Warboss primary Warlord, with Nobs, on Battlewagon
So many Orks, they’re almost literally base-to-base through the entire deployment zone

This is when I realized a SECOND thing: that unless the Orks won the roll-off for the first turn, they would be at a massive disadvantage in this game. The 4000 points of Orks were completely packed into the far side of the table, packed so tightly that many of the Ork units were strung out in very vulnerable lines in order to start the game within range of the Character Objectives… massively hampering their mobility (due to unit coherency rules). Several units simply had to start outside of range of their Character Objectives, thus providing constant Victory Points (juicy!) to the Imperials on every turn… and even more if we were to destroy those models outside of objective range!

The Orks’ major hope would be to rush across the table and tear through the Sisters and Adeptus Robots, killing our characters as quickly as possible in order to start generating Battlefield Victory Points – otherwise, even were they to capture Planetary and Campaign Objectives (as noted above) in the process, they could at best have a split decision in this megabattle.

That’s the amount of table the Orks would have to rush across. Pain.

Happily for everyone at the table, none of the four of us were terribly concerned about going for a three-part sweep in objective victories, but were instead much more intrigued by the idea of a megabattle face-off. And, if the Orks were to win the initiative roll and take the first turn, things would indeed be very touch-and-go for the Imperials, who were likely to struggle mightily trying to stem the tide of Orks as they rolled through our lines.

However, “Jack” then proceeded to win the dice-off for initiative, and with the mass of combined Imperial firepower getting first licks, it was clear how this battle was going to go. At that time, I came to my THIRD realization, that our collective decision to share army special rules across the allied forces (this had been proposed by the Orks, who wanted to be able to WAAAGH! twice in the battle) was giving the Imperials truly gruesome firepower. Did you know that Miracle dice are even more disgusting when being used to amplify the firepower of an Adeptus Knight?

There WERE nearly 1000 points of Orks in that open space there.

Even before the Orks had their first turn, the Imperials basically erased all of the Deffkoptas (most of the Ork anti-Knight weaponry) and Grot Artillery – basically all the long-ranged heavy firepower fielded by the Orks – and also blew a massive hole into the Ork lines. 

As a result, the Orks had very little response, apart from moving forward at top speed… which meant that even more units slipped out of range of their Character Objectives (more points for Imperials!). At which point, the Imperials had another Shooting Phase to blow through yet another huge chunk of the combined Ork forces, who were forced to use a defensive WAAAGH! just to try and keep more Ork bodies on the table.

But even before the first game turn had finished, I came to my FOURTH realization – that this game wasn’t just going to be a lopsided Ork loss, but also one of the least fun games I played this weekend. Note that while my prior game with “Gabe” was an unfortunate case of a bad opponent, the actual game ended up being modestly entertaining, just in terms of the grand spectacle of my T3 humans being ripped to shreds as they frantically blew pieces as quickly as possible off Giant Stompy Robots. I had hoped that this megabattle would be a similarly entertaining spectacle….

… but what I had not counted on was how aggressively my team-mate “Jack” was planning to live down to the stereotype of the drunk Irish boozer. He was already quite tipsy by the start of the game, and continued drinking heavily for the next few hours. And, as “Jack” got more and more bombed, he also became less and less able to follow what was happening in the game itself, and more and more belligerent when challenged about anything (including just being asked to repeat what he had incoherently mumbled).

Keegan, who impressed me all weekend with his calm equanimity, was looking increasingly non-plussed as “Jack” ranted threats and issued screwball challenges in equal measure. Ben seemed like a perfectly pleasant young man, but grew more and more frustrated with “Jack’s” dipso intransigence as the game continued, and would take sizable breaks away from the table in order to avoid getting into (meaningless) arguments with a plastered sot.

That moment when you realize that YOU’RE the jerk

I found myself playing peacemaker more often than playing 40K – and given how blasted “Jack” was, I was more or less playing his units as well, with “Jack” simply doing the work of dice-rolling… which I then had to interpret and pass on the results of to the Ork players. And, given that I didn’t know what Adeptus units were capable of, this frequently required interrogating an easily distracted, soused Irishman to provide the details. On top of that, there was the very one-sided thrashing of the Ork forces, as a result of 40K’s “I-Go-You-Go” structure. Combine all these issues, and you have a recipe for a relatively Un-Fun mess.

The Orks finally had a chance to deal a little destruction on the bottom of the second turn – Ben smashed his two Battlewagons into my lines, and shredded some Battle Sisters in the process. One Battlewagon was subsequently blown to pieces by a nearby Adeptus Knight, with the surviving Warboss Warlord and Nob retinue roasted to a crisp by Seraphim and Novitiates… although not before dragging down another unit of Sisters in the process.

“Now I got the slugga, you got the brew
“You got two choices of what you can do
It’s not a tough decision as you can see
I can blow you away or you can WAAAGH with me!”

The other Battlewagon punched a hole into our left flank, scattering Novitiates and half-squads of Dominions as a pack of Beastie Boyz rode a WAAAGH-fueled assault (with some Stratagem Shenanigans) into the scrum. The Orks easily weathered the overwatch firepower of one Adeptus Knight and a few flamers, and merrily tore through Sisters with gusto. 

This kept everyone nicely distracted while the Big Tyrannork-Saurus Boss sprinted around the mass of Sororitas in order to jump directly onto the hapless Inquisitor Powers. Two bites later, and the Orks had taken down their first Character Objective, and nabbed a whole mess of Battlefield Objective points in the process from the Sisters units being slaughtered nearby.

The center flank remained largely intact, however – even when assaulted by Nobz (out of the nearby Battlewagon) and Meganobz. Turns out, Kastelan Robots can punch things really hard, and Nobz and Meganobz explode quite thoroughly when a S12 robot fist hits them, particularly when there are all sorts of reroll shenanigans involved because of a nearby character. Suffice to say, the Imperial center did incredible damage to the Orks, and handily captured the sole no-man’s land objective, in the middle of the board.

The game did speed up considerably as fewer and fewer Ork (and Sisters) models remained on the table… and as I better understood the Kastellan dataslate and what their firepower was capable of doing to fungoid Orky bodies. But in entirely unsurprising fashion, we mercifully ran short of time (nearly four hours of gameplay!) after just three turns of megabattle.

Final Results

Planetary Objectives: Although the Imperials had wiped out the Orkish left flank, the Orks in return had completely destroyed the Imperial forces on our left flank. However, the Kastelan Ball of Death had handily capture the sole no-man’s land objective in Turn 2, and projected over a five-turn game, that meant that the Imperials would have claimed more objectives as a result. 

Battlefield: Not even close. Despite collapsing our left flank and killing an Imperial lieutenant, the Orks had lost their Warlord and most of their army. This doesn’t even include the extra points the Imperials gained from Orks being too far away from their objective characters. This was easily a victory (in lopsided fashion) for the Imperials.

Campaign: The Kastelans captured and held the center objective from Turn 2 until the projected end of Turn 5. This one clearly was also an Imperial victory.

So despite a valiant effort by the Orks (and the brutal evisceration of Inquisitor Powers),  the Imperials managed to rather handily sweep all three objective victories in rather brutal fashion – not only losing initiative and handicapped by the ridiculous turn structure of 40K, but also having to face off against a blitzed Gaelic gamer for a solid four hours!

Extremely accurate illustration of “Jack”

And as for me, after getting back to my home-stay in NoVa that evening, I really felt I had run the gamut of gaming experiences in one weekend… and had very little desire to trek back into downtown DC in order to test my luck in terms of opponents and gameplay one more time.

One solidly good game, three that were decent to middling, and one that was actually worster than a total dumpster fire – sadly typical, actually, for a tournament or collection of pick-up games. And to my genuine surprise, I felt no real desire on my part to commute an hour for half-a-day of convention and probably just an “okay” or “bad” game, or risk another dumpster fire… just for a slight 1-in-5 or less chance of a second “good game” (or even a great one). Guess I’m getting old.

Plus, I had honestly had my fill of tasteless T&A jokes about the Sisters of Battle – over the weekend, a grand total of two of my fellow gamers at the table had avoided making such tacky japes, meaning that a full 67% had happily indulged in a lot of readily identifiable casual misogyny and sexism. I didn’t even bother to keep track of the number of passers-by who felt the pressing need to put their bigotry on display, and don’t even get me started on so-called “humor” based on sharing exciting racial stereotypes. 

But more than that, I was reminded of something that my nostalgia had forgotten — that my experiences at this NovaCon were actually UTTERLY TYPICAL: take a look at the cross-tabs below that attempts to categorize a gaming experience as a combination of both quality of game and quality of gamer/opponent.

This is some SCIENCE yo

The outcomes are pretty brutal, and it’s not hard to see why this hobby can be very off-putting for a lot of potential newcomers. Given how wildly uncompetitive 40K games can easily be, simply because of their core rules structure, it’s inherently difficult to have “good” games even if you face nothing but “good” gamers – and if casual sexism or racism bothers you, then “good” gamers are unfortunately rather uncommon in the hobby. And while the ratios for gamer quality are based on my fellow gamers in the NovaCon narrative event weekend, my past experience tells me that gamer quality is roughly as bad as this for pick-up games. 

And as of a decade or more ago, gamer quality in competitive tournament settings tended to be markedly worse if you were someone that regularly had high win-loss ratios… while the “good” gamers with poor tournament win-loss ratios frequently fielded less competitive lists, which were inherently less exciting to play against if you were a competitive gamer with a streamlined or optimized army. 

I suppose it is possible (though very unlikely) that competitive tournaments are now attracting a more diverse (= less bigoted) and more genial collection of ragamuffins who don’t allow their cut-throat competitiveness to spoil their opponent’s gaming experience…

I know that younger me (as with many competitive tournament gamers) considered “wins” to more than make up for a boring curb-stomp (depressingly common given 40K’s poor game design), or a bad and/or bigoted opponent (the latter depressingly common given 40K’s monolithic gamer demographics – demographics which seem to be getting more extreme), but “wins” are not something that motivate me as much anymore. 

And absent that thumb on the scales (or alternately, I suppose, a willingness to simply overlook flawed game design or opponent bigotry), there’s just too many “bad apples” combined with wildly uncompetitive match-ups in 40K to make pick-up games and tournament settings worthwhile anymore. Casual or narrative gaming with a select group of existing friends, or in a curated club setting, sure – but as may gamers can tell you, having a regular crew or club is something that comes with its own separate challenges.

Ultimately, I discovered that I’d jumped back into 40K gaming and enjoyed a month of nostalgia while doing the modeling and painting bits, until I was rudely shocked back to reality by a few days of actual gaming. In fact, three days with Real Life Gamers (TM) had taken my 40K itch and buried it in a shallow grave in the back forty. What a sad and foreign sensation, to enjoy the process and anticipation and planning, but then end the actual gaming event aggressively uninspired… and without a flicker of newfound fire and passion for the hobby.

Hit this link to read Ken’s thoughts on 10th Edition, and the 40K hobby as a whole.