Monday, 16 September 2013
Warning, Rant Ahead - 40k Throne of Skulls Review
Last weekend I attended my first ever Throne of Skulls tournament at Warhammer World. This was my first tournament of any kind since 6th edition was released, and my first ever Throne of Skulls, so I thought I would write a review of what I thought of Games Workshop's flagship events, with a few additional related thoughts. I will split it into two parts, the event itself, and then the players attending it.
Firstly, I have to say that the event itself was extremely well run. The staff were fun, well informed, professional, and actually knew the damn rules. In short, everything you would expect from organisers at an event run by a company the size of Games Workshop, but given who we are discussing here I was still pleasantly surprised. The venue and tables were of course beautiful, and although a few tables were a little lacking in the LoS blocking department, it wasn't too bad and no table was completely unbalanced. The missions and deployments were straight from the rulebook so everyone knew what they were doing. Nice and uncomplicated, which is perfectly fine. The food was ok as ever, and the Quiz in Bugmans Bar on Saturday evening was a lot of fun. Accordingly, I have to preface the following essay (read, rant) with the following statement: I did actually have a very good time overall.
However, there are many, many minus points about this event that need to be mentioned. I know winning isn't everything, but do think the title of Grand Champion' should at least reflect who actually performed the best. Therefore I have to go over the much discussed topic of the scoring system with the new advent of 6th edition in mind. When the current format of the these tournaments came into practice a few years ago there was a major outcry over the scoring system. This is because it is possible (and in fact probable) that the player with the most wins and/or points will not win the event. The overall winner is the player who beats the other players using his codex by the greatest margin, so if there are only 3 Dark Eldar players and two lose every game, then the other one has a very, very high chance of winning if her wins several of his, despite a Tyranid player winning all 5 of his games, and all other Tyranid players winning 3 or 4 of theirs. Yes really.
This was the case last weekend, with a player who had 18 points losing to someone with 17. The player that won was using Orks, as were seven other people, but he was the only one to win more than one or two games and therefore his average difference was massive. The guy who got 18 points won more games, but had less of a difference between the other players using the same army, so he lost out. This was bad enough in 5th edition where there were no allies to skew the stats, but now it us just criminal. As we all know, many armies only function due to their allied contingent, so to award the winner based only on how well they have done with their primary codex is absurd.
Added to this farce is the fact that the pairings are completely random. I was playing as Imperial Guard and on the first day I faced two tragically unoptimised Ork lists and an equally bad Space Marine list, and I only lost 3 tanks and a squad of veterans all day, wiping out every one of my opponents. None of said opponents won a single game that day (I made a point to ask them all). How in God's name is this fun for anyone? It certainly wasn't fun for me, I learned little, I literally pointed and clicked and stuff died. I imagine it was even less fun for the guys I was playing, as they each faced things like Wave Serpent Spam and Deamon Monstrous Creature lists against which they stood no chance at all.
Finally, the price. £60 for five games over two days? Most events charge £30 maximum, often for 6 games. Enough said really.
My point, in a nutshell, is that anything has to be better than this.
The most interesting and disappointing thing for me about the Throne of Skulls was the quality of the attendees. I mean this in several different senses, made into subheadings below.
Hardcore Nerdiness, and all that entails (BO, lack of social skills)
This is going to come off with me sounding like an arsehole but I don't care, It really was that bad. At most independent tournaments there is a hardcore nerd or two. You know, the guy who gets in your face and tells you about their Ork Squig Hound and his attempts to eat a Bloodthirster and what would have happened if he had managed to do so and the deamon that may have been spawned in the warp as a result and how Draigo would never have been able to kill it and on and on and on, and then just will. not. go. away. no matter how obvious you make it that you are not listening. Quite often this person will smell very bad, and follow you around after your game like a limpet. At the Throne of Skulls I estimate that between one 1/3 and 1/2 of all attendees were this guy to a greater or lesser extent.
Maturity both in age and outlook
Now on this one I am prepared to concede that I should have seen it coming, based on the target audience of Games Workshop over recent years. Somewhat linked to the above was the general age and maturity of the players. I attended with a group of late 20's/early 30's guys from my local store in London, and I expected the usual age range of similar to slightly older guys with a smattering of teenagers and 50+'s. Nope. At least 50% were under 23 by my estimation, and as such they were much less mature than I am used to. Even the older guys tended to fall into the nerdy category above. Me and my mates felt a little out of place.
Lack of Rules Knowledge
The lack of rules knowledge was startling. Prior to the tournament I had played perhaps a total of 8 or 9 games of 6th edition since it dropped. I asked each of my opponents during the game how often they played and they all said at least once a week for the last several years. Despite this, I found myself teaching three of them several vital aspects of the game, and correcting them on many, many minor rules. I will admit that the two guys who really did know the rules corrected me on a few things, but as I said, I have barely played. I just found this a little surprising after playing at several independent tournaments where every single opponent knew every single rule to the letter.
In my third game I faced a Salamanders player who quite honestly, was a cheat. I also saw at least five examples of cheating throughout the rest of the weekend. My buddy, who is quite new to the game, got screwed out of two victories because of people deliberately playing a rule incorrectly, and then refusing to look it up when he asked if it was right. Should he have pushed them harder? yes. But he shouldn't need to. I wouldn't let the Salamanders player get away with anything, and it resulted in a very unpleasant game, which ended in him conceding on turn 4 and walking off.
Now, I don't know whether to attribute this trend to the age of the players, the crappiness of the written rules, the lack of referees wandering around, or all or none of the above. What I do know is that I have never experienced this before anywhere. Not at a store, at a tournament or at a club, and I was pretty shocked.
Appalling Overall Army Quality
This might be a personal thing, but the quality of army's was pretty bad. There were obviously some stunning exceptions, but the general level of modelling and painting was tragic. In fairness, the age of the players may have a lot to do with this, because my armies were nothing to look at when i was 18-23 years old either. Once again, it just surprised me. Incidentally, this also applies to list quality as there were very few top flight lists in attendance.
My summary, in case you were in any doubt at all, is do not go to a Throne of Skulls event, ever. While the intentions of the organisers are clearly good, the result is less than impressive. The depth of the fanboyism was depressing, as I listened to people filling in their feedback forms at the end. Talk of 'excellent' and 'no way they could ever improve this' were everywhere. I will leave you with the harrowing thought that when I mentioned that I used to regularly attend tournaments all over the country, I was met with replies of 'really? there are other tournaments out there', no less than seven times, and only one other person knew there were other tabletop games out there. Games Workshop clearly has its audience and it isn't letting go of them any time soon.