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Monday, April 26, 2010

Can Small Games Be Fun?

As promised, I'm going to continue to bring some positivity to your Mondays. Mostly this has, so far, taken the form of me pointing you towards blogs that are better than this one, but today I'll be defending an oft shat upon topic: the low points game. A lot of people out there decry any game of less than 1,500 (sometimes even 1,750 or 1,850) points as "not Warhammer." They see it like the WNBA- all the fundamentals are there, but it just isn't exciting. Well, I'm calling bullshit on that.

This weekend, as I mentioned in a previous post, I had a bunch of friends over for some basement throw downs. Everyone was told to bring a 1750 point list and we'd randomly pair off for games. I got matched up with Evan (our resident CSM fan- PS Evan, go snag a Blood Angels Codex, you'll love it) and I was playing my Tyranids list that I'm still testing (found elsewhere on this blog). That game ended in a pretty solid draw and I learned that sometimes even with Hive Commander backing them up, a unit of your Spore borne Zoanthropes won't show up until turn 4 or 5 (fuck you probability). Had the game not ended on turn 5, I think I could have pulled out the win, but Evan was able to tie a couple of things up in CC, preventing them contesting a vital objective. So the game ended with an unsatisfying, hard fought draw. As we played it in record time and had nothing better to do, we decided to play another game, this time at 1,000 points. We figured that we had about an hour or so to play after drawing up lists so the low points would be perfect.

Having less than no clue how I would approach low points Tyranids, I switched out to my regular army of choice, the IG to speed up the list building process. With the amount of variety in their codex, you can have some pretty fun forces, even at low points levels. My list wound up looking something like this:

CCS- power weapon, 4x melta, Chimera
Psyker Battle Squad- 6x Psykers, Chimera
Vets- 3x Melta, Chimera
Vets- 3x Melta, Chimera
Sentinel Squadron- 2 w/ autocannons
Sentinel Squadron- 2 w/ autocannons
Sentinel Squadron- 2 w/ autocannons

So yeah, I was able to fit 11 vehicles into a 1,000 point game. I am kind of an asshole, though. Have I ever mentioned that vehicles give me a boner? If I had it to do all over again, though, I would have dropped the Manticore and power weapon (there to fill up a 10 point hole in my list) in favor of a Demolisher. Partly because we were playing on a 4x4 board and partly because the front armor would have proved nigh on indestructible in a small game.

Evan wound up running 3 small Plague marine Squads, 2 Defilers, and a Terminator squad led by a lash dude.

Well, right off the bat I think we can dispel an easy myth about 1,000 point lists. Most argue that in small games losing a "vital" unit will crush your game plan. Comebacks aren't possible. So you can't build a flexible list? Well see above, both of us had plenty of duality smashed into every unit we took, and not just by copy/pasting of the same units over and over. Just about every unit has the ability to deal with armor and Infantry. If you lose one unit, another one of your choices should be able to do whatever needs doing. Scoring units were on the light side, but that's pretty much unavoidable.

The game wound up being a blast, and proved everything I said in a previous post about not putting all of your faith into statistics. At one point 5 veteran guardsmen held off a pair of Terminators for 3 turns in CC, even managing to kill one. This proved to be a decisive move for Evan. Even though those 5 vets should have all been killed or broken, the assault still tied up one of my units that could have contested a game winning objective.

Our favorite moment of the game will stick with me for a long time, I think. We were playing on my desert board, which features a very silty river modeled into it. Usually this gets ignored for most of the game, but I placed my objective in a bad spot for everyone, forcing river crossings for everyone to get at it. Not a big problem for me, as Chimerae are amphibious, but it was a little out of the way to get to nonetheless. To make things interesting we always play that the river is dangerous terrain that inflicts instant death. This will turn out to be an extremely important decision. On turn 4 Evan was holding an objective with a pair of Plague marines and I had the other objective with a Vet Squad in a Chimera. My CCS guns their Chimera across the river, just contesting Evan's objective. The objective holding Marines open fire with their plasma guns on my Chimera, wrecking it. As I went to disembark my troops from the ruined APC, we realized the I had left the ass end hanging over the river. Chavez, veteran melta gunner and no fan of authority, managed to push Colonel Higgins off the ramp first in the rush to vacate the burning transport, where he quickly became entangled and drowned. Using the Colonel's floating body as support, the rest of the melta gunners were able to climb to safety, only to be gunned down by the remnants of Evan's other Plague marines on a nearby bridge. Talk about rock and a hard place. So if you're keeping track, Evan was able to shut down 3 different attempts I could have made to claim/contest the game winning objective- Veterans, my Chimera, and the CCS. Sounds like we both had the flexibility needed to make the game interesting until the last moments. Hmm, I thought that was impossible with small lists?

In the interest of keeping this post from running overlong, here are some additional, concise reasons that I like the small game:
  • Time- small games can be played quickly. If you or your gaming buddies don't get many opportunities to play, small games are a great way to fit in 3-4 games in a single afternoon of gaming. This is great because it can help to prevent bruised egos and gets you more experience against a wide array of opponents. If you play twice a month and lose both games you're going to be pretty pissed, right? Well if you can play 4 times in a day chances are you'll be able to pull a win or draw or two. You or your friends will probably feel better about life when this happens.
  • Turning the tables on shit units- we all have some units that are collecting dust on our shelves. Maybe they aren't durable enough or are just too mediocre to perform in a large game. Try them out in a small game, you may be surprised by the results. Evan's defilers, for example get exponentially tougher in small games. For a relatively low cost you're able to get an efficient anti-infantry/light armor platform that is mobile, can assault, and is pretty fucking durable. It also bears mentioning that demonic possession is a bitch to deal with when you are as notorious as I am for getting a ridiculous amount of hits on a vehicle and rolling dozens of shaken/stunned results. My Sentinels proved to be all stars in the low point game as well. Half of them survived and had claimed a Lash sorcerer, Defiler, and several Plague marines as kills throughout the game.
  • Tactical decisions- every decision you make in a small game is amplified. If you like that kind of thing this will be right up your alley. Building an effective list becomes a really frustratingly satisfying endeavor. The low points forces many important decisions as to what you can bring. On the table, you need to plan and react very quickly to be able to claim victory. As mentioned earlier, if you approach it right, losing a unit shouldn't cripple you, but having limited resources means you do need to be a little cautious and have a good idea what you need to do going into the game.
  • Low cost of entry- less points = less models. That means less money spent, less to paint, and less shit to transport. Great for new players and anybody who has trouble moving their army.
There you have it. Give the small game a chance, you might like it. Even if it's still not your style, hopefully you can see that they do have some merit and there are a number of good reasons you might want to play at less than 1,500 points.


Rkik said...

Nice post!

I actually just played in a 1000pt RTT this weekend. It was good fun, and we were able to get 6 games in, while most larger point tournaments we would have only had 3 games.

I will say that as an Eldar player, building a list for 1000 points is tough. It's hard to get a lot of redundancy at that level.

I did a full write-up of the tournament on my blog if you're interested. http://www.meanderingthedunesea.com

Anonymous said...

I like small games.

I love Mordheim.

I like being forced to make choices instead of including one of darn near everything from the codex.

I like pie.

Chumbalaya said...

Interesting post indeed.

I don't like small games because almost all of my armies are variant builds that require an expensive SC. Deathwing, Bloodwing, Loganwing, and so on.

Very doable for my Orks though.

Kirby said...

I'm not a fan of small competitive games =D. The problem with the 1000 points is it's alot harder to build balanced lists. Tau for example can go and take 3x3 Crisis suits which is a lot of firepower @ 2k let alone 1k. Whilst the Tau list certainly isn't balanced because of this, they generally have a huge advantage over most other lists @ 1k.

I recall playing a 1k game against 2x5 CSMs, Abaddon and a mass of termies. Boring.

When individuals make a concentrated effort to make 1k lists as balanced as possible, small points can be fun but when lists are made with lynchpins or super units at 1k it simply becomes a game of rock-paper-scissors.

A nice write up though =D. Go the river.

Von said...

PREACH IT. I've always disapproved of that fallacious No True Game Is Less Than This Big argument - there are books that don't scale down well to that scale but there are also books that work well at that level and don't scale up, so what goes around comes around.

Kirby's got a point about 1000 point 40K games needing to be approached in a balanced manner and not a rock-paper-scissors exercise... but isn't that true of games at any scale? Building nemesis armies isn't interesting regardless of how big they are...

Regardless, some of the best games I've ever played have been 1000 points of 40K or 1500 of WFB, mostly for the reasons you describe at the end of yer post, and also because of the counter-blow to the point about shit units: that some of the best and therefore predictable stuff becomes less playable in small games (especially in WFB where the options might literally not be available). While the stuff you'd normally call dross gets to shine, the stuff you'd normally spam two or three of (and quite rightly so) doesn't fit. Result: variety, the spice of life.

Good stuff.

The CPT said...

Small games of 40k can be a lot of fun, for sure.

That is, unless you take 1000 points o' Necrons.


kennedy said...

I too like small games, Dethtron, but I think that some of the older codices struggle compared to the 5th ed ones.

I play both Eldar and Sisters. Trying to get either one to work at 1k is an exercise in frustration. You end up with few units, while the newer books get a lot more stuff. I'm not one to cry out "CREEP!" but I am one to say that troop units in the newer books are way cheaper.

Regardless, it is an entirely different experience at such low points. It's not not Warhammer, it's just a different way of playing. Some like it better than others, same as most other things.