For The Emperor, Part II - Red Scorpions

Both my regular Kings of War opponents fell through last Sunday, and as a consequence I found myself playing Warhammer 40K for the second time ever at Nerima on the weekend. Two weeks, two games. The Emperor would be pleased. Less pleasing to his mummified Majesty would be the result, as once again the Dark Angels were smashed by their foes. This time they fought a chapter of the Space Marines called the Red Scorpions in an internecine clash of loyalists. Perhaps the Emperor was pleased, because he was punishing the Dark Angels for being a bunch of traitors during the Horus Heresy...? I'll leave that to the fluff purists to hash out.

Izumiya-San's Red Scorpions.

This time out I played a Japanese gent named Izumiya-San. All my fears about playing Japanese players at the Nerima club were completely unfounded. We communicated through a combination of English and Japanese, and everything went smoothly and without any problems. Izumiya-San showed an encyclopedic knowledge of the rules, and even went through iterations of rules when explaining details. He would often state the rule as written in the original rulebook, then cite (and then show me!) a FAQ reference which amended the rule and give an explanation as to the rationale behind the amendment. One such occasion was the use of the Dark Angel Warlord trait which allowed me to regain Command Points on a roll of 5+ when using Stratagems, and how the latest FAQ limited such regained Command Points to one per turn. He then defined what a turn was so that I understood that it meant my turn and his turn. Finally, he gave me the option as to what rule to use. All of this was mostly off the top of his head, which made the game fly by. He was also super clear with the terrain and terrain effects which made movement and cover on the board hassle free and easy to understand.

Awesome stuff.

He did, however, smash me with his list, which was super-optimized. It was some kind of Forge World list - whatever that is - and he warned me that it was very tough. He apologized but said that he had been working on the Super Dreadnought (or whatever it was) the whole week, and really wanted to field it on the table top. I told him the same thing I told Steve - I don't mind getting my ass whooped, and I could absolutely relate to the compulsion to get stuff on the table top. Miniatures are meant to be either played, or displayed, and getting them to table top (at least for me) completes them. Bring it, I said.

My Dark Angels, in their second outing.

And bring it he did. I got absolutely smashed. The Red Scorpions had some kind of hit and wound re-roll per unit, and his main shooting was buffed by the presence of a Captain and a Lieutenant which allowed him to re-roll hits and re-roll wounds as well. This meant that whenever he shot he did damage, and my poor Dark Angels didn't know what hit them. He had dedicated transports to carry his troops to their objectives, and he used them as screens after disgorging his tactical squads. But the most terrifying thing in his list were a pair of buffed dreadnoughts that just mowed through my guys. Adding insult to injury my shooting in the first two turns was terribly ineffective due to a spate of bad rolls. I was rolling so bad that Izumiya-San began rooting for me to kill his guys. I established a fire base using the Predator and the Devastator squad with Azrael within 6" to re-roll all misses, and I couldn't kill anything. In the end we were both laughing our asses off as Azrael surveyed his men's ineptitude in total disbelief. I did get to play with Assault Marines for the first time, and learned the mechanics of deep striking and assault. The highlight for me was my Assault Marine Sergeant sticking a Melta-Bomb on a tank and getting our team's first kill. Everything else was just grim. I threw Ezekiel and Azariel into close combat near the end, and in a replay of last week's slaughter, they keeled over and died.

I took the same list as I fielded against Steve the weekend before, with the only difference being that my Assault Marines and Scout squad were included as this was a 1500 point game (last week's was 1250). This was my Battle-Forged list:

10 Tac Marines with H. Bolter and Plasma Gun
10 Tac Marines with H. Bolter and Plasma Gun
10 Tac Marines with H. Bolter and Plasma Gun
10 Devastator Marines with 4 Lascannons
10 Assault Marines
6 Scouts with H. Bolter and Sniper Rifles
1 Predator

If that list looks naive, newbie-ish and un-optimized, it's because it probably is. I know maybe 1% of the meta (if I'm lucky!), and in asymmetrical games replete with special rules, exceptions and regular amendments, knowledge of the metagame is only the first step to mastery when it comes to tournament play. I don't have the time or inclination to learn the whole 40K metagame - I've done this process many times in my life, with Warhammer 6th ed, with World of Warcraft PvP, with Hearthstone, with StarCraft 2 - I'm just content to learn the pieces of it as it pertains to the regular opponents I face. To become good at games you have to study it and put time in, and it's great once your hard work starts to pay off and you start getting results. But at the end of it all you come out of the process and wonder what it was all for, and whether it was worth the time you put into it. My goals nowadays are more modest - I want to give my opponent's competitive matches, and field my miniatures on the table top.

My Assault Marine Sergeant takes out a tank!

Another unwanted side effect of playing 40K was the sudden purchase of several 40K models on E-Bay. One of my many faults is poor impulse control, and it has been manifesting quite a lot since I started playing miniature games again. I keep telling myself that I don't need any more miniatures, and time and time again I keep buying more. Shopping on E-Bay has become an analogue to my time as a kid browsing my local Games Workshop store. I stopped buying stuff when I stopped playing, and I proved to myself that I don't need any of this shite for over a decade. Hopefully I can find a happy medium, where I can still play games but not buy any more miniatures. At least, not buy any more unnecessary miniatures. There are projects I want to complete, but 40K was never one of them. Neither was The Walking Dead. Nor was Mars Attacks, or Rising Sun. Yet somehow I keep getting caught up in digressions. I need to make a list of the stuff I really want, and stick to it. Simple avarice for cool looking miniatures is not enough. Shopping therapy is not real. Acquiring more stuff will not make you happier. I keep trying to tell myself this whenever I turn into Gollum, and start croaking, "My precious..." while browsing through E-Bay.

For good or ill, however, I have bought a bunch of 40K miniatures, each with the rationale behind it following:

6 more Bikes (to complete one full Bike squad)
10 Terminators (to complete one full squad of Termies)
5 Scouts (to complete one full squad of Scouts)
5 Veterans (to represent Sergeants in my regular squads, or Command models such as Ancients, Lieutenants and the like  - I like the robes, they're monastic and very Dark Angel in theme)
10 Helblaster Primaris Marines (simply put, to buff the army - need more plasma)

To finish the list, I intend to buy the following next week, when the Triple Helix auctions on E-Bay come to a close:

1 Attack Bike (to complete the Bike squad)
5  Veterans (to complete a unit of 10, or to represent Sergeants in my regular squads)

The lads at Nerima, playing Flames of War.

That's it. After that there will be no more purchases for this army. Two weeks ago I hadn't played a single game with the Dark Angels and now I'm dropping money to optimize the army. It's a pernicious trap, and one that Games Workshop has utilized for years as their sales model. No more. At least I can comfort myself with the fact that I am buying second-hand models, and not generating new revenue for GW. Yes, I am still salty over Age of Sigmar. But now it's more a principled resolution on my part rather than actual visceral hate. I'll still buy their paints and accessories, but not their miniatures - at least, not directly. In fact, I'm liking 40K so much that maybe I'll build another army. It just won't be with GW models.

My irrational dislike of GW doesn't take away from the fact that my game with Izumiya-San was a lot of fun. The core rules of 40K are wonderfully simple and easy to understand, but I can see now that it is a completely different beast to Fantasy. If Fantasy is all about arcs (shooting, charging or otherwise) then 40K is about bubbles - buff bubbles, deep strike denial bubbles, and 360 degree charge bubbles. The first turn in 40K is sooo pivotal in comparison to Fantasy. By virtue of that one roll Izumiya-San wiped out two squads of my army, and put me behind the eight ball from the very beginning. In Fantasy you get moments where you feel like the game is being decided during maneuver. 40K, by contrast, feels more like a duel between a pair of gunslingers, with the person shooting first gaining a decisive advantage. Army composition also feels vitally important, and that kind of knowledge will take time and effort to acquire.

These are my initial impressions, and to be fair, I am only going from a sample of two. I like 40K nonetheless, and find it fun. I will play it again. But I'm not going to buy any more things for the Dark Angels, apart from the things I've already listed above. They are complete, for all intents and purposes. We'll see how long this resolution lasts, but given that 40K is not my main game, I have a better than even chance of keeping it compared to some of my other collections. What I can't promise myself is that I won't start another 40K army using existing models from my Deadzone collection. Or from Doom.