Saturday, June 15, 2013

Why I Don't Play Pool

Deploying Terrain for Advantage Part 1
Fly Molo in the hizzy. Ahhhhh terrain.
In 1996 I was a freshman in highschool. I had befriended a group of dudes who played Magic and Warhammer. They were friends since grade school and were from the 'other middle school,' that was shrouded in mystery. I fit right in though, considering I was a Magic player. Learning Warhammer came shortly after.

I was bitten by the bug and I was hooked. I soon discovered White Dwarf, complete with amazing photos of models we'd probably be ashamed of nowadays. In every other photo, the models were on some awesome table with rolling hills and trees, waging imaginary war against all sorts of xenos races.
I had to have one of those tables.
I rolled up my sleeves, went out to my garage and began foraging for anything I could turn into a gaming table. I managed to locate something like a 3'x4' piece of scrap plywood, a bunch of news paper and a can of green spray paint. I recalled that in art class in 8th grade, we learned how to make paper-mâché. I believe I mixed cornstarch, water and white glue together into a messy slop. I formed hills out of crumpled paper, molded over them with strips of soggy newspaper and worked tirelessly for at least 35 minutes. At least. I had elevation changes, valleys, mountains, hills, basic plateaus (all in 3' by 4'!). I could just picture my poorly painted models standing triumphantly on top of one of those hills, victorious after a bloody battle.
I let it dry overnight and prayed for it to come out amazingly.
I should have prayed harder. The moisture from the paper-mâché soaked the plywood and warped the crap out of it. My board did not sit flat on the floor any longer, in fact, I think it was only touching in three points. The rest was suspended in the air. It was as if it was contorted with agony due to my horrible attempt at creativity.
"Why do I exist?!? WHY?!" it was seemingly asking me.
My attempt didn't derail my endeavors in the hobby, luckily. Why would I go through all of this? Why don't I just play on the kitchen table? Or the floor, like the rule book even suggested?

I am lucky enough to have a job and even luckier to have one that allows me to take a vacation here and there. I used one of those chances to load up the kids and wife and head to Chicago a few weeks back. We visited Shedd's Aquarium, The Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Science and Industry. If you've never been to any of those places, go. They are great. Contact me before you go though, there are ways to save a boatload of money if you have a family.
Anyways, at the Science and Industry Museum, they have this CRAZY huge to scale model of downtown Chicago. It is AMAZING. Just every little detail is insane, and it has a functioning train set on it. The train travels through the town, but also travels out, through this big mountainous area, through some tunnels, and ends out at a replica of a portion of Seattle. It is amazing. Did I mention how amazing it was?
My son, who's 2, says "Daddy's models!" I wish my boy, I wish.
People who don't play Warhammer or with model trains still were amazed at this model. Why didn't the makers of this awesome model just build it on a flat board? Or the floor? Why even have mountains, they aren't even real?

I never play Warhammer on a pool table. I always encourage the liberal use of terrain. I need hills, ruins, trees, buildings and fences.
Warhammer is a strange game to play competitively for all sorts of reasons, but the reason I want to highlight now is the concept of 'true line of sight.' We all know the basics of this.
But, what we don't sometimes understand is that if you play on a flat table bare of terrain of any size, line of sight is a moot rule. The ability to shoot comes down to distance. And now that you can pre-measure, the movement phase becomes obsolete. You don't need to worry about where you are, just how far away you are. You can calculate with certainty how far you need to be from any given unit to obtain maximum effect. Need to stay out of melta range? How about just moving so that if your enemy does everything right, they still end up 6.01" inches away, stopping that all-too-important double pen roll?
This is lame. Lamey-McLamerson.
On the other hand, how does the game changes with big terrain? I'm talking big terrain. Chunky terrain. Plus size model terrain. Lane Bryant big. Well, now you have yourself a game! Negotiating to get line of sight is a challenge when you have various intervening buildings and forests.
But when I mean big terrain, I mean line-of-sight blocking terrain. And man, there is never enough of this stuff. I want to have to make some tough choices in a game. I want my opponents to have to make some too. And in a game where some of the guess work is being removed by premeasuring, being able to think ahead about terrain and how it will affect your line of sight becomes a critical skill.
I used to joke that my buddy Jesse was a significantly better Warhammer player than me because he was a professional carpenter. It was noticeable how accurate he was at estimating distances in comparison to me or my other friends. He rarely was short on charge distances (and I mean RARELY) while I would end up over an inch short on many occasions. That ability has become a neat trick and a time saver, not so much a game skill any longer now that we all exist in 6th edition.
But Jesse is a better player than me for other reasons. For one, he thinks further ahead in the game than I do, or at least he seems to. For two, he uses terrain very effectively. And not just by maximizing cover, but by instead blocking entire units from firing at his units for multiple game turns.
Again, this is only possible if you use line of sight blocking terrain.
What if you could have a piece of wargear that said "While within 6inches of this, chose 50% of your opponents army. Those units can't shoot you this turn." Doesn't that seem good? What if it was in every codex and it costs zero points? The main rule book lets you do this if you follow the normal terrain deployment. And note that normal terrain deployment is that both you and your opponent agree to the set up of the board... the other option is to alternate deployment of terrain AFTER you have rolled off for table sides. A majority of games I've played lately have involved alternating deployment of terrain pieces BEFORE sides were rolled for OR deployment type OR mission. Not sure if anyone else is playing this way, but it sure seems to make a fairer game.
(On a side note, how do you usually play? What have tournaments you've been in done for terrain deployment?)
You can place large, chunky pieces of terrain anywhere on the board. You can preplan. You can place that awesome impassable building in a position where it could be used if you get "Hammer and Anvil" deployment or "Dawn of War" or "Vanguard Strike," if you were on one side, then you could deploy one in the similar location on the other side of the board. I have found in my rudimentary folding of a 4" by 6" note card that the most preferable location would be in any given table quarter about 12" from the center point of the board towards the far corner. Then chose to put one kitty-corner to that one. Looking at it that way, you'll have one of those pieces in your deployment zone 100% of the time in 2 of the 3 deployment types. In the other deployment (Vanguard Strike) you'll have either both in the neutral zone or you and your opponent will each have one.
The key is using the "kitty-corner" idea during deployment. Make sure that you are putting the piece down on one side of the board and then putting one of the same type/shape/size on the opposite side, flipped. Does that make sense?

              XX              XX
              XX              XX
              XX              XX
              XX              XX

In this case, you'd want to put down a big piece on each of the green spots or each of the red spots. This makes it so that in 5 of 6 outcomes  (3 of deployments and 2 times you get to choose), you'll get that favored type/piece of terrain in your deployment zone.
Important? Maybe.
Fun folding note cards? Definitely.
Could it benefit your opponent too? Probably. But I hope that you'd be doing this with big area terrain pieces if you're playing Tyranids with Yagmaris (spelling??), or big sets of ruins if you needed somewhere to set up your bolstered defenses Thunderfire... make sure if favors you and your sabre defense platforms.:)
But if you're like me, you're more concerned about fairness than about terrain-for-advantage. You can apply this kitty-corner concept across the board. If you have 2 pieces of ruins roughly the same size, put one on each of the green spots. If you have 2 pieces of woods, put one on each red spot. Then, put one small hill in each of the far upper right corners and far lower left corners. Then put some tank traps lower right and upper left.
See? Fairness! Small building in both upper/middle/center and lower/middle/center. Homologous. Super fair, super fun.
Terrain seems a lot simpler if you are alternating pieces AFTER you've chosen sides. The good news is this typically allows you to select your terrain from whatever pool of terrain is availible. If something is advantageous to you, use it.

That concludes part one of my terrain segement. I have part II and part III in the works. Part II consists of 25% cover, fire lanes and elevation. Part III will entail general thoughts and the much maligned 'mysterious terrain' mechanic.


  1. I don't really like choosing sides first. We just end up trying to get the best pieces of terrain in our deployment zone before the other guy. Same thing for placing objectives after sides are chosen and terrain is placed. Sometimes I place objectives randomly (we roll a D6 to determine which 2x2 section each objective is in). I think I'm going to start picking table halves as well. Although I like having a fair battle too, I wouldn't want to take it so far as to have a completely symmetrical battlefield. I prefer having an interesting battlefield that looks interesting. Real battlefields are never perfectly fair. It just makes it more challenging to work with your terrain. This was a great article, and I'm looking forward to the others!

    1. Yeah, I think that an awful lot of the stuff in the 6th edition rule book wasn't really playtested, most of the deployment/setup stuff included. It just makes no sense to allow players to strategically deploy objectives after they know deployment zones, especially when there often is an odd number. I think its pretty common that most players pretty much just do their own thing when they set up the board anyways.
      Thanks for the kind words!