Ok ok, I know, it's old news. Sorry! School just started as as you all know, we get most of our good internet posting done from work. It is amazing that I was off all summer, and could not wait until work started so I could get something done!
I also wanted to wait for some of the hubbub over the Nova to die down a bit before I threw in my two cents. I really have not read much of the feedback or reviews on it. (again no time to lurk when I'm not at work) But I know in general the feedback has been extremely positive. I wanted to take a step back and give the Nova a fair evaluation vs a gushing rave. I think this would do Mike Brandt the most good, as well as go inline with what I try to do always on my blog. Call it as I see it.
So first caveat. I don't know any specifics of what has already been said. If I am repeating another author, I'm sorry. Also, my overall experience at the Nova was positive and I will happily return next year. It was obvious that Mike worked his tail off, along with all of the rest of the staff who volunteered their time by the way. I just wanted to get that out there, I don't think that any of the dozen or dozens of guys you saw helping out got a penny of loot or cash, and in fact, I think a lot of them actually gave of their own money to make it happen. Great stuff guys! Your contributions were appreciated. Finally, I'm sure that for every thing we saw, ten thousand decisions, efforts and annoyances happened to make it a reality. It is easy for some one to point out things that you did not do right while glossing over those that you did. I understand that you simply could not plan for, and if you did, could not make happen EVERY little detail to pamper our little bottoms. So please take what I say with a grain of salt.
So on with the review.
First of all, location. I think that the event was held in a great location. Personally for me it sorta sucked as what should have been a 4.5 hour drive home turned into a 8.5 hour drive home due to rainy driving through New Jersey. But the location itself made it possible for some of your further southerners to make it up there, being about equidistant to the North East, and actually, all the way out to Tennessee or so. Convenience of physical location is only a small part of the greatness. The event location itself was top notch. The hotel was big, new, and nice. The weather sucked so I did not get a chance to go for a swim and test out the pool, but the hotel was above average in my book. The restaurant was neat and clean, and the rooms were spacious, and most importantly to me, well Air Conditioned. It is amazing how difficult it is to get a good AC unit in a room! Also the staff was outstanding. I left the biggest tip at a hotel I have ever left because they were so friendly and respectful. As you are walking through the hall, cleaning crew turn off their machines and scramble to get out of your way. I don't know about you, but being a not so small dude myself, and carrying a huge army transport, it is refreshing to see a house keeper turn off his vacuum and let me pass rather than hurriedly going about their work so they can go hide in the back and smoke a cigarette. They smile and wish you a happy day, and are genuinely interested in your response. Not in the fake "I will smile to your face then turn around and glare at you when you pass." way. I felt truly comfortable at the venue. I have been to quite a few of these things, and I point this out because it was a pointed improvement from most other establishments.
In addition to the hotel, comes the surrounding area. The hotel is part of a huge convention complex. Next to the Hotel, divided by some vast parking lots, are a few convention space buildings with modular walls. So the facility can tailor the space available to the space you need. Pretty sweet! But also, it is right there. While having the space be actually in the hotel is better, this is the next best thing. Not only is the convention space right next to the hotel, but so is the food! If the hotel restaurant was not good enough for you, right next door was a Taco Bell, McDonalds, Chick Fil A, and I think some others. I never made it out past Taco Bell and Mcdonalds. Also, conveniently placed was a Gas Station, which was nice because I coasted into the hotel parking lot on fumes. It had a little mini mart. In other words, you could arrive at the hotel, park your car, and then not have to get in it again until you are ready to leave. Convention space, gas, snacks, food, every thing was within a stones throw. (Through I did actually drive around the hotel to the convention space. I'm lazy.) The great service extended itself out to the fast food joints. I am used to CT/NY service. In a nuttshell, rude, careless, sloppy and overpriced. Your are more likely to get spit in your Sausage Egg and Cheese than you are to get a smile from the cashier. No so in Chantilly! Each time we went over to Mc D for breakfast, or Taco for Lunch, we were greeted with fresh smiling faces and it is odd, but the food tasted better too. Maybe the biscuits sat around less, maybe the Gordita was just made with a little more care... who knows, but myself and every one I ate lunch with noted the difference. It was good!
Does any of that matter to you? Probably not, especially if you don't go to many big events. But I'm sure some of you can appreciate the value of good service. If one thing can be said about traveling to these things, good service does indeed matter.
Now for the event itself.
I arrived at about 2:30pm on Friday. It was pretty early by any standards. I wanted to settle in, and go take a swim in the pool. Rain foiled the swim so I settled for a quick nap. At about 4:30 I snaked out of my crispy cold room and went on down to the room where open gaming was supposed to take place and found 5 or 6 other guys waiting around as well, including a group of guys who are from my neck of the woods and I play against all the time at local tournaments. It was nice to see familiar faces. Though I have been getting to know many many faces at these things now, so that is not really an issue. I will talk more about that later.
Any way, we hung around the empty gaming space, wishing we could get in some open gaming. One guy was sitting in there painting an army, but there were no tables set up. I know that the Nova team was busy and I'm sure there were other circumstances leading to why there were no tables set up for early comers to play on, so I am not criticizing about the lack of tables. However, I am suggesting that in the future, a space for tables be made available for those early comers to maybe get in a game. This is a difficult thing to do when the convention space is not attached to the hotel, and this particular hotel probably demanded an arm, leg and your first born for the space they had. Mike, please do not feel that you have to answer any of these points as I make them. You do not need to defend yourself. You did a great job. Do with this information what you will.
Suggestion #1: Set up a space for early arrivals to play games.
So we moved on to the bar in the hotel. I sat with my Brothers Grim buddies and we had a couple cold brews. It was nice to hang out in a comfortable bar setting. An even bigger treat was the parade of gamers who came into the bar looking to socialize, including Stelek. It was funny to place faces on the names, and real names with the cyber ones and to see that the actual visage was any thing but what you imagined them to look like. A lot of my friends actually do call me Jawa at the local scene, but it was different to have guys introduce themselves as their real life selves. Chum, Stelek, Dash, Huron, to name a few. It was neat to shake your hands.
Drinks ensued and small rules debates broke out. Great gamer fun!
Dinner came and went and I rushed over to the gamer room for the Whiskey Challenge. They had the room divided into two, with 4 or 5 tables reserved for the WC and an equal number set up for open gamers. Sadly though, very few people actually got to play games. But there was a nice little cash bar available right next to the room. I got to play Old Shatter Hands, and yes Tim, I will be doing a Batrep on our game, don't think you got off scott free. The WC was a really cool media event. Mike Brandt invited some of the bigger blogger names to play for little bottles of Whiskey. The winner of each game got a top shelf bottle, while the loser got some swill. Thanks Mike! During the games a couple of podcast groups were doing live shows. The games were broadcast live on Ustream, with player interviews inbetween rounds. I thought this was a great touch. I was able to be the guy infront of the camera for once! I'm sorry, I don't have links for the podcast groups at the moment. Please email me the URLs guys and I will post them up.
So the Whiskey challenge was a fun event. The fans got a great dose of "who's who" and an entertaining bunch of games as Stelek and Dashofpepper clashed and I tried my best not to table Tim from Tau of War in two turns. :) Oh snap the smack talk still continues!
FOR THE RECORD I AM JUST PLAYING. I find it sad that to some readers/haters I have to spell out that I am not being an arrogant ass, I am poking fun at a friend.
The WC went on into the wee hours, and eventually I staggered upstairs to bed. The only con I have to say is that I felt bad for some of the guys who really wanted to get in an open game, but could not. I know there were space issues and cost issues. Just pointing out an observation! Mike already pointed this out himself, and I'm sure he is already taking steps to fix this for next year.
Suggestion two: Make more late night Friday gaming available.
On with the event. So my fellow Battle for Salvation club members and I made our way over to the con space. The space we played in was well lit and organized. But here is where I have my first real criticism. While some of the tables were nice, with good terrain, others were felt mats with low quality terrain. My first game was on one such fabric table. A couple of the terrain pieces were organic bean shapes of felt laid out on the table with a plastic tree at either end. Terrain was sparse on a lot of tables to say the least. Having won my first three games, I played on the tables that seemed to be a bit higher quality for most of the tournament, but taking a walk around the other tables in between games, I noted some questionable gaming environments.
My second terrain issue was the... what is the word... arbitrary? use of rules concerning the middle terrain piece. On each table there was an objective marker located directly in the center of the table. But also located in the center was a large terrain piece that worked in most cases to block line of sight, as is a GW requirement I believe right? Mike house ruled how to deal with this piece. But this presented issues for the terrain. On a lot of tables the tower from the Bastion box set sat in the middle of the table. This tower has no obvious entry ports, and no way to get up from the bottom, and a distance to the top that does not jive with the standard 3" per level rule. With no way to place models 3" high on the terrain piece, models would need a 6 to get to the top as per the rules. So to make this easy, the objective was placed on the top of the tower, and models treated the 9" tall structure as if it were not elevated at all. For movement purposes, this tower was no taller than a crater. Did this have an effect on the game? Well, part of the trade off for getting shots off from an elevated position and taking away cover saves is that it takes time to get up there, or down from there. But with these towers you were able to go from ground level to 9" up in the air simply by moving onto the terrain piece. This gave a big advantage to smart players who used it. On turn one a Devastator squad in a rhino could zoom 12" up to the edge of the tower, disembark onto the top of it, and be shooting their weapons the next turn. On any other legal terrain piece that is equally as high, it could take them two or three turns to get up there. The difference being 5 rounds of shooting from a very elevated position vs what could possibly be none if the models have to work their way up by using difficult terrain tests to get up levels. It is what works out to giving the squad a 9" disembark into a superb shooting position. Know what I mean? I know what you are thinking... who gives a Dev squad a rhino. Well, how bout a tactical squad with a lascannon? A guardian squad with a starcannon? Better yet, a Fire Dragon squad, who goes to the top of the tower 9" high, but measures their shooting distance as if they were on ground level. They get to deny cover saves to tanks, AND still reach them with melta shots.
The point here is that the terrain pieces created sources of exploitation. What would I have done? Not used them... or treated them like impassable terrain. It was still possible to be within 3" of the center of the board and score the center objective sitting on top of the tower. That was enough. I'm sure that Mike is already working to improve the terrain issues for next year. It was obvious that they did the best they could with what they had on hand so I won't even bother with the suggestion line. What I will do is point out the absolute best terrain I have ever seen at a tournament. At Mechanicon each table was individually made from high quality materials, with wooden edges that were raised to stop dice from rolling off the edge, and hand made terrain pieces that looked awesome. Yes, that cost Tony and the guys money. They took a big loss on the first tournament. But they will recoup that loss. And they have fantastic tables. Tony meet Mike Brandt, Mike Brandt, meet Tony! :) Best of both worlds!
Tables aside, the tournament was run perfectly. Mike patrolled the tables, and there was always a judge in reach. He personally came over and made judgements on some rules issues. Actually not even issues, we were just too lazy to bust out the book and it was quicker to ask a judge a question. The answer was always instant and fair. Great judging!
I'm sure you all know about the format of the tournament by now, but in summary, if you won your first game, you played against some one else who won. If you lost, you played vs some one who lost. After the first game, you were pretty much assured a place against an opponent playing an army that was near your same level. This is great for the more casual gamers. Guys who went 0-2 got to fight it out for pride, rather than go up against yet some other power gamer who would smash them into oblivion. And said power gamers knew that the games would only get tougher as they worked their way to the top. At the end of the day, I think 6 guys were left undefeated. These 6, plus some of the guys who went 3-1 on the day were invited to play the next day for all the bragging rights. Pretty unique!
The missions were also very new and in my opinion efficient. A lot of tournaments like to throw in piles of silly rules that end up giving certain builds advantages over others, and they are usually unknown before the event. Not this time! At this tournament there were 3 goals. Table Quarters, Victory Points, and objectives. You played for all three in every mission. The difference was that for each game, the value of each goal changed. In one game, victory points would decide the winner, and in another, objectives. But you had to go for all of the objectives every game! Tie breakers were decided by the secondary objectives, and more importantly, your overall performance was too. At the end there were six 4-0 guys. The top guy was the guy who won his games, claimed the most objectives, most table quarters and most victory points throughout the day. This was great because it eliminated accusations of shenanigans. The number one guy was calculated by a formula, and undeniable. Also you were able to prepare for the missions before hand, as most guys did. It was a truly competitive event in this regard and for this I say outstanding to Mike Brandt.
As a bonus for the guys who did not win games, you were given tickets for each loss. Your tickets were thrown into a pot and drawn for loot! I think that most guys who were not playing on the top tables won loot. Pretty cool. The loot was flowing all day. One thing Nova definitely got right.
The fluff competitions were also well run. Renaissance Man was the award given to the guy who got the best combined score of Sportsman, General and Painting. A very prestigious award to be sure! Absolute best overall. This title also carried a ticket to Vegas and was my goal for the tournament. Painting was judged by two different judges, and the scores were averaged. They followed a rubric. General points were obvious, and Sportsman points were decided by the players. But it was not a "pick your one favorite player" thing that can be manipulated by large clubs all picking the one guy they want to win as is seen in painting and sportsman awards at some big events. At this one, you asked to rank each of your opponents with a 1 through 4. But you could not use the same number twice. So each player was giving out a single 1 and a single 4. That meant your sportsman score would be any where from 4 to 16. This was also done in secret at the end of the tournament. No more having to fill out your sportsman score in front of your opponent. What did this do? It gave honest sportsman scores! I tend to do well on sportsman. I scored 14 out of 16. Not bad. But not good enough! The winner for Renaissance Man was Danny Internets. My friend Dan edged me out by .01 points. You read right... a one hundreth. The difference? I did much better in painting, he did much better on the tables, but in sportsman he scored 15 out of 16 while I only scored 14. There you go! I love that a completely mathematic approach was used to read data gathered by human beings. This eliminated the "Share the wealth" fudging which appears at some other events and gave an accountable number to the contestants. Guys were not penalized because the TO hates Vulkan builds, or the judge is a Fantasy guy who does not fully understand 40k. (Yes I have seen guys penalized at other events for those very reasons.) No whining at Nova to be sure!
Ok, my time is at an end so I will wrap this up. Plus there is nothing I can say from this point that has not been reported on in duplicate. Aside from a couple of small, and most importantly correctable issues, the Nova Open was a flawless and perfect example of how an event should be. For those of you who had reservations about the true 40k spirit of the Open due to the elimination of Kill Points, disregard your apprehension next time! While true some guys thrive on kill point missions, at least the Nova made it very clear how you would be able to play, and gave you time to build your army to take advantage of the missions. Granted that the Nova shifted army lists over to heavy mech by eliminated kill points. But knowing that before hand you had the opportunity to tailor your army to beat mech and do well. So it was a double edged sword! Mike Brandt was a gracious and thankful host. He was visible, and welcoming to all. The venue was top quality, and the services the friendliest I have ever encountered. I will absolutely make the trek to Chantilly next year. Mike, if you would like a more detailed critique with specific examples and things I did not write about, I would be happy to share with you personally. Feel free to email me!
More to come...