Thuloid Speaks: Adepticon 2015 – Doing Whatever I Want

The future has, according to its wont, crashed again into the present, propelling us forward into a new day. Spring has come to central Pennsylvania, the busy season at work is over, and Thuloid is free (or compelled? compelled freely? I invite you to ponder the distinction between what is done out of one’s own desire and what is done out of obligation–I can hardly tell them apart most of the time) to regale you with his recent adventures in scenic Schaumburg, Illinois at Adepticon 2015.


Vacations rarely have a purpose. This one did, sort of–the second half consisted in flouncing around Minnesota with Thuloid’s increasingly bulgy wife for the purpose of seeing family and having showery things before the July arrival of Thuloid II: The Wrath of Thuloid (note: Mrs. Thuloid is not keen on this name).

But let us speak no more of purpose for now; instead, I would suggest that the purposelessness of the vacation’s first half still managed to demonstrate a principle: I can have more fun by playing whatever games I want to play, when I want to play them, than by dutifully grinding through yet another marathon of The Game I’m Heavily Invested In.

Call it an embrace of dilettantism, of impurity, of life in its natural disunity. The game I didn’t play this year? Warhammer Fantasy. All Adepticon WHFB events had months ago decided to run essentially full End Times, and I wasn’t feeling that (see a number of earlier posts for details).  Adepticon had moved to a new (much larger) site, included more events than ever, and I had until this year only ever drunk deeply from the GW well there. So much to see and do.  What follows is a partial and eclectic account of my convention weekend, rendered in glorious English prose for your enjoyment.

I. Sweatshop Wednesday with the Rat King

I arrived the day before the con, noonish, and took a cab from O’Hare to my hotel (to be shared with two friends from Minnesota). I had traveled light–no checked bags, only my laptop and a single carry-on that included my clothing and enough figures for the Clash of Kings, Mantic’s Kings of War tournament. I hadn’t actually played a game of Kings of War in about a year, and the list was slightly thrown-together (not horrible, just not perfect), but it would be fine. Probably. Or I’d be trounced and the big kids would all make fun of me and I’d run home crying. Either way, memorable!

When you show up early to Adepticon, you are eligible for the added bonus of volunteering for set-up. This means setting up tables, marking off board edges with clips and then tape, or if you’re really lucky, packing swag bags. Who doesn’t enjoy the fun of several consecutive hours opening tiny plastic bags so the person next to you can place a single miniature in each? But, you know, small coupon for free food, and I wasn’t exactly busy, so I helped out. In the last hour or so I look down the assembly line to my right and this guy is packing bags like a machine, along with the rest of us:

Well, older than this, and less hair, but still him.

Nice to meet Andy Chambers. I told him he wrote the best Skaven book ever (it was awesome–my first army book), and he found that heartwarming.

II. An Event’s Absence and an Unexpected Demo

I was registered to take part in a demo of the recently published Land of the Free rules for North American war gaming 1754-1815 on Thursday morning, but the event was nowhere to be found. Turned out, after some searching by Adepticon staff, that the fellow who was to lead it (Joe Krone, author of the rules) had to cancel his visit, and this wasn’t properly translated into actually cancelling the demo. So I was either free or bereft, depending on your angle.

A staff member suggested I try to make a Star Wars Armada demo in the vendor hall before that table got overwhelmed. Good choice! I was the first one in. The game deserves its own future review, but I’ll say that I enjoyed this game on every level. It has a strategic depth X-Wing lacks. In fact, it feels nothing at all like X-Wing. Even with just a few capital ships and some fighter squadrons, the game felt like a fleet action. Shields were redirected, Star Destroyers turned awkwardly while a Nebulon-B tried to stay at long range, TIEs battled X-Wings, and everything felt right. The models and box contents were beautiful. It’s not a cheap game, but if it had been for sale at the time (it wasn’t yet), they would have easily sold out on the first day.

Yes, I could just post a nice, clean professional photo from Fantasy Flight. But I took this one with my stone age camera, dammit. So look at it, understand the game is awesome, and try not to look at the one dude’s crotch.
I explored the rest of the vendor hall–big, but not so many new products this year. Stumbled on a few things I really liked. In particular, was impressed by some stuff that Forrest Harris of Knuckleduster Miniatures had for sale and in the works. Great looking Old West figures with a truly awesome two-level laser-cut saloon setup. I picked up a bag of his 28mm Old West Heroes, because they were immediately identifiable as characters from classic movies, so should be fun to paint. Three are Clint Eastwood–Josie Wales, the preacher from Pale Rider, and the Man with No Name. Two you can tell are John Wayne, just from the gait of the figure. One I’m not sure of yet. But I like Westerns, and I can have fun with these guys with just a few figures.
III. Box my Hero

After the demo I needed to do two things–check in on the Clash of Kings tournament to make sure I was ready, and figure out how I’d best get my guys over from my hotel (six or seven minutes away on foot, across a large parking lot expanse) to the convention site.

I figured I needed a box, and luckily I found one. Box was a little beat up, but empty, and had a label suggesting he had journeyed from Texas hauling goods for Reaper. He was worldly, rugged, in many ways like a brown, rectangular Han Solo. Our meeting was not chance but destiny.

The hero of our story?

While I was conversing with Box, I stumbled into the setup area for Clash of Kings, and proceeded to have a nice chat with Mike Carter, Mantic Pathfinder and tournament organizer. At this point, I realized I had a problem. Though I had acquired a solid ally in Box, it turns out that the rules pack for the event was slightly unclear (or, depending on your point of view, blatantly self-contradictory), and my army wasn’t up to snuff. I had just over an hour till start time, and two things that had to happen to remedy the situation:

  • Borrow a couple units from the many armies Mike had brought along. (I wasn’t the only player to do this).
  • Speed paint 8 Knights and six Werewolves using only the green and grey-brown Flames of War sample paints I had received in my swag bag, along with a pot of grey airbrush primer.  I had my own brushes with me at least.

So Box and I sprinted back to the room, and I got to work. I won’t show you what the outcome was. Shitty doesn’t even describe it. I did develop a new respect for the Mantic werewolf figures–the official studio paint job makes them look like naked guys with convenient patches of fur. In fact, they’re nice figures, and I’m sure will paint up well when I put some time into them.

Better painted than mine, but just plain creepy looking. Why do I want an army of naked men?

We got back just in time for the start of round 1, and I played fairly well. An opening draw, then two solid wins. A recommendation here: if you’ve ever played a game with square bases, try Kings of War. It plays fast, it doesn’t get you hung up in math and special rules, and it frees you up to think in terms of good tactics, not goofy rules combos. Even the fact that I had a couple units I felt were sub-optimal didn’t matter very much. I’ll talk more about the future of Kings of War a bit later, but this is a great game with a second major rules edition in beta now.  It’s getting both bigger (in terms of more diverse army lists) and more balanced (and it wasn’t horribly imbalanced to begin with).

In the end, I came in fourth-ish (I’m not actually sure, but I think it was fourth), and had good opponents all around. I give all the credit to Box, whose tactical insights were invaluable. He understands square bases at a level I can’t even fathom.

IV. Flames of Fur 

My Friday morning had some free time, so I watched a couple friends get started in the Warhammer Fantasy Team Tournament. After realizing that half the room was running a Legions of Chaos End Times list (all for the same reason: an absurdly overpowered alternate Reign of Chaos table in the Glottkin book that tended to wipe out MSU armies, not by shooting, casting spells or combat, but strictly from the Winds of Magic roll), I had seen enough and headed over for my next event– a massive six players on a side mid-war Flames of War scenario.

The game got going a little slowly, as there were a number of newer players, including myself. All miniatures and setup were provided, as were judges to help things along. The scenario was an Eastern Front counter-attack in 1942, and I was on the Soviet side, overseeing a rifle company of some sort. The opponents were mixed Axis, mostly Italians and Hungarians. A better deployment and initial moves would have helped a great deal. As it happened, I was forced to advance across open ground, blocked by my own side’s tanks from moving through the center-table village on my right. The results were predictable. I received an honorary promotion to Shtrafbat (Penal Battalion) commander after the battle, having suffered by far the highest losses in the game.

In a Freudian nightmare, the Soviet rifle company advances toward the enemy through the soft, green fur of Mother Russia.

Now let’s talk about the terrain a bit. The table setup was lovely, but unnerving to play on. Grass and such were rendered by mats of what I presume to be wool or some synthetic fur, colored green and brown. They were soft and wonderfully tactile, but I can’t have been the only one somewhat discomfited by moving his soldiers forward to attack through fur.

V. Some Lessons and Open Night

One thing I was really looking forward to this Adepticon was getting in on some of the hobby seminars. I had signed up for four, though in the end only made it to three. The first of these was “Getting Past your Painting Plateau” with Anthony Wang. This was immediately helpful to me, and I hope to everyone in the room. I learned a few new things about colors and a blending technique I’d never tried, but mainly the emphasis was on identifying the steps you personally can take to raise your overall level of painting, and on honest assessment of where that painting currently stands.

I was signed up for a session on Object Source Lighting with Victoria Lamb, but didn’t make it to that one for a silly reason. I’m a small guy with little fat on him, so I dehydrate very easily. I almost never drink enough water, and when the hotel is air conditioned to 0% humidity and I’m talking to people all day long, things get bad. By early afternoon Saturday I could barely stand up. I headed back to the hotel, meaning to rest for a few minutes and drink some water. Instead, I drank a glass of water and passed out face down on the bed. Sad to miss the session, but wouldn’t have been good if I’d made it. Take this as a part of convention advice, if you’ve never been (and especially if you intend to drink there, which of course you do): hydrate constantly. I fuck this up every year.

This was between my hotel and the convention site. Mysterious. Why is that man squeezing kittens?

I felt much improved for the Mantic Open Night that evening. This was a new thing– a roomful of people playing various Mantic games (I was part of a Kings of War mega-battle), with cash bar and free food (very good), and a live Mantic North America podcast with Ronnie Renton, Mantic President.  Any conversation with Ronnie is fun because he keeps secrets like a box fan holds confetti. One of the interesting pieces of information to come out was that Mantic is planning a Kings of War supplement that gives legal army lists for a wide range of non-Mantic IP armies–so, say, “rat men,” “lizard men”, etc.  In other words, if you’ve got a GW army that Mantic doesn’t have a Kings of War analogue for, now you can play it in this rules system. They’re confident that people who play their rules will 1) like them, and 2) liking them, buy some figures. I think that’s a good bet.

Next day gave me my last two hobby seminars.  First was Two Brush Blending with Meg Maples. This was a singular focus on a tricky but ultimately incredibly handy technique. Wet blending is a giant pain in the ass, slow, and doing it right depends on a lot of fussy stuff. This two brush method (note: she insisted that most of the online videos demonstrating it are not very helpful) trades that fussiness for a more demanding technique that is far faster. You need good brushes, speed and a good amount of practice, but I was pretty convinced by her.  The individual instruction I got from both Meg and Anthony in their sessions was completely worth the price.

My final hobby seminar was terrain building with Marcin Ignasiak, aka marcineczek0. We worked on watchtowers in various styles, learned some tricks for foam core and other materials, and generally got a bunch of insight into how a top notch terrain builder works. I really enjoyed this, and want to do more building.

VI. What I didn’t Miss

I mentioned that I didn’t play Warhammer Fantasy. That doesn’t mean I didn’t keep an eye on it–in fact, I dropped in a number of times to check on how friends were doing, and what the events looked like. The Fantasy Championships were way down in their numbers–they had been growing every year for the past several, but dropped from more than 150 to about 100 players this year.  End Times must have had a big hand in that, as you were compelled to either bring a super-character or a list that was tailored to knock one out.

I saw Malekiths, Exalted Karl Franzes and Nagashes aplenty. I saw hilarious Elf lists build to drop those characters (20 Sisters of Avelorn with a Cauldron of Blood, BSB with Banner of the World Dragon, and a couple other characters in the unit–a machine gun that blew Malekith off the table twice in five games), even more hilarious magic-based Chaos Legions lists (Slaanesh Daemon Prince, Herdstone, shamans, bunch of Pink Horrors), and miraculously, a Bretonnian player who killed Malekith in game 5, went undefeated and took 2nd place.  List variety was honestly terrible. A couple armies weren’t represented at all.

For all that, the tournament was well run and there were many good players there–but fewer than usual. Some of the top players from Minnesota didn’t do the Fantasy Championships this year–a number of them played SAGA instead.  I noticed fewer players came up from the South this year as well. Some of the top painters, who always play Fantasy, didn’t–Brandon Palmer and Johnny Hastings were notable absences from that field. It was a shame not seeing armies from them.

Apropos of nothing. I just happened to see this guy walking around day 1. Don’t know who he is, but I’ll gladly play up any tenuous connection to the House.
Postscript: Northwards and a Sad Parting

As Sunday wrapped up, one of my Twin Cities friends (the other left Saturday) gave me a ride back with him. The wife flew into Minneapolis the next day, and we headed north for our adventures. Somewhere in the vicinity of Fertile, MN, Box and I had a falling out, and I recycled him.

Northwestern Minnesota, a resting place for heroes.
Also, I seem to have left a bag full of unwashed underpants in Schaumburg, and had to buy new ones at the Wal-Mart in Park Rapids, MN. Whoever finds my old ones is welcome to them. Until next time…

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