The Lure of Tournament Gaming (To a Narrative Gamer)


I’ve always been more of a fluffy gamer, but I’ve have been playing in more and more tournaments. What happened?

I have always been more of a narrative gamer myself, or a “fluffy” gamer. It’s always been the story and the models that have drawn me to the game, not the competition. Lately though I have been playing in more and more tournaments, so what happened?

Before this past year the last tournament I had played in was a 40k Team Tournament at Adepticon way back in 2009. It was okay, but nothing that really grabbed me. I have always built my armies how I want to, usually based off of what looks cool, not what works best. Case in point, my Sepulchral Stalkers for my Tomb Kings. Back when I built and painted these they were considered a horrible unit in 8th Edition, especially compared to their alternate build, the Necropolis Knights. To me though, they just looked so much cooler. I knew I wanted to have them in my army, so that’s what I did.

This tendency always led my army to be less competitive and more “fluffy.” I still won friendly games but didn’t favor my chances against the cutthroat tournament scene. The same thing went for my 40k armies, they just weren’t built to win. I also take a very long time to paint an army, so trying to change up my force to chase the “meta” was a no go for me. For Warhammer Fantasy the game seemed to serious at the tournament level back in 8th Edition. The idea of playing in one never even crossed my mind. Then Age of Sigmar hit.

With the launch of AoS the whole scene seemed to shift from super hardcore to more easy going, even at the competitive level. It didn’t hurt that I was also in on the ground floor, just as new to the rules as everyone else. I decided that I wanted to try out my first AoS tournament at Adepticon with my Tomb Kings and so I took the plunge. I got to play in one local one day tournament beforehand and then it was off to Acon, and I loved it! Since then I have played in another local tournament as well as the Michigan GT and am going to Adepticon again this year. So why the sudden change of heart?

1. Painted Armies

I’m sure everyone has played against or with unpainted armies. While it’s fun to get games in even with grey plastic, and it’s great for testing out army lists, there’s no competing with the satisfaction of seeing two fully painted armies duking it out on the tabletop. Most tournaments require you to have a fully painted and based army to even play, so you know that every game you play will be up to this standard. It may seem like a small thing, but it can be really rewarding. This is how the game is meant to be played, fully painted.

Not only do you get to play against other painted armies, but it gives you motivation to paint your own stuff. Once I had decided I was going to be playing in the AoS tourney at Acon I knew I had to get more of my army done. Remember I said I am a really slow painter, so giving myself deadlines like this really helps me focus. In the few months ahead of time I finished rebasing the rest of my army to rounds, including my Settra conversion who has a rather involved base, as well as painting three carrion, a Necrotect, and 15 more spearmen with a new command unit for them. I don’t know if I would have gotten all of that done in that short of a time otherwise, especially the extra spearmen. On the list of Tomb King units, basic skeleton aren’t the most rewarding to paint, so it was nice to have a reason to get them done. More recently I finished two more chariots and a Tomb Scorpion for the Michigan GT for the same reason, and now I’m working on my Necrosphinx for Adepticon this year. I don’t think I could ever be one of those people who start a whole new army for a tournament just a few months ahead of time, but it definitely gets me working on stuff for my current army at a brisker pace. That Necrosphinx has been assembled since 2011.

2. Army Variety

I have a core group of people I play against locally, which is a ton of fun, but means I am ever only playing against so many different types of armies. By going to a tournament I am exposing myself to almost every possible type of army out there. It’s definitely a lot of fun to get to play against stuff I have only seen online, like the Beastclaw Raiders at the Michigan GT, or Bretonnians at Adepticon. Again, this may seem like a small thing, but think about, how often are you going to travel to play a game of Warhammer otherwise? It also forces you to become a better general since you have to learn to play against a wide variety of armies instead of just a small handful.

3. The Age of Sigmar Vibe

This one is specific to AoS, but it may apply to other games as well. Like I said, 8th Edition just seemed to cutthroat to me at the competitive level. I don’t think I would get as much enjoyment out of the game playing at that level. It almost seemed like it solely became a game of math and angles. Even at the competitive level AoS still feels like a narrative game. I’v heard several top level players mention this too. Everything just seems more laid back, it’s more about just having a good time. Don’t get me wrong, I still would like to win, but if the game is good, and there are good moments during the course of the game it’s still all worth it. There was a crucial moment in my final game at Adepticon last year just like this. I was on table two, doing considerably better then I ever thought I would. I was playing against David Griffin and his Bretts and all of my chariots and all of his knights were about 10 inches away from each other when it came down to a priority role. We both rolled the same number as each other for about five times before he finally won the role. He ended up winning the game and the entire tournament that year as well, but it was such a crazy, awesome, and tense moment that it doesn’t even matter that I lost. The game was fun and had a bunch of narrative moments in it.

4. The People

Something I am sure everyone who has heard from anyone who talks about tournaments is that one of the biggest draws are the people you meet. The “scene” is so friendly and amazing. I haven’t had a bad game of AoS yet and I haven’t played against a single bad person yet. I’ve made a bunch of new friends off of these tourneys, and really it’s just an excuse for a bunch of like minded hobbyists to get together for a couple of days (or hours) and do something that we all love. Here in the US, since the country is so big, you meet people you definitely wouldn’t have ever met before. At Adepticon I met people from Seattle, Nashville, and even England and look forward to seeing them all again this year in Chicago. It may seem like a big clichĂ©, but it’s true. Come for the game, stay for the people.

5. Time Management

When I was younger I got games in all the time because I had a lot less responsibility. Now that I am getting older it’s harder and harder to find time to get in games, and I don’t even have kids. Working 50ish hours a week and having to do other “adult” things like take care of my house and pay bills and such, means that gaming time is at a premium. While it easy for me to find painting time each night while my wife and I watch TV, setting aside three to four hours to play a game takes a little more planning. At tournaments I am guaranteed to get three to five games in. Guaranteed. It’s great to know I have a hobby weekend coming up and it helps to offset that otherwise I normally only get about one game in a month.

6. The Drive

This was mentioned recently on HeelanHammer, and it really is true. If you go to a tournament and do poorly, you might be bummed for a bit, but soon you start thinking about what you could have done differently, or how you can change up your army list. Soon you’ll be wanting to go to another tournament to see if you can do better. Conversely, if you do well or win then you’ll want to go back and keep trying to win. I managed to win at the Michigan GT with my Tomb Kings and now I’m even more excited to see how I do at Adepticon this year, to see if I can keep it going.

I’m sure there are even more reasons that I am forgetting, but those six reasons alone mean I will keep going to tournaments for the foreseeable future. With AoS there are a bunch of narrative events popping up too such as Realms at War: Legends over in the UK or Holy Wars here in the states. I definitely want to start going to events like this as well as the more traditional tournaments. It’s great that there is so much variety now and more openness to different types of events.

If you’re a newcomer to the tournament scene as well let me know what drew you to it in the comments below. If you’re a veteran, what keeps you coming back and what changes have you seen in the scene over the years?

Until next time,

Tyler M.

Tyler is a life long painter and hobbyist and took home his first Golden Demon award at the 2012 Chicago Games Day with a follow up at the 2013 North American Games Day. More of his work can be found at his blog, Mengel Miniatures.

  • ZeeLobby

    Eh. Tournaments are great for all players. I’ve taken fluffy and hard lists and had a great time. I’d argue that better rules and balance would only improve that experience. It sounds like AoS has revitalized that on the fantasy side. As much as I dread the gutting 40K might be in for, itll hopefully make it a more interesting game to play, both competitively and narratively. Sometimes finding a group of exactly like minded individuals simply isn’t an option. Not to mention that people are never usually identical in their desired playstyle. But a tight rule system and balanced ruleset will make those gaps feel much smaller.

  • Frank Underwood

    Ugh those square bases

  • Admiral Raptor

    Good article. Sounds like tournament gaming done right. Hard fought battles without people forgetting that they are playing toy soldiers.

    I Love the pictures! In a perfect world that’s what wargaming would look like all the time.

    Also another great reminder of how much better AoS is than 40k 😉

  • TimW

    Number 1 is so important to me. If I see a tournament does not have a painting requirement, I’m not going. Too many experiences where I paid money to attend a tournament to play against unpainted, falling apart models. Sorry but no. Painting requirements are vital.

  • Painjunky

    Agree with number 4. Tournament players are great people.

    Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t been or just cant hack losing.

  • I was pretty much a tournament-only player for over a decade. I got out of tournament gaming for a few reasons.

    * one of the last tournaments I went to there was an actual table flipped and the guy raged out of the hall.

    * the very last tournament I went to, one of my opponents looked at my mostly infantry chaos army (this was whfb 7th edition when few people took infantry unless their army only had infantry (ie dwarves)) and said “why are you wasting my time with that army?” I then beat him in a close game and he said the only reason that I had won was because I was cheating. Somehow my dice, which normally rolled horribly, were now loaded.

    * I got tired of chasing the meta. I like games that aren’t blow outs. That means to compete against min/max armies, I have to min/max. That typically meant needing to collect a new army regularly as rules changed and paint them.

    Now my last official tournament (the one referenced above) was in 2007. That was ten years ago. I will say that *most* of the guys I played with in tournaments were pretty cool. The guys that flip tables and what not are not common at all… but it only takes having to play those guys once. For me I just got tired of it. I don’t like being paired up against an abrasive player so I realized tournaments were not for me.

    As ten years have passed I have slowly started looking at playing in a couple of tournament events, but that takes me to the chasing the meta part. In 40k, my primary army is chaos. I haven’t had a good codex to go to tournaments with in a long while. I don’t want to play an army I don’t like just so I can be competitive. For me to get back into 40k tournaments, I would need the chaos codex to be on par with everything else.

    For Age of Sigmar, the power curve is definitely not AS bad, but we don’t have a strong AOS community here so I’d have to travel to one of the big events. And that means traveling long distances to roll the dice on my opponents and hope that I don’t draw one of the guys I’ve described above.

    This is why I prefer narrative events. The super competitive guys are less likely to show up there.

    • V10_Rob

      “one of the last tournaments I went to there was an actual table flipped and the guy raged out of the hall.”

      Was there anything on the table, specifically someone else’s army? If it were mine… Well, I couldn’t be held responsible for what I would do to him.

      • Andrew

        I was just thinking the same thing.

      • Yeah there was an entire two armies on that table plus terrain. It all went flying.

        • V10_Rob

          Mother of God… How’d they decide who got to kill him slowly and painfully? Flip a coin? Highest tournament score? Or were they gentlemen and took turns carving their army lists into his flesh with a rusty pin vise?

          • It happened so fast the hall went quiet for a couple moments trying to piece together what had happened. Dude flipped the table, grabbed his coat, stormed out. He left his models all over the floor with the other guys.