Viva Las Vegas GT

Games Workshop's fall Grand Tournament Circuit began 2008 with the Las Vegas GT. With all respect to Chicago and Baltimore, both of which are venues of longstanding tradition for GW--I cannot imagine a setting more fun than the ballroom of the Treasure Island hotel and casino, right on the Vegas strip. The Las Vegas GT hosted 130 Warhammer 40K players, 100 Warhammer Fantasy Battles players and two dozen players of the Lord of the Rings strategy game. It was also the first tournament for Fifth Edition Warhammer 40,000 and for the new Dark Elves army book for Fantasy, and featured a three-round Doubles Tournament on Friday for interested WHFB and 40K players and a Challenge of Heroes (won unsurprisingly by mighty Glorfindal) for LotR. It was nevertheless a smooth and largely crisis-free event, highlighted by a Treasure Island buffet lunch for participants on Saturday.

The real highlight of any miniatures event, of course, is the parade of exceptionally painted armies. Unlike GamesDays, the GTs do not feature separate painting contests, ala Golden Daemon; the models on display at GTs are part of in-play armies. That so many could be painted to such an extraordinarily high standard for use, rather then display only, has always especially impressed me--and did so again at Vegas. Many, especially those which took home Best Appearance and Players Choice Awards, can be seen in GW's coverage of the GT on their website.

This year's Grand Tournament rules package deserves particular commendation: moreso than in recent years, the Army Appearance and Sportsmanship scoring portions were both comprehensively revamped and clarified for participants. GW now has their 'pure generalship' tournament in the Ard Boyz circuit; it is nice, therefore, to see scoring for the GTs re-embrace the many aspects of the hobby which amplify that tabletop experience--and to do so with clear, fair, balanced and comprehensive rules. Credit for the new GT rules package goes to Chris Gohlinghorst and Nicole Shewchuk...both of whom are quick to credit, in turn, the efforts of the hobby community, which has raised the bar for such expectations through independent events.

Army Appearance and Sportsmanship scores in a GT reflect that the hobby does not exist in a pure 'results on the tabletop' vacuum: how a player's army looks while winning or losing makes a big difference in the 'enjoyment of the experience' factor...and how the player and his opponent comport themselves probably makes an even bigger difference in whether or not the game, for both, is fun. Whether that matters to an individual player or not (and I will deal with the 'social contract' implicit in tabletop wargaming at some future point, which I guarantee will draw readers with vehement disagreement :), it is essential to the health and growth of the hobby, and it is good to see it take a complementary but significant place in GT scoring again (along with pretty clear guidelines tp players about how such scoring should be applied).

Ultimately, of course--it *is* still a tournament. Unlike a community event or storytelling-oriented gathering like a Campaign Weekend, the outcome really does matter more than the experience (or at least as much!). And when one general proves unbeatable through five rounds-- and not just unbeatable but unapproachable, taking on contender after contender on the top table and earning maximum-points victories--'who won the most' will still determine the GT's Overall champion. Congratulations to Marc Parker and his Ork horde: he has proved what many hobbyists already suspected--that with a terrific new Ork codex and a great starter force provided by 'Assault On Black Reach,' the orks are going to force players who consider themselves GT contenders to build something more flexible than the pure 'MEQ Killer'* armies which have predominated for some time. That is a good thing for the hobby.

A GT is not for every hobbyist...but every hobbyist should try at least one, someday. They dwarf the biggest Rogue Trader Tournament experiences, and as good as some of the Independent 'GT' equvalents are on the circuit (and some, like the Lone Wolf and Alamo GTs, the Adepticon and Quake City weekends, and especially the Astronomi-con circuit, are very, very good indeed)--there is something about an official GW-run GT that is unique. Its scope, elaborateness and sense of hobby spectacle are something every hobbyist should eventually try, and many will come to love.

Especially in Vegas.

*--'MEQ Killer:' An army list designed for competitive play which maximizes the unit and weapons choices available for defeating a particular kind of opponent--a space marine army, characterized by high armour saves and Toughness, but compensatorily low model-count, often called a 'Marine EQuivalent' because it can include Chaos Space Marines, Necrons and outre variants from other codices, as well. Extremely good at eliminating such army types, many variants of this construct are woefully inequipped to deal with high model-count armies, often called 'Hordes.' +++