Are You Ard Enough?

Games Workshop generally refers to 'The Hobby' by that broad term because it includes so many related-but-distinct activities, each of which has its adherents amongst hobbyists, and finding ways to reflect them all in their Grand Tournament circuit has proven one of the trickiest parts of making those events satisfying to the largest number of said hobbyists. While I believe they've done a very good job of that in their most recent iteration of GT rules, as noted in a previous blog, there is something to be said for the purity and clarity of events devoted to just one aspect of the hobby at a time.

GW recognized that early on with their Golden Daemon miniature painting competition; now they have begun acknowledging the other major aspect of 'The Hobby'--actual tabletop game play--with its own dedicated event series: the Ard Boyz tournaments.

At an Ard Boyz (so named for a particularly combative Ork army unit, which thus lends the circuit its orky iconography), a player is not scored for painting, for army theme or adherence to background or creativity of army list, or even for sportsmanship; so long as he meets the clearly-specified participation requirements, the player advances purely on what happens in his three rounds of tabletop combat.

Hobby events I favour--whether running or playing--have always embraced the entirety of the hobby, and so I have been asked whether I think the Ard Boyz' focus on pure generalship is a good thing or not; I believe context in this question is important--but I also think the answer is unequivocally 'yes.'

First of all--the Ard Boys events are *free.* Credit for that goes not just to GW but also to every Independent Stockist who hosts an event: because of them, every hobbyist who desires can participate in at least the first round of the circuit, the Retailer-level round, playing an entire Saturday of Warhammer Fantasy Battle or Warhammer 40,000 with challenging scenarios, against new opponents, at absolutely no charge. That is good for the hobby from any perspective. Moreover, the circuit provides the top three finishers at each Retailer-level round the opportunity to play again--for free--at one of several Regional-level rounds scattered across the country (also usually a location provided by an Independent Stockist worthy of support)...and top finishers at those events meet at a national Games Workshop function, usually immediately prior to a Baltimore GamesDay or Grand Tournament, for the climactic Finals--again, without charge. It is difficult to find fault in such logistics (yes, I am aware that players have to reach the various round venues on their own: GW and/or their local stockists are more than doing their part by providing opportunity--it is unrealistic of hobbyists to expect them to get them there to take advantage of it, as well; and yes I am aware that, by relying on local stockists to run the Retailer- and many of the Regional-level rounds, GW runs the risk that some may be administered much better--or much worse--than others: these things *aren't* as easy to administer as one might guess, such retailers are generally doing it for their customers' benefit, so while I would not discourage hobbyists from letting a retailer whose moderator struggled know about it, I would hope they would do so with some empathy for the comparative thanklessness of the job...and of course the reverse is always true: if you have a moderator in your area who does a good job with these events, choose the stockist he is administering for these events when you can, be sure the retailer knows the event was moderated well--and, perhaps, tell the moderator, too :).

Second--though related to the first point--GW generously supports the Ard Boyz tournament circuit with prizes. There aren't many paid-ticket events in this hobby with up to US$150 available in prizes, plus Certificates of Victory for the top three finishers and top-quality, limited-run t-shirts available to participants...and that is just at the Retailer-level rounds. Prizes can become as much a problem as an attraction in hobby events, I've found; the problem specifically arises when the prize becomes the point, either of being there or of how one plays. But at the end of the day, that isn't GW or the Independent Stockist's fault--that is pure-and-simple greed, and that lies entirely within the character of the participant, and where that vice rears its head, things inevitably suffer regardless of the circumstance (I will refrain from digressing to the national economy to make this subcultural point). Suffice that everyone loves to end a day of great fun by taking home something cool, and GW has supported participation in Ard Boyz most generously, to that end.

Finally--tactical skill may be the least-acknowledged of the hobby's aspects across the broad community: when we face an army on the table that is clearly more striking than our own, most of us have little trouble admitting it and appreciating the talent involved in a superior painting or converting or presentation job--but when we lose that game, it is always the dice which betrayed us (or blessed the opponent), or the scenario which screwed us (or favoured theopponent), or the unfairness of the opponent's new/beardy/cheesy/overpowered/undercosted codex or army book...never that the opposition was just a lot savvier at the nuts-and-bolts of move and maneuver than we were. Ard Boyz may not remove any of those rationalizations from the vocabulary--but by rewarding consistently good generals, it might increase the appreciation for their skill by a fraction, at least. From my perspective, that is a good thing: one of the attractive elements of this hobby is the opportunity it provides to continue to stretch the intellectual muscles, and it has always bothered me to see players who excel at that admittedly difficult-to-quantify aspect of the hobby diminished regularly.

Ard Boyz is most valuable in the larger context of the entirety of organized events within the GW hobby, however: if 'outcome-only' events were a big emphasis, something like Ard Boyz might be a circuit I would have concerns about--but the fact is *most* GW organized events, whether official (like GamesDays or the GTs or the Lucky 13s campaign) or independent (like the Adepticon or Astronomi-cons), tend to be of the 'embrace all aspects of the hobby' sort...or emphasize something else, usually painting and converting, like the GDs.

In that context, Ard Boyz fills a definite roll in the hobby--and given its inherent virtues noted previously, it is hard not to view it as a 'good thing', and encourage every interested hobbyist to take advantage of the opportunity to play in one. The Retailer-level round for 40K was completed in September; check the Games Workshop Events website for Regional-level round locations, to be held in October (the North Texas one will be at HobbyAnnex in North Dallas) if you want to come out and see what sorts of armies are 'ardest, in preparation for the 2009 circuit!