Baby’s First Tournament – Raf Goes to the Age of Sigmar Chicago Open

So there I was, a total Matched Play newbie, staring across the table at Team USA representative and nationally ranked AoS Player Anthony Trentanelli. I’m a casual player! A Path to Glory hound! Talk about a record-scratch-how-did-I get-here-moment. I can only blame our AoS Editor, Alice.

US Chicago Open

Let’s back up a bit. Hi, I’m Raf. If you’re a regular reader of our Board Games and RPG column you might know who I am. The rest of you will likely have no idea. See, I’m a bit of an anomaly on the Goonhammer team. Not only do I rarely get to actually play these games we write about, when I do it’s typically in a very casual way.

Credit: Raf Cordero

My lists are arbitrarily built based on models I either have or want to paint, I don’t know the difference between an RTT and a GT, hell I didn’t even know all the Matched Play rules walking into the Chicago Open. In fact, like Dante, I wasn’t even supposed to be there that day.

I was supposed to go to Adepticon and muck around the Open Play tables with friends from online. I had no intention of entering a tournament full of competitive people who thought about the game with their brains. I wanted to drink one-beer-too-many and throw squig dice at my pals. Alas, COVID did what it does and a sick family member changed my plans.

With my dream of all day Open Play dashed, I let Alice’s perfidious lamentations that I should enter the Chicago Open settle into my gut. It couldn’t be that bad. At the end of the day I’d get 5 games of Sigmar in over a weekend and bounce around the bottom tables and/or the bar. And so I signed up. I had no idea what I was doing, but I did have an open mind and a full bottle of Chicago’s finest liquor: Malört.

Gaze upon my works ye gamers, and despair. Credit: Raf Cordero

It’s good to go into new experiences with clear goals and expectations, so I took a moment to set some.

1. Make new friends

2. Roll some dice, expect 0 wins.

3. Convince all of my opponents and new friends to take a shot of Malört with me (unless of course they aren’t drinkers).


While the actual Sigmar tournament didn’t start until Saturday, my adventure began on Thursday with a mid-morning run to the airport to grab Alice. An uneventful ride into the city got us to our hotel where we discovered that the other major event treating the Hilton Chicago as it’s HQ was the Chicago Marathon. Talk about a clash of cultures.

Most of the afternoon was dedicated to settling in. We got Cuban sandwiches and a coffee from Cafecito, a hidden gem around the corner. We also stocked the hotel fridge with local beers got a game of Commander (Magic the Gathering) in while we hung out. At this point Alice took her first shot of Malört and regretted ever inviting me to this thing.

Credit: Raf Cordero

My big event of the day was the Game’s Workshop Masterclass painting lesson with Kat and Caleb of CK Studios. This was a 4-hour class for painters who felt like they’d mastered “Parade Ready” and we jumped right in with the airbrush to start zenithal shading and glazing with Citadel Air and Glazes.

While none of the painting classes are cheap, my experience was phenomenal. I left with 3 brushes, 8 or 9 paints (including some Air paints), a Synessa model ~30-40% painted. More importantly, the instruction was amazing. Getting to see up close how an expert’s model progresses through the various stages of painting was illuminating, and I feel much more comfortable with my airbrush techniques. Caleb even showed us an advanced drybrush technique that can be used to develop smooth blends on a curved surface. Worth every penny, and if I’d known it was Kat and Caleb I may have forgone the tournament for a weekend of painting seminars.

Credit: Raf Cordero (for the picture, credit for the skill go to CK Studios)


Friday was a true free day for both Alice and I, with no events planned. All of the GW Opens feature a full GW retail store on location with additional Forge World items and web-only merch like shot glasses, dice trays, and various sundries. There was, unfortunately, a disappointing lack of Age of Sigmar stuff. I was there, high on vibes, ready to impulse buy a bunch of souvenir nonsense and couldn’t find much Sigmar themed stuff. Oh well, I did get some warscroll cards at least.

Alice’s goal for the today—which was hugely appreciated—was to give me a crash course in Sigmar Matched Play. While the flow of a game is similar to Path to Glory, the addition of Grand Strategies and Battle Tactics deeply affect play and she wanted me to see how that would go.

Learning Game
Sector Chamonicus. Credit: Raf Cordero

We set up our game in the Open Play area on a patch of Chamon, Realm of Metal, that looks suspiciously like Sector Mechanicus. As final lists weren’t due until the next morning, we used this time to tinker a bit with my loadout. After seeing how Battle Tactics and missions worked, I changed a few spells and enhancements to hopefully help me win. Alice gamely slammed her Daughters into my thralls so I could understand things like expected output, and I got my first lesson (of four) in how annoying a Krondspine Incharnate can be.

With our hams successfully slammed we went back to the room to perform emergency repairs, final list tweaks, and then met up with some Goonhammer Patrons and friends for lunch. Devil Dawgs was the choice today where I gleefully gulped a glizzy, Chicago-style of course.

At this point all the Warhammer talk was starting to approach the baleful drone of a Bloatfly so I wrangled Alice and Monjio into a game of Space Hulk Death Angel, a classic Fantasy Flight card game. We died a horrible death to Genestealers, which is par for the course in this game. I also took a second to check out the 40k Painting Showcase and allowed myself a moment to dream.

Raf’s Leatherback Leviadon. Credit: Raf Cordero

I’m really proud of how my Deepkin came out. I’d pushed myself to greenstuff and modify the turtle, spent hours on its skin, agonized over my sharks and Eidolon and after seeing the 40k Showcase I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could make the Sigmar showcase. I added it to my list as a stretch goal.

4. Make the painting showcase

Friday evening should have been a time to relax, prepare, and sleep in advance of the tournament. Instead we went to Three Dots and a Dash, a tiki speakeasy (tikeasy?) where the drinks are strong and the resultant hangovers brutal. At this point Alice and I were joined by our final roommate, Andrew “Marchettus” Brennan. A fellow middle-aged gamer with big Dad Energy, I knew we’d be fast friends the minute he expressed frustration that Taylor Swift was doing Carly Rae Jepsen dirty by dropping her new album on the same day CRJ drops Western Wind. Get your own day Taylor.


Remember those tiki drinks? Oof. I was paying for my hubris. I downed Advil, Liquid IV, and a shot of Malort with Andrew to kick the day off as we head downstairs to the Age of Sigmar Area.

Were you at the Chicago Open? Did you even know there was Age of Sigmar going on? You’d be forgiven for not realizing. To get to the AoS area after checking in you had to go into the 40k room, past the food and drink spread available to the Sci-Fi crowd, through a loading dock area, answer the riddle of the Mindstealer Sphinx, and delve a Realmgate before finally emerging in our dedicated play space. It was buried so deep in the bowels of the hotel that the hotel bar couldn’t even set up a cash point. We had to truck back to the 40k room to buy our drink tickets.

Akhelian Allopex
Raf’s Sharks. Credit: Raf Cordero

It was at this point that Alice, Waacnarok Angel that she is, began reviewing the list of attendees and their lists. Unsure of what to do upon arrival I began taking my army out of its case and setting it up on a table.

“Oh Trentanelli is here, he’s one of the best players in the country. Oh god Tzeentch, that’s brutal”.

“Neat”, I said, packing up my army. Someone told me it was best not to take it out yet it would just make initial set up harder.

“I would not want to face him.” she said, foreshadowingly.

Match 1 – Anthony Trentanelli (Disciples of Tzeentch) – Close to the Chest

Every year during the NCAA March Madness tournament a 16 Seed takes an early lead on the 1 Seed. The crowd goes wild, the bench explodes, and with in 2-3 minutes things settle down as the 1 Seed dials in and restores order.

My first match went a lot like that. After shaking hands (and having some Malört) I explained to Anthony that this was my first real game of Matched Play and he gamely went through his army and helped me with initial set up. The internet at large had led me to believe that competitive players are only focused on gaming, but Anthony’s army revealed that to be a lie. His models were beautiful; shockingly bright demons and crisp humans stood out on the table.

Credit: Raf Cordero

I took first turn and snagged my opening 5 points, to which he responded and only scored 4. The crowd went wild (figuratively). At the top of Turn 2 I again chose a battle tactic and scored 5 points! The bench exploded. And then, beginning at the bottom of Turn 2 and into the top of Turn 3, Anthony began to restore order. He graciously and politely wiped me off the board all while extending infinite patience to a newbie. With no models left to push, I conceded and we shook hands.

Games: 0-1. Malört: 1-0.

With all the pressure gone and Match 1 under my belt, we ran upstairs for a mediocre hotel café lunch and to debrief. Alice had also run face first into a Team America representative while Andrew’s warpigs were caught in a Nighthaunt snarl. I thought back on a few of the tips Anthony gave me and resolved to at least give my next opponent a better game.

Match 2 – Justyn Pollock (Lumineth Realm-Lords) – In the Presence of Idols

My Match 2 opponent was also a Matched Play newbie, with only a few games under his belt. Andrew stepped in as a ringer for another shot of Malört (there’s always 1 person who gets hooked), and we began setting up. Justyn had some experience playing Deepkin, so we chatted a bit about Lumineth during set up.

As soon as he began pulling his models out my eyes widened. Justyn’s models were stunning. Rather than the bright whites and pale colors of the official schemes, these models were painted in rich blues and greens with smooth tans complimenting throughout. They had an almost historical games feel to them. At this point, unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures. Blame the Malört.

This game started in an almost perfect inverse to my first match. Pre-game movement allowed Justyn to jump out onto the objectives and taking Turn 1 meant he was into my lines immediately. I lost a number of models to the charge and with everything tied up in combat I felt horribly on the back foot.

Thralls are sneakily strong in combat, however, and my Large Turtle Son hovered around providing enough defense to allow me to hold on. I didn’t score as many points in my Turn 1 however my offense crackback did some damage. Because I’d reversed the Tides I figured Round 2 would be strong for me…army wide Strike First can lay down the hurt.

At this point in the game a judge approached us to let us know we had both been chosen for the painting showcase! That was an exciting moment for both of us, and it was really cool to be playing out our match in all its aesthetic glory.

In the showcase! Credit: Raf Cordero

Headed into Round 2 I committed what is now my biggest regret of the tournament. The Deepkin Strike-First applies on my turn and my opponent’s turn, and I did not stress this enough going into Round 2. I got the double turn and slammed back hard on my turn, but with a lack of a clear reminder on my part the Realm Lords made a few charges into my lines giving me even more opportunity to hack and slash.

Round 3 saw a bit of back and forth but with the Realm Lord melee lines shattered, my victory was well in-hand. A quick discussion and we shook hands.

Games: 1-1 Malört 2-0

The extra time left over at the end of this match meant I could go watch the end of Alice’s game. Andrew had also won his second match, so we threw back a bit more of Chicago’s finest with some innocent victims and debriefed.

Match 3 – Matthew Griffin (Sylvaneth) – Won’t Back Down

As a fellow Chicago-area gamer, Griff enthusiastically helped me go 3-0 in my quest for Malört glory before we began setting up. His Sylvaneth army was anchored by a massive Alarielle riding a beetle and featured a massive amount of healing, resurrection, and movement tricks.

Round 1 began normally. I felt like I’d gotten into a groove with early Battle Tactics and movement, choosing to play cagey and take objectives without pushing far into his territory. My assumption was that getting drawn out would be a recipe for disaster and that I may as well make him come to me since everything could fly and/or teleport anyway.

At the bottom of Round 1 things began to pop off, with Griff moving units into combat including that massive beetle taking a rather large chunk out of my poor turtle who was just floating along minding his own business. We traded combat and suddenly Griff face dropped as he realized he’d intended to use some ability that would allow Alarielle to avoid combat this round. It would all come down to the roll-off.

Luck was with me. A double turn let me take Alarielle off the table at the top of Round 2, dealing a huge blow to the Sylvaneth war effort. We took a quick break to grab a beer and sat down to keep going.

Raf’s Eidolon. Credit: Raf Cordero

While losing his general was a massive blow, this particular mission and the nature of the Battle Tactics meant that the game was far from over. This match was a match of positioning and movement; it was the least bloody of any I’d play this weekend and I developed a strong appreciation for the tactical play the game requires.

Alas, any hope Griff had of a late game comeback was dashed when his dice truly abandoned him. He failed a 2+ to bring Alarielle back and then rerolled snake eyes into snake eyes on a 3” charge. A gracious opponent, he let me know about a shop not far from where I live where he and his group play weekly should I ever want to get some practice in.

Games: 2-1 Malört 3-0

Buzzing at all three of us going 2-1 on the first day, we grabbed a quick dinner and joined the rest of the Goonhammer crew for Warhammer Trivia (which we won!) and a few drinks.


At this point I felt like I was playing with house money. 2 wins and the painting showcase already exceeded the expectations I’d set for myself. Today was a day for vibes.

Match 4 – James Nelson (Cities of Sigmar) – The Realmstone Cache

James’ army was a heavily converted Cities of Sigmar list with a sweet Krondspine model. Given my ability to summon an additional Gloomtime shipwreck, my goal for this mission was to try and take early control of the center objective and plop the boat down to block his access. My hope was that locking down the objective for 2 turns would give me a lead I could use to hold on. A tactic that would have worked if it weren’t for those meddling Krondspines.

This Match was notable for how close it was. His Fulminators hit hard, but my Thralls hit hard right back. We both had some good rolls and bad rolls, some pushes forward and some backline units trying to play cagey. Given how close it was, it would come down to a single battle: Titan on Titan, Leviadon vs Krondspine.

In Round 1 James sacrificed his Wizard, planning to eat his own Endless Spells to level up the Krondspine. I was able to lay enough missile fire into the Krondspine to knock it down to Level 1. Because of my aggressive positioning and boat placement, it wasn’t able to eat any endless spells so I had a shot at taking it off the board. At this point, my inexperience came to bear. I didn’t realize that killing a Monster would level the Krondspine up. I also didn’t appreciate how unnecessary it was to overcommit my turtle’s offense. Yes, I managed to load 18 wounds into the Incharnate, guaranteeing a kill…but in doing so I didn’t save a command point for All Out Defense. It was a tall order to kill my turtle in a single battle, but once the dice settled James managed to do exactly that.

With my Turtle dead and the Krondspine very much alive, I struggled to keep up and score points towards the end of the game. This is by far my most regretted loss. While talking to Andrew about winning the Sylvaneth match on a major error, he sagely intoned “The thing about those wins is, we take those”. Well, the thing about these losses is you have to take those too.

Games: 2-2 Malört 4-0

With that said, if the good natured play of Day 1 had started getting me excited about tournament play then this is the match where that bug bit deep. I have filled countless empty moments since the Open running this game over in my head. How I could have moved differently, how I could have played my boat more defensively. Changes to command points, changes to deployment, all of it.

Match 5 – Joe Venable (Idoneth Deepkin) – The Silksteel Nests

Oh boy a mirror match! Oh no, a mirror match.

If Match 1 was a controlled destruction, Match 5 was a shellacking. One look at the objective layout and Joe’s list made clear that this was going to be a horrible matchup for me. All of Joe’s objectives were too far for me to reach with my Thralls and I had no deep-striking abilities. Joe, on the other hand, had gobs of Reavers and Thralls ready to appear behind my lines.

Akhelion Thrallmaster

My initial options were limited, and I was forced to take some calculated risks. They were good risks, in debriefing Joe commented that my play was fine without any major errors, but they were risks and unfortunately the luck that carried me through my two wins had run its course.

I held on and gave it my all, but Joe’s forces were able to steadily march along my deployment edge removing unit after unit one by one. My stronger forces—the sharks and turtle—made short work of whatever I pointed them at, but it was far too little far too late to do much.

Games: 2-3 Malört: 5-0

Parting Thoughts

It’s honestly hard to imagine a better weekend of Sigmar. I won 2 games, I made the painting showcase, and I met gobs of very friendly players. Even the competitive players I faced (Anthony took Best Overall, and my other two losses were to both to players who finished in the Top 15) were friendly and welcoming, without a bad natured bone in anyone’s body.

It’s trite to say that the real victories are the friends we made along the way but in truth, that’s my biggest takeaway from the Chicago Open. Yes, players came to win. Yes, folks were running strong lists with focused strategies. But No, no one was rude, mean, or aggressive. Being a new player is a cause of anxiety; I hate fumbling through rules and asking questions. Yet not a man nor woman was impatient, short, or unwelcoming.

I left the Chicago Open on a high, with a full heart and an empty bottle of Malört. If anyone reading this is on the fence about attending an event, competitive or otherwise, I encourage you to give it a roll. Grab a friend or two and head down to roll some dice. I’m certain you’ll have fun.