GongHammer Down Under: My First 40k Event in four and a half years

Back in the heady and relatively optimistic days of January 2018, I attended my first multi-day Warhammer 40,000 event – Cancon, a gathering of several hundred of Australia’s finest nerds and hosting, among other events, the world’s largest Age of Sigmar singles tournament. It was an eight round event and it almost killed me. I peaked at 6th place and ended a respectable 35th out of 128 competitors. It was intense, and exhausting, and I didn’t play in another 40k event for four and a half years. My gaming home was the Mortal Realms of Age of Sigmar, and the Age of Darkness of the Horus Heresy. I loved grim darkness of the far future, and regularly played garagehammer, but I couldn’t bring myself to go to another event – the game was just too mechanical, too abstract, and too ‘game-ified’.

Cut to July 2022, and I’ve just finished GongHammer GT, a 72 player grand tournament held in the coastal Australian city of Wollongong, and I would give anything to go back and play another event. That is, you can probably tell, quite the turnaround, so I wanted to talk a little bit about how it happened.

Big shout out also to Daveydweeb, one of Goonhammer’s wonderful Patreons, who was not only my traveling and complaint companion but also responsible for, oooh, 80% of all 40k games I’ve had since 2018. Routinely pummeling him ruthlessly into the dirt was certainly an antidote to the pain of the real world, and playing so many games against his Chaos Knights really prepared me for not facing any Chaos Knights at the event.

You can find Goonhammer’s Competitive Innovations coverage of GongHammer GT here.

Jumping in with a quick edit here: it was pointed out to me today that Yield No Ground, which I praise highly throughout, has changed fairly significantly in Nephilim. In the Codex, you score up to five points per turn but can’t score turn one. In Nephilim, you score one point for each of the three conditions, but can score it turn one. I’m a bit dismayed that I was playing it wrong the whole event, but I don’t think the results would have changed. Either way, I wanted to call myself out on it. I’ll be sure as sure to remember it next time!

The list

As this was going to be my first real 40k event in forever I didn’t want to push to come up with anything too fancy, so I did what any real journalist would do and shamelessly plagiarised. 

House Taranis Super Heavy Detachment

Oaths: Defend the Realm, Lay Low the Tyrants

LOW: Knight Castellan, 2x cannons, 2x missile, Warlord: Knight of Mars, Revered Paragon: Revered Knight, Exalted Court: Forge Master – 655pts

LOW: Knight Errant, Knight Baron: Knight Seneschal, Sanctuary, Exalted Court: Master Tactician: Machine Focus – 455pts

LOW: 2x Warglaives, stubbers – 290pts

LOW: 2x Warglaives, stubbers – 290pts

LOW: 2x Helverins, stubbers, one with Heirlooms of the House: Bastard’s Helm – 310pts

2000pts, 1CP

The gangs all here! Credit: Magos Sockbert Imperial Knights
The gangs all here! Credit: Magos Sockbert Imperial Knights

Keen eyed readers may recognise this from Wing’s Imperial Knights codex review, without a single shred of independent thought applied to it. List writing for 40k isn’t something I’m particularly good at yet or even really enjoy – I struggle to read a codex and draw links between different units and how they might operate in the far future, with my core games being Age of Sigmar and Horus Heresy where the rules and army construction options are wildly divergent.

My plan for the list wasn’t particularly… subtle, with the Castellan soaking up an obnoxious amount of damage thanks to Forge Master and dishing a terrifying amount of it back out, backed up with a pair of Helverins with +1 to wound thanks to Bastard’s Helm, arguably the best hat in the Codex, if not the game. The Errant in theory would be deleting the biggest, scariest thing that looked at it funny, while the Warglaives wander around taking objectives and making high-wound armies nervous. The hidden (well, not really) gimmick is using Knight of Mars on the Castellan with Calculated Targeting to turn one Volcano Cannon shot into a guaranteed 6 to wound, making a poor victim suffer D6+8 mortal wounds. The only downside is somehow hoarding the 4CP required to get it off in these times of CP famine…

Even without having to come up with my own list, I still had to write up a little cheat sheet to remember all my special rules. There isn’t an AoS Reminders site developed for 40k yet where you can put in your army and there’s a cute little breakdown of everything you can do each phase, but the half dozen practice games I put in gave me a reasonable understanding of what the list could get up to in the right hands. Or, for that matter, my hands. Worryingly, these practice games suggested I might have too many low shot/high damage weapons, with three quarters of my models having some form of melta weapon. A future list tweak might be to replace at least one Warglaive with a Helverin, but I wasn’t making any hard choices until after the event.

As my final task before the event I needed to come up with a way to differentiate the Helverin with the Bastard’s Helm from its twin. I will leave it to you, dear reader, to figure out which knight hat this relic.

Look out! He's got a hat! Credit: Magos Sockbert, being safely masked in the background.
Look out! He’s got a hat! Credit: Magos Sockbert, being safely masked in the background.

It’s important I feel to take the list that will bring you the most joy. If that list is a super tooled competitive one, great. If that’s an “oops all Canoptek” theme, go for it. In my case, it was a ‘net list’ nicked from a much better player and it got me everything I wanted from it. Could a better player have piloted the list to a higher placing? Absolutely, but that wasn’t why I came to the event. In all honesty, I came to GongHammer GT because I’m now unable to get to NOVA Open or Adepticon for the next few years. This was an impulse decision without much thought put into it, but absolutely not one I would regret.

The event

Originally intended to be a smallish 40 person event, Bradley Stewart, the Tournament Organiser, managed to pull together the terrain and boards required to bring up the numbers to a healthy 72 players for day one. Still painting terrain up to the final hours prior to the event, Brad was able to put on a great event without sacrificing player experience. Funds from the event would go to helping set up a club at the school he teaches at and which so generously hosted us. His year seven art class even helped paint some of the terrain for the top tables!

GongHammer GT setup. Credit: Magos Sockbert
GongHammer GT setup. What a civilised amount of space! Credit: Magos Sockbert

GongHammer GT terrain Credit: Magos Sockbert
GongHammer GT terrain. Those big three level ruins counted as closed windows, and I would learn to fear them. Credit: Magos Sockbert


Game One – Conversion

Benjamin Hayter – Salamanders

Loss 56-84

Secondaries: Grind Them Down (6/15), Yield No Ground (15/15), Renew The Oaths (6/15)

With my army of low shot, high damage armoured targets somewhat specialising into removing vehicles and monsters, my first game was obviously against a horde of Salamanders with meltas and powerfists galore.

Imperial Knight Armigers Salamanders Magos Sockbert
Green Space Marines are not immune to the charm of the fancy hat. Credit: Magos Sockbert

GongHammer hadn’t yet introduced the charging into terrain FAQ thanks to it coming out something like three hours after cutoff, and I began to hate it even so early in the event. I don’t begrudge any of my opponents this at all, but stacking an entire army into a single large terrain piece that I can’t see into or through led to some incredibly non-interactive first turns… A few of my opponents, including Benjamin, had forgotten this, so I was careful to remind every opponent that if their models were within an inch of the wall then I could charge them. I didn’t want to win because people had a minor forgetful moment about which of 40k’s many rules was in effect.

Daveydweeb, for his part, forgot that prior to this FAQ he could have used the pre-nerf über version of Storm of Darkness with his Chaos Knights. His honourable use of the inferior version didn’t change any outcomes, but it did add to his shame.

This was an awesome introduction to getting back into the tournament scene, with Ben being a great opponent and a die-hard Salamanders fan. The 56-84 scoreline doesn’t really represent how nasty this game was to me, losing three knights on turns two and three while only scoring “Hold Two Objectives” once over the entire game…

Bonus quote of the game, after taking my 30 wound Castellan with 4+ invulnerable save and 6+ Feel No Pain down to a single wound: “And now for the other half of the Eradicator squad.”

44 of 48 possible Salamanders flamer shots makes baby Armigers sad. Credit: Magos Sockbert
44 of 48 possible Salamanders flamer shots makes baby Armigers sad. Credit: Magos Sockbert

What did I learn?

  • If your opponent has eighty bajillion melta eradicators, you absolutely, definitely need to save those 2CP for Rotate Ion Shields. Ask me how I learned this…
  • That being said, Nephilim required a tonne of hard choices at this event. Starting with 7CP I could, in my practice games, break out Calculated Targeting every single game turn one, but now starting with only 1CP I had to really think hard which, in all honesty and leaving general nerd complaining aside, is probably a really healthy thing for the game.
  • I am a lord of spite and not above using a volcano cannon on three Eliminators.

Game Two – Data Scry-Salvage

Conor Keane – Imperial Knights

Win  77-36

Secondaries: Bring It Down (15/15), Yield No Ground (15/15), Grind Them Down (3/15)

Now this is what I’m talking about! Hot knight on knight action, just like in the simulations. Conor was a gentleman with a beautifully painted army, a member of Down Under 40k, formerly the New South Wales Masters team, and just getting back into the game after a long break. Naturally, as is the proud and noble tradition of Goonhammer, I bodied him, tabling the man before he had his third turn. Conor had brought an amazingly painted Oops All Freeblades list with some nasty combinations, but fortunately for me we only discovered these as we went through the game, it being a learning moment for both of us. Probably the nastiest of these was potentially making the Magaera +1 to hit, +1 Damage and 6s to wound do mortal wounds, which we only learned after its timely demise at the hands of a frankly excessive number of Helverin shots.

It was at this point in the tournament, ten turns in, that I was starting to think that Grind Them Down was maybe a trap. Not only do I apparently have an excellent talent for almost killing units (scoring me none) and then wildly overkilling the turn after, you’re weirdly incentivised into leaving units alive when that can… kill you back. It’s also a very strange feeling to not be able to score a “murder dudes” objective because you’ve already killed them all the previous turns…

On another table somewhere in the hall, Daveydweeb was being gently paddled by Eugene’s Adeptus Custodes.

Imperial Knight fight Credit: Magos Sockbert
Knightin’ Fightin’. Credit: Magos Sockbert

What did I learn?

If you lose a Castellan that was on an objective, and there now exists a naked objective for you to stand upon in your own deployment zone, don’t stand next to it for no reason for two turns. I just completely forgot about the little marker and my Helverins danced all over the board ignoring the giant crater their Castellan Daddy used to exist in that housed an objective marker. This was just a pure brain fart, but it was kind of useful to be reminded I have to think about the board, not just the models.

Game Three – Tear Down Their Icons

Cameron Royle – Blood Angels

Loss – 59-76

Secondaries: Yield No Ground (14/15), Grind Them Down (0/15 lol), Renew The Oaths (15/15)

Game three, and I’m really starting to hate terrain. I recognise that Planet Bowling Ball isn’t fun for anyone, but there has to be a middle ground between “everyone dies on an open field” and “you cannot interact with my army lol”.

Dear Omnissiah give me back template weapons. Credit: Magos Sockbert
Dear Omnissiah give me back template weapons. Credit: Magos Sockbert

Despite deleting an entire unit of Sanguinary Guard with a single mortal wound producing Volcano Cannon shot from Calculated Targetting and Knight of Mars, this was probably my saltiest game of the event. It can be, it appears, a little hard for me to enjoy a game when I can’t interact with most of the army before it suddenly makes a series of 18” charges and deletes whole knights before I get to act. I strongly believe that Age of Sigmar has the better charge/fight order mechanic, in that you alternate picking a unit to fight with the player whose turn it is picking first. Without a way to interrupt (and arguably I should have saved the CP, but if I had then even more Bangles would have hit me), I was forced to watch Cameron hit me with 1400 points of charging Blood Angels in assault doctrine which, as we can all imagine, was a bad time.

What did I learn?

The learning I took from this game was that holy shit Renew The Oaths is amazing. For those unlucky enough not to play Imperial Knights, Renew The Oaths is an action-based Shadow Operations secondary where you score 3 points if the action was completed by an Armiger, 4 if it’s completed by a bigger knight and an additional point if the model that completed the action is a character. Yes, you’re losing out on shooting with potentially a major gun platform, but I scored 15 points for this secondary this game and I lost nothing because that knight couldn’t see anyone. Considering two of these times was my 655 point Castellan, it probably wasn’t worth it in the grand scheme of things, but hey, if you can’t do anything else, why not score points?

Someone out there in the darkness, Daveydweeb’s beautiful robot sons were impotently struggling with Jamie’s Salamanders, in his closest victory of the tournament.

Game Four – Recover The Relics

Andrew Trowbridge – Thousand Sons

Win – 85-78

Secondaries: (Yield No Ground (15/15 are you seeing a pattern here?!), Grind Them Down (3/15), Abhor the Witch (12/15)

What tournament wouldn’t be complete without some magic shenanigans? This was the only wizard-based army I came across, so I was wholly unprepared for the mischief a tooled up psychic army can perform. Andrew’s army was the most beautiful one I played against, heavily leaning into the Horus Heresy range for his Scarab Occult Terminators and characters, including Amon, and a Castellax Achea as a Hellbrute. Big fan of giant stompy robots, and magical giant stompy robots are the real deal – until they survive on one wound and hide for the rest of the game, at least.

I kind of knew how this game would go the moment I turned up. Seriously, a whole army of mages and not one guy had a hat with “WIZZARD” on it? Rincewind would be disappoinetd.

Imperial Knight Armiger Thousand Sons Magos Sockbert
Yet another Armiger having a bad day against beautiful models. Credit: Magos Sockbert

This was an odd game, and one I’m sure a better play could have done wildly better at. On multiple occasions I managed to take a unit down to a single model, which then hid for the rest of the game denying me Grind and Abhor points. I’m… not entirely sure what to do about this, honestly. It feels a waste of a knight to burn a Helverin taking down a single Rubric, but at the same time if it scores points, it scores points, right?

What did I learn?

Once again, Grind Them Down proved to be a trap, with a multitude of unit survivors ending the game hiding from rampaging knights, but I’ll take that as vengeance for the guilt I felt making Andrew pick up 15 terminators in a single round of shooting to a fully Calculated Targetting Castellan with Pains of Old Night

Shout out also to Andrew’s team, the excellently named Veterans of the Longneck. And meanwhile, Daveydweeb was learning to stop worrying and love being pasted by Heath’s Tyranids.

Game Five – Death And Zeal

William Wykoff – Farsight Enclaves

Win – 89-87

Secondaries: Yield No Ground (15/15), Bring It Down (8/15), Grind Them Down (12/15)

Oh. Oh no. Going into the final round, two up two down, and I find myself drawn against… double Hammerheads. These fishy fiends care not for my pathetic Rotate Ion Shields or mortal “armour saves”, so I am forced to rely on the nobility of House Taranis’ Omnissiah’s Grace 6+ Feel No Pain to save me, and… honestly, it went pretty alright.

"I can see you, little knight!" Hammerheads haunt my dreams now... Credit: Magos Sockbert

As you can expect, my poor Knight Errant was deleted the moment his Hammerheads had a chance to poke their heads out of cover, which… didn’t go well for them. What did go well was William’s ability to delete honourable scion after honourable scion with fully buffed crisis suits and eight billion shots. And here I was thinking that this game was trying to get rid of rerolls… I managed a huge lead early on (something like 55-20 at the end of turn two) and he played amazingly to bring that back up – it was fascinating to see how a good player can turn the tide with a ‘bad’ book.

Over the last four or five years of going to events, I’ve had a nasty habit of my final opponent being the least fun game I had, making me less likely each time to want to go back. I can absolutely confirm that William broke that track record, and this was the most tactical game of Warhammer 40,000 I’ve ever played. I’ve never had such a close game. It got to the point where, final turn of the game, if he could kill my Castellan he’d score three points from Direct Assault and the game would end 89-90. Dice down was called, but we didn’t care – this was too important for us both! In the end though, my still-to-be-named Castellan survived with two wounds remaining, and we wrapped up GongHammer 2022 with a grin on both our faces.

At the very next table, Daveydweeb snuggled gently and respectfully into a tie with Tyson’s truly distressing number of Slaanesh daemons.

So. Much. Plasma. Credit: Magos Sockbert
So. Much. Plasma. Credit: Magos Sockbert

What did I learn?

Terrain can be… rough. I don’t think anyone can look at these tables and say there wasn’t enough cover which becomes a huge problem when your entire army is knights which can’t really interact with it. The ability to hide 1900 points of your army and the mandatory win roll = go first mechanic means that players seem incentivised to be ultra conservative turn one so their opponent just doesn’t really get to play the game which, in my absolutely idiot inexperienced opinion, doesn’t seem that fun. That isn’t going to go away at ‘proper’ events, so I need to learn how to deal with it rather than just be sad at it.

Key takeaways from the event

    • I need to know my rules better. I shouldn’t have to look at a codex for anything other than to reference a rule if my opponent asks. This is something I improved on substantially over the course of the event, but at the same time I think I discovered a new stratagem every game… Sure, part of that is me not really playing the game, but I also owe it to my opponents to not hold their games up and keep the flow going. Most damningly of all, I think I learned a new combination or Stratagem every single game.
    • Please, whoever you are, and whatever level of the game you play at, get a chess clock. I wanted to put this point down the bottom to avoid calling anyone out, but I absolutely believe two of my opponents would’ve clocked out if we’d been using a chess clock. Is it a bit odd to try and time someone out when you’re so far from the top? Maybe, but it’s far worse to deny someone a fair and even game because they play slower. I’ll be trialing a clock with my local Age of Sigmar group as well.
    • Armour of Contempt might need a tweak. The phrase “0+ armour save in cover with a 5+ Feel No Pain” is simply disheartening when you’re firing something that’s designed to take down enemy knights and titans. It might be an interesting idea to bring back the old Instant Death rule, where a weapon double the strength of an enemy’s toughness slays that model outright after only a single wound. At least that way something might happen when you shoot a terminator in the face with a twin meltagun…
    • Yield No Ground is… probably too good, honestly. You score 2 points if you control half or more objectives with knights, two points if no enemy units are in your deployment zone, and 1 point if none of your knights moved back to your board edge or fell back. You can’t score this turn one, but this is incredibly easy to do very, very well with. I didn’t fail to max it in any game, including my first game where I’d been tabled and continued to score.

Wrapping up

I finished a very respectable 29th place out of 72 attendees with three wins and two losses and, thanks to the unintended power of the submarine, I ended up higher placed than all of my opponents. For someone who hasn’t really played in four years, I’m exceptionally happy with that result.

I’m super keen for another event. I feel like I had a decent chance to learn a bit about the game and had some amazing opponents, at a supremely well run event. I haven’t felt this optimistic about Warhammer in years, regardless of the system.

Now all we need is a Goonhammer Open Down Under…

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