NOVA 2019, Part 1: As Bad and As Good As it Gets

After an entire summer of frantic painting, army changes, Goonhammer updates, and last-minute Chaos Knight assembly, it was finally time for NOVA. For me, that meant three days of yelling, gaming, drinking, and more yelling as I tackled the Warhammer 40k Grand Tournament. This wasn’t my first year in the tournament, and my time at the event last year helped make this year a significantly more enjoyable experience. I had a blast, but for everyone who couldn’t attend, I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on my time there and how things went.

So whether you’ve been following along with my regular posts or are just interested in a recap of this year’s GT from someone who was actually there and winning multiple games, settle down with a glass of your preferred evening drink, dim the lights, and take a journey with me.



11:30 AM

One of the many, many things people don’t tell you about having children is that babies and toddlers get car sick all the time. They can’t see out the windows of the car very easily, especially when the seat is facing backward, so their inner ear senses motion while their eyes and body don’t. The discrepancy causes them to get motion sick, and with no way to remedy the problem (and an inability to communicate that they don’t feel well), the end result is that they throw up all over the back seat of your car and you end up having to pull over at a rest stop to clean vomit out of the car seat while your partner digs clean clothes out of their bag. On a long car trip, this can happen every hour.

I bring this up because the trip to NOVA starts with a four-hour drive to my in-laws’ house about an hour outside of DC. I have a toddler and one of the ways that I make the the prospect of ghosting my wife and toddler for three days palatable is by combining it with one of our semiannual trips to her parents’ house. She gets a little support with our son, we knock out one of our obligations and provide time with grandma and grandpa, and I get to fuck around for three days in a basement filled with plastic miniatures. It’s win-win-win.

We believe we’ve solved the motion sickness problem with a combination of in-car movies to watch and a pair of well-timed stops that get our son out of the car before he has a chance to get too sick. Thursday was our first trip to the in-laws’ house that didn’t involve cleaning barf off, and I just completed a barf-less return journey before writing this, so I am claiming victory over this problem in what I’m sure will not in any way be a premature action that comes back to haunt me later.

5:30 PM

We’ve been at my in-laws’ house for an hour and messages are piling up on the Goonhammer Discord as more of our crew piles into the event and starts having what I am convinced is an unreasonable amount of fun without me. I told the missus I’d hang out until 6 but I really want to hit the road. I tell her that I believe she’s really come along at this whole mom thing and she’s ready to fly on her own without me. She tells me to go fuck myself and wishes me luck at the GT.

6:30 PM

DC/Northern Virginia traffic is some of the worst in the country but fortunately I’m going against the flow by driving into the city in evening. I pull into the parking garage around the corner from the Crystal City Hyatt. My boy Greg “Greg” Chiasson is there already and we’re rooming together. We check in and drop off the bags. We’re on the 8th floor, which isn’t ideal but it’s not terrible, either. I say it’s not ideal because the elevators at the Hyatt are a goddamn disaster during NOVA, and it’s not uncommon to wait 10 or more minutes to get on one during peak hours. So you want to be as low as possible so you can audible to the stairs in a pinch. Anyways, the room is fine.

7:30 PM

Everyone’s hanging out up in the roof lounge so we head up that way. Dan Boyd’s up there holding court with a bunch of our crew and all anyone wants to talk about is the Wednesday night previews. Specifically, the Chapter Master Shrike reveal and his My Chemical Romance-ass haircut. We debate what kind of goths the Raven Guard are and decide that, while Corax was a Morrissey goth, Shrike and modern-day RGs are more of the Hot Topic variety. We ask Dan about whether he’ll cover his Shrike model’s bases with posters for Thursday and Saves the Day. He seems to be taking it well, all things considered: He laughs openly at our barbs and jabs, but I can tell he’s dying inside. The guy who just ran the “Team Sports” side of the Badcast’s “Sports vs. Anime” game just got the most anime model GW has ever made for his new commander.

8:30 PM

It has become clear that the free popcorn in the hotel’s roof lobby is no substitute for an actual meal. Greg and I head down to drum up some dinner. The area around the hotel is a bit dire when it comes to food — the area is kind of a nexus of hotels and convention spaces, so if you want to get good food, you have to walk at least a half mile. There are a couple of spots nearby though – there’s a deli across the street and Boselli’s Pizza around the corner. There are also a bunch of food trucks that sit outside every day of the con. The food at these is pretty good, but there are lines for them and I’m too hyped about spending time with the Goonhammer crew to want to wait for better food. We decide to hit the deli across the street five minutes before it closes. While we’re waiting in line there, we run into Carl, a fellow goon, Zone Mortalis rules appreciator, and co-host of the excellent Independent Characters podcast. We shoot the shit with him for a while as we head back up to the roof. I had a cheesesteak. It was OK – 5/10 – but worth it for the quick turnaround.

9:00 PM 

We spend another hour cracking jokes and shooting the shit. More folks have shown up and the whole thing has a very “The Boys Are Back in Town” atmosphere. This is a complete 180 for me from last year, where I missed all of these sweet hangouts driving to and from the con from my in-laws’ place every day. I’m not gonna make that fuckin mistake ever again.

10:00 PM

I was supposed to play a practice game against Patrick “Artum” Robbins, but he’s nowhere to be found. Similarly, Greg was supposed to play one against Liam Royle, but Liam’s nowhere to be found as he’s still yelling at Aer Lingus about his missing army, which may or may not be in the United States at this point and may or may not have been delivered to the hotel. So I play a practice game against Greg so he can get a better feel for army deployment. It goes pretty much the same as all of our practice games, though Greg does a little better this time around. I’m still not real comfortable with my own army and the last-minute adjustments. The Bloodletters are actually pretty good, but they just kind of highlight how Abaddon and the Berserkers are a waste of points now. I can tell that going 3-3 again this year is going to be more of a struggle than I thought.

Eventually Liam shows up. He’s tired and angry. He’s been on the phone for a while and his bags are nowhere to be found. He hangs out for a bit.

12:30 AM

We’re back in the room and I’m scribbling up a Chaos Knights army list for Liam to play using the models I brought. Turns out I only have 1,963 points of models in my case, since Chaos Lords and Warpsmiths cost less than I figured. This is probably fine. I hand off the army, codex, and stratagem cards to Liam, who heads back to his room, presumably to sob openly about his chances at winning the GT.

12:48 AM

Liam gets to his room and it turns out the bag was delivered and his models are here. Hooray! Wait, fuck — that means I built that knight and dragged all that shit down here for nothing. Well, I’m still happy for him. We also do some quick back-of-the-envelope math and determine that, because Liam hadn’t been back to his room since the early afternoon, there’s a good 8-hour period where his bag could have been here and he had no idea, including the time he spent chewing people out on the phone, which is hilarious. I mean, moreso in retrospect and because it wasn’t me, but hilarious nonetheless. We end up crashing around 1:30.


My GT army. Yes, I know it’s garbage, why do you ask?


6:58 AM

I wake up two minutes before the alarm. I slept like shit because well, people generally sleep like shit in hotel beds. I’ve read that the human brain is wired to sleep lightly (to “stand guard”) when you sleep in a new place, to prevent you from being eaten by mammoths and shit. This is the most sleep I’ll get all week.

7:30 AM

Breakfast in the hotel restaurant. It’s overpriced buffet food, but it’s serviceable and fast. There’s fresh fruit and salami, at least, and the bacon’s OK.

8:30 AM

Registration starts downstairs. Greg has added the specialist detachment to his army list on Liam’s recommendation because “what the fuck else have you got to spend your command points on?”. He didn’t put it on his printed lists though, so we’re adding it in with pen before giving it to the judges. I write “Specialist Detachment: Flipmode Squad” on the ones I’m helping with because 1) It alerts people to the notion that this whole squad is serious, and that one should have a healthy fear of us, and 2) that’s just the kind of unhelpful dickhead I am. The judges don’t seem to notice.

We walk over to the lower tables, expecting to spend most of our time over there. Something you might not know is that the table you play on is tied to your rank; the top players play on the top tables, while lower players play on lower tables and you move up or down as you win or lose games. My list isn’t good enough to expect to break into the top 50 or so tables. We’re sitting down looking at the armies people are bringing in. Something I’ve learned – and that I impart on Greg at this point – is that generally, the worse the army across from you looks, the more you can expect to get completely fucking wrecked. Sure, sometimes you see beautiful armies that are also brutal to play against, but usually it’s the half-painted 3-color-standard blobs that got assembled in the last month that are going to dominate you. At this point I notice an army of Space Wolves that consists primarily of three Stormfang Gunships and a Fire Raptor, plus a Chaplain Dread and some characters. I look back at my army. I have no way to beat that list – most of my army is melee, so unless those jets drop to Hover mode or my jump pack sorcerer gets lucky attacking them, I just won’t be able to do much more than kill maybe one of them. I really hope I don’t have to play against that shit.

9:30 AM

Turns out I had to play against that shit. My first game is at table 34, which tells me immediately that I’m fucked – I do not belong at this table, and will be dropping by about 100 tables for Round 2. The guy across from me is Rob Triplett, who informs me that he’s the “second-best Space Wolves player in the country.” That sounds a lot to me like being “the second best darts player on your D2 school’s intramural team” in terms of levels of impressiveness, but he seems like a nice enough guy. And besides, if I’m going to lose my first round badly – and I was – then I’d rather it be to the second best something than just some random idiot running Dark Angels jets.

OK so here’s the thing. I need to make this clear: I expected wholeheartedly to lose this game, and lose badly. What I did not expect, and what happened next, was that my loss would be the single most legendarily bad loss of 40k I have ever suffered.

With that in mind, let’s recap this game:

9:40 AM

Rob wins the roll-off to go first. We deploy. I put Abaddon, the Bloodmaster, and the Bloodletters into deep strike.

9:45 AM

I use the Prepared Positions stratgem and activate my Dark Apostle to cast Benediction of Darkness on the Kytan. It fails, but I use a CP to re-roll it and it works. Rob moves his jets into a big circle around Logan Grimnar, his Rune-Priest on Bike, and his Primaris Battle Leader. They’re all getting re-roll hit and wound auras and essentially preventing me from charging his characters. It’s a smart strategy, and a clear sign that I’m not gonna win.

9:50 AM

Rob casts Tempest’s Wrath on my Kytan, giving it -1 to hit. That’s fine, I can overcome that with Prescience and the Lord Discordant.

9:52 AM

Rob starts shooting. He puts 6 damage on the Lord Discordant and 5 on my Rhino with his Stormfangs, then uses the Keen Senses stratagem on the Fire Raptor so it can ignore my Benediction of Darkness. Sure. It starts firing. It hits with everything, and wounds with most things. The saves do not go well. I use my CP re-roll to try and re-roll a save against the one lascannon shot that wounded, hoping to keep it alive for just one turn. This was a mistake. At the time, I thought that I could heal it back up by a bit if it survived. Its BS never degrades, so that would be fine.

Improbably, the heavy bolters score 9 wounds and take the Kytan out. I roll to see if it explodes.



It does.

Here’s where things get real bad.

9:54 AM

This is bad. Real bad. Most of my army is stacked around the Kytan. I start rolling for damage:

  • Warpsmith: 6 (dies)
  • Jump Pack Sorcerer: 4 (dies)
  • Huron Blackheart: 6 (dies)
  • Red Corsairs Marines squad 1: 5 (dies)
  • Black Legion Sorcerer: 3
  • Dark Apostle: 6 (dies)
  • Dark Disciples: 2 (dies)
  • The Lord Discordant: 6 (dies)
  • The Rhino: 6 (dies)

If you’re keeping track at home, that’s 42 mortal wounds dished out by my exploding Kytan. I rolled for the Rhino, which then also exploded, dealing 3 mortal wounds to the squad of Red Corsairs Chaos Space Marines on the other side of it, and 3 of the Berserkers inside die. Rob uses the last Stormfang to wipe them out.

Taken right before rolling mortal wounds for my Rhino. This is where my whole army used to be

I tell Rob that I’m sorry but I need a minute. I walk away from the table.

10:04 AM

OK, I’m back. I’m fine. This is fine. I’m laughing, actually.

My first turn starts. I have 5 Chaos Space Marines and a Sorcerer left on the table. None of them are at full health. I move them into cover. I try and Smite a stormfang with the Sorcerer. Rob denies it with his Rune Priest.

I go to deep strike Abaddon and the Bloodletters. Rob reminds me that I can’t do that because I have forgotten that it is only the first turn of the game. Right. I am wasting time here. I contemplate conceding, but I don’t want to mess up scoring for Rob if it means he can’t score all of his points. We move on to turn two.

10:15 AM

Rob finishes off my sorcerer and the 5 chaos space marines. He wins the game, 33-0.

10:16 AM

Rob offers to buy me a drink. I remind him that it’s ten o’clock in the fucking morning. The hotel bar will not start serving alcohol for some time. He promises to get me one later.

10:20 AM

Well, that fucking sucked ass. I expected to lose the game, but I expected to at least score some points doing it. This is as bad as a loss can get, but I’m determined to not be demoralized by it. I expected to lose a few games. This is fine.

I decide to go check on Greg. He’s playing against Grey Knights, and I show up just in time to watch his opponent roll 8 consecutive 5+ saves with his land raiders. The dude’s dice are on fire, and things aren’t going well for Greg. He’s never played against Grey Knights before, so he wasn’t prepared for them to shoot him through the walls. About 5 minutes into our conversation he realizes that it’s only 10:30 and I’m already done with my game.

I spend the next hour bouncing between my friends’ games. Cyle (Naramyth) is two tables over, using his AdMech to take down a triple Caladius + Knights list. Boon’s at one of the bottom tables, beating an identical list with his Eldar. Corrode’s taking on an Astra Militarum list, and cruising to an easy victory.

I’ve got a lot of time before my next game, so I take the time to walk the floor and do some of the regular NOVA stuff that the GT kind of prevents you from getting into. I won’t really make it to the other two floors of the convention this year, but there’s still plenty to do. I look at all of the painting competition submissions. I get my photo taken with the prop Boltgun and Chainsword. I hit up the Forge World store and get one of the Traitor Librarians in Cataphractii Armour. It’s a sweet model and one of the only FW kits I still want.

I check the Goonhammer Discord. There’s an update for Forge World Custodes, just in time for the London GT. All of our usual authors are either at NOVA or camping so Jack “BenBooley” Hunter has offered to write the site’s hot take on the changes. He knocks it out of the park.

12:00 PM

I grab lunch with a bunch of the Goons and regale them with my story of uh, getting completely fuckin owned by my own Kytan. Apparently word of my loss has already spread and there’s a Facebook post about it. Cool. Super cool. We get sandwiches that are kind of trash, but the company is fantastic so it’s all good. The next game is at 1 and, as predicted, I’ve dropped about one hundred tables, so I’m in the back room where there’s no wi-fi.

1:00 PM

This did not go well at all. Also, fuck Hive Guard

I’m up against Genestealer Cults mixed with Kraken Tyranids. This is my first game against them since the new Codex came out, so I’m completely fucked. I lose the roll-off for first turn and am forced to go first, which I’m pretty sure I didn’t want to do. I make a number of very large mistakes in this game that ultimately cost me a victory. Most specifically:

  • I play conservatively, holding back and hoping that I can kill the many, many Genestealers as they come to me. This is a mistake because my opponent could just hang back himself until the end of the game and then bum rush my shit
  • I completely blank on the rules for forests, and get caught with an extra -2 to my charge roll when trying to come in with my bloodletters. They’d end up eating shit without doing much. The only consolation here is that the -2 didn’t actually matter since I rolled under 9 on both of my 3D6 charge rolls.
  • I deployed my berserkers on foot, hoping to use the Rhino to stop deep striking shenanigans in my backfield. I should have just played aggressively from the start.
  • Did you know that Aberrants with Stop Signs hit at Strength 14? That’s bullshit. RIP Kytan

Overall, game 2 was one of four winnable games I played and those mistakes cost me pretty dearly. Also, my Kytan exploded for the second straight game, only this time he only cost me 5 mortal wounds on my Lord Discordant.

Midway through the game one of the painting judges looks at my army and tells me to leave it on the end tables for paint judging after round 3. I’m a pretty good painter, but I have absolutely no chance of winning best painted or even getting top 3. On the other hand, I like people saying nice things about my models so fuck it, I may as well enter.

3:00 PM

I’m now 0-2 on day 1 and it’s not great. Game 2 in particular wasn’t a whole lot of fun for a few reasons, and while I’d like to end Day 1 with a win, I’d be happy at this point to just play a chill opponent in a laid back game. Fortunately the planets aligned, the heavens opened, and a golden ray of light shone through:

It really couldn’t have happened any other way


Not pictured: Us fucking up a 1993 Toyota Celsior halfway through battle round 3 to score bonus points

Against all odds, I was paired up against Greg. I’m not gonna lie; there was a brief moment where I worried for a second that I might lose to Greg and then be forced to retire from Warhammer forever. But then I remembered that Greg is well, Greg, and winning was a foregone conclusion. Also, despite the fact that I’d played Greg like a million times, I was still pretty glad to be playing against him in the GT, if only because it meant my last game of the day could just be a chill affair without worrying about shit.

5 pm is like the golden hour for NOVA; round 3 of the 40k GT is winding down and the Narrative Night Fight games haven’t begun yet, so people from different tracks get some time to hang out. Knowing we’d need a place to meet up and also wanting people to come chill, I let people in our Discord know that Greg and I were playing with a tasteful message:

extremely tasteful

The message worked: Over the next half an hour about a dozen Goons showed up to announce that they, in fact, had extremely normal dicks. Also to say “hello” and spectate, I guess. Given my impression of how the streamed games went for this year’s event, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that not only was our game the most-spectated game of the event, it also had the least rampant bullshit of any spectated game. Take that, good army havers. Note to GW Community people reading this: Put us on the stream next year, cowards.

Oh, right. The game. Well, Greg lost again. I tabled him with a 32-13 Boots on the Ground victory on turn 5. Here’s a photo of when shit turned bad for him, i.e. the moment my dudes got into melee combat with his army:

more like DORK angels am I right

8:15 PM

Greg, Corrode, Crion and I head over to this Ethiopian place up the street called Enjera to get dinner. Naramyth and Boon are supposed to meet us there, but we’re hungry so we just go in and eat without them. The food is really good and I’d recommend the place if down that way, since it’s a huge upgrade over some of the nearby stuff. We’ve had a long but fun day and it’s good to get away from the convention floor. We talk about where Goonhammer is going and how we’re going to handle the fact that the site has more than doubled its traffic numbers every month for the last four and is now exploding to the point where our “group hobby blog” has become “a real goddamn website with professional IT services and corporate governance needs.” We also talk about the Legends reveal, what we want Crion to ask Foley and Cruddace in the interview we have lined up tomorrow, and whether Coda is as Cool and Good as he claims or if he is actually Cooler and Gooder.

At this point Greg was 0-3 and dead last in the standings.

10:30 PM

We head back over to the Hyatt and check in on the Narrative Night Fight games. Dan’s taking on some Genestealer Cultists with his Raven Guard on a very pretty cityfight table. The 30k crew are down here as well. Safety Factor is peddling his jug of Phosphex, a kind of homemade jungle juice that straight up looks, smells, and tastes like floor cleaner. They’re mixing it with some lime juice and energy drinks, which makes it look like windex (it’s got blue curacao in it). We hang out and shoot the shit for a while. They’re setting up to play some 30k Zone Mortalis games. Safety Factor’s Dark Angels are dope as hell.

1:30 AM

Ok, so we shoot the shit for a looooong while. And also drink. I meet up with some of the people from the Astradus campaign that I haven’t met yet and meet a couple of new people who live in my area to add to our game group, which is always welcome. Despite the fact that New York is the most densely-populated area in the United States, there’s surprisingly little traction for wargaming, and I’d wager good money that my/BuffaloChicken’s gaming group is either the largest or among the largest. I think a lot of this is based on the fact that gaming space is incredibly limited, especially in the most commuter-friendly areas. I keep a table and terrain at my apartment, but in the city the only real option is the Compleat Strategist on 33rd street, which has tables and does wargaming on Thursday nights (this is also my FLGS of choice and the guys there are great). There’s also the Greenwich Village GW store, but that’s a one-man store with very limited space. So there’s not really a good space for people who live in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and Jersey to congregate. Anyways, the point is that I will slowly bring together all of the cool Warhammer kids in the 5 boroughs plus Jersey into one large, excellent gaming group.

At some point Greg goes back up to the room to call his fiancee and I, being the amazing roommate that I am, give him time to conduct his call in private before heading up. By the time we’re winding down and going to sleep it’s closer to 2:30 but holy shit did we have a blast. My feet are tired as hell and my throat is sore from yelling all day. I still sleep like shit, though.


Next Time: The Exciting Conclusion

Want to read it immediately? Here’s the link to Part 2