SRM’s Roundabout to the 2023 Tacoma Open

If you haven’t read one of these before, they’re like the Road To… series, but instead of doing a series of articles, it’s just one entirely too long one. This is also firmly Campbell’s Weirdo Zone, so come along, would-be-weirdos, and take in this latest saga. Will this Roundabout be as cursed as the last one? Read on to find out!

The Plan

The hotel for this event was shockingly expensive, so I was looking to save a few bucks wherever I could. For starters, instead of flying out or making the 6+ hour drive up from Central Oregon myself, I would ride along with my buddy Doug from Tablewar, who himself was driving up from California. We would roll up Wednesday, get some falafel, I’d crash in his room til Thursday, then I’d check in and split my perilously expensive room with my Goonhammer colleague, Rob “TheChirurgeon” Jones. Thursday I’d also be having a gaming kegger with Max Supler and his whole crew, who I got to meet last year, and then Friday I’d start the 40k GT proper. From there I’d spend a few days slamming (wheat-free) beers and warhams in equal measure, then head back Monday. How hard could it be?

Gaming Prep

Ballistus Dreadnought, Bladeguard Veterans, and a lager. Credit: SRM

A full half of my games of 10th edition prior to this event were played at Wild Ride Brewing in Redmond, Oregon. The more worldly amongst you will know that breweries are not typically gaming venues. My record in 10th to this point was 2-1-1, so that’s okay I guess. What I’m getting at is that I had played enough 40k and written enough about Black Templars that I more or less knew what I was doing. If I was, in actuality, completely ignorant of how to play this forty thousandth Warhammer, I could at least make it look like I wasn’t by banking on hobby/sportsmanship scores. None of this should be surprising to anyone who has read my columns before.

Hobby Prep

At time of writing, I have over 7000 points of Black Templars. There’s gotta be a coherent list in there somewhere. As is my usual case for a major event, I didn’t play anywhere near enough games beforehand, ensuring a few days of flailing and turning over endless plans in my mind. I wasn’t planning on painting any more models before the event, but one project still loomed: a new display board.

Display Board WIP. Credit: SRM

My previous display board, created long ago for a NOVA I couldn’t attend in 2019, just wasn’t cutting it anymore. I knew the years of damage it sustained had cost me painting points in New Mexico, so I endeavored to create something new. I picked up a tea tray from IKEA, got some MDF cut to size, and planned a display board out. The goal was to create something that could easily be transported, while visually telling a story that reinforced my army’s aesthetic. My early plans revolved around some Sector Mechanicus terrain, either sinking struts into the board or magnetizing the whole thing together. I wasn’t really wild about either, so I went to another, simpler idea – that of an Imperial mustering point or landing pad. I gathered some reference screenshots in Dawn of War, and got to building. I started by wood gluing my offcut MDF to the back of the board to give it some height variation and something to build into a hill, clamping it as it dried to prevent slippage and warping. I glued down a pair of old Warhammer Fantasy Battle movement trays for the pavement and sculpted a dirt mound around the board using air-drying clay. I then glued some greebles onto the landing pad for verisimilitude and sunk some other terrain stuff into the clay hills. The problem with said clay is that it contracts as it dries, so I had to go back for two more rounds of mudding to seal all the cracks and smooth things out. The clay also wasn’t sticky enough to bond with the board or bits, so I had to crack chunks off and glue them down, then reattach the bits using superglue. I never said I was good at this. Next, I sanded the sides smooth and sealed the clay area with 2 layers of watered-down PVA glue. The last part of the building process was to glue fine sand over the hill and spill that slightly into the pavement, then glue a few more skulls and such around to give it that Warhammer flavor.

Display Board. Credit: SRM

I said I’d teach myself how to airbrush when I painted this. I lied. I sprayed it black and hit it with Dryad Bark and Mechanicus Standard Grey, then did a lot of washing and drybrushing to get the colors you see above. Greebles were painted pretty predictably as well, with sponging and drybrushing doing all the lifting. None of it was particularly challenging; if anything it’s just harder to physically maneuver around the board while painting than anything else. That’s kind of the crux of why I don’t like painting terrain very much. Where I chose to wild out was with the skull marking and hazard striping. I messed around in Illustrator, then printed and cut out a bunch of stencils with a hobby knife. I did some tests here, where I tried sponging onto a piece of card, and I found the results to be satisfactory. With that, I taped down the stencils with masking tape and sponged them with Ulthuan Grey for the white markings, and Averland Sunset for the yellow ones. I added snow after, which took a few layers to get looking good. I might write a whole article about it later. I was satisfied with the results.

My List

Oh god this display board is too small, nooo. Credit: SRM

This is one part recency bias, one part “this might be good” and one part “I like infantry an awful lot” so don’t get your hopes up.

Oh god this list is awful isn't it

Black Templars, 2000 points. Of course I’m using Righteous Crusaders, I’m not a coward

Captain in Terminator Armour (110 Points, Warlord, Relic Weapon, Stormbolter, Perdition’s Edge)

Castellan (70 Points)

Judiciar (75 Points)

Intercessor Squad (95 Points, power fist)

Primaris Crusader Squad (160 Points, Power weapon, pyreblaster x2, pyre pistol, bolt pistols and chainswords)

Black Templars Impulsor (115 Points, multimelta, shield dome, stormbolters)

Ballistus Dreadnought (170 Points)

Bladeguard Veteran Squad (200 Points, 6 dudes)

Desolation Squad (170 Points, Superkrak Missile Launchers)

Hellblaster Squad (125 Points)

Outrider Squad (115 Points)

Primaris Sword Brethren (165 Points, Master crafted power weapon, 3x power weapon, Thunder hammer)

Redemptor Dreadnought (225 Points, Onslaught Gatling Cannon, Plasma thingie, icarus missile pod, stormbolters)

Terminator Squad (205 Points, assault cannon)

I was told “you’ve got too many melee troops” and other dire warnings of that ilk, but if I can’t himbo my way through however many games of 40k, what’s the point? I didn’t even know how many games I was supposed to be playing at this dumb thing. The goal here was to Scout the Crusaders forward to screen my line, take out armor/hordes with the dreads and Desolation Squad, Ride Out with the Outriders to grab objectives or complete random secondaries, have the Intercessors plant a flag on an objective and keep going, stick the Judiciar with the Bladeguard on foot, and the Castellan with the Sword Bros in the Impulsor. My tricksier plans involved Deep Striking or Rapid Ingressing the Terminators with their attached Captain on turn 1 or 2, and outflanking with the Hellblasters from Reserves on turn 2 or 3. I figured 5 Hellblasters popping out the side of the board and shooting at whatever I’ve Oaths’d that turn would probably do some work. Anyway, with my list submitted to Best Coast Pairings and my board complete, all I had to do was pack and roll out!

Day 0 – The First Day I Said Mt. Rainier Was Named After My Favorite West Coast Regional Light Lager

It’s really not a very good joke, and yet I repeated it daily.

Doug showed up around 2pm and I took him out to lunch at Kefi Fast Fresh Mediterranean here in Bend, Oregon. It was on the way out of town, and with Bo’s Falafel temporarily closed while they relocate, it’s the best bet in town. We caught up a little bit while I had a pretty solid falafel bowl, then hit the road. Doug was determined to find a Jamba Juice (must be a Californian thing) and we charted a path to one in Portland, conveniently at the halfway point of our 6 hour journey.

Driving from Bend to Portland is one of those hyper-regional delights I can only describe so well. Bend is in the high desert; all junipers, scrub, and dry earth, with the Deschutes River running through. The three Sisters stand in the distance, sitting dead center in the Cascades mountain range. It’s truly one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen in person, and one of the reasons I moved here in the first place. From Bend we traveled north on 26 through the progressively lower income towns of Redmond, Terrebone, and Madras, occasionally catching sight of a hawk or golden eagle on our drive north. After passing through Warm Springs Reservation, which truly looks like the middle of the desert; we started to hit the dry forest at the base of Mt. Hood. Dry forest gave way to rain forest as we crossed into the mountains, through Government Camp and the misleadingly named town of Sandy. We figured the trees were at least 12 Dougs Tall, and the landscape was unbelievably lush after a particularly wet winter and spring. This route was left comparatively intact compared to the road up 20 through Salem, where whole towns were left as ash and rust after the 2020 wildfires. We didn’t pass through that way on either drive, but in the distance I could see the previously bald mountains starting to regain their greenery. This trip through a minimum of 3 distinct biomes in as many hours is always a thrilling one for me, and the Cascade mountains themselves are as mythologized in my mind as any Misty Mountains or Throat of the World, impossibly tall and impossibly old.

Mt. Hood. Credit: SRM

Arriving in Portland, we pulled into the Jamba Juice for a restroom and beverage break. I ordered their bold ‘n cold brew with sweet cloud whip, and was warned it was “very coffee” by the smoothiesmith/barista at the register. I said that’s fine by me. In actuality, it tasted like coffee ice cream: sweet, cold, and smooth. Doug got some half gallon of pulverized fruit and supplements in a comically large steel cup, which he had assumedly procured to put booze in at a later date. I didn’t interrogate further, nor would I judge – that’s ingenuity.

Back on the road, we continued north to Tacoma. We headed up 5 through more small towns, Mt St. Helens giving way to Mt Rainier as we continued our drive north. Doug regaled me with stories of his army days driving up and down this road, jumping fences and seeing shows in and around Seattle. We traded concert stories and travel stories, talked about our pets and families, and generally made the most of a lengthy drive. Doug’s a consummate extrovert and can talk for days, which helped fill the silence between tracks on a Tough Guys of the 2000s Nu Metal Mega Mix. A hand painted billboard of a walleyed Uncle Sam inquired “HOW MANY AMERICANS WILL WE LEAVE BEHIND IN UKRAINE?” and I genuinely could not surmise where the billboard’s painter stood on that issue.

Olympia and countless smaller towns behind us, we finally arrived in Tacoma. We ran into Doug’s Tablewar compatriot Todd outside the Murano hotel, unloaded all of our belongings into their hotel room, and the 3 of us ventured out in search of dinner. We slowed our pace as we walked by Steel Creek, a tacky Texas looking joint I remembered from the year prior. We were beckoned inside by a sandwich board advertising brisket tacos, along with a hearty recommendation from a stranger enjoying the same dish outside. It felt like a world apart from that around it, all cattleskin and wood furnishing, with whole walls painted in murals advertising Jack Daniels and Shiner Bock. This wasn’t just a Southern joint, but a line dancing club, where dozens of regulars were coordinating their stomps and claps with country songs I had never heard before. Everyone seemed to know each other, and I felt underdressed in neither cowboy boots nor an at-minimum-10-gallon hat. We essentially had dinner and a show, and I enjoyed the trio of brisket tacos immensely. Slightly cold, but fatty, smoky, salty, and just a smidge spicy, I’d happily eat them again. I paired them with a Shiner Bock, which my rapid research implied was wheat-free. I could have mistaken it for a flat Diet Coke. I don’t know why Texans are so wild about this stuff, but I am a regular enjoyer of Rainier, Narragansett, and Genesee Cream Ale, so I get loyalty to your regional cheap beer.

Our last stop of the night was McMenamins Elks Temple, a 7-floor hotel with 6 bars, all differently themed. If you haven’t been to one, McMenamins is a chain of around 60 breweries, restaurants, theaters and hotels, all of which sit in some rehabilitated historic buildings. I just saw the new Indiana Jones at the one here in Bend a few weeks ago. This one is an order of magnitude larger, and we went looking for some folks we were meeting up with. We poked into each of the half dozen bars built into the establishment before finally locating them in the Tiki bar. I was recommended the Funky Monkey, and I got one for myself and each of my temporary hotelmates. I did not know Funky Monkeys were nearly 19 dollars a pop. My wallet lighter, my belly fuller, and my senses duller, I just kinda hung out on the periphery of the group before heading back to our hotel. I crashed with Doug and Todd for the night, as my reservation wasn’t til Thursday.

Day 1 – Don’t Eat Ribs and Do Cardio

I awoke before my temporary roommates and got ready to roll for my first full day in Tacoma. I had some plans later in the day and some time to kill before check in at my actual hotel, so I scoped out a decent bean juice. Campfire Coffee is a cute shabby chic coffee shop that somehow doesn’t have any gluten free options for food, save for a prepackaged granola bar. As an annoying guy with a bad tummy, this disappointed me greatly. Decent cold brew though. With yet more time to kill, I loafed around the Marriott, checked over my army list, brushed up on stratagems, and eventually got to go to my Tacoma-nice/Seattle-price hotel room. The shower kicked ass; maybe not $350 per night amounts of ass, but a not inconsiderable quantity.

In the shadow of Mt. Rainier. Credit: SRM

In the afternoon, I was picked up by my friend and listener Max for a hang with his Pacific Cover Saves crew. We hung out in Mark and Ally’s well-appointed gaming garage, with a pair of solid tables, sprues on every surface, a keg in the corner and a rack of ribs tantalizingly smoking outside. Said keg was Confluence by Black Fleet Brewing, an American light lager brewed right down the street from where we were playing. It won’t blow anyone’s mind, but it’s an enjoyable beverage, especially on a warm July day. Max thoughtfully checked with me beforehand to see if I could drink it. Having a wheat allergy shuts out a lot of beers for me, and I appreciate the accommodation. Equally accommodating were Mark and Ally, who provided lattes and their wonderful gaming space for us to slam some hams in.

Game 0: Vs. Max’s Genestealer Cult

Black Templars vs. Genestealer Cults. Credit: SRM and Max

Max and I had been talking for some time about getting a pre-Open game in, and I got to step into his Crusade league for a moment to intervene as Black Templars. The goal here was for me to test out my 2k list and for us to have a rematch after last year’s Open. I’ll be honest – this was less a game of Warhammer and more an all-afternoon hang where we got through 2 turns while enjoying good beers and better company. He did some mortal wound shenanigans, I chewed through unit after unit of T3 jagoffs, and had to play Whack-A-Mole with his blip counters before more came back. I wish we could have gotten through more of the game, but between the two of us, Ally coming through, and Matt and Trent playing their game behind us, it was a good hang. The ribs also absolutely delivered on their hours-long promise, and I gladly destroyed a number of them. Last but certainly not least, Mark and Ally’s cat Sir Charles, a dignified old black and white cat, came to hang out. I got to pick him up. It might have been the best part of this entire venture.

Sir Charles and SRM. Credit: SRM

The Pacific Cover Saves crew had a painting class at 5, so we headed back towards my hotel and the convention center. I wanted to get a run in, so I hit the fitness center in the Marriott. This was a poor choice. Ribs and lagers are not a good pre-workout snack, and for every 5 minutes of euphoric running, there were another 5 of my meal threatening to return to the outside world. I clocked out after 30 minutes and showered up before meeting up with some of the Goonhammer crew at the Murano’s bar. This was my first time meeting both Liam and James in person, despite laboring in the Posting Mines together for years. I had a Fresh Squeezed IPA from Deschutes Brewing. Although I can walk to the source of this beer from my house, it was the only thing they had that I knew I could drink. It’s a rock solid IPA; one I’ve been enjoying for 6 years now and one that I will continue to savor. Liam had what he thought was a lemonade, only to be unpleasantly surprised that it was essentially an artisanal Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Andrew and Jack showed up shortly thereafter, and the lot of us headed to the main hall to get our badges, swag bags, and so on.

(From L to R) SRM, Terminator, and Pendulin. Credit: SRM

This year the hall was fully open, lending it a cavernous aspect not unlike an airplane hangar. Instead of a dividing wall keeping the Narrative/Age of Sigmar/Other rabble from the 40k GT, it was a wide open space. This was a great change, as it made the store more accessible and gave the entire event a more communal feel. Wandering over between my games to see Kill Team matches or Age of Sigmar armies hanging out was a great reminder of just how much more there is to this hobby than strictly competitive 40k.

The Hall at the Tacoma Open. Credit: SRM

I am, at this point in time, fairly anti-swag bag. Typically they contain oodles of branded tchotchkes I have no place for, models for games I’ve never heard of, and coupons for stores I’ll never shop at. This year at Adepticon, I saw people hauling massive crates full of swag around, only to leave half of it by the trash or give stuff away to random passers by. The exception to this, for me anyway, is Games Workshop events. I’m usually going to want most of the stuff in my premium bag, and anything I don’t want can be easily sold off or given away to a willing recipient. Believe you me, there is a better market for Warhammer miniatures thana bunch of PVC figures for Buttchug Studios Presents: Tyrhole: Dark Fantasy Skirmish or whatever. This bag contained both of this year’s event models, which pleasantly slot into two of the armies I play. It also had 2 drink tickets, a $10 coupon to the store, a cool challenge coin/Pog Slammer, updated Leviathan mission cards, some objective markers I immediately lost, and a few requisite tchotchkes. I understand no company is truly above them, but I felt at least two endorphins hit my brain when I opened the blind bag Koyo pin, and the rest of it I can put in my local event prize support box. Unfortunately, the paint handle and neoprene dice tray that were meant to be in my swag bag were not included, due to some logistical issue or another. I will return to this line of conversation at a later time.

The lot of us went to Fujiya, our silver medal Japanese restaurant after The Koi was too full. Despite good reviews, I found the sushi to be pretty mid and with a toothier texture than I’d like. It paired with an Asahi Super Dry, a rice and barley beer safe for my stupid guts. I’ve had it a million times and I typically prefer Sapporo for the role of “cheap Japanese beer to go with my sushi” but it was pleasant. The hang was good, but when you have 5 somewhat introverted nerds without established interpersonal patterns hanging out at a table together, there’s gonna be an awkward silence or 3.

We headed back to the Murano for a Tournament Organizer/Influencer social and got to hear just how close this event came to having no mats at all. The pallet of mats had been left in Memphis and never made it to Tacoma, but a last-minute call to Frontline Gaming got them brought up just in time for the event. It was good hanging with these folks in their off hours; at the end of the day everyone working at these events loves the hobby as much as we do. I had a couple more Fresh Squeezeds and a surprisingly good whiskey sour, and Rob finally got in from Texas. With our Voltron-esque crew assembled, we were ready to take on the next day.

Day 2 – The Actual Day 1

“Get up, asshole.” – Robert Jones, 8:03AM, July 14th, 2023

Bleary and beheadached, I got up ready to take on my first day of slamming hams in Tacoma. We headed down to the Marriott M Club, which I will keep calling the McLub until someone laughs. It has been one year now and no dice. We were denied access as I’m only an elite Marriott member, not a platinum Marriott member. As I was judged an insufficiently lustrous mineral to enter, the only way in was via the laziest social engineering of all time. I looked busy, waited for someone with a nicer shirt and haircut to go on in, then followed them before the door locked. The Mechabarista inside had either not been fixed since last year or had broken anew, so I stuck to the typical carafe of burned Starbucks coffee for the entirety of my stay. I had some bacon and yogurt, talked with Rob about our plans for the day, and marched onwards to death and/or glory.

Game 1: Vs. Noah’s Tau

Black Templars vs. Tau. Credit: SRM and Noah

I told myself repeatedly that I would never take Fixed objectives over Tactical. I lied. While Tactical is certainly a more fun and dynamic way to play, Tau are so generous as to hemorrhage Bring it Down and Assassinate points on the regular. Noah’s list was a pretty classic one – oodles of Crisis Suits, Devilfishes full of Fire Warriors, Shadowsun and an Ethereal – all the stuff you’d expect to see in a Tau army. Knowing I was playing a melee army with Lethal Hits on everything, he made the mistake of tucking his whole army in a corner, granting me full board control. Between that free real estate, my own character hunting, and his suits dying on both of our turns (Thanks, Hazardous tests!) I took the lead and the game was firmly going my way. We hit time after turn 3 and talked through the rest. This was Noah’s first tournament and he played a bit on the slow side, plus Tau always seem to take forever to run through. He was a swell dude though, and from what I can tell he did pretty alright once he got sorted into a bracket.

Desperate for lunch, I was wrangled by my Goonhammer Handlers (Goonhandlers? whatever) to run over to Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max. Finding food that was wheat/soy/peanut/hazelnut/eggwhite free for me and vegan for Liam always took a few precious minutes out of each of our food searches, and time was on the tight side. When we got there and I was informed that they have a bowl with a gluten free shoyu sauce, I damn near slapped the counter in excitement. I dutifully ordered said Sriracha Sweetie bowl and waited slightly too long for it to come on out. I’m a slow eater and time was tight, so I was walking down the street shoveling fish in my mouth like some kind of pescatarian goblin, finishing my meal just in time for my second game. I wish I had more time to savor it, as it was really goddang good. I don’t know how people in the Seattle-Tacoma area eat anything but fish.

Game 2: Vs. John’s Tyranids

Black Templars vs. Bio Titans. Credit: SRM

In a recent Badcast episode, we talked about how badly skewed small games could be. In a 500 point game, one player could bring two Dreadnoughts and a Techmarine and suddenly have a non-interactive list for the more balanced approach their opponent took. Reader, think to yourself, what if you multiplied that equation by 4? I damn near spit out my perfectly seasoned cold fish and rice when I saw that my opponent’s list contained 1620 points of Hierophant Bio-Titans. I had never seen these $500 models outside of the cabinets at Warhammer World, and here were two right across the table from me. I remarked that a guest had walked through with a chihuahua smaller than these models to my opponent. I don’t think I was joking. Regrettably, this game was a joyless experience. I got second turn, which meant he was able to kill my paltry anti-armor options before I could even react. When it was my time to play, I was losing 2-3 units a movement phase due to his multiple consecutive overwatches. He had a Hive Tyrant chucking out a second free one, meaning every time I moved something it would get overwatched by one of his two bio-titans and invariably die. This game was an exercise in rolling 6+ to save and 6+ to wound, then hoping I rolled 6+ to hit to get those Lethal Hits off. There wasn’t room for tactics or strategy, or even hiding my models due to the Towering rule employed by the Hierophants. John said he thought he’d just run these guys for fun and see what happened. I commend his commitment to the bit but there was just no way for me to deal with his army. I killed one but it took nearly every model I brought to do it. I think this list matched into Knights would be cool in a Kaiju fight sort of way, but if you’ve ever seen a Godzilla movie, you know it doesn’t go so well for the army guys running around on the ground.

Having been tabled in a record 60 minutes, I took out my frustrations in that most American of traditions: retail therapy. I had a $10 coupon burning a hole in my pocket and a desperate need for anti-armor in my list. After much digging and diving, I found a Space Marine Storm Speeder, which at time of writing sits in multiple subassemblies on my painting desk, such is my need to destroy armor. Unfortunately the 3 Gladiators they brought had sold on the first day, or else I would have one of those instead. Shocker, I know.

I was moseying around the hall when I ran into Andrew, and asked if he wanted to get a coffee. I had picked a place I thought was nearby and charted a path. Unfortunately, my Google Map had not taken elevation into account, and we walked half a mile uphill on a hot summer day with no cloud cover to the Coffee Oasis. Sweatier than anticipated, I ordered a cold brew and found it to be even better than the previous day’s Campfire Coffee. Andrew confounded the barista with his order, but she apparently did a great job interpreting his request. The barista’s boyfriend came in and brought her flowers. It was a level of sweetness strong enough to remedy the recent sodium overload I had just experienced.

Game 3: Vs. Tailor’s Knights

Black Templars vs. Imperial Knights. Credit: SRM and Tailor

Shit.

For the second game in a row, I’ve run into a list where I don’t have the answers. For the second game in a row, my notes say “I hate this fucking game”. If anything justified my Stormspeeder purchase, it was being paired into another player where I couldn’t do anything. Looking back through my photos, I barely remember this game, save for a moment that rubbed me the wrong way. Already dominating in the game and well ahead of me on points, my opponent declared a charge on some Intercessors in a building. It was clearly, unambiguously, an 8.5″ charge. He rolled a 7 and started moving his model. I said he needed an 8. He called for a judge and walked off to find one. I can only imagine I looked like a less handsome version of the Ben Affleck cigarette meme format while my opponent sought out someone to call a ruling that ultimately didn’t matter. The judge came over and without missing a beat said “that’s 8 and a half inches” and the dude just CP rerolled the charge into a 9 anyway. I get that this is a competitive event, but when you’ve already won by a longshot and your final score doesn’t much matter, you don’t have to call a judge over to make sure the body you’ve buried is still dead.

Coming off of two bad matchups in a row, I was definitely in a sour mood. I understand in many ways this is a Skill Issue on my part – my list just didn’t have sufficient anti-armor to play into a skew list like these last two, and I hadn’t adequately prepared for that possibility. I was jonesing to just play against a normal army again instead of getting killed by someone’s bigger action figures. James bought me a Stella Artois Cidre, and you know it’s imported because the R is before the E. I gotta say, this is a candy drink what make me feel good. I prefer a drier cider but appreciated the gesture and happily drank it. I know Stella has a certain reputation, especially in the UK, but here it was the only Big Boi Apple Juice available and that was fine by me.

The Goonhammer Running Crew/Gaming Bloc of Liam, James, Rob, Jack, Andrew and I went out for dinner once more. James led the way, and some half mile later, we arrived at Thai Pepper True Thai Kitchen. There’s sort of a late 2000s open world video game aspect to Tacoma, where you’ll walk around absolutely empty streets that clearly look like people traverse them, but seldom see any signs of current residency. Once you go through a door and an uncomfortably long loading screen, you’ll be in a building packed to the gills with lively people, constrained to the confines of this building for the sake of performance. I will not strain this metaphor further as it didn’t originate with me, but I felt it necessary to include in this record of events. At this establishment, I had an Elysian Space Dust IPA. My research showed that of this beer’s 3 malts, none contain wheat, so I should be good. This was also my first of many of these over the weekend, and while I don’t think it’s the world’s best IPA or anything, I can’t complain too much about it. It’s nearly as ubiquitous on the West Coast as Harpoon IPA is on the East Coast in my experience, but it’ll get you sloshed about 1/3 faster. It’s hoppy, piney, and a classic take on the West Coast IPA. I prefer Boneyard Brewing’s RPM, but alas, RPM contains wheat and it hurts my stupid guts now. As for the food at this establishment, appetizer after appetizer were wheeled out and all I could do was stare longingly at the crabs rangoon and other nuggets of fried gold as I awaited my entrée: crying tiger. There was a Thai joint in Malden, Massachusetts I used to frequent called Crying Thaiger where I first had this dish, and I miss it dearly. This iteration of the Thai classic did not disappoint. Spicy, juicy steak, rice, lime juice, chili, onion, cilantro, basil, and cabbage make for a balanced and satisfying meal, especially when ordered on the spicy side. If you like things that are good, you should get this next time you hit up a Thai restaurant. I took my leftovers with me because I wasn’t letting this go to waste.

We were ushered out of the restaurant around 10 and headed back to our respective hotels. I hung out by the hotel pool and talked to my wife while a group of people younger and prettier than me were having fun swimming and socializing. I looked out on the Anycity, USA skyline of Tacoma, which in the day is overlooked by the titanic form of Mt. Rainier. At night, however, its silhouette is largely blacked out and all you can see are the lights of loading zones and vacant office buildings.

Day 3 – Chuck Taylors Were A Mistake

Year after year, event recap after event recap, I have encouraged my listeners to wear comfortable shoes to events. Last year I spent the whole event in my supportive and durable Timberland Work Boots, and for whatever foolhardy reason, I decided to go with Chuck Taylor Converse High-Tops for the first few days of this year’s adventure. These shoes somehow seem to have negative support, and my knees and ankles were paying the price. On this day I switched to my Asics Gel-Nimbus 19 running shoes, years old and oft-neglected in my physical fitness journey. I wish I started in these because my metaphorical dogs continue to bark, even some days later as I write this.

This morning was much like the last; Rob and I entered the McLub with a minimal amount of effort, I went heartier with bacon and eggs instead of yogurt and eggs, and again had some strictly okay black coffee. We talked games, we talked lists, we talked Goonhammer, and we prepared again for the day ahead. As I entered the gaming hall, people were already at their tables, and I clocked a guy wearing a Five Finger Death Punch jersey distinct from the Five Finger Death Punch jersey he wore the day before. I don’t come to these events as a fashion reporter, though I will happily declare that I did not see a single utilikilt amongst the attendees to this event.

Game 4: Vs. Matthew’s Death Guard

Black Templars vs. Death Guard. Credit: SRM and Matthew

Finally, an actual army!

This was a game where I was frustrated in the moment, but looking back was a pretty fantastic game. Matthew absolutely understood how to pilot his army, and I put up a solid fight. I even got to pull a trap card when his Land Raider packed full of Terminators got overwatched to death by a Hail Mary with my Impulsor’s multi-melta, leaving his Terminators stranded, battleshocked, and unable to charge. He made some desperate moves, dropping his other Terminators in locations that weren’t exactly advantageous, but did score him a bunch of points. Unfortunately my own Terminators failed to deliver on their own charge rolls, and never quite got where I needed them to go. At the bottom of turn 5, my Terminator Captain and his bodyguard were parked on an objective and they got charged by his somewhat depleted Deathshrouds. They only just cut through my Terminators and it was down to the last wound on my Captain – if I rolled a 4++, I would win the game. I rolled a 1. I spent my last CP to reroll, and what do you know, it was another 1. I had already used the Templar Fight on Death stratagem on this unit, so I had one last shot to wipe my opponent off the objective, but wasn’t quite able to hack it. By failing that save I ceded him Assassination, an endgame mission objective, and a Storm Hostile Stronghold or something to that effect. It was a 25 point swing on that one save, and a narrow, narrow defeat for my Templars. I told him I probably wouldn’t get matched into Knights again, so who was the real winner here?

The Trash Bracket, or I Have No Fork and I Must Scran

The first 4 games of this event put you into a bracket. If you went 4-0, 3-1, 2-2, 1-3, or 0-4, you would then be put into a bracket of people with the same or similar records. I had only won a single game out of 4, so I was in the Sergeants bracket, duking it out with other 1-3 players and the occasional 2-2. All I had to do now was win 4 games in a row and I would be crowned the Tacoma Rat King.

I was happy to have some time to rest so I went to my room to finish the previous day’s Thai leftovers in silence. Unfortunately, there was no plastic cutlery in my room, and as I turned the room over, the best I could find was a pair of wooden coffee stirrers. Unsatisfied with these liar chopsticks, I resignedly went downstairs to the hotel bar to get a fork, only to find myself at another table with Doug and Todd. It sounded like they were both doing fairly well in their brackets, though I could only glean so much whilst shoveling leftovers down my throat like I was on the clock. Freshly sated, we headed back to the convention center and our next games.

Game 5: Vs. Gage’s Blood Angels

Black Templars vs. Blood Angels. Credit: SRM and Gage

Gage brought an all-small Blood Angels army to the table. More importantly, Gage brought great vibes and a winning smile, something I hadn’t really run into thus far. While my opponents to this point had trended towards pleasant, none were really folks I would drop everything to play again. Gage’s classic 5th edition-style Blood Angels put up an interesting challenge for me, as Red Choppy Marines faced off with Black Choppy Marines. He absolutely shut down a charge of mine with the Sanguinor, only for the golden boy to get melted by Hellblaster fire. Despite some weak dice at the start, I pulled ahead, and was able to secure a Templar victory. During this game, Sam came up and offered to buy me a beer – it was likely in a mid-game moment where my face was all consternation and my posture poor. In tournament play, we call this stance “Sweaty”. He purchased me another Stella Cidre, which was sweet and refreshing in the increasingly warm gaming hall. Sam would drift in and out of various gatherings over the course of the weekend. Nice dude.

Also at this point, a judge came over to tell me my army would be in the showcase later that evening. Gage enthusiastically congratulated me for this accolade, and I was happy to make the cut. Someone from the event staff also came by with a little baggie for me. As they were unable to secure the neoprene dice trays packaged with my premium badge, I was instead given another $10 coupon for the store, a Koyo Nurgling pin, and the promised painting handle. At this moment I also noticed the slew of people going up to the register with armfuls of Tyranids, no doubt emboldened by their performance this weekend, and the beautiful models that were just revealed that day.

The break before game 6 was a mere 30 minutes, and while my game got out early, there wasn’t sufficient time to get any sustenance of substance. I took a moment to thoughtfully enjoy the Bobo’s Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Breakfast Bar I had stowed in my bag. The branding of health-adjacent food bars only falls into so many camps, all of which I have become rapidly accustomed to as my gut betrays me:

  1. Kirkland Brand Ben & Jerry’s Weed Guys
  2. This is wholesomely made by and for healthy moms
  3. This protein rectangle is a graphics card for your body

This fell on the healthy mom portion of the list, dry and dense but inoffensive. It certainly contained calories, and that’s most of what I needed at the time. My snack break concluded, I caught up with some Goonhammer folks to see how they were doing and watched in bemusement as Jack bought himself a Ta’unar. I used my $10 coupon at this point to purchase an XL painting handle, as Dreadnoughts and Stormspeeders were in my future. A charming dude who sounded like every stoned roommate I ever had in college recognized my (stylish, comfortable, expertly designed) 40k Badcast shirt, gave me possibly the firmest handshake of my life, and chatted with me about Bloodbowl, the Badcast, his kid, and general hobby stuff. He had been listening to my podcast since the second episode, which means a lot to me. I ran into him again later and neither time did he give me his name. He genuinely seemed like a sweet dude, and I hope to see him again.

Game 6: Vs. Faye’s Tau

Black Templars vs. Tau. Credit: SRM and Faye

My second game against Tau of the event, I came in with the strategy of taking Bring It Down plus whatever other fixed secondary would serve me best. As Faye only had a couple of characters in her army, I went with Storm Hostile Objective. I figured that Tau liked to hop on objectives with little annoying units I could clear off, and I figured correctly. Faye’s army was in rough shape; I could only sort of hear her over the din of the crowded gaming hall, but I believe she said “dropped” and “parking lot” so I let the visual storytelling of her damaged models do the rest. She deployed her whole army in hiding, which gave me a free turn to get my dudes closer to hers. When I finally was in line of sight, I had a 6+ Feel No Pain that let my guys shrug off loads of her shooting. Our first 3 turns or so were a blast; we were both in good humor, laughing through the ample amounts of dumb stuff that was happening. Around turn 4 we both started getting kinda tired and it was increasingly apparent that the Templars were going to take it, as I had locked down pretty much her entire deployment zone castle with my Bladeguard and Sword Brethren. I enjoyed another Elysian Space Dust while we played through the rest of our game, and the Templars took the day.

Black Templars. Credit: SRM

I carried my army over to the judging area and gingerly deposited them in the spot with my name on it. After arranging my Marines to the best of my ability, I sighed at the reminder that no more than a quarter inch of my display board could be seen at a time between the figures in my army. I had the notion that I could pack some away to give them more room, but my cases were in the hotel and I didn’t think it would make much of a difference. I looked over the other armies there – some were familiar forces from events past, others new to me. I looked at Jack’s Imperial Fists and figured it was a coinflip whether his army would get the nod or mine.

James had been on the ball when it came to finding restaurants that could cater to my assemblage of allergies and Liam’s veganity, and had pointed us towards The Rock. This restaurant was not named for the Chapter Fortress of the Dark Angels or Dwayne “The Restaurant” Johnson, but instead based around the vague idea of 70s-80s rock music. This extended to the decor and the names of their pizzas, which typically had names like Crazy Train or Pride and Joy. I cannot for the life of me imagine ordering a pizza called Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy without experiencing generations of ancestral shame. Every memory of my dad ordering a “Happy Waitress” or someone saying the words “Rooty Tooty Fresh n’ Fruity” out loud immediately surged through my skull. I had the Honey Dripper, a pervert pizza with pineapple, hot honey, pepperoni, and jalapenos. They had a gluten free crust which wasn’t bad. I paired that with an Angry Orchard since the server informed me all their beers contained wheat. Angry Orchard tastes like being 22 at a houseparty where the fridge has no better options. It’s late July. It’s 11pm but still 85 degrees and 95% humidity. You’re not ready to go home, but you’re not sure you know anyone here. Maybe that’s just me.

After a pizza hang where I was a bit too beat to be my best self, we went back to the convention hall where photos were still being taken. The whole building and surrounding area had taken on that particular Tacoma Aroma, which has a bouquet somewhere between open sewer and improperly stored fish. Through this stink miasma stood a plethora of well dressed folks, here for either a wedding or a military ball of some varietal. A trail of black feathers spilled from a discarded boa breadcrumbed our way back to the elevator. Upon reaching our floor, I was nearly ambushed by a pair of women waiting to surprise their friend. My grip fortunately held on my display board through this jumpscare, and no models found their way towards the floor. We all laughed about it and I went to bed.

Day 4 – Battling Raccoons For King of the Dumpster

Rob and I once more found our way into the McLub. We mostly talked about shows we’d gone to; times Rob had seen pop-punk bands before they got big and times my contact high ass had been kicked in the head by crowdsurfers. That explains a lot, now that I think about it. Between bites of my yogurt I relayed my plans for the day and figured that I only needed to win my next 2 games to be at the top of my bracket. I had that dog in me, and the long-dormant competitive part of me that used to play a lot of Starcraft II and Call of Duty started to rear its ugly vestigial head.

Game 7: Vs. Jacoby’s Ultramarines

Black Templars vs. Space Marines. Credit: SRM

Maybe it was the caffeine jitters, maybe it was my newly upped ADHD medication, or maybe it was the aforementioned competitive gremlin in me, but this game felt interminable. Our first turn took an hour and a half, of which I only played for about 15. It’s a new edition and I understand that, but he was hemming and hawing on what to do, shuffling through his cards, and generally just playing slowly. His list contained both Guilliman and Calgar, along with the fire support section of a Repulsor Executioner, a pair of Redemptors, and 10 Desolation Squad Marines. The relatively oppressive fire from his army had me on the back foot until turn 3, when he bought me another Elysian Space Dust from the traveling drink cart. Drinking this beer had roughly the same effect on me as squeezing open a can of spinach does on Popeye. Suddenly the game swung hard in my favor and his units started disappearing. He charged Calgar and Guilliman into my Crusaders, and I heroically intervened with my Judiciar and attached Bladeguard, killing Calgar before he could swing. My next goal was to kill his 10 Desolation Squad Marines, not just because they were dangerous, but because doing so would speed up the game substantially. I Rapid Ingressed my Terminators fairly close to them, despite or because of his warning not to. He broke cover with his Desolation Squad to kill my Terminators, and left just my Captain alive. Guilliman died for the first time to my Redemptor, and got back up. On my go, I got excited and declared my Desolation Squad would shoot his Desolation Squad with their Castellans, and their Superkraks at the newly reanimated Guilliman. After resolving the Castellans, I pivoted to my Dreadnought to resume shooting up his squad, only to say “Ah shit, I forgot to fire their Superkraks, do you mind?” and he politely obliged. Said Superkraks knocked Guilliman out for the second time that game, killing him for good. This put Jacoby in a rough mood for the rest of the match, and I finished ahead. In truth, even if he had not allowed me to resolve those Superkraks at Guilliman, I still was ahead by a substantial points lead, and ol’ Bobby G would basically be his only model by the end of turn 3.

I got lunch at the hotel bar with the Goonhammer crew. I was informed their iced coffee had free refills, so I had 2 and began to vibrate. The caprese salad with salmon was rather good, and unlike last year, there wasn’t too much balsamic on it. I don’t remember this meal all too well other than this, as between being likely too caffeinated to function and smelling blood in the water, I was laser beam focused on winning my next game. We are all just raccoons fighting for some discarded pizza crust in the 1-3 dumpster, and I intend to obtain those metaphorical Neapolitan pizza bones.

Game 8: Vs. Christopher’s Ultramarines

Black Templars vs. Ultramarines. Credit: SRM and Christopher

I closed out the event with another game against Ultramarines, but this time only featuring Uriel Ventris in the special character department. Ventris allows a player to deep strike a unit, and Christopher talked up his unit of 10 Heavy Intercessors with a Bolter Discipline Biologis, and how he could deep strike them anywhere and cause a problem. Instead, he stuck them in cover behind a building where they never interacted with the mission in any way whatsoever. While my first turn was wholly ineffectual, I don’t think I’ve seen worse dice in the wild than Christopher’s. His return fire killed all of 3 Outriders and a single Bladeguard Veteran, so cold were his dice and so hot were my saves. Turn 2 I got all my charges off, and save for his hidden brick of Heavy Intercessors, I all but tabled him. When my Sword Brethren killed his RepEx, he shook my hand and conceded. Christopher seemed like a genuinely swell dude who got absolutely diced, and I hope his rolls are better in the future.

As my final game got out early, I squeezed in a quick workout at the fitness center. Their selection of free weights and machines was enough to provide roughly 30 minutes of Moving Heavy Things, after which I cleaned myself up and went back down to the convention hall for the awards ceremony. I used my final drink ticket on a Skull Throne cocktail; a cutely named Cranberry Margarita that was weak but sweet, which was fine by me.

What a Bunch of Nerds at US Open Tacoma 2023
What a Bunch of Nerds at US Open Tacoma 2023. Credit: Pendulin

As awards were given out, I was delighted to find that a number of Goonhammer folks had come away with trophies and prizes. While this wasn’t quite the Goonhammer Sweep of New Mexico, we reaped a respectable tally of awards. I was a winner in the Sergeant’s Bracket, getting me a plaque and a go at the prize bin. Rob was a winner in his Lieutenant’s Bracket, and our real life friend Quinn took Crusade Heel in the Narrative. Last but certainly not least, Jack won Best Painted with his Imperial Fists. I figured it was between him and myself for best painted, but his army owns so I’m not gonna complain about it. I was hoping to at least win second best painted, but that went to another Imperial Fists player. Guess I gotta paint a yellow army now.

Imperial Fists Terminators, Sternguard, and Ballistus Dreadnought. Credit: Jack Hunter

If you’ve never been to a GW event, each award winner is given their plaque or trophy, then granted roughly 5 seconds to root around the prize trunk. At first, this is often stocked with some fantastic stuff. This year there were combat patrols, terrain sets, Kill Teams and more being lifted out of there. However, by the time you really work down the event, it starts getting a little dire. The 40k event winners were at the tail end of the awards ceremony, so we had but dregs. Rob pulled a set of Space Wolves index cards. I pulled a set of neoprene objective markers which are useful, but I don’t care for. Someone else got a bag of Cheetos. Generally they list off the less prestigious events before moving on to the bigger ones, so if you won best painted in the Warhammer Underworlds event you’d get your pick before the 40k GT winner. I like this concept since it prevents a “rich get richer” sort of thing from happening, but the literal bottom of the prize barrel becomes figurative rather quickly. The 2 or 3 folks who grabbed backs of chips from the bin were ushered over to the GW store where they were given Combat Patrols, a quick mea culpa for the exhaustion of prize support.

Our Goonhammer crew returned to The Rock. I had two Elysian Space Dusts and a good pizza – better than the first, if I’m gonna be honest. I’m pretty sure it was the Crazy Train, which was a load of meat and hot cherry peppers on your classic tomato and cheese base. The hang was exceptional; we talked until pretty dang late about the event, how to grow the 40k community, moving casual players to competitive play, how the two styles of play influence each other, what the value of competitive play is, and so on. My personal opinion, which I probably wasn’t able to articulate through 32oz of 8.2% IPAs and a mouthful of pizza, is that I think competitive play is most valuable as a marketing tool. As a kid, seeing photos of Games Day and tournaments always excited me. A hall full of people rolling dice and having a good time is a hell of an image to an impressionable would-be-warham, and knowing there are other people out there who love this thing as much as you do can provide a sense of belonging in a weirdo like me. It’s easy to get caught up in memes and verbal sparring matches online where teeth gnash until they crack, but actually seeing the human beings playing this game and interacting with them is where the real game is. A balanced competitive game also serves as a great base for a balanced and enjoyable casual game – nobody likes a blowout – but I think the optics of events like this provide a value that can’t be itemized on a receipt.

The weight of the event hit the moment we leave the pizza joint, and I finished packing my stuff before all but falling asleep Facetiming my wife. I hit the hay at midnight, and Rob was out of there before I woke up the next day.

Day 5 – The Return

At 9am I got up, gathered the last of my things, and moseyed outward. I was meeting Doug at the Hotel Murano down the street, and I only passed a single dead rat on the way there. I think I saw Stu Black from Games Workshop crossing the street, but I wasn’t about to chase him down while lugging 5 days of clothes, a display board, and 2000+ points of Black Templars. Doug and I loaded up his truck with the help of a porter at the hotel and we hit the road. We followed the same route we did on the way up; a road less novel but no less beautiful.

Wooden Sherman Tank in Lakewood, WA. Photo Credit: SRM

We stopped in Lakewood, WA, at a Black Bear Diner, a wholly okay chain of diners chiefly spread across the Western and Midwestern United States. I had a slightly burnt cold brew and a hobo omelet, your typical combination of breakfast meats and spinach. The place was loud, the omelet merely okay, but the house hot sauce was pretty decent. If I wasn’t allergic to everything I would have enjoyed the biscuit typically served with said omelet, but what are ya gonna do. Outside, there was a wooden Sherman tank. Each Black Bear Diner I’ve visited has some collection of carved wood Americana kitsch in and around it. I can only assume the relative proximity to Joint Base Lewis–McChord and the other military installations in the area informed this particular wooden scale model of everyone’s favorite Good Guy tank from WW2. I texted a picture to my dad, and he said it wouldn’t be very good in a fight. The man’s not wrong.

Our second stop was altogether more sudden, as a flipped over semi had flipped on the highway, and its cargo had spilled out into the road. Before I could register the spread of pallets and oil in the truck’s wake, our sudden stop had propelled my display board from the back seat with the express purpose of kneecapping me, hitting with a mighty krak on my left knee and hurting more than it had any right to. Fortunately, Doug, myself, and my display board were all intact, and we continued on our way.

The rest of our drive was uneventful, stopping at another Jamba Juice before heading south, clear skies heralding an easy journey and a trucker’s tan. I pointed out the different biomes between the Cascades and my dusty little part of Oregon, saw a fox running along the road, and spotted a few hawks on the drive. We stopped for a bathroom break at a Love’s in Madras, and an hour later I was back home, my journey complete. Doug had a friend in town he was visiting, and from there he’d head back to California, where he eventually arrived safe and sound.

Parting Thoughts, Parting Shots, and What Have You

Black Templars vs. Tau. Credit: SRM and Noah.

This was, without a doubt, the smoothest event I have ever attended. Rounds began and ended on time. Tables were logically laid out, with ample room between them to maneuver without running all the way down an aisle to get to the other side. The terrain was unambiguous, and while I find the acrylic squares under each ruin to be immersion breaking, they did make finding the boundaries of that terrain extremely easy. The few times judges were consulted in our games were mostly just asking “Hey buddy, can I do this?” as a judge strolled by, only to get a quick yes or no answer. There were something like a dozen judges going around the event to answer questions, and no major event in a new edition has any right to run as well as this one did.

This event also finally dragged me kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Even though Best Coast Pairings did the thing Best Coast Pairings does (IE: break), we were still able to check our pairings and standings through the browser version of the app. More importantly, the 40k app worked wonders – after a single round using my index cards, I only ever referred to them again for stratagems. Through the app or simple rote memory, I barely needed to use them again. Last but not least, I got to grips with the Tabletop Battles App. After Liam walked my Luddite ass through how to use it, I found it tremendously useful for keeping track of the score in my last few games. I’m still getting into the habit of using it for Command Points and such, but I’ve used it in games at home since and find it to be a fantastic tool.

Lastly, we arrive at 10th edition itself. My primary goal for this event was to win best painted (RIP 2 me) but my close secondary goal was to get a crash course in the new edition. While that first goal remains elusive, 10th edition now has a place in my head and makes sense to me in a way some past editions may not have. Through my frustrations and triumphs, I have become instantly familiar with the greater ruleset and Space Marines in particular. The sink or swim nature of competitive play forced me to play in a planned and timely manner, and that is a skill I never really anticipated learning. I still wouldn’t say I’m especially good at this game, but I’m certainly learned enough to know where I went wrong and learn from it. The necessities that make up a decent list have also become clearer to me in light of my 5-3 record at this event, and I intend to build towards those requirements for my next tournament. At no point will I ever be a hardcore meta chaser (who has the time?) but I want to keep this train rolling to my next GT and beyond.

See ya at NOVA, warhams.

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