With the Games Workshop US Open behind us, it’s time for our authors to provide their recaps of the event. In this article, Campbell “SRM” McLaughlin is recapping his harrowing tale of getting to the event and his experiences in attendance.
Back in June, my Badcast cohost/business partner/hetero lifemate Dan Boyd suggested we go to the US Open Grand Finale in New Mexico. The twist this go around was that we would be bringing our spouses, so they could enjoy the luxuries of this resort while we spent four days at nerd summer camp. I immediately said yes, and my wife, Anne, jumped at the chance to go on a new adventure. This would be my opportunity to slam hams and beers in equal measure, and her opportunity to hike new horizons, indulge in the spa services that are hard to find in central Oregon, and dabble in being a horse girl. This seemed like a win/win/win/win.
I was going to write earlier entries in this series à la my previous Road to the Seattle Open series, but my favored typing arm still aches from the sheer quantity of reaches I had to make to work in all those grunge-based puns. Instead, I’m doing a Road To Roundabout, much like my NOVA recap, so instead of a series of articles you will merely be subjected to a single novella.
As with the other events I attended this year, I will be taking Black Templars. They are my favorite flavor of Marine to play at the moment, and I think I did a very good job painting them. I mostly intend to drink some (many) beers, roll some (many) dice with friends new and old, and maybe angle for a best painted award if I can swing it. I don’t think there will be a scumbag award I can so easily weasel my way into getting as I did in Tacoma, but I would love it if there were.
I played one game of 40k and two games of Kill Team between NOVA and the start of the Narrative. I lost two of them, and will not tell you which. I have not painted a single Templar model since July, and have mostly been focusing on Age of Sigmar, Necromunda, and Battletech models. I planned on fixing up my display board but used my limited hobby time in other endeavors to better pump endorphins into my brain. I skimmed the packets and built my list less than 48 hours before my flight. Next section.
Should a picture truly be valued at a thousand words, then this photograph should more than suffice, and I invite you to keep the change. I will not bore you with what’s in my 100PL list because you can see it all above. There are relics and requisitions on some of these, and I trust in your opinion of me, dear reader, to assume I made quality decisions on what I purchased with my imaginary Crusade money. Narratively, all you need to know is that the Verstoren Crusade is led by Marshal Dietrich Donnerschlag, with the aid of Techmarine Antillax, the fiery rhetoric of Chaplain Andre, and the executioner’s blade of Judiciar Hodrick. For 50PL games, I take about half of what you see above. We had a 150PL requisition limit but I’m not adjusting my list between games because I am not a coward, and I have better things to do with my time.
Day 0 – The 30 Hour Hell Cycle
Our alarms started at 3:15AM, giving us two hours to find our way to our local podunk airport. We hit the road shortly before 3:45, and shortly after we hit something much, much harder. You see, freezing fog had rolled in and blanketed the entirety of Bend, Oregon, in a Silent Hill 2-esque nightmare fog. This coated the roads and our windshield, and the moment we got to our first roundabout, our car slid completely on the X axis and slammed its front wheel sideways into a curb. Warning lights I didn’t know existed lit up our dashboard, and the front left wheel of our car was dented inwards and impinging the use of our front right brake. We limped the car back home, got into our other vehicle, and headed back out – albeit much more carefully. This will be the first of many, many misfortunes.
When we did arrive at the airport, a severely understaffed service desk was working with multiple people who had been rebooked to our flight. Of the 21 departing flights that day, ours was the only one that had not been delayed. This meant the line for us to check our bag was wholly immobile for 45 minutes, and as a result we missed our flight entirely. We were rebooked to the next afternoon at 1pm, so we returned home and slept for 4 hours until 10:30AM. On this second (third?) journey outwards, we stopped at Mimi’s Bagel Deli where I had their Hangover bagel sandwich, consisting of Jersey-style pork roll, cheddar, egg, and avocado on a jalapeño cheddar bagel. It is one of the best breakfast foods devised by humankind. The proprietors of this business are a couple from New Jersey who actually know how to make a good bagel, and are likely the first people in central Oregon to ever do so. Bo’s Falafel is a close second, but you pay out the nose for the pleasure.
We arrive back at the airport, pass through security painlessly, and have a serviceable black coffee at the Avalon Aeropub. Our flight gets pushed back 45 minutes in a heart-palpating echo of the day before, and of what is to come. Fortunately, Joe “Adonis”, a listener and Goon Whomst Hammers, was able to upgrade us at every step of the way so I didn’t have to watch an airport attendant fully yeet my delicate army into the cargo hold of a plane. The flight goes well enough and we land in what will be my new vision of purgatory: Denver International Airport.
Denver International Airport resembles a mall from the 1990s, unlike Salt Lake City International Airport which resembles a mall from the 2010s. We had a lengthy layover in this plane station and went to the Cantina Grill for dinner. The chips were thin but the guacamole and salsa were both quite good. The steak tacos, however, were the best airport tacos I have had the dubious pleasure of eating. Adequately spiced, reasonably tender, and actually pretty flavorful, I would order them again. This bounty was paired with Antonio Citra session IPA and ¡Venga! Mexican lager, both by Ceveceria Colorado. Neither blew me away but were both enjoyable. I chased that with Voodoo Ranger by New Belgium Brewing, an old friend I had not enjoyed the company of since 2017. This is followed by voodoo of another kind: Voodoo Doughnut, right across the way from the Cantina Grill. I purchase The Homer and Butterfingering, as I’m ready to get butterfingerblasted on donuts. My wife got a blueberry cake donut and an old fashioned, as yeast donuts aren’t her thing. Our spirits are, for the moment, quite high – pleasantly buzzed, stomachs full, and donuts in hand, we are ready to roll.
Our flight is delayed.
I see in the Goonhammer Discord channel for this event, Chase “Gunum” Garber is also stuck at the airport, and awaiting the same flight as we are. He has already been at the airport for 8 hours. Anne, Chase and I have some coffees from the nearby Sarah Lee sandwich shop. They’re gas station-quality, but it’s all that’s open as it is now closing in on 9pm. However, the hangs are extremely good even if the circumstances are not. We are, in time, able to board the plane. As the flight rolls onto the de-icing platform, where we will remain for an hour. We are then informed that the crew has run out the clock on their shifts and they need to change crews. The plane turns around and taxis back to the gate. We are then informed that there are no more crews, as it’s after 11pm, and we will have to come back to the airport to fly out at 6am tomorrow. I laugh out loud.
We are in a hell of our own creation. We were spitting in God’s eye for daring to lift our bodies from the clay beneath us, and we will be punished for our hubris. The young woman next to me is crying and blowing her nose on the sleeve of her hoodie. I am becoming Jokerized at a rapid pace. We are given meal vouchers which no restaurant accepts, Lyft vouchers which will only take one of us at a time, and given a choice of hotels between 9 and 15 miles away. Our Lyft takes half an hour to arrive instead of the quoted 15 minutes, and by the time we arrive at the Crowne Plaza Hotel it is after midnight and the line is to the door. I eat my Butterfingering donut, hoping to get a single endorphin. Under better circumstances, this chocolate cake donut with vanilla icing and Butterfinger shrapnel would have done more to lift my spirits. A grizzled older fellow tells us that we should arrive extremely early to the airport, as security takes a very long time. My wife and I have a room with two twin beds, I Love Lucy-style, and we will meet Chase in 3 hours to depart. We have precisely those 3 hours to sleep, and I only sleep for 1. I think about Goodbye, Eri, an excellent manga I read whilst on said grounded plane. It was beautifully illustrated, touching and funny. As someone dealing with the declining health and deaths of far too many people I care about in far too short a period of time, I felt it deeply.
Day 1 – My Brain’s on Autopilot and it Doesn’t Have a License
I feel like I’m going to barf, and I do a little bit in my mouth. It is 3:30AM, nearly 24 hours since first departing my driveway. We Lyft to the airport with Chase and our driver is a consummately skilled winter wheelman. We get to the airport around 4, and after 20 minutes in line we finally get to the TSA checkpoint. Chase gets through painlessly; my wife and I are turned away for our tickets being “wrong” and are told to go back to the ticketing desk to get new tickets. We do just that, the ticketing desk says they’re identical to the ones we were already holding, and that we should speak to the TSA manager. I’m too tired to relish the idea of going full Karen on what is essentially a mall cop. On our second trip through this whole rigmarole I am able to convince them that we are, in fact, on the right flight, and they blearily let us through. We reconnect with Chase, who is hanging with Andy, a Goonhammer reader who we met in line at the hotel. He has a gorgeous T’au army painted by Izzy Sanchez and he shows us a few of his models while we’re killing time before the flight. Andy is a lovely fellow and we will take him under our wing for the remainder of this journey.
At 5:15AM we finally board the plane, where it needs to be de-iced for another hour. I eat my Homer donut from Denver, which has been smushed. Most of the strawberry frosting had been lost from this normal yeast donut, but it still tasted okay. No 24 hour period involving two donuts should be this bad. As we sit there and I try to catch a brief nap, the PA keeps crackling and spiking as an entirely too chipper flight attendant keeps us informed on the de-icing process. If someone put a gun to my head I would urge them to keep pulling the trigger until it clicked. It is whatever the opposite of providence is that my experience of traveling to Albuquerque is as arduous as the Weird Al song of the same name.
I awake in Albuquerque, our journey finally reaching its terminus. Andy and Chase ride with Emma, Michael “Enzo” DiCianna‘s markedly better half. Anne and I get a rental car only to be informed it was the wrong Kia Soul, and we had to turn around and get a separate Kia Soul. We drive and get to the hotel – the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort And Spa in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico – at 9:45AM. It has been 30 hours and 15 minutes since leaving our house for the first time, but we are finally, finally here. I change my clothes, reapply deodorant, and head downstairs in the hopes of finally doing what I came here for.
(Rob: Here’s where I have to tragically, hilariously, note that if Chase and Campbell had just rented a car and decided to drive from Denver, the drive would have taken about 6.5 hours, been pleasantly scenic, and gotten them considerably earlier… though I suspect they’d have been caught in an avalanche or other unfortunate weather had they chosen that route).
Game 1 – Sabotage Ex Machina – 50PL vs. Sam’s Chaos Knights
I got to my designated area to find my group – Imperial Battlegroup 6 – facing off with the Chaos forces of Battlegroup 13. As Rob documented, there were a ton of Goonhammer folks present in this room, and they had been hearing of my woes for the past 30 hours. Hugs, handshakes, high fives, and congratulations went around, and that hero’s welcome was a balm on my soul. Suddenly, my recent pains washed away and I felt like I was right where I belonged. While I missed the opening ceremonies the day before and the faction briefings that morning due to my travel woes, I still got the gist. That room’s battlegroup leader, dressed in Imperial Guard fatigues, was able to get me an opponent. This player, as you may have guessed from the section title, was Sam, and he had a tight force of Chaos Knights ready to take on my Templars.
This was both of our first times fighting each others’ respective armies, and Sam was as welcoming and joyful as anyone I could expect to meet. The name of the game was Sabotage. His mission was to defend four objectives in his deployment zone, while mine was to burn them down. With a Hammer and Anvil deployment, this meant I would need to cross some serious ground to get there in time, and his Knights were forming a wall to slow me down. I took Uphold the Honour of the Emperor, as I figured ignoring 2s to wound my dudes and having a 5+ invulnerable save would be handy in this game.
As this battle was only 50PL, it went rather quickly. I had first turn, and my paltry anti-armor shooting was able to weaken his big Knight and pop some wounds off one of his War Dogs. Mostly I just advanced to close that gap as fast as possible. His own turn was similarly ineffective, and even in combat he was unable to make much damage stick. Bladeguard, Crusaders, and my Warlord – Marshal Dietrich Donnerschlag – were able to chew through his Knights in combat, while my Intercessor squad boltered a War Dog to death. The only unit I lost was my squad of Hellblasters, and I tabled him on turn 3 with the aid of Venerable Brother Thiccums. Turns 4 and 5 would just be my troops burning his objectives, taking me to a 60-40 victory. We had a wonderful time, and the cocktail of adrenaline, caffeine, and friendship powered me through.
Sometime around noon, as my game got out, I met up with my favorite Dan, Dan Boyd. He’s the fella on the right, I’m the puddle on the left. He was getting to testdrive the new Guard codex at this event, and had an extremely tough time against Leagues of Votann in his first game. Rob took the above photo and many other folks stopped by and chatted with us for a while, but things were understandably a bit blurry for me. Dan and I went to lunch at the hotel restaurant where I had a session IPA that just slides right off my brain but was totally fine. It just tasted kinda watery. We both had the green chile chicken enchiladas and they blew me right the hell away. I eat like a bird and I still housed the entire plate. The rice and beans on there weren’t just fillers, they were as seasoned and carefully prepared as anything else. It was also the first proper meal I’d had since Denver my first time around. My belly full and my introductions made, I retired to my room for a nap. Anne was on her way out to go horseback riding, so once I helped her shove right off for home, I crashed for about 30 minutes before my next game, which began at 3pm.
Game 2 – Dietrich’s Folly – 50PL vs. Joe’s Chaos Daemons
Joe is an interesting fellow. He’s dressed like a swamp cultist and has all these dangling charms, which are old metal Nurglings painted bronze. He also rolls a D4 he has printed with the four Chaos powers on it to find out which Chaos god he will spurn that game. Joe has an attendant thrall named Josh helping him get his models out, taking pictures, and riffing on the action. We spend probably 2/3 of our allotted 4 hours shooting the shit, talking about our lives, families, careers, and hobby journeys. Joe and Josh have incredibly positive energy and great sense of humor. The problem is, my first game adrenaline has worn off and I have barely slept in 36 hours. Resultantly, I absolutely dumpster myself in this game. This mission is Behind Enemy Lines, and it is our job to cross the battlefield and either hang out in the opposing player’s deployment zone or just peace out and run off board. I take first turn and just run my whole army up, failing to do any lasting damage to the daemonic horde before me. I also maintain terrible spacing, ensuring he can just roll on up wherever. I think I take the Suffer Not the Unclean to Live vow, giving me autowounds on melee hits of 6+, but I absolutely forget to use it on the rare occasions I roll higher than a 3 or get to swing back in melee. On his first turn, he kills one Neophyte with some incidental psychic power, then spikes a load of mortal wounds on my Warlord. I fail all my 5+ mortal wound shrug saves, killing him instantly. Losing your commander as the second casualty of a game is a real feels bad moment, I tell you what.
The rest of the game goes just as well. Lukewarm dice, bad tactics, and sloppy play see me get absolutely wrecked. I have no idea how many points he scores, but I get a big fat goose egg and score 0 points, or 10 if you count points for bringing a painted army. I feel bad that I couldn’t give him a better game, but it was a high quality hang. He gives me one of his dangling Nurglings and I clip it to my shirt, shortly before doing a theatrical chopping motion with my hand, sending the Nurgling flying, bowling ball-like into his casualty pile. He thinks it’s hilarious and is fully aware of just how beat I am. Michael comes by and says I look like I need a beer, and hands me a 7k IPA by Santa Fe Brewing Company. Assume at all times from here on out that I have one of these in my hand, and I will review it once for this record. It was the best beer available much of the time, and it is a rather good IPA overall. Hoppy, citrusy, and possessing a smoothness that belies its 7% ABV, I would have many more as the weekend went on.
I had dinner with Anne at the hotel bar. We went hard on appetizers and got the green chile dip, which was figured would be like queso but was more like an artichoke dip. It was incredible, and the chips served with it were hot, thick, and lightly salted. I followed those with buffalo wings, and they were likely the best I’d had since I was in college. Crispy, juicy, and with a satisfying heat that didn’t mask the flavor, these are the buffalo wings that live in my mind whenever I picture my favorite orange food. This is paired with a Red Ale from Marble Brewery. It’s okay. I always want red ales to be maltier but it’s just an earthier IPA. Still, not bad.
We hit the store area as my swag bag included a $10 coupon, and I used it to get a chunk of change off an Infernal Enrapturess. The one pictured above is not mine, but it’s a better photo than a grey sprue or a white direct order box. After showing my wife around the sundry gaming and shopping areas, she went off to the room while I hung out with the goon crew before the preview event started. I had a Pistol Pete’s 1888 Blonde Ale from Bosque Brewing. It’s fine, kinda thin and not too flavorful. Definitely a lawnmowing beer.
For whatever reason, the preview event was held outside on the veranda. Mind you, it was 20 degrees outside. You may not know this, but deserts are extremely cold at night. Heat lamps and nerd body heat kept the area relatively comfortable but it was a choice. I was standing back so far that I couldn’t see the screen terribly well, but the collective excitement of in-person preview events is always a ton of fun. Dan brought me a Riverwalker IPA, also from Bosque Brewing, which I liked a smidge more than their blonde ale. It was enjoyable if a bit generic, but a welcome beverage nonetheless. While we haven’t done a roundtable here at Goonhammer about the preview event, you can see all the reveals elsewhere. My takeaway is that it’s my favorite kind of preview: a lot of extremely cool stuff that doesn’t belong to any armies I play, and therefore I won’t feel the need to buy.
We have faction briefings after this and I get my first real taste of the faction leaders doing their whole bit. An Eldar Farseer, Imperial officer, and Chaos cultist each take turns on the mic, talking about how their factions have done on day 1 and delivering their whole speeches in character. This event is chockablock with folks like this, and it lends the whole event an in-universe appeal that genuinely did pull me into the narrative. The actors are generally pretty good, and if their performances aren’t always the most nuanced they will be enthusiastic as hell and that’s more than good enough. It sounds like on day 1 the Imperials were doing a good job holding the line, the xenos Interlopers were doing fairly well, and the forces of Chaos were getting thrown into the dumpster.
We were then given the option to play games of Kill Team to affect the outcome of the event, but I was too tired to volunteer so I hung out with Dan, Craig, and a bunch of our other nerd crew. We rolled up names for Dan’s tanks from the Guard codex and talked about our day’s games, but I was fading fast so I peaced out and went back to my room. My wife was playing Stardew Valley and had a wonderful time riding a horse, meeting goats, and pretending to be a horse girl for an afternoon. We were both beat as hell, and called it a night.
Day 2 – Old Friends, New Fiends
My wife and I began our day in luxury with room service. I had blue corn griddlecakes, which were basically cornbread pancakes with bitter berries and maple syrup. Cornbread and pancakes are two of my favorite carbohydrates, and the combination thereof did not disappoint. The coffee was okay. Newly fortified and reasonably well rested, I headed off to my morning briefing, which was held in the Sermona Magnificat. Our Imperial officer led the group in prayer, the first non-funeral service I’ve attended since I was 13. The vibes in there were immaculate, with low lights, skulls, candles, and a constant background prayer cant pumping out of a bluetooth speaker. With our day’s orders to sever the head of the opponent, we were off to our first games.
This is where I would like to chime in on two things – the daily orders and the fame/infamy mechanic. Daily orders are something I remember from the Seattle Open, where you would be given a poker chip with a vague order on it and it would be up to you to follow it. “Cut off the head” is probably telling you to kill the enemy warlord, while “seize ground” is probably putting dudes in table quarters or just holding a lot of objectives. I showed up late the first day so I missed these, but I like the self-guided nature of them. When you recorded your games, the room GM would ask if you fulfilled your orders and you would explain to them what happened. I liked this, as if you were suitably convincing you could make a strong case that you interpreted your orders correctly. I wouldn’t want something with that much wiggle room for matched play, but it works for narrative wonderfully. The other mechanic was fame and infamy. Certain conditions could be met to accrue one or the other, but this was frequently left out of briefings. I feel like these both could have been better explained and pushed more, as they are fun and can reward some narrative plays.
Game 3 – Dietrich’s Redemption – 100PL vs. Spencer’s World Eaters
I have known Spencer for something like 5 years now. We got matched at NOVA way back when, and when we were chatting after the game we found we both lived in the Boston area. While I may no longer live in the land of Dunks, dropped Rs, and curiously combustible public transit, we’ve maintained our friendship over the years and still regularly meet at events. He called me out on the Badcast Patron Discord and threw down the chaingauntlet for a challenge, so when it was his battlegroup vs. mine we knew what had to be done. This mission would be Raze and Ruin, an objective-based mission where, naturally, you can raze and/or ruin objectives for extra points. I was the defender in this scenario as World Eaters don’t really do the whole “holding ground” thing, and he went first. I Accepted Any Challenge, No Matter the Odds, as I imagined the bonus AP and melee attacks would do me some good in this fight.
Lemme tell ya, his first turn had me a smidge worried. While most of his army advanced their way towards me, his Lord of Skulls, The Choo-Choo Pain Train, put a few shots downrange into my Repulsor Executioner. It bracketed my big stupid tank pretty hard, but didn’t kill it. Worryingly, he had a pregame move and (I think) an advance and charge ability on his Khornate Possessed, and they were right in my grill from the word go. They came at me with the intensity of a wrecking ball but impacted with the force of a pool noodle. While I made some absolutely banger saving rolls and used Transhuman Physiology to protect my boys, I only lost two Neophytes for all his bluster. On my turn I swarmed his Possessed with every available unit; so many that I couldn’t even fit everyone over there. While Spencer interrupted to try and finish what they started on my Crusaders, the Possessed were severely depleted at that point and were wiped out to a man. His second wave pulled in, hemming in my deployment zone with a Maulerfiend and Berserkers, but they were again bouncing off my defenses and my Marshal was able to destroy the Maulerfiend in single combat. From there he consolidated into one of Spencer’s Rhinos, which tried to fall back only to be held in place by my stratagem. He then killed that Rhino before running off and taking the last chunk of wounds off of the Lord of Skulls in assault, killing it and redeeming himself from the previous battle.
While my Marshal carved a path of red ruin through the army, I took out the remainder of his Khorne Berserkers, leaving only a single Rhino to drive home and tell Angron that the Templars won 100-50. It was, as always, a delightful game between the two of us, and I was so happy to throw down with Spencer again.
I went to the hotel restaurant with Anne, Dan, Spencer and his brother Nicholas in tow. They were still doing a breakfast buffet, so I loaded up on brisket hash, mixed berry bread pudding, and breakfast enchiladas. There were more things besides, but those were the standouts. I had another of that session IPA that is sliding off my Teflon-smooth brain right now, and the lot of us talked about cats, jobs, family, baking, Warhammer, and more besides. It’s a pretty good hang.
After this, Battlegroup 6 returned to the Sermona Magnificat for a sermon by preacher Jonas, who had developed a purple rash on the back of his bald head. He started to slip some allusions to the “true” Emperor between his benedictions, and it was immensely charming. At least twice I turned to someone I knew in the room to say something along the lines of “this fuckin owns” and I meant it. Jonas was going for it at every opportunity, and was clearly having the time of his life playing this character. He asked for an Imperial volunteer to assign players to battlefields and I stepped up, which was mostly just telling people that they’re good where they are in the hammiest way I could muster. It was then up to the Xenos to step up and pick tables to fight on, and that’s what led to my next matchup.
Game 4 – A Temple Defiled – 100PL vs. Andy’s T’au
Andy, my new friend from the airport, elected to face off with my Black Templars. You may notice two things about this battlefield. The first is that those perfidious Tau are fairly well hidden. The second is that said perfidious Tau are across an all-too-open no man’s land. We got this mission wrong; it sounded like we were supposed to do Supplies From Above, but there was a misprint on the cards so we just did Supply Cache since it had the word “supply” in the title and that was probably good enough. It was a pretty simple mission where we’d get points for capturing objectives, and more for standing on our opponent’s objectives. I had first turn and was able to take out one of his two Hammerheads and bracket his second. However, there is a stratagem to let a Hammerhead fire at full BS, and I was never able to kill that second one. His army pretty much got to stay put while I came to them, and even with Uphold the Honor of the Emperor and Transhuman Physiology, my dudes are only so durable.
I enjoyed an old fashioned from the nearby bar stand. I prefer the kind with a fruit salad and muddled sugar cube at the base instead of simple syrup, but I understand the economy of scale of these things and still found it pretty enjoyable. It did dull the pain slightly of getting my stuff so thoroughly railgunned, as taking an unblockable damage 12 shot or whatever is a real feels bad moment. I was losing dudes rapidly and was unable to effectively screen my characters halfway through the game, so he just started sniping them with the guns on his Hammerhead and Stormsurge. My friend Fake James stopped by to hang out and brought me another 7k IPA. I congratulated him on his new engagement. My Repulsor Executioner failed to hit and/or wound every time, due to bad dice, worthless rerolls, and good saves on my opponent’s part. When the game did finally end and the dust had found its way to the earth, I was down 40-70 and it was a T’au v’ict’or’y. Andy is a lovely guy, a fun opponent, and an extremely personable individual. Despite the frustration of our game, I still found plenty to laugh about as my new acquaintance and I pushed models around for a couple hours. I was asked to place my army in the showcase area afterwards for paint judging, and there it would remain for the next few hours.
I met up with a bunch of folks for dinner, and as Rob stated in his own recap, the burgers were fairly dry. I explained that medium rare was the best temperature to cook a burger at, as you still get moisture and flavor while at least somewhat mitigating the risk of foodborne illness. Said dryness was also offset by the green chiles atop my burger, and the fries were the kind of battered and crispy fried gold that dreams are made of. I have a Malpais Stout from La Cumbre Brewing Company, and it is exactly what I needed. It’s a dark, roasty, and strong export stout, and possibly the best beer I would have for the entire event. I would gladly order it again, and should it ever be on nitro, it may destroy me.
As we got together for faction briefings, our leaders were looking a little worse for wear. There was a micronarrative throughout the event where the faction leaders would look a little more beat up each day as the war raged on, which was a charming detail I would not want to overlook. JD gave me a Pistol Pete’s 1888 Seltzer from Bosque Brewing. This green tea cranberry seltzer drinks like a cider, and it was frankly delicious. I don’t generally care for seltzers – hard or otherwise – but this was sweet and lacking that bitterness I associate with seltzer. I nurse it through the briefing and subsequent trivia offerings, as I don’t have it in me to play Aeronautica Imperialis tonight.
Trivia was poorly signposted and not written on the schedule, and I kind of feel like it was forgotten by everyone involved. It’s a shame as they seem to have grasped that the app-based trivia offerings of past events were lame and went for a classic pub trivia approach. The teams were our own Goons Hamner (sic) consisting of half a dozen contributors to this very website, an equivalent number of strangers calling themselves Ork Questions Only, and a lone dude who was representing himself. He did not win. The questions ranged from 40k to Bloodbowl, and we largely knocked it out of the park. For our efforts, we were each given a 3 second pull from the mysterious prize chest, and I nabbed the Chibi Advent Calendar. I have no idea what I’m doing with this bounteous box of weeaboo whimsy, but I think I can figure something out.
Afterwards, a number of us hang out and critique each others’ painting. I found this extremely helpful to help identify the strengths and weaknesses of my own work, and to do the same for others. Getting to check out Rob’s Black Legion, JD’s Ultramarines, Fakie’s Death Guard and more besides was illuminating, and a reminder that the camera can only do so much justice to a tactile, 3-dimensional object. I am informed by an individual working the event that my display board had cost me consideration for a painting award. I constructed this thing back in 2019 for the NOVA I had to miss due to a death in the family, and have been putting it through its paces since. Unfortunately, the paint never quite stuck to the edges of the board, and even with xxxtra thicc auto primer and a few coats of varnish, I could still scrape it up with my fingernail. I’m extremely bummed that this thing I put no small amount of effort into building, painting, and transporting has effectively cost me my shot. I very much want to set it on fire, but there’s a burn ban in New Mexico.
Day 3 – The Goonhammer Sweep
After a decent night’s sleep we have one more faction briefing. Our Imperial officer is looking rough, with a newly acquired bionic eye, a rebreather, a limp, and no small amount of cuts and bruising on his face. Words don’t really do it justice – these actors were going all out and they really brought us into the universe. In the previous mission, he had given one member of our team a unit to command on the battlefield, and since they survived he gave her a medal. She was also in cosplay and played along, and it was a cool start to our final day. My battlegroup would be assigned to the Iron Wastes, so in the 45 minutes between assignment and our last games, I crushed a breakfast burrito and hung with Craig, Quinn, JD and Joe. I would also see the Imperial Officer crush a breakfast burrito at another time. Dude’s gotta eat and I respect that, but there’s a cognitive dissonance to seeing a man in full 41st millennium Inquisitor attire one handing a half pound tortilla full of eggs and bacon. That image will stick in my mind for the rest of my life.
Game 5 – Blood for Blood – 100PL vs. Tim’s Khorne Daemons
Tim is an Age of Sigmar player who hasn’t played much 40k before, with this being his first 40k event. He’s borrowed a friend’s Khorne Daemon army for the event, and lemme tell you, his Bloodthirster is jacked the heck up. I haven’t gone much into Crusade upgrades because that’s too granular even for my novella-length recaps, but his Beefthirster can only take 8 wounds per phase, has +1 to saves from Damage 1 weapons, has a 5+ Feel no Pain, treats his first failed save per phase as damage 0, regenerates a wound every Command Phase, and gets a wound back on a 5 every time he kills a model. I am likely forgetting another upgrade or three on this model. I wisely ignore it for the first 3 turns of the game.
I light up his 40 Bloodthirsters and units of Khornedogs with all the small arms fire my army excels at doling out. After wearing them down with shooting, I clean up with melee attacks and manage to perform actions and keep characters alive long enough to score some points. I’m doing rather well and taking acceptable casualties for how many Daemons I’m killing and points I’m scoring. In a move I’m particularly proud of, I actually remember to successfully zone out my backline, meaning his deepstriking Bloodthirsters and Bloodletters can’t drop in behind my army and charge my vulnerable fire support units. On turn 3, I finish killing every model in his army – that is, except one notable exception.
We end up at a point where there is literally no way to kill this big idiot before game’s end, and all I can really do is throw it sacrificial units so he can roll some dice and make my models go away. It does 27 damage in one charge to my Impulsor, and 33 damage in the next to my Repulsor Executioner. It kills most of what’s left and scores him a bunch of Infamy, a mechanic that was not adequately explained and often forgotten in the briefings for our missions. At game’s end, the Black Templars have found a 63-33 victory by playing to the objective, and I thank Tim for the game. He’s a softspoken but kind individual, and frankly I’d love to play Age of Sigmar with him sometime. He clearly was having a good time with 40k, but AoS is much more “his” game by his own admission.
Now you may be able to tell there is some glitter litter on the field in the above pictures – that’s because the Iron Wastes have flecks of “iron dust” blowing around everywhere. It’s thematic but meant I was late for lunch with my wife because I had to manually pick up and blow off every model in my army before depositing them in my case, as I fear I will still be finding glitter on them at Adepticon.
Adan Tejada, formerly of both Lords and Heroes and The Independent Characters, stopped by near the end of my 5th and final game. He had been in the titan painting class with CK Studios all weekend and was happy to show me what he’d been up to. The progress the classroom had made was impressive, with smooth blends, crisp masking, realistic metals and believable weathering visible across the entire classroom. I had seen Contemptor Kevin’s Warhound earlier in the day. He had been able to run it in a big titan walk game that I would have loved to stop by and watch. I wish they advertised that event better, because the sheer spectacle of it sounded incredible. I congratulated Adan on being a grandfather and I hope to see him at more events in the future.
At lunch Anne and I were joined by Fakie and Craig and we shared stories of Dudes Rocking interspersed with discussion of one mass tragedy after another. It was a good hang, albeit a sometimes more serious one than I was expecting. I had the steak quesadilla with red chile which was crispy, savory, a little spicy, and everything pub food should be. It also had a sick Ninja Turtles cheese stretch when I pulled it apart. I paired that with a Double White Ale by Marble Brewery. If you’ve had a Blue Moon or Allagash White, think that but thicker and boozier. It’s a style I don’t believe I’ve ever had, and its novelty was exceeded only by its tastiness.
We still had some time to kill so Anne and I went on a brief sojourn out on the Bosque Trail at the resort. There were ample warning signs to avoid critters and fires whilst on the trail, but we fortunately only saw birds and a family out cycling. There were a number of what I can only call adult jungle gym installations throughout the trail, with plaques instructing trailgoers how to use them. We did some chin-ups, hanging leg raises, ladder climbs, and other exercises where we could figure out how to use the equipment. It was a much needed break from the noise and stagnant air of the hotel, and an appreciated bout of physical activity in a weekend of drinking and gaming. We got back in time for the awards ceremony, and I grabbed another old fashioned before taking my seat.
Be prepared to see this photo a lot on Goonhammer in the coming weeks.
As you may be able to tell from the number of plaques and trophies in the front row, Goonhammer represented themselves well at this event. Craig won best theme for his Rainbow Warriors, and if anyone’s going to beat me out for that I’m glad it’s him. His army is gorgeous, characterful, and thematically united in a way few are. JD won best technical painting for his Ultramarines, which are some of the most box art-accurate and crisply painted models I’ve ever had the pleasure to see in person. Andrew and Chase won best in faction for Imperials and Xenos respectively, and while we didn’t know it at the time, Boon was on his way to winning best overall in the competitive bracket.
There was a final trio of briefings from the faction leaders after awards went out. We were informed that the Xenos Interloper faction had won the event, while the Imperials put up a strong defense and Chaos was certainly also in attendance (Rob: The Imperials actually finished last, but I don’t know if that matters). The actors involved were so excited to give those final speeches and didn’t break character until the whole thing was done, and I implore you to go to their Instagram and check out their work. These folks put so much into their costumes and performances, and really elevated the entire event. Their enthusiasm was infections, even if it was funny watching the gears turn as they tried to answer rules questions in character.
After saying a number of goodbyes and thanking some of the event staff, it was time to navigate dinner. The food at the hotel was quite good, but it was all we’d eaten for the past few days. Pappadeaux, a Cajun restaurant in Albaquerque, had been floated a few times, but as we had to get up for 4am the next day, Anne and I just booked it for the place instead of waiting for the various crews to come to a consensus. We sat at the bar and I immediately clocked that the bartender had a Chaos Star tattoo. I started talking to him about Warhammer, the Badcast, and the event we were just at, and he comped all three of our beers as well as a pair of desserts. Connor, if you’re reading this: you’re good people.
The “short” beers at this bar were your typical 16oz pint glasses, while “tall” beers were cartoonishly sized goblets that I assume were 22oz. We stuck with “short” orders as beers that size usually go flat and warm in my experience. We started with a Santa Fe Nut Brown and a Lloyd’s 3 O’Clock Kolsch, which were both immensely enjoyable beers. There’s something about Kolsches made at high elevations where they just taste better in my experience; it’s a humble style that is too often just lawnmower or porchsitting beer. The nut brown, however, reminded me of my dearly departed Down the Road Brewing from Everett, Massachusetts, and their Hooligan Nut Brown, a similarly enjoyable beverage that walked the line between a beer made for pounding and a beer made for thoughtfully savoring. I also had like half of a Mass Ascension IPA from Ex Novo Brewing, which was strictly serviceable but I was entirely too full to finish it by the time I was done eating. Speaking of, you might think I am awfully silly for ordering New Orleans-style seafood in the American Southwestern desert, but we needed something different first and foremost, and were vindicated with our decision. The meal started with half a warmed baguette and whipped butter, which, as the husband of a baker, I can confirm was quite good! That was followed up with a hearty and delicious seafood and sausage gumbo. I also had some direly needed vegetables in the form of a house salad. Now, a place that says it’s New Orleans style but doesn’t have beignets as a dessert option is immediately losing points in my book, but the chocolate turtle brownie cake was a fine choice. It was denser than an anti-tank round but with far better flavor and mouthfeel. At this point a bunch of the convention crew showed up, so we talked with JD for a while and I did a loop around the place to say my various goodbyes and/or good lucks. We got back to the room, packed our things, and prepared to get up in a scant few hours.
Day 4 – The Voyage Home
At 4am, I donned my lucky travel shirt – a green Queens of the Stone Age shirt I purchased on December 13, 2013, at their show at the Agannis Arena in Boston, Massachusetts with The Royal Blood opening. I have worn this shirt during at least one leg of any given air-based journey in the years since, and it has so far warded me from harm and misfortune. If this trip back home was a repeat of my trip to New Mexico, I fear it would destroy me. Fortunately, we were met with no friction as we dropped off our rented Kia Soul and rode the shuttle to the airport. There were multitudes of cowboy hats in Albuquerque International Airport, and every time my wife saw one, she would whisper in my ear “Be rootin, be tootin, and bah gawd be shootin” and I would reply “But most of all, be kind.” We are insufferable and I knew I made the right decision marrying her. We got through security painlessly and acquired adequate black coffee and more than adequate breakfast burritos, with eggs, hash browns, cheese and green chile.
Joe “Adonis” came through – yet again – and upgraded us to first class for the first leg of our journey home. We were across the aisle from Todd from Tablewar, who I’d seen around but never got the chance to catch up with at the event. He had been in the titan painting class with Adan, Goonhammer’s Kevin Stillman, and more besides. Todd’s titan will be raffled off for charity at Adepticon, and I gotta say: it was looking pretty damn good. We caught up a bit, talked about some mutual friends and our experiences at the event, and otherwise had a chill and pleasant flight. I read chapter 13 of The Elusive Samurai, which is not as novel or enjoyable as Yusei Matsui’s previous work, Assassination Classroom. I drop it after this chapter. I also read the first 5 chapters of Tokyo Ghoul, and I enjoy the edgy Hot Topic gothiness of it all. I intend to continue at a later date.
We get off the plane and a guy in a Make America Great Again hat and a t-shirt that was likely purchased at a gas station stares daggers at my wife and I, assumedly for wearing masks in the airport. He will die mad, and likely alone. This stay in Denver International Purgatory is much shorter, and I get a strictly serviceable bahn mi from City Pho. It’s a few notches above Subway, but a bar set on the floor is not particularly challenging to clear. We birdwatch as 8 sparrows circle around the food court and hang out on the table next to us. We get on our flight home and are back in Oregon by noon. The drive home is painless, and while the building from my display board broke once more, no other breaks are found. Our journey is, at last, at an end.
Bonus Section: Top Gun: Maverick: The Goonhammer Review
Over the 5 planes I boarded for this venture, I watched the 2022 sequel to 1986’s Top Gun, Top Gun: Maverick. While I had to watch in bits and pieces between the sundry de-icings, deplanings, replanings, and actual flight times, I found I was still able to piece this film together through the act of cinematic microdosing. This was very much a “passing the torch but still being a dude whomst rocks” sort of movie. Tom Cruise is a superhero whose power is flying fighter jets, and he has to lead an impossible mission and be surrogate uncledad to his late copilot’s son. The Tops Gun need to blow up a nuclear enrichment facility held by an undefined villain who may as well be Cobra. This nebulous “rogue state” wears TIE Fighter pilot uniforms and sports vaguely evil iconography, but they’re flying Su-57s and have a HIND-D, so you can probably do the math. The heel of this film, a young pilot going by Hangman, plays Foghat’s Slow Ride on a jukebox and claims “I love this song!”, something literally no one under 50 has ever done. There’s also some dropped threads regarding drone pilots vs. real pilots but the film forgets that about 20 minutes in. The film takes place almost entirely at sunrise and sunset, the action is thrilling, and the performances are solid. It is a hugely entertaining piece of boldfaced military propaganda that refuses to look especially critically at any part of the military industrial complex, and I can think of worse ways to spend 2.5 of my rapidly dwindling hours on this earth. B-
Bonus Bonus Section: United Airlines: The Goonhammer Review
After the flight debacle that caused us to miss our first set of flights and the opening day of the event, I wrote to United to let them know that the 30 hour travel experience had been deleterious to my emotional wellbeing. I had missed part of why I traveled in the first place and wasted a bunch of money on a hotel night I could not spend. I also mentioned that the meal vouchers they gave us were not accepted anywhere, not even in the airports we were stuck in. They said they would refund me around 7,000 Yuan, and thanked me – Cheng Z – for my patience. Reader, I invite you to read the byline for this article and see that my name is not now Cheng Z, nor ever has it been. The flight dates listed were also between September and early November, and did not overlap with my journey at all. I let them know this, and they have not yet replied. F
Bonus Bonus Bonus Section: Covid-19, 2022 Edition: The Goonhammer Review
While recording the recap of the event for the Badcast on Tuesday, November 22nd, around the halfway point I started to feel a sore throat coming on and a bit of muscle fatigue. I figured this was just a post-event comedown, or maybe just some run of the mill con crud. The next morning I took a home rapid test and tested positive for the world’s most popular coronavirus, Covid-19. Checking with other attendees, a fair number of them are under the weather with similar symptoms, though few are testing positive for Covid. At time of writing my wife is still testing negative and we are largely isolating from each other, but I feel like I’ve got a slightly more aggressive than usual sinus cold. Four doses of vaccine have definitely insulated me from the worst of it, so fingers crossed for no long-term complications. Compared to the pre-vaccine 2020 Classic version I caught back in the day, it is almost pleasant by comparison, but I’d rather not have it at all. Going forward, I plan to mask as often as possible at events instead of just on the plane or in the airport, especially in the colder months when viruses really like to party. It seems like an obvious decision, but it was a pleasant couple years where I didn’t get sick. D-
Parting Thoughts, Parting Shots, and What Have You
You may think some 1500 words before even getting to a single game of Warhammer is excessive, but this was a certifiable Odyssey, a series of trials and/or tribulations the likes of which I have never experienced in all of my travels, and something that colored my entire experience so thoroughly. These events are not just about the games being played or the models being shown off, but about the connections we make and the journeys we take together. Running into Chase at roughly the midpoint of our travels there was a light in the dark for Anne and I, and Joe upgrading us at every opportunity helped ease my anxiety and made us just a smidge more comfortable.
When it comes to the actual gaming, I still think Crusade is Too Much. The downright luxurious 4-hour rounds meant there was plenty of time to do our Crusade homework and still hang out and get meals and such, and our own Administratum tool made that whole process as smooth as possible. However, there are some downright busted things you can do with Crusade upgrades and the balance is all over the place. 40k is impossible to truly balance as there are far, far too many variables, but I don’t think anything in Crusade has ever been given a balance pass after the fact, and a few more CP aren’t going to help if your opponent’s army is running roughshod over the whole event. My buddy Dan got tabled on turn 2 by Ynnari/Harlequins because by the 3rd game there were already multiple Legendary characters in that elf army, and that’s not fun for anybody. I understand GW wants to push Crusade as its narrative way to play, but there was narrative wargaming before Warhammer 40k, let alone before Crusade. I think for a gaming group that knows each other well, is willing to pull punches to ensure their opponents have a good game, and is willing to compromise in the name of balance, it can be neat. In a group of largely strangers playing each other for the first time though, it’s a rough scene. Power Level was also being used, and that meant my own 100PL list was around 1890 points, while another Tyranid player’s was sitting pretty at 2300. This isn’t 7th edition, multiple free Razorbacks level of points imbalance, but it’s certainly finding its way into the same ballpark.
Most of all, I want to thank everyone who made this event such a wonderful time. Misgivings about Crusade and my hellish travels aside, I was having a blast at almost every opportunity. The event staff never broke character and made this event something special, even before dice were being rolled. My opponents were gracious and enjoyable to be around, and even with my one game where I autopiloted my ass into the dirt, they were all fantastic folks to spend a few hours with. I would also like to thank the hotel staff for putting up with 200+ nerds for a weekend, and for calling every person at check-in by their warlord’s name. That’s something they didn’t sign up for, but they did it with aplomb.
If you take nothing else from this travelogue, dear reader, let it be this: New Mexico green chile owns, and if you’re in the southwest, have it at every opportunity. It has that peppery freshness you would hope for, with backend heat, oniony flavor, and just a bit of smoke, making for a subtler alternative to your typical jalapenos and hot sauces. I am considering it a pantry staple from here on.
I’m also never taking my Queens of the Stone Age shirt off again.
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