The Goonhammer Interview with Rob Symes

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Rob Symes is the host and head honcho of the Honest Wargamer. Silks sat down with him to chat all things wargaming, and find out more about what the Honest Wargamer team are up to.

Hi Rob, thanks for taking the time to talk to us! I’m sure most people know your story and what you do now, but for those that don’t can you tell us a bit about how the Honest Wargamer came to be and what your goals for it are?

Hello everyone, can I just say a big thanks to Goonhammer on all the excellent articles. I’m a big fan. Having left Games Workshop, where I set up Warhammer Live and pushed to do coverage of major events, I set up THWG as a response to maybe a small problem I was in part responsible for. I believe that being honest with an audience is a key factor in developing brand loyalty, and something I didn’t feel that I could achieve presenting Warhammer Live. So I set up a live show, that’s also a podcast to discuss, rules, tactics, interesting talking points, ideas, while having no corporate masters. We don’t take any sponsorship and all of our content is free; this means we can maintain a level integrity and have tough conversations when we need to. I love doing any live content. It means the audience can participate directly and talk to me and the other show hosts who I am lucky to have as part of the team. When tournaments were a thing, we did the AOS stats with LLV our stats master (who is also based in Canada like the Falcon is for 40k Stats Center – why do Canadians love stats?)
I guess the key focus of what we do has been helping people understand gaming and letting them engage with it, with live coverage. We traveled to 19 events last year, covered the two largest AOS events in the world and some pretty solid 40k events. (Corrode: right before Covid, Rob covered an event I was playing at – the set-up was extremely professional!) Live coverage of events is 100% a focus of what we work on and I’d like to think we are the best at what we do, but there is plenty of room to improve.

What sort of things are you working on for the future?

At the beginning of the year moved live coverage under the banner of the tSports Network. I’m sure we have all noticed the increase in professionalism in gaming over the past few years, and while I love The Honest Wargamer I consider that to be the behind the scenes of our professional tSports output. The tSports network was lined up to do several major events this year including WTC for 40k and AOS 6 Nations and we were very very excited about doing multi table live coverage for teams, as we think this is the best version of gaming for an audience and for players. That’s not to slight singles events, I love singles events, both playing and casting,  it just feels teams has more gravitas. Of course if you don’t agree i’d love to hear about it. We have also been working on something for a year and half and is the main reason we founded the tSports Network but annoyingly I’m gonna have to wait to show you that.

You tend to play both AoS and 40k but it seems like AoS is your main love, can you tell us why you enjoy the game so much?

Playing 2 systems to a high skill level is time consuming. I have some great co-hosts on the 40k show so I let them pick up the slack for me there. However, that’s a tad disingenuous because if you listened to the show you’ll know I’ve had a tough relationship with 40k since 8th dropped due to mainly, I think, the missions. AOS is a wonderful game because its sole focus is achieving the missions, which really were originally rips from Warmachine/Hordes (big up Mo). It’s this which has me super excited for 9th 40k and is why AOS has my heart. I think of playing AOS missions and it adds such a level of complexity to the interaction between my army and my opponent’s army. It also hugely affects how I write my lists. I need bodies, screens for deep striking opponents trying to get my back objectives, turn 1 trading units for center objectives, good characters for hero missions and so on. Some armies don’t have all of that and so you have to start to work out how to mitigate your weaknesses or lean into your strengths. Missions are great. I also feel like the lack of shooting (projecting power at range) means you get to have more command of the movement phase (projecting power with bodies) and that just “feels” more tactical and engaging. It can’t be overstated how important the 3″ engagement range is in controlling board space and controlling my opponent’s movements. Lastly the double turn,Ii won’t go into detail here but it’s the most tactical element of the game but also allows you to get so invested in putting it all on the line. I’m a big fan of risk vs reward making games more engaging and when I play one turn of AOS I’m trying to counter two possible outcomes that can happen based on the priority roll.

 

What’s the AoS community like? It seems that there’s a different feel at AoS tournaments to 40k ones. What can people going to their first AoS tournament expect?

Both communities are fantastic, I think the AOS community is “younger” due to the great schism of the Old World blowing up. This meant elements of the community left and new people stepped up to be community leaders or take on the role of talking about a game, when it had no points or was done as comp by the community. This makes me think that the AOS community has more personal control over the environment we play in but it might also be cause we all dont mind the priority roll and might be a bit special. The other huge factor is that the world over we have played the same game as each other, now this is true for 40k under ITC and big shout to frontline in creating that but, we also had ETC/WTC with huge communities being very committed and engaged in that and you also had the people just playing some chapter approved. So that fragmentation especially when not talked about by gw can cause friction and confusion. I can play AOS anywhere and we will just play some GHB missions ( probably not relocation orb ) Im pumped 9th 40k means we will get just one ruleset. However wargamers are great whatever the system.

 

The thing that always comes up when discussing AoS is the double turn. Can you explain why you think it’s a good thing?

Oh I did this but yeah, I’ll expand. Focal points is a cool example. It has 5 objectives, 2 in deployments and 1 in the center. Now depending on the armies this all changes, but let’s run with it. Normally I try to put a sacrificial unit onto that center objective because I want my opponent to commit and take the center with the bulk of their force. In you go I go then, they do that then I counter attack and smash up their army. In AOS though I have to make sure they can’t over run from that position and hit the bulk of my force on the double. They also know that maybe I could go twice, so they jockey by engaging lightly, then on winning the double turn, they give it to me! Well now i’m out of position, I’m not primed to attack with my big hitters. So I have to engage sub-optimally or give up some ground. None of these are ideal. Now take this game of dodge, add in the other 4 objectives with flanking/teleporting units/endless spells and to quote my friend Nathan “sometimes no one knows whats going on,” however people do. It’s almost always players trying to give the turn away to get in the best position to win. Then reacting when they get given a turn they don’t want. It’s so cool.

You get to cover events all over the world, do you think that’s changed how you see the game?

Very much so, we all have a playstyle. I’m a lame castle build player but getting to watch other people play I get to see different styles, moves and expertise that I may never be able to recreate myself. It’s also reinforced in me the idea that you can play the game very very well. I also love mirror matches, not something i thought would have been fun, but civil wars really show, who is who and I love them. Another huge takeaway is that we are all the same. No matter the country or game system, there is a deep passion and love for what we all do and that never changes, wherever you go.

 

Do you think there’s much difference in improving as a 40k competitive player to an AoS one?

No, I think there are core mechanics you can always learn. Mainly around asking your opponent what they can do and knowing that you can do. I wrote a free workbook that’s available on thehonestwargamer.com and it’s applicable to AOS or 40k. Sorry for that shameless plug. I’ll try to summarise
  1. Learn your army, get off book
  2. Practice your army
  3. Learn the missions
  4. Ask questions on the table so you know what your opponent’s army can do
  5. Ask yourself if you are the beatdown
  6. Play well

AoS seems to have new books released that really dominate the meta for a while, what do you think about the health of the meta at the moment?

For a while we had a fat middle (armies with win rate 40 – 60%) but we’ve always had outliers, DOK, Slaanesh (our very own Iron Hands) etc. Right now we are seeing a lot of shooting enter the game and long range mortal wound output. This is tough because some armies really rely on small 5 wound characters to operate. This means we are entering a tough time for the way some armies are going to engage after turn 1. That’s not very sustainable so we will see armies drop out of the mix, however we have a GHB coming very soon so I won’t go on too much as it won’t be relevant very long, but let me tell you that Salamanders for Seraphon are so insanely underpointed – the most underpointed unit the game may have seen.

Are there any dark horse factions you reckon could surprise everyone when tournaments resume?

I mean, we’ve had so many books out recently but yes! Some dominant books are in no particular order Seraphon, Tzeentch, Slaves to Darkness, Idoneth Deepkin, Ossiarch bonereapers, Legions of Nagash still! Cities of Sigmar still has builds to come out of it, Legion of Chaos Ascendant is less well known because it was part of an expansion book. All the grand alliances can do some janky mixed lists with Order doing the Teclis, Kroak bomb. Skaven can do some fun Eshin/Skryre lists. Big Stabbaz! Shark based Idonenth! Almost all of these are thanks to people i know and have on the show, I love the creativity in list writing in AOS  and how much collaboration there is.

 

You’re really big into the analytics of competitive events, do you think that’s something which is going to become more of a thing? Do you think Games Workshop could learn from the way you do this?

 

It certainly will and we have seen GW embracing some of this with the 40k app. Can I take a moment as to why I love analytics? It’s not so I can make the most efficient choice, it’s simply so we can understand the game environment, for the first time we can discuss win %, army representation on global scale and that gives us all so much analysis we can do. It adds to the drama of live coverage, who cares that the dominant army is winning again, that underdog might take out the tournament! It allows us to look at how likely we are to win match-ups so we can manage our expectations. Ok, my army only has a 45% win rate, I don’t have to be sad i only win half my games. If I win 2/3rds I’m smashing it! It will certainly be more of a thing and I intend to integrate it into more of our coverage. GW can learn from loads of people and they should be engaging with everyone to make the best game they can.

 

You do a lot of T-Sports coverage on your site. What are the challenges in covering an event and what do you think the community can do to encourage the growth of this?

 

There are a lot of challenges. It’s no secret its been a long tough process doing all this full time. I won’t lie, we had some amazing events lined up this summer but thanks to covid they are cancelled and I’ve really appreciated the break. It’s been a long 2 years. Cameras getting smashed by airlines, internet drop outs, sleeping on floors, tech issues forever, long hours and little sleep. It’s all totally worth it, we’ve gone from a top down camera 2 years ago to multi-table coverage, inbuilt overlays tracking abilities and as a casting team we are trying to improve all the time. The biggest challenge is and will always be money, it’s not “can we get to Australia for Cancon”, it’s “can we get all the gear we need there”, it’s not if we can can cover a Team Championships, it’s how can a few people do that. The community has been amazing so far, we crowdfunded for some better cameras last year which we nailed in 2 days as well as all the support we get on Twitch and Patreon. Let’s talk about what we are aiming to achieve, we are trying to show the skill and drama of games in a tournament setting in the most engaging and informative way possible, while also showing the context of those games at the event they are held in. No easy task, Warhammer is a small game played on a large scale so you need fancy cams to zoom to the action. It’s an analogue game that exists in the players’ heads, so we need to show that digitally. Lastly it can be a game with a lot of “down time” so we have started covering multi tables. There’s some great examples of this on the tSports network Youtube. It’s more frantic and as a caster it’s exhausting but so so so so fun. Honestly this is a subject I could talk and type about for hours. There are loads of challenges but they are all overcomable and if you want to help then support people pushing that industry. Does not have to be us but I wouldn’t mind!

 

And finally, when the pandemic is over and we can throw dice again what tournaments are you looking forward to going to?

 

All of them, I got a lot of buds I wanna catch up with, have a few curries with, watch sleep under tables on Sunday mornings.

Thanks for your time Rob! Check out The Honest Wargamer  which has links to his podcast, Twitch channel and some excellent competitive analysis.

 

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