As promised, I have returned from the 2k23 US Goonhammer Open, with tales to tell. Baltimore remains a great and terrible place, and the Baltimore Convention Center was probably the nicest, or at least biggest, building in which I have ever rolled dice. The open lobby where the GT was played had wraparound views of Camden Yards (go birds), and splitting the Narrative/Aos/Specialty games into their own rooms made it feel more like a convention and less like one big room stuffed with tables. Also, there was a hot dog cart.
To catch you up: I am a 0% win rate player running a 35% win rate codex, and an army that uses maybe half of the best units in that codex. Being the only T’au player meant I was already Best In Faction by default, and so my remaining goal was to win one game. No more, and no less.
I am currently, at the time of writing this (Tuesday), turning 40. To celebrate, with everyone in town for the Open, my wife set up dinner at a hot pot place Friday night. She didn’t have to go as hard as she did. I mean that: the balloons were a nice touch, but I perhaps could have done without the numbers on them. “Happy Birthday” is a fine balloon, but “Happy 40th Birthday” is a threat. Note, for when she reads this: my wife is lovely and I wouldn’t change a thing, but I had to pretend to complain, for the Bit. Don’t make me sleep on the couch. I’m going to talk about Space Marine armor saves for a while, you can skip this next part.
Ok now that she’s gone, the balloons were actually fine but her gift being a t-shirt that says “OLD” on it in huge letters hit me hard enough that three of my teeth needed root canals and my glasses spontaneously became bifocals.
At dinner, as usual, I overreached. I tried to power through, got a chunk of it down, but in the end the hot and spicy broth was simply too hot and/or too spicy. I checked with Condit, who had ordered the same thing, and he was casually drinking it through a straw. Defeated, I audibled into a different, milder, broth, and proceeded to dunk way too much beef and noodles in it. I would pay for this later, when I checked into the hotel and felt the soup sloshing around in my belly while attempting to sleep. If I tossed and turned enough, the logic went, it would stay moving and not burn a hole through any one spot in my insides.
An early day. I woke up at 5am, and was in the loading dock by 5:30. Loading docks are, to me, extremely cool. There’s all types of pipes and vents, plus it smells like a landfill. I’ve never been out on an airport runway, but I imagine it has a similar feeling. There is a very behind-the-scenes or backstage energy, that I like to soak in when I can get it, which isn’t often. It makes me feel like I’m someone important, being allowed in private spaces. I like getting wristbands and badges. Also everything back there is huge, because it’s built to the scale of trucks, not people. The elevator was the biggest moving thing I’ve ever seen, but it had regular-sized controls, which for some reason struck me as odd. Freight elevators should have buttons the size of dinner plates, or an attendant who’s 15 feet tall.
Despite my meager contributions to this event (less so even than previous years – my largest individual contribution was putting the numbers on the tables) I like getting there early to help out. No better breakfast exists than three hours of unloading trucks, unfolding tables, and setting up terrain. The downside was that when I went to pick up my army from the hotel where I’d left it, my back was already starting to twinge, a feeling that would only get worse as the weekend went on. This was at 8:30 in the morning. I was already reeling, and it was at this point I realized that I still had to play three entire games of Warhammer. I mentioned this to my roommate, buddy and patron Jake, and he cleverly pre-gamed with Advil. I was not so smart, which may have been a miscalculation.
There are two categories of game when it comes to 40k, though most of them are a little bit of both. The ideal is the game as a game, where you’re both making tactical choices, watching crucial dice rolls, and there’s a good bit of back and forth. The other end of the spectrum is the game as a learning experience. The outcome is never in doubt (in either direction, though for me I’ve universally been on the receiving end of the violence), and there’s nothing you could do to change it. The unexpected triple-six on 6+ saves doesn’t offer succor, because it’s just postponing the inevitable. But a bad draw on secondaries can’t hurt you either, because those 8 points weren’t the difference-maker in your 75-point margin of defeat. My games this weekend swung between the two: odd-numbered rounds were Learning Experiences where I couldn’t do much to affect the result but came to understand something about myself, and the even-numbered rounds I felt like I had some agency.
None of this, I should be clear, has anything to do with whether I enjoyed myself. Whether you’re getting non-interactively taken behind the woodshed Old Yeller style, or having a good competitive game, there is still value to be found in the experience. That was universally true across all six games, and has more to do with my opponent’s manner and my own mindset going into it, so I did have a good time all the time, even in the games where I took one look at who (the person) or what (the army) I was paired into and knew that I was totally fucked.
Note: the names I’m using here are taken straight from BCP, but are also probably people’s actual names. I assume this is fine since, you know, BCP. I also realized shortly before the event that, due to what we’re all better off calling an honest mistake, all the emails from us about the GHO had my government name on them instead of being from “Goonhammer LLC”, which is extremely stupid and funny, and probably explains why so many people had heard of me.
Round one I was on table 1. Neat! I was paired into Known Goonhammer Associate Craig, who remains my favorite Philadelphia dirtbag (positive connotation). I have a lot of love for Philly, because it reads to me as Large Baltimore, and is the geographic center of the Northeast Corridor Scumbag Nexus, an area which stretches from Baltimore to the Jersey Shore and is totally horrible but in a way that makes it cool. I got destroyed, but Craig is a good guy and we had fun.
For lunch I had 2 (two) hot dogs.
My next game I dropped about 20 tables back, and was paired into Chaos Space Marines for the second time in a row. My opponent, Julia, was apparently playing her second full-size game of Warhammer ever, the first obviously being round 1. I judge this to be unmitigated Queen Shit. To decide after one 500 point game to just dive right in and play in a goddamn GT is the sort of audacity that I insanely respect. For someone that had barely played the game before, I thought she handled things pretty well, and I hope she keeps at it. This would also end up being my only W of the weekend. Put an asterisk on it if you want, but a win’s a win in my book.
For my sins, I was paired into Mark, who was running Deathwatch and 10 Desolators. I took one look at his list and penciled myself in for a loss. That feeling of dread only grew when Shane, our TO and apparently friends with him, walked over pre-game and ominously said “be nice to Greg”, which is not something you say when you think that person has a snowball’s chance in hell. At that point I stopped worrying about losing and started hoping I could score any points at all. How this guy, who I can say from experience is very good, ended up in a bracket with me, an idiot, is as serious an indictment of our pairing system as I can imagine. I managed one secondary, for 5 points in total, before being tabled. I’m sorry I wasted his time. We could re-rack and play that out 20 times and at no point would I be in a position to offer anything approaching a real challenge. This might as well have been a bye.
The key takeaway from day one is that the pre-game army summary is paramount, as much to remind me of my units as to prepare the other player. I forgot that markerlight Observers give their Guided unit Ignore Cover, and when I remembered halfway through the game it felt wrong (morally, in the “gotcha hammer” sense) to suddenly start using it, so I made a mental note, didn’t take the bonus, and promised myself I’d get it right next time. Inevitably, the pattern repeated itself every time. I’m a slow learner, when I learn at all.
Dinner was a mess, but when you have a reservation for 18 you take what you can get. I pulled the Irish Goodbye because I was tired, but at least I got to chat with Scott Horras for a bit first. Scott is a weird man, but he’s one of the only people I know where we’re both suffering from exactly the same level of Online Brain Poisoning, which makes him uniquely relatable. That probably doesn’t reflect well on either of us.
Sunday I slept in, to the princely hour of seven AM. I have a small child at home, and Saturday was nuts, so this is the latest I’ve woken up in over a year. My first game would be against Danny, a total stranger who, after 3 hours at the table, I now unabashedly adore. There’s a fine line between being too enthusiastic that early in the morning – making just a few too many gun sounds and shouting a bit too loud – that I just can’t handle, or being the sort of person who’s self-worth is riding on the score, which makes for a bad winner and a worse loser, but Danny threaded the needle perfectly by being exactly the blend of excitable and grounded that resonates with me. He was, authentically and down to his core, just there to have a good time. He brought a Baneblade and five Russes. I had a hammerhead and 6 railgun broadsides. There were no real infantry on the board. This was probably one of the most ridiculous games of Warhammer I have ever experienced. I say that deliberately: it wasn’t stupid, and it wasn’t wacky, it was a real game that we both tried sincerely to win, but the entire concept was outrageous from the start. Perfect matchup, A+ experience, would play again.
My hot streak continued into game 5, where I was paired into Ryan “Chaos” Boone. I don’t usually include people’s full names in here, but in this case I sort of have to or the Bit won’t play: at first I thought I’d be facing the spikey version of James “Boon” Kelling, but it turns out it’s a joke from his days playing Night Lords in Crusade. Ryan was the second (of what ended up being three) readers that I played into. I don’t mean Goonhammer readers either, I mean Greg readers. I’m not used to being recognized in person for my work, so it’s nice when it happens even if I pull up like a deer in headlights every time. That thousand yard stare is my way of saying that I appreciate your clicks. It is like a little Treat for me, when the number goes up. It doesn’t ever go up very much. Anyway the vibes were fully great and I’d play him again. He beat my ass.
My final game was against the other Greg in the GT, who was also running the only AdMech list in the event (I was running the only Tau). This is a game that, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, I wish had been played at the FLGS and not in a tournament. We probably didn’t need to spend the first 30 minutes of clock time socializing and looking at models (his proxies and conversions were great), but I wouldn’t want to miss that, even if it did mean we ran out of time. Shane would make his second visit to my table to tell us to wrap it up, followed by successively less patient third and fourth visits, before we sorted out a final score. It took me five games, but I finally found my level: two Gregs running low-tier shooting armies into each other at the bottom table. It’s just a shame that we didn’t have another hour to play it out, which is where being outside of the GT schedule would have helped – my first reaction was that we should have used a clock, but in retrospect that’s solving the problem for the wong constraint: I wanted to get the full 5 turns, but I wouldn’t have wanted to rush it, we just needed more time. My army was gassed anyway so it was going in as a loss either way, but I was enjoying the act of playing a close-fought tactical game against an army of similar power, and an opponent of only somewhat higher skill. This is probably what the top players get every time, but it’s new to me so back off.
My only real problem with playing in the GT every year is that it tends to be all-consuming. I’m on the clock all day, with just enough of a break to grab a coffee and apologize for being late to the table, and so as much as I enjoy having people come by to spectate or tell me I’m going to lose, I can’t really interact with them because I’m at work, and so are they, and our schedules don’t always align. There’s a great community at our events, and it kills me a little that these people – either very old friends, or that I only see at tournaments a few times a year, or strangers and people from Online that I’m just now meeting – would flit in and out of my orbit and then be gone for the rest of the weekend. Often I’d only have time to nod or offer a high-five, and that would be the sum total of our interaction. It’s not ideal, but then again I did get to interact with a staggering number of cool people, just not for very long with any of them in particular, so it’s hard to be too upset about it.
My goal of going 1-5 precisely accomplished, I stuck around for the awards, helped fold tables and pack up terrain, skipped the afterparty, and made for home, arriving after my kid’s bedtime but before my wife’s. Solid weekend.
My back still hurts, but I’m given to understand that this will never get better, only worse, from here on out.
Goddamnit, I just remembered that my Ghostkeel had the ability to fall back and shoot. This game sucks.
This concludes my coverage of the 2k23 US Goonhammer Open. Other writers will be along shortly to offer better and more comprehensive reports from the event, but in the meantime you are encouraged to smash that mf comment button and tell me to shut up or yell at me for getting basic facts wrong.