Last weekend, I attended the first Vanguard Tactics Grand Series event. This was one of the very first UK tournaments since the Covid-19 pandemic, and there’s been a fair amount of attention focused on it – I think it’s fair to say that after months of there being no events held everyone is keen to see them return, but it’s important that when they do so it happens safely for everyone involved. With that in mind, this report is going to be less about my games (I went 3-3 and at least one of the losses is basically ‘I played like a donkey and was punished for it’ so there’s not too much interesting to say) and more about the tournament itself – how it was run, how risks were managed, and whether it succeeded or failed as a model for how tournaments can be run for the foreseeable future.
Disclosure: my ticket to this event was provided free of charge by Vanguard Tactics.
Early on, when covid was first becoming a real thing in the UK and US, we published an article calling for the ITC to be suspended and events to go on hiatus until a point where they could reasonably be run safely. We’ve stood by this opinion since and this was how we approached the Grand Series initially – should it be running at all? When doing something like this for the first time, it’s important to get the details right from the start. A first look at the rules pack was promising. There’s not a word in the opening stages of the pack about mission rules, army construction, prizes or the like – instead it opens a short mission statement from Vanguard Tactics (VT) and then immediately launches into a detailed section called Keeping You Safe and then Safety Rules. Reading this makes it clear the organisers are taking things seriously – non-attendees are banned from the venue outright, PPE is provided, appropriate distancing has been put in place between tables, masks and sanitiser gel are mandatory. Failure to use PPE appropriately would be met with yellow/red cards under ITC rules, with potential tournament bans to come with. New dice, dice trays, and objective markers are provided. The organisers had worked directly with Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council to get things right, and it showed. So far, so good!
I think one other thing that highlighted how serious the VT team are about the event is that it was possible to walk up to the venue, get a temperature check, be unable to enter, and immediately get a full refund. Indeed, on the day, while we were queueing to get in for game 1, that offer was repeated – if you felt unsafe or like the event just wasn’t for you after all on seeing it in the flesh, you could still take a full refund right then and there and walk away.
Following on from the rules pack, we had a long pre-event e-mail laying a bunch of this out again, and re-iterating all the requirements.
In terms of preparation, I don’t think I could really have asked for better. Everything that had been written down sounded good – how did it go on the day?
On the Day
My first minor gripe of the day was just finding the venue! Google Maps was convinced I had to simply yeet myself off the side of a dual carriageway and land in the car park, which would have been very cool if I’d pulled it off, but that seemed unlikely. A bit of exploration and a couple of false starts later and I eventually found it.
I was one of the last people to arrive and found everyone waiting outside. The venue itself is a shop – Entoyment Wargaming in Poole. This place was great, absolutely stuffed with a huge variety of ranges; definitely drop in if you’re ever in the area. The shop itself was open selling drinks and snacks pre-event, and pretty much set the stage, with hand sanitiser in the entrance and strictly enforced mask requirements indoors (in line with national policy on masks in shops).
Before the event and between each round, people were largely outside – sat apart from each other to reasonably be distancing still, and in the out of doors. It was good to keep people out of the venue for these interstitial bits, but I think one of the weaker parts of the day, where a little more spacing might have been beneficially enforced.
The actual process of entering the venue was well-organised and disciplined. We were organised into our pairings pre-game (so table 1 queued together, table 2, table 3 etc.) and led into the venue in these pairs. For the first game of each day, temperatures were checked before entrance, PPE was provided in the form of a sealed pack of masks and such, and hand sanitiser was required – everyone was also entered into the NHS Track and Trace system. For the very first game we just kind of filtered in in numerical order, but from game 2 onwards a logical order was worked out that meant people in the very back of the hall went in first and then we filled in from there to get the optimal movement through the venue. There was a strict one-way system in place, too, with us entering through an outside door and upstairs to the gaming hall, and then leaving down another set of stairs to the shop (e.g. to use the toilets or purchase drinks) and making a complete circle to re-enter the venue. This cut right down on creating blockages or people bumping into each other, and was a very sensible addition.
It would be remiss of me not to even mention my games. In brief succession, let’s talk about them. I was running an Imperial Fists list very similar to the one in the Space Marines Faction Focus article.
Game 1 – vs. Alex Petford, Death Guard and Chaos Daemons
Alex is never the person you want to see against your name in game 1 – he’s a very good player who always has a thoughtfully-designed list, and this event was no different, with a pile of Plaguebust Crawlers camped out behind a wall of Nurglings. Accompanying them were a couple of Daemon Princes and the like, and then the Plague Marines in Terrax-Pattern Drill combo which is normally absolutely terrifying, and which unfortunately for Alex low-rolled abysmally against me. Helpfully he’d also read the Marine faction focus including how I expected my list to play, and it turns out that telling your opponent your entire plan before the game starts rather gives things away. Alex played the primary very well, and was smarter about his secondaries than I was (I very poorly chose While We Stand, We Fight which doesn’t work for my army at all), and I came away with a sterling lesson in how Death Guard play in the new edition. A tough opening game, but a very enjoyable one.
Game 2 – vs. Gareth Chambers, Astra Militarum
Down on table 12, I was facing Gareth and a whole lot of Astra Militarum tanks. This time around my secondary choices were a lot easier – he had so many 10+ wound vehicles that I could take Thin Their Ranks and also Bring It Down for a reasonably comfortable 20-30 points, and although he had good midfield pressure with a pile of Chimera-mounted Infantry Squads, he was going to have a hard time getting on to my side of the table and taking objectives off me so I could safely deploy some flags and hope for an easy 10+ points there too. As it went this mostly played out how I hoped it would – although he had a fearsome Shooting phase I was able to weather the storm and then blow vehicles off the table in methodical fashion, and ended up comfortably winning 99-58. Gareth was a little unlucky at times, particularly with his demolishers failing to dent a Relic Contemptor for two turns while exploding messily every time a gun was pointed back at them.
Game 3 – vs. Adam Shepherd-Jones, Adeptus Custodes
This is the one where I played really poorly! Adam’s an experienced player who went on to finish 3rd in the event so I don’t feel too bad about it, but I definitely didn’t set myself up for greatness by letting him deep strike a Telemon and a pile of Terminators into my backfield for no better reason than I didn’t think about it, despite knowing he had nearly 1000pts in reserves. I also just kind of moved like an idiot and didn’t really make good decisions throughout – blame being rusty with playing or just being rubbish at 40k, either is fine. I’m not convinced that I scored any primary points in this game and only a few from secondaries, just poor stuff all around.
Game 4 – vs. David Bannister, Harlequins/CWE
Back in on Sunday on two losses and a win, I was facing off against David and his Harlequins and Eldar. David’s plan for scoring secondary points was a combination of Linebreaker and Pierce the Veil, and he certainly had the tools to pull it off, with a Hemlock and a pile of fast-moving psychic characters. Unfortunately for him I went first and blasted his Hemlock out of the sky, which removed the early ‘get in and cast Pierce the Veil’ piece, and although the rest of my turn 1 was anaemic it was enough to put him on the back foot a bit. He wrapped my central Impulsor full of characters and Bladeguard, forcing me to use Desperate Breakout to bail them out (and losing all three Bladeguard to the roll!), but although this did some damage to me it exposed his squishy Harlequins to my guns at close range and after a lot of dakka from bolters and some melee efforts from my Relic Contemptor his army was reduced to scraps. Some valiant play saw him score a bunch of points in the closing turns, but with my only perfect score of the weekend the result went firmly my way.
Game 5 – vs. John Partridge, Harlequins/CWE
Immediately after playing one set of Harlequins and Eldar I faced off against John’s very similar list, though his list traded the Hemlock and the fusion boat in David’s list for a pair of Shining Spears squads. This was a fantastic game, the closest of the weekend – it finished 63-55 to me and could have swung either way, with lots of back and forth and careful movement meaning it went to the wire. The only downside was that in typical 9th edition fashion, the last turn was a bit of a nothing – I rolled into the turn, scored enough in my command phase to win, and we just kind of shrugged and that was that. After a thrilling back and forth of a game it was a shame to get to the last turn and it be largely irrelevant.
Game 6 – vs. Joe Coles, Drukhari
The week before the event I’d gone down to the 4Ground/Vanguard Tactics store to play some games and hang out, and in the first of those I played against Joe and his Talos-heavy Drukhari in Vital Intelligence. For game 6 of this event, I played against Joe, in Vital Intelligence, with near-identical armies and on the exact same table. There was a nice symmetry to it at least, and I’d really enjoyed the game the week before and had a similarly great time here. The previous week I’d gotten utterly thrashed and Joe had embarrassed me by doing so with Talos and Incubi, the latter of which I’d firmly written off in our Faction Focus – this week he had more Incubi and once again handed me the L. This was a much closer game than the previous affair and I can see a couple of key mistakes I made that, if corrected, could have swung the whole thing my way. Another really enjoyable game and a great finish to the weekend.
That left me at 3-3 and firmly in 15th place, precisely halfway down the list. I think that’s a fair enough run out for the first event of 9th, having played 6 really fun games.
I think one thing I would like to pull out here, separate to the gaming (though of course critical to it) was the terrain. Every table had some version of the Vanguard Tactics signature series terrain on it, and it was some of the best terrain I’ve ever played on. Every game had real elements of manouevre and risk/reward to it that was highly influenced by the terrain maps, and they were all different but still fair and balanced. The set also just looks really good. I thought it deserved a particular shout-out. You can see some of it in the picture above.
Following two days of gaming, the close of the event happened back out in the car park. There was a slew of trophies and prizes available as well as a raffle, including an Indomitus box. It was an impressive set of stuff.
Overall, I was really impressed with how the event had gone. There was a real focus on covid safety, and my comment at the time is that it’s a far safer environment than basically any I’d been to – more so than any supermarket you might find yourself in, for example. It was mentioned over the weekend that BCP Council had been discussing this as a potential model event and were willing to talk to other councils about how it went – I would say that they could safely do so, and that any other TO who wants to find out about good approaches to running an event should contact VT/4Ground and ask for their advice.
Thanks again to the team for running a fantastic first event of 9th edition, and to all my opponents for some great games of 40k.