With 10th edition Games Workshop has shown an increased willingness to play with some of the basic expectations many players have for the game. In the initial mission pack, for example, they’ve played with the expectation of a fixed number of objectives with a mission where the number of objectives increases or decreases as the game goes on. Player placed terrain? GW has gone farther with player placed objectives. These changes to expectations have lead to a more varied competitive experience for many players whose experience has mainly been based on the 9e GT missions.
With Combat Patrol GW has even shown a willingness to challenge the expectation of player determined lists. For those new to GW games this may not seem like that big a deal as “fixed lists” the norm for many board games but list building one of core concepts/foundational principles for many 40K players. You’re not just playing Ultramarines or Orks, you’re playing your own unique version from what units are in it to how you equipped them or painted them. Giving a 40K player a fixed list option for small games in 10e then wasn’t necessarily an obvious win for GW yet I’d been reading lots of positive reviews of the format as I considered entering my first Combat Patrol tournament.
This tournament though would go even further in challenging player expectations. Not only would I not be choosing my list for this tournament. For the first time ever I wouldn’t even be choosing the faction I would be playing. I wouldn’t even know the faction until 15 minutes before my first game.
Luncheons & Dragons in Oneonta, NY would randomly select unique combat patrols equal to the number of players registered the week before the tournament and have them built before the players arrived. Players would then draw a faction from a bowl and have 15 minutes to review their new army’s print out before pairings went live. Then they’d play five games with that army over the next six plus hours.
The result? Arguably the most enjoyable GW-related tournament I’ve ever experienced. And I say that despite drawing Leagues of Votann which the VT Discord had warned me was the weakest option. There are a lot of reasons for this but I want to focus first on how it addressed one of the biggest issues new players face when going to their first tournaments.
GW can address balance through point changes or changes to data scrolls or faction abilities. But there is not much they can do to level the playing field when it comes to the advantage experienced players have over novices when it comes to understanding how to play their army and the nuances of 40K (shameless plug – that’s where the Vanguard Tactics Academy comes in…). This tournament did an amazing job of leveling the playing field by equalizing the experience gap with almost all players playing a new faction.
Combined with Combat Patrol’s simplified unit and faction rules limiting the benefit more experienced players typically have in tapping into bigger combos or more situational stratagems and you get the joy that is a new player beaming about how after weeks of losing every game they’ve played they won their first three games that day. If I understood correctly it was the player who won’s first tournament.
Yet it wasn’t just the novices having fun. The more experienced players found themselves enjoying the challenge of piloting something new given the low cost of failure. The games were quick (1 hour 15 minute time limit) so you were quickly on to a new game after any loss. I was somewhere in the middle and started off with two losses getting tabled in both but slowly gaining an understanding of how to play LoV and finishing the tournament 2-2-1. My last two games were an absolute blast with a match against Drukhari ending with three models combined on the table when the Archon FINALLY failed its 2+ Invuln at the end of R5 and the LoV standing surprisingly tough in the face of an Ork Waaagh, holding on for a tie.
The tournament leaned into the new player experience by providing about as low a barrier to entry as possible. While the buy in was on the higher end of tournament tickets for me it was still a discount to the cost of a Combat Patrol box (which every player going home with one), which are typically the cheapest entry point to the game. And with no time required to build or paint models the only easier way I can think of is borrowing a friend’s army if you’re lucky enough to have such an option. Anecdotally at least half of the 17 players had only started playing in 10e and for at least two players this was their first ever 40K games, having previously only played AoS.
Which brings us back to the importance of being willing to play with expectations. There are endless discussions in the hobby about how to bring new players into the game. By changing the expectations for how a tournament is structured and what a player is expected to do beforehand a FLGS was able make it substantially easier for new players to gain competitive experience and will likely reap the benefit of growing their gaming community.
Given that players prepaid this was also done at low risk for the FLGS and this means this is an option open not only to other FLGSs but also to local gaming clubs looking to bring in new players. Even the “risk” to the player of drawing a faction they have no interest in playing long-term is mitigated in that while no pre-tournament trading was allowed it was pretty active post-tournament. I’m not aware of any player who went home with a box they absolutely didn’t want. (I struggle to paint smaller models so I was more than happy to trade my LoV to an LoV player for their CSM box, for example.)
Win-Wins may be rare in wargaming but in Random Draw Combat Patrol Tournaments the community may really have found one. As long as the community remains willing to continue to challenge and play with player expectations I have conviction we can find more.
Thanks for that review, Michael! If you enjoyed this, do let us know and we’ll pass the feedback on. What do you think of the idea of a Combat Patrol Tournament, would you like to see this format more? Let us know at [email protected].
If you’re brand new to 40K but worried about the complexity of getting started with the game, check out our Start Playing course linked below. Fancy diving into Combat Patrol? Scroll down to check out our sponsor, the Outpost, for some incredible deals on your Warhammer 40K miniatures.