Nicole Obre brings us an account of her experience at the Las Vegas Open which was her first experience playing in a miniatures tournament.
When my husband asked me if I wanted to go to Las Vegas to watch him play in a wargaming tournament, it was an easy yes. A warm-weather, kid-free vacation, strolling the strip solo while he bonded with 2,000-something nerds? Let’s be honest, it was a hard yes. I barely thought it through before I whole-heatedly decided to leave our three-year-old for a weekend away.
Then he threw a minor curve ball my way.
“Oh, and I signed you up to play too.”
“Um, excuse me?”
Just to be clear, he would be competing in the very serious, very time-consuming Warhammer 40K two-day tournament. I was apparently playing in a one-day Shadespire skirmish – much less serious, much less time involved – but still 100 per cent terrifying and foreign to me.
We’ve always been board game people. Our basement houses our crazy collection of everything from party games like Exploding Kittens to epic games like Rune Wars. In fact, sitting down with a board game – whether it’s just the two of us, or with a group of friends – is probably my favourite way to spend a Friday night. But wargaming – well, that’s a horse of a different colour. That’s always been my husband’s thing, not mine.
Yes, he has tried to get me into 40k in the past. And no, three-hour long games with too many miniatures to keep track of is not my jam. But Shadespire, a board-game style skirmish with only a handful of miniatures to be responsible for was, in fact, my jam. A jam I genuinely enjoyed. But also, a jam I had only played a handful of times, and only ever against my husband. And now he was throwing me to the wolves.
Could I hold my own in a pack of much more experienced players? Players who had played against people they weren’t married to? Would I let down all of female-kind by embarrassing myself and forgetting the rules mid-game? Or (shudder at the thought) call one of my orcs by the wrong name? I was 70 percent nervous, 20 percent freaking out, and 10 percent kind of excited.
This was my chance to transition from wargaming wife to wargaming woman, and I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted to take it. But my competitive spark had been lit. I’m not one to turn down a challenge – especially when it comes from my husband.
So, I diligently read through the rule book, played as many practice games as possible, and hoped for the best. And here’s the crazy part: I let my husband talk me into playing in a wargaming competition – and I ended up liking it.
Now I’ve read a few online articles from the perspective of female wargamers, and they’ve been mostly negative. They tend to focus on bad experiences, sexism, and fear of being the objectified token female. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of female wargamers with positive things to say – but sadly, most of them aren’t saying them. This is what prompted me to share my overwhelmingly awesome experience at the Las Vegas Open Tabletop Gaming Convention in January.
Look, I understand I played in one competition, at one venue, with one group of people. So in no way am I trying to say that my experience is the same one every female gamer has had, or to minimize any of the bad people or stuff that does happen. But regardless, I was pleasantly surprised at the reception I received.
I spent too much time the night before thinking about what I was going to wear. A problem, I suspect, most male competitors aren’t faced with. What can I wear that will make me look nerdy (but not too nerdy), keep the dudes looking at my eyes and nowhere else, and be comfortable enough to sit at a table gaming all day in? I settled on jeans, chucks, and a Star Wars shirt. Was I trying too hard already? Most definitely. But I was satisfied with my appearance. I looked like myself, and aside from my boobs, I looked like I fit in.
I nervously walked over to the registration table and announced I was here for the Shadespire tournament. To my surprise, no one laughed, did a double take, or asked if I was lost. I got a polite, “Sure thing, what’s your name?”
Whew, so far so good. And it only got better from there. Yes, I was the only chick there, but I was the only person to ever bring it up or poke fun at my obvious female-ness. (Self-deprecation is my coping mechanism.) Every single guy I played, or talked to, was super welcoming. Every game started with a hand shake, and every round included friendly chit-chat. Nothing felt forced or awkward. No one questioned if I knew what I was doing, no one patronized me, and no one was in any way sexist or rude.
It turns out, the people there were a lot of fun, and in turn, I had a lot of fun. Did I get absolutely destroyed the first game? Yes, yes I did. Thankfully my very kind opponent was gracious enough to offer me a few pointers to help me out in the next round. And he ended up winning the whole tournament by a landslide – so that helped my ego a little bit.
Going into the second game, I was a little worried I had made a terrible mistake. Was every game going to be a bloodbath that didn’t go my way? I wish I could say I bounced back with a vengeance and went on to win every other game, but alas, this is not a Cinderella story. I lost my second game, but it was much closer points-wise, and I was starting to feel slightly more comfortable.
My confidence grew after every game I played, and I even surprised myself by winning a round. It was a win I knew I deserved and earned – not a win I lucked into with dice rolls. Was I a serious threat to the other players there? Far from it. I was still a fairly inexperienced, new-ish to the game, first-time competitor. But – surprise, surprise! – I didn’t come in last.
I ended up placing 33rd out of 40th (slightly heartbreaking, as the top 32 players got a prize). But it was still a best-case outcome in my mind. I learned a ton about the game, strengthened my strategy, and I like to think I nerd-talked with the best of them. I even felt good enough about my performance, and my bond with my newfound Shadespire buddies, to play in a second (albeit, smaller) tournament that same weekend.
The people were amazing, and my overall tournament experience was genuinely fun. And there was a bonus: I got a little more insight into why that husband of mine is so crazy about wargaming tournaments. It’s a chance for people who are into the same geeky thing to come together for some friendly games, a few laughs, and certainly when you’re in Vegas, a few drinks. It’s a chance to talk about that hobby most of your friends don’t really understand, and your family tries to pretend you gave up when you graduated high school. I was happy to be let into that world, and I understand now, why my husband loves it so much.
So, is this the start of my illustrious wargaming career? Probably not. But I definitely feel like I could be talked into entering another – with a little less arm-twisting on my husband’s part.
And to my fellow wargaming wives: 40k may not be your thing, and Shadespire may not be it either. But take a chance and see if you can find your own wargaming jam. You might be surprised at how much you like it.
In all my glory at the LVO Shadespire Skirmish. Photo credit to my husband, Dayton Obre, who always excels at capturing me at my most awkward moments.
One of my orcs, ready for battle. 100 per cent of the painting credit goes out to Dayton Obre, who has more patience and skill with a tiny paint brush that I can ever hope to have.
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