I am a competitive gamer. That isn’t a dirty word, but it does come with a lot of baggage. I adore this hobby, and every aspect of it, but sometimes I can slide on some blinders and forget that. As FLG’s competitive AoS writer, I will often lose whole weeks at a time to my army-hopping, hardcore math-hammer, and meta-game analysis, while painting my next three armies to a tournament bare-minimum.
That is usually when a moment of clarity reminds me that I will ALSO love the way every game tells a unique story, or simply rediscover painting a model I love for its aesthetics over its mechanics.
Knowing I have a new General’s Handbook for AoS, and the pending launch of 9th Edition 40k, on my plate, my wife and I decided to pull out an absolute classic (Sean Sutter’s light tabletop masterpiece Relicblade) and begin a proper, casual, pure fun campaign. This will be a touchstone for the next month or two, and felt like something worth sharing.
So how did it go? Well, we dug out a handful of our beloved Mighty Empires tiles to make a quick map worth fighting over, and got to it.
Beginning our campaign in earnest I, playing the Adversary (bad guys!) established my base in a tavern. I envisioned this as a cantina-esque den filled with smugglers and mercenaries eager to take any job for the right price. With my initial 75pts I opted to take a Bibliothecary, a Shadowfoot, and a Hearthguard, and decided they would get individual names only when they earned them. Spending some starting gold and influence I gave my Shadowfoot a “Combat Mobility” upgrade, and sat on my handful of remaining resources.
My wife, preferring to go a more whimsical route with her Advocates (good guys), set up shop in an Ancient Stronghold. This gave her the same points to spend on units, but a handful of extra free Valor (experience points) to distribute. These became a Geomancer, a Battleborn, and a Battlesmith, each of which were given the Decisive Attack traits, allowing a single re-roll of a melee hit per game.
From these modest origins we set out looking for our first great adventure. Drawing on eldritch rituals and elaborate readings of runes (read: we rolled on some tables) we found what we were looking for.
We would be venturing into Arid Badlands, my partner tasked with escorting a pack animal laden with valuables, while I, to the surprise of no one, would be waiting in ambush. The twist provided by the environment would be the presence of four mystical stone objects, just waiting to be investigated.
I would have been able to deploy much closer if I were able to hide out of sight of my enemies, but in the spirit of the random environment we rolled, we crafted an intentionally spare table. My wife circled her pack-mule in a fairly defensive setup. Finally, the mid-field featured the four interactables that would serve as a side-quest of sorts (generated by rolling on the Arid Badlands table). The player who activated these the third time would claim a rare relic, even as we focused on walking the mule off of her my wife’s opposing edge, or I, either of the sides.
Turn #1: Trying to balance aggression with safety, I moved forward aggressively with my Shadowfoot, and took a dodge token, opting to ignore the side-quest for the time. My wife countered moving her Geomancer, but surprised me not by going on the offensive, but rather by quickly triggering the nearest standing stones twice (managing the needed 5+ roll both times) and dodging as well.
I moved my Hearthguard next, knowing she had no remaining ranged threats, and thus skipped dodging in exchange for a try at claiming the third, promptly failing for my hubris. Her Battleborn went immediately after, playing defensively, but also managing to focus-interact, securing her team a Blessing of the Stag, and winning the secondary goal. My Bibliothecary advanced, and laid down his Illusionary Horror summon. Placed within 3” of the Battleborn, it bound him in its ethereal energies leaving me confident that a heavy hitter would occupied next turn.
Needing to stay with the mule to guide it, the Battlesmith ended its turn slightly repositioned which moved its ward 5” closer to freedom.
Turn #2: Winning initiative I opted to be aggressive while also spreading out. The Geomancer seemed vulnerable, and thinking the Battleborn would waste much of its turn unbinding and dealing with the Horror I got my Shadowfoot into Dagger range, dodged to activate his passive that allows for easier damage rolls, and proceeded to miss both Dagger attacks. Nikki activated her Geomancer in response and set about using her deep action pool to clear some room. She summoned a Rock Spire, auto-hitting the Hearthguard who took two wounds despite his healthy natural defenses. Luckily the follow-up attempt at detonating the spire failed to cast, even with the help of a focus.
Wanting to bait my opponent out, I went for a low priority action, activating the Horror. Seeing as it was largely disposable, and perhaps momentarily forgetting how math works, I moved into the Battleborn and took an Improvised Attack. It was exactly as useful as you would suspect. Her Battleborn was much better at returning the favor. An Improvised Attack of her own landed true and dissipated the intangible beastie. Making a successful attempt at breaking her bindings, the Battleborn had just enough movement to get in on my poor Hearthguard. My arrogance at choosing not to dodge came to haunt me as a truly impressive Great-Weapon Attack virtually gutted my most durable hireling.
Down a strong melee fighter I was forced to activate the Bibliothecary, but saw an opportunity! I resummoned the Illusionary Horror in base contact with the advanced mule, and also close enough to bind the Geomancer. Feeling good about clogging that portion of the field, I attempted to poison the Battleborn, but failed.
With the turn virtually over Nikki was forced to move her Battlesmith into range of my Horror if she wanted to contest the objective. A missed attack into the Horror failed, and despite a wisely timed Decisive Blow, failed yet again. Now contesting the objective, we rolled off and I won, giving me control of the movement. Moving the mule hard left, I was feeling pretty positive.
Turn #3: It was my turn to win initiative, and seeing a Battleborn without dodge tokens, I felt I had to strike and avenge my Hearthguard. What followed was a charge, a focus, and a set of dual-strike damage rolls that resulted in a stream of profanity still hanging over our game room, not unlike Ralphie’s in “ A Christmas Story”. The Geomancer’s response was substantial. Urgently needing the Battleborn dead meant placing my Shadowfoot in harm’s way, and a focused detonation of a spire resulted in not only the Hearthguard’s actual death, but in an absolute flattening of my only other melee fighter. It was only cosmic mercy that saw the Geomancer fail every remaining attempt at breaking her bonds from the prior turn.
Knowing I had few options left with which to salvage the game, I moved my Bibliothecary into a position where both he and the Horror held dominion over the mule. A successful Confusion on the Battleborn also meant a vague hope that I could survive a few turns and pull off a win. Charging into my Horror with the Battlesmith removed it, but left the model bound, even if it now contested our prize. This roll-off was not meant to be mine, and thus the pack animal moved further still to my wife’s desired table edge.
Turn #4: A Biliothecary is rarely the last model you want on his feet, but I knew a scenario win wasn’t utterly out of the question, and played on. Winning initiative I went with my sole model, attempting to secure the mule while also positioning a new Horror between all of my opponent’s models, and myself. Sadly, that was not enough, as the three-on-two proved overwhelming. I think it was the Geomancer who ultimately did my Bibliothecary in after a lucky bind break and repositioning. Honestly the last bit was a blur, as the light was fading from my eyes. The last thing I saw was a mule, and a haughty band of heroes, walking into the sunset.
Post-Game: Nikki’s mighty group left the battle unscathed, and with twenty influence, and four gold newly pocketed. Her Geomancer earned MVP bonus Valor in addition to her knock-outs, as did the Battleborn.
As my owns minions dragged themselves back to me, groveling all the way, they licked their luckily minor wounds. The Shadowfoot was unharmed, while the Hearthguard inexplicably learned something despite having done literally nothing, gaining himself a Valor for his trouble. The Bibliothecary had to be made an example of, however, and earned a permanently broken hand for failing me. He wasn’t going to do any punching anyway.
The game was wonderful fun, as light as we remembered, and yet still tactically satisfying. Now as I look at my content-creation calendar, in between AoS and 40k, I eagerly see more of this scenario, and my reminder that we all got into this hobby because we love it. It spurs our imaginations, helps us reconnect with the joy of play, and must never, ever, be allowed to feel like work.
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