Small games are good games

This is what I look like after an Apocalypse game (I love this picture, it has so many uses).

I played a surprise pick up game of 40k on Monday night. This is a rare thing for me as a grown up gamer – time is precious and so I normally just play against my two regular opponents or in planned tournaments. A friend of my girlfriend came over for dinner, and brought her boyfriend who is visiting from Brisbane. He rang me before-hand and asked if I wanted to play a 1000 point game while the girls hung out, and I said why not hey? He normally plays Warhammer Fantasy but has just started a Space Marine army.

Since he hadn’t played 40k much we played Annihilation with Pitched Battle on a 4×4 table. I suggested this on purpose, as he was shaky with rules, time was short, and I thought a full 6×4 table would have given my Guard too much of an advantage.

It turned out going easy on him wasn’t necessary, as he totally smashed me! He had Scout bikes, which I’d never faced before, and as usual the Scouts played havoc with my plan. They got across the 4-foot table and into assault in two turns. My best moment was when his inexperience caused him to ignore my Rough Riders, despite me explaining to him what they did, and their charge flattened his assault terminators and Captain. I often find that people who’ve never been on the end of a Rough Rider charge have trouble comprehending just how dangerous they can be, even if they understand theoretically.

Despite being thrashed by a n00b (it doesn’t really count in an educational game right?), I had a great game, and it got me thinking. I always enjoy small games. Always. Even if I lose, have an attack of stupidity, or am horribly unlucky, there is just so much carnage and they’re over so quickly that it feels like fun. Anything over 1500 points and I sometimes flag in my enthusiasm after a while, and for me there’s nothing worse in 40k than playing a game for five or six hours with few dramatic moments and just a slow grind to victory or defeat.  I don’t mind the odd big game for a change, like in the campaign I’m currently playing, but I think if my opponents started demanding regular 2500 point games I’d lose interest pretty quickly.

I don’t know whether the game actually plays better on small tables and at small points values, but I certainly enjoy it more. I know I’ve read analysis online where people claim small tables or games upset balance, and this is probably true, but for me personally, I’d rather lose a short and bloody game than win a long and boring one. It’s probably a good thing I’m slowly building an Eldar army, as their widespread Fleet rule and grav-vehicles means I can move more quickly and decisively around the table.

What size games do you enjoy the most? Does balance matter, or are you happy to endure a little imbalance for the sake of a decisive match?

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4 responses to “Small games are good games

  • Blackmane

    I have to say I enjou small games too. The one that comes to mind was a small 500 point game I played down at my local gw as part of an ongoing tournament. I had my wolves and was facing deamons. I had a battle leader, 6 or 8 grey hunters, 10 blood claws and a predator with heavy bolter sponsons. The game was full of highs. Wiping out a squad of horrors baring one, my battle leader almost hacking the daemon prince apart with nothing but a chainsword, the predator finishing him off and then sniping a chariot to win the game on the last turn, my blood claws running all the way across the board to steal my opponents objective because my grey hunters had had to leave mine to deal with a second chariot. It was a fantastic game, there’s no other way of putting it. So I think you’ll be able to see that I agree small games are indeed very fun.

  • James S

    Sounds like a good game. Things just seem so much more desperate and important I think when you only have a few units. It becomes a real skirmish.

  • Thor

    My preferred range is 1,500 – 2,000. Small games can be fun but I also find they can be aggravating. Smaller games leave less room for mistakes, which is fine by me as it makes a more tactical game, but at the same time a poor round on your part, or an exceptional one for your opponent, can make or break the entire game.

    Played two 750 games last week and really by the end of turn #2 the games were over for me, the rest was a formality. I don’t mind losing at all but I also don’t like knowing the game is over so early either. I don’t mean ‘things look bad’ where the tide can change, I mean ‘I have one unit left and he has all his’ kind of over.

  • James S

    @Thor, good point. Perhaps small games need to be modified in terms of length, say, start rolling for extra turns at turn 3 instead of turn 5?

    Or perhaps we need to go into them with the expectation that one person may concede early and the game may be replayed? Like when you see two good chess players start a game, and then one of them concedes after just a few moves and they start again.

    f my opponent wants to concede I won’t bear any hard feelings. As far as my own fun is concerned though, I take perverse enjoyment in watching my guys make last stands 🙂

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