Friday, September 7, 2012

NoVA Open 2012 - Part 3 - Retrospective


So, I've got what feels (to me) like a good handful of thoughts about what worked and what didn't with the NoVA; enough to merit rattling them off into their own post.  It is important to be clear that this is all presented in the spirit of constructive criticism: I appreciate everyone's hard work (and the folks involved worked really, really hard)  and I had a great time this weekend. I'm not actually unhappy about anything.

Also, because it's not constructive to just point out something that needs improvement and leave it at that, I'm going to make sure to include a proposed fix for things that I think need work.

Anyway, I did one of these last year. That seems as good a place as any to start.

What Worked (last year):
  • Paint Scores - I didn't see any and wasn't told about any of the paint criteria this year.  Although I doubt they changed it, I can't comment on this one.
     
  • Format - The format... was different this year.  There was no sportsmanship this year; I'd have liked that to persist.  I had some really great games, and I'd have liked to reflect that with a score.  More significantly, I'm growing deeply leery of the lack of a comp score.  I'm tired of hearing, "Well, there's no comp score, so I guess I'm supposed to bring a beatstick."  Comp's a big, complicated subject, but I would like to see beatstick lists disincentivized.
     
  • Raffles - I don't believe they did any raffling in the Fantasy room.  If they did, they were extremely sneaky about it.  There were a ton of raffles at the end of the weekend (more on that), though.  Nobody should have walked away without something. I'm going to have to assume that non-40K players weren't second-class citizens and were equally eligible for door prizes throughout the weekend, as they were at the end.
     
  • Terrain - I'd have preferred Mysterious Terrain, but I accept that it's a hassle and makes Table A and Table B different (which is a stated thing to avoid).  I forget how we did it last year.
     
  • Hotel - They really stepped it up this year.  They dropped the prices, had more accessible food, improved cell signal.  Same venue: better than last year.
What Could have Used Improvement (last year):
  • Intercom System - They moved Fantasy up two floors.  Boom; not a problem any more.  Our space was quiet enough for everyone to play their game without interruption.  Fixed.
     
  • Schedule - Schedules were printed and, kinda-sorta-for-the-most-part adhered to. At the beginning, however, we were given instruction that there would be no time limit, to prevent slow-play, and that the games would take what they took. That wasn't exactly how things worked out, but it was close.  That helped save us from the "5 minutes left" problem I had last year.
     
  • Cell Signal - Not a problem at all this year.  Fixed.
     
  • Food - The hotel had a hotel-priced (aka "expensive") but reasonable (aka "not nearly as expensive as it could have been") food stand outside of the 40K area.  This went a long way towards mitigating any problems from last year.  Fixed.
So, pretty much everything that stood out last year: still a thing this year.  Everything I thought needed fixing last year: fixed.  It should be clear that responsiveness and improvement is a laudable, essential thing in a big event like this.

So, for this year:

What Worked:
  • Vendors - There were more vendors this year. The War Store had Dark Vengeance on Saturday. There was a guy selling Osprey books (he only had one I needed, and I think he forgot to check his stock for Matchlock Musketeer and English Civil War Fortifications for me, but I can't fault him too much for that).  One of the sponsors, Grex, had  a booth set up for folks to test their airbrushes.
     
  • 5 Hour Energy - 5 Hour Energy sponsored the weekend.  They just gave them away, free the whole time. I should have taken more advantage of that: I might have won Game 3. :)
     
  • Closing Ceremony - It was nice to put every system's achievement in front of everyone else.  I liked that.  Also, as I said, everyone there walked away with something.  Literally.
     
  • Painting Contest - This is a good addition to the weekend.
     
  • Seminars - So were these.
What Could Have Used Improvement:
  • Scenarios - Have you seen them?  They're boring.  They're all Pitched Battle + some special objectives that don't have much of an impact on the way you play the game.  The point of each game is to kill as much as the other guy as possible and, oh hey +2 Battle Points because of X.  The other book missions are in there for a reason; I hate Dawn Attack and Meeting Engagement, sure, but Battle for the Pass might have been a welcome change of pace and Blood and Glory and Watchtower (which wouldn't have worked b/c of the "Buildings are Impassable" rule, but still) have a healthy impact on how you build your list.

    Furthermore, the line-of-sight, level rule change did nothing but cause confusion.  It solved no disputes, only introduced them.  It's a bad, regressive rule.

    Proposed Fix: Better, more varied scenarios. Take a lesson from the 40K side of the house, which emphasizes different ways of winning besides, "I killed him harder than he killed me."  Drop the level based LOS rule.
     
  • Score Sheets - The score sheets had the scenarios and bonus objective rules written on them. This is great.  It's the only great thing about them, however.  They were woefully incapable of capturing the sort of data you want on a score sheet.  A score sheet needs to capture:

    • Player Name
    • Opponent's Name (or at the very least Table #)
    • Player VP Opponent's VP (it's too easy a checksum to not capture)
    • Player Result (Major Victory, etc)
    • Player Battle Points
    • Opponent's Battle Points (again, too easy a checksum to ignore)
    • Breaking up Battle Point sources into Scenario, Bonus, etc, could also be useful, but not necessary

    Instead, the sheet captured: Did you Win/Lose, Your Battle Points from the Mission, Your Battle Points from the Bonus Objectives, those two numbers added together.  Note that there's no space for your name on there, even.

    Proposed Fix: Do a better score sheet.  Identify the fields that need capturing and make sure there's a place for them.  I've already decided to work up something for them.
     
  • Post-Event Coverage - There's understandably a lot of noise about the weekend leading up to it and even doing it.  The 11th Company freaking broadcasts all weekend, including the championship games.  Awesome.  And then, after it's over, that's basically the last you hear of it from the NoVA team until the next year, and that drives me nuts.

    This should have been an item last year, even.  They had a staff photographer, who took pictures of all the different painting winners.  I have yet to see those photographs (I gave up looking for them after 3-4 months; I really wanted to see a pro photographer's pictures of my Skaven).  I mentioned the other day that I think Ken Stubbs won Undefeated?  It was a long day, so I don't trust my memory... but the scores for the weekend aren't posted anywhere.  That's nuts.

    There's a web presence, and it should be used before and after the event.

    Proposed Fix: Post the weekend's results, as soon as practically possible, to NovaOpen.com.  Ditto any official photographs.  A delay is understandable (a longer one for photos than for scores), but get 'em up there!
     
  • Paint Judging Locations - This year, 40K was on one floor and the other events were two floors up from it.  That meant the paint judging team expected Fantasy players to load up their display boards and somehow negotiate them down two floors via escalator or elevator to the 40K room for judging and then back up.

    That I didn't start dropping f-bombs on learning this is a testament to my respect for the guys doing the paint judging and an understanding that they were understaffed.

    Fantasy players have something between 2x and (given the number of flyers zipping around downstairs) 10x the minis that 40K players have. I'm shocked and thankful that nobody's army was utterly destroyed on the precarious and lengthy trip to the judging area.  Also, the lighting was much better in the Fantasy area.

    They came up and judged a few people's armies (including mine), because we complained.  I'm deeply thankful for that: I'm honestly not sure if I would have passed on being paint judged otherwise.

    Proposed Fix: Put paint judges in each area or, at least, on each floor play is taking place in. Because each army gets evaluated by more than one judge, swap them out.  Have Bob upstairs in the morning and then downstairs in the afternoon.

    Or, alternatively, have the paint judging team in different places at different times of day.  Before 1PM, the team will be here, afterwards, there. If the expectation is that someone is going to have to suck it up and risk their hard work negotiating the length of a busy hotel, that sucking up should be distributed amongst all of the players, not just a few of them.

    In a perfect world, there'd be some sort of schedule for paint judging... but I recognize and accept that that's not the case at all. It'd be hopelessly impractical.

    At the very least, a solution must be found that doesn't require people to risk hundreds of dollars' worth of models and hours' worth of work shuttling their armies any farther than they must.
     
  • The Painting Contest - This was their first year for a standalone Painting Contest, so I think a lot of slack is called for.  There were some really strong entries in it, I think, so I don't feel anything but happiness for the folks that won.  However (and this is a two-parter):

    1 - I don't actually know what won.  I know who won, but because there were (rightfully) no names on the entries, I don't know what won four of the six categories.  The two I do know, I only know their painters and was able to track them down and ask.  (That's a lot of "knows.")

    This is a particularly visual competition, and there's a substantial disconnect between the person shaking hands and collecting the prize and what people want to know about how they won.

    Proposed Fix: Make sure to describe the winning entry, so folks can know what won.  If feasible (and maybe it's not), put a photo or two of the winners on a projector.

    2The competition rules were neither followed nor enforced.

    When I said "I'm not actually unhappy about anything" upthread, I lied. (Sorry about that.) I actually am unhappy about this, because it meant that I only had two entries instead of four.  I don't think they'd have done any better, but for me that's not the point.  (I have a realistic enough opinion of my painting skills that I my primary source of pride comes from competing in, not winning this sort of thing.)  I was unable to submit as many entries as other contestants, because I read the rules and expected them to be followed.

    As a refresher, at the Golden Daemon, I tried entering my Fimir (on a 40mm base) into Single Mini, and it was bumped to Monster.  "40mm bases and up," I was told, "are too large for Single Mini."  So, when it came time to figure out what I'd enter here, I read the rules, and saw clear as day "Single miniature, roughly human sized, 25mm to 32mm on a 40mm or smaller base."  I didn't have anything I wanted to enter on a larger base (that I wouldn't be using in the tournament), so I didn't enter anything in the SFB and FRB categories.

    You can just imagine my chagrin when I later learned how the first pick for the SFB was on a 40mm base.  Or that many of the entries were on 40mm bases.  I expect the winner was probably on one as well but because I don't know what the actual winning entry was (see above), I can't be sure.  The winner of the FRB category, I could have sworn, was a diorama.

    Some of the judges complimented Michael Shaefer (who won Best in Show with his awesome diorama) that he'd been the only person who read the rules: everyone else submitted units on Golden Daemon-style unit bases and that they'd called for "dioramas." Not to detract from Michael's well-deserved victory, but the rules also called for a "Diorama of 3 -10 miniatures" and unless I missed something (which is possible), I only saw two figures in his diorama, not the three.  No, nobody followed the rules.

    At the time, I'd thought, "Yeah, the rules should have been more clear." Now that I'm rereading them for the purposes of this post, though, they're perfectly, unambiguously clear.  They're maybe a little hard to find on the site, ("Creativity & Painting" -> "Painting Contest" -> "More Details" -> "Painting Contest Rules" and then "Eligibility, Requirements, and Additional Information"), but not that hard.

    The stakes for this contest are huge: big, big prizes.  They're too big to play fast and loose with the rules.  Games Workshop sticks to their rules big time, and the Golden Daemon prizes don't have nearly the same dollar value attached to them.

    I'm certainly happy for all of the winners and content with my performance. I'm just steamed over the disconnect between the rules and the actual contest.  To be honest, the more I think about it, the more steamed I get, so I'm going to try to forget about it as soon as I'm done with this post. :)

    Proposed Fix: I accept that, hey, if nobody followed the rules for two categories you either have to throw out those rules and let people compete with what they brought, or say, "Well, all of you people failed at reading comprehension.  No valid entries."

    One is more fair than the other.  If you're going to discard the rules and let folks enter with whatever they brought, you're doing a disservice to the folks who read actually the dang rules and chose not to try to submit an illegal entry.  You're rewarding the folks who didn't read the rules or read the rules and didn't care.  If, at the last minute, you decide to allow units on unit bases, you're cheating all of the folks who'd have entered a unit on a unit base but didn't because they were initially told they couldn't.

    I believe the only fair option is to 1) enforce the rules and 2) reject entries that don't meet them.  The stakes are far, far too large to place

    3 - It's also curious that it wasn't worked into the closing ceremony.  Given that the prizes involved are Big Time, I'd think they'd merit everybody's attention.  Not that the ceremony needed to be longer, though...
     
  • Closing Ceremony - Ran... long.  It started something like 30 minutes late (unfortunate, but these things happen), and went what? an hour and a half?  It certainly felt like most of that was due to people winning raffles and not being there to claim them... or the person after them... or the person after them... or the person after them...  etc.

    I get that it was a long weekend, and not everyone wanted to hang around for even longer, but jeez.

    And really, there wasn't much in the way of wasted time besides the calling names and waiting for folks to (not) shout, "Right here!"

    Proposed Fix: None.  I don't think there's anything that should have been excised from the ceremony (heck, I just suggested moving something new into it), and there's nothing you can do about people packing up and leaving. 

Really, except for only being able to enter two minis to the painting contest instead of four, I'm not actually unhappy about anything.  Pretty much everything I called out as working well from last year was present this year.  Everything I called out as needing improvement last year was improved this year.  I have confidence that I'll be saying the same thing next year.

I had a fantastic time this weekend, and am very, very much looking forward to next year.

The rest of the weekend:
And, with that, I think I'm done writing about NoVA 2012. :)
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