General Speaking is a new series on Woehammer, that focuses on the mentality of competitive gamers in Age of Sigmar. How did they start their hobby journey and what kind of thought process goes into their list creation?
This week I talk to Radal Brasher who so far under the current General’s Handbook. Randal has walked away with a 4-1 at the Outlaw Open in July with Kharadron Overlords and a 3-2 at Hammerfest with Cities of Sigmar.
Randal Brasher – The Stats
Win Rate: 70%
Current World Woehammer Ranking: 278th
Current North America Woehammer Ranking: 151st
Current US Woehammer Ranking: 136th
Randal! Thank you for talking to me. I’d like to start by getting a little background to your wargaming history for everyone reading. When did you first start wargaming and what drew you into the hobby?
I got started with Wargaming in 1988 at the ripe old age of 11. I was an avid TTRPG player growing up in a small, conservative town in Texas, my father thought he could refocus my attention to a more wholesome hobby. Namely giant robots blowing each other up. I dabbled with it as a teenager even traveling to some conventions to play, including GenCon in 1993, which diverted my attention to Magic: The Gathering.
Much later in 2001 I got into Warhammer Fantasy Battles playing Bretonnians and Empire in 6th edition and played that for several years until the Bretonnians got their book and they nixed my beloved wedge formations. I dabbled a bit in 40k in 5th and 6th editions, but mostly my hobby time was mostly spent playing Magic earning myself a couple of Pro Tour invites but I never cashed.
That remained really the extent of my foray into wargaming until the COVID Pandemic where I needed something new to keep me busy. Luckily it was right when the 40k Indomitus box came out, and the low(er) cost of entry dragged me back in. After a year of painting, but not playing 40k with anyone other than my son, I started going to our local gaming shop to get games. What I found was a whole bunch of people playing Age of Sigmar and the few 40k players were not interested in playing anything that wasn’t tournament preparation. The community was awesome and welcoming and that is really what drew me in. After being isolated for so long, I think I wanted to be around people more than I cared about the nature of the game. Thus I pivoted to AoS, picking up Kharadron Overlords with zero knowledge of what the army did or how it played, they were just steampunk dwarfs!
Who doesn’t love Steampunk Dwarves! And more recently you’ve been starting to make an impact on the competitive scene. This season alone you went 4-1 with KO at the Outlaw Open and 3-2 at Hammerfest. What got you into the competitive side of the game?
When I got started in AoS had promised my wife that I wouldn’t get into competitive side of the game and would stick to narrative play, that lasted a month. 😛 I’m a competitive person, it is just part of who I am and we both should have known that narrative play was never going to satisfy me as much as high-level tournament play.
My path to playing competitively was odd in that I started off with a whole bunch of local success. Using KO I managed to take down our local Path to Glory League with a 26-4 record, then went 3-0 and 2-0-1 in my first two tournaments. I think this was actually a bad thing as I got my butt kicked badly at my first GT (Hammerfest 2021). It was really difficult to take a step back and realize that I was still a newbie, and that my success was more due to luck than any skill on my part. I thankfully had a wonderful team around me in the Austin Weirdnobz with some of the top players in Texas to help me work through it. Guys like Matt Robisch, Eli Ramos, and Macro Hernandez, who are perpetual 4-1 bracket or better players.
So what was the change between those first few GT’s that you attended and the success you garnered later on? Was there a particular piece of advice you received or was it the way in which you prepped that made the difference?
I kept trying to force my KO list into situations where it was not well positioned and it did not end well. There was a joke going around that Hammerfest 2021 wrecked me as I went 1-2 or 1-1-1 in every local tournament through the end of the year. The only other GT I played in was the Austin Open where I took the exact same list from Hammerfest and dug out a 3-2 but did not leave feeling like I did a good job. In spite of my club doing what they could to get me prepared I was not in the right mental space to understand what I was doing wrong (which was nothing). There is an inherent randomness to wargames and our place in it is to mitigate that randomness. The tools we have available are fairly limited in that respect as well: perfect play, solid lists, practice, but in the end the dice are still the masters of the day. In spite of decades of playing various games that have randomness baked in, dice games have always been tough for me to accept. I am a statistician by trade and knowing the probability of things happening really skews you toward bad risk/reward plays.
The best thing that happened during this timeframe was the realization that list building and theory crafting was just as fun as playing and it is where my real skillset lies. Since then I’ve been helping build and tune lists for our locals. It has been awesome seeing my ideas and work take struggling players to winning records and even a few 4-1 finishes where previously they were happy with a 1-4.
You mentioned list building, what is your approach to it? Do you set aside a certain number of points for an anvil or a hammer for example or is it around playing on a certain strength?
It tends to be more holistic rather than a step by step process, but the first step is almost always answering, “What do I want this list to do?” Sometimes that can be as simple as, “Unleash a devastating alpha strike.” or could be as complex as, “Execute this obscure gimmick that will pin my opponent in their deployment zone, while winning the attrition game via stacked bravery penalties.”
When helping others theorycraft it is most important to understand what they want to get out of the list when they play it. Asking the above question is just the ground work so that you do not waste time building something that, “It just wins,” when their goal is really, “Do this awesome thing with this centerpiece model I spent a hundred hours painting.” It can be really hard to get there because often players don’t fully understand themselves what it is they want out of a list, but once you get there they will often build themselves.
For me personally, I am a speed freak, I want go fast and I want to go hard. That plays into my army selection to a great extent, and it’s there if you look at the lists I’ve played. Kharadron, Stormcast Dragons, and eventually Tempest Eye, speed and shooting are the hallmarks of what I want to do.
As for filling in the blanks on list building, I like to find some build around piece, and it’s often not a hammer or an anvil, but force multipliers. In my Tempest Eye lists the Hurricanum is the unit everything keys off of, and the entire army exists to exploit the force multipliers while protecting the boss. In my Stormcast lists it was the Knight Incantor/s who provided a level of counterplay and disruption to how an opponent might want to stop whatever it was that was supporting them.
I think this is a great point, as a lot of people may look at the meta and see a certain army with a 60% win rate and think ‘I should play those, they’re winning all the time’. But, that army may not suit them in their play style or aesthetically.
In a way, the old ‘rule of cool’ really does come into it?
Oh the “rule of cool” is always there, sometimes in the foreground but often just underneath the covers. When working with newer players finding out what they want is so rewarding because it often comes down to finding whatever cool thing they want to do and figuring out how to make it work.
It is fairly easy to make a winning list for most armies, but it is far more difficult to do it and still stick with a chosen theme or gimmick. It does bring up a good side note for this, winning while the desired outcome is often not the only or most important outcome of playing the game. I think it is far more important to play something you enjoy, that you can help your opponents enjoy, and win or lose come out of a game/tournament feeling like something special has happened.
It is hard as a highly competitive player to remember this when you are deep into theorycrafting or actually at a tournament in an intense match-up. I know I struggle with it, especially when the dice have it out for me. In the end we have to remember that the wargaming community is mostly middle-age, middle-class folks pushing around painted dolls, the absurdity of it all means we probably shouldn’t take wargaming too seriously.
Amen! So, you’ve also entered a number of one day events under the new GHB, does your approach to these events differ to that of a two day event?
Sometimes. One day events get separated into two different types. There are casual events where playing whatever is just fine and I’ll often bring whatever sounds fun regardless of how good it is, or how good I think it is. Then there are GT prep tournaments where the goal is to stress test a potential GT list. In the former I’ll often try to test out some silly gimmick or play something so off meta that I get raised eyebrows. My go-to army in those cases is Stormcast Eternals, the army has an absurd number of units and almost endless ally options so you can really have fun with it when the stakes are low. For GT prep it is more business as usual and it is time to bring out the nasty to mercilessly crush the opposition.
As for the current GHB I am not a fan. I think the current GHB is OK, but it really highlights how phenomenal GHB 2021 was for the competitive scene. The new GHB really punishes list building as the battle tactics are often so difficult or narrow that many armies cannot consistently score them even if they are winning. Combine that with missions that do not have separation or catch-up mechanics and games look close even when it is a blowout. This leads to considering ability to complete battle tactics when list building. Let me tell you, doing so sucks away a lot of the silliness and coolness that are fun to bake into lists.
Looking forward to the new season already then? Are you booked into any other GT’s under the current GHB? What are your hopes for the remainder of the season?
I am looking forward to Games Workshop’s promise of a new GHB every six months, but if they do this the quality will need to improve from this season. It is to the point that I am playing in the Slambo GT in two weeks and they are using missions from the last GHB, albeit with the current battle tactics/rules, instead of the current one.
Slambo will be my last GT this year, but locally we are going to do some doubles tournaments, maybe something for charity, and try to get a narrative league started. After Slambo my next big tournament will be LVO, hopefully with a new GHB.
GTs tend to happen in bursts I played in three GTs in two months in June/July this year, missing a fourth in the same timeframe due to COVID. I think that is my limit honestly and the six weeks between Hammerfest and Slambo feels too short to do my due diligence. Next year I think things will end up spread out more as the Texas Masters series will be back to its normal schedule and I intend to limit myself to no more than six in-person GTs.
It’s been a pleasure talking to you, all the best for the coming season!