I just got back from Las Vegas where I participated in the 2011 Throne of Skulls (ToS) tournament.

First, a little background. This was initially billed as a “tournament of champions!” event where only those players that had won a GT level event would be invited. Those who won were awarded a “golden ticket,” which much like Willy Wonka’s journey to the Chocolate Factory, would allow those of us who qualified to have a unique hobby experience.

I love all aspects of this hobby, from reading the BL novels, to painting, to modeling, to the social aspect of it and so on. But, my favorite part is competitive play. So, when I heard about an event that was drawing together only those players who had won an event, the competitive streak in my started to itch and was very happy when I earned my Golden Ticket.

When the rules packet for the ToS was eventually made public, I and a lot of guys initially felt let down. What we expected was a hard-core competitive event that would give us all a terrific challenge and bragging rights. What we got was an event that was openly downplaying the competitive aspect of the event in favor of a much more casual format. Now let me state right up-front: there is nothing wrong with casual events. I like offbeat or laid-back events where socializing is emphasized over competition, but the billing for the event had led us to believe that this was going to be more like Bloodsport than a hug-a-thon.

There was quite a backlash from the competitive community with a lot of nay-saying and generally not positive attitudes. This group included yours truly. The backlash was so strong that a LOT of Golden Ticket winners opted not to go, which meant that to fill tables, GW opened up the event to friends of Golden Ticket holders at the last-minute.

At the last-minute, I decided to go as a large group of my gaming buddies opted to make the trip. Now that I have gone, I can honestly say that my expectations of the event were way, way off the mark. I had a GREAT time and am nothing but thankful for the time, money and resources GW put into this event. Here’s why.

  1. The event was FREE! It cost NOTING to attend.
  2. The event was catered with fantastic food, three meals a day. I’m talking steak, salmon, steamed veggies, salads, beverages, pastas. It was the kind of spread you would see at a very upscale wedding and it was open to spouses of gamers as well.
  3. Two for one drinks at the bar at the event. Drinks in Vegas are expensive and this was a great gesture on GW’s part. Nearly everyone was drinking beers and cocktails, enjoying themselves while they played.
  4. Cheap accommodations. $75 for a room at the Tropicana.
  5. Great competition. Everyone there was a skilled player.
  6. The format was a nice change of pace. Since you were competing with only those players who brought the same army as you, a lot of guys brought “wacky” or less competitive lists. There were only 5 or 6 Space Wolf players, 4 crons, 4 sisters, 3 Tau, 8 Eldar and so on! Every army was represented which really is nice as the variety of armies is a big part of what makes this game cool.
  7. The atmosphere. This was honestly the most laid back, relaxed tournament I have been to. There were very, very few arguments that I saw or was made aware of.
  8. Beautiful terrain. Every board was a Realm of Battle game board. The terrain was painted very nicely if a little too sparse.
  9. It’s Vegas! A lot of guys went out in the evenings to drink, gamble, and generally engage in shenanigans. The social aspect of this event was very high, which I think is great. Tournament players from across the USA and Canada were all hanging out, talking nerd and having a great time.

As for the negatives, they were relatively few in my opinion. The scoring system was a bit weak. Favorite opponent votes counted for a HUGE part of your score and were easily abused. If friends played each other, they probably voted for each other. Also, your overall placement was based on how you did compared to other people with your army which takes a lot of control out of the individual players’ hands. How you ranked was largely dependent on how other guys with your army did, which is annoying. At a tournament, I want to have total control over my own destiny. I want to know what I have to do to win. Taking that control away from the players makes things too random and a tad frustrating.

Also, day 1 a lot of players had to play the same person twice in a row and in one case, all three games. That stinks and was a major mistake as it also meant that you could not get as many favorite opponent votes, which were a big part of the overall scores. No one wants to travel across the country, even to a free tournament, to play the same guy two or three times. The reason this happened is that the TO’s were using tie breaker points (victory points on the 40K side) during pairings for EACH round. Tie breaker points should only be used at the end of the tournament. So what happened was that anyone who tied a game ended up drawing the same guy again in the next round. Everyone complained about this so they dropped it from day 2, but it was lame and the only really big goof in my opinion.

Lastly, there was not enough terrain on the 40K tables. No one likes playing on planet bowling ball, and it gave a large advantage to shooting armies.

That aside, it was a great event and I had a blast. The event organizers worked their asses off to deliver a top quality event and in general, they succeeded marvelously. GW dropped some serious coin on this and I know I am thankful for the chance to have participated in this event, especially considering how hard GW tends to rear-end a lot of their customers.

I personally brought my infamous Footdar and managed to go 2-0-1 on the first day against Grey Knights, Mech Blood Angels and Dual Lash Chaos, but missed the second day of the event as I got distracted by some new friends I made Saturday night out on the strip.

If the event is in Vegas next year, you can count me in and I fully recommend others to give it a go! Two thumbs up to GW for such a generous and fun event.