By: Seth (MenoThink)
When my son was only a few months old, he was very sick (don’t worry, he’s fine now). I spent a lot of long, sleepless nights just up worrying and watching him, waiting for a diagnosis. It was at this time, late at night, lights off, trying not to wake my wife or infant or bother hospital staff, that I discovered Warmachine podcasts.
I listened to a multitude, settled on a few I liked, and listened to every episode. The voices of those strangers talking about a game I love were like friends in the darkness. Their voices helped me when no one else I knew was awake. They don’t know it, they’ve never met me, and they helped keep me sane.
I tell you this, not as some sort of a weirdly intimate diary entry, (though it seems to be headed in that direction) but to give you some context for what I’m about to say. I love my Warmachine podcasts. I listen to them regularly and religiously. That stated, you have to approach them with a certain amount of caution.
With that in mind, here’s my take:
They build community:
I have listened to every single episode of Muse of Minis. This means that, despite having never seen him, I know for a fact that John Demaris is a rotund French guy who savagely cheats, ducks games, has nothing but contempt for all Skorne players, lives to be told pirate jokes, is an Asian dictator and a serial arsonist, plus has an alter ego named Don Jemaris. I’m sure I missed a few more of his traits, but you get the idea.
In a weird way, though, John’s shame highlights one of the best things about Warmachine podcasts: they help create a sense of community beyond your local gaming group. I am actively excited to go to my first big convention, walk up to the Muse on Minis booth, and tell Demaris a pirate joke I’ve been sitting on for two years now. I get to hear about what people think about models in Texas, or Melbourne, or Toronto, without ever leaving my couch. I get to hear about events like Warmachine weekend or the WTC. These events fill me with excitement I can bring back to my local club, and make me feel like I’m part of something bigger, even when I’ve played the same guy for the last three game nights in a row.
They help you learn:
If you ever start to feel bad about yourself as a player, go back and listen to some of the earliest Chain-Attack episodes from when they first started. The rules are for mark 2, so ignore them, but listen to the kinds of mistakes they made. These are guys who have, in the time since then, won Iron Gauntlet, the Last Chance Qualifier at Warmachine weekend, and are on the American WTC teams. They’ve developed a lot over the years.
They’ve helped me develop, too. I learned to focus on positioning, about obscure rules interactions, had them model building lists, and gotten to experience factions not played in my local meta so I was caught less off-guard when I traveled. I use their ratings from their “grudge match” episodes as a way to check my own growth after each game and decide where I want to focus on improving.
For new players, this is especially true for slang terms. It was through podcasts that I learned to call Tiberion “Tibbers”, ask about “threat ranges”, and that Eiryss is “That Elven Whore.” These sound glib, but they ease entry into the community and can give you a little street-cred with more experienced players, signaling to them that you’re serious about the game. That can be a big deal when you’re looking for your next opponent.
The introduce new ideas:
Podcasts can be a great source of ideas. I never would have played my current favorite caster, Reznik 2, if I hadn’t heard about him from two different podcasts. I was too afraid of trying to keep a huge-based caster alive. After a few descriptions, I was willing to try a proxy base version of him on the table. Now he’s my go-to list. I wouldn’t have been willing to try him, or about a dozen other combinations, if I hadn’t seen or heard about them somewhere else first. Now people in my meta ask me how to deal with Reznik 2. That’s a good feeling.
They foster ambition:
Since Podcasts tend to focus on the national-level community, they can encourage you to get outside your local game store. Travel to a convention can be not only expensive, but intimidating. Knowing that there are such friendly people who have made friendships on the other end can really help. Many of them also actively encourage you to travel to grow as a player. Take their advice!
They are entertaining:
At the end of the day, this is really what this podcasts are all about. We wouldn’t play this game if it wasn’t fun. Listening to other people have fun at what we find fun is, it turns out, fun in its own right. I never really understood sports fans. Then I started watching matches on-line (I particularly like Wargamergirl and Advanced Maneuvers). Now I have a paint-and-watch party for the WTC streaming in my house.
Opinions are like . . .
As I write this, it’s the very start of Mark 3. A few weeks ago, I listened to a one podcast dismiss a solo as the worst solo in its faction. Another said that exact same solo was going to be amazing, even taken on its own with no support. A third said it was good, but only in the right circumstances. A year from now, at least one of those groups of people is going to look pretty stupid.
This is the crux of the problem with podcasts. They are filled with people’s, often uninformed, opinions. Heck, this blog may have the same problem. On the day the first part of my article about building my journeyman league list dropped, I got pretty well shredded on the Protectorate Facebook group for now giving enough value to Severius 1’s feat. Though I stand by what I wrote (particularly for new players), those people may very well be right. If you ONLY listen to me, then you’ll never get out and try it, and you’ll never discover for yourself if I’m wrong.
That doesn’t mean podcasts (or this blog) are useless, but it does mean you have to apply your own faculty and reasoning to what they’re saying and test everything for yourself.
Caveat Emptor, basically.
They operate on a different scale
One of the best things about these podcasts is also the worst: they operate on a totally different level than most players do. These are usually the guys who get in multiple games a week, who travel to tournaments all over their respective continents, and often win them.
Yeah . . . that’s not me. I get my one night a week away from the wife, kid, and job. If I’m lucky, I also can squeeze in a game or occasionally tournament on a weekend. Barring something drastic happening, that’s pretty much as far as I’m ever going to go.
That’s OK with me. I still love this game and it’s what I choose to do with that one night a week. That’s the case for the vast majority of players out there. What it does mean, though, is they’re often obsessing over things which have not shown up in my area, and maybe never will. Right now I can’t turn on a podcast without hearing about Wormwood and Cassius, but my local Circle player switched to Trolls last year. Guess who’s got two thumbs and doesn’t have to worry about Cassius?
More importantly, Podcast members are experienced in a way the vast majority of people just aren’t. When a podcast dismisses a caster as terrible, for example, that’s on a relative scale. Right now the obvious example is Skorne. While many podcasts I know are making fun of Skorne and talking about it’s, um, “unique options”, I know a local player who picked them up and love them.
Here’s the difference for that local player: his opponents just don’t have the experience to outplay even a “bad faction”. As a meta, we’re still mostly learning the basics (though we do have our more experienced sharks). So what’s easily predictable to regular tournament players still thoroughly catches us off guard. A lot of those podcasters have forgotten what it was like the very first time they heard what, say, the spell “Mortality” does, or just what a difference “Rush” makes in determining threat, or how painful Molik Karn can be. At this stage in our learning cycle, there’s no difference between Skorne and any other factions because it’s all new, and strange, and has to be learned through hard experience.
They focus on only one aspect of the game
The Skorne player I mentioned above is what I have mentally dubbed a “Cinematic player” (I’m one, too). We like to picture the game as it unfolds as if it were a story. When we play, we pick matching terrain and discuss where in the Iron Kingdoms it’s happening and why. When his beasts do something particularly noteworthy, they earn a name he calls them forever after (I still have nightmares about his Cygnaran Charger ‘jack dubbed “Double Tap”). For people like us, the tactical side of the game is only one aspect of what makes it fun.
That cinematic aspect tends to get lost in podcasts. With rare exceptions, (like Enter the Crucible‘s Fluffisodes) podcasts tend to ignore or openly deride the story (or “fluff”) of the game. So while they’re wondering why Kell Bailoch has a magical gun, I’m the guy hopping up and down in his car going “I know! I know!”. For most podcasts, they’re invested in the system and tactics of the game. This is a completely viable aspect of the game to enjoy, and I like it, too. For many of the rest of us, though, getting into some thematic lists and the imagery of the game is also part of the fun. So is the hobby aspect as we paint and modify our models. Making the most competitive list might, just might, not be all there is to it. It’s easy to forget that, or start to sneer at it, if all you do is listen to podcasts.
The echo chamber
I mentioned both getting ideas from podcasts and the sense of community as a positive, but there is another aspect to those positives. Ideas discussed on-line can become “group-think”. They get repeated so often that it may outshine something which would work for you if you only tried it. The flip side of my new-found love of Reznik 2 if that I haven’t even tried the Harbinger or either of the existing Feora incarnations. They may be great, but right now I took the advice of podcasts and went with Reznik. With 16 casters in my faction at the moment, it may be years before I try them on the table and discover I like them. If one person in every-other meta across the country makes similar choices for their faction, that’s a lot of exploration which isn’t happening.
I love podcasts. I think they foster community and help us learn. They’re not great at representing your local meta or the majority of new players, however, and they can foster group-think. Consequently, you have to take them with a grain of salt. Or, you know, multiple grains.
Editor’s Note: The image on top is from one of the first podcasts on WM/H called Podthralls.