Building a Meta From (Mostly) Scratch

By Jack Anderson

In what feels like an eternity ago, March 2020, a little game called Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika dropped onto Kickstarter, the preview rules looked interesting and the models were cool, so I put in for a full battleforce pledge. I figured I’d drag a few of my friends out to the FLGS (friendly local gaming store) for some games, even if the game wasn’t good I’d have some fun models to paint at least.

Just after that, the world shut down for almost two years, and as this article is being written, we’re still feeling the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic into 2023. I got my Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika pledge around August 2020, and by then, nobody was going to the FLGS at all, the only people I could play with most of the time were people in my family bubble, namely my brother. My motivation to paint them plunged and I let the models languish in their box for months. That was until the Collision Course previews came out, I showed them to my brother, who seemed interested in the Marcher Worlds models, he really liked the look of Corebus especially. So I did what any loving brother would do, gave him yet more models to paint, and ordered a Marcher Worlds command box to give to him for Christmas.

We decided to get both of our Command Boxes painted and try the game out, so we got our venerable old Guildball mat out, a bit of old 40k terrain we’d picked up over the years, and rolled some dice. To our pleasant surpise, Warcaster turned out to be quite a bit of fun to play! The gameplay was simple and easy to learn, but had surprising depth and complexity, we were both hooked. We both put in pledges for the Collision Course Kickstarter and eagerly awaited our new toys. I’d kept in touch with a few of my local Warmachine players through Discord and found a few that had pledged in the Kickstarter and encouraged them to get their models painted for when (and if!) things ever open up again.

When things in Vancouver improved a little in the summer of 2021, my brother had the idea of setting up some socially distanced Warcaster games on the porch of his apartment, and we managed to drag a few of the locals along to play, all of us being starved for wargaming. There was just one problem, our terrain sucked! My brother wasn’t satisfied with playing on unpainted 40k buildings, with unpainted medieval buildings we’d bought for Warmachine years ago, and with an unpainted 3d-printed spaceship we’d abandoned years ago, and he was absolutely right. If we were going to champion this game, we needed to make it look good.

So we went to work, we’d pooled our money and bought a 3d-printer a few years back, and this was just the project to get some use out of it! My brother hunted down the files, I babysat the printer while I worked from home, and painted terrain in a frenzy. By the time our friends came to try out the game, we’d built up some sci-fi buildings, a drilling rig, some alien plants, and some crates and barrels because what battlefield is complete without some industrial storage! The game day was a huge success, Warcaster was a hit, and we set up more days to play over the next few months.

Over the course of 2021, the world finally started to open up, in stops and starts, and some stores were offering in-store gaming again. Playing on your porch with the same group of friends is great and all, but how do you build a community from that? The answer came in October 2021, when the long-delayed Toss Yer Cabers 2020; a charity wargaming event featuring a wide variety of games; could finally run. At the event was a Warhammer 40000 Epic Armageddon tournament, a game that hadn’t been supported by the company that made it in (as of this writing) 20 years. Building a meta is tough, building a meta for a game that’s been dead longer than most games on the market have existed is even tougher, but they somehow managed it. We got talking after the tournament and got thinking; if Epic 40k can get a tournament with 14 players together, what’s stopping us from doing that for Warcaster? So we pledged to get 8 tickets sold for a Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika tournament for Toss Yer Cabers 2022 in June that year.

Once we’d made that promise the enormity of the task started to set in. Neither of us had run a tournament before, and neither had anyone in our little Warcaster group, and at best, we could muster maybe 5 players, not enough to make a tournament happen. So we set out to build our little community into a proper meta, and we started by showing up to the FLGS with whatever terrain we’d finished and some Warcaster armies, and we ran demos. It was slow-going at first, getting people interested in coming out to try a wargame they’d only heard mentioned once maybe was tough, and the difficulty getting models with the state of distribution being what it is made it even harder.

On the terrain front we were also in trouble, the little bit of terrain we had painted wasn’t enough to fill a whole board, let alone the four we needed for Toss Yer Cabers, and to build our game we needed our debut event to look good on camera. My brother led the charge on terrain, he wanted our terrain to be playable and look great. With just under 8 months to get everything done we printed terrain like crazy.  We set up painting parties to paint terrain together, and spent many a sleepless night trying to get it all finished.

I took the mantle of posting on social media, promoting the event, showing off cool paint-jobs from our locals, and trying to convince anyone and everyone I knew to try out the game. We pooled money together to get army lots off of trade groups to put up as prize support, and contacted Privateer Press to see what kind of support we could get for Toss Yer Cabers. By the time the event started, we’d amassed 3 complete skirmish armies for the charity raffle table, along with 3d-printed objectives designed exclusively for the tournament to give out to the players.

Judgement day finally arrived, and we were one player short of hitting our 8, I had long since resigned myself to not playing on the day and only having 6 players, not a bad turnout for a game that basically doesn’t exist anywhere else, right? Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, a gorgeous fully painted Aeternus Continuum army that was on the raffle table on a previous day was won by one of the TYC organizers, Chris Jones, and he graciously bought a ticket and wanted to try out the game (in tournament, no less!). I engineered the pairings so that I could play Chris first and show him the ropes. Everyone had a great time and we even got some new recruits who had won armies, one of whom would go on to be one of our most enthusiastic regulars. My brother and I breathed a sigh of relief now that TYC 2022 was done with, and started planning our strategy for next year.

So what were our takeaways? How do you build a community for the weird niche wargames you like? There’s a lot to community building and this is hardly an exhaustive list, but this was what we did:

  1. Find a friend (or two): In order to build a community you need a small, dedicated group to get excited about the game, if you can get a friend you already play other games with to give the game a try you can build a community from there. Enthusiasm is infectious and if you can find someone who’s willing to help run demos and find other new players you can grow your game group that much faster.
  1. Be visible: Nobody is going to start playing a game they never see played, so play in a local store/club as much as possible. It doesn’t matter if you play the game in your garage every weekend if you can’t get new eyes on the game. Be prepared with a pitch for what makes your game cool and unique when people pass by your table and take an interest. If you can, find a FLGS that stocks the game you play or can order it in.
  1. Make it look good: Try as hard as you can to at least have your own armies painted, encourage others to paint theirs too, you don’t have to be Angel Giraldez but some striking colours will attract more eyes than grey/metal hordes. Encourage painting by having small prizes or gameplay incentives for bringing painted models to events, for TYC 2023, in addition to a “favourite army” vote and prize, we had a rule that if you brought a painted army you could redraw your first cypher card hand once per game.
  2. Find (or make) a battlefield: If you’re lucky enough to have good looking painted store terrain that’s great, but more often than not you’ll be on your own. Pooling between a few people for a 3d printer can go a long way for getting good terrain cheap, and there’s lots of files available on the internet. If 3d printing isn’t an option, there’s cardstock and laser-cut terrain available that looks great without a huge investment in time scratch-building terrain.
  1. Set up regular events: After TYC 2022, I resolved to run a monthly tournament and run weekly game nights at the FLGS. Playing regularly keeps up the momentum and you can get a lot more people interested if they know they can come into the FLGS on this or that weeknight and find people to play with. You don’t have to run monthly tournaments, but having regular events gives your players something to look forward to and build and paint their armies for. Over the rest of 2023 and 2024 I’m planning on running leagues in between more spaced-out bigger tournaments to hopefully draw more new players in, and you can find an approach that works best for you and your game group.
  1. Be loud: Post anywhere and everywhere you can, take photos of your game and post them online on Facebook, Discord, Twitter; wherever you can. Find general gaming groups in your area, and if you can, run one yourself so you can have a one-stop shop for announcements and to build excitement for your game, and as a place to direct new players to. Try to make sure you make your online spaces as positive and as welcoming as possible, we thankfully haven’t had to deal with any toxic players yet but they can absolutely kill a growing gaming group if left unchecked (there’s probably another article in how to avoid those sorts).
  1. Run demos, always: Congratulations! You’re playing with painted models on cool-looking terrain at your FLGS and someone is interested in trying out your game! So how do you get them to play? Run a demo! Get their contact info and direct them to any Discord/Facebook/etc groups that you have to organize games and arrange a time to run a demo game. There’s a whole art to running demos (which also could probably be a future article in this series) but the gist of it is to show off what makes the game cool, try to lose doing cool stuff to show what’s possible, and show your prospective player what cool things they can do. We have a little informal competition between some of our top players to try and bring the most people into Warcaster, it’s a great way to feed some of that competitive spirit into growing the community.

The BC Warcaster community is continuing to grow, and I’m really looking forward to what the future holds for our group and the game! There’s always more to talk about with community building and I’m far from an expert at it, but with a little effort and a lot of enthusiasm you can make any game grow. See you at Toss Yer Cabers 2024!
Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika BC Discord group:

Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika Vancouver Facebook:

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