NOVA Open 2017: A Byrd's Experience

This year, I got the opportunity to drive up to Alexandria, VA for the 2017 NOVA Open


NOVA Open is a 4 day long miniature gaming convention done to raise money for various charities including the Doctors Without Borders, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and Fisher House Foundation. Originally started as a small tournament for 32 people on picnic tables in 2009, it has grown into a massive operation done by some amazing volunteers, vendors, and donations from various artists, retailers, and miniature game manufacturers like Cool Mini or Not and Fantasy Flight Games to name a few. 

This year saw several tournaments for various miniature games such as Warhammer 40,000, Age of Sigmar, Malifaux, Warmachine/Hordes, Infinity, Star Wars: Destiny, Star Wars Armada, X-Wing the Miniatures Game, Wrath of Kings, and Dark Ages. Painting competitions were held as well with various categories ranging from not only the best Painted overall, but specific categories like Squad Diorama, Bust figures, even the most creative and unique idea presented. But the convention was not all competitive. Events also took place that were more focused on Narrative events and casual gameplay, such as giant Armageddon style games and a Narrative theme campaign where alliances were forged and broken on a consistent basis. There were other events going on as well besides tournaments. Various panels from artists that taught blending techniques, display board making, lighting effects on miniatures, and how to paint black and white that looks more natural. NOVA also had a silent auction for various miniature game starter box sets, signed original artwork, and professionally painted miniatures. Games Workshop came out in force to NOVA this year to broadcast live on Twitch various games in the competitive Warhammer 40,000 tournament, talk to individuals regarding their games, and take photos with a Bolter and Plasma Incinerator prop.


One of the local players I know from Goldsboro, NC not only won in his bracket and was featured on Twitch as one of the games being played, but also won Best Painted Army. Congratulations Joe Behrend!


There were several things that made this event stand out for me personally. The most important that I wanted to talk about was the community and the people at the event. As someone who has not been to a convention in a very long time, I never felt so at home. Not since my days at Gamer's Haven have I seen a group of people so open and wonderful to be around. Talking to people there felt natural for me, regardless as to what they were playing or painting. I was genuinely curious as to what people were playing, taking pictures of various games and getting a brief glimpse as to what was going on. It reminded me as to why I got into miniature gaming in the first place. It didn't matter what game system people were playing, we were still part of a community of people that painted and put figures down on the table to play a game to have fun and relax. I didn't hear people criticize others over what game they were into or playing. It felt very much like being around friends and just having a good time despite having just met them.

Sadly, I didn't get any games in because I wasn't a part of any of the events as most of them were booked by the time I got to the event to my knowledge. However, I did make the most of my time there talking with people and even picking up the remainder of my Imperial Guard army. Most of my time was spent putting together that same army, with random people recognizing and commending me on sticking with getting the job done. I was sitting at a white table putting together 80 Guardsman, 8 Heavy Weapon Teams, and two Leman Russ Battle Tanks. Yeah, I was there awhile...

That green Reiver taught me a valuable lesson about painting.

That green Reiver taught me a valuable lesson about painting.

While I was there, I got the chance to meet quite a few people from Games Workshop and get a little bit of insight in regards to the company, far better than I had in previous years. My first seminar was a simple one, with Duncan showing off the various paints and how they are used. He also answered various painting questions and had us paint a Reiver miniature. Most of it was things I already knew before like how the Base paints work (They act as a foundation for other paints later on as they are a thicker type of paint than the layers designed to go on in less coats) and Shades (They are designed to bring out the detail in the model by getting into the cracks and crevasses of the miniature to make the detail pop out more). However, he taught me a few other tricks I haven't seen before like Wetbrushing (Drybrushing only you use wet paint instead of dry paint with the intention of making Edge Highlighting easier) and using Shades around the edges of the model instead of liberally using it all over the model to make it stand out even more. The most important lesson he taught me was when I went to paint the skull. It was simple enough, base it in Zandri Dust first then wash it with Angrax Earthshade. The second part I wasn't very good at, which was going over it again with Zandri Dust on the raised areas. I still to this day can't for the life of me figure out what the "raised areas" are in a miniature. So I went very conservatively on this task as I didn't want to get too much paint on the model that would be harder to go over again. When I showed Duncan what I did, he nodded and said that it wasn't what he had in mind, but it still worked. He showed me his and I could immediately tell a difference with the raised parts of the skull standing out far greater than mine. I was just about to pick up my brush and correct that error when he stopped me.

The skull you made is perfectly fine. You just chose to have his features darker than mine, and that’s ok. You did great, keep it up.
— Duncan, the Bob Ross of Miniature Gaming (Paraphrasing)

I thought about what he said when I got back to my hotel room, looking at the Reiver. I noticed Edged Highlights on the model, teeth that had a different shade than the darker skull portion, and eyes that seemed to glow faintly. Sure it didn't have the smoothest of highlights, but they were still there. It still looked good and could be even better with a bit more work put into it. But this wasn't a model painted by Duncan. It was a model that I did. I remembered painting my first miniature when I was 15 using the old Citadel brown pots. Honestly, I didn't think much of it at the time. I did what most people do when they first start and that is just base it black and try to put some color on it. It was a Catachan Officer, the one with the big giant fist held high. I didn't highlight, do a shade with the mini, or even texture his base that he was standing on. It was a crappy paint job now that I look back on it and remember the goofy eyes I gave him. But, he wasn't the only model I painted over the years. Over time, I started to paint more and more. The older I got, the more I appreciated the work I put into them. I learned techniques along the way from other hobbyists and books. Thinning your paints to prevent loss of detail. Shading the model with washes and shades to make the detail stand out better. Mixing paints to come up with colors I was missing. I was getting better. Slowly but surely. Trying new techniques. I swore off trying to edge highlight because I didn't want to mess up the model I was painting by missing a mark or overextending, painting over something that wasn't meant to be painted. However, with this one Reiver, I found out that I wasn't giving myself a chance to try. But when I did with some guidance, I got a rather pleasant surprise. Moral of the story: Keep trying. Eventually, you will get better. 

I also attended a panel on the Warhammer Community, which had a small gathering of people from various blogs, organizers, podcasts, and YouTube channels attending. The Lead Community Manager Andy couldn't make it to the panel but Pete Foley, the Lead Designer was there to fill in and answer what he could. Several things stood out to me when questions were being asked and answered. One of the most intriguing questions asked was one that several people have been asking since 8th Edition released. 

What caused the sudden shift in public relations with the Community?

Pete's answer was simple and explains a lot. Several executives that have been there for over 10 years have been departing the company prior to 8th Edition. Replacing them are a younger generation that understands the power of Social Media and public relations. Pete told a funny little story about how he was with a guy at a convention two years ago that had a few too much to drink. He listed off a ton of different miniature companies he loved, but about Games Workshop "I f$#!@ hate Games Workshop!" loud and proud in front of the Lead Developer working for Games Workshop. This year, however, perceptions with the company themselves have changed dramatically. In the time that I was at NOVA, there was not a single bad thing said about Games Workshop aside from the criticism that the rules changes are happening too fast for people to keep up. In the past, the old guard held onto tightly believed principles in how they do business, not wanting at all to deal with their customers on a public relations front. So much so that it alienated the community, relying on getting our information about new releases from rumor sites and forums. Now, Games Workshop is actively taking part in what is going on in the community by attending various conventions throughout the year. In fact, the reason why Andy couldn't make it was because he had to fly out to Seattle unexpectedly to meet with PAX to discuss being at PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia. They also announced a program called "Warhammer Heroes" where the community can nominate someone that has done something awesome for the miniature gaming scene. The Warhammer Heroes would be flown over to Nottingham for dinner and recognition by Games Workshop. One of the attendees at the panel noted that it was great to finally get information directly from the company again in a quick and timely manner instead of having to rely on outside sources for information. Games Workshop is also working on a forum where people can submit questions about various game systems. If enough people Like that comment, the Development team will directly address that question and give an official ruling. Also, they want to work more closely with podcasters, bloggers, and YouTube channels to promote their products and give information to the community. The Community Team is looking for writers to write articles for the Community website. I did send an inquiry about this and hope to hear from them soon.

All in all, NOVA was a fantastic experience and definitely a convention I want to attend again next year as a player. If you are in the Northern Virginia area and want to help them out, send them an e-mail at and let them know that you are interested. 

Click the image below to see more images from NOVA.

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