Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Choosing a Faction Part 1

The 40k Universe

So you're new to the world of Warhammer 40,000. Perhaps you've been to the Games Workshop website, or watched some how to paint videos on YouTube. Maybe you've listened to an excited friend try to tell you the entire history of the Imperium of Man, and you got lost after the Great Crusade and that guy named Horus. No doubt you've heard of the Emperor, the primarchs, power armor and bolters, space elves or something like that, seen tidal waves of massive Orks, and in Terra's name what are these planet eating dinosaurs?

With so much lore and history of the game, where's a good starting point? And what about actually playing the game? Rolling dice, rule books, and codex's haven't been touched upon. Maybe you haven't even seen a codex before, or if you have you got caught up in the lore or the pictures. And from a completely different angle, maybe you have gotten into the Black Library side of things and have read of the mighty deeds of legendary heroes, studied the Horus Heresy firsthand, but the game rules are still a mystery to you.

That brings us back to square one. Where to begin? The answer to that question is why I enjoy 40k so much, and why I think 40k is a great hobby.

Basically, there are 3 distinct aspects of 40k, and each aspect can be thoroughly enjoyed on its own.

The Tabletop

Without a doubt, this is why 40k became so popular. This aspect of the game was invented in 1983, the official start of Warhammer 40k. The tabletop is the core of the game, rolling dice, measuring distances, using templates and designing your own battlefields. The rule books and codex's are also a part, and you may have heard of the recent release of 7th edition, a new rule set for 40k. Or perhaps you heard people complaining about 7th edition. Don't listen to the whiners. Whether it's "broken" or "unbalanced" there is always a way to play the game that is enjoyable for you and your friends.

Building massive armies and competing in tournaments is a huge part of the gaming world and equally important are spin off versions such as Kill Team or campaign mission books like Dark Vengeance. If you enjoy rolling dice and generally playing board games or other tabletop games, then this aspect of 40k will appeal to you the most.

The tabletop also brings with it lots of special terminology. Ballistic Skill, Weapon Skill, Roll-to-Wound charts, Armor Saves and Hull Points. Quickly you learn that the AP value of a weapon is extremely important and template weapons capable of indirect fire are worth a fist pump of awesomeness, especially ones that ignore cover. Hours can be spent dreaming building an army list. Waist deep in details the seemingly trivial decisions become destiny shaping. Should you give your Sergeant a plasma pistol or keep his free bolt pistol? Do you take a multi melta or a lascannon in your tactical squad? How cool would another Leyman Russ tank look in your Imperial Guard army? (very cool indeed) Should you take another Fire Warrior team or squeeze in another battlesuit? Another Ork vehicle/wagon/mechanical thing or some more Ork Boyz wif da choppaz? Creating the best lineup is a hard but fun challenge, and really your lineup should depend upon the tactical situation at hand.

The best lineup naturally leads to discussions of "min/maxing" and "cheese lists." The scope of this post is not to discuss those tactics, but those type of lists are usually met with criticism, especially at the tournament level. However, they are part of the landscape of 40k.

Army lists (and armies as discussed later) can be tailored to meet individual desires for an army. Do you want a gunline? Build one. A horde army? Lightning quick strike force? Armored spearhead? The tabletop offers many choices. And we haven't even scratched the surface for fluffy lineups (which I wholeheartedly approve of), that add another dimension to building armies.

At the core of 40k is the tabletop, and the nucleus of the tabletop is the boyish game of playing war with toy soldiers and imagined battlefields. A hybrid between Risk (you do roll dice after all) and chess (strategy does matter) makes the game unique and keeps bringing people back to the table for another go. Much more can be said about the tabletop, but this is a good overview for now.

Painting Miniatures  

Although tied to the tabletop in many respects (a well painted army looks good in battle), this part of 40k can be and often is its own separate hobby. Painting minis is an art form really. From layering paints and mixing colors to craft a unique look, to wash paints that create shadows and edge highlighting, an endless array of options exist for each faction let alone the entire 40k universe. 

Games Workshop has realized this aspect of 40k has a large and dedicated fanbase, perhaps even greater than  the tabletop. GW's response was to create the new Warhammer Visions magazine. The monthly periodical features some excellent and awe-inspiring creations from Golden Daemon competitions (a painting tourney basically). Visions cost 16 dollars an issue, and 100 dollars for a year long subscription, so for gamers on a budget, perhaps consider getting just an issue or two. I just bought Visions #4 and it was incredible.  

Painting character minis and other heroes can be a lot of fun, and there is nothing quite as powerful as a head turning mini. Some painters are also tabletop gamers, but in my experience many of the expert painters just enjoy the painting. No rolling dice or reading books, but their models are fantastic.

A fellow gamer friend of mine showed off his Chaos terminators at a local Games Workshop. Around 23 hours were spent on each of the 5 termies. 23 hours! The dedication necessary to complete such a task may seem daunting, but the results are magnificent.

Many expert painters also turn their love of painting into a money making enterprise, earning commissions for painted minis. The recent Imperial Knight model has been pro painted and sold for upwards of $300. Obviously this is an expert level business, but a huge aspect of 40k. Some hobbyists will boast vast collections of assorted minis all painted in fine detail.

Black Library

40k has come a long way from the grim darkness of the 1980's when the background and lore to the game were murky to say the least. Today though, the fictional universe is also a huge draw for fans, and mighty heroes and terrible conflicts are represented on the tabletop. Black Library has published dozens of books, mostly from an Imperial perspective, and the Horus Heresy series continues to be one of the best selling science fiction series ever.

Gifted writers such as Dan Abnett, Graham McNeil and Nick Kyme among many others have brought the 40k world to life in a stunning backdrop of total and unending war. Studying various factions through their own history and heroes is often rewarding and helps bring the tabletop to life. Fielding a character piece in your army that you have read about adds more flavor to your army. Finding a space marine chapter with incredible lore will do the same.

Just like painting minis, the Black Library side of things has its own dedicated fans who are not involved with the other two aspects of the game. The books have become increasingly popular as the game has progressed, which is not always the case. Game series turned into books can struggle, especially video games like Gears of War and Halo. Because the games were created first, the books can be forced to fit the game narrative or unsuccessfully try to expand the universe. Or the books must create their own separate heroes because the game characters are pretty much unchanging from game to game.

40k however, has always been a tabletop game at its core, and the game doesn't necessarily drive the fiction. The history has been established, and the books merely fill in the gaps, but in unique and creative ways especially with the Space Marine battle series.

Getting into Black Library is a great idea to learn more about the game; however, for gamers on a budget the cost of books may be competing with the cost of another army unit, so plan carefully. Don't buy book 1 of a trilogy if you're not sure you'll read the entire series. Stand alone books are great, or look for an anthology of short stories where you can read about many different space marine chapters and factions. But whatever you do, try to avoid James Swallow. His books are awful. You will find other authors you like and don't like, so study the book reviews and read excerpts if you can before buying a book. The right book will keep you up at night, desperately reading for the outcome of the battle.

I have 7 40k books, including the Salamanders series by Nick Kyme which are fantastic, and hopefully I can field a Salamanders army at some point in the future.

Which brings us where?

So there you have it. A brief overview of the 3 facets to the game, each totally enjoyable on its own but all connected to make an excellent game. We are back at square 1, how to choose a faction. In Part 2 of this post, I will explain how to combine all 3 game elements to find the right faction for you. Stay tuned and keep painting!