Today’s post is a bit schizophrenic, so please bear with me.
Anyways, so I played a game of 40k about ten days ago, and it got me to thinking—I’d have written and posted this sooner, but the initial writing I did here dovetailed nicely with the TooFatLardies’ blog article, “Fiction or Friction” so well …before meandering in another direction that I decided to let this post stay on the back burner for a few more days and write about the Lardies’ article first.
So, yeah, 40k. I played it—and while a game of 40k being played by someone may not really be newsworthy, a game of Warhammer 40,000 being played by me is. The short of it? I had a GREAT time!
THE LONG (WINDEDNESS) OF IT
It was all pretty innocuous:
A fellow ex-Great-White staffer asked if I wanted to have a game, and another ex-staffer came along to my place to watch and generally just hang out. So, we hung out, had and a refreshing beverage while two of us played and the other watched (and gabbed). It was pretty neat: because they both used to work with me at the (now defunct) store, 40k between me and them usually had underlyings of how whatever we were doing/talking about with 40k affected the store in some way shape or form.
And, whereas the three of us quite often talked about the game (and demo’d the game and sold the game and hyped the game), we rarely played the game together.
To be fair, I’m the most at fault with that last part: the other two were generally pretty good about getting PLENTY of games in.
But there we were last week, playing the game—no ties with selling, hyping or justifying the game. There was nothing retail-store related hanging over our heads as we played, no inevitable bleeding of the business-side of Games Workshop’s games into our game. It was just us, having some laughs and playing a pretty fun game.
I’m willing to believe that it might’ve just been me feeling this way; after all, the amount of time since I haven’t worked in a game store is now on the cusp of being able to be measured in decades. Decades (as in more than one).
The verdict? I had a BLAST. My opponent would’ve had a better time had he not been cursed with three or four turns of non-stop fluffed dice rolls. Even then, by his own admission, he still had a pretty good time facing his wonky goofy Daemons of Chaos army up against my crappy Eldar.
So what have I taken most from that game ten days ago? I discovered I forgot just how fun 40k CAN be.
Selling the game, reading Bell of Lost Souls, reading Bell of Lost Souls’ comments section, running tournaments, listening to gaming podcasts, lurking on internet forums–and just generally being exposed to all the conversations and attitudes and beliefs that the the guys who play the game regularly have has resulted in one thing for me: I’ve been in (more than) a bit of a funk with Warhammer 40,000 since…since…since about ONE YEAR after Fifth Edition’s release.
…Which leads me to ponder: why did I have fun playing a game which, until ten days ago, I thought I no longer liked?
PLAYING ON THE SAME PAGE
I think first off, my opponent and I were gaming on the same page. I’ve run plenty of tournaments, large and small; he’s played in plenty of tournaments, large and small (and has also helped run a few of the ones I’ve been involved in). All that exposure to tournaments has resulted in neither of us being all too excited by the lists commonly seen at tournaments (with frightening regularity) these days; in this neck of the woods, such lists are repetitive, bland, flavourless, unimaginative and predictable. Oh, and they all tend to aim at being ‘dead hard’ lists, built for getting the tournament prize (tho’ the players themselves will argue extensively about how “fun and thematic” their hard lists are—I’m not complaining about these lists so much as I’m complaining about how these guys can’t be honest to themselves about their lists).
To be fair, in the name of purely winning, there are only so many options in all the 40k codices—and options that are regularly expounded on by the internet. If you’re playing for the win (and if you’re in tournaments playing 40k these days, you ARE playing for the win,* admit it), you don’t even need the internet to inform or write your list; you can still wind up building a net list that points and clicks itself right through the game.
*A fellow Tournament Organiser and I have had this conversation before. Who goes to tournaments: people who all make fairly-to-VERY hard lists, fully expecting to meet up against other hard lists—and being very okay (excited even) about that prospect. Only a very (VERY) small minority of tournament players build their lists based purely on the aesthetic of the models, caring little about the effectiveness of the rules for said models and squads.
(Yeah I’m one of ‘em…I don’t bother going to tournaments anymore.)
GETTING BACK ON TRACK…
So anyways, by playing on the same page I mean two things: first, we were playing with non-optimised lists; and second, neither of us were playing Space Marine armies (or MEQ of any sort). As ever, I brought my classic (read: old) Eldar to the table, and Scott brought a Daemons of Chaos army he just finished building.
—I know! Where did we get the GALL to call the game we were playing “Warhammer 40,000” if no Space Marine of any sort were present? (I don’t mind admitting that while I was gaming, I was constantly looking over my shoulder, half-anticipating the GW Profit Police to bust into my house and serve us a Cease & Desist Order, calling for our game to either (a) end or (b) bring some Marines onto the table—the shareholders demand it!)
Anyways, the “moral” looks to be that when two people bring non-optimised armies to the table and play the game, they end up having an unpredictable game that is generally fun. Who’da thunk?
Looking back at the Lardies’ “Fiction or Friction” article, it makes sense: with non-optimised armies winning the game might be less about defeating your opponent and more about overcoming all your army’s shortcomings more efficiently than your opponent was able to do the same with his army. I would hazard that playing non-optimised lists might actually be MORE fun than gaming using reliable lists; I think there’s a particular kind of joy to be had seeing your army succeed—even if only somewhat—despite all manner of events in the game (the enemy’s force included) conspiring to defeat you at every turn.
Last week’s game served to reinforce what I’ve been trying to instill in the infrastructure of all the tournaments I’ve been organising the last couple years, be they the smaller events run through Great White, or larger fare like the 14th Black Crusade and Massacre at Isstvan V that I’ve run, partnered with Nathan and Teri of Conquest Calgary renown. Warhammer 40,000 games thrive when the unexpected forces the people playing to react and (hopefully) enact contingencies devised before the game ever began—more so than simply calling a rinse-and-repeat method of playing the game “tactics” and watching it unfold flawlessly with mathematical precision.
(But I won’t get into that all that here; I think I’ve gone off on that tangent more than enough to warrant me doing so right now.)
THE FALLOUT OF ALL THAT FUN
What really got me thinking after playing and enjoying that game of 40k is how my hobby attention has been shifting. The shift should not be a huge surprise, not considering how my July 13 post detailed all the miniature games whose things I want to get painted up and start playing this summer. Now, I’ve always played multiple games and multiple systems, holding the line of thought that it’s better to start a new game system (with their entirely different outlook on things) than it is to simply start a new army (different vantage, yes…but of the same outlook). But it would seem these days that I’m making the shift from defining “Hobbyist Kyle” as a Warhammer enthusiast who dabbles in one or two other minis games to a miniatures-games enthusiast who has some decent-sized Warhammer & 40k armies.
I’m very much taken by what Lange had to say in episode 39 of JadedGamerCast about his lack of enthusiasm in starting anything new with a Games Workshop game: it’s a result of five years worth of dumb decisions and plain not caring about their customers and focusing too much on the bottom line on Games Workshop’s part. He feels little desire to invest himself in a company’s products when said company feels little inclination to invest themselves in him.
For me, if I had to pinpoint when my feelings hit critical mass and I started to move away from GW’s games products, I’d have to say it happened somewhere around the same time the ramifications of Fine Cast™ and the newest round of price increases began to become a lot more …real. (I’d say that was around early July this year.) I’ve already mentioned my thoughts on this; so I won’t bore you by repeating myself. Suffice it to say that GW’s product are beginning to approach the stratum where their prices are feeling like the payoff doesn’t merit the investment (which is NOT true by any stretch of the imagination when compared to many other hobbies…but Games Workshop has been going out of their way to make it feel like they’re ripping us off!).
Despite my criticisms, I’m not trying to be a cynic about this. Seriously, I really am trying to be more than just another cheap-ass gamer pissing in the wind and having a whinge about the recent bout of price increases (but for the record, it’s at THREE in the last two months when one includes the Fine Cast™ price …updates). It’s not some seven-year itch (or twenty-two-year itch, for that matter)that has made my eyes stray; my shift in miniatures preferences has come to me by semi-honest means.
After I started raging about GW’s most recent price hikes, I decided instead I was going to look for the positives in gaming and, like a trail of breadcrumbs in a bad metaphor on a gaming blog that has (at the best of times) a spotty record for being regularly updated, see if that trail would lead me out of the woods. To further this clichéd metaphor, I arrived at the doorsteps of not one but several companies. I didn’t arrive at these companies’ doorsteps, angrily looking for “cheap” alternatives; and none of these companies market themselves as such. So even though all the games are in the same price neighborhoods as GW’s games, they manage to do a better job of lending the perception that they’ll give a better payoff versus investment for me–the hitch being that if I choose to collect and play these games, it will be up to me to hunt down and recruit people to play…which might be a deal breaker, but right now I’m quite willing to take the chance.
But who cares, right? Games Workshop has simply lost another veteran gamer who has long since stopped doing the bulk of his hobby spending on their products, right? What serious-minded multinational corporation should care about losing one customer—a customer outside what they consider to be their core demographic?
I think Games Workshop, for one, is a multinational corporation that should care. I mean, if a die-hard fan like me (heck, I still buy the White Dwarf every month: I have a non-stop run from issue #100, and I’m loathe to break that run) is cashing in his chips what does that say about the future of GW’s THE HOBBY™?
THE PULSE AS I SEE IT (FEEL IT?)
I feel it’s appropriate to say that in my locality, Warhammer 40,000 is fading from the war gaming zeitgeist right now. We’re just coming up on the third anniversary of 40k’s Fifth Edition rules, and the game is starting to feel pretty played out. The 40k community in my area is hemorrhaging players right now: a local tournament held two weeks ago with 40 spots (20 WFB & 20 WH40k) had a turnout of twenty six Warhammer players and EIGHT Warhammer 40,000 players (6x Marines and 2x Imperial Guard leaf blower lists).
And Warhammer Fantasy Battles? Eighth Edition is not above reproach: even though I still look wistfully back at Tuomas Pirinen’s & Rick Priestly’s 6th Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, I do think 8th Edition is a big improvement over Seventh Edition—despite the fact that there IS a considerable amount of Warhammer players (on the internet anyways) that are in outright denial of the current edition and are trying to NOT game it while still trying to keep playing WFB.
So, when the best reason to invest oneself in Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 is it will be easier to find people to play against (and even that is risking drying up somewhat), what does that say about the future of GW’s THE HOBBY™?
And all of this rambling came about AFTER I honestly had a really fun time playing some 40k…how does that work?