Popular Posts

Friday, January 21, 2011

The 40K Dilemma, Part One

I am a huge fan of science fiction. I don't think I could explain why; science fiction just somehow fascinates me. There are a wide variety of science fiction universes out there to choose from. Star Wars. Star Trek. Halo. Alien vs. Predator. Terminator. Asimov's Foundation series. Dozens of intellectual properties (or IPs, for those who want to save their breathe) to feed my hunger.

One IP that has particularly intrigued me for the past year is Warhammer 40,000, commonly referred to as Warhammer 40K, or just 40K. It is a grim depiction of humanity in the 41st Millenium. (That's roughly 39,000 years in the future, for those who haven't been paying attention.) The Empire of Man is vast, spreading across many thousands of solar systems, connected by the Warp, an alternate dimension that can only be safely navigated by psychic "astropaths." Mankind zealously worships the Emperor, dead for millenia, and rigorously pursues all perceived threats to humankind--daemons, heretics, and xenos.

Daemons are sadistic creatures of the Warp who enter our universe to serve the will of the Chaos Gods. Heretics are humans who have succumbed to the seductive power of the Warp and turned their back on the Emperor's Will. Xenos are the many alien races that inhabit the universe: orks, eldar, tau, necrons, dark eldar, and tyranids.

The champions of the war against these threats are the space marines. Although divided into thousands of different chapters, with storied pasts and varied tactics, all space marines are devote in their defense of the righteous, and zealous in their punishment of the guilty.

One of the things I find fascinating about this IP is that it is not a hopeful view of the future. Technologically and culturally, humankind is in shambles. Techpriests worship the Machine Spirit, an embodiment of the Emperor, and are the last threads linking humanity to their once-powerful technological achievements. Despite their love and devotion to the technology of the past, however, techpriests are forbidden to innovate and create new, "dangerous" or "heretical" technologies. Technology, thus, is not merely stagnant, but in decay.

The Empire of Man is constantly at war. That's largely their own fault, since they refuse to get along with any of the xenos that share the galaxy with them, not even the ones who would likely be willing to play nice, like the eldar or the tau. It makes for some exciting story-telling, but it also drains economies and forms an incredibly paranoid society.

For the past year or so, I have been immersing myself further and further into the Warhammer 40K universe. I have listened to podcasts, read blogs, read novels, dabbled in computer games, and recently acquired a card game based in the IP called Space Hulk: Death Angel. (That game is definitely the geekiest thing I own. It's based on a popular miniatures-based board game from the 80s called Space Hulk. The minis game requires several hours of assembly before it can be played, so Fantasy Flight Games developed a cheaper, card-based version that can be played right out of the box.)

One step I have yet to take is the tabletop war game. Like Space Hulk, it is played with miniature figurines, which must be assembled and, typically, painted. The game takes place on a 4' by 4' or 4' by 6' table with sculpted terrain that can be moved around or replaced to make for varied gameplay. The two-inch-tall army men get to march around the table in six-inch chunks, attempting to kill each other by rolling lots of dice and hoping for very high numbers. It's super-duper geeky, but actually seems really fun.

There are several issues keeping me from diving into this game, and it's nerdplosion isn't one of them. Looking like a nerd doesn't scare me. I used to play Magic: The Gathering.

There is, however, the issue of cost, both in time and money. To play a single game requires the purchase of a minimum of a dozen miniatures, which is something along the lines of a hundred dollar investment. Then, there's the matter of having to glue together the figures and paint them. On top of all that work, one has to purchase at least one codex--a guide book that details how a particular army functions. Purchasing the codex of every army is recommended, though, just to be prepared. You're playing a wargame, after all; you should know your enemy.

So let's say I take the plunge and commit to purchasing and assembling a miniature army, and to purchasing and studying several codices. Now I have a second hurdle: finding an opponent. I already know that a local game store holds a 40K night every Thursday night, so that's an option. But I don't really know anyone who plays the game. At least some of my friends play Magic, or Dominion, or Munchkin. Warhammer 40K? Not a single acquaintance. With other games, I can usually get my wife to happily participate. I really don't think she'll want to clear a table-sized area in our tiny apartment to set up two plastic and/or metal armies and roll a bunch of dice. She is willing to help me paint the figurines, which is kind of her. I have the best wife ever. But actually moving theme around with a tiny tape measure and declaring what I want to shoot at? I can see the exact expression on her face at the suggestion, and it involves rolling eyes.

The third part of the dilemma involves the big decision of which army to build. The hobby is expensive enough that supporting multiple armies is infeasible. I could go on for quite a long time about THAT issue, so I'll write another blog post later details my struggles.

So, as much as I enjoy the 40K universe, I'm still undecided. The miniatures game. Is it worth it? I don't know. I can't decide.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I believe 40K can easily take a long time to get into. It may even take years depending on your available funds. You can ask one of the players at the local game store (LGS) for a demo game to figure out how you would like to play the game. If the LGS has an online forum, then that makes meeting people very easy. Talking to people at a LGS is the best way to get started in the hobby. Once you know more about the game/armies and have an idea of how you would like to play, you can purchase 1000 points of an army for around $250-400--about as much as you would spend on a console game system easily. And while 1000 points is small, it's big enough to show you what units you like and which ones you don't. I've had my miniatures for 9 years since I was 14. They have outlived my Playstation 1, original Xbox, 2 computers, and 3 televisions, and 40K has easily brought me just as many hours of entertainment.