First let me introduce myself. My name is Nick, though I’m generally known by a variety of monikers elsewhere around the internet. The Burning Eye and Feydan being my most common alternative personas.
Feydan was a character I created a few years ago when planning a deathwatch army (back when the daemonhunters and witch hunters codices were released – I foolishly thought that they’d release all three ordos!), and was the eldest brother of three siblings of the Daggoth family. His younger sister Jenna is a witch hunter. The youngest of the three Morne is the Malleus operative. The Burning Eye came about when I began to create a background for my Dark Eldar army, and the Kabal of the Burning Eye was born. Since then it’s evolved into something far bigger as the name of my own blog, which you can find here.
Second, may I thank our host here Thor for allowing me to join his collective of authors. It’s an interesting divergence for me. You’d think having my own blog I’d have more than enough on my plate to be getting on with. However, I’m hoping that my articles on here will reach a wider, and different, audience to those on my own blog. More importantly, because my posts here will be less regular than on my own blog, I’ll be putting a lot more time and research into writing them.
My History with Warhammer 40K
So, let’s begin then shall we? And what do I have for you to consider first up…
Well, somewhat inspired actually by one of Thor’s own articles on what’s happened to the game, I thought I’d like to put across my own (admittedly and unashamed relentlessly positive) views on 40k, particularly in this time of uncertainty before a new edition is released. So, I guess that means giving you a rundown of my history with 40k as a whole, since that’s an integral part of things.
Ok, so my first toe-dipping into the 40k universe came when a mate decided to lend me his tyranid army. He proceeded to chop it to bits with his much more coherent space wolves collection. That put me off for a couple of years, but I was soon back in the fold with the release of Necromunda. A couple of other friends and I decided we would pitch in together and buy the boxed game, and start a campaign together.
I was hooked. That hooking equally dragged me into the Angels of Death in the form of Dante and his Blood Angels. In particular, the story of the second war for Armageddon (formerly called Ullanor I now discover!). I still remember the hours spent assembling the contents of the 2nd edition boxed game while listening to Jagged Little Pill, my latest album purchase at the time, and the shredded state of my thumb when I’d finished cutting everything out with a stanley knife.
To be honest, I didn’t get in all that many games of 40k in 2nd edition. The main experience being getting butchered by another acquaintance’s all-terminator force without causing so much as a scratch to most of his stuff.
3rd Edition came along with the revolution of the multi part space marine. I ditched the blood angels for a chapter of my own making, the Tiger Legion. These saw a few more games, but as I was supposed to be concentrating on Uni work and not toys, I didn’t really get as much playing time in as I’d have liked.
4th And 5th editions came and went without many games at all. I kept up with the rulebooks and codices for my armies of choice (by now I’d got mini collections of Tyranids, Chaos Marines, Tau, Space Marines, Imperial Guard). It wasn’t until 6th edition that I discovered a nearby club and began playing regularly. Since then I’ve pretty much played at least once a week every week. I’ve been to a few tournaments, organised my own charity event, and I’m now one of the three members who runs the club.
So, given the veteran burnout that I seem to be seeing quite a bit of online (bloat, formations ruining the game, overly detailed rules etc), what are the alternatives, and why do they just not float my boat in the same way, and what is it about 40k that means I still adore the game and keep coming back week after week for more?
40K is King
It’s the daddy isn’t it? 40k Is to tabletop wargaming what Disney is to kids entertainment, what James Bond is to the film industry. But, why? Aside from being something very different and unique back when it was first released, that in itself shouldn’t result in it being the biggest now, it must have an enduring appeal that keeps it at the top.
1) The Background
For me, there are several elements of it that keep it more interesting than anything else out there. First, there’s the background. It’s mankind vs everyone else. Regardless of who you decide to ally with, there’s something about that to which we can all relate. There are no significant factions within humanity fighting against each other (well, infighting is there, but broadly speaking the imperium pulls in the same direction). There are no ‘corporations’ with their own military arms fighting out in the dark corners of the universe for mineral rights and profit. The core thread beneath the game is the fight for the very existence of humanity itself rather than who gets the biggest share of the pie (mmm, pie).
“Let me explain to you how this works: you see, the corporations finance Team America, and then Team America goes out… and the corporations sit there in their… in their corporation buildings, and… and, and see, they’re all corporation-y… and they make money.”
2) Tone & Setting
Second, and also somewhat related to the first, is the whole ‘grim, dark’ tone of the whole setting. There is no hope in this universe, no bright future that we can all look to.
The Tyranids are just out to eat the galaxy.
Orks just want to burn everything and worry about keeping warm later.
The Necrons are all already dead.
The Eldar are on the verge of extinction. Their latest hope appears to be a god that will only actually manifest once they’re all dead. There’s an irony – their souls will be safe from Slaanesh, but call me old fashioned, I’d rather the cavalry arrive before I got an arrow through my eye – just ask King Harold how that feels!.
Whilst the Tau think the future is rosy, we all know that there’s something manifestly wrong about the ethereals. Commander Farsight knows what it is too.
Add to that the fact that the Imperium doesn’t even understand its own technology and you have a uniquely flavourful setting. The only true hope you can have for the future is that there will actually be one.
3) The Models
Third, we have the models, and not just the models as a whole, but more specifically, the guns . Let’s not beat about the bush. A huge proportion of people who take part in 40k do so because they like painting the models. It’s something GW does better than any other company out there – consistent, original (ish), and more importantly, iconic models. Let’s look at my own personal peeve as a comparison – Infinity. Probably number 2 to 40k in the sci-fi game genre.
If I asked you to describe a space marine, what would you say? Massive armour, boltgun with sickle magazine, helmet with an upside down heart grill (yep, you won’t be able to unsee that now will you), huge shoulder pads etc. But, similarly you could describe Eldar, Tau, Orks, Necrons, etc and they wall all be immediately recognisable and different.
That just doesn’t happen with Infinity. I could describe an almost infinite (see what I did there?) number of their models and the descriptions would apply equally to just about any of their factions. Now yes, I realise that a good proportion of that is because they are mostly descended from the same gene stock, but the miniatures are important to a lot of people, and their style is part of that. Infinity (ironically) has one style, whilst 40k has many, and I think that generic nature is one reason it’s not bigger than it is.
Equally important I think are iconic weapons. Sci-fi is often about that sort of thing, the morita rifles in starship troopers, the lightsaber in star wars. Again, GW does this exceedingly well, and the different guns carried by different races are distinct and visually stylish too. Yes, the magazine in a bolter looks big enough to hold about 3 bolter shells in total, and there’s nowhere obvious where a space marine keeps his reloads for a battle, but who cares, when the gun looks that good!?! It’s not just marines either. A shuriken catapult is iconic, the pulse rifle is instantly recognisable, and who doesn’t know what a gauss rifle looks like?
Finally, we have variety . Nothing else out there comes close, and it’s also why 40k is my first love over and above 30k. Incidentally my original plan for this article was about why 40k is still better than 30k, but I decided that wasn’t really fair since it’s a very different beast and dependant on what you want from your games. At the latest count, there are 30 separate factions listed on GW’s website for 40k. Even if you club like factions together (all marines, guard and tempestus etc) I’m figuring we still have 15 distinct factions. That’s nearly twice what infinity brings to the table.
I am going to venture into risky territory here too and say that it’s that variety that in part makes 40k what it is, and why (to me) its appeal has never waned. 30k Is a mile away from having that difference in gameplay. A couple of factions aside, 30k will always be about marines v marines. Unless the players are going super fluffy to their particular legion, I’ve noticed that army selection is not at all interesting. Let me expand on that – I’ve watched quite a few battle reports now for 30k games on youtube, and the army selection goes something like this.
2x 10-man tactical squads in rhinos – check
Hq – probably a primarch if the game is big enough – check
Leviathan Dreadnought with grav-flux bombard – check
Spartan filled with terminators – check
Fire Raptor – check
Quad mortars – check
I’ve actually stopped watching so many games now. It really felt like I was watching the same match up over and over with different coloured models. Who won simply came down to whose big and nasty model got the drop on their opponent’s identical big and nasty model.
I’m exaggerating a bit of course (only slightly, Spartans and Leviathans are particular guilty parties for appearing in every list), but ultimately I think 30k has failed its players here. You have 18 factions using the same core army list, with each of those factions able to draw on a small number of unique units. But how often do you see those unique units taken in any great quantity to give the army character? It doesn’t happen, because actually the core units are still noticeably more effective than those flavour units. I often hear the argument that 30k is more balanced than 40k, and that’s very true. Seeing armies facing off over the table is more like watching sandbox chess. Each player has the same tools at their disposal, but those pieces can move wherever they want.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rant at 30k. I love the setting and the sense of history alongside the scale. There’s the different abilities of the differing legions, and the gut-wrenching sense of an opportunity spurned by Horus’ betrayal. However, I just wish that the variety of legion specific units saw more table time than they seem to in my experience.
40k Does not have this problem. There is a huge variety of armies out there with wildly differing playstyles. In part I’m convinced that’s what leads to the claims of imbalance. How do you properly balance a game where one army is trying to flood the table with hordes of stabby, little gribblies whilst the other has an elite army trying desperately to hold back the tide through rate of fire – all subjected to the whims of the dice gods!
40k Isn’t perfect (far from it), but in terms of the variety of armies it brings to the table and their playing styles, the iconic miniatures it makes use of, and the sense of the epic holding back of the destruction of the galaxy, it just doesn’t have a competitor out there, and ultimately that’s why I think it’s still the game to beat, and why I still get excited about playing it each and every week.