Specialist Games

Why I’m Enjoying Playing Specialist Games Instead of 40K

This is going to be rather off-the-cuff. It’s a topic I’ve thought about quite a bit lately, but haven’t really thought through. So, why not think it through here with you all? ;)

2006

That’s the year I began wargaming – 2006. I started playing Warhammer 40K at that time with some friends who had been playing since high school. I have been playing 40K ever since.

In those years I have played 723 games to date. Yep, I have kept track of every single 40K game I have ever played. I don’t really remember why I started doing it, but I’ve kept up with it. Man, I’m a nerd…

So, at the time of writing this I have played 40K for 12 years and 723 games. That’s a fair bit of history!

I’m Not Good at 40K

There’s a lot I love about 40K (lore, models, the people, etc), but I’m not good at the game. I’m not looking for a pat on the back, or direction on how to be better, I’m just stating a fact. I know full well I could do better, but the fact is I don’t care to.

The game is great if you get two like-minded people together to play. However, that disparity between two people looking for something different in a game is enormous. I know it shouldn’t be surprising that a more competitive player absolutely nukes a fluffy player, and it’s not really, yet those games were once a far closer thing than they are now; trust me.

Fluffy Wargamer

I’ve said before, I’m a fluffy player, and at the end of the day 8th edition is not for the fluffy player unless the game is arranged ahead of time.

Specialist Games Suit Me

Enter the smaller specialist games.

List Building

I think the biggest thing here, when everything is factored in, that differentiates the specialist games from 40K is a more restrictive list building element. When you think about list building in 40K, it’s really more of a buffet. So many options, endless portions, etc. However, a game like Blood Bowl has a limited number of ways to build your team. Hell, Shadespire sets your warband in stone for you. Granted, it does have a deck building element though.

Blood Bowl Tabletop Game

Anyway, my point is that the smaller games tend to remove the army building strategy from the game. I think most of us know that list building is easily 50% of your strategy in 40K, and it takes place before you even see a table. I know some people love that but I don’t.

By removing that component, the specialist games ensure that what two people are looking for in a game is far more aligned. Without an infinite way to create your army/team/warband, there can be no confusion on what each player wants. Know what I mean?

Game Play

I’m good at specialist games. There’s something about the smaller nature of the games that suits my mind more than the grand sweeping expanse of 40K. In Blood Bowl I can see how each player needs to move, what actions to perform, and in what order for every turn; and I see this quickly. So far, in my limited experience with Shadespire, it’s much the same. I can see my turn unfold clearly before I move anything.

These aren’t simpler games than 40K (contrary to belief), but they play very differently. It’s in that play difference that I find myself at home and comfortable. So, it’s not all that surprising that I’m enjoying playing games I do better at than ones I don’t.

Painting

I can’t even begin to count how many models I’ve painted since 2006. In various sizes, I have an Ork army, Necrons, Space Marines, and Chaos Space Marines. Plus, I used to do commission painting, and I have a painted Blood Bowl team.

You know what though? The most fun I have painting is when I’m doing one-offs. I know a lot of people are this way too. You spend weeks batch painting a unit or two, and at the end of it you paint an HQ as a reward. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

However, at this moment I’m just kind of done with that whole batch/assembly line painting thing. It makes me cringe to think about painting up unit after unit for 40K. It’s not that I dislike the models, I love them, but it just wears on you after a while.

Taking My Time

This is where the appeal of the smaller specialist games has come in. In 2017 I finished painting my first ever Blood Bowl team, the Titan Bay Thunderhawks. I only had 13 models to paint, and I spent a solid 2-3 months painting the team. In 40K I wouldn’t have spent 2-3 months painting 13 models. That’s a squad, a part of the whole, where 2-3 months for 13 models is fine in Blood Bowl – it’s your entire team.

Painting Showcase: Titan Bay Thunderhawks #1

I’m currently working on my first Shadespire warband, though nothing worth showing here yet. So far, I have one model completed out of five, and I’ve been working on them for probably 3 weeks at this point.

My point is simply that I can take my time painting and not feel compelled to have to crank things out and forgo quality for speed. For the longest time I thought I didn’t like painting. I liked having painted models, but the act of painting wasn’t something I looked forward to. Eventually I realized that I do enjoy painting, but I enjoy it on my schedule and with my terms. If in one day all I do is a few washes on a single model, or maybe blend out a cape, then that’s fine. I’m enjoying what I’m doing so there’s no rush.

Always Learning

I like to experiment with painting, learn new techniques, and again to simply enjoy the process. That’s just not something I’ve had with 40K. I have with some models for sure though, and that’s what got me to start realizing this. I spent a long time working on my Abaddon model and I love that thing. It took me months and months to get my Chaos Knight done, but it was so much fun to work on. Prior to all that was my Khorne Herald, the model I really first learned to blend on.

Abaddon the Despoiler Showcase

Obviously, I can take my time and learn painting with 40K. However, the game is about endlessly chasing your tail. You have to constantly evolve your army, and your lists to stay current with the meta. I honestly don’t mind that idea in principle, but in practice I don’t have the time, money, or ambition (with painting), to participate.

That leads me back to needing to paint 5 models for a Shadespire warband and it’s done. I can paint 13 models for a Blood Bowl team and it’s done. When I have so few models to deal with, I feel more inclined to try new things. Staring down 30 models you have to get painted doesn’t promote experimentation and learning – it promotes speed painting and shortcuts.

Final Thoughts

I know this was a mind-dump, but it’s something I felt compelled to write-up. I’ve had some people at my FLGS ask me if/when I was going to play 40K again, and so these thoughts have been bouncing around for a bit. I feel I’m a better writing than speaking, so it’s easier to do this than try to explain when asked.

Anyway, I’ll continue to play 40K, but it’s just not my current focus. Right now I’m enjoying specialist games where $30 gets me a whole new team/warband/style of play, not a single unit in the cog of an army. I’m enjoying taking my time painting, having fun with it, and not feeling pressured about it.

Anyone else out there finding their focus shifting over the years?

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As a painter and not a player, I liked the idea to have an army. The worst fact to me is that if in halfway I change my mind about the painting scheme, the models already painted count as 0, and also you can easily see the difference between the first models and the last.
I’ve changed my mind for my DE something like 3 or 4 times, sad story. Maybe an army is not what I need! Doing small bands leave you more free, and without the to-do feeling, that I think it’s more compulsory to a player. I fully agree with you, despite the different use of the hobby.

However I hope to see some Bloodbowl or Shadespires comic battle report!

Castigator

I couldn’t agree more with your thought process if I tried.
I still love 40k and I enjoy seeing all of the new models that GW release (apart from the Adeptus Custodes, I don’t know what it is but I really don’t like how they look). Unfortunately, I find 8th Edition to be a something of a chore and nobody will convince me that there is any kind of meaningful strategy other than designing an army list. The scale of the game has grown to such a degree that I struggle to feel a connection that I once enjoyed with my armies.
Fortunately for me, that’s where Specialist Games saves the day. Necromunda offers that same intimate scale that Rogue Trader and Second Edition once did. It’s still 40k and better still, it’s 40k for people who want immerse themselves in the hobby side (painting, background, campaigns, fairy tales in 40k!) just as much as in the gaming side. Just like you, I’m more than happy to spend a couple of weeks painting one figure and savouring the experience rather than rushing to get the latest ‘must have’ unit finished in time for a tournament. This change of pace might not do a lot for my blog (hopefully that will change shortly when my regular gaming buddy finishes his Genestealer Cult gang) but I’m enjoying the hobby side more than I have done in a long time.

Despite my dislike of 8th edition, it seems I’m in a minority because GW are doing better than ever and 8th appears to be a great success. I really do hope this success continues because for as long as it does, I feel that Specialist Games will offer more and more alternative games for everybody to enjoy.

TheRhino

Specialist games fall into the same hole other non-40K games do for me.
There’s no reliable support for day-long gaming. Blood Bowl was fun, but I’m not driving an hour each way for one hour-long game, if anyone responds to the begging for a game.
Because I’m so far away from the FLGS and the community around the closer shops feels very aloof, there’s no opportunity to play those Specialist games.
Because of the way life is for me, I have to plan my playing time a month in advance and it’s easier to play a full day once a month than an hour or two once a week.
I can’t bring myself to buy another specialist game and let it rot on a shelf like I did for Blood Bowl.

Westrider

I’m gradually moving more and more in the same direction. I think I’ve only played one game of 40K so far this year. Maybe two. But not many. Certainly nowhere near as many as I’ve played of ShadeSpire.

It’s getting kind of frustrating, actually, because I’d much rather be playing Blood Bowl and Necromunda and Shadow War and ShadeSpire, but 40K seems to be the only one with events and support at the (relatively) local stores, and my group hasn’t gotten into anything other than ShadeSpire, despite my efforts.

The burnout is really noticeable when I compare with my motivation to do stuff for other Games. I got all four of the core ShadeSpire Warbands painted in a week, but couldn’t get the motivation to paint 5 Seekers over the course of the entire month of February.

Another factor for me is physical: my back has been getting worse and worse over the past couple of years, and stuff like ShadeSpire, Blood Bowl, and Necromunda Underhive, where I can mostly play sitting down, has become far more attractive than having to lean way over to move 80+ Models around precisely in the middle of a 4×6 table.

I’m trying to overcome a bunch of sunk cost fallacy, but I really think it’s time for me to sell off a bunch of my 40K stuff. Not all of it, by any means, but there’s certainly no point in having as many Armies as I do when I play so infrequently.

NafNaf

8th edition has really envigorated my local scene, but I am just not enjoying it like I thought I would. It is ok but I much prefer other games now, and batch painting can be a real chore! I very much understand and appreciate what you have written in this article, it sums up the direction I am going in my gaming too. Well said good sir :)

Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation
Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

8th has kind of split my club. One good thing though is a big rise of interest in 30k there and even the guys who only play 8th are building HH armies.

eriochrome
eriochrome

Could be that Blood Bowl is just a better game than 40K.

Adam

Pfft. Everyone know THAT!!

Oathed
Oathed

Where’s a good list of Specialist Games players? I’ve got a few games of BFG under my belt, was hoping to do a Comic Life type battle report, and eventually get some games of Aeronautica Imperialis, Mordheim, Necromunda/Kill Team/SWA, Dark Future, and Titanicus/Epic 40K.

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