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? ;)


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.


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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