Monday, June 29, 2009

Ulthuan Invaders

Well I truly hope that I end up enjoying Warhammer Fantasy, because eBay splurges have seen my nascent High Elf army multiply in size quickly. A medium size unit of classic Swordmasters, another bolt thrower, a mounted hero, a huge number of archers, and another handful of spearmen are all on their way to join my growing army. I don't think I'm going to bother updating my 2009 pledge totals until all of these new acquisitions arrive. Hopefully the massive, and likely insurmountable, negative total that results will not cause me to fall into a stupor, unable to actually get anything painted this year.

Fortunately, the GW store at which I won with my Grey Knight terminator is having another painting competition with an August 1st deadline. This gives me plenty of working time and I intend to enter all three categories - single, unit, and large model. Provided they arrive from Australia reasonably soon, I'm intending to enter at least a minimum sized unit of Swordmasters for the unit category. I'm as of yet unsure about single figure, though it might very well be one of my High Elf unit champions. As for large model, I'd like to enter the Imperial Guard valkyrie that I had begun work on last month.

Of course, GenCon falls hot on the heels of the GW competition and I'm adamant that I will finally have at least one entry for this year's painting competition. Despite my intention to do so, I've failed to enter anything for the last 2 or 3 years. Since I've had luck in the past, and GenCon features some of the most extravagant prize support of any painting competition I have seen, this is one opportunity I don't want to miss.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why We Game

Despite lofty painting goals, I haven't more than looked at my painting desk over the last four months. But a series of recent events have conspired to awaken the gaming/painting bug. First, the Grey Knight Terminator I painted a few years ago (and sadly the last figure I've actually finished), was entered in a local Games Workshop store painting competition on a lark, and took first place. Apparently, one of the figures I managed to squeak past for the win was painted by a Chicago Bronze Demon winner. The sort of affirmation that comes with such a win is exactly what I needed to want to sit back down at the painting desk.

Of course, I need a target for these painting urges. Fortunately, a friend has convinced me to finally give Warhammer a try again (perhaps that's unfortunately). I've made a few false starts with the game, but it never grabbed me the way 40K did. I'm still not sure that the game is exactly my cup of tea, so I was adamant that I at least ensure that I'll enjoy the painting and modeling aspect of the game. This requires an army that I'm particularly attracted to. And for me, this means an army that was current when I was first exposed to Warhammer - i.e. 4th edition era armies. Don't get me wrong, I think many, if not most, of the current Warhammer figures are technically outstanding sculpts. But, a quality figure will never surpass one that elicits a nostalgic response in me. The old all metal Skaven armies, Imperial Dwarves, or pre-King Arthur Bretonnians all fall within that latter category. But none were more important to my early exposure to miniatures gaming than the Jes Goodwin High Elves - and yes this includes the static posed plastic archers and spearmen from the 4th edition boxed set.

While I've had Teclis and Tyrion lying around unpainted for the last decade, I've had to work on finding them a supporting force. This has meant daily visits to eBay, Bartertown, and similar sites, scrounging for figures from this era. So far I've been able to pick up 10 of each of the aforementioned archers and spearmen, as well as a trio of champions, a pair of both musicians and standard bearers, a bolt thrower, and a hero on pegasus. I realize that the latter model is no longer a viable option in the High Elf book (why I have no idea) but I'm sure my opponent will happily let me jury-rig something just to get such a cool model on the table.

So all this renewed inspiration to game has seen me reflecting on my neglected hobby. A post on a recently discovered blog that I like a great deal provided an appropriate framework for this reflection - Why do we (I) game?

The reality, is that I don't really game. It's been seven years since I was actively involved in my hobby. At that point I had just finished the only army that I had ever painted to completion, a 3rd Ed Dark Angels Ravenwing army assembled for the Chicago 40K Grand Tournament (though this army was sold mere months later to help fund my departure for law school). Only a short time before that my time as a member of the demo and FAQ teams for Warzone and Chronopia had wrapped up with the demise of their parent company, Target Games. But during their several years of thriving existence (WZ 2nd Ed. outselling Warhammer Fantasy in the US) my annual treks to GenCon included working the Target booth and I was an active presence in the Detroit area hobby shops. At no other point have I been more intimately involved with the hobby I love.

No doubt, memories of these times are a primary contributor to my desire to pick up gaming seriously again. But in the better than seven years that my figures have been languishing in boxes, the hobby has very much changed, both for me specifically and in general. Like all aging gamers, my gaming group has taken on adult responsibilities and new hobbies and either too busy or no longer sufficiently interested to make the investment of time that miniatures gaming requires. The games and figures are very different as well, with both now benefiting from a high level of polish and professionalism. In terms of miniatures, I think there is little doubt that Rackham and their Confrontation line is responsible for raising that bar. Since, between boutique miniatures producers (Hasslefree, Freebooter, Spyglass, etc.) and garage-sized gaming manufacturers (Corvus Belli, Asmodee, Dark Age), the technical skill of the average 28mm sculpt has increased dramatically, dragging larger manufacturers like Reaper and GW with them. While this has been a boon for the high-caliber painter, it's also lead to the younger, newer members of our hobby snorting derisively at some of the classic figures I hold dear. A decade ago I would have thought it ridiculous that anybody would consider my newly acquired Armorcast Warhound titan a clunker. But Forgeworld has done just that.

But it's not just older models that legions of current forum posters and bloggers smirk at, but the entire concept of the gaming that I find most familiar. 40K and Warhammer have always had their tournament scenes. But recent editions, with their increasingly strict list of available armies, has really encouraged this gaming mindset, regardless of context of the game - either an actual tournament or just "friendly". Online discussion focuses primarily on army construction, and it is generally understood that every army list has entries that are stinkers and are never touched. Just as with collectible card gaming, cookie-cutter army construction is adopted once the effectiveness of the Ork Nob biker, Thunder Hammer Terminator, or Bretonnian air force builds are realized. Gone are the wacky army lists of the 2nd Ed 40K I knew so well (Genestealer Cult? Chaos World?). Even 3rd Ed, which I considered a plague at the time due to its radical changes to 40K mechanics, was a wealth of opportunity for gamers like myself. But gone are Kroot Mercenaries, the Lost and the Damned, Feral Orks, Eldar craftworlds, myriad special rules for all of the founding loyalist and chaos Marine chapters, Catachan Ork Hunters, the Vehicle Design Rules, and all of the other creativity-fostering aspects of gaming at the time.

Now this isn't meant to be the grognard complaint so often seen and heard. I genuinely like 5th Ed 40K and am eager to try out 7th Ed Warhammer Fantasy. But the point of this post was to reflect on why I game/am trying to get back into gaming. The truth is, I'm not entirely sure at this point. However I'm eager to dive back into the hobby and look forward to relating my experiences as I go. Stay tuned!