Friday, September 2, 2011

Back in MY day...

So as I perused my typical blogosphere haunts, I found a fantastic editorial by a friend of mine that expressed something I whole-heartedly agree with.  Here's the link:

This guy, Nick, was actually the manager of a hobby center and trained the guy who hired me into the company.  His legacy has far outlasted even the shop in the area and I'm glad to say that he influenced me greatly in my own hobby journey as well. 

Okay, enough with the kissing up (as though Nick or anyone from Bell would see this anyway...).  I want to talk about the subject of what 40k is and what it is not

Now I have my fair share of trophies- most collected while I wore the power armour myself.  In all that time (a massive nine years, four times longer than the average servant of the Emperor), I had the glory of meeting every kind of gamer and even developing a ton of them in my own image (and by association, Nick's).  So onto my rant...
What 40k is:
Warhammer 40,000 is a game, set in the grim darkness of the 41st millenium and based on the greater factions in the galaxy making war with one another.  It showcases unimaginably horrible creatures in alien armies and heroically unknowable warriors defending mankind.  The game pieces are highly-detailed model kits used to represent platoon- and company-sized forces battling across blasted landscapes. 

Let me make that a little simpler:  40k is a game.  It involves models.  Sadly, this point has been lost on alot of people out there, but I'll get to that in a bit...

Games Workshop, for whom I worked for a large portion of my life, was very clear in their mission:  to sell toy soldiers.  The rules, and books specifically, are nothing more than a cheap parlour trick to get us, the consumers, to buy more models.  If the rules aren't clear or balanced, it's because they're not supposed to be.  If the armies aren't directly competitive against one another, it's because that's not the point.

What 40k is not:
40k is not Magic: the Gathering.  It is not War Machine or Hoardes.  That's right, I said it!  It's not any of those.  Those games are specifically competitive games wherein a player uses the rules to maximize the potential of his gamepieces and crush the opponent.  There is no 'Page 5' or 'Beta Black Lotus', there is no magic formula to winning (although there is an entire community out there that would disagree with that).

40k shares more in common with Dungeons and Dragons than any other game I've seen.  It's about the story and your army's part in it.  The setting of the 40k universe is compelling, if not downright terrifying.  The storyline, so often missing from the tabletop, is what makes the system rich and worth delving into.  In fact, let me share with you how I, and most of my compatriots, sold this to the many willing victims that dared set foot into a hobby center:

Customer:  "I don't know what I want to play.  Do you have any suggestions?"
Staff:  "Well, it's very simple.  Come over here and take a look at the box covers, and tell me which artwork you like the best."
Customer:  "I like the Chaos Space Marines.  They look like they're really mean and cool."
Staff:  "Fantastic!  Let me show you the best way to start that army..."

And there it is!  Now that doesn't mean that we didn't have the occasional M: tG gamer walk in looking for the most 'beatstick' army they could find.  It didn't mean that we didn't want to help people design armies that worked well on the tabletop.  But more often than not we witnessed many power gamers getting frustrated with losing while the rest of the gamers, most of whom enjoyed the storyline, were happy just to be rolling dice and not failing miserably.  It always brought a smile to a staff member's face to see a new gamer asking about the background of the army or a veteran gamer talking smack from the point of view of their general. 

What have I observed lately?
Here's the meat and butter of why I had to share Nick's editorial and then go on to wax poetic on the subject myself.  So, in case y'all are terrible at connecting dots, I am a regular reader of the blogosphere.  Better, I'm a regular hobbyist that likes to have conversations with other hobbyists and gamers, and I'm a damn good listener (A communications background and a decade of sales training will do that to you).  And I've noticed some disturbing trends of late.

The blogosphere is almost completely full of the 'netlist' phenomena and 'power gamer' attitude.  This is where people make up effective army lists, post them online, take them to tournaments, and are soon copied by everyone that wants to win.  I'm not saying that every army list online is one of these or that everyone that emulates someone else's army is only out to win.  But since the blogosphere has exploded so rapidly, so too has the propensity to use it to 'advance' one's own winning record.  It's sad.

As I talked about in my last blog, my LGS seems to be full of power gamers.  The two LGSs that were near my own Thunderhawk (when I had one) were full of power gamers.  The tournaments that I [used to] frequent were nothing but power gamers.  This is a big problem.

When the power gamers came into my shop, they would complain that my community offered them no challenge.  They complained that they saw every single army that GW had released, and the 'new army syndrome' was rampant.  Worse, they complained that I was teaching my gamers to be sissies and eventually that would harm my community.  When I go into my LGS today, I have to tolerate the constant stream of power gamers coming over to my table and explaining to me what I should include in my army if I want to win.  This advice is ALWAYS unsolicited, yet never withheld.  But let me put it into perspective:

The hobby center[s] that I ran always had the distinction of being number one or two for sales in North America.  This is not to brag about my sales ability, this is a result of the culture that I encouraged in the shop.  With the exception of two out of the twelve tournaments that I've ever played in, I've walked away with a trophy.  This includes the smallish Rogue Trader tournaments of old and the massive Adepticon.  Also, I own more stuff for 40k than most games shops carry.  If I really wanted to make the most unbeatable army list of all time, I have every resource I would need to do so.  These 'wise-men' don't seem to understand that there are those out there that can do whatever they want and simply don't.

In both of these cases, it proved that promoting enjoyment of 40k for what it is, rather than for the joy of winning, people were happier and the hobby stayed strong.  No matter what, a fun time is always better than winning.  Those people that tell me that they 'only have fun by winning' are the kind of people that often drive people from the community.  Rarely do the two ideas meet affably.  When they do, it's a miracle!

This is not meant to be a rant against the power gamer but it is an opinion about what I've noticed these days (and for years leading up to them).  I do not enjoy going to my LGS to play games because I don't want to have to hear Dave or Joe tell me again how I should have a 900-point unit of storm shields and thunderhammers in my army.  I don't want to hear the Chaos Space Marine players whine all day about how their codex is complete crap.  I certainly don't want to hear how the Tyranid codex is worthless under the new edition.  I disagree on all counts.  I like the fluff.  I like the models.  And I don't think the rules preclude any chance of fun games, regardless of the armies being used.  

And with that, I've fallen into GW's sneaky trap completely.  If that means that I have to lose once in a while or just stop playing altogether, it ain't such a bad thing.  GW will still get what little money I can spare each month and I still have my hobby.  It just sucks that others don't seem to get it...  As always, Nick, you have it right.


  1. I'm moving to Texas. Expect me soon with armies I play for fun, not for fucking someone till they bleed.

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  3. Oh I LOVE hearing this. There were the occasional powergamers in the Layton store, but by and large it was FUN people there to have a good time tossing dice and hanging out.

    Thanks again for letting this old piece of furniture have a home and place to get back into a great HOBBY.

  4. Layton, you say? Number one, number one, number one!!!

  5. I like your poetic wax, it keeps my hobby shiny and weatherproof.

  6. Thanks for all of the love Mr. Wornham. We clearly are cut from the same cloth.

    And I loved using the "Which army looks the coolest?" and "What are your favorite things in Fantasy/Sci-Fi movies?" to help people with army selection. People were always more likely to paint models they actually liked, and whatever people loved to see on the big screen always gave a good clue to what their play style would be like - unless they were only playing to win.

    Good stuff. Keep fighting the good fight J!