Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When did the 40k universe get so small?

It was a warm spring day in the great year, 1994.  My buddy had brought his toy soldiers to school as something to work on during the final boring days of the school year.  I was totally impressed with these red doods that looked like football players with guns.  I begged and begged that he let me in on whatever he was doing, and it wasn't long before he was escorting me to the local comic-shop/game store. 

The funny part was that I had been to this store countless times, buying my comics like a rabid fan and never paying attention to the 'other half'.  Even more coincidental was that I'd been buying miniatures from this shop and using them for my DnD games.  But I had no idea that this was a game, or popular, or even something I'd be interested in.  Needless to say, I was enamored and soon buying miniatures to make my first actual army.  Despite collecting and painting toy soldiers since '87, it took me that long to finally fall head-first into what would become a career and almost a lifestyle.

It turned out that those 'red doods' were Blood Angel Space Marines.  I was excited to play myself, but I didn't feel right just copying my buddy and also doing Blood Angels.  So I scanned the shop over a few weekends and noticed what the other (older) gamers were playing:  Blood Angels, Chaos Space Marines, more of them, more Blood Angels, one Eldar player, one IG player, one Tyranid player, and then more Blood Angels.  Seeing that, I chose to start Ultramarines. 

Sure enough, I was the only Ultramarine player for a loooooong time.  In fact, I even started with an all-silver army of Space Marines that I called the 'Neets Imperialis' (my Latin needed some severe upgrading) before I chose to do the blue boyz themselves.  What struck me after all this time was how common Blood Angels and CSM were.  What annoyed me was the lack of different opponents. 

Fast-foward seventeen years...  I walk into my Local Game shop and scan the gamers there.  What do I see?  Blood Angels, Grey Knights, more Blood Angels, more Grey Knights, some more Blood Angels, and then a single Dark Eldar player and a single Space Wolf player.  Now I know that there are a few IG players in the area, I've seen a Tau and an Eldar army getting built.  But I have yet to see them being played while the sea of silver and red is there every time I go in.

So here's my question:  When did the Imperium get so small?

I have some theories, and I'd like to bore y'all with them here.  Advance Warning:  This may turn into a rant.  And by 'may', I mean 'will'. 

For the decade that I wore the Power Armor, I firmly destroyed any culture of 'gaming to win' in my shops.  Sadly, most LGSs don't have a strong Manager to do this, and couldn't even if they wanted to as they're fighting to pay their bills.  GW has the distinct advantage we used to refer to as the 'Golden Arches Syndrom' (people recognize the sign on the building and go there no matter what, just like McDonalds).  LGSs have to live and die by the whims of their community, and if the gamers want to buy super-cheezy armies, they have to be happy to take that money.  As a GW Manager, I was able to a)lead gamers to play more fun games with more versatile and esoteric army lists, and b)not worry too much about whether we were going to be able to pay the bills this week.  It's a self-fulfilling problem, as I see it.

So what can this problem do to a game shop?  Well, it leads to the 'potty-trained at knife-point' gamers (also known as 'douches') to gain an authority in the store.  THAT leads to the majority of gamers following the lead of the few gamers that actually win games every time they hit the table (everybody likes to win, after all) and therefore take the advice of those douches.  THAT eventually leads to an entire culture of 'rules over fluff' and becomes an arms race, usually based in army design first and codex-effectiveness soon thereafter.  Finally, THAT leads to only the most effective codices being used in the shop by the majority of gamers.  And we're back to my point.

hate how these gamers think that they've got the game figured out.  I hate how they spout their opinions about army builds and unit upgrades as though they have an advanced degree in 40k.  I hate how I can go into the game shop with a long-time buddy and attempt to play a game, only to have four of the six gamers in the shop rotate through to tell me how I should build my army to make it more effective.  Worst of all, I hate how an entire universe of war has been reduced to three army books being used (with the occasional different color models and 'counts-as' ridiculousness in play).

Last I checked, there's the Imperium (with it's massive Imperial Guard and sprinkling of Space Marines) trying hard to survive the onslaught of the Eldar, Dark Eldar, Tyranids, Necrons, Tau, Orks, and Chaos.  Where is everyone?  Have they all gotten tired of war?  Is it so peaceful now that Grey Knights and Blood Angels have paintball fights?  What the hell, man!?!

I understand that codex creep has made certain armies better than others ("All armies are created equal, except the ones that are better.  The rest are equally poop.").  I understand that it isn't fun to lose just because your codex is four years old and your opponent is playing with the awesome Blood Rape Wolves of Chaos Lascannon Speed Death.  But really?  Really?!

Let me finish with a short letter to the greater 40k Gaming Community out there:

Dear Gaming Community,
  Please mix it up a little.  Quit worrying about winning and nothing else.  Stop spamming the one or two 'good' units from a codex.  Stop whining about how 9 of the 12 armies are poop and not worthy of playing.  You're ruining the game.  That's right- Ruining it!  Stop!
Everybody that still thinks ALL OF 40k is cool.


  1. I play Chaos Space Marines, more specifically Death Guard, but I do have a mix of units from other legions and warbands. Despite being told how outdated my codex is and how my Daemon Prince should have wings and the mark of Slaanesh, I still go and play at my local hobby store about once a month only to have my army tabled by one of the seven guys who play Grey Knights. When it happens I don't get mad, but when after the battle my gracious opponents deigns to enlighten me as to where I went wrong in choosing units I like instead of the ones that are "best" it's hard to not want quit the game all together. Having articles such as yours to read help me to remember I'm not the only gamer/hobbyist who has to struggle against the community of douches that tend to populate the gaming side of the hobby. Thanks, I always look forward to reading your blog.

  2. Dude. I play me some Tau. And we lose almost every game. Though I must say, I very nearly won a match by attempting to stretch out a huge squad of kroot to capture 3 objectives at once. People keep saying, drop the kroot. get more battlesuits and armor. I say too bad, I like me some infantry, and I definitely like me some gunline :3 Plus, the infantry horde thing fits in nicely with the Soviet logos and paint scheme they sport.

  3. Did you read the article on Back 40K about the 3 people talking about cars?

    Or the Article on Dukes Inferno about how no one wants to play his Grey Knights?

    Good to see the opposite view point out there. I blame GW for the game design to sell new models over maintaining the balance of the game. Annual point cost reviews with a free army builder app which lets you build legal forces but does not tell you the rules so you still need the codex would cut down the problem. Those optimal units could have their price adjusted up. Those apparently less desirable ones get knocked down a little in cost. GW might even sell more models as people would adjust their forces more often and not be so made about it since they would not have tons of models that cannot see the table in a game you want to win. GW could ofcourse abuse the solution by essentially going overboard with the adjustments. We see this a lot when the new editions or codexes come out where they fix a problem twice or more like assault cannons who had their rending nerfed and a points increase and a limit of how many in a terminator unit.

    I personally hate the spam. I want their to be no bad units in the codex. I still expect people to be able to build bad armies since the units need to work together. I have probably 8K points of marines and I think I would have a hard time building a list that could stand a fighting chance against the razor spam lists with their 10 vehicles since my army allows me to field most units(including honor guard, foot vanguard, jump vanguard) in the codex but not more than 2 of anything except for tac squads.

    I am just not interested in buying and building 6 razorbacks or 3 identical rifleman dreadnoughts.