Thursday, August 2, 2012

How to start an army

I've noticed that a number of gaming groups, game shops, and even gaming blogs have suddenly begun Escalation Leagues.  This is both promising and unsurprising, and for very simple reasons:

1.  It's promising because not only are game shops doing a stellar job of introducing new hobbyists to the grimdark world, but a whole new rules set for 40k also means that experienced gamers have to change/expand/start another/etc. their armies.  It's good for business and good for the community, since it'll mean that we may get to see some new armies and even new faces once in a while.
2.  It's unsurprising because this has happened every time a new rules set releases, a summer campaign kicks off, or even just an old codex was finally redone.  If you're an old hobbyist like me then I'm sure you've seen Escalation Leagues about a dozen times and maybe even organized some yourself.  If you're a new hobbyist, well, then this is just an obvious activity to play 'catchup'. 

The great thing about Escalation Leagues is that it's a fantastic idea no matter what you're doing!  Gather some buddies, make some plans, and commence to competing in order to get to the competing part- it's easy!  Regardless of your experience level, there are some basic steps to follow and this is what I'm gonna help with in today's post.

For the purposes of this concept of 'Escalation League', I'm going to assume that everyone involved is starting new armies.  It's probably the hardest part of the hobby, being planning, then buying, then assembling and painting.  Let's be realistic here, no matter how much of a 'fluff-bunny' you are, it's really about the end result and not the WORK.  Well, let's take some of that 'w'-word out of it and make it easy:

Step 1:  Decide

Now this is admittedly the most difficult part for alot of people.  Whereas I have the ability to 'pick and go', my wife will spend tons of time weighing options, comparing values, and generally NOT deciding.  This applies to hobbyists just as much, especially considering how awesome some of this stuff looks in the pictures.  Oh yes, DECIDING which army to pick or even which units to choose can be very stressful.  Here's some advice:
  • Know what 'requirements' are needed for an army.  For example, you should definitely not start purchasing units without knowing that you need two Troops and an HQ.  Three Leman Russes and a Commissar do not an IG army make...
  • Look for the 'coolest'-looking units.  It matters how they'll do in the game at some point, but when first starting- playing small games and painting the models, it doesn't matter at all.  The key is to pick things that you'll enjoy working on.  After all, you don't want to be discouraged early on, right?
  • Ask someone.  A staff member or a good-natured old hobbyist may help you by asking some questions or pointing out something he knows you'll like.  In any case, don't brood in the 40k aisle for too long and ignore the crowds.  Use them, they're gonna be opponents at some point.  Just be careful not to listen to the guy who 'wins alot'.  That guy MIGHT be awesome, but it's less likely than that 'nice guy' over there that you'll have a great conversation with. 
Once you've decided what it is you want, take a minute and think about it.  When I wore the black Power Armor, I used 'impulse buys' to their fullest extent, make no mistake.  Luckily, I'm cool about it and would often say 'no' to things that people would regret later.  You may not get this kinda treatment, so there's a next step to help you think about it...

Step 2:  Write it down

That's right, this is important.  And it isn't just writing a list of things you gotta buy, this is where you write an army list. 

"A WHAT!?!!?" I hear you say.  Don't worry, it's not as hard as you think.  The key is to know HOW TO.  A good army list serves not only a purpose in game, but also as a shopping list, a plan of attack, an generally just a reminder of what you're trying to do.  So how do you write an army list?  Well, there's many ways.  Some people use a computer program called Excel, or a software product known as Army Builder.  Some people just note it down on the closest piece of paper they can find while some (like me) keep entire notebooks that are little more than dedicated army list pads.  Either way, there's some information that you'll need:
  • Force Organization and Codex
  • Unit name
  • Any options, upgrades, or special equipment
  • How many points
  • your name (it's amazing how many people forget to do that)
I can go step-by-step and show you how to do so correctly, but I'm just gonna show you a picture of my basic army list(s) for my Escalation League:

What you can't see are the previous three pages, now trashed, where I couldn't get the lists just right...

Step 3:  Buy it

Duh.  I'm not gonna spend alot of time on this step.  Just be sure to purchase what's ON your list, not what looks cool suddenly.  I mean, don't NOT buy that cool thing, but stick to the plan.  Also, you don't want to spend more money than you have to, right?  Save that for later when you need to buy a new unit just to crush your smart-mouthed friend and...  sorry about that.  Memories. 

Step 4:  Plan to build and paint

Why plan?  Couldn't you just jump into building and painting?  Sure you could, but planning gives you a much more confident chance of succeeding as well as a backup in case you have to stop and come back to it later.  More than anything, it's just as important to have around as the army list.  Here's what you want to include in the hobby plan:
  • How long will it take you to build one unit?  Usually, it'll take about four hours (unless you've made a career of it, then it takes far too little time), so planning on building a unit a day is a good plan.  Easy things like Rhino tanks and Land Speeders can be built two or three in a day.  In any case, remember how long this takes.
  • What colors and materials are you going to need to paint the army?  I mean, white primer or black?  What method are you going to use- block painting, drybrush, dip'n'flick, etc?  How're you going to base your army?  Sand, texture paint, resin scenic bases from any number of custom companies?  Listing what materials you would like to use is a good shopping list and also keeps you on track.  Nobody likes not having the color they need at 2am when the store is closed, trust me.
  • What's the schedule look like?  GW trained us to use planners like business experts, and we learned planning to such an extreme level that I can't explain it here.  For the normal hobbyist, it all comes down to time.  How much time do you wanna spend painting a single unit?  I can paint a unit in a day, but a less crazy person should take three days or so.  Can you paint a single model, five at a time, or thirty?  These things put into schedule form can help you feel accomplishment while doing what you would have done anyway.  And who doesn't like a feeling of pride?
Here's an example of my paint plan and schedule.

This is NOT a true paint plan, this is my experience showing through too easily.  Also, the Word Bearers' schedule took three days longer than I planned.

Step 5:  Get to work!

Follow the plan.  Keep to the schedule.  Work before play, especially in this case.  Stay on point.  Don't get distracted.  Keep it going.  More than anything- GET IT DONE!  In art school, the strongest principle of all is 'Done is good'.  Too often, artists wish to deliberate, assess, adjust, and often simply whine about unfinished work.  Done can be critiqued.  Done can be fixed.  But all the planning, prepping, promoting, and presenting in the world means nothing if you have little actually finished.  Believe me, it's always worth it.

Step 6:  Show it off

Now, you've planned, you're purchased, you've painted, and you've promoted your hard work.  It's time to bring it to the shop/friend's basement/garage/family reunion/wherever and show it off.  Bring your army list, bring your gaming materials, and be ready to draws gasps of amazement from the surrounding crowds as you lay down the fruits of your hard labour. 

You may lose the first game, and then maybe the next twenty after that (what, that's just me?  Aw, man...), but having a fully finished army that met a time-frame is a fruitful event.  Plus, an Escalation League almost always sees many hobbyists doing the same thing, so you get to show your opponents how much better you are!  Okay, maybe their army looks better, and they kick your army's tail so bad it almost makes you wanna start another army.  DON'T!  There's next month's expansion and a whole new cycle of work... 

Week 4...  Too much.
Weeks 1-2.  Still too much.  LOL!

Starting an army, League or not, is a sometimes overwhelming task.  But don't worry, it's really just these few steps and a bit of repetitious work.  As I said before, it's always worth it in the end... 

Happy Hobbying!

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