First, I think it's important to point out that I spent nearly a decade selling toy soldiers for GW, so this is a subject near and dear to me. Not only did I have to help people make their decisions (and make no mistake, I was damn good at it!), but I had to develop my own principles for myself. Being surrounded by this stuff all day every day, as well as recieving a handsome discount, meant that I could certainly just buy to my heart's content. Needless to say, not only is that bad for the pocketbook, but regret finds a much larger opening to attack later on. Now that I've provided this 'full disclosure' statement, let's get to the fun...
When it comes to collecting useless things like toy soldiers, fanboys such as myself can go overboard and, yet, never finish. It became a priority of mine to find a 'finish line' in order to feel better about myself. How did I resolve this? Let's look at my massive 40k collection and focus on that.
Of note and one of many ways to go, GW makes ridiculously fantastic models. Not only are the models brilliant, but they're usually modular and come with a gazillion options in the form of bitz. So if I concentrated on whatever looks cool, I'd never be finished. EVERYTHING LOOKS COOL!!! Okay, almost everything. I figured I'd throw this in there so people don't start the whining...
The first step to playing a game is 'Choosing a force'. There are some unique scenarios and even campaigns that limit this step, but most (if not 99%) of games require armies to be chosen from a forgiving, vague chart known as the Force Organization Chart. I chose to rarely, if ever, break this chart with all my armies. Why? Simple- Rarely will I, or anyone that I'm playing against, play a game larger than 2,000 or so points. I know that there's larger games and even Apocalypse, but how often will those come up? Not very, and this from a guy that was responsible for getting these events happening every weekend. In addition, only long-time veteran gamers have forces large enough to legitimately participate in games this size. The average game shop has a half-dozen of these players (of which I am and was one), and three or four dozen gamers of the normal ilk. That is to say that the majority of gamers are equipped to play normal-sized games from collections only slightly larger. Therefore, I'm gonna prep for the norm- plus more. That being said, that handy 'ol Force Org Chart is a great cap, built into the game itself!
What makes 40k unique to other strategy games? That's easy- 10,000 years of history and storyline! This is the part of the hobby community that chaps my hide. The community has become overwhelmed by the tournament scene, and this level of 'fluff' has become a very disregarded aspect. I spent years trying to allay the fears of old gamers who whined that the codices (during 3rd and some 4th edition) lost this fluff and GW was killing their own background. Lo and behold, the great company started pumping out massive codices again which just happened to include a great more storyline and background details than even the vaunted 2nd-edition books. And yet the community now takes to pulling the newly-released codices from the shelf, flipping to the back third where the army lists are, and then making decisions for purchases based off the percieved effectiveness of the list. One minute, I'm recieving incessant whining about the lack of fluff, the next I'm seeing the same crybabies just ignoring it. You can imagine my anger...
I say this because I really appreciate the 'fluff' of the game. I love the background, the stories, and even the novels set in the 41st Millenium. In fact, even my uber-nerdy love of Star Trek means nothing when compared to my love of the 40k universe. To be fair and honest, most of this happened because of the 'Star Trek' movie of 2009 destroyed all that I knew and loved of that universe. But I digress... This all comes to a point when I collect my armies. See, when I pick up a new codex, I don't immediately flip to the army list and begin the number crunching. I read from front to back and soak up the fluff first. The background and storyline significantly determine how I collect my armies. Let me give you a real-world example:
A Space Marine Chapter is split into Companies, with the main Battle Companies serving the main role within the wars of the Imperium. The Blood Angels are organized in the same way as nearly all other Chapters with Tactical Squads forming the majority of the Battle Companies.
-When I built my Blood Angels 5th Company army, I included two Tactical Squads (with the possibility of a third forthcoming) and two Assault Squads. I can have no more than two Assault Squads because each Company is organized that way in the fluff.
-Yet when I read the online community's various lists on the plethora of websites and blogrolls I frequent, I see NO Tactical Squads and a common theme of at least four Assault Squads. Why? Because it's more effective on the tabletop and, some would argue, cheaper to purchase.
Can you see the difference? I'm not saying that my way is better (well, I am, but I don't appreciate the competitive scene anymore, making me ridiculously biased), but the difference in thinking becomes brutally obvious at that point. Better yet, I used to be the second example (I have a host of trophies to back me up here), but I've basically evolved past the idea of winning and now enjoy the universe for what it was originally meant to be- a cool story! And just like all good readers, I find solace in the constraints a good writer places on my interpretations.
But I'm not done yet. I have one more principle when I collect, and this one is a bit harder to explain. See, I've got a collection (and had much more again) that makes most gamers jealous. I don't just buy whatever the great GW feels like releasing that month. I don't just pick up everything that has power armor or big tanks or whatever. I tend to buy with sweeping stories in mind. I buy for fairness. Let me give you a more clear idea:
I own Chaos Space Marines because my vaunted Ultramarines needed a fair foe. So who did I choose to throw my evil loyalties behind? Word Bearers, of course! They and the Ultramarines have a loooooong history of animosity towards one another, and red is a perfect contrast to blue on the tabletop. Let's get even more specific here:
My Ultramarines are built around the 2nd Battle Company, once led by the valorious Captain Agemman and now by the impetuous Captain Sicarius. I have the battle company and a few more toys besides, but it's all about the standard Battle Company. My Word Bearers are Chaos Space Marines, especially now that 5th edition removed the idea of 'Legion special rules' (I'm okay with it, but that's a whole other article). That being said, I have no Plague Marines, Thousand Sons, bikers, or any of that other stuff that isn't well-known to to the Word Bearers. I filled out the army with lots of Daemons, Possessed, Defilers, and tons of regular-'ol Undivided marines.
Why would I limit myself in such a way? Why not have my Ultramarines led by He'stan or Shrike? I'm sure that'd make my army more dangerous. Why not have Thousand Sons and Obliterators in my Word Bearers, and even back them up with a Slaaneshi Sorceror with Lash of Submission? I know that my opponents will lose confidence in their hopes of beating me on the tabletop if I did so. The answer is simple:
Because I like 40k's background and storyline. This isn't War Machine, where I can have elves running around with my Cryx even while they fight each other. Nor is this Magic: TG, where I can put all the colors together and get the biggest bang for my buck out of my deck. For the tournament scene, which has overtaken the hobby community of late, fine. It is what it is. But for the regular 'ol garage gamer like myself, I just wanna have fun and tell a good story.
Before my expected summary, there's one more point that I have to make: I hate 'spamming'. That is when the same unit, with nearly identical options and upgrades, is repeated more than twice on the tabletop. GW puts out 100+ page codices with almost a couple dozen unit options for each army. Add to this the dozen or so unit upgrades for almost all the units and you'll get a huge variety of possible army-builds. I love this about 40k! When I build an army, I like to include as many different units as possible. Will I repeat the same unit a few times? Sure. Even my heavily-principled-self isn't an idiot. But why would I waste my time taking the same three units repeated three times each for what should be a fun game? Competitive gamers are all about this (especially since 4th edition, or 3rd-ed's lascannon/plasma gun/Razorback gun-line of the SM ilk), and it saddens me. For all the money I've spent and loyalty I have to an otherwise dark universe, I'd like as many pieces of it as I can justifiably get my dice around. But again, that's just me...
In summary, here's how I collect a 40k army:
1. Pick a 'finish-line'. The Force Organization Chart is my personal one.
2. Stick to the storyline. It can be fun. It even builds a loyalty and respect to your collection that you wouldn't normally see coming.
3. Be fair. Pick units to fight against another army or objectively fit into a campaign. And DON'T SPAM! Your dollars like to see different reasons for disappearing.
Let me know what y'all think (hell, I'll even take a disagreement or two :-) ), and until next time-