I have never really been a gamer. I play rarely, and while I do enjoy gaming, it has not been where the bulk of my hobby time has been spent. My hobby past is littered with half finished army projects, leaps into different gaming systems, and growing piles of unpainted models. It's certainly not filled with tournament worthy forces that have rampaged over the tabletop. The glorious victories and crushing defeats I've had in the course of my gaming career can be counted up in fairly short order, with the later outweighing the former by some margin. It's not this failure that keeps me from gaming, it's just not the part of the hobby that interests me the most (Something I'm not alone in, according to Games Workshop's latest numbers1). Instead it has always been the story, the models, and the artwork that has captured me. It's not been the rules, and yet I have always behaved as if it has been. This dissonance has been the cause of many of my separations from the hobby.
The main reason Age of Sigmar grabbed me, beyond being the shiny new thing, was the freedom within the scant four pages of rules to construct any force that came to mind and try it on the tabletop. I was soon planning out multiple forces that would take full advantage of this. The ability to play the game has always been one of my larger considerations that has shaped my miniature collection; either buying towards a specific list, or with firm knowledge of the restrictions of given system, be it the Force Organisation chart, the points percentage, or the Soulstones cache etc. The changes Age of Sigmar brought to Fantasy got me inspired enough to get me thinking this way again, and to undertake the (still ongoing) redesign of this site.
And then the enthusiasm died away.
This site acts as a fair indicator of the peaks and troughs I've gone through with the hobby over the last few years, and rather than give in to another downward slide, I took a hard look at exactly what it is that has drawn me repeatedly back to the hobby.
The clearest indication of which aspects of the hobby appeal to me most was to be found in GW's new system. The Age of Sigmar allows the sidestepping of the majority of considerations that go into assembling a game ready force. It doesn't entirely avoid them, but it is a real sea-change from Games Workshop, and marks Age of Sigmar out as unusual (if not unique) amongst current systems. Unit composition still needs to be kept in mind, as well as taking steps to avoid creating a force that's going to steamroller the opposition (chance would be a fine thing). Beyond that there is free rein to put whatever can be imagined onto the tabletop. And looking back on this as my interest slipped away, I had something of a revelation.
The game, and the army building it entails, isn't why I got into the hobby.
When I picked up my first Codex (Angels of Death), way back during 2nd Ed 40K, the rules for army composition were nearly non-existent beyond the points values. It was never really something to worry about. The games I played back then were undertaken with whatever I had in my collection at the time. Ever since then force composition has been an increasingly important part of Games Workshop's rules. I will hold my hand up to enjoying the process of writing out army lists. Playing around with wargear and unit size, and trying to get everything to add up right has ever been a pleasing thing to me, but getting from that stage to having an army on the tabletop has always been my point of failure.
It's taken me a long time to realise that being ready for the tabletop is not something I care that much about, and how much this unnecessary preoccupation has twisted my appreciation of all the other aspects of the hobby outside of the confines of the gaming table. It's not the tabletop I should have be concerned about, it's the shelf.
When I first came across INQ282 the draw of the models was pretty immediate. The conversion work and paint jobs people had lavished on their creations was something that really clicked with me, and should have been a signal that I was going the wrong way with my hobby. My appreciation of INQ28 has never been about the game. The game is ancillary. It's been about the miniatures, the art, the character, the story. Instead of pursuing these things myself I was instead focused on the gaming aspect of the hobby, trying to justify my collection with the practical application of gaming with it. As this wasn't happening I spent my energies picking up different systems, jumping on Kickstarter bandwagons, buying multiple crews for Malifaux, and generally perpetuating my long standing hobby sin of swapping between armies and projects. All under the illusion that I'd soon be pushing plastic across the tabletop. What should have been far more obvious far sooner was that I don't really want an army3 (at least not primarily) what I actually want is a shelf full of interesting models. I don't need to play to justify my collection. I don't need to justify anything. I just need to let the models I make speak for themselves.
Games Workshop's approach to designing special characters is to create them as a distillation of the key features of the specific army/race they belong to. Hence Ragnar Blackmane is the most space wolfy of Space Wolves, Vlad von Carstein is the fantasy personification of a vampire etc. This is often tweaked, or taken to ridiculous extremes, but the point holds. They are intended as archetypes. The race should be surmised in the special character section of the Codex/Army Book. This is what I should have been aiming for in my own collection. Not a force that is trying to hit a certain points value or model count for the tabletop, but instead models that represent the purest vision I can convey about what a given army, race, unit, or character says to me.
It's about story and art. Sometimes that's going to be captured in a single model, or a unit, or a warband. It's about depth. Sometimes it's just going to be about what looks cool. It's about the in-universe narratives that draw me in; either sticking religiously to the canon or bending it as I see fit. It's about models with a narrative.
I'm not blind to the irony in Age of Sigmar being the cause of this epiphany, seeing what scant information is know about the new background, and how little art has been seen. I picked up the rulebook in my initial flush of hobby enthusiasm, and it is clear that some races have been left out in the cold. The Empire, Bretonnian and Dwarves have received very little, if any page time, with no indications as to any new aesthetic. This leaves me very wary of anything to do with them until more is revealed. I have a couple of ideas that are set upon firm enough ground that I can push them forward without new releases and revelations ruining my plans, but beyond this Age of Sigmar is going to be taking a back seat to my first love.
The grim darkness of the far future will always be where my heart really lies, and my new perspective on the hobby opens up huge possibilities for me to pursue this. Warhammer 40,000 (and the Horus Heresy) offers up an astonishing breadth of background and modelling to get lost in. The most obvious avenue would be getting a retinue together for INQ28, but I want to chase some other ideas first (as well as build up the bits box).
So that's where I'm at for the moment. I've got a few ideas about what I'm going to do next, but nothing concrete. All I can say for certain is that I expect the blog to be very different from what has gone before. Daily posting is certainly not going to be making a comeback, but beyond that I'm not sure what sort of routine I'm going to fall into. Certainly the content of the posts themselves will be different. The current plan is for the next one to be a deep dive into the Age of Sigmar release and it's implications. After that, all bets are off.
I've gone on far too long already. Until next time...
1 According to this post on Faeit 212 "Only about 20% of Games Workshop’s customers are gamers"↩
2 I am using INQ28 as an example here, but feel free to substitute in Mordheim (especially the gangs presented with the original rules), Necromunda, the original Inquistor, Gorkamorka, Malfiaux, Infinity, and on and on.↩
3 This is not entirely true. I don't want an army that is only there to game with. If an army is the way the other factors lead, then that's the way I'll go, it's just that having acquire an army" as a first step of collecting for me is going to be continuing a bad cycle. ↩