Monday, May 30, 2011

Warhammer 40,000 and The Sixth Circle of Nerdom

On Friday night I played my second game of Warhammer 40,000. This time we played a 1,000 point game as opposed to the 350 point game we played the first time (each individual figure has a point value; higher numbers mean more figures and/or more powerful figures). This time around Bryce didn't pull (too many) punches and gave himself what he called a "Godzilla" army of Tyranids (giant Xenomorph-like aliens that are very hard to kill). Of course he swept my Space Marines off the board, but I managed to take out 700 points of his army (not too bad for my second game). I would have done a lot better but I made a few serious tactical errors and I had a horrible run of dice throws at a crucial moment. However, the fact that I wasn't absolutely slaughtered was encouraging and I became even more committed to enhancing my nerd status.

Welcome to the Seventh Circle
There are, of course, several different levels of nerdom; like Dante's Inferno, you could probably divide it into seven circles. Playing role-playing games (RPGs) and games like 40K has to place one in at least the sixth circle (online versions don't count; it has to be live with cards, books, figures, and/or dice). I imagine the seventh circle is reserved for those who actually dress up as their favorite characters or wear costumes from their favorite franchises.

Anyway, having determined to fully enter the sixth circle, I went to the local gaming store on Saturday to check out their prices on 40K models, rulebooks, and painting supplies. The store was filled with several people playing various games, including two individuals who were enthusiastically involved in some sort of card- and dice-based fantasy game. The gaming store setting (which was as cluttered and musty smelling as you would expect) and the patrons' clothing, mannerisms, and banter proved two things to me: 1) that Big Bang Theory rarely exaggerates in its depiction of its characters and 2) that there exists at least one place in the world that can overwhelm even me with pure, unadulterated geekiness. I almost laughed when one player's cell phone rang. His ringtone? Duel of the Fates from Star Wars: Episode I.

Star Wars is well represented in the Seventh Circle

After determining that had better prices than the game store, I went to a nearby HobbyTown USA. While their selection of 40K models and books was minimal, their variety of paints, brushes, and other supplies was excellent. Once I get June's allowance (I've talked about our allowance system before) I'll probably buy the 40K starter set, complete with basic rulebook, dice, and a generous number of figures, on I can easily get the the paints and hobby supplies I need from HobbyTown. Unfortunately, it looks like the cost of getting into Warhammer 40,000 will initially be on par with that of collecting Lego Star Wars sets, although I expect it to taper off once I have the specialized rulebooks (a.k.a., codices) and a painted army or armies. I'll probably be enlarging my armies with special characters and vehicles over time, but the makers of 40K don't release new models at nearly the same rate that Lego does. Each addition or change to game pieces requires revision of the various codices, which would bring on the ire of the players.

This scene is roughly the same no matter where you go

Whenever I start to think that it's expensive to be a nerd these days, I remind myself that my more normal friends have motorcycles, over-sized trucks, and snowmobiles. I bet I could have a really awesome 40K army for the cost of a cheap motorcycle.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Warhammer 40,000

I really didn't need a new hobby. I really do collect enough things: superhero and Godzilla toys, Star Trek books, Star Wars books and comics, etc. And my computer is loaded with wallpapers, icons, and sound clips from more geeky franchises than is healthy.

Swords, battle axes, and hand cannons: it's The Future!

For the past six months or so, Bryce, the coworker who built my current computer has been trying to get me interested in the sci-fi tabletop game Warhammer 40,000 (a.k.a., 40K). Bryce has been playing the game for years, but has had a hard time finding someone else to play with. Last year he started very subtly by dropping hints about working on a "special Christmas present". Then, knowing that I'm an inveterate sci-fi fan, he started discussing the backstory of the game and of the various armies. This culminated in him lending me the specialized rulebook for the "Black Templars" Space Marine chapter. Along with descriptions of various playing pieces, the rulebook was filled with an elaborate history of the Black Templars. Finally, I agreed to play the game.

A Black Templar
[Model by Games Workshop]
40K originally started as an ornate tabletop strategy game in which players build and paint their own figures and assemble customized armies. The game doesn't have any sort of board; any tabletop will do. Movement and weapons range are limited only by distance, making the use of a tape measure necessary. Characters, vehicles, and weapons have certain point values that indicate accuracy and power, close-in fighting ability, armor strength, etc. The figures are all highly customizable by the player, meaning that no two armies will be exactly the same. During the game, players maneuver their armies into position. Once close enough to begin combat, dice are rolled repeatedly to determine whether one figure is able to shoot another, whether that hit actually damages the target figure, and whether or not the targeted figure is protected by its armor. The figures' point values are used to weight the results obtained with the dice (a relatively high Ballistics Skill value of four, for example, means that a roll of only three or higher on a six-sided die is needed to hit the target). This is a basic description of long-distance fighting; there are other rules for close-in fighting.

Yes, he's carrying a chainsaw that's used as a sword

Originally, I wasn't interested in playing the game. Despite the fact that I've been an irredeemable nerd for as long as I can remember, I've never been interested in complicated strategy games like 40K. I had never even played a role-playing game (RPG) until grad school when a fellow graduate student convinced me to participate in a Star Wars RPG (the three or four times we played were actually pretty fun). So, as I was driving to Bryce's house last Saturday, I was trying to come up with a good way to say that I didn't think that the game was for me, although 40K's backstory was interesting to me as a sci-fi fan and that I might read some of the 40K novels. When I arrived, he had prepared a small army of Raven Guard Space Marines and another of the Tau (an alien race). He patiently walked me through the rules and explained the tactics. Because of how he arranged the armies (and due to a few tactical "errors" on his part), I absolutely clobbered him. Before I left, he showed me the hundreds of game figures he's built over the years and generously gave me an unpainted Black Templar army.

Dreadnoughts are operated by severely wounded
Space Marines and serve as their life support system

Now I'm cursing my Bryce's name for introducing me to Warhammer 40,000. Not only did I enjoy the game, but I discovered on Saturday that 40K seemed to be designed for me. I loved building model airplanes when I was young; now I look forward to building and painting Warhammer 40,000 armies. And the way that the game replicates real aspects of combat strategy is very appealing since I've long been a military history enthusiast. Finally, the 40K universe seems to be aimed at a subset of geeks of which I am a part; it has a dystopian future in which humanity views its own technology with superstitious reverence and awe (similar to Asimov's Foundation series), a pseudo-medieval human society that has revived the Gothic style and which even outfits its elite warriors in suits of armor that resemble the most ornate varieties produced during the Dark Ages (despite their ancient appearance, the suits are actually power armor similar to that found in military sci-fi stories like Heinlein's Starship Troopers), an elaborate backstory that is on par with the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Space Marines who have a Klingon-like zeal for war and honor, a variety of alien and corrupted human adversaries, and even a host of demonic creatures inhabiting 40K's equivalent of hyperspace that would seem familiar to any fan of the early sci-fi horror of H.P. Lovecraft.

A Space Marine army and an Ork army
[Models by Games Workshop]

I really didn't mean to end up with a new obsession. But Bryce was really persuasive and the product he was pushing was very appealing...
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