The Games I Love(d): Warhammer 40,000

Hi everyone!  I'm starting up a new column here on the blog, featuring the games that I feel really impacted my life and the story behind how I discovered them.  I'm starting with the game that introduced me to tabletop wargaming; Warhammer 40k!  I also wanted to say thank you to everyone who gave me such strong feedback on the last piece about spoilers for netrunner - it was really fantastic to see so many people read the piece and were moved to comment, either via reddit or on the blog post.  Thanks again everyone, I hope you all keep reading!

I was a junior at George Streeet Junior High School in Fredericton, New Brunswick in the year 1996, and my friends and I walked into the small comic shop nestled in a hole in the wall of an upstairs storefront, right beside the vinyl shop. Strange Adventures and I have a complicated history - it was the comic shop of my childhood, but things like that aren't always so simple, are they?

Morgan and Dave had just started playing Warhammer 40,000 in the winter of 1995 and I wanted to fit in so I got my savings out from under my bed (or bank account or piggy bank) and purchased a box set of Eldar Guardians for what at the time seemed like a perfectly reasonable $30 for 10 multi-piece plastic figures. In hindsight, that was just preparation for the obscene prices GW would ultimately begin charging not two years later.

I had ten guardians and I used some proxies to fill out a 500 point army list for 2nd edition Warhammer 40,000. I played my first game in Morgan's basement at his big gaming table his dad had set up for us. He had houses and hedgerows and trees and grass for us to fight our imaginary battles on! It was amazing, and a true testament to how valuable it can be to have parents with whom you can share interests.

I don't remember much about that first game, I'm confident I lost, but I think the rush of moving my troops across the battlefield to make war with Morgan's Space Marines had me hooked. I immediately told my father that this was my hobby - I was a "Mini Wargamer" from that point for the foreseeable future.

I still kept my other hobbies, too; I was a playtester and accomplished player for Middle Earth: The Wizards by Iron Crown Enterprises, I had been playing Magic for about two years at that point and I played video games religiously like any nerdy 13 year old did. But Warhammer (Fantasy and 40K) were the thing that were missing from my life. Seeing the soldiers advancing, anticipating my opponent's movements and countering with a decisive strike of my own was my panacea. I had found where I belonged.

Dave and Morgan and I (along with some other friends) bonded over the wargames and I felt as though I had found my forever group of friends - fate and the future might conspire to separate us, but Warhammer and a love of wargaming would keep us together. My dad and step mom decided late that year that we were going to leave the housing co-op and head deeper into the subdivision where they rented a house for a year before they found a house they liked outside the city.

That year when we lived in Southwood Park was pretty great, I was closer to Dave's place, and still within walking distance to Morgan, we started playing D&D in that year, and had more sleepovers watching Transformers and listening to the Misfits than I can even remember. That year was also when I discovered that I have, and always would have, a weakness for my friends' sisters. Oh yeah, puberty was not kind to me... I was an average (if small) kid all the way to junior high... and then I was the shortest kid in my class for the rest of my youth. I took a lot of that to heart, and developed a bit of a Napoleon complex.

But that's not what this story is about. This story is about a torrid love affair with Warhammer 40K... I remember the day I was in my extra-credit class at Fredericton High and I brought my brand new Eldar Falcon in to paint. I had assembled it at home and spray primed it so all I needed to do was paint it. I was so proud of it, and I thought I had come up with a really fun off-white and purple colour scheme for my army!

Did you know that kids are mean? And that when a short, nerdy kid brings his nerdy space ship into class and paints it purple that the rest of the class will take it on themselves to make their life a living hell? I found that out about ten minutes after class begun.

My own fault, really, I was proud of my hobbies, and didn't know that it was something to be ashamed of. My whole life I was raised around nerds and around nerdy games. Nobody in my immediate circle was a jock, nor did I have any preppies around to show me that I was the weird one. I got smartened up then, and spent the better part of the next three years hiding that part of myself from new people.

It wasn't until we moved and I met some more like-minded nerds that I was finally able to let it out again. Warhammer had just come back into my life around the same time - my dad had been elected as an elder in our church and he proposed that the church make space available to wargamers in order to give them a safe space to play their games without fear of retribution. That's right, we played Warhammer at church!

My family moved out of the city in 2000 into a subdivision in a small town about fifteen minutes along an old highway away from my childhood friends. This led to a bit of an alienation with those friends that I had cherished for so long - they had always been a year ahead of me, so by the time I was a senior at FHS, they were all gone from the school, and I didn't have proximity to really keep me involved in their lives. This was also before Facebook, so keeping up with old friends wasn't as easy as it is now, and for someone with horrendous trust and social anxiety issues, I just wasn't able to put in the work needed to stay close after that.

The thing was, I'm very outgoing and I make new friends very easily (even they often wind up being very temporary friendships due to my inability to really trust them long-term); so I wound up in a new group of friends nearly right away. Greg, Josh, and Mark were the core of that group, and we played Warhammer on Josh's living room floor along with games of Necromunda, GorkaMorka and a new game of my creation - Waaaaugh-opoly (a fun hybrid of monopoly and gokra-morka). My passion remained 40K; however, I was beginning to branch out a bit even then with new games coming out at the end of the 90s such as Raw Deal, Legend of the Five Rings, and even Overpower!

I bounced back and forth among armies in Fantasy (Bretonnians, then High Elves, then Skaven with short stops at Dark Elves and Vampires somewhere in the middle there), but in 40K I was always an Eldar player. It wouldn't be until much later on in my life that I would start experimenting with different armies - and truth be told, it was that experimenting with new armies that ultimately made me stop playing the game. Well, that and Apocalypse.

I had a very good collection of Eldar, thanks principally to my father's deft hand at trading games and components back and forth with folks on the internet website Bartertown.org. My dad was a miniature Jedi, and he could turn just about any spare model into a half dozen pieces for each of us to use in our armies. Unfortunately for me, that was also around the same time I started getting really hardcore into competitive Magic: The Gathering.

If anyone tries to tell you that Warhammer is an expensive hobby, you just lead them straight to www.starcitygames.com and laugh in their face. Magic was taking up more and more of my time and resources, travelling to play in Pro Tour Qualifiers, keeping up with the ever accelerating rate of new releases, and dealing with the sudden surge in popularity in the game that started in 2005.

This ultimately led to a pattern of dimishing returns in my Warhammer games. I had to focus so sharply on Magic in order to remain competitive that I couldn't really play as much of my other games. Ultimately, this led to me selling my Eldar (and High Elves, and Skaven, eventually) to my father in order to reinvest that in Magic.

I still kept playing, because for a long time, the game still was very fun! I never played in tournaments (which is an oddity for me, I'm a very competitive person in general), but this is principally because I never felt I would be able to compete. I was a good kitchen table player, but I never had the confidence to go up against more well-prepared foes.

I think my last game of Warhammer 40K was in 2012 - though I played less and less as editions wore on. The game began evolving into something I couldn't keep up with very quickly after fourth edition. I never learned the rules to flyers, I never really paid attention to the unbound rules or the ally wheel, and I haven't even paid attention whatsoever to the balance-cesspool that is the current edition.

I still have a very deep fondness for Warhammer 40k in my heart; the nostalgia is very real. Over the years since I have stopped playing, I've still kept in touch with the news related to GW, and Warhammer 40k specifically. Hearing about the balance problems in the past couple of editions (principally related to fliers), the debacle that was the finecast experiment, as well as the unrelenting annual price increases have all led me to be happy that I gave the hobby up a few years back.

That said, I still definitely get the itch every once in a while - sometimes you just can't beat pushing toy soldiers across a green flocked battlefield. I've been tempted to buy back in numerous times just as recently as last year, but my friends keep my head on my shoulders and convince me I would be making a huge mistake.

If I were to rejoin the Mini Wargaming cult again, I think that I would be forced to get into the Warma/hordes collective, one of my best friends is one of the leaders in the community in our region, and he's been trying to convert me for the better part of three years already.

I haven't made the jump yet - running a website takes a lot of time that might be used for casual gaming; and Warmachine isn't casual gaming. That shit is hardcore.

I hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane as I recalled some of the most fun times I can remember playing Warhammer 40k - this was the game that introduced me to the depth of nerd culture; without Warhammer I might not have discovered Silent Death, and I might not have grown confident enough to dive headfirst into the black hole of Magic.

Until next time, always be gaming!

Matt