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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How I Got Hooked on Warhammer and Why I'm Glad Island of Blood Wasn't Out Then Part 1

My copy of Island of Blood just arrived, and as I expected, it is chock full of sweet sweet miniatures and has a rulebook that is actually functional.  This is a welcome departure from the 9,000 page monstrosity that I have been using.  Be that as it may, something doesn't sit right for me, and maybe never has.  How do you prevent a novice player from being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the hobby and rules aspects of the set and game in general?

Rewind a few years- we're taking the way back machine all the way to 1992!  Lauby had already introduced me to Battletech, the year prior, and most of my friends were becoming pretty well versed in the game.  Even if we were lacking the the strategy department, we had a pretty good grasp on the rules system.  I had also been playing, and if memory serves, was about to stop playing Magic (which I would, much like Warhammer, resume some 14 years later, pissed that I had sold my shit).  So, to some extent when I picked up my first copy of the Warhammer Fantasy Battle 4th edition, I was pretty comfortable with wargamming rules.  Reading the rules leaflet in full, since GW didn't provide any type of quick start guide, wasn't really a problem for me, as I was already comfortable with the basic concepts, jargon, and abstractions necessary for gaming.  This is good because I was buying my stuff from a hobby shop that didn't have a clue what these games were.  They knew a lot about model planes and trains, but only seemed to carry the games because there was a small market for them.  These were not people who could help me learn to play.

On the hobby side of things, I'd been building model planes and tanks with my dad for quite a while, him being a model railroad enthusiast for 30+ years at that point, with 2 basement sized layouts of N-scale and Lionel trains.  For me, the transition to assembling wargames minis was pretty easy.  When I got the 4th edition goblins and High Elves home, I new how to trim them, assemble them, and prime them.  They didn't give me any real problems, other than repeatedly impaling my knuckles on goblin spear points while moving units around.  My dad was even a great resource for terrain building (something a lot of advanced players still suck dick at).  Having been featured in N-scale and Model Railroad magazine several times for his layouts, he was always a good source of information for scratch building terrain.  Granted, I've had to unlearn some techniques that work for railroad, but not for gaming (such as using plaster of Paris over Styrofoam for hills), but I at least had a resource for the basics.  At that time very few people had use of the Internet and there would have been very little, if any, information available to help me out.  White Dwarf would publish the occasional article and a few years later GW would publish a terrain building book that I still reference today.  Other than that, getting expensive modeling books were the only recourse for the hobby enthusiast.

Painting those models was another thing entirely for me.  Here, I had little help.  My dad's techniques barely applied to minis, WD's articles were useless, and my best friend Lauby could paint me under the table, but couldn't fully articulate what he was doing differently.  I would later come to understand that shading and highlighting were missing from my life- along with a truckload of other techniques both basic and advanced.  Again without the help of the Internet and with no books of note published on the subject, I was fucked.  Years later, I feel like I'm finally becoming a competent painter, but only after painful hours of practice and more reading on the subject than I'm comfortable admitting. 

That covers the subject of how I got my start in Warhammer in fairly exhaustive detail.  I have always counted myself lucky that I had a number of good resources back then to help me out, from friends to family, because god knows stores and GW weren't doing us any favors.  I can't even imagine how awful it must have been for other people, not in my situation, to start out.  If you've never put together a model, assembly of miniatures would be a pain in the ass.  Without friends and family to help you out, there were almost no resources available to teach you painting, modeling, terrain making, or even how to get started with the rules.  It was dark days for the gamer back then. 

Next time I'll discuss how things have changed mostly for the better, but GW still seems to hold their customers in contempt.  Stay tuned for part 2, where I will unleash a very difficult to explain animosity that I have towards the IoB boxed set. 

Until then, how did you guys get into the hobby?  Did you have a mentor?  Are you all way younger than me?


Rkik said...

My entry into wargaming was a little odd. When I was in 5th or 6th grade (this would have been in 92-93) my grandmother bought me some random Warhammer figures from a local hobby shop (like yours it dealt mostly in model trains and cars). I also got a copy of the GW catalog. She did this so I would have something to do while I was at her house, and since she was a bit of an artist. I started painting these just for fun, and never really collected anything specific. I did end up with a small collection of models, and I would always eye the starter sets and the big monsters, but with a $5/week allowance, and knowing no one else that played, I just wasn't going to get them. Once I got into high school and getting more into CCGs, I basically quit painting altogether and kind of forgot about it.

Fast forward then to 2005. I graduated college, got a job, got married, etc. That summer the place I worked at hired a co-op that I became good friends with due to our mutual interest in Magic: The Gathering. At one point, after he had been hired on full time, I was over at his apartment and noticed that he had a Space Marine dreadnought sitting on his shelf. Of course I asked about this, and he informed me that he had the Battle for Maccrage set, but really hadn't ever played. This set the ball rolling. A few weekends later we played through the intro missions and started learning the rules. We then graduated up to playing small 500 point games. Since we didn't know anyone else that played it kind of stagnated there.

Shortly after 5th came out, though, I got word that one of my favorite game stores in the nearest city was going to start carrying GW stuff and even start hosting tournaments and leagues. This really took off, and now we play fairly often. We've each collected at least two armies (I'm on my third) and we've branched out into other miniatures games as well. There are still only a few of us that play locally, but it's a great group of guys. It really has been quite the journey from that first mini than my grandma bought me nearly 20 years ago.

Alex said...

I started with Battletech in the 6th grade and gave up as most games quickly turned into rules debates/shouting matches, because none of my friends really knew the rules well enough to play. Then I started WFB a few years later in '98 when I was 14. From there on out there was less arguments since I had the wherewithal to understand the rules by then. At the time GW hadn't set up shop in So-Cal and the local game store looked more like a shabby garage than a retail establishment, so resources were limited. Hell, the store wasn't even that local - getting a ride from my parents usually involved bargaining a few extra household chores.

My history with painting probably deserves its own article (the tone of which being contingent upon how badly I get stomped at the painting comp my local GW is holding this weekend). I loathed the lack of any useful painting information back then. GW seemed to even treat the concept of dry-brushing like is was a fucking state-secret.

And I'm almost 27, but it is kinda weird when I meet people younger than me who started playing in the later editions of Warhammer.

Hoagy said...

You already know my history (if you don't, look it up under 'a little bit about me'). But I wanted to mention a key point in my learning curve regarding painting. It must be a US thing (referencing the attitude toward US GW customers) because I found the team at the old Coventry GW shop to be an awesome bunch. I will admit that this is also where my love for Ozric Tentacles comes from, but thats another story. See, things have changes drastically in the last 15/20 years in the GW hobby. I would be found with my buddies on a Thursday night in Coventry Arcade painting up some minis under the watchful eye of Richard Gunson, who was one of my mentors in the painting department. Back then, Bolt Thrower was playing on the stereo, and there was an overall feeling of camaraderie. Also, they didn't have that overly annoying 'aggressive sell' attitude that permeates it today. I made a lot of friends from going there, and learned techniques I still use to this day. I also have to admit that the Golden Demon 92 annual had a sweet hobby section which taught me a lot about shading. Although I remember the red on the blood angel was fucking hard to replicate...

thats my little story for ya.

Lauby said...

Battletech was out gateway drug, wasn't it? Not exactly sure how we got started on GW stuff, but I think it involved my purchase of the 2nd edition 40k box and then your follow up purchase of the fantasy box - which we actually played.

I do remember exactly how I got into battletech - it was the novels. Wolf's Dragoons was the name of the first one my Mom picked up for me. There were these handy adds for the game in the back. The rest is history.

Sorrowshard said...

Great article mate

Got me all misty eyed.


VT2 said...

Mid 90's, with dark elves in fantasy. It was horrible, only getting worse the more rules we learned.
Then 98 hit, got into 3rd edition 40,000, and things were much better.

My nurgle chaos marines remain the one and only fully painte army I own. Doubt that's gonna change.