Starting from Scratch

I threw the topic of this post open to the community on Twitter and amongst the suggestions were three very worthy topics;

Advice on starting a new army

Fluff armies vs Wanky armies

Painted armies vs Unpainted armies

The more I thought about it the more I realised that all three were inexorably linked together as usually one will beget the others.

So here’s my thoughts on collecting an army be it your first time with a new system or you’re a seasoned gamer and just want a new challenge.

Step 1 – Choosing an Army

This seems a tad obvious but over the years I have seen more than a few gamers start collecting something because;

A) Their mates collect them

B) They’re the models that came in the boxset

C) That’s the army the guy in the shop told them to collect

There are no doubt dozens of other reasons but those are the three I’ve heard the most over my 23 years of gaming. All I can say is ignore everyone but what your guy tells you. The best piece of advice I can give you is choose the army that excites you. This has to be  both the models and, to a degree, the background.

So many people underestimate the fluff at this embryonic stage of collecting a hobby. Understanding why we fight is crucial to you embracing the army as well as understanding why units are or are not available. It doesn’t matter if you don’t buy into the fluff as much as I do or if you’re strictly a tournament gamer, I challenge anyone to get any real enjoyment out of a game purely by reading the core rules and the army list.

There has to be a degree of union between the models and the fluff. I love the Tyranid models but I just can’t get excited about being an army that wants to exterminate all life. The part of my inner child that wants to grow up to be a space marine or a Spartan just won’t allow it. And I’ve tried twice.

This principle, I swear, will serve you in good stead for whatever game you’re collecting. Certainly some games will have more fluff than others and so in those cases the decision will be more dictated by the models but that’s okay too. Take Firestorm Armada, for example. I love the Directorate models. I also love the Sorylians. There wasn’t a massive amount of fluff to go on so it was down to, when I really looked at them, which models do I like the most?

Now, at this point I have to acknowledge that the way a force plays has to be considered but I find that if you’re into the army and into the models you’ll quickly adapt how they work because you’ll want to play with them. There are, of course, exceptions, but generally speaking I’ve found this to be the case.

Step 2 – Read and Understand the Army & Army Lists

Again it seems pretty obvious but as mentioned it’s important to helping you understand not only how an army plays but the kind of army you want to collect. Understanding the army from a background point of view will really help you select the units that reflect that character, or facet of the character you like in the army, as well as what colour schemes you like and would be comfortable painting. Sometimes the character and colour scheme are linked – such as Space Marine chapters. Liking a background but not feeling comfortable painting the models is a tough decision but ultimately you have to focus on the end result and seek as much help as you can. Hobby stores, the community on Twitter, You Tube, hell even emailing me. There’s help out there.

I talked above about fluff armies vs wanky armies. Everyone knows a wanky gamer. They’re the ones who hang out in a hobby store, of any stripe, a little more than is healthy. They’re often unemployed. They almost always of dubious personal hygiene. And they all take a perverse delight in simultaneously tearing the hobby down and spending huge amounts of time and money trying to develop the wankiest, codex/army list breaking army possible.

A wanky army is the army you go up against in local gaming club tournements. It’s an entire army of Slave Rats with a few Plague Monks thrown in so you can infect your own forces and then charge them in. It’s taking 15 Land Raiders as dedicated Transports in a Blood Angels army. There are countless examples of wanky armies. But sadly far too common. As games develop and new rules and units come out to try to make games more cinematic it opens up rules to abuse. The wanky gamer is the person that does the abusing.

My problem with wanky armies isn’t the army, but the person using it because they’ve not cultivated the army to be strategically brilliant or because they love this the army. They seize upon the army because of a loop-hole. They take pleasure from crushing their opponent for the sake of doing so. Not to have a good game. Their pleasure is found in making their opponent feel crap. In an undeserving sense of superiority because they took the time to ruin what should have been a fun couple of hours for their opponent.

Some gamers play solely tournaments and that’s fine and are usually the other side to the fluff gamer. I can’t stand the bloody things personally. Far too competitive, the spirit of the game often doesn’t get an invite and it can be a breeding ground for wanky gamers but you know what? Each to their own. Tournament armies are very impressive if for no reason than the careful consideration that goes into them. Tournament gamers go to a huge amount of trouble to make sure their force/s are balanced and every tactical situation is covered. Which is real skill in its own right.

Sharing your hobby with a Tournament Gamer is extremely worthwhile because they will have an abundance of tactical knowledge to share. And equally you can get them psyched about the fluff which they can neglect in their mission to get the right force worked out. They will give you some valuable pointers about army selection and tactics. It’s a rare thing to find a Tournament Gamer who is just as passionate about the fluff. I’ve only met one and, aside from being a bit fanatical, was very enjoyable to talk to and it was very enlightening.

Fluff armies are the exact opposite of wankey armies. They are dogmatically themed around the background or a specific event in the background. Fluff Gamers deny themselves certain units and/or heavily overdose on others. This can often make them appear a little wanky in their own right but it comes with such significant handicaps that any beardyness is quickly outweighed by the staggering tactical disadvantages. Take the fluff-tastic Space Wolves army I briefly had.

Logan Grimnar

Arjac Rockfits with 7 Wolf Guard in Terminator Armour in a Land Raider Crusader

7 Wolf Guard in Terminator Armour in a Land Raider Crusader

1 Venerable Dreadnought

10 Wolf Guard in a Land Raider

10 Wolf Guard in power armour in a Rhino

10 Wolf Guard in power armour in a Rhino

10 Wolf Guard in power armour in a Rhino

That’s 3,000 of Logan Grimnar, Master of the Space Wolves, and his personal retinue. On the surface beardy in reality a do or die army that would lose just as often as it would win. Very thematic, very specialist, very expensive (in points and coin) and far too elite. It was a lot of points tied up in very few models and every loss was a significant impact on performance. But it was fun. Fun to collect, fun to build, fun to play and fun to play against. Most of the time.

Reading and understand the army you’re collecting is vital to not only making the right unit choices for the game but for you as a gamer. Don’t by a Land Raider because they’re cool. £40 is a lot of money to waste on a model that you hardly use. And I should know, I’ve had 11 over the years.

In reality gamers should try to find the middle ground between fluff and wankiness. Often the more bonkers rules are left in on purpose to counteract a heinous rule in another army list. Sometimes it’s just cool to do. Other times it’s a mistake but you’re well within your rights to exploit it. But whatever you choose for the army, the question should always be; ‘does this fit with the style and feel of my army?’ If you have to grudgingly admit; no, then you should leave it out. You may have to change how you play but that’s all part of the challenge.

Step 3 – Collect at a Steady Pace

This is the pot calling the kettle black because I am the worst for buying in bulk, undercoating and then not doing anything more than that. But that kinda gives me the right to say this. The one and only time I have ‘finished’ an army (because we all know they’re never really finished) was back when my Ultramarines was a meagre 3,000 points. And this was entirely down to the fact that I had very little free cash when I started collecting it so I had plenty of time to build and paint the units when I was able to buy them.

The other advantage is that as your force hits landmark point sizes and you start to game with them you can see what units work for you and which don’t. This allows you to tweak your army list and therefore purchase different units. Buying and building in bulk eliminates that choice altogether.

Plus, from a GW point of view, be wary of Battle Force and Battalion boxes. Yes they save you money but only if you actually wanted all of the contents to begin with. Otherwise you’ll spend the money you saved on buying the extra bits. And let’s be honest, we don’t do this hobby because it’s cheap so accept it’s going to cost you a fucking fortune and just buy what you want.

This brings me on to the third point. Painted vs unpainted. This is often a real point of contention between gamers. There are those that will only field painted armies. There are those that have no interest in painting at all and are quite happy pushing grey plastic and pewter around a board. And you know what? Both ways of thinking are absolutely fine. As long as they’re willing to play each other. Sadly that’s not always the case though. Often the ‘must paint everything’ hobbyist won’t play the ‘fuck off and let me play my game’ hobbyist. This is usually associated with the misplaced sense of entitlement we as gamers can develop over time. It’s the thinking of ‘I’ve gone to the effort of painting my army so they should too’. It’s a reasonable point but misguided and far too simplistic.

I like painting my models. I like gaming. I like writing games. I like writing campaign packs. I like writing this blog. I like spending time with my wife. I like spending time with friends and family. I like eating, going to the cinema, sitting in the garden on a sunny day with a cold beer, and walking to the river 10 minutes from my house and watching the sunset on the boats. Out of all of those things, and many more interests and obligations I have in my life, like working to pay for my plastic crack habit, there is, realistically only one of things that can be neglected that won’t directly impact on the others. And that, is, sadly, painting. I don’t need a painted army or fleet. It’s awesome to have a fully painted force and I get a real sense of achievement every time I finish a well painted unit but I rarely have the time.

But you know what? It’s fine. Don’t put pressure on yourself because it’s supposed to be fun, and busting your apple bag because some bell end at the local club is giving you a hard time about your tin army isn’t fun. It’s shit. So pace your army collection and make sure you only paint when you feel like it.

Step 4 – Enjoy Yourself

That’s really the point at the end of the day. You could have disagreed with half of this 2,000+ word rant but hopefully the important thing to take away is that however you like to collect your army that you enjoy doing it. Don’t let others push you into doing something or buying something that isn’t right for you. Avoid the members of the community that aren’t supportive or just want to make your hobbying a miserable, soul crushing defeat.

Love the toys, embrace the community and roll fist fulls of dice.

4 thoughts on “Starting from Scratch

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