It is said, “There is a fine line between a hobby and mental illness.” I’m having a hard time distinguishing here.

In case you can’t tell I’ve become a bit obsessed with Warhammer 40K lately. I spent a great deal of my vacation plus the better part of a couple of weekends (time a rough estimate only, perhaps a BIT conservative in an effort to make myself feel better) painting and assembling a bunch of plastic and metal miniatures, and using them to kill miniatures belonging to all my friends. It is the painting and modelling part of the hobby that I expected to completely loathe. Instead, I found myself completely mesmerized, enthralled even. There is something Zen about poring over these little figures and ending up with a finished product one can be at least semi-proud of.

My work in progress

As if that weren’t enough, the complexity of this game, the depth of strategy and tactics and unit interaction, along with the sheer volume of content has me completely hooked. I cannot get this game out of my head.

I’ll admit, I fought it for quite some time. Bloater kept hounding me to give it a try, but I resisted for months and months. Finally, I agreed to swap Bloater a Blood Bowl habit for a Warhammer 40K habit. Madboy and I pretty much fell at the same time–and it’s oh-so-important to have company as you descend into mental illness. 500 bucks later I have a pretty serviceable chaos demon army.

Because I am incapable of taking most things seriously, particularly the grimdark universe of WH40K, I had to create a little bit of a twist for my Army somehow. Since all of my dudes are essentially from Hell (known as “The Warp” in this universe) they look pretty ugly and grimdark as befits servants of the Ruinous Powers. They are pretty cool, but look just a LITTLE BIT too serious for my tastes. I have decided to keep them interesting in two ways:

  1. Bright colors
  2. Hats

So far, all my Nurgle guys are bright green, all my Khorne guys are bright red, and all my Tzeentch guys are various shades of pink. I don’t have any Slaanesh units yet but suggestions on a color scheme are very welcome. Blue, maybe?

I bought an out of print Great Unclean One and molded a little santa hat for him out of green stuff. I’ve since decided to name him Santa, because he’s so jolly. I’m sure that Papa Nurgle is all about the spirit of giving…DISEASES.

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I also bought an out of print WHFB Bloodthirster, already painted, but missing a forearm. Fortunately, I had just assembled a Soul Grinder using an ugly insect claw and had the bigass sword left over. With a little bit of green stuff work and the cannibalization of Soul Grinder leftovers, my Bloodthirster is now holding a ridiculous sword in his left arm to match the ridiculous battle axe in his right. Unistrut gave me the perfect idea for his name and his hat: Winston, Top Hat. And a monocle. This is currently in-progress.

So now we just can’t stop coming up with hilarious hats, which will be implemented if I can ever get really good at green stuff modeling. Sombreros for Tzeentch Elites, party hats and beer mugs for Khorne Bloodletters, propeller beanies for Tzeentch Heralds, baseball caps for Khorne Heralds, etc etc.

I mentioned the o-gauge convenience store building I recently purchased on a whim, and it has figured prominently in several recent battles, most recently getting torn down by a huge mob of Ork Boyz as they attempted to keep the two poor little Plaguebearers inside from contaminating all the ice cream.

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But enough about the aesthetics. I must gush briefly about the strategic depths, and deeper appeal.

The first level of appeal for me is definitely the wargame itself. It’s fast-moving enough (after a whole bunch of revisions) to get through a game in a couple hours, but it’s complicated enough to appeal to serious nerds like me. We have the joy of deciding on Line-of-Sight (LoS) by getting down to your model’s or weapon’s viewpoint, but not the PITA of targeting each individual model. The standard to-hit/to-wound/save damage mechanic is still intact, but gets applied gracefully even to large units with several different loadouts. And the rock-scissors-paper circles in this game are great.

Wait, let me back up. The Rules, as they exist within are current Warhammer group are as follows:

  1. Get stuck in
  2. Don’t be a pussy
  3. Stab the shooty ones, shoot the stabby ones

The latter was added recently since occasionally we forget to stab the shooty ones. And amusingly, the big piles of math around to-hit/to-wound/save result in some really interesting (and often shockingly reasonable) interactions. A Greater Daemon of Khorne does really well against a couple of Daemon Princes, but gets his ass kicked by a squad of Genestealers. Tanks are awesome against normal infantry, until they show up with grenades, melta bombs, or power fists/claws. Antitank weaponry (Lances, Lascannons, Bolt of Tzeentch, Tongue of Soul Grinder) works AWESOMELY against armored vehicles, but is largely ineffective against large mobs of troops. Monstrous Creatures are good at ripping vehicles apart. Vehicles that shoot exploding shells or fire are really good at wiping large numbers of troops out. And on and on and on…

So once you get through that, there’s an immense amount of information to digest. Not only should you know your own army inside and out, but it’s a really good idea to understand your opponent’s army to make effective decisions about how to deploy, what to attack with what, etc. I’ve been told to sack up and get ready to read. A lot. Each army has its own particular flavor, special rules, and unit mix, and it’s critical to understand your own. It’s almost like absorbing another entire rulebook.

The thing that really ties all of the above together is the fluff. I believe that miniatures wargaming touches a key neural structure in boys–that which was developed by playing with action figures. I used to play with all KINDS of action figures as a kid: Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Micronauts, just to name a few (Bonus points if you still own any Micronauts stuff). When interesting stuff starts happening on the tabletop battlefield, the desire, nay, the NEED to narrate it as it happens is overwhelming. And the shared experience of creating a war-narrative around the framework of this wargame is, to me, as interesting as that of playing pencil-and-paper role-playing games.

We’re really crazy about it. We’ve even taken to making up stories about WHY we’re actually fighting, ranging from “Oy! It’s Tuesday!” to “They Dug Too Deep” to “Battling over an Ice Cream Mining Colony”. Our desire for a coherent narrative is so vast that one player has developed an entire metagame, based loosely on GW’s Planetary Empires, just so we can have important persistent context around our battles.

Ye gods.

Yeah, I’m gonna have to say ‘Mental Illness’.