Dear fluffbunny hobbyist 40k enthusiast,
I was once like you. I didn’t care about competitive 40k, even thought it was stupid. I cared about toy soldiers. The hobby was the reason for the hobby, I was in it for building and painting little men, the game came second or third.
I spent most of my senior year in high school painting gang tattoos on Necromunda figures. I’m not actually that old, I had to snipe them off eBay. GW was in the process of abandoning it’s specialist games range when I got into the hobby. (Remember when GW forgot that they make tons of money on boxed games, and specialist games was a thing, then it wasn’t, then it was again?)
I have a rock and roll orc and Goblin army that actually has David Bowie, Alice Cooper, and the album cover of Dio’s Holy Diver lovingly painted on the banners.
I made custom voodoo skull fury counters for my Hordes Blindwater Congregation army.
I was pretty much one of the most hardcore hobby-first hobbyists you could ever meet. I was the guy that didn’t put models on the table unless they were painted. I was the guy who said “It doesn’t count as finished unless it’s painted AND based.” (And it still doesn’t! Base your miniatures, you Heretics!)
But then something happened to me that really murdered my enjoyment of the game.
One day, after lining up my models to get completely blown off the table by some punk kid with primer-coated models that he was never going to finish painting before his voice cracked and he became a man, I got mad. I didn’t get mad at the kid of course, because I’m a former kindergarten teacher and kids don’t bother me. I got mad at me.
I got mad at me because I cared more about my toys and my hobby than anyone. I know that’s a crappy, narcissistic, selfish thing to say and it makes me sound like a complete tool, but I know you’ve had that feeling. There’s no feeling in the hobby worse than putting down the best looking army in the shop that has the most heart and soul put into it, and watching it get blown out and tabled by a bunch of punks from the black primer chapter and their trackless, gunless, barely glued together land raider that looks like it got stripped for parts after being parked in a bad neighborhood overnight.
So what do you do when that happens?
Do you just say, “Screw competitive players. They ruin the game.”
Competitive players make the game GREAT. It’s the competitive players that figure out all the stupid crap like re-rolling 2++ saves, infinite demon summon builds, and all the dumb WAAC gimmick lists, and then they talk to tournament organizers and figure out ways to BAN THAT SICK FILTH so that people can actually have fun playing 40k. Competitive 40k keeps the game alive and -mostly- fair, even when GW didn’t.
I’ll tell you a secret about competitive players- They almost never compete, especially in the most competitive environments. Competitive players go to the Las Vegas Open, get completely shitfaced, barely finish their games, and then go sit down on a stool in the casino and pump change into the nickel slots to get free drinks from the cocktail waitresses. Ask anyone who’s been to the LVO, and they’ll probably tell you that there’s gonna be dead soldiers under the top tables, and I don’t mean Space Marines, I mean tequila bottles.
The problem was never the competitive player, friends. The problem was me. The truth was that I didn’t care about the game enough to play it right, and so when I did play it, my gorgeous army that I worked so hard on got it’s ass kicked.
Ready for a fun story? It’s really quick.
Do you just say, “Screw competitive players. They ruin the game.”
Like a lot of gamer geeks, I used to have trouble talking to girls. What a freakin stereotype right? “40k nerd that writes crappy articles on Spikey Bits can’t talk to girls! Writes whiny editorials about Chaos Space Marines getting shafted again instead.”
Well, one day I decided I was going to try. I read some best selling dating advice books, specifically ones written by women for women, to see how they thought, and then I got a job working for a porn producer.
All of a sudden, I was sitting in a suite in the Doubletree, browsing model profiles on a laptop, writing recruitment ads and calling up a hundred hot girls a day asking them to take their clothes off for money.
The scariest part was that I got pretty good at it. I had chicks crashing at my place on their way to their shoots, cooking me breakfast. I stopped being worried about how to talk to girls really fast. Not bad for a whiny Chaos Marine player. I was doing things that made Slaanesh proud.
Learning 40k is the same thing. I just had to try. I got bored of sucking at it and watching my pretty toy soldiers die, so I started giving a crap about winning the game.
Then I started winning.
Then my buddies at the shop started asking me for list building advice, because I was apparently good at the game.
Big Life Secret- I wasn’t that good at the game. The guy who taught me how to play 40k, I mean the guy who -really- knew his shit, he can still table my ass 7 days a week, no problem. But it was the same story as the girl problem- I just decided I wanted to be good at it, so I made an effort and jumped in way over my head into a weird place where I’d have to talk to tons of hot girls. The truth is, 10% of the effort beats 90% of the people that show up. If you’re trying at all, you’re beating everyone that’s not trying by default.
And those guys at the shop that -you think- are competitive players? They’re not that competitive. You’ll smoke them if you just care enough to try.
But how do you actually learn to play 40k, and I don’t just mean know how to roll 3s to shoot bolters, I mean really play the game and get to a level where you can win, or at least put up the kind of fight your little plastic men would be proud of? I’ll show you. Follow these simple rules.
NO ASYMMETRICAL GAMES
Sometimes people ask you to play in something like a 3 way free for all. Don’t do it. The table doesn’t divide up that way, the rules are designed to fight one opponent against the other, and the whole thing is a forgone conclusion- One player will manage to just jump in and finish off the other two after they waste all their effort killing each other, or the game will be so massively slowed down that they’ll never actually finish the game in the first place. To get good at the game, first you actually have to finish a game.
NO HAPPY FAMILY MEAT GRINDERS
This is the other big offender. Lots of new players make the mistake of thinking they don’t have enough toys to play the game, so they team up and do stuff like 2v2s. They cram all their models on one of those rinky-dink 6 foot GW realm of battle tables, and then they get to turn 3 if they’re lucky. Again, it’s important for you to not set yourself up for failure, both in terms of time management and logistics. Setting up battles like this is actually a party foul at the LGS, because it monopolizes table space for a way longer time than a normal game would take, which takes away opportunities for other patrons to get their Saturday afternoon pickup games in. The weirdest thing about cram-table battles is that the worst offenders always seem to be new Eldar and tau players- Armies that need space to breathe for their fire-and-maneuver tactics. You’re never actually going to learn to play the game if you continually set yourself up for failure, especially if you own an army that needs to hit reverse every once in awhile to win.
PLAY THE SCENARIOS IN THE BOOK
This is a big one. Back in the bad old days when I started, the scenarios were crap. In the opinion of a lot of TO’s and competitive players, we didn’t actually have decent scenarios in the back of the rulebook until around sixth edition, and then we were all flabbergasted that we could actually play the game competitively straight out of the rulebook. It took more than 25 years of 40k for us to get that far. Don’t waste it! A noob mistake is just being lazy, setting up your toys, and when your opponent asks what the mission is, just saying, “uh… Killpoints!”
The problem with NOT playing scenarios is that the game is full of unstoppable forces and immovable objects. There are units and list builds in the game that can bank on being unkillable, and if you just set up under the false pretense that your armies equal, (they never are) you will set yourself up for failure. You need to learn the mission parameters and alternate win conditions of tactical objectives, and learn to play the game, not the opponent, because sometimes playing the opponent won’t be an option. There are going to be times where it’s mathematically impossible for you to kill everything your opponent puts on the table in 6 turns, and there are list builds that rely on that. That’s why it’s important to take time to hash out the pre-game details, and have the competence and ability to actually play the game to it’s conclusion without just letting your opponent shove your face into a belt sander for no objectives.
THE GOLDEN RULE
It’s not have fun. It’s NEVER have fun. This is a “competitive 40k editorial” DO YOU THINK THIS IS A GAME?
The Golden Rule is that you must respect time management, and be effective at it. You must not only respect your opponent’s time, but you must respect your own time. Politely refuse to be involved in games which will provide no learning experience, or that you think won’t have time to finish. Don’t be a table hog and set up games that won’t go anywhere while other hobbyists in your gaming area are waiting to play. To be good at the game, and win it, you must first be able to set up a game properly and finish it. You must understand that while certain easier and more social game environments (The throw all my toys on the table and just kill each other game) might be fun, it isn’t actually productive or conducive to your enjoyment of the hobby or your proficiency as a general of tiny plastic men.
A long time ago, in the seventies, there was this guy who really knew everything about race cars. If you’re from the South or the Midwest, you’ve probably heard of him- His name was Roger Penske. He’s a Nascar legend. Back in the seventies, most cars in a Nascar race didn’t actually survive a race. Most teams blew their engines before they could finish. So when Penske built an engine, he built it along the idea that you couldn’t win the race if you didn’t finish it. It didn’t matter if you had the fastest car in the Daytona 500 if it blew a piston on lap 497. That’s the attitude you have to have when you’re learning 40k- You have to set yourself up to finish your game consistently. It’s 40% time management and 60% saying no to invitations to play the game in a way that doesn’t work.
At my old LGS, there was a really nice guy named Chris. He was the best painter in the shop, and he always asked me for advice. We hung out in one of those armpit minimum square footage shoebox GWs with two tables and one manager, and he asked me one day, “Why do you know so much about the game?”
This is what I told him.
“Chris, I don’t know more than anyone. I read the codexes and the blogs like everyone else, and I listen to the people that I think are better than me at the game, like anyone else. The difference between you and me is that I don’t agree to play games that won’t go anywhere. Every Saturday, you and your buddies come in, and you cram all your models onto that cramped little Realm of Battle table that only has 2 flat tiles on the whole damn thing, and you guys get as far as turn two by the time the shop closes. You come in here for five hours every weekend, but you only actually play 45 minutes of 40k. You gotta organize yourself, man.”
Thankfully, Chris took my advice to heart. He didn’t call me an asshole. I am an asshole, so I don’t know why he didn’t say it, but once he cracked open his rulebook and started picking his games and started setting his table correctly, a magical thing happened- He started getting a feel for the game, and then he started winning. He didn’t just win his Saturday pick-up games, he won the community shop events to, and he became a 40k unicorn- The guy who had the best painted models in the shop was also one of the better players in the shop. That never happens.
All it took was a willingness to step back, analyze, and most importantly, respect time management and the learning process. He even got a smoking hot girlfriend that I hooked him up with through my porn connection.
Just kidding. The last part didn’t happen. Most of the pornstars I talk to lately aren’t the kind you are thinking of, and Chris hadn’t finished his Tau army yet.