Monday, May 24, 2010

Chess, StarCraft, and 40k

It's the background that gets you to play the game...but once the game starts, the background goes out the window.

To a degree, even Chess is like this. Chess has a hint of a politico-strategic element to it in the names of its pieces: King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook, Pawn, but the names of the pieces are only incidental to gameplay. They could be called Dog, Top Hat, Wheel Barrow, Race Car, Boot, and Iron, and it would still be the same game. But naming the game pieces after personalities (or fortifications), instills in the player the politico-strategic element to the game, and the players can better imagine it to be a battle of political heavyweights as the maneuverings of the pieces are analogues to maneuverings in a political environment.

At least until they start playing. When the game actually begins, the last thing a player is thinking about is "political machinations." They're thinking of things like the "English Opening", or the "Sicilian Defense", which describe certain opening moves. (I'm far from a chess expert--I just looked up some openings and picked two at random).

If a motivator to play the game is because it's an analogue to political maneuverings, it has been lost. The game has become divorced from its abstract background, and has fallen into a set pattern of opening moves, some of them so common that they've practically become scripted. These moves have been analyzed by expert players to death.

This perspective of the game is certainly not limited to Chess. I'm also a casual Real-Time Strategy game player, and a fan of StarCraft. Soon StarCraft II will be released, but in the meantime the beta is out. I recently got into the beta and have been playing a few games (and losing--clearly I need to get rid of the rust after ten years since I last played the original StarCraft). The StarCraft universe has a rich background, involving three races (Terran, Zerg, and Protoss), each striving for dominance. The game has a single-player mode that consists of multiple missions/games/scenarios in a story-driven campaign where you learn about the conflicting motivations of the three races and how they relate to each other (usually through violence).

But then, fully drawn in by the rich story, it then comes to an end, and the player, wanting a fresh experience, is left with one major outlet to play the game--the multiplayer mode. Nowadays StarCraft is all about the multiplayer mode. What was once an add-on for many games has now become their reason for being. But the multiplayer takes the rich background that hooked the players and tosses it out the window.

The rich background of the game allows the players to imagine Terran marines using their Gauss Rifles to fend off leaping Zerglings and Hydralisks while Siege Tanks support them with deadly artillery fire, and Protoss Zealots wielding their Psionic Blades and raging over the loss of their homeplanet of Aiur to plunge into close combat for revenge.

At least until they start playing. When the game actually begins, the last thing a player is thinking about is Gauss Rifles and Psionic Blades. They're thinking of things like "Marauder Builds", "Muta-ling Builds", "Reaper Rush", splash damage, micro and macro. (the terms micromanagement and macromanagement taking too long to say for such a fast-paced game as StarCraft.) The gamer terminology has overtaken the background to such a degree that players even refer to units with special powers and/or abilities as "casting spells," despite spells usually being associated with science fantasy rather than science fiction. Races in the background story who are the most vicious of enemies, e.g. Protoss and Zerg, are now allies as often as not in the multiplayer environment.

The background as a motivator to draw interest into the game has served its purpose, which can now be ignored. The game has become divorced from its background and has fallen into a pattern of strategies, based not on the background of the game, but rather the damage models used by the game, and the tactics players use to get the most out of the various units. These tactics have been analyzed by expert players to death.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Warhammer 40k is a game with an extremely rich background. Background text is all over the rulebooks, codices, etc. The art in the rulebooks inspires us to imagine the 40k Universe. Black Library publishes novel after novel of what could be argued is just "fluff" for the game (but just as arguably it exists in its own right these days).

But all of this just serves to get us to play the game. (I'd argue that the whole hobby aspect of painting miniatures is an offshoot of the origin of 40k as a game rather than the other way around, as the company is Games Workshop, not Hobbies Workshop, but that's a discussion for another day) Once the game actually starts, who among us bothers to truly think in terms of what is happening from a "background" perspective? We don't really imagine the Space Marines plowing into melee and beating on orks with their chainswords. We think about getting the +1 attack on the charge, re-rolls to wound, winning the combat resolution. We make "Leafblower" army lists, focus on our ability to kill MEQ, and are desperate about getting on troops choices the on objective markers in Turn 5. At tournaments the majority of games are marines vs. marines.

The amazing background of the 40k universe has served its purpose--to get us to play the game. It's rich enough that when we're not playing the game, we still manage to obsess about it, and so much of it would live on even if 40k the game ceased to exist. But while we are playing the game...where does it all go?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Inspired by Art

Every so often I see a picture in a Codex or White Dwarf and I think, "That's really cool. I want a model that looks like that," and I feel inspired to try to duplicate it.

This first one is of a Tau Commander, the art coming from the original Codex Tau (I believe the same picture is in the current Codex: Tau Empire as well. It required a minimum of converting--I just had to trim off the lower legs at the knee joint and reattach them to make them bend more.

I always thought that this picture of Commander Farsight looked pretty cool, so I felt inspired to duplicate it. This one also required a minimum of conversion, I think it was just bending the knee a bit like with the Tau Commander.

Next is an assault sergeant from the new Blood Angels Codex--I thought that the Blood Angels marine with the pair of Lightning Claws looked particularly cool. This one required some more converting. I used one Lightning Claw from the Space Wolves Grey Hunters set (generously donated by Badelaire), while the other is from the Space Marine Commander's box set. I had to chop them off at the elbows and rotate them to get the angles right.  To match the breastplate, I used a normal tactical marine breastplate and filed off the skull, replacing it with a blood drop from the Death Company sprue.  The pauldrons (er...shoulder pads) are from the Death Company sprue and the Sanguinary Guard sprues.  For the legs I hacked off the right leg at the hip, and replaced it with another assault marine right leg (so now both legs are the ones from the assault marine sprue that are more bent at the knee).  I'm still working on the conversion (I have to greenstuff some power cables), so this is still a work in progress.

This last one is a model that Badelaire did, based on the picture of a particularly mean looking nob in Codex Orks. The arms and lower legs are from the Warhammer Fantasy Black Orcs sprue, while the choppa is converted using normal Ork Boyz bitz. The rest of the bitz are standard ork nobz bits.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Take no Prisoners!

The 40k Universe is a dangerous place.

In the real world, last stands happen in wars, but are generally uncommon (at least in modern times). Far more common is that once a side realizes it's been beaten, it surrenders. The hope of a prisoner is that they'll get to sit out the rest of the conflict and be able to return home (if it still exists) and live a semi-peaceful existence. Frequently that doesn't happen, but it's the hope. That hope, even if possible, is usually chosen because it is perceived as being better than the alternative at the time--which is usually death. 

Not so in the universe of 40k. There, nearly all wars are wars of extermination. "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war." Well, not really. More like genocide.

Let's examine the various races in the 40k Universe and the viability of surrendering to them:

Imperial: Humans are so xenophobic they won't tolerate aliens to survive. Individual humans might be able to live alongside aliens, but the official stance is that the only good alien is a dead alien. On the other hand, Imperials surrendering to Imperials (in the case of rebellions or civil wars) is possible, but not usually wise, as the rebels are almost invariably executed anyway.  But there's the slim chance of performing hard labor in a prison for 20 years, tortured, and then killed.  So there's somehing, I guess.

Eldar: Eldar, if they don't exterminate an alien completely, are more likely to just drive an enemy away. If they won't leave, they the Eldar will kill them. What possible use do prisoners have? I can see that if anyone surrendered to Eldar, if they did not kill them outright, they'd disarm them and maroon them on some out of the way death world where they wouldn't be a threat. But only if they were feeling very generous.

Orks: Orks could conceivably take prisoners to use as slaves, but they'd have to restrain themselves from just stomping you. But why bother, when there's already plenty of Gretchin to serve the purpose? But I suppose its possible.  I can see a Mekboy using slaves to help him build some nefarious device and incorporate your race's technology into it.  He might even keep you alive for a while if you do a good job.  But then when you succeed he'll pat you on the back so hard it'll break your spine.  Then he'll send you to the Painboy, who'll chop off your head and sew it back onto another's body.  And that's likely to be the end of the road.

Necrons: Rend the living. Not so bad, considering that's all they'll do to you.  Except maybe wear your skin after they kill you.  But I guess that's better than wearing your skin before you die, which is what the Dark Eldar will do. 

Chaos: Surrendering to Chaos is hardly an option, unless it is done so by trickery (think Slaanesh or Tzeentch), in which case it's not really surrender as it is capture. An eternity of being tortured isn't as good as it sounds.

Dark Eldar: Like with Chaos, death is preferable to capture by these guys, so surrenders generally won't happen. They do take prisoners, however, and you really don't want that to happen.

Tyranids:  Nom nom nom.

Tau: Here we go...a race you can surrender to and they won't kill you out of hand.  But the Tau are still a minor player in the grand scheme of things.  They're not like to survive much longer.  But hopefully you can get captured by them and live in peace.  That is, before they get wiped out by an coalition of all the other races who band together solely to eliminate this upstart race that violates the galactic take no prisoners rule.

With so few options, it's no wonder that most 40k battles have horrendous casualties and most of the time combatants die where they stand.  Considering the alternatives, one would think that heroic last stands are so common in the 41st millenium that they've become passe.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cleaning out the Paint Box

Those of you who are getting up there in age like me might recognize this style of paint pot.  That's right, they're all Games Workshop paints, dating from roughly 1988-1992.

It's been literally years since I've opened some of these paint pots...and since space in my paint box is at a premium right now, I decided I had to do some housecleaning.  Surprisingly, practically all of the paints look to be in usable condition.  Still the chances of me using them are remarkably I had to do a little bit of culling.  But the rest?  Well, they have some fight in them yet, so I'll keep them around a little longer.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Where did all the Battle Reports go?

Back in the day, I had a website where I put up my battle reports.  I had some other information up there, including some campaign rules, some pictures of my armies, and some other stuff.  But the battle reports were the website's reason for being.

In October 2007 I started this blog, and the same thing applied--the primary reason for the blog was the battle reports, with the other stuff being secondary.  At the same time I didn't want to restrict myself solely to battle reports, hence the "...and more from the 41st Millenium (and some random other stuff)" in my subtitle.

Yet since I started doing battle reports, the statistics are as follows:
  • 2001:  2
  • 2002: 14
  • 2003: 16
  • 2004: 15
  • 2005: 9
  • 2006: 1
  • 2007: 4
  • 2008: 11
  • 2009: 7
  • 2010: 2 (so far)
Clearly my heyday was in the 2002-2004 timeframe.  I only managed to put up a single battle report in 2006, but it was my biggest:  The Assault on Morkandy Beach.  That year was something of an anomaly, as there were some major changes going on in my life, and I also was working on another big project that year, which took up a lot of my time.

I started getting back into things in 2008, with a dip in 2009, due to the birth of my daughter that February.  Now in 2010, the early part of the year was very busy at work, but now it's lightened a bit, hence the recent flurry of posts on my blog.  I do hope to get to more battle reports in the future, but right now I'm waiting for Badelaire to get to work on painting his new Space Wolves army so we can feature them in a battle report. :) 
Here's an example, his Space Wolf dreadnought.  Like many of his other Space Wolves, I think he did a great job assembling it--now he just needs to paint it!

So where am I going with this post?  Basically it's an admission that the scope of my blog has changed somewhat.  I still intend to post battle reports of the games I play whenever possible, but I'll also continue to post my works-in-progress, and the random other stuff that crosses my mind concerning 40k, and rarely stuff that only peripherally touches upon 40k. (e.g., posting videos re: paintball.  How is that related to 40k?  Well, my cousin Tyrant was considering modding his paintball marker to look like a bolter...)