Thursday, 18 December 2008

The army, or the list?

So this post is inspired by the FtW round table discussion:
What came first, the army or the list?

Prompted by: .....guy is just starting 40k. He's got the Codex and rulebook... and here's his question:
Specifically I'm wondering: once I get the whole modeling and painting thing down pat, should I just grab models willy-nilly (with at least an idea of what an army should contain) and then cobble together a list from what I have, or should I first make up a real army list and then buy models accordingly?

Funnily enough, I got the email about this just a few hours after I posted this, which gives some of my motivations for how I am going to build my army. Below is a longer discourse based on the email that I submitted for the round-table. I don't promise it'll be coherent, my mind is usually a bit of a jumble at the best of times, but here it is anyway:

Unless all you care about is winning games (and that certainly isn't the be all and end all of this hobby), then collect and paint the models that you like the most.
Seriously, if all you care about is playing and winning the games, then you are much better off with a game that supplies all the models pre-painted for you, or in differing colours of plastic (like the old Space Hulk used to). This hobby is so much more than the games, the painting of your models, personalisation and story of your army is so important to making the games that you do play much more real and involving and lifting it above other games that are similar. If it wasn't for that, there wouldn't be half as many games as everyone would be fielding the same 5 or 6 armies.

...collect and paint the models that you like the most. You will enjoy painting all the more (and you'll likely spend a heck of a lot of time doing that) and when you game, you'll have the added benefit of seeing models that you really like the look of marching across the table.
If you are anything like me, the painting takes up a lot of your hobby time. Just applying a base colour, and a couple of contrast colours to a model can involve a good few hours, and that is before you get into shading, highlighting and basing the models (yes I really can be a slow painter). Are you really going to enjoy that if you don't like the model you are painting, but are doing so just so that it can be in your army? Probably not. I think I would much rather have a slightly weaker character or unit on the field if I am going to enjoy painting it more, at least that way I can enjoy the painting and the gaming. You'll enjoy gaming with an army that you love the look of, and have enjoyed the painting of far more, and it'll just make the spectacle of all those futuristic warriors marching across a distant world to annihilate their enemy far more impressive.

It'll also add more of a challenge and a greater sense of satisfaction when you win games with an army designed for its look rather than just to be the ultimate killing machine for that race.
This alludes to my first point. If we only chose our armies for their ability, then we would find only a few army combinations out there, everyone would have one of them, and the hobby would soon become a bit boring. Where is the challenge of beating an opponent with a force that is picked solely to be the most killing force you can imagine. The real challenge (and why I think GW says you should pick your army before your mission) is being flexible enough to achieve your goals with the force you have. Think about the moves you make on the gaming table, use units in roles that you hadn't previously envisaged for them, stretch your ability and you will learn far more about the game and your abilities than stomping all over your opponent with a super-force. In fact, you will almost certainly learn more in a game that you lose than in one you win, and as you learn, soon you'll be winning as well.

So for me, the army very definitely comes before the list.
Pick and paint the units and models you like the most. Keep a rough idea of the army that you would like to build, even if that is in the form of the back-story and the motivations for your force, but enjoy all the aspects of the hobby, especially the spectacle of it all.

Of course, I'm sure there will be those who disagree with me, but that is what makes life fun, and keeps things interesting. Thoughts???

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