I’m really enjoying casually playing 40k at the moment, among other things. As regular readers know, I have a long and ambivalent relationship with this game. Any decades-spanning relationship has to have its ups and downs I suppose. And I’m in a positive place with it right now, because I feel as though I’ve worked out a way of playing and collecting that is mine and no-one else’s.
What do I mean? The best way I can think of to succinctly put it is that I have started to think of my 40k model collection as a living three-dimensional story, inspired by, but not restricted to, events in-game. I track the fortunes of my army, and I incorporate or cut models when I want to paint something new or stop using something that I’m finding boring, or that’s not working for me. Where possible I re-paint, re-organise or modify my existing models rather than buy new ones. And then I make up a story to explain the change. Sometimes the story comes first; sometimes the physical changing of the models. But whichever it is, they go hand in hand.
This all sounds a bit complex, I know. Maybe it’ll be clearer if I just explain what I’ve actually been doing.
Years ago during the 5th edition of 40k I started my Imperial Guard army, and developed a simple back story for them. They were the St. Arkham Rifles, a regiment drawn from an Ecclesiarchy-administered factory world with a culture roughly analogous to England around the time of World War I. This allowed me to field my Sisters of Battle (The Order of the Revenant Maiden) alongside them. I had a lot of fun using them in tournaments and in a long-running campaign. At the end of the campaign, the world of St. Arkham had been invaded and purged by the Ultramarines, and I had gone off 40k – mostly because of the clunky and long games and the financially punishing army sizes. I bowed out of 6th edition completely and sold most of my models except for the core Arkhamites…
…and when my old opponent asked me a year or so later if I’d like to play some casual games of 7th edition with him, I thought what the hell, and I did. But I wasn’t interested in starting a new army: researching, building, paying all that money, climbing back into the conversation; the endless dialogue. I just wanted to keep the story of my little army going. But a lot of the models had been sold. So I decided that my remaining models were now the Kings of St. Arkham: mercenaries composed of orphaned Arkhamites and Cadian deserters.
Then, I sensed my newfound freedom on the horizon, and I began to become properly interested in the Tau. I’ve always liked their aesthetic, but building a usable 40k force is designed to be a huge amoebic sucker of time and money. With the complete integration of
all out nonsense allies in contemporary 40k though, I could add as many or as few Tau as I liked and easily use them alongside my Human mercs. And so I came up with the Fallingstar Cadre.
I’ve now played a few games with my combined Human and Tau mercs. I pretty much always lose, but that’s nothing new. My opponent is a very good player and has been honing his Ultramarines for about fifteen years(!) I truly don’t care if I win or lose though, because it gives me grist to change my models either way, if I choose to allow it. For instance, I’ve grown bored with Hanzo constantly falling in battle lately, and I think I’d rather my Tau were of the stealthy and cunning variety. Low-tech scum-Tau infantry, with some wonky drones and a single beat-up hover tank. So I’m swapping him out for Darkstrider – or my version of Darkstrider. How the games are playing out is changing the story of my collection and my collection changes the games.
I feel free.
Free from worrying about optimisation and competitiveness. Stories of loss and survival are just as interesting as stories of victory; it’s all in the telling. My models represent my vision of the 40k universe. That’s all I need to take into account.
Free from the official creators’ sales and development cycle. What do I care if editions change? Rules? All those things are temporary, but my collection lives on. It has a spirit of its own now. If I like something new, I’ll incorporate it; otherwise, I’ll ignore it.
Free from buying models on impulse. Anything I add from here on in is added for a reason, and will become part of the whole. Sometimes things won’t stick, like Hanzo, but that’s not the same as getting carried away and buying things I’ll later regret.
Free from worrying about models sitting unused. If I never, ever use my collection again, I can still keep them proudly on my shelf. Because they’re not just game pieces any more: they’re a self-contained artwork, with personal meaning. The same goes for my other little collections too – my SAGA and Infinity models. And any more collections I add in the future.
But they’re also more than that. They’re toys I have taken to heart and played with the way I did when I was a little boy, making up stories. And that’s a damn hard thing to do when you’re thirty-seven, I know, so I’m proud of them.
After all these years, I’m finally just playing with toys again.