Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gorram Reavers

In October of 2013, I was contacted by a fellow Freeboota to custom build one or two Reaver Titans. My memory of the original request was for one, but I shortly realized it was for two. In return, I received some Sisters models, 4 and a half Immolators, 2 Exorcists, and some of infantry. Even though the base models, which were a couple of old Terminator toys, arrived in November, I though I could do it in a few short months.

I really didn't have any idea what I was getting myself into. I'd done Ork stuff before, sure, but that's nothing compared to building Imperial models. The lines have to be at least somewhat straight and the entire model needs to be gap-filled and sanded from top to bottom.

I'd like to say that I succeeded. Even though I didn't get it done in the time I was shooting for, I think the customer knew I was crazy for setting such a short goal anyways. He does his own custom Titans as well.

Since December of 2013, I've spent over 192 hours (a conservative estimate) on this project. Along with that, I've spent over $210 in materials, not including tools purchased. This means I could have bought BOTH of us THREE actual Forge World Reaver Titans when you work out the time and materials cost. Let there be no doubt that the completion of this project was solely to preserve my personal reputation and had nothing to do with actual compensation. Having said that, I learned a lot of lessons from this project both from a hobby standpoint and from a personal standpoint.

A huge thanks goes out to my wife, Wendy, who put up with a lot of nonsense while I worked on this project and motivated me all the time to finish.

Thanks to Gene and Pat for giving me tons of crap while these things lurked about.

Thanks to those who joined me in my hobby time to help make the pain less harsh: Skip, Conor, Brandon, Shoshie, and many others. Thanks to the rest of you for commenting and giving me motivation to continue.

The design of these Reavers is based on the old Epic models, but blown up to the size of modern models. I can say that they are very unique in comparison to anything else out there.
Still a bit posable. Arms are magnetized, as are the top launchers.
At first, this guy was going to be Legio Metallica, but the customer changed his mind to the Aquilla. The Aquilla is too small, so I did the Mechanicum half and I think that works out great.

Some in-progress pics....

You are Not a Realist

What follows is a curmudgeonly and slightly pompous editorial. I hope you like it.

What is realism? It is a concept which promotes the forming of opinions and making of decisions based on facts and educated evaluations. I can get behind that. We live in a world where, all too often, decisions are made by those who take too much stock in their own personal beliefs rather than on evidence. Realism can help us get to the core cause of any problem and quickly develop a solution. Granted, while developing the solution itself can be easy, gathering the facts to come to that conclusion can be time-consuming and following through with the solution is fraught with road blocks. As much as we make fun of politicians, it's probably on my top 5 list of jobs I would not want to do.

What is cynicism? Cynicism is a festering boil on any healthy community, including (and possibly especially) our 40k community. Cynicism is a belief that people are, in general, motivated by their own personal gain rather than the good of the community at large. A cynic will not accept evidence to the contrary and will likely not even seek it out for fear of such evidence breaking their well-honed world view. Making things worse, cynicism is often coupled with fatalism which can, in its own right, be a destructive philosophy.

There are those in our community who are self-described realists. I'm here to explain that many of them are not. They are cynics disguising themselves as realists in order to foster their own sense of arrogant self-importance. If they were realists, they would work to the betterment of the community rather than trying to tear it down.

Self-Preservation and the Community

I could go on and on about human behavior, but I'm not a sociologist or psychologist. There are a few interesting observations that I have as a human who's lived on Earth for 36 years and one of these is that human nature does have an element of self-preservation. Of course it does. The supreme dominance of our species on this planet is fairly decent evidence of this fact. Having said that, part of that element of self-preservation has a lot to do with our ability to get along with one another, protect each other from danger, and trust each other with our lives. Trust is at the heart of the fine line between realism and cynicism.

How can you trust an oligarchical construct such as a corporation to act in any way other than its own best interest? Well, you can't. You have to accept that it will work in the interest of its own self-preservation. While that may be at odds with the key conceit of this article, it is the inevitability of self-preservation as a basic need which abhors the belief that pure greed is the core motivation of Games Workshop.

You can expect a company to act in its own best interest in the same way that you can expect any animal, humans included, to do so, however this is in the context of one's place in society, whether they be an individual or a corporation. A community benefits from diversity in skill and experience. Anyone not working towards the general health of the community can be seen as a drag on its resources and is subject to the judgement of the rest of the community members. It doesn't matter if you're the biggest person in the tribe or not. For example, in a society of intelligent beings, if you're a giant bully who is a drag on morale, there's nothing stopping the smallest and most abused among a community's lower class from bludgeoning you to death with a rock while you sleep.

So, a community is bred, over time, to accept the machinations of society and get along. It's in your best interest as much as it is for others. It is in Games Workshop's best interest to have the health of the community which supports it in mind when developing its products. Without the community, they're just filling their warehouses with plastic models.

This is a two-way street. For our community, based on the healthy intellectual property of Warhammer 40,000 to survive, the property itself has to not only survive, but thrive. If GW closed shop tomorrow, could we still play the game the way we wanted to? Sure we could, but people don't generally like curating a dead corpse and new players, generally speaking, don't want to start playing dead systems. The preservation of any community relies on a steady influx of new blood and that's hard to do without a flagship to light the way.

Price of Admission

New blood can be hard to attract in a hobby this expensive, but the hallmark of GW games is the quality of its miniatures. In a throw-away world, it's heartening to see that trading quality for other considerations is non-negotiable for GW. Other companies whose miniatures feature a comparable quality to that which GW offers also boast a comparable price. I don't want to name names, but other companies have competitively-priced offerings, but the quality of their miniatures doesn't really compare. Those companies are doing well, of course; there is a market for cheaper minis. The success of foreign online realtors selling cheap knock-offs is a clear indication that a market exists.

That market has failed to understand that the health of GW is symbiotic with the health of the community that plays their games. That miniatures are expensive is a fact. Getting young people in the game is hard. That's why we've seen great boxed sets come out with the new edition. These boxed sets are a reasonable way to start building your army. Remember, you don't have to start playing at 2000 points.

I'm not saying that adding variety to your army with unique, third-party models is morally wrong, though you do usually get what you pay for when it comes to the line of plastics. When it comes to buying third party knock-offs of existing plastic kits, however, I just can't understand why anyone would do it just to save a few bucks. It only hurts the company which, in turn, hurts the community and that is cutting off your nose to spite your face no matter how you look at it.

We must help curate our own community. Do you have a niece, nephew, sister, or brother who'd like to get in the game? Buy them some models. They'll pick up the responsibility with their own income as they get older. We're grown-ass adults. Invest in growing the community and save another young person from the banality of pixel addiction


Some say that Games Workshop doesn't care about balance because they don't care about the competitive scene. This is a comment which, I believe, is pulled directly out of peoples' asses. Saying developers don't even care about the game they produce shows a deep misunderstanding of the culture at Games Workshop. Fortunately, the cure for ignorance is knowledge, and knowledge is free.

The rules are built with fun in mind. The rule of cool is the name of the game at Games Workshop. They are concerned about game balance, but not at all costs. When they write rules, they don't do so with the assumption that someone's going to try and interpret them like a computer code and try to get a sum out of them. They expect us to read the rules and get the gist of it. If you have to lay a rules argument out like a mathematical proof to prove yourself right, then you're probably interpreting the rule wrong.

People love seeing patterns in things. That's why conspiracy theories are so poplar in our society. It's a part of human nature to recognize and react to patterns, so that's totally understandable. However, the conceit that units that were bad in a previous version of a codex will be good and and units that were good will be bad has no bearing on reality. For each example of a unit that changed how "good" it was in a version change, I can give you one that didn't.

Assuming there's some magical warehouse somewhere packed to the gills with a model kit that needs to be "cleared out" is a bit presumptuous. A kit is a kit. In a perfect world, I'd guess GW would prefer their kits be purchased evenly, so that runs aren't created on one kit or another. The fact is that sometimes units are imbalanced and there's no actual pattern to it; nobody is perfect.

GW is building their game with more agility these days. It's almost impossible to offer the staggering level of customization we enjoy with 40k with perfect game balance. Impossible. There will always be some way to game a unit which may seem perfectly reasonable when you take one with a certain load-out, but be completely insane when you take several with a different load-out or with a particular ally.

As an answer to this, the Datasheet model allows the designers to add balance to certain army builds on a whim. Each set of rules is compartmentalized in single-page, highly portable, and highly consumable bites. Formations allow the developers to maintain the flavor and single-unit points balance while providing a bonus to groups of different models taken together in a traditionally non-optimal way.

The new Space Marines and Eldar Codexes are a prime example of this modern philosophy. We're seeing Datasheets with cool rules no matter how you want to play the game or what you want to focus on. This makes us want to diversify our forces and if we're diversifying our forces, then we're likely to be spending money, which is good for the company and good for the community.

Curating the Experience

What if someone still thinks all of this is terrible and bad for the game? What if they have measured Games Workshop's offerings and still found them wanting?They aren't quite a terrible cynic yet. They can still choose to accept the reality of the situation and do something about it.

The system is not perfect. We have to curate our experience in the game as much as we have to curate our community and Games Workshop has told us this is necessary. You don't like multiple detachments? Don't use them. You don't like Strength D? Change it. It's not that hard.We're grown-ass adults; change the rules. In this way, the system actually is perfect because it can be whatever we want it to be.

The game is so full of options and diversity, and it is so immensely compartmentalized now, that we really do have the tools to play it however we want by adjusting one aspect of the game or another. They haven't offered edict on how the game should be played in one way or another for the incontrovertible reason being that the experience should fit the needs of any stripe of hobbyist or gamer.

Games Workshop isn't here to dictate how we should play our games. They give us the tools. We create the purpose and the atmosphere. One might call that lazy, but since we're adults capable of rational thought, perhaps that philosophy isn't so bad. Unfortunately, it does assume that, in many cases, someone will take the reins of their community and, along with a certain measure of group parity, make these decisions.

Curating the Community

Curating a community as unwieldy as the conglomerate of 40k players can be a harrowing experience. GW got out of that business and probably for good reason. It is unfortunate that their public presence has diminished to almost nothing. The costs and difficulties of maneuvering so many satellite communities and so many players must have been rather monumental. If individual groups are capable of supporting themselves independently, then that's a more efficient methodology. The problem is that someone has to take the initiative.

Are you unhappy with your current 40k group, or lack thereof? Do you wish more people would play the game the way you want to? You won't achieve your desires by sitting around and waiting for someone to do it for you. It takes a lot of hard work.

Make sure everyone gets to play. As a curator, one of your main jobs is making sure everyone gets a game. I haven't always been as good at this as I wish I were, and it's so important. If people end up sitting around instead of playing, they could feel left out give up entirely. Having said that, it's not fair to you if you end up playing the same difficult personality time and again.

Jump on the grenade. When new players enter the fold, do not let them play against your more established players with difficult personalities. You need to identify the people in your community who are patient teachers and try to steer new players towards them. This goes along with making sure everyone gets to play; you may need to wait until there are full pairings before you get to play yourself.

Events: People enjoy special events. It doesn't have to be competitive (but it can be!); it just has to be fun. Try game-day events first. These are fun things like leagues and campaigns which can be run in parallel with tournament prep and general play on your regular 40k nights. These events help build a community by attracting new players to your group, hopefully through word of mouth or social media by the store owner and/or community organizer. Events also help build interpersonal relationships between players who may not normally play each other, but must do so in the context of the event. As popularity grows, you can start to plan special game days, such as tournaments or charity events.

Get the Word Out. Your players have Facebook. So do their friends. And their friends. Use social media to connect with the greater gaming community. Use your venue's social media accounts to promote your club. Promote your club with media such as podcasts, regional 40k pages, and forums.

FAQ. Establishing a written, living FAQ that every player agrees on, whether the ITC or otherwise, is a great way to keep arguments to a minimum. Most groups have an unofficial, verbal FAQ anyways. Getting it on paper is a great way to keep your game nights running smoothly.

Deal with difficult personalities without disdain.  Again, this has been hard for me personally, but it's important. People can grow and change. Simply feeling superior towards people with odd personalities and not treating them as members of the community isn't just bad for the group, but it's also bad for your personal reputation. Try to shape them into good community members. Explain to them when their attitude is off-putting. If you can't handle this part of the job, then you may want to pass it on to someone else who's willing to pick it up. You may ask why you should have to do this kind of thing in your leisure time, after all, you don't have time to be a parent in the 40k group as well as your personal life. Well, it is a fact of life. Some people just act differently and need to be treated differently. It is part of curating the community. Turning people away because of their idiosyncrasies is a good way to lose players fast.

Well, Actually...

The fact of the matter is that reality and cynicism are two sides of the same coin. Which side turns up depends entirely on how you deal with it. A realist will find the challenges of a situation and react to them in a constructive way, overcoming those challenges and learning from their mistakes as they do. A cynic will stagnate in a miasma of their own hubris.