I don’t play Warhammer. I don’t have the little miniature boys, I don’t have the equipment for painting them, I don’t have the space to paint them, one of them cool little lamps for making them look good while you paint them. I can’t really identify the mechanical differences between Warhammer 40k and Age of Sigmar and what the point of the play experiences are and how they differ one from another. If I’m sitting down at a table with at least one friend and some miniatures and hours of investment, I’m going to play 4th edition D&D —
— the best edition of D&D —
and not the heavy metal gameplay experience that is Warhammer Of Some Variety. None of this is to say, however, that the game lacks appeal, and like a gawker on a roadside attraction, I still pay attention to the space. Mostly, however, through the podcast Poorhammer, which is about getting into the game while spending as little money as possible.
The Poorhammer podcast have a couple of threads of content, as many variety podcasts do. The conception of budget as it applies to Warhammer is an interesting one because the budget is not equally divided in the game mechanical system; there are expensive units that aren’t good, and there are good units that aren’t expensive, but also, there are definitely the inverse, and there are ways that your army can be constructed that reach a game state (minimum points required) that don’t necessarily represent a chance to play the game in a fun and balanced way.
They talk about it.
And it’s weird.
It’s one of the things that Warhammer has as a game that makes for a weird comparison to Magic: The Gathering. Like, you can take the cheapest cards for Magic: The Gathering, put them together, they’re pre-built, and play them against one another. They’re perfectly good, operating play devices and sure, players don’t have to play with them, but they work.
Warhammer is a strange thing where you can build an entire army and construct it and then the rules can change and your army is not only not valid, but it might not even be able to interact with another person and that’s after you invested labour in it. It’s not just ‘this hobby is expensive’ but rather ‘you can make errors in operation that involves extremely expensive pieces of hardware that wind up not being appropriate for you to use at all, and they don’t have much resale value.’
That’s what I find interesting about this podcast: In this episode, they talk about the idea of making a functional army for $500, from a newcomer’s perspective. And that’s $500! That’s a pretty expensive hobby for a kid! Or well, for an adult, but I don’t know what I spend on hobbies.
(Really, I don’t.)
This vein is however something that generates data and the Poorhammer crew are willing to crunch it. I like this episode, with its heavy focus on breaking down every army into its numeric value and scale. It’s really interesting to me to see the way that an army can be treated as its component parts in a truly mathematical breakdown. This gives you a cool insight into the armies as they relate to one another, which can make it interesting to consider the kinds of things you want to build an army around.
(I have a bunch of nids in a box, forever unpainted, and they’re probably not ever going to be good, based on how I engage with them.)
Of course that doesn’t tell the whole story of what an army is, because they’re also a task to do – you know, you have to build the army, you have to plan around it, then you have to paint it.
(Well you don’t have to paint it, but you got into the hobby to paint things, right?)
That’s where this kind of episode comes up. The hosts have hands-on experience painting a variety of armies. What’s more, they build armies based on the things they want those armies to do, which means that it’s not a hypothetical kind of conversation about the challenges of painting an army.
I couldn’t actually, like, execute on this information, but I think it’s really interesting to hear people talk about the material skills of painting. Plus, there’s ideas of different tools, which they expand on – this podcast has episodes about using photoshop to test out particular aesthetics, building paint techniques, and even how to avoid being ripped off by Games Workshop’s paint prices.
Particularly what I liked about this is the discussion of how the aesthetic of an army created a play experience. The meditative experience of painting your little dolls – which is part of the play – is a creative experience (paratextual to the game itself) – is a play experience they’re examining in terms of how it rewards adventure, how it lets you play.
Then there’s the other thing this podcast does, which is long form conversations about the lore of Warhammer 40k. In this case, I recommend this episode about The Infinite and the Divine, which is an example of a Warhammer book that is
Like there’s an actual story about characters in the universe and they make choices and they have motivations and also they’re all skeletal death robots. In this case, the hosts made a reading club ahead of time, put a bunch of notices out so when they were going to start reading the book, and when the episode was going. That meant there was a sort of communal experience of people taking notes and sharing discord notes with the hosts, and then the hosts incorporate that into the episode.
This is how I engage with Warhammer 40,000. I check in, time to time on a podcast and see if it’s doing anything interesting. It’s a cool show, it’s well edited if you watch the Youtube videos, and it’s a fun time if you’re interested in a game with a huge demand without actually having to engage with the demands of that game. You don’t need to track the game, you don’t need to understand the game’s mechanics, but you can still understand how they talk about the ideas and ideology of the game’s world.