Warhammer 40,000 the true juggernaut of tabletop gaming has been running for 28 years now and for a large proportion of that time has been the pre eminent game with sales and a player base that dwarfs the competition. Now why is that, What is it about 40k that brings people into the game and keeps them coming back.
If you go online and venture into the 40k blogosphere, which if your reading this there’s a pretty good chance you do. You will find no end of vitriol and hatred. Poorly balanced rules, Over priced models an uncaring company only concerned with profits and shareholder dividends. Yet its still the biggest game by a country mile.
So what is it about 40k we like. As I see it there are 3 main elements to 40,000
1) The game
2) The Hobby
3) The background
Now as I see it there are several elements to the game that appeal to different people.
The social element. The game require social interaction you need an opponent and to find one you need a community now this can be as small as you or your sibling or best friend or as big as a national tournament scene but probably more common is a group built around a store or gaming club. The social side encompasses more than just playing the game though I think we’ve all spent many a fruitless hour debating the relevant badassery of calgar vs Draigo or whether the Emprah is ever getting of the golden throne.
The competitive side. Competition is kinda hard wired into the human psyche with out there’s no way we would have become the dominant species on the planet. 40k is a competition in that you have two players trying to defeat each other on the tabletop. Now a lot people might chime in at this point and want to talk about poor game balance and it’s something I have a lot of sympathy for. Games Workshop has appeared to have a pathological hatred of competitive play and the last 2 editions seemed to have been designed specifically to push the competitive crowd away but despite this if you have two opposing sides attempting to either destroy the opponents army or achieve objectives and deny there opponents theirs the game has a competitive element.
Narrative now this feeds into the background part to a degree but is intrinsically linked to the game some people get there kicks recreating great scenes from 40,000 or forging there own narrative and seeing how things play out on the tabletop. Having those great cinematic moments where a grot blows up a Land Raider or a missile flies through a building and explodes killing off a deadly threat.
Now there is no doubting that Games Workshop Makes some really beautiful models I personally think that in terms of individual sculpted models there are companies stealing a march on Games Workshop Forgeworld are still holding there own but where GW are unmatched is multi part plastic models and in particular the Large Kits
The painting side of things gives people with natural talent an opportunity to shine and us lesser mortals skills to learn then master and a chance to express our selves whether that’s in creating our own schemes or painstakingly recreating a scheme from the background.
The Warhammer 40,000 universe is a funny old thing essentially its just a a bunch of sci fi and fantasy archetype mixed with some historical and legendary source material plugged into a typically 80’s dystopian framework.
But somehow it works and boy does it work I’m gonna come out right now as a rabid Fluff bunny I devour this stuff and for almost 28 years and I love it dearly much more than a man of almost 40 yrs old really should.
A lot of people complain that the fluff has stagnated and that GW should advance the story lines bring back the Primarchs have Abbadon’s crusade make it out of the Cadian gate or Hive fleet Kraken wash down there squat main course with a delicious dessert of Elder Craft world.
I however disagree the fact that the 40kayaverse is perpetually stuck at a minute to midnight is part of what keeps the setting Grim Dark the sense of impending doom in a society that is regressing technologically and theologically and groaning under the weight of a repressive beurocratic theocracy is what defines 40K. If they attempted to advance this storyline you run the risk of injecting hope into the setting which would be like adding salt to a slug briefly satisfying but all your left with is a sludgy mess.
The other thing that I think GW’s been really clever with is, in terms of the setting the deteriorating technology and loss of historical data and the insertion of myths and legend into the collective conscience leaves gaps that can be used by hobbyists to write themselves and there army into the setting. It also allows for an ever expanding universe of Fluff without having to move the story line along. It also allows for some true crimes against fluffdom
There are factors outside of the game that have contributed to its success firstly they had the market all to themselves for a long time they got to the market well ahead of anyone else prior to 40k tabletop gaming was dominated by historical types with a much older player base. Firstly fantasy then 40k brought tabletop gaming to a much younger audience and tapped into many nerdy hot buttons stretching there marketplace. They also invested heavily in there branch network (I’m talking in the UK here I know it’s not as extensive in the states and other parts of the world) This was an incredibly bright move it gave a venue to play on the High street of most major towns. It gave a glossy clean space that wouldn’t scare off mum’swhich is the real secret of getting kids into the hobby. This is one of the reasons I tend not to get into too much of a tizzy about Gw’s pricing there’s a large infrastructure that these products have to support and this infrastructure is key to keeping our hobby going bringing in fresh victims…er hobbyists. This is vital as 40k is very much the gateway drug into our hobby and without it it could be argued with out 40k there wouldn’t be a market for all the new companies that have emerged in the last few years to grow into.
There also one more thing that makes 40 k utterly Awesome