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  • Writer's pictureAlex Payne

My hobby resolution: being a better hobbyist in 2024


Space Marines vs chaos space marines warhammer art


Or why my "hobby resolution" for 2024 isn't to paint or play better, but to be a more welcoming hobbyist.


Run with me for a second.


Seeing as it's the season for it, imagine you've just received your first box of Warhammer as a Christmas gift. You've been thinking about the worlds of wardollies, you've painted a free space marine, you've listened to some fun lore videos on YouTube and you're excited to give it all a go. You particularly love the idea of a lightening fast reaction force of ceramite-clad superhumans, so you've asked for (and happily received) the Space Marine Spearhead Christmas box.


You crack open the big ol' box of toys. All of the supercharged speed marines are super tcool, and you build a list in the handy warhammer 40k app (just one, mind) with your starting bundle as a basis. Enthused, your pop a post about your list and the box-in-progress on good old Reddit. Or Facebook or Twitter (X?). Whatever.


Space Marine Spearhead christmas box

Unfortunately, however, the various talking pixels online are not so pumped about your choices.


"Why would you run that?" they ask. "That's not optimal. A far better list would run these options."


"You can't play those," another quips. "You won't be able to compete."


Disheartened, you look at the cost required to upgrade your list to the apparently required standard. However, the price tag on getting the dreadnaughts and hellblasters needed is, to put it gently, steep.


Nevertheless, you take to instagram to see how you should go about painting your big box of grey. There are many, many tutorials, for absolutely gorgeous paintjobs, mostly involving expensive tools, an airbrush and a huge range of paints you don't currently have at your disposal. You push on with the paints that you do have, but the results just aren't the same.

"The various talking pixels online are not so pumped about your choices. 'Why would you run that?' they ask. 'That's not optimal. A far better list would run these options.''You can't play those,' another quips. 'You won't be able to compete.'"

You build a few more models of the box, maybe play around with painting some as best you can, but without the apparent "correct" army, and the ability to reach the painting standards you see everywhere online, your interest wanes. Your proposed force sits upon a shelf in dusty grey, never to taste the tabletop glory they were promised.


This is of course a slightly silly example. There's plenty of supportive folks and great beginner painting guides online, I know that; but it still gets to the heart of an issue I see as a really important one.


Is this a truly welcoming hobby?


A welcoming hobby?


When I was first thinking about getting back into Warhammer back in the Epoch of Nurgle*, I was lucky in two respects. The first was having a couple of friends I knew who had also either recently come back into the hobby like I had, or had continued to collect during the 2010s. The other was having a lovely Warhammer store near me run by the absolutely brilliant Matt which runs painting hangouts each Thursday. Through that I was able to meet some great, like-minded folks to paint, play games and drink beer with.


Before I found that group, however, I had some false starts in finding players locally. I found one local group which looked pretty welcoming, so signed up to a whatsapp group for newer players. I wanted to try and arrange some games to get some of my models (my T'au) on the table and learn the edition. Instead, that chat was predominately focused on the competitive aspects of the game and the issues of the "meta monsters" of the time (Death Guard and Drukhari. How the turns have tabled.).


I remember very clearly a message in that thread following a detailed chat about how busted the game was, which ran along the lines of:


"I don't think this group is for me. I thought this was for beginners (laughing emoji)." before leaving.


I'm not looking to criticise those established gaming groups, as there are some fantastic ones out there, but I know firsthand that it can be daunting coming into that environment as a newcomer. Entering a chat and being bombarded with meta chat and black/white assertions about what's "right" in the hobby is a surely going to result in feelings of in-adequateness amongst relative newcomers. It can feel like a real shark tank and while some - many even - will relish leaping into that challenge, many others may not.


I also decided that group wasn't quite the right fit for me. As a result, I didn't play 40k properly until a year later as I was so sure that my little T'au force wouldn't be worth anyone's time. Instead, I stuck to casual Age of Sigmar and a retro Path to Glory campaign.** It was only once I'd made some like-minded friends through my local store that I dipped my toe into the swirling maelstrom of the 41st millenium.

"I didn't play 40k properly until a year later as I was so sure that my little T'au force wouldn't be worth anyone's time."

T'au firewarriors - third edition art

The nanosphere and the "Hobby Echo Chamber"


To go back to our example, one thing I think has contributed massively to this trend is the internet discourse around Warhammer, and particularly 40k. It's just so negative. Negative about the balance in the game. Negative about the company and prices (albeit a very fair criticism). Negative, as in our example, about the particular ways folks might want to play with their toys, or even paint or build their plastic.


As an aside, I would like to posit that, in fact, the opinions of the online nanosphere are in fact, not the be all and end all of the hobby.*** That plays into something which I'd like to call "The Hobby Echo Chamber" and might well write about in more detail another time. But for now, suffice to say that awareness of the competitive side of 40k in particular is now essentially the mainstream version of the hobby. And that will only continue to skew opinions about the actual nature of the game towards the more cut-throat, less-beginner friendly end of gaming.


Though this is not solely about competitive play (high end painting and Instagram painting standards contribute hugely to this too), its a focus that could be very off-putting for new and returning players alike. The majority of Warhammer is still overwhelmingly played in garages and on hastily redressed kitchen tables with half painted minis and scenery against age-old adversaries in often decades long rivalries. The fact that much of Reddit and the wide hobby social media bubble is singularly interested in tournament play is something of a fallacy, but one that could - to a newcomer - serve to paint a very different picture to the norm.


Likewise, the concept of needing a spectacularly painted army to play the game as that's the average on YouTube or Instagram is also simply not true. Getting a fully painted army on the table - whatever the standard - is an incredible achievement. Those starting out on their hobby journey should hopefully be encouraged and not intimidated by the work of professional artists online.

"The competitive side of 40k in particular is now essentially the mainstream version of the hobby. And that will only continue to skew opinions about the actual nature of the game towards the more cut-throat, less beginner-friendly end of gaming."

My resolution for 2024


That however is perhaps another I cannot do justice to here, though I'd love to return to it one day.


In conclusion then, here's the crux of it: I want to believe I do my own part in trying to be as welcoming as possible to new folks who want to try the thing that I absolutely, completely adore.


But.


You know what, I am bummed about the state of the game of 40k at the moment. I don't particularly like 10th (though I think it has great potential) and I have been known to air my gripes with friends. I would never go so far as to say that someone's way of hobbying isn't the right one, or that their choices are "incorrect". That said, grumbling about the state of the meta, what's "the best" and "broken" in the game currently is exactly the kind of thing that would have really put me off when I was first starting out on my return to Warhammer.


Hell, it was exactly the kind of the thing that made me drop out of the hobby in the first place, sell all my models, and not think about anything Warhammer related for over 15 years. But that, again, is perhaps a story for another time.


Of course I'm not saying that discussing competitive 40k (in particular), or admiring exceptional paint jobs online, is an inherently bad thing to do. I still love browsing Instagram in moderation, and will continue to be an avid fan of top-end competitive content like the 6+++ show and Art of War (despite holding no ambitions to game at anywhere near their level).


What I do vow to try and do more this year is to be more aware of what having those discussions online and in person might mean for folks just dipping their toes in the worlds of 40k or the Mortal Realms. I will make a more conscious decision not to just take the doom and gloom approach to gaming and to see it with the enthusiasm with which I originally re-entered the worlds of Warhammer back in 2020. I will enthuse about the narrative element of the game, revel in silly and fun lists and enjoy paintjobs of all varieties. And in doing so, I really want to help create an environment which is more welcoming and supportive of new and existing players in my local hobby bubble in 2024.

"This year I will be more aware of what having those discussions online and in person might mean for folks just dipping their toes in the worlds of 40k or the Mortal Realms."
 

Does anyone feel the same way? What have your experiences of coming back to Warhammer - or welcoming new players as a grizzled veteran? And more generally, what are your hobby resolutions for 2024? Let me know below or on the ol' instagram.


Maybe I'll revisit this at the end of the year, to see if I get along.


Until next time, play nice everyone, and be kind, hobby friends. After all, you never know how your own enthusiasm for this silly game of toy soldiers we all love might impact on someone else.


Alex


*The Rot Times. Grandfathers' Season. You know, the C word.


**The OG Path to Glory mind, with duelling chaos champions and 6th edition rules. It's incredible.


***Tech Heresy, I hear you cry, but wait! I submit this article as a evidence in my defence of not being turned into a servitor, please and thank you.




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