Sunday, April 1, 2012

Better Gamer Friday #2: Choosing the Right Army for You

I realize I'm not off to a great start when the second week is a little bit late, but hopefully you guys can forgive me. This entry ended up being VERY long and I have been pretty busy too. Some pretty cool and big things have been happening this past week, as this gentleman and I met up to work on some pretty awesome looking tables for Adepticon. No doubt we will be seeing some articles detailing their progress in the future. I think Brian said it best, "no one really does what we do."

Last time I touched on how important it is for you to have a good gaming group. Having "hobby buddies" can spur you on to greater things and motivate you to stick with every aspect of our rewarding hobby. Well, now that you have assembled your core group with which you will take your journey, it is time to get down to buying your first models.

For those of you who are not exactly new, but are still having trouble finding that army to latch on to and take to completion, this is for you as well.

Better Gamer Friday(ish): Choosing the Right Army for You

I want to start out by saying that when it comes right down to it, you should play whatever army you like. Now I will try my best to help you in your choice, should you suffer from indecision, but if you KNOW that you want to play X, then by all means do so. It might be a good idea to keep reading, though, because maybe another army is just as cool, and even more you. Or maybe the faction you like is quite expensive, and you are on a budget, but now I'm getting ahead of myself.

Who doesn't want psychic space elf ninja pirates?
Aesthetics and cool factor aside (as these are subjective), you should look at 3 main factors when choosing your first army: ease of play, ease of painting, and low cost. If this is your first foray into miniature wargaming I would say that these are the 3 biggest hurdles in your experience. The depth of rules are intimidating (the rulebook is how many pages?), building and painting your army is a daunting task (what's drybrushing?), and the prices to start a new army can definitely hurt your wallet (that box is how much!!?). With that in mind there are a few factions that stand out as better than the others for the initiate in our grand wargaming world. When we take our list I want to you guys to keep in mind exactly what I mean when I say ease of play, ease of painting, and low cost. That way if 40k isn't exactly your thing, or you have found a creative way to take any of the 3 criteria from a - to a + you know what to look for.

First off, easy to play does not necessarily mean easy to win. That is an important distinction that some people (particularly vets) need to remember when helping their friends or picking a new army for themselves. With all the base rules already jumbling around in their brains newer players already have too much to keep track of. Additionally, not having to worry as much about their own factions fancy special abilities can help you get a greater handle of the basics. Being able to use and exploit the base rules of the game can be just as powerful as a fancy unit with a bunch of doodads, and will help you even more later if you happen to get some doodads of your own. Knowing that "all this unit does is run foward and chop stuff" is helpful when you are keeping track of your other units, opponents stuff, and victory conditions. Sometimes its just helpful to have a unit or 2 on autopilot.

Your first models will not look like this.
Something being easy to paint is a huge factor that a lot of people don't even realize. You are much more inclined to stick with playing an army if they are all assembled and painted. It feels great to take pride in your work, and having your entire army painted is quite an accomplishment. Spending that time is very rewarding when it hits the table and you can really say "damn that looks good, I am awesome." I want to stress that most people who participate in the hobby are not award winning artists. All we are looking for is something that looks good when you hold it out at arms length, not under a magnifying glass. When it comes to getting things done fast, easy, and to a decent standard we are looking for armies that reward painting styles that use washes and drybrusing (more on that in a later article). An entire army of models that are "just alright" look much better on the battlefield than one spectacular model and his 40 unpainted friends.

Lastly, we want an army that can get up and running quickly and cheaply. This has two main focuses, model price and unit price. The price of the model is how much money it will cost you, where the unit price is how much of your army it takes up in points. Some armies have very good $/points ratios, and others do not. You can get a lot more points/$ if you have models that can be upgraded to increase their points cost or units that can represent multiple different things, some of which might be the "elite" version who normally come with both an increased value and effectiveness on the table. Additionally we want to stick with boxes of plastic figures where possible, and avoid finecast figures at all costs. Any faction that relys heavily on finecast models should be avoided above all else, unless you have some good eBay skills and can get the older metal versions. Finecast is overpriced, breakable garbage and not worth the money. Otherwise I find it best to support your local shop, because they offer a helpful service and a great place to play and meet new people.

The Black Reach starter set is a great first purchase for Space Marine and Ork players
 Now that we have our 3 criteria fleshed out and ready to go, lets take a look at some of the armies that are good at all 3.

Space Marines. There is a reason why these guys are the "poster boys" of the 40k universe. Games workshop wants you to play them as your first army, and for a good reason, Space Marines hit all 3 of the criteria out of the park. The starter set, Black reach, and multiple other bundles make Space Marines a fairly cheap army to get started (you get the rulebook too!), and a whole force can be made without touching a single finecast model. It is easy to get some nice results quickly when painting them as well, as they don't have nearly as many fiddly pieces as other factions, and they even look good as a solid color after a few minutes of work. With loads of variety in play-styles depending on their flavor and list Space Marines have a wide variety of useful units that are all pretty straightforward. Their high durability, and the way they ignore morale makes them forgiving to newer generals and ideal choice those looking for a stalwart force of diehards.

Necrons.  If you love The Terminator, then these guys are for you. Easy to paint really is the name of the game, as an entire army can be painted in just a week. Those of you who are looking for a little more personalization in your force, do not despair, just because they can be painted quickly doesn't mean they have to be, as they are quite detailed should you which to take your time. Their vehicles might be a bit tricky to build for newer hobbyists, but the troopers are simple enough to compensate. Reanimation protocol and the highest leadership in the game makes mistakes much less punishing, and their "toughness" can be enhanced even further by other units in the army if you really want to take that theme to the next level. Their moderately priced troopers and expensive vehicles take up points quickly making getting your first army up and running a pretty quick task.

Chaos Daemons. Veterans of the hobby might be yelling at their screen right now, as daemons are sometimes considered a tricky army to play. The army does no set up on the board like normal but instead relies on teleporting onto the battlefield. Once you wrap your head around that, despite their unique playstyle, each unit is rather straightforward in its application. In time this army can give a general the foresight to plan each and every strategic move as the units sometimes arrive mid game when and where you need them most. This can help a new player get a head start on the more advanced mechanics of keeping track of victory conditions and the "flow" of battle. Washes over light colors looks great on deamons and your friends will be jealous of how your army looks on the table (just don't tell them how easy it was). Daemon points per dollar ratio is quite high as boxes are cheaper than other armies for the same number of models, and the units get points-expensive fast. Larger daemons in particular have many upgrades that you can use to eat up points and customize your force. Additionally the variety of upgrades can help you make slight tweaks from game to game later on when you need to.

 Some of the next few armies have may one or two pluses, but probably just as many negatives. While they are perfectly viable factions for you to choose, just be warned that something about them isn't as begginer friendly as the first 3.

Tyranids. Overall quit similar to Chaos Daemons, in their general theme of playstyle. A lot little dudes, and few big stompy monsters running around. Like daemons they can be painted up quickly with washes, but their small models are cheaper points-wise so it will take more time and more money to get the on the table. Upgrades can fill out the points quickly if you need to, and some of them can offer quite a bit of variety as they change your playstyle dramatically (like giving a unit wings). Overall, like daemons, they are considered a more difficult army to play, but this will not matter unless you plan on playing in tournaments with master level players. The biggest failing of the army is that many of their important key models are finecast.

Chaos Space Marines. Everything that the Space Marines are just more evil! Chaos Marines trade some of their versatility in certain places with more variety in their basic troops. Just like their regular cousins forces can vary widely from player to player even though they are using the same faction. Their chaos nature means that they might be host to all sorts of mutations, which can make it quite fun to modify the models and make them unique to you. Unfortunately all those modifications and spikey evil bits on the models come at a price, they are tougher to paint. Don't underestimate how much more time its takes to paint all the trim, rivets, and spikes. You might be the kind of person who relaxes and enjoys it, or it could just end up being tedious.

Eldar. The Eldar have models that are easy to paint to a decent level, but are simply stunning when painted by someone who really wants to take their time. Unfortunately, the army can require a bit of finesse as each unit in their force excels at only one task, and is very bad at everything else. This means you need to have the right unit for the job in the right place, which can be tough to do for many players. Many of their units are also finecast and quite delicate, so I HIGHLY recommend you find the metal versions online. This may seem like too many downsides to be placed in the "middle," but they have one big thing going for them. Rerolls. The faction operates around their leaders giving their units the ability to pick up failed dice and try again, often getting many more successes than average. In the long run this allows the player to mitigate bad luck and make your play more consistent, as bad rolls will be smoothed out with the second try, and rolling well the first time offers little bonus the second time around. This consistency allows for easier observations of mistakes and the required changes to fix them. Where it might take 6 games for one player to realize exactly what they are doing wrong because of wild swings in luck, an Eldar player will learn in 1 or 2.

Tau. This faction's aesthetics appeal to those Gundam and Mechwarrior fans out there, and the generals who love to shoot, fly around, and shoot some more. In the end their playstyle is quite straightforward these days, try and shoot to the best of your ability and don't get caught in melee. This one dimensional (though you can make it more complex if you wish) play is easy to pick up on, but the Tau rules are quite old and outdated. Unfortunately, because of its age the codex is tricky to understand for many players old and new, and can sometimes be tough to utilize properly. Painting isn't as forgiving as the top 3, because basic techniques won't work on their vehicles or units. Their painting style of choice is the use of highltighting, which is simple but requires a steady hand.

The last 4 armies are ones that should be avoided by newer players. This doesn't necessarily mean that they are bad, just that there are many things that make them tough to get off the ground and have painting or gaming success with.

Orks. Despite being one of the two armies in the starter box Orks should be avoided by new players. Compared to the Marines, Orks get a raw deal in the Black Reach set. The cheap cost of their units and vehicles means that you will have many more purchases ahead of you. The cost to your wallet doesn't stop with just the units either, as each ork has at minimum 4 colors per model. Once you factor in the washes and the lighter drybrush versions of those 4 basecoats you are looking at lots and lots of paints. If all that sounds complicated to put on your model, then you are right. Each Ork is about 1/3rd the cost of a space marine, but takes 4 times as long to paint. I have never met an Ork player who hasn't complained about how long and tedious it is to paint up their army. Additionally, once you hit the gaming table Orks lack the tools to handle all of the jobs that their general might need to be successful in game.

Dark Eldar. An extremely unforgiving army, where the slightest of mistakes will make you loose a unit or even the entire game. When played well they can be a force to be reckoned with, but even moderate generals playing other factions can put you down should they have a good round of rolling, or if you have a bad one. Additionally this is probably the worst finecast range as the models are delicate and have lots of details. Those details are quite time-consuming to paint as they rely on highlights like Tau and spikey details like Chaos Marines, but are smaller in size than both of them. Dark Eldar play either relies on multiple vehicles, or lots of pricey units coming out of a webway portal, either way it is going to take a chunk out of your bank account.

Imperial Guard. On the battlefield the Imperial Guard is one of the best armies in the game, which is definitely a plus. The problem is that they cost lots and lost of money to play. Their units cost few points, so you will need lots of them, their vehicles are the same and cost a lot of money too. Like the Orks the Imperial Guard are time consuming to paint because of their number of models and each has multiple different colors further amplifying the tedium that it is to paint them. If you are a history buff and love both world wars this faction is for you, just know that getting a large force together and painted will probably take you the same amount of time as it took to fight in them.

Sisters of Battle. A unique Gothic look and an even more unique playstyle can't save this dead faction. An entirely metal model range combined with a lack of a real set of rules makes this a faction to avoid. Which is unfortunate, because it was my first 40k army and still is one of my favorite factions, and I just can't recommend it. It is too bad Games Workshop has been trying to kill off this faction for the past decade.

In the end if you like a faction PLAY IT! If you like everything about them that will spur you on and keep you motivated, so that is great. Play what you like, and all I hope is that you take my advice and make an informed descision. Starting an army is quite an investment in both time and money, so don't make the choice too quickly.

Well that certainly went a LOT longer than I expected, I will see you guys next week when I talk about getting geared up for your first few games.


  1. Enjoyed the article from start to finish. What are your thoughts on fetish Marines??? That is Blood Angles, Space Wolves, Dark Angles, Black Templar and Grey Knights?

  2. the difficulty of Space Wolves relies entirely on the hobbyist. They might be as plain as vanilla Marines and far cheaper($-wise), but when entirely conversional, covered in green-stuff fur, waving banners and rune-clad vehicles, they're a hell to complete... *sigh*


  3. @HOTpanda: Frozencore Joe and I discussed the prospect of "fetish marines" and for the most part they fall within the same category as Space Marines, simply because at the end of the day they are Space Marines with some extra abilities and limitations. Grey Knights are an exclusion, however. Although they might be slightly cheaper because of their elite status and although they are easy to paint (Come on, it's all metalic paints, really) they are pretty hard to play as an army. They are overpowered as hell, too..

    @Aeteros: No green-stuffing is needed to make Space Wolves hard to paint. The very color of the power armor is pretty hard to paint as it is and the already existing combination of runes, skulls, teeth, claws, golden/bronze details, furs, facial hair, etc. makes Space Wolves the Adeptus Astartes version of Orkz.

  4. @Panda: I would say that for the most part the different flavors of marines all fall in the general Space Marine category, with the exception of Space Wolves and Grey Knights. The thing that sets Space Wolves apart is that they are much more time consuming to paint than their Blue/Red/Green/Black cousins because of all the extra details. Take what I said about Space Marines and add in the difficulties of painting Orks. I wouldn't necessarily dissuade someone from starting them up, because "2 out of 3 ain't bad," so I might put them in the middle somewhere. For Grey Knights, painting them is as easy as you want to make it. Sure you can get mediocre results easily, but really making them look amazing takes quite a bit of time. They play very differently than normal marines, and have multiple special rules for each unit, which is definitely confusing. I'd probably place them in the middle as well; painless to paint and purchase, but a peculiar playstyle takes a bit of practice and patience to perfect.

    Party-on Panda Pal!



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