At a recent press event for Warhammer: Space Marine, THQ brought out some fans of the Warhammer 40k miniatures game, along with their fantastic armies. In fact, I was surprised that one of THQ’s PR guys had brought along his own Tyranid army, coated with a glistening glossy finish meant to evoke slime. Who knew PR guys could also be such devoted nerds?
The most remarkable miniatures had been carefully pieced together from bits of other miniatures, and complemented with hand-sculpted custom bits. A Chaos Marine army built by a Ph.D. student in pharmacology was one of the most beautiful sets of miniatures I’ve ever seen. Just looking at all the detail and craft in those grotesque misshapen brutes was like falling into a microcosm.
But then there was the actual gameplay. We were treated to some demo games, and sent along with a hardbound copy of the basic rule set. As a boardgamer who loves mechanics, I don’t get the appeal of this tabletop system, which seems hopelessly dated, imprecise, and awkward. Having to prop up a die on a meticulously modeled vehicle to represent what type of damage it’s taken? Hovering over blast templates to read who got hit by what shot? Using a tape measure to keep squads together, calculate movement, and gauge firing range? And so much min-maxing, with so many different sets of rules, with so many six-sided dice, and so little information displayed on the table? Frankly, it all seems like an excuse to do something other than leave these exquisite pieces on a shelf to be admired. I remember when I was a kid and I used to make model airplanes. It took a while to realize that playing with them afterwards wasn’t the point. The point was the making.
But regardless of me not getting the appeal of the tabletop gameplay, I sure did enjoy the spectacle of so many lovingly painted creatures arrayed among so many dice on such wide expanses of table. It very nearly upstaged the actual videogame. Fortunately, developer Relic seems to have a solid idea for how to translate Warhammer 40k into an action game. Read about how a real time strategy developer* approaches a multiplayer shooter in my coverage on GamePro.
* To be fair, they deserve shooter credit for the underappreciated tactical shooter/RTS hyrbid, The Outfit.