Quite often, I end up explaining my hobbies to my friends and coworkers (though not often to my family, since they’re a lot of who I play with). Warhammer 40k and other miniature wargames I think are the hardest to explain since the hobby is so broad. It’s not just playing a game with miniature figures (which is actually a fraction of the time I spend with the hobby), so I’ve often tried to explain it more holistically. Ian and I hit on an explanation recently that I found entertaining – Warhammer 40k is basically football.
In football, you have your home team, or, more precisely, the team that you like to rout for. There are lots of things to distinguish a team: what city they herald from, their team colors, the temperament and fame of certain players or managers, their wins and losses each season, and their rivals. In Warhammer 40k, there are just as many things that may make up an army. For instance, an army us usually chosen from a faction, which can be loosely correlated to where the army heralds from, and describes what kind of alien they are. It sometimes, but not always, also comes with recommendations for what the team colors are.
For instance, I have built an army from the Space Wolves faction, they are mostly-human looking and are outfit with suits of power armor, which I have painted to be pale blue, white, and dark grey. Conversely, Ian plays the Iron Warriors, and, while they may have similar armor, his are painted yellow and black. Finally, Clayton typically chooses an army from the Necrons faction – a group of undead beings from deep space – and has painted their carapace-like armor metallic red and gold.
Just like a football team is made up of individual players, the Warhammer 40k army is made up of individual models or units. Each model has different strengths and weaknesses that affect how it plays. To string along this analogy further, it’s easy to think of someone who plays Warhammer 40k as taking the roles of the owner, manager, and coaches of a football team. They make the decisions about which models take the field, and may change them out as needed for strategic advantage over their opponents. They are also mostly responsible (either directly or indirectly) for the fame of their team – they are making all the decisions after all.
Finally, the local game shop or group of Warhammer 40k players is easily analogous to a football conference – these are the teams that play regularly, form rivalries, and know the other teams’ plays the best. Similarly, tournaments draw teams from further away where other teams and play strategies enter the mix. Here rivalries heat up and local favorites matter – if your team isn’t in the finals, you may rout for someone else’s team because they always did well in the local games. Alternately, if the coach of the best local team was consistently disrespectful, he or she may find that they don’t have the backing of the locals during the tournament finals!