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Thursday, October 8, 2015

My life in hobby gaming...

So being that this is a blog about my favorite hobby I decided to just go on a tangent about my experience as a miniature gamer.

I remember my first experience being exposed to the hobby. When I was a kid I used to go to the mall a lot with my folks. As a child there was only a few things in my life I cared about: comics and video games. So back when malls had arcades I'd always plop my happy butt in them for hours at a time while my mom went shopping. This was also back when parents left their tiny children alone in malls with no fear.

So on a trip to Toronto we decided to stop at a huge mall. I do what I naturally always did and looked at the directory for the arcade's location. By a happenstance of fate I see "Games Workshop" and head straight for it.

Instead of an arcade, I had found destiny.

I remember a brightly lit store with all manners of models that were impressively painted. The shelves were lined with boxes and paints. Tables were set up with terrain and demo models for bystanders to try. A very enthusiastic employee described everything to me in detail and allowed me to play with him using the (3rd edition) starter box - which included 10 marines and a landspeeder (painted as Ravenwing) against 20 Dark Eldar. Before then I only knew of model cars, which I had extensive experience with as my uncle and I did a million of along with rockets and pinewood derby. But little dudes with guns fighting over a battlefield before your eyes?!

When it was time to go my dad found me at the would-be arcade. I showed him how cool everything was and begged him to buy me a starter. My dad was definitely more than willing to get me a new toy (ha!), then saw the price tag for the starter to be a whopping $75 and politely turned the GW employee down. I know, $75 for a GW starter is nothing anymore.

I left defeated, but I was determined to get my hands on it one day. That was in the 4th grade.

Being that we lived in Germany at the time I didn't think I'd have the opportunity to obtain the game, but I always kept it in my head as something I just knew I had to have one day. For a 4th grader to have that type of focus, it should indicate how determined I was for it. Granted, these were the days before the internet's boom, online shopping didn't exist, you didn't have a website to do research, and if you did it was very crude. I thought about it almost every day until we moved back to the US in 7th grade. When we moved to New York I still sought after finding a "Games Workshop" at a mall like I had done before. It was a good while until we went to the Syracuse Mall and I found one!

This time I managed to get my parents to buy a White Dwarf magazine and order the old Citadel Catalog. This gave me all the info I needed to further pursue the hobby - a book full of pictures of cool toys and articles on painting, a list of GW retailers, a Sears-catalog-like list of available models, and the number to their hotline! Yes, kids, they used to have a 1-800 number to call, and this is how you used to settle rules disputes or ask general questions about the game. I remember my first phone call to them asking what the rules were on painting your guys - and the confused voice on the other end saying "however you want" and blowing a kid's mind.

I showed this to my friends at school and found out that one of them actually knew about the game and had a few models for it! When I say a few, I mean like 3 space marines. We had about 3 other guys who wanted to get into it as well, but in hindsight only Brennan and I absolutely wanted to go through with it. We actually changed plans to get into Epic 40k as it was cheaper, but we really didn't an idea of what we actually wanted, just some Space Marines. I didn't even realize/remember that there was a rulebook lol.

A little further down the road we met up with a friend of his who actually had some Space Wolf models and they were painted. We were going to play a game together with what he had. I expected it to be like my first experience with the GW employee, but it turned out to be how you'd expect 3 kids to play with toy soldiers. A lot of sound effects being made and overall a recreation of a scene from Andy playing in Toy Story.

We had fun, but I sought that true experience. Fast forward to moving back to Germany. I was still hungry for the game, but hormones and high school made it take a back seat for a while. I still made model cars and military craft, but I had gotten into a lot of other hobbies along the way, like skating, playing drums, and girls (haha!). I still kept it in the back of my mind though. Around that time I found the internet, it was still a crude form of it - it was slow, you dialed-up to get on, and chat rooms were the thing. On a whim I searched for Games Workshop's website and found it! I begged my parents to help me order it. Five weeks later - shipping was also not as good back then for some reason - I had gotten my first models! I put it all together with PVA glue (for some reason I thought that was the special glue needed for the models) and read the rules. I hadn't had anyone to play it with for about a year since none of my friends knew about it.

During my sophomore year I visited my sister in New York for the summer. Didn't bring my models with me, but I did bring my rule book to read on the plane along with some comics. When I visited her she would drive me to the Syracuse mall periodically (a 3 hour drive, bless her heart) so I could visit the GW store. It had been years, but they remembered me from before! This time I came with the most important thing: money! I had bought a space marine starter box, paints, the codex, and the old SM Commander with the Storm Bolter. I didn't play any, but watched as others did and spent a lot of time with them learning how to paint, and the importance of primer. Also, to use super glue.

I remember asking what inks did (back when they sold inks) and being told that it gives definition, and having no idea what that meant and nodding.

Well I came back with tons of stuff in a GW case and got to work on it back home. I painted up my force to be all Black with Silver trim. And gold eagles. And red in random places. It was quite hodgepodge, as some newbies are prone to do lol.

As it turns out, I met a new friend who also knew about Warhammer and had some Tyranids. We would get together periodically and play 500 point games together. We still talk to this day, and he still plays Warhammer.

The next year I visited New York again, this time I had a lot more stuff and got to play a few games. I was also learning how to drive, so my sister and I took several road trips to a few different stores.

After I graduated high school I moved to Texas to go to college in a small town. I had all my Warhammer stuff with me in the dorm, but being such a small town I didn't expect to find anywhere to play locally. One day I went with a friend to pick up Domino's Pizza and on the way in the store out of the corner of my eye I saw a Warhammer 40k poster. My heart stopped and I walked inside. There I saw people playing Warhammer and a few of my now lifelong friends playing different games. I couldn't contain my excitement and started going there almost daily.

This is where a lot of my most fond memories occurred. I just so happened to have discovered the place the week they were doing a huge game event for Warhammer, involving no less than 12 players in a huge free-for-all game. I also discovered there was a new edition to the game I didn't know about that just recently released. I met a lot of people who I still play with to this day.

A really good friend of mine taught me how to play the game correctly and how to think differently when it comes to list composition and gameplay. He also taught me about painting, and I remember how he blew my mind when he showed me how to layer paint with red up to orange (a lot of things got a treatment of red after that haha). We played almost religiously and went to dozens of tournaments around Texas. I had moved from successfully playing vanilla Space Marines to Slaanesh Chaos Marines - which I actually did very well with - to my Ravenwing, which won several tournaments consistently. I vastly improved my painting abilities and discovered that it is one of my favorite aspects to the hobby by far, even winning several painting competitions and usually coming out with Best Painted in most of the tournaments we attended. After several years we took the plunge for Warhammer Fantasy and quickly discovered that it was even better!

After a few years of that we moved on to Warmachine (Mark 1) for a change of pace. Our group got somewhat smaller but we still met up weekly for gaming. During these years I was opened up to a lot more than miniature gaming. We played lots of board games - Battlestar Galactica was probably one of my favorite moments. We played Star Wars Miniatures extensively (a great game that went the way of the dodo), I was shoved into Versus and discovered why they called CCGs "Cardboard Crack," and plenty more that I wouldn't be able to recall.

After I graduated college I got married and we planned on moving to El Paso to be closer to my family, along with the pursuit of a career of some sort. Warmachine MkII just came out and we were knee-deep in the game, but when I moved to El Paso I had a hard time finding opportunities to game. There was only one shop I found over there, and they were more into Magic the Gathering than miniatures. Although I played Magic, the scene wasn't very welcoming (I find a lot of Magic stores to be less forgiving, but that's painting with a broad brush) and I quickly lost any drive to make the effort to go there. So for about two years I didn't do any table top gaming, and hardly any painting at all. I did try to get some friends of mine into it, but nothing ever came out of it.

It wasn't anything to complain about, I rediscovered one of my other hobbies I did in high school - paintball. But that's a whole other story, all that needs to be said is this - that hobby can be even more expensive lol.

My family had moved away from El Paso after two years. Being that my wife missed living near her parents and most of mine had moved we decided to come back to the Houston area. When we moved back here one of the first things I did was search for a local shop to play at. I knew Houston was a hotbed for miniature gaming and that there should be several stores nearby. I discovered my local gaming store and got right back in to the swing of things. I even met some people who I've gamed with since then.

I not only discovered my local store, I found a lot others including visiting the new location of one of my old regular places, Fat Ogre. If you're ever in that area of Houston you should definitely visit.

I got a great job and have since been rediscovering my love of painting and playing. I've probably grown more in the last two years as a painter than I have my entire painting career! I'm also into more games now than I can count, mostly due to the renaissance of miniature gaming that's occurring thanks to YouTube, Kickstarter and other internet influences. I'm closer now than ever to having one of my dreams since I first saw miniatures in having terrain and a full table to be proud of.

So we come to today. It's a day of hobby reflection for me, where I pause and take stock as to my growth as a person in this wonderful distraction of ours. Miniature gaming has taken me to become a better person, helped me meet incredible lifelong friends, and pushed the boundaries of my creativity. It really is a large chunk of my identity and I've dedicated a good portion of my life toward it. It may not be something like a career or lifetime achievement, but it is something that is of value. Gaming may not save any lives other than the pretend soldiers on the table, but it's been a driving and guiding force consistently throughout my short existence.