Monday, April 23, 2012

40k: Art or Science?

Hey Folks!  I thought it'd be fun to post up this little chat and see what you all thought.  Believe it or not, I actually got the idea for this article from my girlfriend, who puts up with my addiction to the little plastic space men.  You know it's true love when you find that.

Anyway, the thought comes to me on how people approach 40k.  A lot of factors come into play when determining how people view it, including things like what they do for a living, and how they think.  The game has what I perceive to be two basic views, Art and Science.  Now by art, I'm not referring to the hobby aspect of it at all.  This is sheerly about one's approach to understanding and acting in the game.  So I guess I'll try to describe these as best as possible.

People who are vested in the story behind the game itself.  They might make lists around things that while not always the "best" may still offer a unique twist to their list.  It might not always be the case, but their list might change frequently in order to represent a story for themselves.  They might play more for the story of why, rather than the straight forward "who won?"

Looking at older books, we saw themed missions, and even in the back of the 5th ed rulebook, we see missions like Evacuate, and things like Battle Missions offer us the ability to see more set piece battles where things may not be an even board, but rather are designed to represent some pivotal point in some engagement somewhere.

Even in designing a board or table to play on.  Things might be placed for more of a story telling aspect.  The idea is that they might build terrain to be like a set.  Each piece is set somewhere to allow for the thought of "what was here before it was all destroyed?"  If this corner of a building is here, where the rest of it?  Well, they might place other things like craters or other similar building corners there to answer those questions.  It's the "what was this" and the "how did it become what it is now" that matters here.

The basic idea is that these people approach the game for it's ability to tell a story, and possibly create one.  Why are the armies fighting?  Over what? Where?  These might matter more than perhaps the more prudent rules and applications of the game mechanics themselves.

To these players, the numbers are the kings of decision.  Elements of this can be found from list construction to application on the battlefield.  The units they run are often efficient and in all probability are a carbon copy of another unit on the table.  The biggest question on their minds might be "How best to do thus?"

For example, it's quite common to see units of devastators with 4 of the same weapons.  Even though they can take a plethora of different options all together, the unit fills a specific roll and thus it eschews the choice of options for the ability to be efficient a one thing.  MSU and running units which are the exact same down to the war gear is a common occurrence.  Everything is based on the efficiency of each unit working to create an effective and straight forward design.

Even when looking at the table, they will approach it following a system.  Much like a chess board, the board is set up to reflect a game.  Much like a chess board, an "even playing field" where the terrain matters little other than making sure both sides have the same amount.  Its not what the building or terrain is or was, but rather it's attributes like size, how much cover it can give a particular unit, and how much space it rakes up that matter here.

It's numbers.  Calculate what the army can do, how much it should need to work, and how to engage properly to achieve success.  Numbers are critical.

In my opinion, players should have elements of both.  However, there will always be one side that takes a slight dominance in all of us.  The Art side allows up to make decisions about what we might take, the outlook of variety, and the imagination and innovation to try it.  The Science allows us to formulate an idea, bring it to the table, and apply the rules of the game effectively.

In it's essence, 40k is a game.  The Art-Oriented crowd will approach it from a "How Best can I achieve Fun" while Science-Oriented folks might think "How best to win this one?"  There isn't a right or wrong here.  Each one approaches the game the way they see fit.  And there's nothing to say that people should shun people who aren't the same as them.  This article is purely observation on how people think about the game.

I myself feel like I view the game more as an Art.  There is a story to be found in every part of it.  I take different options when I can, just to mix things up.  I feel like it helps keep the game from feeling repetitive when you constantly have that "what did I bring this time" feeling.  The interesting thing is my surroundings.

Now, I know the examples above aren't all inclusive, and even then there's no proof to say the following is any more than a humble opinion, but I'd describe Heretic and Ishamael as being more Science-Oriented players.  Now, looking at their majors we have a History and a Philosophy Major... as compared to my Film Production Major.  Its a pretty simple and cut and dry difference I have from them.  In Fact, I believe it can even be summed up by our respective degrees.  I hold a Bachelor of Arts Degree, and I believe (not positive) their's will be Bachelor of Science degrees.  Feel free to correct me here if I'm wrong.

In any case, I find myself in a very different side of things when discussion on 40k pop up.  I've witnessed the physical upset I cause to Heretic with the simple word "Firewarriors" many a time, and it comes down to a difference of opinion.  But in the end, no matter how much people might talk about 40k, its rare that people will ever get past their own feelings about 40k.  People might never run certain units for no other reason that "I don't like them."  Nothing wrong with that.  Play what you love, and love what you play.

But hey, I'd be interested to see what the readers think.  An open playground of discussion awaits.  There's nothing here saying one way is right.  It's more just a thought that was rambling about my head, and I thought I'd like to see how people felt about the topic.  So how about it?



  1. I take the science approach, even in my painting. I don't have natural skill or talent. I don't have an eye for colors. My painting comes from applied knowledge and patience. I often feel like I'm painting by numbers because I have to assign each section as something in my mind instead of just doing what feels right.

  2. I'm somewhere between the two. I feel like my wargaming history has given me an interesting fusion. I'll be the first to say that yes, I tend toward those units that are generally better rather than worse, but I do like to feel that a lot of this comes from liking the unit and the way it works. My approach to painting is also reflective of this. My bolter grunts are all machined out, but my sergeants all get some special attention to make them feel like the special snowflakes they are. :P

    Having come from wargames (and art) I do understand though that a board setup can be balanced without having to be symmetrical, much less photocopied across various tables.