That’s right, you heard me. I’m a TABLETOP GAMER. You might ask what that entails; you might be utterly confused by the miniatures and dice scattered amongst the half-consumed soda cans and dog-eared manuals. I would answer you, but I am elsewhere.
Where I am, I am the tactical commander of a Blood Angels battle-group. I am watching the auspex readings of a dozen squads of elite Space Marines. I am sending troops loyal to the God-Emperor of Mankind to their deaths in battle; I send them to glory. I speak three words, and thirty jump-packs spin up their turbines, thirty power-armored knights fall from the sky into the main gun-line of the menacing xenos. The foul Eldar have made their last incursion on the surface of this planet, and it will be by my hand and my faith in the God-Emperor that they are driven back. The air is thick with ionized air from the pitifully deficient las-weapons carried by the doomed Planetary Defense Force that held the surface long enough for me and my battle-brothers to arrive by drop pod assault. We were fired from orbit to bypass the danger of anti-aircraft fire; the blessed sons of the Emperor have arrived to purge the xeno filth from a loyal planet of the Imperium. I hear the bark of my brethren firing .75 caliber shells from their holy bolters, and within short moments I hear the secondary explosions as the bolts penetrate and explode a few inches past the first layer of armor, terrain, or flesh that they encounter. I hear cries of “For the Emperor!” and “Death before dishonor!” I see my brother Chaplains reciting the Litanies of Hate among their squads, fearless in their sable armor, masters of the trade of bringing death and destruction. Streams of plasma and melta-weapons bring down the agile but poorly-armored vehicles of the Eldar, and my Assault Marines have torn through the enemy gun-line in a spray of tainted blood and torn flesh.
Shortly thereafter, my turn has ended, and I pass the dice off to my esteemed opponent with a few comments about the wonderful painting work on his miniatures. I am only human, and I watch my opponent’s vehicles prove their offensive worth against two of my support squads. My opponent doesn’t fully grasp that I’ve allowed myself to be flanked for a reason, though, because I still have some reserves left, and he’ll be singing a different tune once I melta-bomb his sorry little grav-tanks with my fresh Assault Marines on the next turn.
Sure, I’ll grant that I’m sitting at a table covered in painted plastic terrain pieces. I’ll allow the assumption that all I’m doing is playing a luck-based version of chess. A person who sees only these things does not see the story I am creating with every die roll and with the help of my opponent. My miniatures were painted not too long ago, but the Blood Angels are a venerated Chapter that has been in existence since the 31st millennium. I wage war not upon tabletops with good friends but on distant scattered hell-worlds against horrors that would break the minds of less well-versed humans. The Great Age of Humanity has come and gone three times before the battle on my dining-room table, and I fight in the name of the mighty God-Emperor that only just succeeded in uniting humanity once more before his betrayal by his favorite son among the Primarchs, the Warmaster Horus. I insert myself and allow myself to fall into the grand universe of Warhammer 40,000 like a quarter into a gumball machine. Through my battles and campaigns, I forge new legends and lore against the backdrop provided the backdrop of a cold and uncaring universe in which the only hope for humanity is to abandon the compassion and mercy that makes it humane.
Am I playing 40K (as it is often affectionately known by the fan base) for the tactical struggle? Oh, most certainly. It is engaging to work within the rules that are constructed. At the end of the day, it is an honor to test myself and my good fortune against that of a worthy opponent. I love the feel of a good roll in combat, knowing that my squads’ bolter fire has struck true. I love the suspense of an assault phase during my turn and the triumph of pinning down an enemy squad with well-directed sniper fire. There is a thrill to the process, almost as though my war-spirit was being tested in the same fiery baptism that my miniature battle-brothers go through.
However…I could just be playing chess, or the Star Wars miniature battle game.
I play 40K because the story really hits me. The grim darkness of the 41st millennium is a setting in which humans cannot afford to give or take any respite. Travel through the Warp from planet to planet runs the risk of being devoured in transit by otherworldly daemons too powerful for the human mind to comprehend. It is a unique tactical experience, but it is a purely unique experience in storytelling. It is a meeting and melding of LotR, Star Wars, and the compiled world of Lovecraft, with the finest aspects of each. Each victory comes through a moral fog, because the morality isn’t white/black, gray/black, or even simply gray. Each race is unabashedly disturbing in some aspects, from the dogmatic zealotry of the Space Marines and Ordos Hereticus to the frenzied debauchery of the Dark Eldar and Chaos to the planet-rapes of the Tyranid hive-mind. The depth there to be probed is staggering, and one can only truly appreciate the game through the story. This is why I play 40K instead of chess, when given a choice.
Why do I play 40K instead of the Star Wars miniature tabletop battle game?
I play 40K because a .75-caliber explosive shell punching into your chest and detonating within you will clear up that nasty little case of Midi-Chlorians in a hurry. The Force is a sign of the Taint of Chaos, after all.