A Seal walks into a club – Baby Seals First Steps by David W

7 Oct

“I’m new to all this….”

I don’t know how many times I’ve started a conversation with this over the past few months, but I’m getting sick of hearing myself say it.

It doesn’t help that nobody seems to care about the new guy.

It’s not what I was expecting when I came back to the hobby after 14 years. For some reason I had images of geeks all rallying together to help the new guy. Nerds of all ages welcoming me back into the fold, everyone excited to teach me the rules and tactics that propel me to the top of the tournament tables in record time. At the very least, I expected people to be a little more approachable.

Turns out that my first problem is that I’m intimidated by you all (pause for mocking laughter). It sounds stupid, and I’m not a shy person, but put me in a room full of people who know a lot more than me about something and I clam up. Completely. (Skipping ahead slightly) On my first trip to a games night I stood there staring at a box of Tyranids for 45 minutes (I don’t even play them), too nervous to interrupt anyone to ask for a game. Then I went home.

I should mention I’m 28 years old.

I refuse to believe I’m the only person who finds the early days of the hobby incredibly intimidating. There are so many choices to be made, so many rules to learn, so many tactics to be absorbed and so many contradicting opinions out there that you never know what you should be doing. There always seems to be someone nearby, silently judging you, itching to punch you for even considering those Vespids.

I’m hoping to write up some articles that highlight the problems that can come up for someone just starting the hobby, especially if you don’t have anyone else starting with you. I’ll point out my mistakes: from getting carried away on eBay to painting both my hands black, and I’ll try and give some hints too. The idea is these articles will evolve into my personal build up to the tournaments I’ll be attending, and my experiences learning the hard way. But ill start from the beginning…

Problem 1: First steps…

I originally stopped playing 40k all those years ago for a number of reasons. First and foremost being that its not too easy getting a girlfriend being a private schoolboy with floppy ginger hair, NHS glasses, and a shoebox full of little plastic men wrapped in toilet paper. I remember being very bad at the actual game and even worse at painting-I remember being very excited when White Dwarf gave away some cardboard bunkers! No painting/super glue required!


When it came to armies, there wasn’t as much choice back then: no DE, Tau, Necrons, Sisters or Grey Knights, and Nids weren’t really an option (hardly any models). You just went to in to a store, picked the models you liked and that was your army.

Nowadays, with about twice as many codex’s (codices?) to choose from, 100’s of people on the Internet telling you which armies are most competitive and new release rumours all over the place it can be a difficult choice.  However, I found the Internet a great place to start looking:

  • Check out the GW website to see which armies you like the look of, but ignore EVERYTHING they say about how these armies play.
  • I found that forums can be useful in quickly finding out what’s competitive, and what’s not, but if your going to do this, be prepared to read a lot of crap.
  • If finances are tight, when you have a rough idea if what you want to play, compare a few Internet lists with the actual prices of the models. You don’t want to spend all your disposable income only to find out it’ll take you a year to be able to afford a playable army.
  • Take note of any new-release rumours. Spending a fortune on an army and then finding out that its being re-released a month later would be a very expensive kick in the nuts.

I got lucky with the last point. I decided on daemonhunters, because it was a low model count army, and so cheap to start up (in case I didn’t actually enjoy playing), and I loved the models. I’d checked out forums and realised they were far from competitive, but I thought I’d give them a go anyway (and remember I was destined to be UK number 1 within a year, the army didn’t matter!) I went in to GW to start spending and was told that all the old models had been removed a few days before to make way for Grey Knights. So although I had to wait, I didn’t waste any money, and I had plenty of time to…

Listen to Podcasts

This is by far the most useful tool I have found so far. There are a lot of them out there but it’s worth downloading a sample from as many as possible to find the ones that most suit you. Some personal favourites are:

  • 40KUK: but you already know how great these guys are…
  • 11th company: easy going but very heavy on tactics. Like being thrown in at the deep end, you’ll soon work out if you enjoy swimming…
  • Independent Characters: I’ve only recently started listening, but they seem to swing a little more to the hobby side of things.
  • Life after the Cover save: 40k garnish on a plate full of knob jokes.

These 4 offered me the tournament talk, tactics, hobby, and farts into the mic that gave me a headstart into different parts of the hobby. But there are plenty of others out there, E.g. The Overlords is the place to go for fluff, and if you like your advert screamed directly into your brain-check out 40k radio!

What to buy first?

So you’ve picked the army you want to play, and know a bit about it. Now assuming you can’t afford everything upfront, you’ll need to be a bit picky about what you purchase first. This is going to depend on where you intend to go with the hobby. If you’re not worried about being competitive, just buy whatever models you fancy. If you are planning on going to some tournaments you need to be a bit more selective. Either way, buy your chosen armies codex. You aren’t going to get very far without it.

You’ll need a rulebook too; you have a few options here though:

  • The Assault on Black Reach (AOBR) is a great place to start if you’re planning on playing Space Marines (any Imperial variant except Grey Knights) or Orks, you can then sell on the army you’re not using. This will give you everything you need to start playing some small games.
  • The incredibly expensive hardback book. In my opinion, in the early days, the extra money this costs is better spent on actual models-unless you’re really into the fluff.
  • Popular auction website: pick up someone’s unwanted AOBR rulebook for a knock down price.

But which models? Buying something you may not end up using can be an expensive waste. (I’ve got a Dreadknight that I haven’t touched because I got a little over-excited when pre-ordering). Stick with a few of the troop choices from your codex first; you’ll usually need quite a few of these, and an HQ choice. That way you can start playing straight away (in theory). The choice in the troop section is usually pretty limited, and if you’ve done your research you’ll know if there’s a “bad” choice in the book. HQ’s are a tougher choice, but again, your research should push you in the right direction.

So my first month back in the hobby was spent trolling forums, listening to podcasts I had no hope of understanding and buying models I’d never use. But not actually talking to anyone. A great start to my new “social” hobby.

Next time: Painting for beginners (hint: bring gloves), and how (not) to make friends and table people.

Any questions, comments, insults etc-feel free below…


14 Responses to “A Seal walks into a club – Baby Seals First Steps by David W”

  1. Chris Smith (@BadgerRustler) October 7, 2011 at 14:17 #

    Great blog.

    I think a lot of us have been in a similar situation – loved the game as a kid and got back into it in our twenties.

    On one hand it’s nice having my own money to spend on the game and the internet to help me spend it wisely. On the other it seems much harder getting round to playing now, without that group of mates that you usually gamed with.

  2. Daniel Killick October 7, 2011 at 15:58 #

    I had the exact same problem a few years ago when I came back to 40k. I found the trick is either just pop into a local GW or independent store on a quite day and ask the manager/staff for a refresher game, or just go along to a gaming night and just speak to them. That’s where I started again, now I am that friendly local gaming store manager 😛
    Remember everyone has their opinion and some like to voice it louder than others. If you come into the right atmosphere there will be many people to help you along the way.
    I couldn’t agree more with podcast’s being the best places to hear of interesting tactics (*cough* using preferred enemy to re-roll hits) or just get a flavour of where the hobby is at the moment.
    Also I think that certain forums can be so useful for a new player, generally the smaller less populated forums (ie 11th comany or any of the other podcasts) are more welcoming towards the newer players. Where as there are some ( won’t mention name’s) are full of the power gamers who have no time for the beginner’s.
    I can fully understand your position of being intimidated by the room full of gamers. Just try and remember that they all started somewhere and most of them will remember that. However you will have to do the talking in most cases.
    A for the lack of a better term “guide” through this hobby can do wonder’s. I’m sure Mr.Symcox when he got back into the hobby used the vast knowledge of his local gamers to help him understand tactics / rules / etc.
    Anyways great article, and looking forward to reading the next instalment.

    • Neil Gilstrap October 7, 2011 at 18:45 #

      My advice is to play and set aside time to do so. Proxy models, borrow, do whatever, but just play. Find a group that plays regularly and just jump right in.

  3. DavidW October 7, 2011 at 18:59 #

    Thanks for the positive comments guys, they all help build up the fragile ego!

    Chris: I totally agree, I definitely feel like I’m going deeper into the hobby more now than I did when I was a kid. But its odd that, when it comes to 40k, my social skills have reverted to that of a 14 year old again. I’m getting there though!

    Daniel: I did eventually get over those original nerves and ask for a game, I should get to that on the next installment! You’re definitely right that you have to the talking in most cases, its not always easy to jump in to a wargamers conversation though

  4. DavidW October 7, 2011 at 19:02 #

    Neil-that was the plan! It just didn’t go that way… (although I think you may have been the first person (other than a GW employee) that I spoke to about 40k-11th co. forum was my first forum post!

  5. DavidW October 7, 2011 at 19:05 #

    Neil: that was the plan! It just didn’t work out that way! Weird though, I think you may have been the first person (apart from GW staff) that I spoke to about the game, 11th co. forum was my first forum post! You were very gentle! lol

  6. Daniel Killick October 7, 2011 at 20:59 #

    David: well if your ever in the Hertfordshire area pop in to Battleworlds and I’ll give you a game anytime :D. Good luck on your adventure in 40k 😀

  7. Drake Pendragon October 7, 2011 at 21:19 #

    Nice start to a topic that does affect lots of us. Sevenish years ago I was getting back into 40K and had great success with the crowd in Nottinghams city centre GW store. Fast forward to now and I am only just breaking into the wargaming scene here in Oslo after 4 years in the country.

    My situation now makes me realise how lucky I was with Nottingham. The crowd here seem friendly enough now but were not as open to outsiders and I did a lot of ‘shelf-browsing’ myself. What has finally worked for me now was chancing uppn contact with another Oslo player through a forum and arranging a game. Then with a bit more contact I’ve signed up for PP’s Journeyman League, this is now ‘forcing’ me to play and meet more people. Turns out they are an alright crowd.

    Looking forward to reading more about your journey. 

    • 40KUK October 9, 2011 at 11:20 #

      This is an awesome blog that explains exactly how many people feel when they first get into the hobby feel and I’m looking forward to see how the series develops. It is an old cliche, but the guys that are in a group (who may even seem like they are in a click) are actually just the same type of guys as the rest of us. They may seem more comfortable because they are in that group, but without doubt in my opinion gamers are actually the more easy types of groups to approach and once done so will open up with advice, time and even friendship (lets face it, as gamers we are talkers). The problem is that we do not approach and thus are left out in the open. The approach ‘fancy a game’ may be met with the answer no, but then will quickly be followed with ‘but Jon hasn’t got anyone to play’ and your in.

  8. John Elson October 18, 2011 at 22:21 #

    Well it makes me feel so much better that I am not the only one that finds the thought of playing 40k intimidating. Yeah I have stood for 45 minutes with my Tyranids then walking out of the GW store in Nottingham. The problem is my son introduced me to the 40k universe and got me hooked, then he jumps ship leaving poor old dad with no playmate. So now I listen avidly to podcasts devour Black Library releases and paint, consoling myself with the thought that at 46 I am way too old to start playing. So it will be good to see how you get on in your quest for 40k gaming interaction.

    • DavidW October 19, 2011 at 16:32 #


      46 isn’t too old to start playing! As soon as I work out the secret to interacting with 40k players ill be sure to pass it your way (i think it may involve bringing beer) until then, be safe in the knowledge that there are more of us paranoid gamers out there!

  9. John October 24, 2011 at 10:56 #

    Great post !

    I’m in exactly the same situation right now, wanting to start some wargaming but not knowing even which “system” to choose let alone which army.
    Then there will be the trouble of finding some people to play with, it’s somewhat a wasteland ’round my parts for wargaming.

    • 40KUK October 25, 2011 at 02:09 #

      Where do you play buddy?

      • John October 25, 2011 at 08:19 #

        Somewhere in the middle of Belgium 🙂

        All the people/clubs I could find are 30+ miles away, but I’ll eventually find something I hope.

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