To Fluff or Not to Fluff by Andrew Ovel

17 Dec

To Fluff or Not to Fluff?

Can you have a game where both players win?

Ever won a game, and felt like you lost? Ever lost a game and walked away feeling happier than if you had tabled your opponent?

I was taught that the golden rule of 40K (in fact of any game) was that both players should have fun, more important than winning in fact. So for me it’s very important that everyone enjoys the game. Now I’m not suggesting that you allow your opponent to walk all over you, rerolling all misses and failed armour saves, because that’s not going to be much fun for you; it’s also important to be a gracious loser too. Playing for fun is the difference between a professional sport and a game, and 40K is still a game.

In my early 20’s, back in 3rd edition, I became obsessed with producing the most lethally effective army list I could. When I played I never broke a rule, I was always polite to my opponent, and I didn’t use mind games and I was no fun to play against. More importantly I realised I wasn’t enjoying myself either.

Then I had an epiphany, I was explaining to a guy called Steve how I was getting really bored of using the same army list, but I didn’t want to change it as it was so effective. And he asked me

Why are you so being so competitive? You should save it for the tournaments. These games are supposed to be fun, why not try using other units; it really doesn’t matter if you lose. What’s the worst that would happen if you lost?

BLINKand a metaphorical light bulb turns on.

What was the worst that would happen if I lost! Who was I trying to impress? Why was I being so competitive? Everyone at the store knew I was a good 40k player. Would it really matter if I lost?

The next game I played I took a radically different list, and used my Rhinos to charge my Tactical Marines forward to assault a massive Ork horde, I lost horribly! More importantly it was the most fun I’d had in months. I was making snap decisions with my army, and I didn’t know what I was going to do next, and I learnt loads about the assault rules!

I’m not saying I was some all conquering 40K genius, I lost games, but I had learnt an important lesson; there is more to 40k than winning!

Now this is a 40k tournament podcast so I will say it again, there is more to 40k than winning! You should be having fun too.


Now for some of you winning IS what it’s all about (if that’s you then you can stop reading now) and that’s ok when you go to a tournament. I believe you should give your all: that’s why everyone is there, to compete to the best of their abilities….but if you like to make things more “interesting” then please read on.

So what has all this got to do with fluff you may ask, well if you read the short stories, history and books on the various armies you will find 40K has a really detailed, interlocking colourful and evocative history; 40K has the best developed back story of any tabletop war-game. In fact it was the fluff that attracted me to the game in the first place. I remember hungrily reading White Dwarf which had loads of background in it, and is a great way to get into the game. It was the fluff that had got me playing and I had forgotten that.

You see fluff is actually quite fun.

Imagine you love the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels by Dan Abnett, and you want to take a Commissar Lord to lead your army, but you also feel it’s not the most effective HQ choice in the Imperial Guard Codex. This is when you have to start making choices, and you may choose fluff over effectiveness. I personally feel that to do the Gaunt’s Ghosts list properly I would want a Commissar Lord to represent Gaunt; I also feel he wouldn’t be the optimal choice for a competitive list! BUT that’s ok because I’m not taking him because he’s the most effective choice, I’m taking him because he fits the fluff; and therefore would be the right choice for that army.

This idea of playing the fluff can extend through a whole army. Did you know if you explore the Chaos background you will find each Chaos God has an associated number? My friend has a Daemon army, and his units have the matching number, or multiples, of that number of models. Does this give him an advantage? Not really, although the unit sizes work out quite well by coincidence! So why does he do it? Because taking a fluffy army makes him happy. Using these unit sizes is good for him because it follows the fluff, which for him is more important than being supper efficient.

There is quite a lot of background in the army books that is no longer catered for by current Codices (e.g. all the different Craftworlds used to have their own rules, and the different Ork tribes used to have their own rules too), and a lot of players out there are quite devoted to their particular army. If you are playing an Iyanden Craftworld (which has lots of Wraithlords and Wraithguard after a mauling by the Tyranids) you may want to let your opponent “bend” the rules on the force org chart, or add a few special rules to allow your opponent to add some character to the army. Those old Codices with their old lists and rules will provide an excellent starting place for planning your new list for 5th edition.

If fluff from stories is your thing then go for it, but remember just because you may read in a short story that 3 Marines can stop an entire Ork fleet by themselves you may still end up being tabled every time (Boltguns just aren’t that killy), of course if you do take a fluff army you are already winning in a different way.


When you go to a tournament most players will have tested and honed their army to be the most effective force they can bring to bear on the tabletop. Bringing a massively fluff based army can leave you sitting in last place, and more power to you if it doesn’t, but that’s something you should be aware of when you chose to play fluff. Of course years of practice with any army, fluff based or not, will make you more effective at using it, and I believe an experienced general with a fluffy army could beat even the most effective list, if his opponent has no experience.

So like pretty much everything in life you need balance. When I play at home I like to take a balanced army, but I like to throw a few unusual, or surprise units in just to keep things fresh, and on occasion take something really unusual (like IG but with no vehicles, or an IG army really devout to the Imperial creed so lots of Priests and Commissars, but no Psychers, Ogryns or Ratlings etc…). Choosing some fluff from you army’s background and then using that to draw up your list can be a great way to stop yourself getting “burned out” with just playing super competitively. Who knows you may discover some great combination of units, or tactics that you would never have tried before.

It’s not just your army you can fluff, how about fluffy missions? Why not try recreating battles from a story or 40k’s history, or even draw up your own mission. One of the best games I ever played was recreating the fall of the Ultramarines 1st company to Hive Fleet Behemoth; we had 100 terminators fighting against everlasting waves of Tyranids. We already knew that all the Marines would die, as the game would finish when the last one was killed, but what we didn’t know was how long it would take, and all those exciting little events that make these games fun. I heard recently about a massive game over in Canada where they recreated the The Drop Site Massacre of Istvaan V, where they invited players to bring their Marine armies, and have a massive battle; imagine how much fun would that be? If there is a particular event you would like to recreate then sit down with your opponent and agree some rules and just play it for fun. There doesn’t have to be any victory conditions, if you don’t want to, because it’s a different kind of game. You can have armies that have different point’s values, ignore the force organisation chart, or even particular rules amongst many other forms of 40k rules heresy, but only as long as all opponents agree that it would be fun to play that way. After all 40K is just a series of agreements and if you all agree you are free to change those agreements. One note, do not try this argument at a tournament!

Back in 3rd edition I forgot to balance my fun with my competitiveness, but I learnt to save my competitive streak for when it was appropriate. My advice is to try adding a little fluff to your games at home to keep things fresh. Try a few story based narrative campaigns or a crazy army list you know will lose with. After all you can always play another game right after with a more competitive list, and what’s the worst that could happen if you lose?

So if anyone out there has tried playing any 40K fluff based historical/story recreations, or have a really great fluff based army I would love to know.

And If I can set you some homework why not try writing the worst list possible with a friend, and try playing each other with them, just for fun! I guarantee you will learn something.


Thanks for reading




2 Responses to “To Fluff or Not to Fluff by Andrew Ovel”

  1. Mark Perry December 20, 2011 at 10:07 #

    Excellent stuff! If anything I change my lists around too much as there is so much stuff around to try. Even IG players can just play with the HS slots and have tons of variety to their game play. Overall I think that wider gameplay makes for better players.

  2. 40KUK December 29, 2011 at 13:26 #

    Wider game play also makes for a chance at catching your opponent out. From May until nowish using the Manticore I have had so many opponents unfamiliar with what it can do which has in certain games won me them.

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