Starting Fantasy

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Images courtesy of Google Images and all are the property of their respective owners unless stated otherwise. The points of view expressed here are my own (gathered from my own local GW) or included for comedic effect, and I hope no offence is caused.

Where I am from, introduction of youths to the Games Workshop hobby generally comes in three stages. The first begins, as so many things do, with Hollywood. TheLord of the Rings films were great films, I'm pretty sure we're all agreed on that (aside from the mad Tolkien fanboys in the audience who were outraged by omission of Tom Bombadil, the changing of what was shown in what film[Shelob's often cited here] and the way they got the colour of Frodo's belt wrong or something), and whatever you may say about GWs partnership with New Line Cinema regarding the LotR game (waste of money, brains, time, cake, etc) it brought a large amount of new players to the fold - even if some of them did, indeed, fold after a few months.

So these new chaps are brought into our wonderful world of tabletop gaming with the aid of Peter Jackson, Ian Mckellen and friends and they start playing Lord of the Rings - by anyone's account a fairly simple wargame. They have a great time re-enacting scenes from the movie, creating what-if scenarios and committing diabolical paint jobs against the true-scale miniatures of the range (Fig.1). But they're enjoying themselves, so what the hell.

Figure 1: A Typical LOTR Elf. Well, it's cleanly done I suppose.
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Then one day they come into their local game store and begin to unpack their Uruk-Hai pikemen to the Isengard-themed table and over to their right, on the Armageddon-themed table, someone is heard saying to their opponent "Okay, I'll deploy my Land Raider here, just to the left of the ruins."

The young (as they inevitably are) LotR player's ears frick up, and he casts a wary gaze to his fellow wargamer, uncertain of what this "Land Raider" is, no doubt expecting it to be a Raider of Land (rather than the case of being the Raider discovered by Mr. Land), and wondering how this Raider of Land fits into the setting of Middle Earth - perhaps he wonders if it is from the books he has neglected to read in his Hollywood spoon-fed fantasies, or perhaps he wonders if it is some fiendish Hollywood concoction in order to make Lord of the Rings more extreme. What he sees, as you all know, is this:

Figure 2. A Land Raider.
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Or possibly, if he is very lucky, this:

Figure 3. Another... er... Land Raider.
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And here is the second stage.* These images speak to a youth in a way they spoke to us once, or perhaps still do. These images evoke something that Lord of the Rings can never be - something drenched in oil, with belching engines and immense cannons that fire beams of incandescent light. Our delightful Lord of the Rings playing, acne pocked, girl fearing twelve year old protagonist tugs on his father's (anxious to leave him behind at the game store and get a round in at the gaff) sleeve and whispers in awe.

*Note: It is also possible to reach this stage without going via Lord of the Rings by way of theDawn of War series, or by having a 40k playing boyfriend if you're a girl. The incidence of a non-40k playing guy dating a 40k playing girl is slim to none, so I won't adress that possibility.

"Dad..." said little Timmy, "Can I have one of those please?"

And of course in my mind this spirals into a beautiful story that begins with the father saying "No, Timothy. This bollocks is expensive enough as it is," and continues through his mother complaining about how her spawn never helps around the house all the way up to his Gran presenting him with a Space Marine Battleforce for his thirteenth birthday. Let's hope he doesn't paint them up to be Ultramarines...

Tenner says he does Wink

And little Timmy embarks on a journey of 40k based discovery, over the years maturing as a gamer, painter and, yes, as a man. Maybe he has a girlfriend, but odds-on she's not as awesome as mine and isn't interested in his little men. Either way, he moves up through the Warhammer 40,000 hobby (perhaps he joins Tau Online, and is destroyed by Wargamer on an issue of fluff, or plagiarises Genmotty for a physics paper) and as he gets a part time job he amasses more armies, trying new play styles or techniques, perhaps he becomes a "Veteran" of the store and it ishe whose trio of Leman Russ battle tanks encourages young Jamal (for diversity, got to have some diversity in my essays, it's politically correct, you know) to leave his Men of Gondor behind and sign up for the Guard. He becomes a fine young gent who may have escaped his acne problem only to find weight and personal hygiene issues waiting for him (then again he may not be confronted with these horrors), and any one of us would be happy to meet this chap on the field of battle and go down to the pub for a pint afterwards. And through all this time he consistently maintains that Warhammer 40,000 is where it's at - Lord of the Rings is for kiddies, and Fantasy is too slow and boring.

There. I'm an impressiveeight paragraphs in to an article supposedly about Fantasy before I even mention the system. Because, my friends, perhaps you now are in medium-sized Timmy's position. Perhaps you are finding the game of Warhammer 40,000 is growing stale, with a fresh influx of kiddies graduating from Lord of the Rings academy with the onset of the new Space Marine Codex. All the people who regularly come into your local game store have felt the wrath of your Space Marines, with their updated paintjob from your original Ultramarine nightmare, the burning flames of your Sisters of Battle, and the unpredictable yet enthusiastic onslaught of your Greenskin horde. You have a Necromunda warband and you placed second in the league, and a BFG Fleet but you dropped out of the campaign, calling the rules too simple. You want a new challenge, and nobody plays Epic.

You step into your hobby shop, as little Timmy is doing right now, and your eyes are inescapably drawn from the overall black wall of the Warhammer 40,000 section, in the same way as in his Uruk-Hai to Land Raider day, to the overall red wall of the Warhammer Fantasy Battle section.

Tim swallows hard and walks to the counter.

"Can I have a flick through the Fantasy rulebook please Geoff?"

The manager of the store eyes his regular in a slightly funny way.

"I thought you only played 40k, Tim?"

"I'm thinking of trying something new."

The weighty red tome of the Fantasy rulebook is placed on the table, dog-eared from overuse by chain-smoking men who smell faintly of beer and are nowhere near as fat as their 40k playing cousins. The front cover of the book is familiar, featuring as it does a Hammer of War over a shield, but this one looks significantly less futuristic than the one on the Big Orange Book. Tim faintly recalls that the Fantasy book did this style of design first.

Breathing deeply, he opens the book.

Welcome to the third stage.**

**There is now a "new" third stage, with the release of War of the Ring. It's fast-paced regimental combat I expect will realise it as a stepping stone to Fantasy, with the rise of 40k players who seem interested in playing it. Obviously as the book is not yet out it cannot be said for sure, but that is my prediction. In this case, Fantasy becomes Stage Four.



And with 1,203 words of introduction out of the way, we move onto the main course.

So, you want to play Fantasy?

I don't think in any case (certainly not in my examples) it was therulebook that convinced anyone to play Lord of the Rings or 40k, it was an outside element such as a movie or a friend playing. Something else, something that's clearer in getting across the main points of the game. Andthat, my friends, is why I am writing this article.

Obviously Fantasy's different to 40k; it has been said that 40k is "tactical" while Fantasy is "strategic," although an adequate definition of these terms and how they are applied to the games is actually rather hard to find. I believe they mean that 40k is more about adapting on the battlefield, while in Fantasy it is important to have an idea of what will happen before you even deploy. You've got chunks of men, rather than clumps of individuals loosely banded together, and it is a lot harder to manoeuvre on the fly - you must plan your moves in advance.

While things like hitting and wounding work broadly the same as in Warhammer 40,000, it is the little differences that produce the confusion in long-time 40k players. In Fantasy, your charge takes place in the movement phase (at double movement rate - standard movement rate for a man is 4", rather than 40k's 6") and you don't gain +1 attack for it, only the bonus of striking first. On top of that, entirely new things like Psychology and Magic are easy to get your head round - because they arenew, rather than a change to something you are used to. "To Hit" modifiers in shooting is another thing that Fantasy possesses, and unless you spec your army for shooting you will not find you hit often and your shooting may prove ineffective. In comparison with 40k, where every army, even Tyranids or Orks, can boast effective firepower, this is something that can take some getting used to.

I also find that Fantasy involves more financial investment than 40k. You will be used to have units of 10-20 men at the most, but in Fantasy unless it's Knights or some real elite infantry you'll wantat least twenty men, and this can add up moneywise. However, it gives you some nice options with painting - for example, if you paint the front rank nicely you can get away with painting the other ranks with less detail, as the back rank will probably die and all the ranks are harder to see than the front anyway.

In terms of army composition in Fantasy I often find myself thinking, while writing an army list, "Oh no, I have no anti-tank!" but of course as Fantasy has no tanks this is not an issue - but something elseis. Anti-magic becomes an issue, and as a 40k player this may be something you are unprepared for, along with different units having different movement rates.

So let's go into a bit more detail. You think you want to play Fantasy now, you've got your head around the weird rules differences and additions, and now what matters is decidingwhat you want to play. For some of you this will be easy, maybe it was an army that attracted you to the game in the first place or you'd like to play the counterpart to your 40k race (or even the counterpart of your 40k race's greatest enemy), but not for all of you - sometimes you decide "I want to play this system, it is different, the setting is different yet still cool, but I don't know what I'm doing!" and that is what this part is about.

Army Builds
Close-Combat
Easily done. Big hefty units of close up choppy death, you'll want to be running across the battlefield and getting stuck in as soon as you can. Big units are important because you'll want a decent rank bonus to help you break the enemy on the charge, but if you have units with Frenzy be careful - they have to charge the nearest thing as soon as they can and a cunning enemy will ensure you charge something they'll never break or that they can easily wipe out, overrun and get well away from where you want them to be. All of the armies can spec for this if they really want, but some have to be a bit more cunning than others.

Shooting
This is a little bit harder. BS4 basic shooty chaps is incredibly important to help balance out the To Hit modifiers, and you'll want a lot because for the most part shooting isn't that great at whittling down huge units. Not every army can do this, as some don't even have any missile troops whatsoever. Warmachine backup can be useful, as cannons, mortars and the like will take apart big units with ease. I'd also recommend backing up a shooty army with some magic, as that way you've got a bit of a harder punch if you need it. Elves of all breeds and Dwarves tend to be good at this. Be careful when the enemy reaches your lines, perhaps reforming your lines of shooters to gain a rank bonus for their charge, because you'll probably be deployed right back in order to get the most out of your range and the enemy coming towards you and if you break in combat you're off the board and gone.

So far, so 40k, just with the emphasis shifted from shooting to combat. Ready for new stuff?

Skirmishing
This can be a popular one with 40k players as it removes the whole "regiment" issue. Again, not every army can do this. It means that you don't field any (or at most minimal) block regiments, rather using skirmishers and their enhanced mobility (such as being able to move full distance in any direction and through woods and such) to pick the fights you can win, flanking your opponent and harassing him at every opportunity. This often works as a very fragile army, as if the enemy charges you you'll run rather easily, but if you can charge him, preferably with two or even three units to his one, you'll start mincing them right away.

Magic
This is another popular one for 40k players as it adds a whole new aspect of the game to maximise. At 2,000pts a Magic based army will want a Level 4 Lord as well as a hefty amount of magical Heroes, throwing around power dice with reckless abandon and blowing apart the enemy with their magical power. Whether all use the same Lore for a saturation fire effect or differing Lores for some flexibility is down to you, but the majority of the armies can spec for this very well.

Anti-Magic
Magic is a valuable tool, so of coursecontrol of it is vital. If you spec for total anti-magic you can expect your enemy to be very frustrated every time his magic phase comes around, effectively making one of his phases utterly useless. A good few armies can do this just fine without jeopardising their own magic, in fact anti-magic speccing by way of wizards (rather than fancy banners or magic items[which, it is important to add, cannot be duplicated in Fantasy as wargear can in 40k]) well lead to you having a strong magic front anyway, although as I just said you don't have to spec for anti-magic using wizards. Dwarves are the undisputed kings of anti-magic and they don't have any wizards at all.

Balanced
Of course it's possible to combine a couple or more of these styles into a more balanced army layout, and the most balanced will of course have a mixture of all them - though not in equal measure, and when you consider that to some shooting simply doesn't exist concessions must of course be made. It is harder to get the balance right in Fantasy than in 40k, I think, but it's possible and your army will end up being very effective, if it is done well, against everything other than the most powerbuilt armies for one style.

A Note On Force Organisation
Fantasy operates under a different FoC, and it is a sliding scale that gets larger as you play higher point values. You cannot field a Lord (your most powerful "HQ" choice) at under 2,000pts, and this is why 2,000pts is a common points value for pickup games of Fantasy. But you don'tneed a Lord, and in the vast majority of armies I'll not field a Lord until 3,000, when you can in fact field two. You'll need more "Troops" choices than in 40k, too. It does make sense when you look at it, but it's different. Bear it in mind.




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