Warhammer is a difficult world to penetrate. There are lots of terms and figures and phrases that make absolutely no sense to anyone not already entangled in the universe of Space Marines, Eldar and Necrons. But for the uninitiated: it's essentially a tabletop game for which players collect and paint a load of figurines, which make up the armies they take to battle.
First came Warhammer Fantasy Battle, then – in 1987 – Warhammer 40k, the futuristic sequel, which is set in the 41st millennium AD. As it's 40k's 30th birthday this year I went to a tournament – the London 40k Grand Tournament – to speak to people about their most prized Warhammer figures, and ask why it is they dedicate so much time to the game.
VICE: Tell me about your favourite Warhammer figure.
Andy: It's one of my Chaos Helldrakes that I've converted for the tournament.
For people who don't play Warhammer, what is a Helldrake?
It's a big, angry-looking, flying metal dragon of Chaos. Imagine a dragon made of metal – it's basically a flying demon. They're angry guys. Not friendly at all.
What do you get out of participating in Warhammer?
Well, I've played for 20-plus years, ever since I was a kid. I fell in with a group of friends at school who were already playing it. It started off as more of a social thing, before I got into the painting side. I actually started working for the company – Games Workshop – for a little while. I got to travel around the country and meet different people. But since I've left the company, Warhammer is great way to stay connected with people. There are some people here I've known for 20 years; without something like Warhammer it can be hard to stay connected with people for so long. It's my version of being into football: we get together, drink more than a few beers and play Warhammer. It's kept me connected to all my favourite people.
Tell me about your favourite model.
Jamie: It's probably Telion in his speeder. It's a bit of a conversion piece, and I love the idea of Telion being this epic sergeant that has risen through the ranks – could have become a captain, but instead he's like, "No, I'm going to stay at home and train new recruits" and pass on his knowledge.
Why do you play, collect and customise Warhammer?
I've been playing since I was 12, and I really like it because I found it a good way to communicate with other people and to get involved with lots of groups. Through big events like this, it's really great to chat to lots of people. I'm part of a YouTube team called Tabletop Tactics that takes part in tournaments. I've been to Prague, Gibraltar and other places with the team. It's the community feel and relaxation of painting that's great. I work in theatre and often have big breaks between shows, so it fills the time – I have a paint station in my office. It's also that sense of achievement at the end of the day from having a full army painted.
So what's your favourite piece from your army?
Matt: It's a Nemesis Dreadknight. It's a bit of a diorama in itself. I've got it as though it's impaling a Hive Tyrant. A Nemesis Dreadknight is similar to the walker thing in the Alien films, but slightly more fictional and exaggerated.
What do you get out of playing Warhammer?
I started playing it purely as something to do with my friends when we were a lot younger. We all then moved away, as you do, some joined the Navy, and we rarely had a chance to meet up. However, we all carried on playing Warhammer as it was an excuse to come away for a weekend like this and geek our hearts out. I also enjoy the painting and converting side, and probably spend way more time doing this than gaming.
What's your favourite model, Martin?
Martin: Probably my Stormsurge. It's like a big massive gargantuan creature in the game. It's a massive bipod gun platform. Essentially a massive gun with legs. It's there to devastate the opponents' miniatures. The Surge belongs to the Tau army, one of the younger races in the galaxy. But they've advanced technologically faster than any of the other races. Their weaponry and armour is progressing faster than any other.
And why do you play Warhammer?
That's a good question. It's competitive, obviously – the competitive edge of wanting to beat your opponent. I've been painting miniatures for years and years and years, so it's something that has just naturally progressed. When I was a kid I found it hard to play because of all the rules, so I spent my time painting them. As you get older, it's very therapeutic to just sit indoors painting. I knew someone else that was playing, played a few games and it's just something else in life to compete in.
What's the model you're showing me?
Jason: It's an Imperial Guard Valkyrie. It's a flyer – a transport. It's designed to take up to 12 troops around the battlefield. It's a fast vehicle and is a part of the Imperial Navy, moving around dignitaries and dropping elite troops or veterans into the dirty areas no one else wants to go so they can kill some Orcs or Chaos scum. You know? Whatever the emperor requires. It will avoid you getting shot by missiles.
Why do you play Warhammer?
For me, I love playing as humans, hence why I'm the guardsmen. I love the thought of a man going into the 41st millennium to take on Orcs, Tyranids and craziness. And the idea of just going in with your Lasgun, which is essentially just a stick, and going, "Hey man, we're gonna kill you!" I can just imagine these grizzled sergeants going, "One last guy with a Lasgun is useless to us, but ten of you shoot together at the same thing, you're deadly." Do you know what I mean? I love that. There's also a load of really cool people and I love playing people who are really good. I'll be like, "Oh, they beat me," but I love it as a challenge to learn to get better. Imperial Guard have so many units and some of them are really specialised. I've had so much fun testing out different strategies over the past years.
What's your favourite model?
Jason: This is a big Stompa. It belongs to the Orcs. Imagine just taking a bunch of metal bits and smashing them together, add some glue, some springs, some screws; it's a pile of garbage more or less. It moves forward and shoots stuff, very badly, but if it does actually hit then it tends to kill them pretty bad. Look at it: it's the worst model ever, because when you try to move it it just doesn't move. But also, as a rule, on a five-plus dice roll it picks up a model and throws it away. Instant kill on vehicles, too.
Why do you play the game?
I like to roll dice. I like to fluff. I like the rules… actually, I don't like the rules, they're pretty bad right now. But the eighth edition is coming soon. I like the feeling of it. I like the look of the models. Whenever you go to a tournament you get to see a crazy new idea for a conversion. Winning is pretty fun, too, although I don't do that too much. I came from Sweden for this – the community helps me to travel.
Tell me about your favourite piece.
Ross: This is an Imperial Knight Gallant. The Imperial Knights are a group of households and they bring the big robots to the field, basically.
Why do you play Warhammer?
I get a lot of joy out of it. I like to play the games with friends and stuff – it's quite fun collecting the models and painting them. They can look really, really good if you spend the time. I started playing back when I was about 12, stopping at about the second edition and picking it back up around the fifth edition. One of my friends started playing again and asked if the rest of us wanted to join in again.
What model are you showing me?
Justin: This is a Xiphon Interceptor. It's an interstellar fighter, designed for taking down other flying craft. It's not particularly good against units on the ground and it hasn't done very well today.
What do you get out of participating in the Warhammer community?
I've been playing since I was about ten years old, around the birth of the hobby. I was more of a painter than a gamer. That's one of the great things about this world, that there are so many facets to it. Everyone has their army and they create a story for their army, then they play their army and spend a lot of time thinking about it. It's a very social hobby; you have to interact with your opponent. I'm a writer, which can often be a solitary life, so playing the game got me out to events. I actually write about Warhammer, too. My mainstream literary career is as a historical novelist, writing books about 1066 – my last one, Viking Fire, was a Times book of the year. But I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring the universe to life. And what a privilege for me to colour in the world and to say that's my contribution. My first one came out last year and is called Storm of Damocles.
What are the models you're showing me?
Sean: Well, I've come all the way from New Zealand, and unfortunately I didn't have a lot of room in my suitcase so I had to add something to my Necron army. Something that would help the army but also fit into the case. They're conversions – not the best painted, but they look amazing. They've worked really, really well, and have helped the Necrons out all the way. The Necrons are basically the Terminator from the old movies. They don't like things. It's kind of like an old dynasty, so the Egyptians are waking up, they're angry with life and they just go after people. They're a good little bad guy.
Why have you travelled across the world for this?
I've travelled all around the world and it's a really good way to meet people. Good blokes, and you can have a good laugh. That's the most important thing – if you can't have a good time then why do the hobby?