What Comes 1st, Theme or Competitiveness?

Here’s a question for you all that’s probably quite relevant at this time of year…

You’ve just brought yourself or being given one by Santa a shiny new codex or army book.


You open it up and start to flip through.
Do you read the background* or the unit stats (and special abilities) first?
* I’ll be using the word ‘background’ instead of the word ‘fluff’ but you can mentally reinsert it if you feel like it.
I am (I must admit) in the latter camp. I skim through the background down to any descriptions of special new powers and then if they’re any good I flick straight to the army list and see how many points the unit is.
As far as much of the internet is concerned that makes me a ‘competitive’ gamer which in many quarters is apparently considered only one step above a mass murderer, lol.
So because I start with the competitive then I obviously don’t care about the fluff, right?
Wrong, actually.
I like winning better than losing (which is a fundamental human drive and the reason we’re not still sitting in caves eating our meat raw)

but I also need the motivation of a theme or I won’t have any momentum to get that army up and running.
The two are of course sometimes uneasy neighbours though.
We’ll take an example I’ve touched upon before which is the Chaos Space Marine Codex.
Lets say your a fan of Khorne Berzerkers. We can take Khorne Berzerkers, Squads with Icons of Khorne and any other number of Khornate units. Now try and win a game with them…consistently…against decent opponents. Going to happen?
Obviously not. The theme is hampered by the reality of the Codex which is that Khorne Berzerkers can only hurt vehicles by punching them, Khorne Daemon Princes will get shot to shit and the other units that follow Khorne apparently forget he exists when the guy holding the Icon of Khorne gets shot in the face.
The Fluff Nazis (who I’ve already had a go at in a previous post) would say that that’s the way it goes and that the theme is more important than winning. My problem with this attitude is that it’s unlikely your going to enjoy playing an army that already has one arm tied behind it’s back and it’s shoelaces tied together.

Of course there’s another way that’s entirely valid and that’s converting and painting your force to a particular style. If your army is beautifully painted in World Eater colours and there are skulls and bits of bloody mangled models nailed to the outside of your Rhino’s then it’s a fair bet your opponent will know which name the army has on it’s Christmas card list at the top 😉
There’s also apparently another enemy to all things ‘themed’ and that’s spam.
Space Marine Predators are (lets be honest) a bargain. For 85 points we get an Armour 13 fronted vehicle that can pump out 6 S5 and 2 S7 shots a turn. And we can take 3…so I do…
I have taken an effective, cheap and fairly survivable unit and taken the maximum I’m allowed in their particular FOC slot and am therefore an evil power gaming scumbag. Just to make it worse I have 5 lots of 5 Marines armed identically in identical transports as my Troops and 3 identically armed Dreadnoughts as my elites…
I’m obviously going straight to hell.
Well not really…Take a look at any real army and see how they’re equipped and extend that logic to the year 40K

Armourer – “Here’s your Lasguns, and a Meltagun for that guy over here”

Guardsmen 1 – “But that’s exactly how those guys are equipped”
Armourer – “Yes I know, that’s because they’re the best equipment for the job”
Guardsmen 1 – “So your sure this war doesn’t have comp scores?”
Armourer – “Yes I’m sure, now get in that Chimera”
Soldier 2 – “But it’s the same as everybody else’s Chimera”
Commissar – “Problem?”
*Cue Sound that’s suspiciously like a Bolt Pistol round exploding in someone’s skull ;-)*
Soldier 1 – “Is it too late to get that Meltagun?”
Those of you who have a theme that appeals to you and build an army that you love to play with have my respect. Those of you who crowbar every point they can out of an army list and then turn that list into a beautifully painted and converted masterpiece have it as well.
Personally though, without a theme to give it shape and focus I would never finish an army and without the knowledge that it can work in an actual competitive game I’d never use that army.
Neither of those results is good for the hobby now is it?

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