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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Making Sense of Things

This army began as an idea that I cannot quite place the genesis of.  Certainly playing a Guard army came naturally to me as it was the first army that introduced me to Warhammer 40,000, but the Praetorian variant army was rather obscure and unknown to me in my initial playing days, so why I ended up with Praetorians is beyond me.

I was first introduced to the game in 1999 by a high school friend who would later go on to become a "red shirt" at a local GW store. My initial purchase for 40k was a bunch of metal Catachans along with a 1st edition Hellhound flame tank which I thought was awesome until my friend's Carnifex smashed it.  Aside from a few poorly glued Battletech models I did not have any background in miniature building or painting and the prospect of assembling and painting an infantry heavy army really intimidated me.  Back in high school my entire circle of friends jumped in on 40k with each of us buying a different army. Just as quickly as we got into the game we dropped it I think because none of us really had much interest in miniature gaming (we were role-players at heart). Not to mention the cost was prohibitive. RPGs are so much more friendly to  high-schoolers on an allowance. So, that was it. My first foray into 40k ended with half an army purchased, assembled, and partially painted (the Hellhound got all of my painting attention) and only played with a few times.  All in all it was not a very inspiring start to my miniature wargaming career.

My friends and I moved away from wargaming and focused instead on role-playing which took us through the end of high school and into college where we lost some members of our group. As the circle began to shrink I branched out into other games, and as the years progressed I found myself once more staring down at a pile of miniatures all demanding glue and paint--this time the game was WARMACHINE.

Whatever your opinion of WARMACHINE, I had a blast with it and it certainly helped ease me into the miniature wargaming world. At this stage in my life I had a bit more income to devote to my hobbies so a miniature game was not only financially feasible, but said income could also help me overcome another hurdle--painting.

I will be the first to say that I hate painting. I know, "shame on me" and all that, but painting does not relax me in fact it has the opposite effect--making me anxious and irritable at times (Have you ever cursed at a miniature for not taking to a particular paint scheme? I have. It is embarrassing).  I realized early on that the majority of the appeal of miniature gaming for me was the aesthetics of the games.  Seeing tiny armies marching across tiny landscapes in vivid color was just so much better than any movie or video game available. But I hated painting! Worse, because I rarely practiced when I would paint my creations were less than stellar.  So, I quickly entered the world of commission painting as a customer.  I have tried quite a few of the larger painting studios over the last ten years, and even had some experience with smaller operations.  Luckily I have had very few negative experiences in terms of commissioning paintwork for my armies which has only increased my desire to patronize those crazy enough to sell their time and expertise painting my toy soldiers.

So, money + painting studios = fully painted armies for me to enjoy pushing around felt-topped tables! After cluing into the magic of that equation I became an avid wargamer.  The major downside to utilizing a painting service for your miniatures is, of course, the money involved. Taking a hobby that is expensive and tacking on additional fees makes the entire endeavor rather foolishly pricey. I say foolish because I realize that this money would be better put to more practical purposes, but I also glean a lot of joy in my miniatures so I consider the cost to be worthwhile.  Still, as an ex-girlfriend of mine would tell you it is stupidly expensive at times.

Anyone still reading is likely wondering what the hell any of this has to do with my Imperial Guard Praetorian army. Well, dear reader, I am getting to that. In 2009 I became dissatisfied with WARMACHINE. I will spare this blog the details, but suffice it to say that I no longer had any interest in playing the game or expanding the three armies that I regularly played with. By that time I had been wargaming pretty heavily for five years and the vacuum left by WARMACHINE was immediately felt. Like a junkie looking for his next hit I began scouring the market for miniature games to play.  Even as I write this I am not certain why I turned back to 40k. I really despised Games Workshop, and while playing with my WARMACHINE group (one member was the same guy who got me into 40k in high school) I was fed a regular diet of GW hate coming from someone who worked for the company.  I was told all of the nasty, money-grubbing tactics that GW used on new players and retailers alike. Tactics like releasing new editions of rules to invalidate old models and force new purchases, or tracking sales from independent retailers so that GW could open up a store in a growing market. If you are at all familiar with Games Workshop then you likely have heard similar stories and know that the company has a reputation among gamers that is rarely positive.

So, it begs the question, if my actual past experience with 40k was negative, and I had bought into the mindset that GW were a bunch of jack-booted thugs who would kick down my door if I didn't paint their miniatures in a company approved color scheme, why was I considering starting 40k?

The only answer I can come up with is that it was partially out of spite and partially out of convenience (more on that later).  As I was growing tired of playing WARMACHINE I began to lose touch with some of my regular WARMACHINE gaming buddies (for other reasons besides gaming). All of them were very hostile to GW, and so I can't help but feel that part of my move into that game was a final "fuck you" to them.  Mature right? Yeah, I know.  The other very real motivator was of course the convenience of 40k. Since GW is the big kid on the block as far as gaming goes, it is really easy to find stores and players who carry and play the game. I'd like to think that the convenience was the primary factor in my decision making but honesty demands that I acknowledge the pettiness of thumbing my nose at former friends.

Okay, so I had found my next game. But what army was I going to play?  When I began researching the game online I quickly discovered the rancor most players had for Space Marines.  The idea behind Space Marines neither appealed or bothered me, and I can say I was fairly neutral to the army going in but I definitely didn't want to be one of a dozen Marine clone players so it was not long before I checked Space Marines off my potential list of new armies.  I genuinely wanted an army that would be unique-ish (hard to be unique in a player base as large as 40k's) and fun to play. The time line at this point is April-May of 2009 and the 5th edition Imperial Guard codex had just come out. Naturally there was a lot of chatter on the web about the codex. Since the Guard were familiar to me I began looking into them but I was unhappy with both the Cadian and Catachan ranges. Then I remembered a photo I had seen online years before of an epic (meaning grand, not the GW 15mm miniature game) game table featuring a desert scape with hundred of Orks attacking an Imperial Guard outpost. The Guard miniatures on that diorama were unusual and looked like something from 19th Century British Africa with pith helmets and bright red uniforms.  For some reason that photo resonated with me, but I could not find it online. I did some searching and eventually stumbled across the Games Day 1997 display of the Battle of Big Toof River where Orks engaged Imperial Guardsmen from the planet Praetoria. I then learned that the models were a limited edition army put out shortly after that Games Day due to fan reception of the diorama. The models would certainly be unique and satisfy that aspect of my new army criteria since they had been out of production for almost a decade.  Ah, but what a double-edged sword there since part of 40k's appeal for me was the convenience of finding it carried in most gaming stores. Oh well, I reasoned, it would be fun trying to track down OOP figures on eBay. Boom! I had my army and the 77th Praetorian Guard began to take form.

I spent the next few months trying in vain to track down some Praetorians. The process was a lot more difficult that I first thought. Still, by early August of 2009 I had a few miniatures and a couple of tanks that I began sending to a painter who has exclusively painted this army for me over the last two years. Drew, at Garden Ninja Studios,  is responsible for breathing life into these figures and turning an army that started as an escape from tedium into a real passion project.

His website that offers a list of his services can be found here:
By far one of the better painters out there in terms of quality for price and turn around time. As you can see I highly recommend him!

It should be noted that any miniatures that you see in this blog were likely painted by Garden Ninja Studios with the exception of the terrain which I actually paint myself (shocking I know).

By the end of August 2009 I had sent two batches of miniatures to Drew. The first was a small one, a single Leman Russ Battle Tank and a Praetorian Lieutenant both were to be used as a test for the army's color scheme. Shortly after those two miniatures were returned I sent Drew the remainder of my Praetorians and I began doubling my efforts to scour the internet for used figures.

The fruit of those two commissions can be seen here.

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