A Return to 40k, in Three Parts
When I was eleven years old, I went into my local comics and games shop and bought a box of the original “beaky” Imperial Space Marines. I took the good report card money I had earned and handed to the guy at the counter and he said “good luck with those”. I had no idea what he meant until I got in the car and realized that I needed to go back in to get glue and paint. And I didn’t even have the Rogue Trader rulebook, which I really wanted but it was, even in 1986 dollars, too expensive. I had no terrain and no one to play with. But that box looked so awesome that I couldn’t resist.
Almost thirty years and two decade-apart rounds of Warhammer 40k obsession later, I’ve found myself once again re-interested in Games Workshop’s hobby gaming institution – and this time, I have kids. They are very young (five and six) but they are fairly bright and they are already accustomed to playing “daddy’s games”. So when I saw that GW was launching Battle for Vedros, a new introductory-level product line geared toward younger kids instead of the usual hobby demographics, I got pretty excited about it. Snap-fit models, a classic Space Marines versus Orks setup, packaging that looks more like GI Joe than Grimdark, two pages of rules (!) and mainstream availability in toy stores. I was ready to sign up once more in the service of the Emperor.
But the launch has been somewhat strange. There’s virtually no one talking about it apart from a couple of unboxing videos and old timers commenting on the fact that it is sort of a scaled-down version of the Assault on Black Reach set from 2009 with the same models. And apart from a very small handful of retailers, it doesn’t seem to be hitting the non-hobby channel as the marketing suggested with its talk of toy stores and non-hobby channel retail. I managed to contact a GW representative in charge of managing the new line in the US and she kindly sent me review materials.
So when the packaged arrived, my kids were very excited- I had been hyping them up for it for weeks, and opening up the package didn’t disappoint. With the Starter Set (featuring 28 models, bases, dice and the rulebook), a Space Marine Bike and a box of four Ork Warboyz, we popped everything open to take a look. I broke out the sidecutters and went to work straight away, handing pieces to my children as they sorted them out and looked over the assembly instructions
Everything went together fairly quickly, but the notion that these models are all snap-fit isn’t exactly accurate. It’s a given that they are going to slip out of the included slotta bases (necessitating some glue), but the kids had trouble with some of the pieces fitting together correctly and I didn’t want them trimming them with the hobby knife. I broke out the blade and the glue and fixed ‘em up right and proper.
In about an hour, we had a full tactical squad of Space Marines with a Sergeant and a Captain, a Terminator and a Dreadnaught (which my son flipped out over). On the Ork side, a mob of Ork Boyz, five Nobz, a Warboss and an awesome Deffkopta. There are just a couple of additional, optional add-ons available in this line so far that add more basic Marines or Boyz, Gretchin with a Squigherder, two types of Space Marine bikes, and an Ork Wartrakk. They went heavy on the motorcycles for some reason. I’ve heard apocryphally that American kids really like to buy motorcycle toys, maybe that’s why.
The kids enjoyed building them, and as soon as they were done they had everything lined up and they started playing with them. Of course, I turned into dad from The Lego Movie for a minute and started in with the “guys, these are fragile hobby miniatures, not toys, etc.” before I caught myself and realized that they were having fun with them, making up stories and voices. My daughter kept pushing the Space Marine Bike down the line, yelling “come on guys, are you ready?!” And that was probably more awesome and fun than any four or five hours I’ve spent over a terrain table in a game shop.
The initial plan was to let my kids paint them all, but Lego Dad returned. I’m sort of re-learning to paint miniatures myself and I really want these to be at least tabletop-good. So after they went to bed I got to work. Using only the Battle for Vedros Paint Set and the starter brush it comes with, I painted up three Space Marines and three orks following a simple, ten step guide provided on the box flap. I didn’t try anything fancy, and I really appreciated the more “down to earth” guidelines that didn’t call for 20 different pots of Citadel paints and Golden Demon-class skills. They turned out pretty good and the process actually re-taught me some best practices that I had forgotten. I didn’t switch out brushes; I didn’t even dilute the paint. I wanted to do it as if I were a kid that had never seen a YouTube painting tutorial and just used what was at hand – despite a case filled with 35 other colors and a cup full of brushes sitting on the desk.
The next morning, the kids were duly impressed, and I agreed to let them prime the next batch with the Imperial Primer included in the paint set. But not the Dreadnaught, which I handled myself. I spent a good four hours the next evening painting it- tweaking up the basic guidelines on the paint set for Ultramarine colors and referencing the color pictures in the rulebook. It turned out to be one of the best miniatures I’ve ever painted, and I even got bold and tried out some more advanced shading techniques on it. I actually liked that the paint set only gives the bare basics and I think it is a great way to ease into this part of the hobby, but I’m wondering if there is anywhere near enough paint in the 3ml pots to cover everything in the starter. And you’ve got Marines with exposed skin – and no flesh colors, which is either an oversight or a sly way of getting you to buy a $5 pot of paint.
Between our experience building and painting Battle for Vedros, I think this is a terrific package that most kids can pick up and enjoy provided that they have the correct expectations for it. They are not action figures and there is some “work” involved in preparing the miniatures. My kids love building toys and models, so it was already in their wheelhouse. But it is not an “instant action” set at all, it serves to introduce both the modelling and playing elements of the tabletop gaming hobby. That said, it is easy enough in my estimation that you won’t need a game store employee’s blessing of good luck to get everything put together and looking good with just a little effort.
In Part 2, me and my kids play Warhammer 40k. And in Part 3, I deliver my editorial about Battle for Vedros.