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The Imperial Muster - Part 1

By Matt Thrower.

Let me tell you a story ...

When I were but a slip of a lad, myself and a couple of other kids used to take cartloads of figures round to a friends' house and play 2nd Edition warhammer. We used to play on a pool table, which had a nice green surface but was totally the wrong shape and gave a massively unfair advantage to cavalry and missile troops. And we got a lot of the rules wrong as well. But we had fun.

Well all collected and painted figures because we happened to like the figures, not because they made much of a coherent army and this meant we all had very ragbag collections. It also meant we experimented with a lot of different armies, used a lot of proxies and a lot of paper counters. In the early days I used to be very attached to Chaos and Skaven because they looked cool and were powerful, and others in our little group agreed with me. One of us used to like collecting humans, simply because he liked the historical feel.

Then there came a day when "realms of chaos" got published and I created a warband army, went to my friends' house and appalled them all with my shockingly overpowered force created largely by fudging the mutation and chaos gift dice rolls in the privacy of my own home. We discussed the book and decided between ourselves that it was very silly and that we would never use the rules again. Realms of Chaos had some great fluff, but the rules were so badly unbalanced that it's left me with an abhorrence of chaos (and by extension, skaven) armies that lasts to this very day.

And so, free of the taint of chaos, we were all inspired to start collecting figures again. And by a bizarre stroke of fate, we all went in for collecting humans, with the occasional unit of halflings and dwarfs thrown in for variety. We did this for several reasons, not least because we enjoyed the tactical challenge of fighting each other with troops that largely had the same stats. And over the first few weeks I played my human army, a strange thing happened. I begin to love the little guys, far more than I had ever loved my spiky and inhuman chaos troops. These were the underdogs, the peasent farmer fighting to protect his hearth and home, the humble soldier who joined up to escape the grind of poverty, the noble lord hoping to match his skill against the great terrors of the world. I began to really identify with the models on the table. Heck, that could almost be me down there!

When the third edition army lists came out (anyone else remember "Warhammer Armies" when you could have entire forces of Slann?) we decided to ignore them completely and just carry on building armies the way we liked. I mean, what kind of army list doesn't let you have halfling arquebusiers? But it was clear where things were headed, and we'd have to decide where our loyalties lay - Empire or Brettonia! One of the gang opted immediately for Brettonia because he liked the medieval fluff and the idea of arrogant knights and scummy peasents. Me, I found it much more difficult. The whole "holier than thou" thing in Brettonia put me off, and besides I didn't have many cavalry models. But I didn't like the black powder weapons the Empire were allowed to have. Dilemma! In the end I went Empire. After all, Brettonia was spoken for and no-one said you had to take the black powder weapons. Besides, the idea of common soldiers fighting to defend hearth and home was sooo much more inspiring than goody-twoshoes knights dragging ill-educated and unwilling peasents into battle. I had a lot of dwarf models, and the Empire/Dwarf alliance was well known so my army became a combined force of the two cultures.

One day, I had to go off to University in the west of England and live in a small room where there was no space for the accoutrements of wargaming. So I packed my models and paints up in a box and left them with my parents for safekeeping. This was roundabout the time that 4th edition warhammer came out and that really offended my sensiblities. I mean honestly, a wargame that came in a box? With models and scenery? And with a magic system driven by cards? Honestly, kids stuff! This didn't sound much like something I wanted to be involved in anymore. So I played a few RPG's at university, and a lot of board games, but I pretty much forgot about the wargames.

And so it persisted for many years. But eventually I saw less and less of my boardgaming friends as they moved, or had families or generally got on with their lives. And after moving back down to the west country (because I liked it so much) I found it hard to set up an RPG group that really worked. But without games, I became frustrated and restless until I had an idea: there seemed to be branches of Games Workshop everywhere, so perhaps it wouldn't be too hard to find some fine people to play Warhammer against! I'd even heard there was now some sixth edition which, although it still came in a box with models had at least got rid of the card-based magic and was less hero-focussed. So perhaps it was worth another whirl after all.

My initial introductions were not good. I went and played a game down at my local store. In spite of the fact a member of staff had promised me a one-on-one game, a load of children got involved and made me feel very silly. Then one of them started farting incessantly which made me feel sick as well as silly. Then I lost the game to a 9 year old which made me feel just ridiculous. It's a wonder I can still go into a GW store after that experience. But I wanted to game, so I carried on searching.

Searching eventually led me to the WPS site, and from there to a forum full of nice people and my nearest WPS club the Bristol Big 'Uns. I played a couple of games there, and this was more like it! Nice people, good, challenging games and even a pub across the road! Perhaps I could get back into this wargaming lark after all. I was especially pleased to learn that the human armies of the Empire and Brettonia had got a facelift in the new edition and were solid, viable armies. Of course I wanted to play humans again, but it seemed silly to go and buy a bunch of new models when I had old ones I could use. So in the meantime, I got myself kitted out with some Vampire Counts.

The more I looked into it, the more I rejoiced that of the human choices, my heart had been set on Empire in the dim and distant past. Brettonians had become even more nicey-nice than they used to be and to repeat an old cliche the point-and-charge army really does seem a trifle dull. I toyed with the idea of Dogs of War for a bit, but thought of converting all those pikemen put me off, as did the lack of magic items. And I could still take some DoW units in my Empire army of course. Best of all, my old fasioned aversion to black powder had disappeared and I rejoiced in the prospect of having so many different troop types and warmachines to play with. And so, after playing VC for a few months I got more and more excited at the prospect of breaking the Empire troops out of storage and assembling my human army. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that in the intervening years, I'd all but forgotten that my collection consisted largely of Dwarfs!

The reason for this is that years back another friend had decided to give up the game and had passed all his Dwarf models on to me. I did have plenty of humans, but not enough to make a good 6th edition army. We used to play 1000 point games and I used 50/50 Empire and Dwarf so I only had 500 points of troops. To make matters worse a lot of them were really awful old models that'd look really out of place in a sixth edition game. I didn't want to shell out for another army, so I swallowed the bitter medicine and played the Dwarfs for a few games instead.

I never got on with the little guys. They just didn't feel right and they weren't much fun for me either. To make matters worse I played maybe 20 games with them and didn't even manage to draw one, let alone win one! By this time it became clear that whichever club member was unlucky enough to be the first to loose against my rubbish Dwarf army was going to have a hard time living it down. They had to go. Really. And selling them I could afford to fund my beloved Empire army a full two years after I'd resumed the hobby. Inexcusable really. But before I could buy some troops, I needed a theme. And for that, I thought there'd be no better place to start than seeing what I could salvage of my existing 500 points of models ...

Forward to Part 2