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The Geek Bucket List: My Day With Painted Warhammer Miniatures At Games Workshop

Wednesday 9th November 2011 by Joe Starr

Joe Starr is undergoing a quest to educate himself as a solid, well rounded geek. He will leave no stone unturned in his journey of enlightenment. This episode… Joe takes on miniatures painting!

My history with Games Workshop is almost as long as storied as the 41st Millennia their Warhammer 40,000 game is set in: I discovered the game in the 8th grade, bought a few squads of Eldar Guardians, wasn’t instantly amazing at painting them, and gave up. 

Let’s back up. What in the hell am I talking about? Games Workshop is the largest tabletop battle-games company in the world. Their bread and butter brands are Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. They also have a licensed tabletop battle-game based The Lord of the Rings. The Games Workshop hobby consists of millions of gamers around the world who collect, create, paint and build up the armies which they will go on to command on a carefully prepared table top battlefield against another player. The game combines tactical skill and dice rolling luck to beat an opponent through ranged and melee combat. There are two aspects to Games Workshop products: actually playing the game, and concentrating on the construction and painting of your army of miniatures, which players call ‘hobbying.’ 

Even though my initial attempt at raising a Warhammer 40,000 Eldar army was crushed by a lack of self discipline and confidence, I stayed completely in love with the concept of the hobby and the universe. I created armies on paper, and if it surprises you that everyone in that army had a name and a background, you may have seriously over estimated the number of pushups I’ve done in my life.

I’m turning 30 in a few weeks, and getting into Warhammer 40,000 is still at the top of my geek bucket list. So when my friend Ray Stakenas asked if I wanted to spend the day at his Games Workshop store and judge their annual painting contest, The Golden Goblins, I politely and calmly accepted his invitation. And then I pooped a little. And then to be safe, I double checked with my wife if we already had plans. We did not. And then there was a little more poop. 

Ray, my Games Workshop Yoda for the day, is the manager at the Games Workshop store in Thousand Oaks, CA. It’s fitting, because Thousand Oaks is a lot like Dagobah, if Dagobah was much closer to Malibu. He grew up in a gaming family, so getting into the Games Workshop hobby was encouraged. Ray continued to play Warhammer 40K through college, and he considers himself an Orks man. He lived in Detroit and played a lot of 40K with his friends, eventually growing into the hobbying aspect of the game. I feel like this could have made a much cooler version of the movie 8 Mile. 

Ray… on display.

How does one get a bad ass dream job like managing a Games Workshop store? And let’s be honest, it’s a bad ass job. If Space Wolves were records, Ray would be Rob Gordon. Two years ago, Ray applied for a standard clerk job at Games Workshop, and attended a mass interview at their headquarters. One of the people leading the interview asked how many people had shown up for a clerk job. Everyone raised their hands. They asked who was there for a management position. No one raised their hand. So Ray, the only person who had come to the interview wearing a shirt and tie, raised his hand.

And that is what we call seizing opportunity by the D20’s. 

Ray loves the community built around the Games Workshop hobby, and he likes to focus on it at his store. Hence the Golden Goblins, which saw the best painters in the area bringing their models in to compete in several different categories: single model, squad/unit, vehicle/war machine, young bloods (ages 14 and under), and the freestyle category. When I arrived at the store, entries were already being put on display, and the work these guys were doing was just awesome. I had a suspicion that Ray had invited me to judge so that people would be mad at me and not him. My suspicions were confirmed when Ray laughed and said ‘I’m glad you’re here to judge so that everyone will just be mad at you.’

Before the competition would begin however, it was time for me to get back on the horse and do some hobbying. Ray supplied me with a Gimli the Dwarf miniature from the Lord of the Rings line and taught me a few basic painting techniques that were simple and easy to pick up. I was clearly a long way from actually entering the competition, but it made it very clear that entry into the hobby itself is not nearly as tough as it looks.  Mastering it? Probably pretty damn tough. But anyone can get started and get some pretty solid results. I myself had a red armored Gimli with silver battle axes. 

To get me into playing, Ray and I used the boxed set that he recommends to all beginners: Assault on Black Reach. Black Reach comes with two armies, the rule book, and everything you need to start playing. Also my birthday is soon, and how cool would it be if you bought it for me? I took command of a Space Marine army, commanded by my recently painted Gimli. Ray got his Ork on, and the battle was on. Our armies began in close quarters, so gameplay was quick and the fighting was fierce. Gimli led a Space Marine unit in a charge right into the center of Ray’s forces. The dice were good to me, and The Gimli Commandos: Alpha Squad (names are important to me) slaughtered pretty much everything in their path. Ray took a real man’s way out and had his commander challenge Gimli to singles combat. In the end, that Ork learned that there was still one dwarf in a strip mall in Thousand Oaks that still drew breath. 

Playing was FUN. That’s the best way to describe it. The game was short, and I couldn’t wait for the chance to play an all out game with someone with full armies. It would have to wait, however, as it was almost time for the Golden Goblins.

Not pictured: Gimli.

But first, there was an interesting looking army in a display case that had caught my eye when I first came in that I wanted to know a little more about. One of the cool things about the Games Workshop hobby is the high level of customization. If you can imagine it, and you can get good enough to apply what you’ve imagined, and it fits in the rules, it can be done. Ray had created a custom army of Space Marines from the planet of Mudd 5: The Space Pigs. Warriors bred on a pig farming planet, the Space Pigs ride giant boars into battle and are led by Swinus Hogborn, accompanied by his fierce mount Poomba. And they were awesome. 

Space Pig calvary!

The Space Pigs wouldn’t be in the Golden Goblins. Ray was still putting the finishing touches on his army to debut them at a company event later in the month. 

As we got closer to the competition, a game had started between two of the regulars at Ray’s store. Their clash was between Space Marines and the Imperial Guard, another human army of the 40K universe. A unit of Space Marines was hunkered down in a crater taking fire from Imperial Guard armor. Would the Space Marines die for their Emperor or find a way to prevail? 

I wouldn’t find out. I went to Subway for a quick lunch. Did you know that October was $5 foot longs all month? Awesome.

One buffalo chicken sandwich later, it was time for the Goblins. 

The work on these pieces was intimidating. Selecting a top three for each category was nearly impossible. Except for the Young Blood category. There were three entries. Ray assisted in judging, helping me learn to nitpick minor flaws, which was really the only way to determine any winners. For me, interesting color choices became the clear way to stand out: a lot of Warhammer fans really like rust red and gun metal colors. They get old pretty fast. The second was texture. Did a miniature just look like plastic and resin with different colors of paint? Or was the painter able to make metal look like metal, and flesh look like flesh? 

This was my favorite model of the day.

Look at the difference between the muscles and the bone armor! He is awesome!

As someone interested in getting into the hobby, and not being very sure if they could pull of a similar level of skill with their models, the nice thing to remember is the community that people like Ray pride in building around their stores. There are always people working on their models or playing a game, and they all seem more than happy to lend a word of advice or offer suggestions. That’s what I took away from my day at Games Workshop: The loner mentality of a 40 year old virgin shut in painting his soldier’s green pants blue isn’t necessarily true. There is a wide community of virgins of all ages ready to welcome a few noobs aboard. Sorry, that was just too easy to pass up. A lot of these people have had sex. And if they haven’t, judging from the level of work they’ve put into their armies, they’ve earned it. 


Fact: Ladies are easily seduced by this boss High Elf shooting his bow.

Especially Ray: He’s a great guy, and he is THE guy to get you through the Games Workshop door. Spend some time with him at the Thousand Oaks Games Workshop and tell him you want to learn to paint a Gimli. He’ll take it from there.