From Lego to 40K

My History As a Hobbyist

Standing on the precipice of 40 years old, I now have a long history of building smaller versions of much larger things. In my youth I spent a lot of time on my own for various reasons. So building things(or taking them apart) was always a good way to pass the time. And keep myself sane. We didn’t have computers growing up. There were no cell phones(In fact we still had a rotary phone well into the nineties). And video games were still in their infancy(though I have been playing since I was able to). 

So, I was an avid lego builder. As most children in my era were. I had a massive tub of those little plastic bricks. I used to dump them out, all over the floor and fish for that one little piece I needed. Then hate my life as I had to pick them all up again… One of my favorite kits, that I got for Christmas one year, was the space shuttle. Complete with launch tower. I set it up and displayed it for quite some time. I was a space-nut as a child. Watched all the sci-fi shows and read space subject books, and whatnot.

Building really became my “hobby” at a very young age. I even got into carpentry at one point briefly when I was younger. Building birdhouses and very small shelves. I believe that, as a child, you really don’t know what a hobby is. At least I didn’t. You just kind of do stuff for fun to pass the time. Which, I would learn later, is pretty much the definition of a hobby anyway.

When I was in 4th or 5th grade, a cousin that I owe a lot too, got me into building model cars. My first kit was a hot rod of some kind. I really don’t know much about cars. But it was interesting and fun!  While he would build harder (and larger) kits with modeling cement, I was restricted to the Snap-Tite models. The kind where you push the pieces into place. The same kind that the pegs broke often because they don’t fit correctly. Ahh, childhood frustrations. I also remember being fond of chewing on the tires. For whatever reason. They were soft and chewy. Though, I also ate pen caps, so…. Yeah… 

I grew up as a Navy-brat. Moved to various states and bases. I always had an interest in planes and ships. So naturally, I moved on to Military models. Though, most of these models were much more complex, and were of the cement-requiring variety. I put together fighter jets, helicopters, and ships. 

One memorable model was that of the WWII era aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown. In terms of length, this was the largest scale model I had attempted. And it was also the first time I attempted to paint a model. Boy, was that a disaster. I remember getting Testors paint and thinner everywhere. I never finished painting it.

This was also my first experience with building incredibly miniature things. 

On the flight deck of the aircraft carrier were dozens of fighter planes. Obviously shrunk to the scale of their model carrier. Each may be the size of a flat thumbtack. Some had their wings extended. Some folded. It was infuriating to glue those damn wings and propellers on. 

Foreshadowing much? 

As I got towards high school my home situation got more difficult, and I no longer had the time or means to buy and build models. It wasn’t until, I think, late sophomore year that I was reintroduced to hobby’ing, but on a different scale. One day, most likely after a few games of Magic: The Gathering, my best friend Tyson introduced me to Warhammer 40,000. A table top wargame that I had never heard of before. He had a few-years-old 2nd edition box set, and would gift me the Space Ork contingent. Something like 20 Boyz and 40 Gretchin. And one silly cardboard Ork Dreadnought. 

I was awful at this game. But Tyson and I always had fun sitting at his parents’ kitchen table, building, painting, and playing. Using books for terrain. Occasionally, we would play on the living room floor for larger games. All while listening to music on his dad’s stereo. Good times.

I would pick up some pewter boyz or nobz, some vehicles, and eventually the GorkaMorka box set to finally bolster my army. While the added numbers helped out make the game have more substance. 

I still sucked at this game. Royally.

After graduation, I would buy the Ork contents of the 2nd edition box again on eBay to double my infantry. I loved the concept of the infantry heavy Waaaaagh!. I wanted more. But the prospects of painting all that were impossible to comprehend. And the ones that I did have painted were…well… the word “Painted” is a stretch.

What a difference 20 years makes

Some time around or after graduation, I decided that I wanted to start an army from scratch. Maybe something a little more… stronger/competitive. I landed on Chaos Space Marines. An obvious enemy to Tyson’s Space Marines. By this time Games Workshop was finally branching away from pewter and putting out more customizable plastic kits. 

Still completely sucked at this f***ing game! Though in all fairness, my chaos army was piecemeal, and had no real structure whatsoever. It was so bad. 1 squad of Khorne Berzerkers with Kharne the Betrayer here. Ahriman of Thousand Sons there. Fallen Dark Angels. Oh and this was an Iron Warriors army by the way. What?

Pick a theme, Robert!

Around the latter part of 2002, or so, I started to realize that it was more fun for me to build and paint as a hobby, than it was to play. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I had fun playing. But I am atrocious at dice games. I screw up playing Yahtzee. And you won’t catch me near the craps table. I am stupid superstitious about dice. And buy a new set whenever the prospects of a game come around.

The blue dice in the center are my “cursed” dice. The first 40K set I bought.

But none of that mattered anymore. My life was about to take a much needed hard turn in the right direction. 

In late 2003, after weighing many issues in my life and my direction, I left for the Navy. Leaving behind the old me, and all of my hobbies. It wasn’t until later in 2006, after I finally found some stability in my life, that I picked things up again. I was surprised to see how much, and how little, had changed in 40K. I finally bought that Basilisk I wanted for my Iron Warriors(but never painted it). 

I would end up playing about once a month with a friend from home that just so happened to find a job outside my base in Maryland. Small world. He played Imperial Guard. I even built a full-size 4’x8’ table from scratch for us to play on. That thing weighed a ton. But it was strong. 

But guess what. Yeah, You guessed it! 

I still sucked at this game. 

I built the table in the form of two 4’x4’ sections. Too bad I had to throw the whole thing away when I left the Navy.

That friend would move away to pursue his career elsewhere and I wouldn’t play 40K again. Eventually I ended up retiring all my models back to their gun cases. Where they would stay for the next 12-13 years. My attachment to them kept me from throwing them away.

Fast forward to 2018. 

I am well into my 30’s now. Haven’t so much as touched a paint brush since who knows when. Let alone bought a model of any kind. Though I did periodically check some tabletop sites to see what was going on in the 40K universe.

My wife and I move into a new apartment, and along with all our other possessions, my almost 20 years old Orks, and all my Chaos Space Marines. Still nestled in their cases. I had told my wife before that I would like to get back into this hobby someday. But never had the spark.

Well, one December day, when I was sitting around with a broken foot, complaining about being bored, she gave me that spark. All she did was ask me, “why not pull out all those models buried in the closet?” Sometimes, that’s all it takes. A simple question.

So, I did just that. Dug everything out to take stock. 

I got the itch immediately. And it hit hard. I started buying books. Planning out a new Chaos Space Marine Army. More or less from scratch. Though, not for the intention of playing. Just to build and model an army. 

I Started buying tools, paints, and kits. Setting a date that coincided with time off from work to start my return to hobby’ing. 

So much had changed. SO much. I didn’t recognize much. That basilisk that I was excited for my Iron Warriors to use? Yeah…that was no longer authorized. Still kind of bitter about that. But in the end I have a new bigger booming tank. 

Tanks, Forgeworld. 

This return would also facilitate a reconnection with Tyson, my best friend from high school. We had lost contact almost completely some time prior. So I am doubly thankful for the spark to get back to it.

From January 2019 to November 2019, after all my preparation was completed, I would build an entire 5,000 point Iron Warriors brigade composed of Games Workshop and Forgeworld Models. And approximately 75% of it would be completely painted. I would recycle some old models by stripping them of their atrocious paint jobs. Though most were scrapped. My poor techniques and even poorer paint(walmart-special bargain bin paints) choices rendered them unrecoverable. Some were glued TOO well. 

In November of that year, I would meet up with Tyson for the first time in about 16 years, to catch up in person and play with my new army. My first time playing in 13 years. 

And guess what!
 I still suck at this F***ING game! 

And I still cannot roll the dice! But yeah, I still bought new ones.

But my inability to roll dice well doesn’t really matter. 

What matters is I reconnected with a childhood passion and I reconnected with a very close friend. It was like finding missing pieces of yourself. I was happy.

Which leads us to present day. 

I have put together a large, well lit hobby desk that is decked out with paints and tools. And I sit there almost daily to work on something. I also have a lighted display case to show off pieces that I’m proud of. The super of my building comments on it when he comes up to fix something. And that feels good. 

I’ve started or have made major progress on models or armies I have wanted to build since high school or after graduation. And I am branching out to newer companies. Like CreatureCaster. The options available now are nothing like what was available 20 years ago. It’s truly great to live in this age as a hobbyist. Forgeworld was a pipe dream when I was in high school. It was all mail order from England, only.

Now? Point and click.

As of the time of typing this, I haven’t played since that time in November 2019, due to COVID. But I really am okay with that. 

I am, after all, more into the hobby anyway.

I don’t build and paint to play the game. 

I build and paint because I want to build and paint interesting models to pass the time.

The game is extra.

I’ve come a long way. From Legos to here.

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]


All of these are true except for one:

Robert is: a Hobbyist, a Music Lover, an RPG Gamer, a Mustard Lover, Chaotic Neutral, a Japanese Speaker, a Veteran, an Otaku, a Table Tennis Player, an Anime Fan, an Aviation Professional, a New York Rangers Fan, a Chaos Lover With Loyalist Tendencies.

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