The 41st Millennium is a savage future age where Mankind must battle for survival in a galaxy riven by bloodshed and destruction. Humanity teeters on the brink of extinction, assailed on all sides by aliens, traitors and Daemons, and only the superhuman strength of the Space Marines and the uncountable numbers of the Imperial Guard stand between the slavering alien hordes and total annihilation.
For service members, the game's appeal goes beyond basic competition. Corum spent a chunk of the last decade living in a meticulously regimented world. Everything, including his uniform and hairline, was heavily scrutinized. "There's an inherent attention to detail that a lot of good soldiers and Marines have," he says. That also applies to 40K. The majority of playable pieces are 1-inch models that must be painstakingly assembled and hand-painted. (The figurines can cost upward of $20 a pop and are sometimes called "plastic crack.") A particularly dedicated artist can spend 30 hours working on a single figurine, making sure to dab a perfectly round black dot in the middle of a white eyeball.
"I'm not fast at [painting]," Army Sgt. Steffan McBee, who's currently deployed in Afghanistan, said in an email, "But it's calming" — and more intellectually stimulating than what he could be doing. "Everyone knows guys need stress relief. And as I tell my wife, [Warhammer] keeps me off the streets and out of the bars."
McBee doesn't often struggle to find a game — his 600-plus person unit includes 13 regular 40K players. He's also managed to come up with a system to play without miniatures, on grid paper, in case he's stuck without his figurines. To him, the game's appeal is pretty simple. "It's partly that it's a battle that we actually have control over," McBee said. "Part of it is imagining the battle as it plays out as the dice decide the fate of your models. I have a very vivid imagination."
- - -
Siegel is a Washington-based freelance writer.