x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The daemon is in the details

A small but dedicated group of men spend hours ? and no small sums of money ? lovingly crafting the figurine warriors of the fantasy game Warhammer.

Trevor Van Cleave paints his collection of Warhammer warrior figurines at his house in Dubai.
Trevor Van Cleave paints his collection of Warhammer warrior figurines at his house in Dubai.

DUBAI // In the miniature world of Warhammer, meticulously hand-painted armies of orks, eldars and space marines engage in table-top warfare.

Earth in the year 40,000 is known as Terra, and it is a small, resin-coated world. But Warhammer is a small-scale hobby that consumes big chunks of time among Abu Dhabi and Dubai's man-boys. Professionals who love the fantasy game come home from their grown-up offices to huddle over paint trays, spending hours crafting tiny plastic figurines from bits in a box. Trevor Van Cleave shows off the "conversions" ? also known as upgrades ? he has made to a mean-looking, demon-mounted warrior the size of his thumb. "Right here, you've got components of about four different models," he said. "I took this demon, threw the original rider away, took a 40K model, cut his body, I took another Fantasy model sword, put that in."

Mr Van Cleave, an American project developer for Emaar Properties in Dubai, said his co-workers are accustomed to seeing him with daubs of paint on his palms. The 38-year-old insists that his souped-up soldier is still legal for play, as it is described in the official eighth edition of the Codex, an encyclopedia for Warhammer players. To the uneducated, the figure looks like a soldier on a dragon. But to Mr Van Cleave, it is a "Chaos Lord on a Daemonic Steed with a Power Weapon and Needle of Desire with Combat Drugs". Mr Van Cleave, who also runs Friday Warhammer workshops for children in Dubai, pointed out that the figure was "exactly represented" in the guidebook.

Armchair artisans such as Mr Van Cleave love crafting their Warhammer sets as much as the game itself, and like him, will use all manner of instruments to modify an out-of-the-box warrior in any way they can. He paints chevrons on air squadron wing tips to denote rank. Weapons such as guns and battle axes can be swapped and glued onto other characters or vehicles. "Regular knives, X-Acto knives, some people use fingernail clippers," Mr Van Cleave said.

For his armies, Mr Van Cleave uses close to 30 paint brushes and special inks, letting secondary coats trickle into cracks to enhance the definition on an ork's musculature. "Some people spend as much as three months on one model, with like 23 layers of paint," he said. "I'll just go for tabletop quality. If it's sitting at the table, you go, 'Wow,' but when you get up close, you go, 'Oh, it looks pretty good'."

The hobby is not cheap. He priced one of his completed armies, the Crimson Fist fleet, as worth around Dh6,000. And that excludes the costs for paint primers and acrylics, said Raymund Velasco, the cofounder of WarGazelle, the official Warhammer club in the capital. Mr Velasco, 29, from the Philippines, can spend between four and six hours painting models at home. He estimates he has spent Dh5,000 assembling his set.

"Sometimes I'm just staying up late at night until 1am, just painting. In the kitchen when you're cooking or doing laundry, you just lay out newspapers so the paint won't splatter." Marcin Kowalski, 40, who is from Poland and usually plays with his teenaged son, and Chen Hang, 33, who are also WarGazelle co-founders, compete in a group of seven players every Friday using a ping-pong table at Al Jazira Club. They employ aquarium plants and home-made miniature terrain made out of yogurt trays recycled into imaginary petrol refineries and painted cardboard scraps built to resemble abandoned farmhouses, for cover. Mr Velasco, an architect, also brings a scale model of the Kuala Lumpur Tower.

"It's supposed to look like ruins," said Mr Hang, a Malaysian engineer, setting up his Dark Angels side. Before the match even began, however, Mr Hang had committed a fatal error. After gauging the distance with measuring tape to teleport his Deathwing marines to a spot where he could launch a sneak attack, a roll of the dice sent them instead deep into Mr Velasco's enemy territory. That meant they were terminated instantly.

"That's the risk of teleportation," observed Mr Kowalski. After more than 10 minutes of rolling dice, consulting the Codex, contemplation and tape-measuring, the first turn ended. The game went on to last two hours, an anticlimactic draw. Neither party regretted it. "It's not a waste of time at all," Mr Velasco said. "Sometimes if it's a draw, you go for another round. But it's not a waste of time if you enjoy playing."