I still remember it. It was a 4 x 8 piece of plywood taken from one of my Pop's many piles of concrete supplies, with base-boards (look at where your floor meets your wall..those are base-boards) tacked on to the sides to hold sand.
You could wet the sand down, form it into little hills or pits. I would plunk down allowances to buy model railroad trees to decorate with. After a good year or so, I had quite the miniature landscaping business going on in my own bedroom. I would invite 4 or 5 of my closest buddies and we would spend all day slowly fighting each other, taking breaks to walk to the store for pop and candy or fried chicken. We would curse, talk about girls (which we knew nothing about at the time) and generally acted like 14 (or was it 13 or 15? 20 years ago..) year olds.
I have been looking for that experience for a long, long time. I have a table-top store across the street so I will hopefully start forming up with those guys, but they don't play 40k, they mainly play modern games like War Machine or LotR Mini's. Also, those game shop guys are so uppity about the rules that, even as you play normally and as the rules tell you to, they will stop every time you move to "check something." I hated those guys.
So why not use the internet and all it's wonderful applications to allow people to host virtual games? Granted, my friend Shuttler from the Limited Edition podcast made a good point in basically saying "..nah, I need to get out of the house more often to play with real people.." but that is not always possible. Imagine being able to set up a virtual table with hills, landscaping and local animals. Then, you and your friends take turns nominating their starting point, then you all lay out your armies using the same old rules of table-top. The process was slow, but it gave you a feeling of laying out a grand army, and gave you a chance to show off painting skills (or lack thereof) and a chance to talk to each other about the lore, the game. It was bonding.
Something was lost, I think, when gaming went from meeting with people to meeting with people virtually. While I would never trade my Internet for anything in the world, and while I love all my internet B.F.F's from all over the world, there are a few things that I have been missing lately:
1) Taking time to play: Nowadays a "bio" is about the greatest pause you can place on a game. Getting up to get a drink has to be quick, less your guild gets pissed off. In table-top, you could take a break, have a smoke, talk about other stuff. One of my favorite events would happen when the two or three sides of gamers would break into their own little groups to discuss strategies, saying stuff like "Bring that Titan down to meet those tanks, I'll move my gunners there..." It was serious, but not too serious because you had the reality of another person right in front of you. It was REAL turn based, and the turns lasted as long as the patience of the other gamers.
2) Sportsmanship: When we used to play table-top, you had to be a good sport or you might get your face hit. I remember one of my friends just getting mad and pulling out his army and walking home, so after that no one invited him anymore. In the wonderful world of the Internet, players can say what they want or do what they want. While I think that most players you will come across are decent enough folk, they are not the problem. It only takes one asshole to ruin a group. Also, MMO's don't really ALLOW or force good sportsmanship. When you get killed or kill someone, the player that lost is wisked away to some graveyard, space-station or respawn point. Out of sight, out of mind. It's really no ones fault that they are not forced to continue to deal with someone after a fight.
3) Customization: I used to paint my models pretty plainly, but they would take time. I liked solid red's or dark gray's, but I would wash them in inks and roll them in dirt. I love beating up armor and making my army seem like they had actually seen combat. One of my buddies would paint them in great detail, but they would look as clean as a brand new unit. Yet another friend was horrible at painting, so he would just make them a mish-mash of chaotic colors. There was always that one guy, though, that would try and point out that you might not be following the Lore when it came to your paint-job, but he smelled like B.O. and wasn't invited often.
There are a few MMO's that give a semi table-top experience, even if it is just in some parts of the game.
Atlantica Online, for example, feels a little like table-top. Some of the units really look like old WAR 40k models, and the turn-based combat plays a little like table-top. It's a real pleasure watching the animations and I only wish that they would eventually make an expansion that allows your army to move around a field, change positions, etc.
Then there is Pox Nora, which is a great F2P game from SOE. These little sprites would be PERFECT for customization, and you can play it on any machine:
A few years ago, there was a game that played by the rules of the tabletop: Chaos Gate for the PC. I LOVED that game, and still have the original CD's to install it. (I wonder if I could somehow?) You would move each marine, tell him where to fire...classic! To think that these same rules could be applied to an MMO! And I mean MMO, as in your army moves around the map, you could have quests which would pit your army against an NPC army, you could work in groups to take lands. All the great things about table top within a persistent world!
Who knows, maybe one day this wonderful technology will allow us that don't have the room for a table the luxury of playing on one. In the meanwhile, I will probably go across the street and check out some of the games going on at the game shop.
I just hope THAT GUY isn't there.