What is it that makes a game fun? What is it that make you push your models around til the bloody end? What is it that makes you throw in the towel at a lost game? What is it that leaves you with sour grapes?
What a cliche, but it is a matter of ABCs.
Enjoyment comes from Automony, Belonging, and Competence.
Autonomy has everything to do with creating a sandbox for people to do what they want. In a sandbox, you can create things. You can build a sand-castle, dig a network of trenches for your GI Joes (I used to love doing that!) and whatever you can imagine, you can do it!
40k has this down well enough. The codices are a little restrictive, but the allies rules helps break the molds into which each army is cast. You make your own army lists, characters, some people create their own themes, others create the baddest lists they can. You can get heavily into the modeling and painting. You can create something that is entirely yours. It's all about autonomy.
Belonging is achieved by the game being a niche-hobby. You, me, everyone who purchases a Citadel kits immediately becomes part of an exclusive community of gamers. painters, players, etc. It's all our own. Events like Adepticon, Games Day and local tournaments all help build this community to which you are a crucial part. Personally I don't want 40k to ever go mainstream. I love our community of nerds, closet nerds, dudes, smelly or not, guys who get excited about space marines and weird orifices on blue-skinned foreheads.
Competence is just as important. In order for people to enjoy an activity, they have to feel competent. If not competent, they have to feel there is progress in that area and that someday soon, they'll have the competence to enjoy the game. For me, I spend a lot more time painting and converting than I do playing and I think this is partly because I feel competent as a painter, but less so as a player.
What I've noticed in myself and some of my friends, is that as soon as they start feeling incompetent in the game, it becomes less fun. Have you ever had an opponent become sullen at losing? Have you yourself ever felt down, bad, sullen or unhappy after being soundedly beaten? You know what I am talking about I am sure. It's those games where nothing goes right. Your dice suck, you have trouble causing any damage on the opponent. It ends with your army wiped out and his army nearly at full starting strength...as the game goes on and you've clearly lost, your opponent keeps pressing the attack. Sometimes your response is to feel incompetent. You feel powerless in the game. Soon it comes to a point where you no longer enjoy playing - especially when you are on a losing streak.
Am I totally off base here?
It happened to me. *After NOVA Open 2009, I decided I would no longer attend tournaments. I lost twice out of four games at that event. My first loss was ridiculously close. It was against a pretty hard-core IG army and we just pummeled each other throughout the game, but he eventually got the upper hand and pulled out a win. This game was awesome! I lost, but I felt competent. I could feel the power of the Tau Empire as my crisis suits flamed guardsmen and my railguns wreck vehicles with single volleys.
My next loss was a complete rout. I was playing against a very good player, Nick Nanvati and he simply tabled me with his Demon army. He killed every last model in my army by Turn 4 I believe, maybe 5. I could barely scratch his guys. I don't even think I got 1 kill point. The loss really crushed me. It really induced a feeling of incompetence. This coupled with the ridiculous wait for a new codex and I was done.
I know I've been on the other end. I've crushed people
before - and I can see their enjoyment dropping towards the end when my
army is fully intact and their is a sad reminders of what it once was.
I guess what I am saying is, be mindful of your opponents feeling of competence. Avoid tabling your opponents if at all possible. If you have redundancy in your list, then feed those units to your opponent and vice versus. Let him get some jabs in before you strike the killing blow.
Why I need to ask YOU to do this? Because GW has produced some pretty bad rules for a lot of armies. If we get to a point where the armies are balanced better, then you probably won't have to restrain yourselves much.
*But I actually ended up attending two more tournaments in 2010, which only solidified my decision to back away from the tournament scene.