I know it's a classic -- I'm having some difficulty narrowing down what army to play if I should decide to start playing again. Do you pick an army based on the cost? The number of models painted? How much you like the models? The playstyle of the army? The power level (and if the power level, do you pick an underpowered army, an overpowered army, something in between?)

Basically, I'd like to play an army that I enjoy the look of, enjoy the playstyle, and can be built for either casual/friendly or power gaming/tournament level competition. Still though, I'm not entirely sure about my options. I figure I'll post my thoughts on the different factions and see if you all can't help me sort it out a bit.

I really appreciate any and all responses -- I know I'm typing a book and a half here. Feel free to skim and skip stuff that you don't have expertise in of course, and thank you all in advance for even reading it let alone responding!

TL;DR version: Overall it irritates me that the top 3 armies that I'd like to play are also the 3 most overpowered armies. I want a powerful force, but I also want to be able to tone it down for casual games. Ideally I'd be able to bring my stuff and a couple of lists and ask my opponents what level of competition they want, and whip something different out depending on the response.

Demons of Chaos - Like the visual appeal of the army a lot not to mention the variety. This would be one of my top two choices if it didn't have a rep for being obviously overpowered. Honestly, I don't know enough about their gameplay to know exactly why they are as OP as they are. I'm concerned that there isn't a way to build a demon army that isn't OP without actively making a concerted effort to build a weak army, and that said army wouldn't be fun to play even if you could do it. The price tag has positives and negatives. On the one hand, they run a relatively small number of models. On the other, I like some of the oop metals (daemonettes especially) better than the current models, which boosts the cost substantially.

Vampire Counts - Also like the visual appeal here. Some of the Gamezone models just make me drool -- their corpse cart and blood knight substitutes are just amazing. They have a lot of units that appeal to me, and it seems like you can build them a lot of ways. Other than daemons these guys would be an obvious choice to me. Again, the power level is a problem though -- I don't want to be stuck only being able to play power lists and making other players hate me for playing the army the way it's supposed to be played. I've heard that this isn't quite as problematic for VC as it is for Daemons, but still...

Orcs and Goblins - I like the look of O&G fairly well but they seem to be very hordeish, which I see as a downside as it tends to require a greater financial investment and is a more daunting task to paint. Also, the animosity rule seems like it would be really frustrating to play with. From what I hear this army is fairly gimped, so playing it on a competitive level may be a bad plan.

Ogre Kingdoms - Not a fan of the look of the army, and I've heard they are one of the most difficult armies to get to work properly.

High Elves - I don't know too much about these guys but they seem pretty split between stuff that is really weak and stuff that is overpowered. I see that as a downside because it makes the army less adaptable. While I don't find the look atrocious, they aren't high on my list in terms of aesthetic appeal either.

Wood Elves - I actually don't know much at all about these guys. They have some pretty sweet models and I know they have a skirmishy playstyle... I'm just not sure how this actually plays out on the table. There don't seem to be a whole lot of WE players, so I haven't gotten as good a feel for them yet.

Dark Elves - I like the look of the DE army a lot, and I know they can be very powerful. They are a bit of a finesse force from what I hear, which is appealing, as is the fact that they can make an impact in every phase. That said, much like the High Elves the army seems split between some really powerful/overpowered combos that people complain about and other stuff that is really weak... again making it difficult to balance competitive and casual play.

Skaven - I actually have a lot of skaven stuff from the last time I played, although none of it is painted. The problem I have here is that a melee horde army is unappealing to me, and people seem to hate skaven shooty armies. If I played skaven I'd want to go shooty, which apparently would lead to a lot of gripes. Also, they have a new army book coming out on the sooner side, which makes them a risk.

Dwarves - Same problem as Skaven really, although they have fewer models which is helpful. I used to hate the look of this army, but the newer plastics are a lot better than the old ones. I'm not a fan of slow melee forces though, and the idea of not having cavalry bothers me. I do like me some war machines though... but again, everybody hates gunlines it seems, and that's definitely how I would play dwarves. If you have to play reactively based on your slow movement speed, you have to be able to dictate the battle and force the enemy to come to you on your terms... so you pretty much have to have superior reach, which means a lot of guns.

Empire - See dwarves, only they do have some more variety at least. All plastics is a nice benefit, although I don't like a lot of the models. Still, they're harder to make competitive and I'd fall into the gunline trap here too.

Beasts of Chaos - These guys have almost no appeal to me at all beyond the chariots, which I've always thought looked cool.

Tomb Kings - I don't know a whole lot about these guys but I have heard they are rather underpowered. The look of the army is moderately appealing, but again they may have trouble fielding a competitive list.

Warriors of Chaos - I used to play these fellows, so I have some painted stuff already. I see this as a benefit and a drawback. The benefit is that I already have some stuff to work with. The drawback is that they are going to clash visually with any newer models that I get, especially given that my painting technique and results will be different now. I don't want to go back and strip my old models. I do hear that you can build WoC in a lot of ways and they can be both fairly competitive and casual friendly, which is a plus.

Lizardmen - I like this army visually, especially the slann and cold one riders. I also like the good mix of magic and combat power. I'm not sure how competitive they are, but they at least seem to be decent and the army book just came out. Of course that also means they are going to be a bit overhyped and overplayed at the moment. One concern is that there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of variety in the army, and it seems like there is a real pull towards deathstaring with slann and temple guard. I know people get frustrated by this, and I'm not a huge fan of that tactic either... I know I wouldn't *have* to use it, but I also don't like to play in ways that are obviously gimped.

Brettonians - Decently appealing. I like the lance formation a lot. That said, I don't like the peasants much and I also don't necessarily like the idea of being pigeonholed into defensive magic only.