This post was partially inspired by a blog post my brother made a few weeks ago. Like him I wanted to articulate some thought’s I’d been having about something that has been a big part of my life (off and on) and has been one of those things that helped shape who I am.
For twenty-something years, on and off, I’ve been interested in tabletop wargaming. I’m not sure how many games I’ve played or how many armies I’ve collected (or tried to collect, or just talked about collecting) but it’s been a big part of my life and has furnished me with at least one life-long friend and a means of building a stronger relationship with my brother than I might otherwise of had.
Like a lot of gamers, I got interested as a result of playing Hero Quest and Space Crusade with my school friends (long ago when I was young and pretty). These gave me a taster of Games Workshop’s Warhammer World and Warhammer 40,000 Universe and in the end led to over two decades of buying Games Workshop’s products and playing its games. The first ‘proper’ Games Workshop game I bought and played was ‘Epic’, their 6mm scale battle game set in the far future of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. I got into this game first after being fascinated by the concept of the enormous Titan war machines that you could field in this game. I still have fond memories of the plastic Warlord Titan kits that were my first purchase for the game.
After that, I got into Warhammer 40,000 and also flirted with Warhammer Fantasy Battle and other GW games like Blood Bowl and Battlefleet Gothic. It was an off-and-on thing sometimes, as my financial status or the level of stress in my life waxed and waned. Over the years, I’ve collected Space Marines, Eldar, Tau, Imperial Guard, High Elves, Dwarfs and probably a few others, leading up to the most recent army I’ve been collecting, the Brazen Angels, a chapter of my own creation based on the Blood Angels rules.
Ultimately, I am a bit of a nerd and a geek, and I enjoy my geeky pursuits. When I’ve been able to, I’ve enjoyed being a wargamer. I’ve enjoyed painting my figures, although goodness knows I’ve never come close to having a whole army painted. I’ve enjoyed the social aspect of the game, whether playing a pick-up game at a hobby centre or enjoying a chat with older friends at home over the gaming table. These games have also been a chance to enjoy stories set in very rich fictional worlds.
But now, I think the time has come for me and GW to part ways. It was an unexpected decision, but one that was surprisingly easy to make.
The main catalyst for this decision was price. Anyone who has ever bought a GW product knows that they are a pricey hobby. To be fair, a lot of hobbies are expensive, but everyone has their limits, and everyone reaches a point where they have to wonder if they are getting value for money. Having just been through the second significant price rise in eighteen months my limit has been reached.
I know GW product have never been of better quality, and that they have pushed the envelope of what is possible in terms of plastic resin and metal models, they have made sure the customer bankrolls their innovation at every step. And lately a side effect of quality is that kits are increasingly full of optional decorative ‘kibble’ that I’m sure many players never use, just clip out of the sprue and consign to the ‘bitz box’, never to see the light of day.
All this might not have made me jump ship GW’s ship if not for the other big catalyst which was discovering a whole world of other gaming options through Twitter. The big change came when I discovered Spartan Games, and their games Firestorm Armada and Dystopian Wars. These games caught my imagination in a way that nothing from GW has for a while, especially after seeing both the quality and the reasonable prices of the models.
But it’s not just the fact that the models were cheaper it’s the fact that these other companies like Spartan, Mantic and Privateer Press don’t seem to be out to take the customer for every penny like GW seem to be these days. It’s not just that the stuff is cheaper, it’s that there doesn’t seem to be the same compulsion to buy so much of it to have a ‘good’ or even game legal army.
I have never been one of the people who begrudged GW their desire to make a profit, or for actually behaving like a business. Nor, up to now have I never set much store in the myth that GW was once so very much better but one day decided to metamorphosis into a heartless corporation. That said, these days they do increasing act like a company that is just after my money, making the jocular, matey public persona the company tries to project seem more and more like condescension. In contrast the other companies I’ve discovered seem so much more engaged with their customers, with proper customer web forums where game designers, such as Spartan Games’ ‘Spartan Neil’, actually post answers to questions and respond to comments. Mantic Games is even holding a public beta for their new rule set that anyone can download for free. These are companies that seem to be making the effort.
For many years, GW has ‘been’ the wargaming hobby, so much so that many people like me were barely aware that other games existed. But like a lot of people who pioneer industries, they might yet be supplanted by people who came in later but do it better.
I haven’t suddenly turned against GW. I’m not going to throw my stuff out the window. I will sell a few things on eBay now I know I will never use them, but I will keep my Brazen Angels and have even worked out how to round them out to a nice, even 2000 points. I have no desire to slam them or declare that they are the enemy of all that is good and pure (because that of course, is News International). But they are not for me anymore. I don’t plan on buying anything from them on a regular basis ever again (unless they release something absolutely extraordinary). For now, I’m just going to enjoy painting my Spartan Games ships and then maybe I’ll try a few of Privateer Press’ ‘warjack’ models. The urge to collect every different variation of Space Marine is broken for ever.
It feels rather like a clean slate to explore the things that appeal to me now. It means learning new rules and finding new opponents but it’s nice to be able to try new things and escape some of the emotional baggage of twenty plus years in the same hobby.
Plus I get to paint some absolutely awesome steampunk battleship models. This pleases me.