Posts Tagged rants

Scurvy Swabs

So, Games Workshop have released this year’s ‘mystery box’ product. Dreadfleet.

Dreadfleet

Colour me unenthused.

Glowy-Eye Skull Island

Partly my apathy is due to the models, which I think form a perfect illustration of how Warhammer miniatures have become so stylised as to be almost cartoonish.  The terrain pieces in particular – a selection of rocky outcrops featuring giant graven skulls – could have been lifted wholesale from an episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.  The Empire greatship meanwhile looks like it could snap in half under its own weight at any moment. Much to my own surprise I must may a preferred the old Man O War models, especially the Dwarf ships.

Dwarf Ship

But the models are a superficial problem. I’m more vexed by GW coming out with yet another superfluous vanity project that no one really asked for and charging people £70 for it.

Two years ago, GW rereleased Space Hulk as a limited edition stand-alone box set. In that case, it made sense in that context as Space Hulk was originally designed as a single boxed game, and the rerelease incorporated all the elements from the old Genestealler and Deathwing expansions. It was essentially a complete replication of something that used to be available. Space Hulk also benefited from very good miniature designs.

In the case of Dreadfleet however, GW seem to have tried to distil Man O War – a full blown wargame – into a boardgame version. I’m not sure how old Man O War Players will feel about this and whether they might be glad that their old game has been remade in any form at all or feel put out that it has come back in this stripped down almost tokenistic form. I’m not sure how many non-Man O War players will be interested, beyond the ‘new shiny’ syndrome or the ‘OMG it’s limited edition, grab it now!’ effect.

Fundamentally though, I don’t understand why GW bothered with this. I doubt I’ll have the opportunity to play Dreadfleet so I’ll probably never know if it’s actually a good game or not – beyond the anecdotes of friends and tweeps. I’m sure that it could be a perfectly good game and worth the heft £70 price tag, but surely the effort put into making this game a good game could be better spent elsewhere?

Avast!

Am I the only one who thinks GW should be putting their time into supporting their existing games? Army books continue to trickle out of the design studio and I’m sure there must be players who would rather the designers get on with those rather than faff around with side projects that no one was really asking for. This is increasingly becoming my biggest grievance against Games Workshop, that they increasingly seems to be asking us to pay them to show off and indulge themselves rather than give their gamers the stuff they actually want and need – properly written and playtested rules, timely updates to army books, and all the stuff we actually need to play the core games day to day. People who play the GW Specialist Games have long had to accept that their games will get next to no support because GW is concentrating on its core range. They might well feel annoyed that GW have taken time out to resurrect a discontinued – and as I remember, somewhat flawed – game. Instead of giving their games any love.

I don’t want to slam Dreadfleet as such, it could be a very good game, but to me it symbolises so much of what has come to repel me about Games Workshop.  Doing what they what to do with no regard to what the customers might want or need. Indulging in vanity projects instead of maintaining quality in their core products and then making us pay for their fun.

P.S. Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day for tomorrow!

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The Money Pit

As some of you will have read, I recently decided to stop buying products from the Games Workshop and explore other possibilities within the world of wargaming.

The catalyst for this decision was price rises but it’s too simplistic to say that it’s simply a matter of cost. There are any number of hobbies that are expensive (the amount of money my wife sends on camera equipment is just one example of this fact). The problem is how much enjoyment I was getting in return for my money.

If I had wanted to, I could have carried on purchasing GW products without breaking the bank, but realistically I would have been buying less each month as I opted not to squeeze a second box of something into my monthly budget. Mean that it would have taken me even longer to collect an army that I could take out and use. And here lies one of the real problems, it’s not just that GW products are expensive, it’s that you have to buy so many of them in order to field a legal army, let alone a decent one that uses a reasonable selection of options from the list. In contrast, f I played Warmachine, I could buy a faction battle box for about £35 and strictly speaking need never buy another model (though, let’s be honest, I still would).

And then there’s the small matter of a table to play your table-top game on.

On of the clever things Games Workshop did is try and turn themselves into a one-stop-shop for all their customer’s need from toys to paint to terrain and even the table itself. If I was being cynical, I might venture to suggest that this strategy was not just a cunning means of extracting more money, but also a way of keeping their customers unaware of other options. If GW customers had to trawl the net in search of terrain, they might discover the other games that the independent terrain companies also cater for.

Of course GW terrain is very good quality, as are all GW products, but so is Amera terrain and I can buy that for about half as much if not less. And herein lies something that has started to bother me about GW is that it’s not simply that I feel that I’m being overcharged, It’s that I feel I’m having to pay for a level of quality that I didn’t ask for, but that GW insist on providing because it pleases themselves.

For example, the Eighth Edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle Rulebook is an example of sumptuous production values, full of exquisite artwork and beautifully composed photography. But it is also a very large, quite heavy hardback volume which is perhaps not entirely practical or desirable in a wargaming rulebook. The solution might be to acquire the softback mini-rulebook in the Isle of Blood box, which also requires you to purchase a number of exquisitely detailed models for two out of the fifteen armies currently available for WFB. Similarly, though the new Citadel Finecast is probably a good thing for hobbyists, it’s not as if the gaming community was universally clamouring for it or that their customer base would have deserted them if they hadn’t brought it out. The fact that the introduction of Finecast coincided with a hefty across-the-board price rise rather makes it feel like we are having to pay for an innovation that we weren’t actually that bothered about them bringing in. I realise that prices have to rise and businesses have to make a profit but I was always under the impression that profit was for reinvesting in innovations like this rather than pouring out to shareholders while you ask the customers to pay for something most of them never asked for.

Too often I feel that the ‘quality’ we pay for takes the form of a quarter of a box full of decorative options we will never use. Meanwhile some fantasy models have become so stylised and exaggerated that they have become just a little bit ridiculous and undermine the surprising almost paradoxical sense of realism Warhammer used to have. And while we all recognise they way GW pushed the envelope of miniature making technology to produce the Bane Blade, Shadow Sword and Stompa, they pushed the envelope in a way that not that many people were demanding and which allowed them to sell an expansion which served to further encourage spending lots of money on a big army. Just once I’d like to see some evidence that they were investing in making the hobby better for gamers rather than in vanity projects that lead to more stuff they can hock to us.

So this weekend, I have ordered what could be my last GW purchases ever. My Brazen Angels are the most successful hobby project I’ve undertaken in years and I want to round them up to an even 2000 points, even if I never do the 3000 point Land Raider based assault army I originally planned. So I will finish them, and I will paint them and put them upon display. Depending on how my forays into other games turn out and the amount of hobby time the imminent birth of my first child allows it’s entirely possible I might never play a game with them. But if I do, it will be on a gaming table from B&Q, decorated with Amera scenery.

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Time for something new.

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.

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