My view of GW’s Special(ist) News

Since the announcement by Games Workshop that some of the old Specialist Games are being brought back and re-vamped, I can’t walk down the street without somebody asking me what I think about it all. That’s a slight exaggeration. Well a massive exaggeration. Nobody has asked me. But as is the way of the world these days, I’m going to tell you how I feel about it all anyway.

If you didn’t see it, here’s the announcement.

W's Specialist Design Studio announcement

So, let’s start with a little background. I stopped playing Blood Bowl when it was still 3rd Edition, or at least I was still playing 3rd edition rules, and I came back to the game when Living Rule Book 6 was already well established. I missed out the whole period of rules changes, some of which I believe hurt the game and a lot of which were initiated by Games Workshop. Just as I was getting back into the gaming hobby and Blood Bowl in particular the Specialist Games were discontinued and left to rot.

Well, rot isn’t the right word is it? Rather than die, Blood Bowl has flourished with tournaments nearly every weekend, a recent World Cup of over 900 coaches and miniatures manufacturers developing new teams every few months. Personally I think that this has been supported by crowd-funding, social media, podcasts and what is inherently a fantastic game. I have been less involved in the other games in the Specialist range but know most of them from my childhood and know that they have their own communities keeping them alive but probably not to the level of Blood Bowl.

I’m only talking about the Table Top gaming world here too. Games Workshop’s decision in the last couple of years to licence their old games has kept them alive and seen new players introduced to the various worlds. Although personally I think that Cyanide have dropped the ball (massively) with the recent release of Blood Bowl 2, games such as Warhammer Quest and even Blood Bowl: Chaos Edition have been enjoyable.

So, where does that leave me in terms of the announcement and what I think it means for the games that I enjoy the most. Well firstly I think that this is brilliant business from Games Workshop. Some would argue that they should never have stopped making these games in the first place, but we’re not privy to their sales figures and financial models. Since Specialist Games was closed there has been an explosion of similar titles trying to get crowd funding. Games Workshop know this and they know that in a lot of cases they own the original and best versions of these games. Keeping all of these games systems alive as standalone games with full ranges does not come cheap and however much we think everybody loves these games and however great they are when you add up the costs of designing, manufacturing, distributing and marketing you need to sell an awful lot of little bits of plastic to make a profit. I can see why non-core games had to go and why smaller manufactuers feel that that can take on one of these games with the help of crowd-funding. GW like any business are in this for the money. We all get passionate about what they should and shouldn’t do and how they should and shouldn’t treat “communities”, but at the end of the day it is all about profit; as it should be.

Just look at Warhammer Fantasy, an old game that most people playing miniatures games have seen at some point and that had a strong community of tournament players. Every one of those players would have said that it was a strong community and a fun game. But how many people outside of that group were actually buying models and books? Not enough. Yes, I know everyone would say that GW charged too much and that that is the only reason sales were low. Again, we didn’t have all of the financials but we do know that sales were a fraction of 40K. GW were not afraid to literally blow up the world and start again with Age of Sigmar. It is still too early to tell whether or not that was the right decision, but I get the feeling from the remaining podcasts and websites that for every loud mouthed rage quitter there are probably ten or more people finding the game and getting into it for the first time. In the long run I think it is probably a win for GW and for fantasy gaming.

Which brings me back to Blood Bowl and Specialist Games. Blood Bowl was never dead. It actually got stronger without the support of GW. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need support. The payer base of Blood Bowl is middle-aged and most of the next generation are the children of main player base. Blood Bowl can’t survive just by breeding it’s own next group of players. It needs new life to get it through the next ten years and more. I think that a new boxed game and the marketing that would come with it would give it the push it needs. New players, younger players, are what the game needs, what all of these games need. It is amazing what seeing Blood Bowl on the shelves in store or on the GW site would do. I get the feeling that we’ll see a new box with a pitch, two possibly four teams, dice and rules for about £80. I say four teams as that would sit with the number of miniatures that come in some of their other box sets. I would really like the new minis to be new plastic sculpts. The current GW plastic range are fantastic and some of the last Blood Bowl miniatures produced were not their finest work.

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room – Rules. What version would get released? Who would have been involved in preparing them? Blood Bowl 2 changes some of the player attributes and costs and doesn’t implement some rules and skills in the way that they are in Table Top. BB2 at it’s core is LRB6 which is the standard set of current rules and Cyanide say that they’ve been given permission from GW to make these changes and that they will make others based on their game data and the community. There’s very little evidence of this though. The last set of rules that were hosted on the GW site were the Competition Rules (LRB6) and I don’t see why there would be a massive change from this. The main problem that I see with the Blood Bowl rules is that when they were created at a time before online play when coaches couldn’t physically play as many games as you can online. They were designed for friendly matches, tournaments or leagues played on the table top and the online matchmaking environment means that they can be abused. The fundamentals are sound though. I can see that they may make a few tweaks that were being reviewed by the last BB Rules Committee (BBRC) but nothing major. Maybe I am naive to think this. I think that there is less reason to blow up Blood Bowl rules than there was to blow up Warhammer Fantasy. Warhammer is a core product, Blood Bowl never will be. I’m not too worried about what they will do to the rules and I am not afraid of minor changes being made.

What about the new models then? Well I hope that we get new sculpts. I would imagine that we’d get a core set of Orcs, Humans, an Elf and maybe Chaos. I don’t think that we’d get new sculpts for all of the current 24 races, 26 if you include Khorne and the Bretonnians. My thinking here is that it would be cost prohibitive to develop a full range. If GW do make new models then we already pay 50 to 100 Euros for a full team and I wouldn’t moan about GW’s prices if they fell in this range. If things go well, who knows. I just don’t see this as the full rebirth of Blood Bowl. The game is well supported by third party miniature manufacturers and their lines of Fantasy Football miniatures. I’m sure that any new players finding the game for the first time will be guided to these suppliers by their local community.

And what about this community, what about tournaments and clubs? I don’t see GW bringing Blood Bowl back as having any impact on this at all. Certainly not a negative one. If they want to run a Blood Bowl at Warhammer World then fair enough the rules can say “GW miniatures only” but they can’t mandate that in gaming clubs. If this new box brings a couple of new players to local leagues and clubs, then how is that not a good thing? I want as many people as possible to find and enjoy Blood Bowl.

I do have a couple of questions. Would the races be renamed to fit in with the new Age of Sigmar style? So Elves become Aelfs, Lizardmen become Seraphon etc. This is for IP protection and understandable. If so it is not a big deal. If the background of Blood Bowl changes to fit that then I’d be more upset as I love the wacky, comic nature of the Blood Bowl world. Would all of the races survive? Would the Khorne and Brets be included? Would the rules be free as they were at the end of Specialist Games?

I know that I’ve spoken about Blood Bowl here, but I am just as excited to see Necromunda and Epic mentioned in the announcement. I used to play Epic when it was Space Marine and again I didn’t know it when the rules went a bit haywire. There was a time when I played it more than Blood Bowl. These games all have their little communities and suppliers. I don’t see these going away. I just think the games will be given a new lease of life. Yes, there may be a period of discussion or confusion but the benefit of having a good community around a non-core game is that they’re able to shape it to what they want. It is much harder for 40K players to play anything other than the latest and greatest version of the rules as published by GW.

The classic GW games fit perfectly with their view that their games are there merely as a framework to sell their fantastic miniatures. The games are designed to play amongst friends and likeminded people where the end result is less important than the stories that you get to tell at the end. They are not tournament games, never have been and never will be.

I’m excited about the announcement. I’m not going to get carried away. I just hope that these classic games get treated with the respect that they deserve. I know already that I will buy a new boxed set of Blood Bowl. I will probably also buy a Necromunda box…and an Epic box.

I’d be interested to know what you think about this announcement. Am I looking at this with rose tinted glasses? Is my glass half-full? Let me know 🙂

Ssshh! I have a secret…

…Don’t say this too loudly on the internet but I think I actually like the direction that Games Workshop are taking their main two games systems in.

Remember that this view is coming from the point of view of a hobby-focused gamer. I am not a tournament player and am in no way ‘hardcore’ and nor do I have any experience of how these games played over the last several years. In many ways I am probably the kind of new(ish) customer that GW wants to attract…but with the baggage of having played as when all this was new and shiny.

The internet wargaming forums are full of rage and hate about GW and any changes that they look to make. The recent slew of new supplements and formats for both gaming systems and the demise of the monthly White Dwarf have intensified the anger and comments. Of course these comments only represent a vocal minority of the GW customers, the hardcore who believe that they own the IP and path of the product.

‘People’ are saying that these games are now broken, that they are unplayable, that they won’t play again. But these are supplements. They don’t have to be used. They are optional. Yes, there are decisions that tournament organisers must now make, but there are so many tournaments being played all over the world, so many that if you don’t like a rules pack  that you don’t have to play it. The decision to attend is yours at the end of the day.

I think that these supplements help to extend the possibilities of the games for gamers either on their table at home or in their local gaming club. They extend the boundaries of the rule books and put imagination and story telling at the heart of the games. Why do armies and rules have to be balanced? Battles are fought with lopsided armies and different objectives for each force. Let’s play those games.

Given that these games are likely to be played outside of the tournament environment then there is more chance that proxies are used for some of the larger models now available just so that they can make the tabletop.

All in all I think that these changes are a good thing.

On to White Dwarf. Now nothing is confirmed, it is just on the rumour forums but the talk is that the January issue will be the last and that going forward there will be a new weekly magazine and then a larger monthly companion. We’ll wait and see how the content of each is divided but White Dwarf has not been a good publication for some time and despite a revamp it needs a new direction. If it allows GW to trickle releases out over the year, rather than once a month then I think that this can only be a good thing for players and the company.

Similarly if rules and addons can evolve over time and not be tied to new books every few years then I think this will benefit everyone. Even tournament players will benefit if rules can be fixed/corrected more frequently.

Let’s wait and see, but I for one don’t see doom and gloom. I see a company evolving and putting fun, collecting and narrative game play at the centre of the hobby.

Halflings and Treemen a match made in Blood Bowl heaven

I didn’t play halflings when I was younger, I was too serious about winning to take on the challenge. My brother though was altogether less bothered and that’s how I have this collection of 2nd edition halfling minis. The two treemen were mine, I think they would have been used with the elves, but I can’t remember back that far. The fingers on the trees haven’t survived the years, but I think they may have been snapped off before they went into storage. I seem to remember they were very fragile. So the intention is to strip down the treemen, sort out their hands and then paint them up.

When I’ve a little more Blood Bowl experience, I’d love to try them out in a league one year.

For now they’ll be added to the stripping and painting pile.

Halflings supported by two treemen

Halflings supported by two treemen

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Another team to create…Galadrieth Gladiators

As you know, I’ve been going through my 2nd edition Blood Bowl miniatures trying to make teams that fit the Competition Rules rosters. As a rule I’ve been missing lineman minis. I need to go back through the old rules but it probably allowed for more position players add that to the kicker position disappearing and some races losing positional players such as the orc catcher and you can see why I’m down on lineman.

After a few years(?) of playing Blood Bowl 2nd edition I decided that I liked elves, dark elves and chaos; like most players I also tried orcs and humans. What better elf team, in my mind at least, than the Galadrieth Gladiators led by star blitzer Lucien Swift.

Galadrieth Gladiators from BB Handbook

Galadrieth Gladiators from BB Handbook

Galadrieth Gladiators meet Gouged Eye

Galadrieth Gladiators meet Gouged Eye

Modern Games Workshop has the Gladiators as high elves, but back in the day they were just elves. They featured in the 2nd edition handbook as a team profile and with in-play action shots. Add that to me liking the colours red and blue and you get this…

My Galadrieth Gladiators

My Galadrieth Gladiators

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They were one of the last teams that I painted before giving up for 20 years and are certainly a big improvement on some of the Chaos All-Stars that I sentenced to death by paint brush. I’ve got hold of a few more lineman minis from eBay and will strip and repaint them all, probably as Galadrieth Gladiators again. I’ll also play them as (Pro) Elves in honour of their 2nd edition roots..and having the best catchers in the game isn’t a bad start. Reading some of the forums, I don’t think it’s that popular a roster due to it’s lack of speciality or special player i.e. no wardancers. Still I always liked elves and it would be nice to play them in one off games every now and again which is where I think they excel.

When did we lose sight of the game?

Now that I’ve got more of my old gaming things out on display, I’ve been spending some time flicking through the various rule books and looking at the miniatures and it strikes me that something has changed. The game has gone. The fun has gone.

I’ve got the new Warhammer 40k 6th edition rulebook and I’ve got the 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle rulebook. At some point in the last 20 odd years something has changed.

Now, I’m not stupid. I know this change has happened. I’ve picked up enough from various podcasts and blogs and I can see with my own eyes how much Games Workshop has changed. But it really makes me sad that money has taken over what should be an enjoyable hobby. The old books included cardboard representations of units and special weapons for you to cut out, copy and use in battle. The Blood Bowl Companion book includes various templates and even includes a +2 bonus if y0ur cheerleader models are painted. This to me says that the important thing was to play the game, not buy the models. The best 40k or Fantasy Battle player shouldn’t be the one that can afford to buy and paint the best models or afford the most Codex supplements. In part that’s why I love Blood Bowl and why I think it is perfect. I need a minimum of 11 miniatures up to a maximum of 16. The rules are simple, I don’t need special terrain or carry cases to carry flyers. This isn’t about Blood Bowl though it’s the principle of gaming. Right back to D&D where you didn’t even need minis – the rules, a few dice, paper, pencil and you were away. I’m starting to explore the brave new world of tabletop, card and roleplaying games in the hope of finding some new loves. I know they are out there.

I don’t know when this change happened, but I know it’s not one that has made this a better world. I wonder how the original designers of these games must really feel now…deep down. Not in the glossy brochure that is White Dwarf. Looking at the pictures of them in the old rule books these are not people that needed miniatures to have a good time with tabletop games. The game is in the skill and imagination of the players.

Warhammer Fantasy Battle rule book

Warhammer Fantasy Battle rule book

Warhammer Fantasy Battle cut outs

Warhammer Fantasy Battle cut outs

My old Blood Bowl Orc team

As a kid I was an orc guy. The 2nd and 3rd editions of Blood Bowl came with plastics minis of both teams and were great starter teams. I’m not sure why but I gravitated to the Orcs and my brother was left with the humans…it was MY game after all. In other games in always picked the orc characters and I always picked the humans or elves. But that’s for another time.

The plastic minis were all a standard lineman and it wasn’t long before my pocket money was spent on metal minis. Every Saturday morning we’d take a family trip into town and we always had to go past the toy shop. It was an old fashioned toy shop with all kinds of toys and games on the bottom floor and upstairs it had a wall of miniature blister pack on one side and Tamiya models and RC cars along another. It also had jars of dice by the counter. One of the first complete teams that I managed to collect was orcs. My painting wasn’t up to much so my dad asked a mate of his to paint them for me. I’m not sure what else he painted or collected but he seemed to do a lot of ‘hobby’. I only went round there once to collect them once they were done. I remember being blown away by them. Looking at them now, they are good but not great. They played really well though and that was all that mattered. The scheme was taken from the orc reference card that came in the 2nd edition box. Unfortunately my card has disappeared and a quick internet search doesn’t show one (I’ll keep looking though).

Here’s the team complete with two minotaurs and one troll, again they were based on pictures from one of the books or from old copies of White Dwarf. It was from the days when orcs had positional catchers and all teams had a kicker introduced. I think kickers and kicking rules came in with the red Companion book.

Orc team

Orc team

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At some point in the future I want to try out the orcs again, but I really want to paint them as well. My current thinking is to strip these minis and to give them a new paint job before playing with them. I’m in two minds though. I could always use the plastics minis from 3rd edition. I don’t really want to mix plastic and metal minis in a team.

It’s not pressing as I’ve got lots to be getting on with 🙂 I’ve got enough figures to be able to create a complete orc roster as per LRB6/CRP. For now I’ll put these in a little display case and decide what to do with them.

My first trip to Games Workshop since?

This morning I thought I’d go into my Games Workshop in Guildford. There’s something about GW shops to non-gamers (such as my wife) that mean I’ve not been in one for many many years. I tell a slight lie here; I’ve not been in one as a gamer. Being open and honest I did go in there a few months ago looking for a tool but only because the local general modelling store had just closed down. I wasn’t looking with my gamer eyes, so it doesn’t count.

Anyway, I went in there with little Frank in his pushchair. There was one guy about my age already browsing and one GWer manning the tills. It’s a small store and the first thing I noticed was the lack of life in the place. All of the stock these days comes in sealed boxes; you can’t see the models. I used to love looking through the blister packs and seeing what was in there. It seems too clinical, too corporate these days. I think this could be a general GW thing based on what I’ve read online. There was also a lack of gaming choice. It was 40k or Lord of the Rings or nothing, except for a few paints and scenery here and there. It seems to me that there used to be new games coming out all the time as well as constant variations of existing ones. Now there was probably too many to manage but still this seemed a little drastic.

So the GWer asks me what I collect, me being me I try and give him the ‘just looking’ brush off but he was persistent. I relent and say I’m getting back into BB. Straight away the other customer chips in and says it’s the best game ever. We chat a bit about it and a common love of American Football and Orc teams. He was a similar age but was a little ahead of me on his revisiting his youth journey as his kids are a year or two older, but did admit to building a Lego Millenium Falcon at Christmas. Gamers are a good bunch and it’s sad that if I want to play BB these days I’m going to have to source models, meet people and share stories online. The GW store won’t be the focal point as it was back in the day. It made me think that when we’re moved and I’ve got a team setup that I’ll put out a shout to see if there are any players looking for a game or maybe even a league in Exeter. There must be lots of blokes like me looking at their past to pass it on to their sons.