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 🙂