Bringing the Hammer Down
I’m not sure what to say here….
Warhammer Fantasy Battle is OR WAS the flagship tabletop game developed by Games Workshop in the early 1980s to support its line of Citadel Miniatures.
I’m not sure about the tense, as only recently Games Workshop wrapped up a world-shattering global event for the game’s eighth edition, known as the ‘End Times’ before seeming to retire the game in favor of a new line: Warhammer: Age of Sigmar.
However, an interesting point is that Games Workshop, though clearly seeing AoS as a brand new asset with streamlined mechanics (one might say over simplified?) have still allowed for the use of models produced for the older editions, and in this regard – with the simple rule-set, and very open attitude to army construction – this game almost seems like a return to the days of 1983, when a little white-box caught my eye in the Sheffield branch of GW…
Warhammer: 1st Edition, published 1983
On that auspicious day, I had gone in to pick up a copy of Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren‘s Chainmail historical miniatures wargame, as it also contained a small fantasy army supplement. This, after graduating from H.G.Well’s own (and perhaps oldest modern) wargame, Little Wars (published in 1913).
Yes… *THAT* H. G. Wells.
Anyway… Being in the throes of my early teens, and possibly being a Yorkshire lad, I was immediately drawn to the image of the Chaos Warrior smashing the (un)living hell out of that poor old skeleton on the box lid. Thus, the plan was changed and I picked up the game and began building my first army – a ragtag bunch of Grenadier, Citadel and Airfix miniatures – in order to do battle with my mates on the infamous ‘The Red Wake River-Valley’…
Warhammer, from the very beginning (to the very end?) used the same simple six-sided dice system, which was a departure from the then ‘standard’ polyhedral dice RPGs of the early ’80s.
Designed and written by Richard Halliwell, Rick Priestly, and Bryan Ansell, and rooted in Priestly/Halliwell’s earlier game, Reaper, the first edition of Warhammer was a very simple affair which combined physical combat rules, magic, and personalities in three slender books.
It was shoddily written (with spelling mistakes at which even the ‘Grauniad’ itself would shudder), badly printed, cheaply bound, full of rule conflicts, and the ink ran on one’s fingers.
It was magnificent and I loved it from the first moment…
It is all too easy to throw rocks at an outlier, or an outrider like this, but Warhammer was the first TTG to really hit the mark with ‘that’ generation of young gamers who were the heart of the boom of the 1980s. Indeed, it was the first TTG, at least as far as I know, to include things like practical battlefield psychology which was tweaked to suit the various races and species on offer in a rule-set – unusual in a game which was not the sort of complex, adult-oriented thing that was popular with hard-core historical wargame fans at the time (such as the products of groups like WRG).
At the outset, the game was little more than a cheeky skirting of Lord of the Rings, with little lore of its own. However, Games Workshop was encouraged enough by the success of the game (and it certainly WAS successful) to expand the background of its own ‘Old World’ with dedicated supplements and articles in the house magazine, The White Dwarf.
Indeed, so popular did it become and so ‘in the face’ of more traditional wargames, that it was even barred for a while at my local Wargames Club, where the ‘Old Beardies’ felt that it reduced the hobby to trivium, with one old salt even stating that that the ‘juniors’ who brought RPGs and fantasy games into the hallows ought to be expelled…
That did not last long though, but you know how recalcitrant geeks can be at times.
Anyway… The game has been through many different iterations over the years (eight, before the end-which-might-not-be) and has grown to be one of the most comprehensive and detailed fantasy gaming environments (including an RPG, computer games, novels, and so on) ever created. Its factions represent not only the expected High Fantasy archetypes (Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Goblinoids, Undead, Demons, etc), but also more esoteric and interesting groups (Ratlings/Skaven, Egyptian-themed Tomb Kings, Mayan-styled Lizardmen, etc.). Each faction, as one might expect, represents to one degree or another one or more of the mechanics to form their themes. Humans, for example, tend to be all-rounded, whilst Elves tend to be very magical and powerful in magic, but highly costed, and Goblins appear in hordes, but are as fragile as glass.
It all makes sense. It is the ‘common core’ of TTG mechanics.
As the game changed, however, it began to expand, attempting – not always successfully – to allow for greater complexity and variability in the system. Each subsequent version, added, altered, and sometimes cut from both the lore and the rules, till we reached version eight in 2010.
This is the edition of the rules I myself prefer, even though I admit that even without the lore fluff, the rules along were perhaps a little more complex than they needed to be.
Still, for its flaws, I cannot see the reasoning behind the complete destruction of the game-as-we-knew-it to bring about the current Age of Sigmar.
It was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times…
When this was announced, I hoped that this was going to be ‘Warhammer Lite’ and that Games Workshop would not actually abandon 8th Ed. as seemed to be the case, what with the End Times event projecting the destruction of the whole Old World.
Now that the truth is out, we have to deal with what we have.
Games Workshop has turned a mass combat game into a skirmish system, and I am not quite sure if I like the move or not…
In truth, I have only had a few games so far, and there are things about the game which I certainly do like – such as the idea of the rules and army lists being essentially free though, which is a thing becoming more and more common in this age. Still, the game is currently so crude, in comparison to the games I am used to, and open to abuse (in as much as without true army lists, players are ‘on their honor’ to have fair games) that I am given to concerns that are only quelled by the fact that my favorite version of the game was no less busted, no less simple, and no less fun.
Time will tell on this…
Thankfully, GW has not quite thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and though there is a range of new models being made available as I write, the company has kept many older minis in the game, presumably being slowly updated with round bases and packaging over time.
This comforts me greatly, especially when one considers models like the ones under discussion today:
The Dragon Princes of Caledor
Games Workshop has been slowly going over to an entire plastic line over the last decade, and it is models like these which really show both their design and production chops.
Though these models are quite beefy, molded in very tough styrene and are clearly designed for the game table, rather than the display case, they are remarkable in their styling.
As you can see, for game tokens, these figures are very finely molded (and I am sure there are many High Elf players who have both marvelled at the detail and despaired at transporting their figures…)
Chaos players… I feel your pain!
Here, I chose to go overall with a raw chainmail, and then wash it back, before picking out the color blocks.
The molded detail on Games Workshop figures can be called rather crude, and even brutal. However, once you start layering in washes, it becomes obvious why this is so.
Drop even thin undercoat, base colors, washes, and highlights onto the figure and fine detail might be swamped.
I love washes myself. Even in the days before specially formulated, commercial products, I fashioned my own to speed up the production of block figures.
My most objectionable, but effective, brew was a truly alchemical solution – the base paint (most often Citadel), with water, X20A thinner, a *tiny* dash of phenol and malt vinegar. This last ingredient proved important. Unlike modern washes which are thick and cling to paint very easily, my old wash was relying on the acidic nature of the concoction to break surface tension on a model and grip.
And it worked… Most of the time.
And, when it did work, I suspect it worked despite my efforts rather than because of them.
The one thing I like about Warhammer as opposed to Age of Sigmar is the thought of mass units charging across the table.
Indeed, running a horde army (Undead, or Goblins) it would not be uncommon to see movement trays loaded up with fifty or more figures, and a full game, of 3000 points a side looked a grand site indeed.
I do hope that GW relent on the decision to do away with mass games completely in the Warhammer World – indeed, I trust that they will ultimately follow the same pattern they followed with Warhammer 40,000: with a skirmish game forming the main rules, and a larger, ‘Apocalypse’ game.
Maybe that is not profitable any more… I don’t know.
However, as long as they do not write models such as these out of the lore, or the game, I’ll still keep roling the dice – as I still prefer their models above any other I have collected.
Possibly, but to paraphrase Matsumoto Leiji: “At the end of their lives, all men look back and think that the the games of their youth were Arcadian.” 😉
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