To put my thoughts here into a context, if you’ve read my previous piece from the start of this year: Musings on current fantasy wargame systems you’ll know a bit of my history with fantasy wargaming. A quick update to today, I’ve painted a ton of miniatures during the year (my photos here), and of course I’ve been playing The Ninth Age Quickstarter, and I’ve made battle reports for all of my games so far. I’ve also bought Kings of War 3rd edition a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve read all of the rules for that, and also read the Ninth Age full rulebook now too.
The last time I played any Warhammer Fantasy Battle was over a decade ago during the end of Warhammer Fantasy Battle 6th edition and just when their 7th edition came out. So I completely missed the 8th edition as well as GW stupidly killing off their entire game and world with, from every report I’ve read, the utterly pathetic “End Times”. So it’s been a very strange time to get back into fantasy wargaming in a way with a LOT to catch up on, way more than I expected. I really enjoyed this recent article “On Returning to the Tabletop Miniature Hobby” from Bedroom Battlefields that was a somewhat familiar perspective to my own.
So then, this was a bit of a strange surprise to have had announced right in the same year I got back into the miniatures hobby after it had been so long!
Nice logo aside, there are scant few details about what Games Workshop actually plan to do here. I do feel the timing of this announcement has to be no coincidence at all though with regards to Kings of War 3rd edition, and I was amused to see Mantic fire back too
There’s been a lot of talk about what this means for the hobby in general and these other games systems that had filled the gap in the market for a rank & flank fantasy wargame left by GW, and I’m going to make my own predictions & thoughts here:
Like Kings of War, this will be a “unit element” based rules system
I’ve got a number of reasons I believe this. It will help make the system much more differentiated from GW’s Age of Sigmar game. I think characters & monsters will still be individual models too, and may even remain on the round & oval bases used for AoS. But the biggest reason I believe this is the case, is to do with models and their bases. GW have made a big thing in their promotion of this announcement of the game being set on “square bases” still. However, they’ve also made a point of the cross-over potential with some of their AoS models… so how can they square this circle? 😛 The way I see they will do it is to use movement “trays” for unit elements in the army, which (like Kings of War already does) will allow any-based models to be used, as long as they fit on the correct size of tray. I would even expect GW to be able to turn this into a money-spinner by selling a variety of scenic tray converters for your AoS models for every kind of base they have in AoS into appropriate sizes for WH:ToW unit elements:
This isn’t that outlandish as it sounds at first, as noted, you can already do this in Kings of War if you want to easily, and games like Parabellum’s Conquest and CMON’s A Song of Fire & Ice already do this.
I see this as the perfect solution to this problem for GW. It avoids pissing off those players who did convert the bases of their minis from WFB 8th to AoS, whilst they can still be seen as being ‘friendly’ to the old square-based fantasy miniatures crowd like myself. It also means they can sell all of their existing AoS models that can fit into WH:ToW without needing to re-box or re-package anything. You’ll simply need to buy a lot more of them, and then buy these extra lovely scenic trays…
As I say, I suspect characters will still be individual models at times, but I also expect they would be available as upgrades to units, along with various other miniature-focused unit upgrades like standard bearers or musicians.
The rules will be mediocre at best
Sorry GeeDub fanboys, this was my very first reaction upon hearing this news – I have close to 0% faith in GW’s ability to write a good set of rules acceptable for even a casual-competitive setting. GW’s quality in writing lore and making models (& lately, marketing it seems) has sadly never been even close to matched by their rules writing. At best their games’ rules have only ever been acceptable for extremely casual ‘fluffy’ games or for kids. As I mentioned before here, even when I was a teenage kid myself, we still house-ruled and re-balanced the points values and stats of an enormous amount of stuff during WFB 4th edition.
Moving onto my experiences with WFB 6th and 7th edition, to a large extent it was also more of the same. Whilst they’d generally improved their rulebook writing, there were still huge rules issues I would come across regularly. I literally never managed to play a “rules as written” game of WFB 6th or 7th without needing to “roll a D6” to decide what happened in an un-written or badly written rules situation. Often I could foresee these circumstances could occur a turn or two in advance, and I would attempt to bring it up with my opponent so we could agree upon the rules before that situation occurred and the inevitable random dice roll happened… however I’d then get accused of “rules lawyering” simply because I was trying to prevent dice-off situations & instead make a tactical decision. Of course even if you did agree on a rule with one opponent, all bets were off as soon as you played someone else who might well see it differently. It was very frustrating to play. As a software tester by trade, I often liken these rules holes to bugs in code – and every GW game I’ve ever played would just crash if it was written into software and one of these bugs occurred!
To be fair to them, GW themselves used to make a point of how they are a model company and not a rules company, and to me, it really showed in the efforts they put out. There was also the style of game they were trying to push WFB towards – it seemed like they wanted it to be a smaller model count and almost skirmish style wargame based around a few powerful characters and monsters with normal troops just there mostly for cannon fodder (oh hello there Age of Sigmar??) rather than the “mass battle” style I was looking for. I’d already grown so dissatisfied with WFB 6th and 7th that I’d already begun to get into & play other games such as Armies of Arcana & Battleground Fantasy Warfare, long before my next miniature gaming hiatus occurred.
There’s also the conflict of selling ‘the latest and greatest’ models and rulebooks as opposed to maintaining a long-term balanced rules system that GW have never managed to figure out to my satisfaction. GW in fact, land hugely on the side of not caring whatsoever about balance in favour of “shaking up the metagame” or “keeping people interested in a changing gaming landscape” or some such excuse, behind what is blatantly obvious power-creep to sell their newest models & books the majority of the time. I won’t go into this too much here as I am sure most people reading this are very familiar with this. Terms such as “Codex creep” specifically exist about GW in the geek lexicon with very good reason. Safe to say, if you’ve ever read Agoners for any length of time, it will be obvious to you that I want the exact opposite to this when it comes to any game system, and especially a miniatures wargame.
some twenty years ago i met an amazing girl from Nottingham. we spent ten years together. countless hours, a lot of passion (and also a bloody huge amount of money).
then she dumped me and started dating a rich 14 years old kid.
luckily, instead of conceding to nostalgia i started looking around, and found a lot of polish girls that look a lot nicer, and one truly international girl which is sooo much more fun.
And this post by Grouchy Badger made a similar point with much darker humour:
crawling back to GW like a pummeled house wife
“M-maybe he wont hit me this time!”
The one reason I can see that GW have a small chance to do something better than their historical efforts with Warhammer Fantasy, is that with WH:ToW they can start truly afresh from a blank slate. Whilst they theoretically could’ve done (or did) this with WFB editions at any point, they never really did so. Thanks to their money-making but extremely player and game-development unfriendly model of releasing army rule books separately to the main rules updates, and the need to keep everything in at least some semblance of working order, they only ever managed to make incremental changes over time to the main WFB system, whereas this blank slate means they have a chance to do something potentially quite different. The idea of them trying to mimic mechanics used in the Total War: Warhammer on the tabletop is also an interesting one. Whilst I’ve never played any of the Total War series, I’ve long wanted to do so as I’ve heard many good things about it – but the time investment and solo nature of the video games always put me off. But this announcement has gotten me more interested to try out those games too.
To ‘tldr’ summarise this long segment though, I’ve never been happy with any GW rules, and especially never any edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, so erring with the side of history on this one, I don’t expect this to change!
GW’s re-naming convention has made a mess of things
My friend Greg made a comment to me about what he was painting lately (Orruks, or Orcs as I still call them!) that really hammered it home to me…
WTF are Orruks, Grots, Ogors, Troggoths, Aelves, Bollox etc ?
Whilst I’ve figured it out (for the most part) over the last year, GW’s re-branding of old (and new) model ranges for Age of Sigmar causes a lot of confusion for old-time fans of Warhammer, and will be increasingly confusing in a world where Warhammer: The Old World also exists. Especially if they are hoping to convert Warhammer Total War players into also starting (or most likely re-starting) miniatures gaming, as Total War still uses the original names I believe.
As I missed this all happening at the time, people have explained to me in retrospect that the re-branding of everything by GW was an IP protection issue. That all makes perfect sense in a way, however if they want to capture the nostalgia and especially relate to Total War: Warhammer, GW is going to have to make quite a (highly amusing to me, I must admit) backtrack on this, and start calling things by their original names. Which also happen to be far more relatable (& marketable!) for anyone familiar with other fantasy settings. It highlights just how short-sighted their handling of switching over from WFB to AoS really was.
I wonder if we’ll see some kind of conversion charts, or both names for units used in the books for WH:ToW – that would be incredibly amusing for me. At least in GW’s favour here, they will once again be able to explain why a paint is called “Nuln Oil” or “Lothern Blue” when these places actually exist again! 😉
That’s all I’ve got for now. Of course please respond below or on forums, social media etc where I post this. I am sure I will have more thoughts to add to this in the future, which I’ll append to comments on this post here as time goes on.
For good or for bad, it seems we’re living right now “Fantasy Wargaming: Interesting Times”.