So lately we’ve had a new development in the world of tabletop wargaming; Warhammer 40,000, one of the most well known of these sorts of games, has a new edition released, which claims to be the best edition ever made in its history. Does it measure up to those claims? Is this truly the resurgence of a fairly niche game?
Well, while I can’t answer that question, at least not until we’re a few months down the line. But I can at least have a look at more recent history of Games Workshop’s premium game and see if that offers any clues to its potential future.
Starting out in 1983, the company Games Workshop releases Warhammer, (which would later become Warhammer Fantasy which… we’ll get to that..) a fantasy wargame which proved to be popular among the tabletop community. So much so that ideas for a sci fi version of it was released in 1987; Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader was an RPG centring around being an explorer in the employ of the Imperium of Man, seeking new worlds to conquer. Over time this would develop to become Warhammer 40,000, a full fledged wargame.
Over time there’d be more changes to both these games (new models, rules, paints and such) as Games Workshop continued to grow. There’d even be other games that they created like Blood Bowl, Space Hulk, Battlefleet Gothic and others. Curiously these other games would be discontinued in order to focus on Fantasy and 40,000.
But with the rise of other ways to play games; the resurgence of video games, trading card games like Magic: The Gathering, and other competition meant that Games Workshop was beginning to face difficulties. How were they hoping to keep up with these challenges?
2008 was when I started to play the game myself. After seeing some friends play it at school, doing some research, and having to go through an eye test to decide what faction would be good for me (I’m not making that up…) I decided to begin collecting the Daemonhunters faction of Warhammer 40,000. (and some figures from their Lord of the Rings game, but that’s not relevant here) I enjoyed what I was playing, and made some of my best friends through those early experiences with the game.
Eventually though, I just lost interest with the game (even while my own nephews were starting to play the game, but it’s not like I’m responsible for that!) While I kept up to date with the lore (or what they updated at any rate) there really wasn’t anyone for me to play the game with anymore.
I’d try once more in 2013 to get back into the game with the release of the Dark Vengeance set, but, again, no one was playing it. And yes it may just be that I have trouble making friends, or I just wasn’t engaged enough to play the game proper, but my local store moving to a less convenient location certainly didn’t help things.
Which brings me back to GW itself.
During this time, Games Workshop was upping the prices of its models. (because why charge £20 for a set of 10 Space Marine models when you can charge even more) In addition to this, they were creating more expensive sets, and the setting didn’t seem to be going anywhere narrative wise. Added to that was some interesting changes to their philosophy, focusing on these aspects of doing business at the expense of all others. They prioritised the collectable aspect of the game more than the game itself, or making that game available to others. Walking past my local stores on Saturday’s – their most busy business day – you barely ever see anyone painting or doing actual gaming in there.
There are other reasons why GW hasn’t really been in any good books lately, but I’m gonna leave it there, you can look it up if you want some more information. Admittedly I don’t know much about the inner workings of a big company, which is probably a good thing.
Oh and at once point they decided to blow up the Warhammer Fantasy game in their expensive End Times narrative and replace it with Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, which apparently didn’t do so well. (which is hilarious given the recent success of the new Total War game based on the Fantasy setting)
So what’s caught my attention again?
A number of things really; they released some new narrative campaigns that seemed to progress the story in some ways. Wrath of Magnus and The Gathering Storm campaigns actually built off some of its narrative works and gave 40K fans something new to work with.
Heroes both new and old returned in these stories, with factions long thought lost being updated for modern play.
And then we have a new edition, which offers to be the best yet. I can’t judge to what extent that is true just yet, as I’ve said, but what’s impressed me is how open its all been. The rules are more readily available from Games Workshop, the factions seem to be starting on – more or less – equal footing. Everything seems to have been streamlined as well, with the emphasis seemingly on faster game setup and play.
They’ve even embraced the digital age through Warhammer TV, offering painting lessons and guides for collectors.
So will all this help to bring Warhammer out of obscurity? Hard to say really, I myself haven’t felt any motivation to engage in the game other than observing how things go. But I’m impressed by the promotion done by the company for this new edition, with a focus on bringing in new players and progressing the storyline. Even if this all doesn’t go well, they’ve made a very good attempt.
Still, it should be interesting to see.