Aug 022011
Larry Leadhead

A thousand words...

As a multi-decade gamer I’ve seen alot in my day. Life was easy when all it took was beggin’ mom for spare cash to spend at The Game Keeper. Life was rough when serious decisions had to be made between spending money on rent/utils or beer or snowboard trips or games. Life was easy when I was single with a stable career. Life is compromise as a mature spouse with fellow gamers in the same boat, balancing family/money/time as best we can. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

It wasn’t long ago that our gaming group ‘gave up’ on Games Workshop games, (something every tabletop wargamer does from time to time). The usual reasons: the prices increase, the rules have too many loopholes, the new book requires to many new models, the new book got rid of some of my models I already own, why must we keep using D6, etc etc. And we let it lie for a good long time, leaving 3rd ed 40K and 6th ed. Fantasy behind for other gaming. Along came a video game, Dawn of War, and we began to fondly recall what we enjoyed about the Warhammer universe and it wasn’t long before we started to consider picking up the dice and rolling into the grim dark once again. Almost 8 years later, 2 editions of 40K/Fantasy each, and we find ourselves waning from GW yet again.

To give it some perspective, we played a great game of 8th ed. WHFB over the weekend, a 3000pt team game of Night Goblins/Vampires vs Skaven/Orges. Overall it was an enjoyable game. DesertFoxx & I lost, however I was amazed at how certain units performed. My Night Goblins put some serious punishment on the Ogres. Much was luck of the dice, but my shooting was superlative vs the unarmored behemoths and the Squig Herd earned their fungus juice many times over, working exactly as planned taking out of unit of Ogres, then getting taken out in turn by a unit of Clan Rats and bursting forth for some extra damage on the flee. Enjoyable though the game was, it was also bittersweet as we had already planned on the match and worked towards it before we uncovered the magic that is Infinity.

This year Games Workshop had their annual price increase, however they coupled this to a shocking announcement with regards to their internet retailer policy as well as the sudden and shocking switch from metals to their Finecast resin product. Price hikes are a normal occurrence, but this seems almost painfully comical compared to previous years. Shortly after all of that we rec’d the annual financial report from GW, which I enjoy perusing on occasion. However this year we were fortunate enough to have a financially adept member of the community provide some analysis for us layfolk. I won’t try to recap Duke’s work, you can read it for yourself. I just thought it was funny that the CEO used the term ‘surprise & delight’ with regards to customers. I’m on my 4th CEO/President in less than 4 years and they have all been saying the same thing. What the fuck, are all the C-levels just reading from the same playbook with no originality? No wonder economies are so fucked.

Anyway, the end result is here we are looking into new games, (Infinity, Flames of War, Warmachine/Hordes), or resurrecting old ones, (BattleTech, Chainmail), for all the usual reasons. GW has made vast strides in the rules for the most recent editions, however they still have a number of glaring hiccups. I suppose this is the same old song. But seriously, $100 for 5 Rare vamp cavalry? Talk about your major “WTF?” moment!!! GW produces some of the most amazing models, it’s true. However, the figs coming out of Privateer Press and Corvus Belli are no slouch, not by a long shot, and they have rules that are far and above in terms of playability and quality control. So, all things being equal in the great figs dept., what happens when you couple terrific figs with terrific rules?

The one thing I noted a few years back when I bought into Warmachine was that the starter boxes were 100% playable and came with a starter rules pamphlet. We’re not talking an Island of Blood box with 70 figs for 2 armies and a mini rulebook for $99, oh no. From a pure starter viewpoint, 2 friends can buy in to the Warmachine/Hordes faction of choice, (rather than the enforced faction of Elves vs Skaven or Dwarfs vs Goblins), each having a playable army, (albeit a small one), and the rules to learn how for less. Choice AND education. GW could learn a bit from that. The other thing I noticed was that Warmachine put it’s rules expansions for all armies into books. So a new book launches, it contains new rules and unit types, but does so for ALL factions in the game. This is also contrary to GW practice where each army has a dedicated book which more often than not supersedes all other books when it launches, creating the “uber IT army” of the day. Already, Privateer Press had me at ‘hello’.

Flash forward to this past July and my final introduction to Infinity. The simplest glance at an article which threw out the term d20 and I spent half an afternoon reading through everything I could on the game. Before the day was out, I was hooked and already sending out emails to my game group. One by one, they all fell. Sure, we all desperately approve of the d20 vs any other die for gaming mechanics. Sorry folks, it is the superior choice unless you have the stones to compare it to d00. We also fell in love with the sculpts. Who doesn’t love anime.mecha, kilts and tree-hugging Islam? The straw that broke the bankroll’s back? Free rules. Full rule book, 100% free. Not just quick start rules, (which they also have), but the FULL RULE BOOK! Free rules, great starter packs, beautiful figs, online army builder, terrific online community, need I go on? Try before you buy isn’t something the wargaming community gets enough of.

The main gist of this rambling rant is that despite this being an expensive hobby over time, it’s nice when you don’t have to cough up an arm, a leg and a testicle to buy in. You can start Warmachine or Infinity for about $35-40 with a viable force for the tabletop from a single starter box and quick start rules. Since one needs an opponent to play with, you are getting started for about $70-80. Sure, you WILL spend more money, but this opens the door. To start 40K you are lucky to open the door solo for $85 in figs, (Space Marine Commander + 2 Tactical squads). This does not include a rule book or figs for your opponent. So call the minimum buy in for 2 players + rules at $225. If you want to play Space Marines vs Orks, yes you can buy in with 2 armies and a book for $99. What if you want to play IG or Dark Eldar? SOL, buddy. Long term, 40K is a larger scale game and you will buy/play with more figs on the table than Warmachine or Infinity. That doesn’t make the GW schema of dropping points costs on models for force larger forces onto the table a palatable excuse. How long before fielding a company of marines, (100), becomes the norm for 1750pts?

So here we are. Countless years and dollars invested in GW product. Are we throwing it away? Oh no… 40K will still be played occasionally. I don’t know when my Dwarfs or Gobbos will hit the table again. However, we are definitely shifting gears to put some time in on the new game(s) to see what they are like. I anticipate some serious enjoyment from our new games. And so, what will become of the boxes of Citadel product gathering dust in the closet as the days pass? Time will tell…

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