Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ten Years of Dabbling in Warhammer

This summer will see the release of a new edition of Games Workshop’s fantasy battle miniature rules: Warhammer. For those keeping count, this will be the 8th edition. For my personal count it is my third edition in ten years.

I started wargaming with boardgames and Dungeons & Dragons back in the 1970s. In 1982 or 83 I played my first miniature wargame using historical miniatures. It was a hypothetical 1815 battle using 25mm figures and George Nafziger’s rule set, Pas de Charge. I have been hooked on miniatures ever since. But this article is not about Napoleonics or even historical miniatures in general. Rather I want to talk about my dabbling in Warhammer, also known as Warhammer Fantasy Battles or WHFB to discern it from its Warhammer 40,000 or 40K science fiction cousin.

Despite my D&D gaming, I was not involved with GW games in general or Warhammer in particular. I was aware of the Citadel Miniatures line but not about Warhammer. Around 1999 as I was preparing to move from San Antonio, Texas to Delaware, I discovered a new game store in the neighborhood I was about to leave. I stopped by to see if they had anything interesting and was surprised to find a shop complete with a couple gaming tables, some terrain for the tables, and lots of GW product.

And that’s where I did NOT get involved with Warhammer. Quite honestly, the figures and terrain put me off. This was during the editions of Warhammer (up through and including 5th edition) that involved garish, almost cartoon-like paint jobs on greatly exaggerated figures with impossibly large weapons. I would like to think I wasn’t snobbish about it; if someone wanted to play with that stuff, it was their choice. I just wasn’t interested myself. To give you an idea of what did interest me I will point out that I was collecting 15mm armies for De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) for the 2nd Punic War, 15mm armies for our club’s Seven Years War rules and 15mm Napoleonic armies for several different sets. I was just beginning to get into 28mm figures for the Seven Years War but had not yet done so for Napoleonics.

As I said, I was just about to move to the East Coast. Once there, I was sent to Montgomery, Alabama for a training course. Before going, I used the Internet to find a DBA player and arranged to meet him at a Montgomery game store. We got together, played several games, and browsed the store. One thing I always try to do while traveling is to find the Friendly Local Game Store and buy something. If I find a “something” which is substantial and connected to one of my current projects that’s a bonus. But if I can’t find anything for my personal mainstream, I will pick up something that looks interesting. This way I both broaden my gaming horizons while giving the shop some business.

This particular trip, I really could not find anything of real interest to me. However, the player I had met (sorry, but I have forgotten his name) pointed out to me a brand new GW game which supposedly was very much like DBA: Warmaster. I think the store had sold out of the Warmaster rules, but they did have a copy of the GW magazine White Dwarf which covered the release of the new game. So I bought US White Dwarf #243 for April, 2000 and took it back to my hotel room. Oh the little $4.99 plus tax pebble which would start an avalanche of thousands of dollars!

That issue of White Dwarf really surprised me. Somewhere between what I had seen at the store in Texas and the publishing of Warmaster, GW had transitioned away from the cartoony and garish to the dark and grim. In addition to articles describing Warmaster, some of its armies, and a large battle report, issue #243 included an interesting piece of 40K fiction called “Siren Song,” a spread on “Vengeance of the Vampire,” a large and gruesome display table from UK Games Day, and other articles. I distinctly remember reading all of the Warmaster content first, but then getting sucked into the other game systems as well.

I purchased the Warmaster rules and an Empire army soon after returning home to Delaware. I never found any local players, however, and I eventually sold off the game before moving back to Texas. As a side note, once I did move back to Texas I found that the local group there was engaged in a Warmaster campaign and I bought back into the system, but with Undead and later Lizardmen. But although interesting and very much a result of that first White Dwarf, I’m diverging from Warhammer itself.

As most gamers do, once I bought Warmaster I wanted to get more information about its universe. The book itself did not have a lot of “fluff” as some call it. I kept an eye on the next few issues of White Dwarf, and was rewarded when the October, 2000 issue (#249 in the US) introduced a new edition of Warhammer—and included a 26-page “Rough Guide to the Warhammer World.” I bought the magazine for the background, but soon found myself drawn to the description of the new edition of Warhammer. This did not sound anything like the game I remembered back in San Antonio! This sounded grim, sinister, yet fun and still with a wry sense of humor. I mean, really: orcs with Cockney accents?

Between October and that Christmas, I spent a lot of time on the internet or in the Dover, Delaware game store looking at and reading about Warhammer. Shortly after Christmas, I took the opportunity of a visit from my sister as an excuse to go shopping at the Franklin Mills mall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the time, there was a GW store in the mall. After one last look at the demonstration game they had set up, I bought the big boxed set and took it to my wife and asked her how she knew to give me just what I wanted for Christmas!

I devoured that box. I soon had all of the new Army Books for what I now learned was the 6th edition of Warhammer. I have always rather thought of it as my first edition. The Empire was what I collected; lots and lots of it. At some point I finally subscribed to White Dwarf and began to read the novels as well. I particularly enjoy the Gotrek and Felix series.

Along with my subscription to White Dwarf I slowly collected the Army Books, generally as they were released. I picked them up for various reasons: fluff, interest in potential adversaries and in the case of the Lizardmen book released in 2003, a decision to actually build a new army.

I originally bought the Lizardmen book for inspiration to paint a Warmaster army. The club Warmaster campaign was still running and interest in the game in general was quite high. We had many games, some of them huge, and I was looking for something different than my Undead army.

But having that Army Book was just too tempting. A few days later while browsing one of the local stores, I saw something green, scaly, and dusty on the bottom shelf: fifth edition Saurus plastics for only $12.50 for the whole box. And Skinks too! I had only enough cash to buy one or the other, but soon travelled back to another store with additional funds. The second store, by the way, was the same store that I found in 1999. New management made Central Command into “the” place for GW in San Antonio for several years, although sadly the store is no longer in business.

Of course other scaly purchases followed that first box of Saurus, and I continued to add White Dwarfs, supplements, and Army Books to my collection.

Looking back now, I consider the time frame of 2000 to 2005 to have been a high point for my enjoyment of Games Workshop. White Dwarf magazine was full of interesting articles, the company ran huge virtual campaigns, and innovative products like Warhammer Skirmish and The Generals Compendium kept the energy level high.

When the next (7th) edition of Warhammer was announced and released in September of 2006 it did not come in the same “big box” that had been used previously. The full sized rule book was released separately (which I bought) and the starter set included a reduced-size (both physically and content) version of the rules. I particularly enjoyed The Battle for Skull Pass set: it was a good value and very useful.

But GW and Warhammer changed at that time. Although I bought 7th Edition, Skull Pass, and a couple Army Books, my interest waned. The new Empire figures released for the 7th Edition harked back to the ones that didn’t impress me in 1999 and I don’t think I bought any of them. White Dwarf articles became less interesting, and generally GW output seemed less inspired. I continued to subscribe to the magazine, but stopped purchasing Warhammer material. An exception came in early 2009 when the revised Lizardmen Army Book and some cool new models were released.

So here it is the summer of 2010. The latest, 8th Edition of Warhammer is coming over the horizon—how will it do? More personally, how will it do for me? That question is what led to this article.

Yesterday I stopped into a local store and looked over their preview copy of the huge new 528 full-color pages of the new Warhammer. It is an impressive book. Sadly, I did not feel any surge of interest. In an ironic coincidence, the July issue of White Dwarf is completely devoted to a preview and celebration of 8th Edition—but I finally let my subscription lapse with the June issue. I went ahead and picked up a store copy of the new issue, but as of this moment I do not intend to resubscribe. Overall, though, the issue did what was intended: it has piqued my interest in Warhammer.

I am very interested in learning about the new introductory set to replace Skull Pass. The new set, Island of Blood, will probably have another mini-rulebook but is said to contain High Elves and Skaven—neither of which have interested me in the past.

Will I continue to be interested in Warhammer? I don’t know yet. I have only browsed the July issue of White Dwarf and I know I will be buying the new Ulrika and Gotrek & Felix books. Island of Blood is a definite possibility. What else is coming out? Anything new and exciting? I am waiting but I am not sure if Warhammer will interest me for another ten years. To be honest, I hope it does; those first five were a real blast!

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