Monday, July 6, 2015

Games Workshop Blew Up Warhammer Fantasy Battles

I, as I suspect most wargamers of a certain age, have been watching the Age of Sigmar release rumors with some curiosity, in a manner not dissimilar from having watched the release of the latest D&D iteration.  Would they listen to the "fan base"?  Would they embrace or reject the OSR?  Would they draw in new players while alienating the old?


When I first saw the box set and rules, I thought: "This must be a Mordheim-type game.  GW wouldn't blow up WHFB."  I loved the idea of super-lite rules and the "warscrolls", but didn't think they'd release them for free, for nearly every old model.  

Well . . . GW blew up WHFB.  

In fact, they blowed it up real good.  Personally, not being a competitive gamer, but certainly a decidedly cheap, busy and lazy one, I can't see much of a downside for me at this point.  In fact, I feel like its Christmas.  Here are my thoughts:



The Minis and Background

I'm not drawn to the minis in the box set - the bad guys look like Khorne Berserkers.  The good guys look like Blood Angels' Sanguinary Guard, without wings and with their pauldrons on backwards:

While the "SuperDooperHeros from the Sky Vs. the Chaosy Warp" motif is great in 40k, for Fantasy, I'm an adherent to the "pathetic aesthetic" of the Old World - especially the original WHFRP world of muleskinners and rat catchers.  I also love the Mordheim world of crumbling buildings, thieves and cutthroats rummaging through the ruins.  It's that sort of "Low Fantasy" or "Urban Fantasy" that makes Warhammer Fantasy what it is, rather than Cogy/Steamy Warmahoards or Victorian/Western Malfaux.  All I see here is "shiny-shiny".

Not having followed the Old World storylines as closely as 40k and the Horus Heresy, I can't quite follow the whole background story - nor has it been fully revealed.   As such, I look forward to seeing things develop, and hope my feeling of "meh" changes with new minis and new storylines.  Hopefully they won't completely lose the gritty feel of the Old World - or, as they seem to be calling it, "The World that Was."

Rules

After a few read-thoughs, I think GW nailed it.  They kept the flavor of the Old World armies while reinventing the rules to have a more modern feel.  And, I'm still in disbelief that they just gave it all away.  Can't beat free.

The two pages of playing rules are nearly perfect, if a bit skimpy.  For example, I wish they had kept the "to hit" and "to wound" charts we're all so familiar with, or at least something similar.  Having a mechanic where a model rolls "to hit" and "to wound" with complete disregard of its target's stats seems both unnatural and not promoting interaction between the players.  The "saving throw" now seems to have too much weight.  But, I've used similar mechanisms for simple home-brew games with the kids for years, so I'm sure I'll survive.    Or, maybe create a new house rule mechanic.  Hmm.

On the other hand, two pages for basically setting up a game seems a bit much.  Why have rules on where to set up terrain and how to score a "victory" when there are no rules whatsoever on how many HQ or Troops you have?  For example, I have no issue with one player plopping down five Papa Nurgle minis and facing off against the other's band of 50  men, but why tell them how many "Inspiring Ruins" should be in the northwest section of the board, or how to decide who wins?  That said, it does provide some ideas and guidelines and, in any event, can easily be disregarded or tweaked as the players see fit.

Games are for Kids!  Rules so simple, even a boy raised on video games can read and understand them. 
With respect to the War Scrolls, they are fulsome and well organized.  I've long suspected that the Warhammer rulebook layout was designed not for ease-of-use, but to make it difficult to copy.  There was never any organizational reason to be forced to reference four or five sections of the rulebook and army books to understand what a freaking one-inch tall plastic army man can do.  Now, all the rules for a units are in one place.  So, so, so much easier to use.  I've already printed out my army lists for two armies that I hope to throw on the table for a play-through this evening.  My only wish is that the rules were designed to fit into a 3x5 card format.  But, hey, I got what I paid for.

Finally, I do miss the "points" and force orgs, as I'd like to able to better balance a match . . . or at least know just how out-of-balance a game will be.  Having them listed, as optional, would have been a nice touch for the hardcore gamers.  But, boy am I personally glad to be putting the calculator and army-builder spreadsheets away.  Balance, schamlance.  Let's just play.

How Will GW Make Money?  Well, at Least from Me . . . 

GW just gave away every army book and the new rules.  I don't ever need to buy rules again.  And I don't like the new minis.  So, how can GW earn my cash?  Here's what I'd pay for, at least knowing what I know right now:

1.  Keep selling existing minis and terrain.   Nothing kills my interest more than knowing a game is about to be killed or replaced.  GW has pulled its existing terrain.  Not sure whats in store for the current minis in the long run.  Hopefully, they'll keep many of them in production.  It may be the plan to pull them and only sell new ones (with new rules, natch), but my guess is that there's a pent up demand for the existing stuff, especially terrain, that will be released now that the rules are out.  Even better yet, re-release a bit of the older stuff with some character! Fingers crossed.

2.  Background books with Scenarios.  With no rules on army building, and fluid rules on defining "winning", suddenly scenarios and "narrative gaming" take center stage.  Imagine each new novel (or re-issued ones) had a few scenarios in it.  Imagine short stories in White Dwarf, followed by a matching scenario.  Imagine an "The Enemy Within" type campaign with scenarios that build from a dozen minis to a large army.  I'd wager this is coming.  Why wouldn't it?

3.  Cool Accessories at Reasonable Prices.  Right off the bat, I want a deck of cards for each army, with the rules of each unit on a card.   $15 would be about right, a bit steep for cards, but way cheaper and user friendly than the $50 rulebooks they're replacing.  And, if they can get the price of dice close to Chessex levels, then I'd take a few of those too.  Since my rulebook budget just free'd up, fill it will some swag, baby!  I'm sure we'll see new accessories, but the hope they're reasonably priced is, shall we say, very much up in the air.

Summary

Thank you to GW for reinventing their original flagship game.  While they have certainly alienated the hardcore, competitive gamer (and, honestly, my heart goes out to them - especially those who shelled out hundreds of dollars on obsolete army books), this new version of Warhammer Fantasy will undoubtedly draw in new players and re-engage many old ones.  It is certainly my cup of tea.