Gamers Gonna Game

It’s that time of year again when the Games Workshop releases their financials and the community explodes with rumours that they’re going under, that Hasbro will buy them out, that they’re woefully out of touch and they can basically go fuck themselves.

I freely admit to being guilty of this to some degree in the past. I’m the first to admit that I gripe about the pricing model either on The Shell Case or on Of Dice & Men (I promise there’ll be another episode up soon!) with some regularity. And I stand by those comments. The models are expensive. But you know what? I still play their games and I still pay their prices so who’s the bigger mug?

Reading Twitter today I was quite shocked by some of the comments that wargamers were making. Whilst I’m sure similar comments were made 6 months ago and the 6 months before that and so on, I’ve just never noticed until now.

For a hobby that is as inclusive as ours I’m bummed out to see so many people are willing the company to fail. People that moved to Warmachine or other game systems as an act of protest or to spite the Games Workshop – as if the Games Workshop knows each and every one of us and gives a shit what we do, say or think – berate for playing Games Workshop games and celebrate every penny lost in profit as a personal victory. And before I get pelted with angry comments I have to point out that no company genuinely gives a shit what we do, say or think. Not truly. If they did the XBox One would be free and delivered on a velvet pillow by the glamour model of my choice (don’t pretend I’m the only one who made the suggestion on the forums).encourage

I play Games Workshop games. I play the games they discontinued too and whilst I really wish they hadn’t canned Battlefleet Gothic and Mordheim, I understand why they did. But as I say, my understanding, my compliance or even consent is not required. Just my acceptance because there’s sod all I can do about it. Because I’ll live a longer happier life if I do. And not because they’ll send the Black Ships for me otherwise.

But I also play other games. I love Mantic’s Dreadball. Although they’ve been in a case for a while , I really enjoy Dystopian Wars and Firestorm Armada. I love X-Wing. And Studio McVey’s Sedition Wars, and lots more games beside. Whilst I’m not a fan of the Warmachine fluff or the sculpting style I can appreciate the quality of the game. And I know I ‘bash on it’ during episodes of Of Dice & Men, but it is all in jest. I honestly don’t give a monkeys what games people play. All I care about is everyone having fun.

Games nights with The Chaps – good and dear friends all – are a bevy of game systems and that’s cool because the key ingredient is we’re having a giggle. Good games, good models, good mates and good banter. What more could you possibly want. Apart from maybe the aforementioned glamour model to serve light refreshments. But you can’t win them all.

The point is this, before arguments break out – and I’ve seen it happen – just let it go. I urge all to stop sabre rattling. To stop clamouring for a company’s demise when that company not only represents a lot of enjoyment but people’s livelihoods as well. It is callous to forget that there are folk, just like you and I, doing a job there. A select few make the decisions that impact on us and whether or not we agree with those decisions, the majority shouldn’t be punished. Yes people are entitled to and should have opinions and yes they should be discussed but let’s remember the object of the exercise is not to win at all costs, or to be nasty or snide or bitter or resentful for some imagined slight. We have zero rights. Zero say. You’re a director or a board member you have as much entitlement to piss and moan as you have to tell me what colour socks to wear.

DontBeADickYes it’s frustrating that prices go up. Yes Games Workshop have us over a barrel and yes they know it. But the reality is this: play their games or don’t. Pay their prices or don’t. Just don’t be a dick about it.

That New Army Feel

I got my hands on the new Codex Orks earlier in the week (review coming very soon) and I’ve been reading it every chance I get and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. So much so I’m considering collecting an army of them. I don’t have much luck collecting enemies of the Imperium but the Orks I’m feeling particularly jazzed about.

60030103005_CodexOrksENG

The issue I have is that I’m also planning a Lizardmen army once I (finally) finish my Warriors of Chaos army which has stalled somewhat of late. 

The reality is that I’ll probably end up doing both. Much to my wife’s dismay. Because there’s something fundamentally magic about finding an army that you really like to the extent that you want to part with hard earned cash to collect it. It’s a bit like a new relationship. Lots of excitement and trying to learn as much about them as possible. Occasionally a friend might advise caution or tell you all the bad bits that you don’t want to hear like they’re high maintenance.

But ultimately you don’t care because they’re so shiny and new and they’ll let you do stuff that your other armies won’t let you do. And if you’re really lucky you can field them at the same time…

Okay enough of that metaphor.

But the point remains, there’s nothing quite like that new army feel. The excitement of reading the army book, learning their place within the world and the first tentative thoughts around army formations.

Pouring over the model range, the eternal struggle between what’s shiny or characterful verses what will actually win you games. The latter rarely wins for me. And of course the ultimate question – once you’ve settled on your first purchases – what colour are you going to paint them? I never worry about the last one because I get too carried away with the collecting bit to actually apply brush to model. But I always have very high minded ideas and that has to count for something.

There’s obviously the trap of new army syndrome. The waves of shiny models, the new or updated rules and the hype is hard to ignore. I’ve fallen into the trap a couple of times. The Grey Knights stick in my mind the most. I bought the codex, worked out a 3,000 point army list then I realised I found them utterly boring. Just my opinion mind, please don’t fan rage me. I guess the moral of the story is: buy the book, read the book. If you’re agonising over what to take rather than struggling to find inspiration for your army list then they’re probably a keeper.

The hardest part of starting a new army is not going crazy. Resisting the urge to buy stuff before you’ve written an army list, or buying loads of stuff at once so you can get that first game in. I do it every time. 500 points isn’t manly enough so I collect the first 1,000 points. Which is just too many models to be a manageable new painting project so then it becomes a mountain to climb. Unless it was like my Covenant fleet which was black with a bit of copper and wood…

The point is this – be sensible. Don’t be envious of other people’s armies or feel like you need to race to get to 3,000 points because you want to play a proper sized game. Basically don’t do what I’ve been doing for 25 years. I’ve only ever completed one 40k army. And that was my Ultramarines when they were 2,000 points. The models to take them to 3,000 were partially painted. My Ultramarines are now 9,500 points… So…yeah…

99120208010_LizardmenBattalionNEW01

Starter sets, battle force and battalion boxes are a good jumping off point. They’re not as crammed as they use to be and you don’t always get everything you want but with a thriving second hand market there’s always a buyer for the units you don’t want. And chances are it’ll still work out cheaper anyway.

So to return to my earlier metaphor, starting a new army is a lot like starting a new relationship. There’s lots of temptation to go too fast too quickly. Too get too invested only to discover that there’s just no love there. And there’s always that one friend who can’t resist saying ‘I told you so’. But get it right and it’s a joy. It’s effortless and everything evolves naturally. 

Now, how many Stegadons can I take again…

Salute 2014

Salute 2014So tomorrow the big day will have finally arrived. And it cannot have come soon enough. These last few years I’ve pre-ordered my ticket as soon as possible. Not because I’m worried about missing out but because when I wake up the day after Salute I’m already looking forward to the next one.

For me Salute is the most important date in my wargaming calendar for the simple reason than it’s a room full of people, all passionate about ‘the hobby’ which has many facets to it that go far beyond genre, scale and metal vs resin vs plastic. For a day no one cares who plays what or how much crap we got painted from the year before. Or how much of the stuff we got from the year before we even still own. It’s a coming together of community behind the most inclusive and welcoming hobby there is. And then we walk, talk and breathe toys. And then we spend all of our money on all of the things.

It always tickles me that every year, and I include myself in this, there is a frantic burst of eBaying, Twitter bartering and the chucking of stuff on Amazon Marketplace in an effort to push the budget as far as possible. Because taking £100 isn’t enough. Oh no! £150, that’ll do. But if I sell this or that, or borrow from the savings and promise to put it back, I’ll have £200! And so on and so on. My budget this year is a little less than I’d have liked. The weight of home ownership has rested heavily these last few months. However, it has made me more focussed on what I want and what I need. The difference being that I don’t need the Praetors from Forge World but want them so I’m getting them anyway. But I do need a few bits to round off my X-Wing fleet until the next wave of stuff drops.

I also need to remember to take lunch money because walking around with a satchel or backpack all day is a pain in the arse.

Tomorrow is going to be a brilliant day. And not just because of the buying of all the things. Okay, a little bit that. But because it’s an opportunity to explore the parts of the hobby I haven’t seen, haven’t had the chance to look into or are totally new to me. It’s a chance to make new friends and get reacquainted with old ones and generally embrace this wonderful hobby of ours.

I’m really looking forward to the #warmongers Meet Up, as is the rest of the team. We’ll be meeting at 1pm outside the hall at which point we’ll find somewhere out-of-the-way and compare swag. The last couple of years it’s been a recessed section opposite the hall so we were nice and visible to any late comers.

Finally, we will have The Shell Case pin badges to give away to the first people who come and say hi to us on the day. We won’t be hard to miss, the entire team (apart from our beloved Ashley who is stuck on the other side of a very large bit of water) will be there in shirts. And just in case, they’ve got our names on them so you can tell us apart.

tscbadges

See you all tomorrow.

The Shell Case does Salute – Reece

Salute 2014

As the 12th April comes ever closer and the prospect of another day filled with nothing but the sights, sounds and smells of the UK’s best all-round gaming show (and with the recent trend with Games Day, arguably just the outright best) fills our every waking thought (especially Mat’s – it’s his first time and he’s really quite excited), the members of The Shell Case team attending Salute this year (sorry Ashley, next time maybe?) have taken time to reflect on their hopes and expectations for Salute 2014.

Here are Reece’s Salute hopes and dreams:

Reece

What do I want to do at Salute? Mostly I suppose I don’t want to freak out about the size and number of people and spend the day dithering. Aside from that though, I’ll be looking out for skirmish games that catch my eye and getting the Demo games in. As much as I love large-scale battle games, with my piles of unpainted models, I feel a little less guilty getting into games that require a half-dozen models a side at most.

Plus, I’ve found that there is a bit more variety in small-scale games, with makers less likely to have sanded all the edges off, leaving slightly crazy things like models fainting from dehydration or being able to ricochet bullets off of walls, that sort of thing.

I’ll also be looking about for books to do with Warmachine, now that I’m on a PP kick. I may even pick up some of the tie in novels to see how they read. Oh and Infinity, Dead Man’s Hand, The Horus Heresy and Heresy Miniatures and…

And goes without saying that I’m looking forward to hanging out with the rest of the team and chatting with the #warmongers at the Meet Up.

The Shell Case does Salute – Mat

Salute 2014

As the 12th April comes ever closer and the prospect of another day filled with nothing but the sights, sounds and smells of the UK’s best all-round gaming show (and with the recent trend with Games Day, arguably just the outright best) fills our every waking thought (especially Mat’s – it’s his first time and he’s really quite excited), the members of The Shell Case team attending Salute this year (sorry Ashley, next time maybe?) have taken time to reflect on their hopes and expectations for Salute 2014.

Here’s what Mat had to say:

Mat

MAT BUY TOYS! Sorry that was slightly involuntary and besides Rob did warn you [Yes I did, but perhaps not well enough if people are actually reading this. -Rob].

So yes this is my first Salute. It’s not my first event however: I have attended Games Day in bygone years but then I had bugger all disposable income. And it was a pure Games Workshop event and I’m reliably informed that Salute is nothing like. Other than it involves toy soldiers. And as some of you may realise, I’m really hot for other companies’ miniatures and games anyway right now so, bring it:

  1. I will be partly attending this year to perform my duties as an ambassador for The Shell Case and chatting with some awesome peeps, who do know I’m coming. As well as taking photos for The Shell Case. MAT BUY TOYS! Ahem. Sorry.
  2. I will definitely be heading over to see Andy from Heresy Miniatures we’ve been getting a bit of a Necromunda itch here, and he does some brilliant miniatures for a Delaque gang. MAT BUY TOYS! I’m so sorry, I don’t know why that keeps happening.
  3. After reading Ashley’s article about Saga I’m thinking of checking that out, along with Maulifaux which I have developed a warm squishy place for. And Godslayer. And Dreadball. Honestly my list is endless. I don’t know if I’ll part with my cash on these… Yeah, whatever.
  4. I do have a few other bits on my list that I definitely want to purchase…MAT BU- Sorry! Sorry! X-Wing toys for my growing Imperial fleet are a must. Some bits for my Tau force providing I can find a bargain, and I’ll be hitting up Forge World for a tasty Battlesuit. I also want to find some models for my Beastmen Mordheim Warband. I don’t want to have to use the standard models.
  5. #warmongers meet is going to be pretty cool and I’m looking forward to putting some faces to names.
  6. I’m just really looking forward to hanging out with The Shell Case crew and spending a day looking at all the shiny. MAT BUY TOYS! ARRRGH!

[The Shell Case would like to apologise for Mat. Really we would. His mother also got in touch and extends her sincerest apologies also.]

X-Wing: Collecting a Rebel Fleet

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game By Fantasy Flight GamesThe addition of a second Y-Wing means my Rebel fleet for Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing Miniatures Game is starting to take shape. With a few games (and wins) under my belt I’ve started to get to grips with the tactics of fighting with a Rebel fleet.

To be perfectly, brutally, honest you can pick up the basics for my approach from reading the X-Wing novels but as that’s 10 books it may just be quicker to read on.

So the Rebellion’s main strength has always been the quality of its pilots. You can put a crap pilot in an X-Wing and they’ll end up dead. Perhaps not as quickly as a crap pilot in a TIE fighter, but still. So when it comes to collecting a fleet your first thought should be to the quality of the pilot you’re putting behind the stick over what the hardware can do.

Granted this is quite limiting at the moment thanks to the woefully slow release schedule Fantasy Flight are working to. There’s various hooky cards floating around the internet and it’s sorely tempting under the circumstances. But the point is, that ability to fire first is vitally important to the often outnumbered Rebellion.

And top tip; try to keep your points under the agreed limit, or at least less than your opponent. Possessing the initiative and the higher pilot skill is too good a combination to pass up.

Rebel Fleet

Profile cards aside the other issue is whether or not you collect a fleet with your heart or with your head. Given the choice, I’d happily collect all X-Wings. Their all round performance means that they’ll be able to go toe to toe with just about any other snubfighter with the exception of the TIE Defender. However the durability and weapons of Y-Wings and the savage speed of A-Wings make them both invaluable to a squadron sized force.

This combined arms approach, coupled with quick draw pilots and durability of those fighters is what makes the Rebels so lethal. And gives you the edge over the oft simplistic and bludgeoning approach of Imperial fleets full of cheap, poorly trained pilots, flying cheap poorly built TIEs. Couple it with the Imperials’ own preferred tactic of mobbing targets and it’s surprising how quickly you can chew through Imperial formations. Concentrated fire backed up by the ability to soak up some real punishment means that, providing you don’t allow your flights to get bogged down, they can take on a fleet twice their size and comfortably and capably deal with it. The trick being to scissor your say through Imperial formations. Try to avoid furballs which allow superior numbers to be brought to bear. And where possible try to plan your moves so you can tuck in behind a target with one element or another every other turn allowing you to hammer everything bar a Lambda Class and Slave 1 with impunity.

The important lesson however is never leave you wingman. A flight of three X-Wings is difficult to deal with. Possessing 9 shots, 6 shields and 9 damage points between them, they chuck out 3 more shots and can soak up 6 more points of damage for the same number of TIE fighters. Don’t be tempted to break one off to finish off a target. Ignore it and move on to the next. By the time the winged target is dead your lone fighter will be two turns away from formation and that’s a long time in X-Wing.

With all this in mind it’s also vitally important to identify threats. Figure out which of your opponent’s ships have comparable pilot skill to your pilots, or a trait that tips the balance in their favour. And then destroy them. Slowly stripping away advantages not only makes your life easier but demoralises the opponent. Plus the Imperial player is going up against a fleet of superior pilots and so target prioritisation almost becomes meaningless to them. You can play to your advantage by applying pressure with different ships at different times which forces them to engage multiple targets, spreading the damage points out.

But let’s not forget the various upgrade cards. Proton Torpedoes are a relative cheap, yet devastating tool. The important this is to not save them. They only work at long-range so fire them off as soon as possible. It’s up to you whether or not you put multiple locks on a single target. If the target gets destroyed by one missile then you’ll just have to wait another turn. The important thing is that you want at least one enemy fighter dead for each flight of two or three ships a turn firing that turn. There are ways this can be improved upon. Marksmanship is mandatory, among one or two others.

And finally: capital ships. Larger, bulkier, and tougher ships like the Falcon serve two vital roles. The first is the obvious magnet for enemy fire. They’re big enough and ugly enough to take quite a pounding. If you’re lucky your opponent will get so distracted trying to bring it down that they’ll ignore the snubfighters scything their way through TIE fighters. The second is their ability to anchor your ever flexing line. It’s 360 degree field of fire means that it will always – assuming you make it keep pace with the rest of your fleet – be able to lend a hand to soften up, or finish off, a problem target. Again, with the right combination of upgrades the Falcon can not only shoot first, but lob out a volley of missiles, repair itself, get a burst of speed or gain the evade ability, which is very very useful.

Ultimately the best advice I can give for collecting a Rebel fleet – assuming all the cards were available – is to go with what you love. Whilst, personally, I wouldn’t recommend a squadron of B-Wings because they’d get danced around more times than the proverbial piggy in the middle, if they’re your jam than take them.

My fleet will, eventually, be 4 X-Wings, 3 A-Wings, 2 Y-Wings, 1-B-Wing, 2 E-Wings and the Falcon. The reason being it offers a near perfect blend of firepower, speed and durability as well as the capacity throw a lot of Ion cannon shots and missiles at my opponents. Seven ships down, 6 to go. Roll on Salute…

The X-Wing Miniature series is available from Firestorm Games from £6.29.

The Shell Case does Salute – Phil

Salute 2014

As the 12th April comes ever closer and the prospect of another day filled with nothing but the sights, sounds and smells of the UK’s best all-round gaming show (and with the recent trend with Games Day, arguably just the outright best) fills our every waking thought (especially Mat’s – it’s his first time and he’s really quite excited), the members of The Shell Case team attending Salute this year (sorry Ashley, next time maybe?) have taken time to reflect on their hopes and expectations for Salute 2014.

Here’s Phil’s thoughts:

Phil

This’ll be my third consecutive Salute and my third representing this site. It’ll be the first, however, that I’ll be going there with (most of) my newly assembled team of writers. My focus this year will be much more around building some links with all the various companies attending so we can bring you better content across a broader range of games.

I’m also looking forward to catching up with the likes of Mike McVey, the guys from Amera & 4Ground, Wendy from West Wind and Jed from Antenociti’s Workshop to name but a few.

The hobby fund is a little light this year thanks to a few unforeseen expenses so I’ll be keeping things focussed, although with Black Library not in attendance I’ll save £30 or so. There will be the mandatory, if modest, purchase from Forge World, a couple of A-Wings, if I can find them, and then the rest can go on childish impulse buys. As I’ll be on a budget I’m thinking of putting the Khorne Daemon Prince off in favour of the Legion Praetors as I’ve been wanting to update my Ultramarine captains for ages.

Obviously I’m looking forward to the #warmongers Meet Up. It’s always great to see familiar faces and put new ones to familiar Twitter names.

Myself, Mat, Lee, Neil, Reece & Rob will all be there with TSC shirts so please do come over and say hi. And the first 10 who do will get an exclusive pin badge. Just because we’re nice like that.

The Shell Case does Salute – Rob

Salute 2014

As the 12th April comes ever closer and the prospect of another day filled with nothing but the sights, sounds and smells of the UK’s best all-round gaming show (and with the recent trend with Games Day, arguably just the outright best) fills our every waking thought (especially Mat’s – it’s his first time and he’s really quite excited), the members of The Shell Case team attending Salute this year (sorry Ashley, next time maybe?) have taken time to reflect on their hopes and expectations for Salute 2014.

Here’s what I came up with and the other’s will be posting their expectations soon. I repeat, Mat is very excited about attending his first Salute. You have been warned.

Rob
This is the first year I’ll be going with a ‘definite’ plan for what I want to pick up (and by definite I mean go and buy all of that stuff, then buy a truckload more stuff, just because it’s SHINY!) I’ll be busy a lot of the day with my ‘work’ reason for being at Salute, fiddling around with tech, so time will be short; at least this year I won’t be running the London marathon the next day, so won’t have to build in time to attend the always amusingly juxtaposed marathon expo next door. All of the extra stuff meant that last year the Salute show side of things was a bit of a blur, I couldn’t even get to the #warmongers meet up at lunch time, which is almost unforgivable! My priorities this year are:
  1. Spend time chilling and exploring the show with The Shell Case crew
  2. Attend the #warmongers gathering
  3. Pick up two or three new skirmish games: Godslayer, possibly a second Malifaux starter and whatever takes my fancy on the day (Dark Age is something I definitely want to take a closer look at if anyone has it there – any ideas anyone?)
  4. Grab some FW goodness. I allow myself one impulse purchase from the FW guys at each Salute and by one purchase, I mean one credit card transaction ;-) Trying to decide whether I want to pick up some heresy goodies, possibly Iron Hands as I like their affinity with the Mechanicum and they have some awesome models.
  5. Get some video of the day for a post-Salute wrap-up for The Shell Case!
That should about cover it I reckon! I’m definitely looking forward to being able to have a few beers this time around without worrying about having to run the marathon the next day!

Opening lines… By Nick Kyme

Imagine a magnesium bright desert. There is nothing as far as your eye can see, and the horizon and the landscape are so indistinct from one another that they merge into a single formless, toneless mass.

Welcome to the first page of your novel. Surprise, surprise – it’s blank. Better take on lots of water and figure out your route, it’s going to be a long road.

It gets better, though. Having a road map helps. You build it. You build the landscape too (though that can be capricious and surprising – it should be). It’s your world, remember?

Make no bones about it (there are many in the blank page desert, slowly bleaching in the sun), writing a novel is tough. It takes time, and isn’t for the faint hearted. If you are faint of heart, try some shorter at first. If that gives you concern too then I’d suggest getting the heck out of the desert at the first opportunity before you expire. This trek is not for you, sir/madam.

Perhaps toughest is coming up with that opening line. Thing is, once you’ve got your landscape up and running (your characters and the story they drive and inhabit), it becomes a little more self-perpetuating. Before that happens, there’s just the desert and all the compass directions laid before you.

See, the thing about opening lines is, there’s never just one. You might think there is, but that’s not true. There are lots, and therein lies the rub. So many places where you could begin, so many choices, directionless and amorphous.

It can be paralysing.

Terrifying.

Some advice?

Write more than one. Don’t be afraid to throw out what you’ve spent the entire morning agonising over. No words are that important that you can’t jettison them in favour of better or more appropriate ones.

Recycle and redraft. In the blank desert landscape, this isn’t only environmentally friendly, it’s economically sound too. I’ve dumped loads of failed opening lines, only to find them in my mental scrap and ready to be deployed elsewhere. Throw nothing out. Not completely anyway. With a little care and attention, it can be put to use again.

But I’m digressing.

I equate writing a novel to running a long race. Think of it as a journey. I remember an interesting quote about this very subject (apologies if I don’t remember this accurately): Writing a novel is like driving down a dark road with your lights on. You know where you’ve been, and you can see just what is in front of you, but no further ahead than that. The only way you know what is around the next bend is to reach it and have a look.

Think about your route. Have a route. We are back in the blank page desert again, but if you have a route you are much more likely not to get lost, especially when you start to establish some of the landmarks along the way.

Going back to the idea of a long race, the opening line is you on the starting line. It’s your preparation and thought process up to this point. You just need to put one foot in front of the other.

Endurance is the key. You have to have e physical and mental chops to stay the course. Break up the miles. It’s hot in the desert, but you’ll be all right if you just take it steady and try not to think about the journey in its entirety. That is the way to madness. You’ll end up (or rather the idea of your novel will) as one of those bleached skulls on the side of the road, the ruins of your story putrefying in the heat.

When I’m writing a novel, I prepare. Mind and body. I research and plan. I think. Then when I’m ready, I act. I consider the variant possibilities of my opening line, that first scene and simply pick one.

I take it step by step, mile and mile. It’s tough at first, and takes some adjustment. All long races are, I think. I find a novel doesn’t start to attain its own gravity (and thus pulling me along into its orbit) until I reach about 20 to 30k words. I know I’m in a long race then, not a sprint. I reconcile the fact it’s going to take some time. I double check my route map. Do it more than once, to remind yourself where you are going. I do the miles, I work at that everyday even if I’m only chipping away at them.

Write. Read. Repeat.

There is no cheat or trick. That’s it.

Opening lines, they are scary but think of all the possibilities and what might come of it all when the finish line is in sight and you get to cross it…

Play It Fun

Play.
It.
Fun.

Three words, and a simple message, but for me at least they mark the beginning of a journey to reconnect with the roots of why I got into this fantastic hobby of ours in the first place.

“Fine”, you might say, “but why, Rob, are you bothering to tell the rest of us this?” Fair question. Over the last few years I have been more involved in the hobby and my local gaming community than at any time of my 25 years, or so, involvement in the hobby, and over the last 3 years in particular I have noticed (and this is particularly prevalent in the 40k community) a trend towards win at all costs gaming and a discourse mono-focused on the tournament scene as the arbiter of ‘what counts’ as a game of 40k and whether a new release is good or bad. Let me be clear about something up front: I have participated in the tournament scene in many ways over the years and I enjoy tournaments for the different focus they give to my games and approach to list-building. I have never gotten to the stage where tournament participation is the be all and end all of my gaming though and that seems to be where many in the community have ended up today. Again, if you are a player who enjoys tournaments so much that it’s the focus of your hobby then all credit to you, I am not sitting here criticising anyone else’s approach to the hobby. What I am concerned about, though, is the effect that the shift in emphasis towards tournaments as a primary mode of playing games does to new players entering the hobby.

The On-Ramp to Gaming Goodness

More and more, players are coming into gaming with the tournament scene forming their first impressions of what this community of ours is and what they should expect from joining it. This is worlds apart from the situation when many of the ‘old guard’ (and depressingly I probably have to count myself amongst them) [And me. -Ed] got into wargaming for the first time. Like many, I got into the hobby via the Games Workshop on-ramp; no-one can deny that over the years they have done a fantastic job of producing a product that sells brilliantly to the teenage market and draws us into the wider wargaming community. The ramp no longer exists in the way that it once did, and I think that’s a bad thing, because Games Workshop used to deliver something that independent stores find more difficult, simply because they aren’t focused on one company’s games.

Gone are the days where you would begin your journey by playing an intro game at Games Workshop and then maybe bring a squad or vehicle to join in on a Saturday in one of their huge battles with your friends, pitting yourself against the wits of the store staff on some crazy mission dreamed up by a key-timer whilst hung-over on a Saturday morning (yup, in the dim and distant past, I was that key-timer) [And me. -Ed]. You would complement these games with games against your friends at home, on the dining table, or floor, with crap scenery (everyone remembers books under tablecloths as hills, right?) and no aim other than to use as many of your models as possible and shoot loads of stuff. The rules, whilst not unimportant, were usually second fiddle to the cultivation of enjoyment.

In Games Workshop stores certainly, the rules were often tertiary. Staff would be called upon to arbitrate in occasional disputes during the “veterans” evenings (that have long since departed) and often store managers, in lugubrious mood, would cock an eyebrow and make up something on the spot that bore little relation to either the initial dispute or the rule book. But it didn’t matter, because the game was isolated from some ‘wider world’ of “the rules” vs “the fluff” (which seems to have become the medium of the back and forth between players these days.) These were the days when Games Workshop ran huge campaigns, like the Eye of Terror, Armageddon (for 40K) and The Storm of Chaos, Albion and The Nemesis Crown (for Warhammer) and it felt like they had the resources and the desire to engage the community as a whole and not solely ‘as customer’. Of course it would be naive to think that they weren’t aiming for a financial return off the back of these events, but at least as a gamer it felt like they were trying to involve you in something bigger than your local store and the ‘usual suspects’ that inhabited it for hours over the weekends and school holidays. More importantly it set the tone of new gamers’ understanding of what it meant to be a wargamer, to have a bloody good time, laugh a lot and maybe win. It simply doesn’t work this way any longer, and the shift in emphasis that the Games Workshop are bringing with their one-man store model is making it harder for new gamers to get anything other than a tournament-centric introduction to the hobby.

Where does it all begin?

There has been an explosion of independent gaming club/store combos in the last few years and this hybrid model, which let’s face it is modelled on the Games Workshop approach to combining gaming and selling spaces, has led to a massive increase in the number of tournaments run. Shops need to bring players in and tournaments are a fantastic vehicle for doing so, unlike Games Workshop, you can’t just set up a store in every town to increase your pull. To get the players they have to offer good prizes to make the travel worth-while, and prizes breed the kind of competitive approach that leads to net-list armies and “can’t be bothered” paint-jobs.

For me, the tournament scene works best as a way of delivering that sense of something ‘bigger’ than your local players and club hobby community, which we used to get from better engagement from Games Workshop and their big campaigns. Unfortunately, community and competition don’t always make comfortable bed fellows, and it is especially difficult for new players to pick their way from those first few friendly games at their local club through their first tournament with nothing in between.

What do we need to do?

It’s definitely not all doom and gloom though, and several of the podcasts I listen to (The Independent Characters, The Overlords, Dwellers Below, Garagehammer, ODAM (of course!), and many others) are already either trying to diagnose why things are “going bad” and or discussing how to turn this situation around. In both 40K and Warhammer scenes there is a general dissatisfaction with painting standards and the approach to playing the game, but we can meet this with positivity and attempt to shape the way it ends up, unlike the Games Workshop release schedule or codex content this is something we have a say in and, in fact, control over. Games Workshop has, quite obviously, never had any interest in the tournament scene. We do have an interest in the tournament scene; it’s our main way of meeting new gamers, playing different kinds of army and learning about how others approach the hobby. It’s also become the main ‘next step’ for new gamers, which is why it’s so important that we find a way to change our approach collectively.

What is Games Workshop doing?

We also have the recent positive developments from Games Workshop itself. There are three things I would bring up in this context: White Dwarf Weekly and the shift to weekly releases, the new Community Manager role, and the Imperial Knight release.

First up, White Dwarf and the weekly release schedule. After five weeks I think this has proven to be a good move. Ff course back in the old days, releases were always done this way and White Dwarf, whilst a monthly magazine, had a different role to fulfil. The tone is right in White Dwarf Weekly, focused on the hobby and the models with a smattering of rules content. I’ve heard people complain that they’d never buy a model without getting the codex/army book first and that the weekly schedule is a mistake. I disagree completely. For one thing there is already more talk (and it is positive talk) in the community about the releases each week, not less. Secondly Games Workshop are releasing rules alongside the models and they are the right rules, that give an insight into the army as a whole without giving the whole game away; they are the ‘right’ rules to be giving away in that they generate more talk and give all stores an opportunity to be a hub for chat about the hobby again, though I still believe that until they address the problems that the one-man staffing model causes in this regard, they won’t really be able to take the maximum advantage from it.

Secondly, the new community manager role. If taken at face value this promises to give Games Workshop a chance to listen and to adjust a few things. Now, of course, you could be negative and say it’s nothing more than lip-service to make it look as though they’re listening. I see no point in adopting that perspective, it brings us nothing and only serves to potentially dampen the impact that whoever gets that role will have. This role will report to the CEO, it will have the ear of the right people to effect the right changes and that has to be a positive thing. I have my own ideas what they could do, but we’ll just have to wait and see, it will obviously be a balance between risk and reward for Games Workshop.

Thirdly, the Imperial Knight release. Why? Well, just look at the social media channels; they are on fire with positivity about this release. It’s a classic “do no wrong” release, it’s straight out of the rich tapestry of background material that Games Workshop have to draw upon. It comes with a book that itself extends and expands that background and brings it to life with a model that is spot on. Finally I love it because of what it shows the top-tier of the company – that if they let their studio deliver content that is based on what they know the community love that it will sell by the bucket-full. For me, it’s as if someone in the main studio said “Hey, how about you let us act like we work at Forge World for a month and release that?”, someone (a very smart someone) said “sure why not” and the result is the awesomeness that is currently causing all of us die-hard gamers, who were last week depressed about how crap everything was and how Games Workshop were going out of business and couldn’t get it right, to cream our collective pants.

So, slowly, I believe changes are being made that will help us rejuvenate some of the jaded inhabitants of our community and we should take these changes as positively as we can and push them further through our clubs and events.

How to Play It Fun

So, Play It Fun, what is it? It’s not complicated, there’s no mandated approach, it’s not a demand to never play in tournaments, or to do more painting or anything specific. It’s simply a call to arms for anyone who wants to recapture that initial spark that got them interested in gaming in the first place, it’s a prod to get you to look at your and your opponent’s models on the table top and yell “this is frickin’ cool!” Bring this enthusiasm to your club, to your next tournament and encourage others to do the same.

As a friend recently said to me, the moment you start pretending to yourself that you aren’t just a 6-year-old shouting “pew-pew!” with toy soldiers is the moment you may as well pack up and go home. You’ve forgotten why you’re there.