Being a bit Special

There’s been a lot of chatter on the interwebs lately about the lack of love the Games Workshop shows for its Specialist Range. I think this has been largely prompted by Fantasy Flight Games’ expanding range of licensed products such as the all new Blood Bowl Manager game. Although there’s a few rumours floating around that Blood Bowl will be the next in line for the Space Hulk treatment. Personally, I’d be quite happy with that because I think it’s the one game that never worked terribly well. I’m probably also the only one who thinks that.

There’s quite a few strong opinions out there. Some are understandable and passionate, others are the usual bilious nonsense that seems to follow Games Workshop around like a bad smell. As the Specialist Games range has been largely my sole focus for the Games Workshop part of my wargaming hobby at the moment I thought I’d wade in.

Whatever people feel, the simple truth behind Games Workshop’s lack of support towards the Specialist Games range boils down to three things:

1. There’s no money in it. This argument won’t come as a surprise to anyone. Any doubt gamers had that profit was at the forefront of Games Workshop’s mind has vanished following the recent price increases. But it’s a true and a fair reason (to a point – no profit means no company). Once you have the rules and a warband box for Mordheim you don’t need to spend another penny if you don’t want to. And all companies rely on repeat business.

2. The Specialist Games ranges stall peoples development in the hobby. This argument may well be anchored in economics but it’s valid. From my experience as a member of staff when Specialist Games was in its heyday, gamers that just played those games didn’t develop their modelling, painting and gaming skills as quickly as other gamers. A gamer that spent a couple of years playing skirmish games before graduating to Warhammer or 40k had their arses handed to them which put them off progressing further. Especially those that considered themselves ‘experienced gamers’.

3. There’s no space. The truth is there’s only so much space in a hobby store for stock and gaming boards and so the company has to give the space to what sells. Especially as ranges are getting bigger all the time. Even the Black Library is relegated to the smallest space possible in most stores. Granted more could be done online but the Games Workshop’s success is based on interaction and sharing the hobby with like-minded people. And, again, you’d still have to pay someone to write free content for a game that makes the business no real money in the first place.

I suppose, really it’s one reason when you scratch beneath the surface of points 2 & 3. Money. And that’s not unreasonable, but it does suck.

So, what can we as gamers do to enjoy the Specialist Games without the ongoing support of the publishers?
Obviously there’s nothing you can do about the lack of models or the relatively high cost of those that are. eBay is the obvious place to go but as I’ve talked about in my By Proxy post, starting a Necromunda gang that way can cost you twice as much as it should. Proxying is the obvious place to go but that’s not being covered here.

The great thing about the Specialist Games range is that the core rules are free to download from the website which is bloody handy and saves you a tidy bit of cash. Granted, printing it is a bind and it’s never the same as having the real deal but for zero investment you can suck it up if you ask me.

Beyond that and trying to track down the supplement magazines, the only thing left to you is writing campaigns.
And actually this is where the Specialist Games range gets one over on Warhammer & 40k because Epic Armageddon, Battlefleet Gothic, Mordheim and Necromunda are all set within a very specific place or time that gives you a very solid and detailed foundation from which to build your campaign on. Most of the leg work has already been done with regards to who’s who and why you’re there. All that’s left for you to do is think up a storyline, come up with some cracking scenarios and have fun. And I certainly have been with the chaps. You just need to have a read of the Blood in the Barrows scenario in the gaming resources part of this site to see that. And Inquisitor gives you a complete blank canvas. But that game does my box in so I’ll not say much more about it.

And if you’re feeling really adventurous, there’s nothing to stop you from revising the rules yourself, a bit like the chaps at Coreheim did. It’s certainly an option and could give your game of choice a new lease on life I’d ask yourself first; is it really worth the effort?

Granted we still come back to the issue of models and often the need to proxy which becomes increasingly difficult with games like Epic & Battlefleet Gothic but the ranges are still largely intact. Especially for Gothic which reinforces my belief that the game is like the Games Workshop’s bastard love child. It desperately wants to embrace it as their own and give it all the love and support it needs but to do so would be at a tremendous financial and personal cost.

I don’t think Games Workshop willingly abandoned the Specialist Games range. If they really wanted them gone they’d just pretend they never existed like Gorkamorka. I just think that the business has a very single-minded strategy which doesn’t leave any wiggle room. Do I like it? No. Is it cost-effective? Yes. And with the recent, cliff like, drop off in sales that Dreadfleet will go some way to rescuing them from, probably as the result of the price increases, there’s even less chance the company will have the funds to put into these wonderful and very special games.

One thought on “Being a bit Special

  1. Interesting post.

    I agree about point 3. I can’t really comment on point 2. But regarding point 1, I can’t help but think it would be possible to make the games profitable though it might require more investment than they would be willing to put in. Certainly Epic and BFG presumably can require collections just as big as the main games and Bloodbowl, Necromunda and Mordheim presumably allow players to collect a new team/gang/warband each year for each campaign/league they and their friends play. The imagination that has gone into adding stuff to WFB and 40k could surely be applied to the other games.

    I like the idea of the more campaign based games contrasting to the pick-up game focus of the core games.

    I think a lot of the specialist games could be threatened by similar games from other publishers that are heavily supported and promoted.

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