Hero Crusade

Having just recently played the thoroughly enjoyable Firefly game, The Chaps caught a bit of board game fever and wanted to organise an evening playing a myriad of our favourite cardboard based entertainment.  A second go on Firefly was welcome and Space Hulk always goes down well, amongst the numerous other potentials.

Now Space Hulk is a game that’s close to my heart and really demonstrates what you can do with a boxed game through the quality of the pieces, variety of the board, and tactical game mechanic. Whenever the game is mentioned I’m reminded of the time I was fortunate enough to get the last copy in London (really) when its release sneaked out so sneakily I almost missed it entirely.

space hulk 3

I was late picking up my copy of White Dwarf that month and was not yet keyed in with social media, so by the time I realised that yes, one of my favourite childhood games had actually been re-released, I was very late to the party.  My local store at the time was the Plaza on Oxford Street and upon walking in the lack of Space Hulk shaped boxes on the shelves worried me – and my fears were confirmed when the staff informed me they had none left and then proceeded to reel through all the other stores they had already called trying to get more.  The only possibility was the Bromley branch (barely even London) which had two left – down to one by the time he managed to get the words ‘reserve it’ out of his mouth.  Lucky me. But even more luckily the store manager was attending a meeting at that store in a few days, so he let me have a box that had already been sold and was awaiting collection in a week and would bring the reserved one back with him.  So I got to walk out of Plaza that day with the last box of Space Hulk to be sold in London grinning like an idiot – super mega lucky me.

All this got me thinking, are Games Workshop missing a vitally important component from their Machine Spirit?  Their special release games have largely been a success (although they over egged it a bit with Dreadfleet), but is there a place for something a bit more permanent?  And focussed?  Board or Boxed games provide a ready-made doorway into their IP’s and their absence seems to be a missed opportunity. There were two (well, three) games that led me up the path of war gaming and I know I won’t be alone when I say their names; Hero Quest and Space Crusade (and to a lesser extent Battle Masters).  These are still two of my most favouritest games to this day, I own them, I play them, I’ll never forget them. For those of you who don’t know, these three games were made in conjunction with MB Games and had a very wide distribution as a result – retailers you would NEVER see Games Workshop products in today.  They even had TV adverts (I know, right?!) such was the benefit of working with a mainstream manufacturer like Milton Bradley.  And it worked, an entire generation of war gamers born out a present they got for their birthday from granddad that he picked up in Argos [I got mine at the tender age of 7 from my parents. -Ed].

We all know the company recently posted far from good financial results and this has been largely attributed to their prices over anything lacking product wise.  From what I’ve heard, they conducted price tests which demonstrated customers (i.e. us) were willing to pay whatever the price (with a pinch of salt) to obtain what they wanted from the company.  You can form your own opinions as to the veracity and ethicality of this information but taking it at face value I would say in principal it’s true – we all know we are paying significant amounts of money for things that don’t have an inherent value to anyone other than ourselves as a community, but we enjoy our hobby and are willing to pay to do so.  Am I not going to buy those Empire State Troops because you only get 10 in a box now?  Of course I am – eventually.  Although the rise of eBay has provided the savvy wargamer with an alternative retailer with which they can obtain their wants cheaper, not to mention the Independents who regularly sell for less than RRP.  Games Workshop has taken steps to limit the impact these have on its sales by cutting the range available to its independents stockists as well reducing their trade discounts, and some would argue that part of the reason for phasing out metal models entirely was to tear the bottom out of the resale market.  I must assume they would have factored in people leaving the hobby as a result of the prices rising, so far above the rate of inflation (at least I would hope so), and is expected anytime prices go up, but one area I think they have seriously underestimated the affect their business strategy is having is at the entry-level – the young ‘uns.

I am personally of the opinion that the hobby has never been harder to get into as a child than now, despite the games having been aligned more to younger gamers than in the past – the myriad of products at very steep prices means the start-up cost has gone way beyond the reach of your average 12-year-old to enjoy fully, even with birthdays and Christmases.  You can learn more complex rules with practice, but you can’t magic money into your pockets.  I don’t have any numbers to back this up but I can’t imagine the new starter uptake could be improving given the current economic climate combined with the premium pricing of products, and their financial results seem to agree. I did notice Games Workshop were cunning in their approach and closed a number of stores in order to open others in the more affluent areas (of London) no doubt as part of their strategy to raise prices whilst maintaining the influx of new starters, but you can’t say that it worked, at least not on a company-wide basis. Maybe because even though kids with little knowledge on the value of money may be willing to pay whatever the cost, perhaps their parents weren’t? Or maybe that new Xbox or Playstation game which is cheaper than a box of centurions is just too tempting – and better value?

I know times change, businesses progress, tastes differ, the world moves on.  GW no doubt had its reasons for not continuing with this particular approach but is it time to re-evaluate this view?  I don’t see their prices coming down any time, like ever, maybe freezing for a while at best, so a moderately priced all in one game could eventually (we’re talking long-term) provide the sorely needed influx of new blood the company needs to brighten its future.  Cast your net far and wide, as the saying goes, and you will catch many…er… children?

There’s rumours abound as to what the next special release will be, if there still is one, Bloodbowl perhaps?  Regardless, I will most likely buy it as these are the games I grew up with and still enjoy. The seed was planted long ago and has taken route so deep it can never be fully torn out.  But I fear I’m in a dwindling group with the fewer young gamers coming through having no experience of these games and sharing a lesser bond with the hobby for it. Older gamers will understand even more than I having seen the birth of the company and the changes it’s gone through.  Specialist Games have gone the way of the Dodo that’s yet another way uptake has been eroded by the company’s need for profit.  But all is not lost, things break and can be fixed (anyone who’s bought Games Workshop’s glue can attest to that), it’s just whether those who make the decisions can make the right ones this time.

Hero Quest on Kickstarter

Twenty-four years ago I was introduced to a game that would catapult me into worlds and galaxies that I never could have dreamed possible and a fascination, passion and hobby that has endured all this time and lead to this very site being created. I refer to Hero Quest…

Well Gamezone Miniatures have somehow managed to get permission to produce a 25th anniversary edition of the game which is now up on Kickstarter!

heroquestnewI’m so excited about this that it almost made me break my ‘no pledge’ policy. It’s already smashed it’s target but I urge you all to go take a look and pledge what you can. This game inspired a generation of children to take the first steps into wargaming. Wouldn’t it be incredible if it could do it all over again?

Here’s the video from Kickstarter. And just FYI, I remember the TV spot it opens with. Yes I’m that old. Fuck off.

A Few of My Favourite Things

I’m at home not feeling very well today. Between that and feeling stressed about work, I’m feeling rather sorry for myself. So, in an effort to cheer myself up I decided to build an Epic Warlord Titan that I managed to blag off a mate in my long-term effort to rebuild my Adeptus Titanicus force that I long ago sold. The silly thing is that although it’s one of my all time favourite models, it’s an absolute bastard to build.

But it got me thinking about my favourite models. It’s a long long list. You can’t play wargames for 22 and a half (the half is important dmmit!) years and not build a long list of toys that was either inspirational, seminal or massively fucking awesome. Or all of the above. So, with a little bit of thought I’ve done a top 10 of my all time favourite models.

There’ll be quite a few Games Workshop models in it because the vast majority of my gaming years have been spent playing their games. And for those that disagree with my choices, bite me, do your own list.

10. Imperial Cruiser – Space Fleet

The first White Dwarf I ever bought at the tender age of 7 years old had Space Fleet on the front cover. At this point I didn’t understand that Games Workshop was more than Hero Quest. I’d seen a previous issue with it on the cover and therefore made the intellectual leap that White Dwarf (seeing as the drawing for the Dwarf was lifted from Hero Quest) was associated.

I was initially really disappointed to find that there was nothing in there about my newly acquired beloved game. But then I got to the bit about Space Fleet and my mind, already dosed on Star Wars, exploded into a realm of galactic possibilities that I’ve never moved away from. I did eventually get Space Fleet which wasn’t the best game ever but I didn’t care because the models, to me, were just epic.

9. The Barbarian – Hero Quest

The model hasn’t aged well. In fact, it’s entirely possible that if a sculptor produced something like that now they’d be sacked. But the fact remains that it was this single solitary model that got me into wargaming. My brother’s best friend had brought his set of Hero Quest over and this was one of the first model I saw and the heroic stance and the massive sword sold me completely.

8. Kurt Helborg – Warhammer Fantasy

The Master of the Reiksguard and a double hard bastard. At first I didn’t like this model but when I really looked at it I saw what a fantastic model it really is and it inspired me to collect a Reiksguard army. Sadly the project was never completed and I had to sell the models once again because I was caught short, but this model was seminal for as it encouraged me to start collecting themed armies. I also think it was quite seminal for Games Workshop as it was around this time that they started to produce some pant tighteningly beautiful character models.

7. Freebooter

A bit of a cheat really as this is an entire range but the Freebooter models have sparked such a love affair for me with my Mordheim Warband, I couldn’t imagine having them any other way. I’ve posted about my warband here so I won’t bang on about them now.

6. FSA Battleship – Dystopian Wars

The FSA Battleship blew me away when I first saw it. It doesn’t get more Steam Punk than an aotmically powered paddle steamer with clock work 9lb cannons. It’s just ace. And even through I’ve sold my FSA fleet in favour of the Covenant of Antarctica I’ll never forget it and the emotions it provoked in me.

5. Sorylian Battleship – Firestorm Armada

This bad boy gets the number 5 slot only because the Spartan Games models are recent additions to my life and I’m yet to develop the attachment that I have with other models but it was this model that totally and completely sold me on giving Spartan Games a try. Weirdly I bought Dystopian Wars first but I think that was entirely because I really wanted to try something new and Steam Punk was totally unexplored territory for me. But the Sorylian Swordbreaker is a fantastic looking ship and fearsome in the game. I never get tired of looking at it.

4. Space Marine Land Raider – Warhammer 40,000

The Space Marine Land Raider was one of my favourite models and I was immensely jealous of my brother for saving up his pocket-money and buying one. I’m two and a half years younger and I was always shit at saving. The sense of achievement I felt saving for a MkI Rhino was utterly destroyed when he came home with what is now known as the Proteus pattern. The first model I bought when I became a Games Workshop member of staff was the new Land Raider. It’s a beast. It’s an incredibly well designed and thought out model, its doors open and everything. And over the years I’ve built 12 of the bloody things. But it just sums up the indomitable will of Space Marines and for that reason I simply love it.

3. Imperial Cruisers – Battlefleet Gothic

I’m massively in love with Space Ships if you couldn’t tell by now. And also Battlefleet Gothic is largely responsible for this. Not only that but the game and these distinctive models blew open the Warhammer 40,000 universe for me. And the two novels – Execution Hour & Shadow Point are epic. But I love these models. I love how versatile the kit is and just how cool they are.

2. Warlord Titan – Epic Armageddon

Not a massive shock really seeing as I’ve been talking about this model recently. It’s just the tits. I mean look at it! A striding building sized weapon of war. I had a Adeptus Titanicus force a few years ago with 3 Warlords in it, each one modified slightly to make them unique. I had to sell the force because it was that or not eat and I often get a pang of regret. It’s my hope I can rebuild the force, starting with the one I’ve just built…

1. Multi-part plastic Space Marines – Warhmmaer 40,000

Unsurprisingly the multipart Space Marines made it to the top spot. I’ve been collecting Space Marines for years and years in one form or another – most recently my Ultramarines. When the multi-part kit came out, replacing those God-awful push together models from Second Edition Warhammer 40,000 I felt like I fell in love with Space Marines all over again. I’ve literally built hundreds of these models and I’ve never ever grown board of doing so, because they look so fucking cool.

So there you go, a few of my favourite things.