A Look Back at Man O War

Following on from our tribute to the Specialist Games range fellow #warmonger, Michael (@M_A_Hobbs) has written about his great fondness for the long-lost Man O War.

In the Specialist Games tribute Phil (our noble leader) mentions a Golden Age in Games Workshop’s timeline; which he says was between 1998 and 2002 and it’s true that during that time Games Workshop produced some fine games and maybe the company had different ideals to what they have now. However for me the Golden Age of Games Workshop was a bit earlier; the early 90’s.

During that period we saw all sorts of games being released by the company. Board games like the original Horus Heresy and Battle for Armageddon, classic games like Epic: Space Marine, the old favourites like 40K and Warhammer Fantasy were getting new editions and Mighty Empires was allowing Warhammer players to fight larger campaigns.

But there was another game that like a firework on November the 5th, arrived with a bang, shone brightly and then vanished after what seemed like no time at all.

That game was Man O’War.

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Man O’War was a naval game set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe and was released in 1993. Players would command fleets of ships and fight battles against their enemies, it was the perfect excuse to talk like a pirate and have some fun; I loved it.

Unlike other games the entry cost for Man O’War was fairly low; a normal sized fleet would only be about a dozen ships and this meant you could get a fleet together quickly and relatively cheaply, in hindsight this may have been its downfall.

The big boxset came with an absolute pile of card counters and markers, each ship had a template that allowed you to track damage, and there were damage counters, sunken ship counters, islands and measuring sticks as well as a dozen plastic ships and sails that you could attach to them. This release was backed up with a load of metal ships that covered all the ships that were in the main rules. The main races were covered in this first wave and each race had its own style and their own pros and cons. The Elves had large fast galleys that were brittle in combat. The Dwarves were slower but had steam power so they weren’t dependent on the wind. The Orcs had ramshackle wrecks that caused havoc whenever they got into range. And so on.

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Game play was simple and introduced the idea of ships taking damage gradually over many turns before they sank, in many ways it was similar to the way Titans took damage in Epic.

In each turn players would firstly roll for initiative (this might also change wind direction) then there would be a magic phase if any fleets had a wizard on board, then would follow the action phase where players would alternatively activate a unit (maybe a squadron of smaller ships or one large ship) and they would move and then open fire if in range, or maybe try to board another ship and do some hand to hand combat. Then the other player activated a unit and so it went on until the end of a turn.

The shooting mechanic was simple, you would roll a number of dice if your guns were in range, declare if you were firing High or Low, then you would roll on the ships damage template and see which part of the ship you had hit, the enemy player would then roll a saving throw to see if the hit caused any damage, and each area that was damaged would cause an effect on the ship. This would continue until the ship was no longer able to fight or it had taken hits below the waterline that would sink it. There were rules for ramming, critical hits and fire and you could even board ships and try to capture them for victory points at the end of the game.

Later on in 1993 a supplement was released called ‘Plague Fleet’ which introduced the Chaos fleets to the game and in the following year the final supplement ‘Sea of Blood’ saw the light of day. Sea of Blood saw flying units join the various fleets as well as sea monsters that could appear during a game. New metal miniatures accompanied both releases and generally the standard of the minis was good, however it became clear that Man O’War was not generating the return that was expected and in 1995 it was removed from shelves and never sold again by Games Workshop.

In all the game lasted for 2 years, but fans being fans the legacy of the game went on, you can still pick up versions of the game on various sites but prices for some of the rarer miniatures are high as you would expect.

Last year I decided to dig out my old fleets and I took the game down my club and played it with a few mates. And it was a great night, sometimes we look back at old games with rose-tinted glasses on but honestly Man O’War was as much fun to play in 2012 as it was in 1993 and for that reason I always list it in my top 3 games of all time.

I think it’s fair to say that during the early 90’s Games Workshop were trying lots of new things and were trying to work out what kind of company they wanted to be. It was clear that board games and games like Man O’War didn’t really fit in with the long-term plan for the company, and over the rest of that decade we saw less new games being released and more releases of current games. They seemed to settle on some core games which would take them forward into the new millennium and some classics were lost.

It wasn’t all bad though as in 1999 we saw the release of another game, that I always thought of as the spiritual heir to Man O’War;  Battlefleet Gothic. It plays out like an early medieval naval game, ships can only shoot in very specific arcs of fire, you can ram other ships, you can carry out boarding actions, all of which you could do in Man O’War.

Twenty years since it came into being it’s still being played and I think that speaks volumes of its quality and pedigree.

A Tribute to Warmaster

WarmasterLogoAs a bonus for our tribute to the Specialist Games range I’m delighted to be able to bring you a post about Warmaster. It was a game I always wanted to play but never got the opportunity so beyond reading the rules a very long time ago my experience is all but nothing.

But the community came to my rescue in the form of @SimonHolyoake who has written a last salute to this rather special but often overlooked game…

GW has officially and finally yanked the threadbare and hole-ridden rug out from under the Specialist Games range. Every single one of them a masterpiece and each one loved by so many.

For me, although involved with the Games Workshop hobby for the last 22 years, Warmaster was a very late blossomer for me. I started out with a copy of Epic: Space Marine and when my friends moved to Warhammer, I followed them. I remember being excited when Warmaster was released, but hid it when my friends snorted at it and derided it as merely Games Workshop cashing in off the back of Epic 40,000 & Battlefleet Gothic.

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I wish I’d spoken up and dared to be different back then, but I was a young, geeky teenager, I didn’t have the money to support two games, and playing Warmaster would have necessitated finding other players!

So my relationship was one of distant admiration. I would look wistfully at Warmaster models and imagine the truly epic battles I had always dreamed of whilst playing Warhammer. I spent so many years playing huge, unwieldy games of Warhammer, far outside the 2-3k “armies” it was intended for, trying to capture that epic feel that I’d seen in so many films.

Then after university my gaming group scattered all over the country, and indeed globe. I found myself alone, trying desperately to arrange times when our schedules lined up…then we started getting married, and one by one we started having children and I finally accepted that I was never getting the band back together.

One day I was sadly browsing the Games Workshop website and thought I’d have a look at the Specialist Games section. Next thing I knew I’d ordered some Epic models and joined a forum… I found some like-minded players and before I realised, I was playing weekly games and going to tournaments! Things were great, I had so many Epic armies planned and then decided that when they were done, I’d pick up some Warmaster at last. Things were great!

Then the great cull hit…

My epic armies were largely complete, but I never got the chance to start my beloved Warmaster forces. Then a ray of sunlight: a guy selling off a dwarf army, super cheap! I swift payment a big kiss for the posty and my journey began. I had downloaded and bound the rulebook years before, and read it cover to cover, time and time again. I got in touch with a guy who said he’d show me the ropes, we met up for a couple of games and I was utterly hooked!

Fortunately for Warmaster, many of the standard fantasy archetypes (Dwarfs, Elves, Orcs Etc.) are not the sole invention of Games Workshop (despite them doing everything in their power to convince people otherwise…) and as I looked, I found many great manufacturers producing excellent 10mm scale fantasy miniatures, which has enabled many people to continue their journey, and like myself, start on new ones!

Warmaster is so great because it’s everything Warhammer wishes it could be: fluid, tactical, and elegant, and most importantly heaps of fun…

For the uninitiated amongst you, I’ll give a brief run down: Warmaster armies are composed of only a few discrete elements, infantry, cavalry, monsters and artillery. Most armies only have 1-2 types of each as the game is highly abstract, a high elf player may have several units of spearmen, phoenix guard and swordmasters, but from the point of view of Warmaster, they’re *all* spearmen, they fight and behave the same in-game, and when you think about it, that’s probably how it works out in Warhammer. Swordmasters are better troops, but they are more expensive so you have less… On rough averages they’re about the same in game terms.

You have the option of brigading up to 4 units together so they move as one, this is very useful when moving units about as the game doesn’t work like Warhammer in that respect and you need several characters to tell your units what to do which is exactly as it would be considering the distinct lack of iPhones in the Warhammer world.

In fact the real genius of the game is the use of characters. No more chaos lord on a dragon rampaging through 7 units on his own! Characters are primarily in the game to give orders (they can fight by joining units, but they don’t take over the combat phase in any way). In the game, character models are little more than tokens to denote where the character is issuing orders from as without characters units are quite limited in what they can do. They can use their initiative to charge if they’re very close, or they can evade, and they’ll shoot if they have a target in range, but that’s it, you need characters to get them into position and set up ambushes and the like.

Characters also introduce a huge element of tactics as you have to decide which order your characters issue their commands in, when a character fails to order successfully, the next one in the queue starts, however units can only be ordered by a single character, and if the general fails to order the turn ends. Also the thing to consider is the ‘push your luck’ element. You can order units to move, then move again, and indeed move again, each successive order gaining more and more penalties. This can be a double-edged sword because if you need the character to order multiple units, do you take the risk or play it safe? Do you let your hero try to move something, or is it better to save it for the general?

You’re also allowed to move your characters around once per turn, so you often find yourself shuffling them all over the place for optimum effect, then chewing on the table edge in frustration when you remember the unit of cavalry behind the woods who are now out of command range!

Shooting is comparatively weak, missile troops rarely kill things (artillery can be a little more effective on the other hand – I love my cannons!) but their strength is in their ability to drive units back with every hit they score, this can also break up brigades which can be a huge headache for your opponent who now has to issue more orders, each with the risk of failure!

Combat is the meat of the game – as it should be – but is very abstract. No comparing weapon skill, strength, toughness or initiatives. Each unit rolls a number of dice equal to its attack statistic and scores a hit on a 4+, charge bonuses, defended obstacles or flank charges are represented by bonuses or penalties to the number of attacks. After both sides work out their hits, the side with the most wins, and the side with the least falls back (providing it wasn’t wiped out). There is a lot of subtlety to the combat rules with making way and support from other units, I would try to summarise but would suggest reading the rulebook or pestering a local player to teach you the game!

I’m still a newcomer to the game, but the fact it has spawned Games Workshop endorsed historical variants, as well as other standalone versions and the entire “…War commander” series means it’s probably the Specialist Game most likely to continue growing and changing in some form or other, and I will certainly continue to carry the torch!

Warmaster is dead, long live Warmaster!

 

A Tribute to Battlefleet Gothic

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Although I have a great fondness for all the Specialist Games, the greatest lament for me is the passing into legend of Battlefleet Gothic. If there was ever such a thing as a perfect game Battlefleet Gothic, in my opinion, is it.

It came out during what I consider to be the Golden Age of Games Workshop (1998-2002) when everything they did had the customer at its heart. Games were good and models were better. Gothic was the proverbial golden egg as it not only had superb rules, phenomenal back story and staggeringly good miniatures, it was also beautifully presented.

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Aside from being a landscape book which was a one-off until Dreadfleet beached itself on our shores, it was the first game to use any kind of computer jiggery pockery in its artwork. It was a gorgeous game.

But Gothic, aside from being a brilliant read, lovely to look at and having some of the best models ever made by the Games Workhop, or anyone for that matter, it was utterly inspired for two very good reasons. One, the rules were incredible and two the background was instrumental in opening up the 40k Universe that Inquisitor and the Black Library ran with.

It was a brave thing to set a game in a specific point in the 40k timeline but it gave the game a sense of drama and occasion. This meant that game stayed focussed and meant that ranges of models weren’t rushed out to meet demand. Gothic also spelled out just what a monstrously complicated thing it is to mobilise a space fleet, let alone navigate it safely from one side of a segmentum to another. And the cherry on the cake was just how grim life could be on an Imperial warship. The iconic illustration of the indentured crew manually reloading the torpedo tubes will stay with me forever. It epitomises the Imperium and the Warhammer 40,000 universe as a whole: staggering scale, unimaginable destructive power, barely understood technology and the blood and sacrifice of the nameless masses.

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Battlefleet Gothic’s setting became an integral part of the 40k canon, not only giving us some insight into Abaddon’s ambitions and tremendous foresight and deviousness, but set up events for the 13th Black Crusade which, I’m fairly certain, is technically still raging. It gave us the mad as bat shit planet killer and the mysterious Blackstone Fortresses. The latter of which would be referenced and speculated upon for years to come.

It was a brilliant, brutal and unrelenting tale of loss and tragedy. Of sacrifice and nobility. Of desperation and hollow victories. And the tireless, unrelenting work of the servants of the Emperor to bring to heel the foulness of Chaos. Whole worlds burned at the whim of madmen and for the pleasure of dark Gods. And millions stood against the darkness so billions could live at the behest of Warmasters and the distant Emperor. It’s was a space opera of tremendous scale and it was destruction on a scale never matched before or since. Apocalypse may have some massive kits but for all the strength and AP, nothing could compare to the misery an Imperial Warship can unleash on a world. Or a planetkiller.

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But all of that is just the setting for the game itself. Which is brilliant. It was an evolution from the Epic 40,000 mechanic. Actually it was more than that as it took all the things that worked and made them better. Then made it work for spaceships. Not just any spaceships though: the lumbering clapped out old crocks of the 41st Millennium.

What made it really clever though was that it turned those lumbering clapped out old crocks into elegant, glittering shoals of destruction. Battlefleet Gothic is the most elegant game I’ve ever played. It perfectly balanced all the phases so movement was as important as shooting. Special Orders could swing the balance of a game just as a well-timed torpedo volley. Because the majority of fleets had to move every game was a delicate dance of fleets forced to sail through enemy lines, braced for incoming fire, all the while seeking ruin upon them. It consistently challenged the gamer to perfect every move so even if an attack failed they would be well placed to come about and try again.

The other thing that made the game so clever was the simple concept that so many games before and since have failed to grasp…space combat happens over tremendous distances. Hitting a moving target hundreds of kilometres away with solid ordnance is roughly the same as me trying to hit a flea at the end of my back garden, with a bow and arrow, whilst hopping. It is a staggeringly complicated thing to do. There were more than a few gamers that hated the ‘take x number of dice and subtract y because of range and positioning’ but it made sense. It was simple and it prevented huge swathes of your fleet being annihilated on the first turn. Like another game I could mention.

That’s not to say some fleets didn’t have advantages and often the opening gambit could be the winning gambit but this is true of naval battles throughout history. And beauty was that no matter which fleet you chose, if you were smart and understood their strengths that win could easily be yours be it for the Imperium, Orks or anyone else.

The real tragedy of Battlefleet Gothic was that it was almost perfect. The rules were solid. The models brilliant. It had nowhere to go. So when it was moved under Fanatic and subjected to a wave of ill tested rules and some truly horrid sculpts the thorough bred felt like a mongrel. It started to feel cheap, and messy and unloved. And the greater tragedy is that the people charged with its care loved the game but were starved of the resources to take it where it needed to go. Which was out of the Gothic sector and into the wider Imperium.

And they tried. I mean they really did. Battlefleet Armageddon came close but never really worked because Fanatic couldn’t resolve the casting issues surrounding the Armageddon ship variants. Unfortunately the money had already been spent and it killed any hope of trying anything new. So Gothic, perhaps more than any of the other Specialist Games was left to drift.

Battlefleet Gothic’s legacy however doesn’t just lay in its own pages or models but on those of Epic Armageddon. The success of Gothic and its evolved mechanic gave new life to one of Games Workshop’s greatest endeavours. There is no denying that the community brought about Epic’s revival, or that it played a direct part in taking it to a finished, printed, product. But it was Gothic that gave it life. Like a doner, shared the very best of itself to make something great.

Battlefleet Gothic is my absolute all time favourite game. It’s my favourite because it’s a brilliant game. It’s my favourite because it’s a brilliant story. It’s my favourite game because of the brilliant models. And it’s my favourite because it was the beginning of something. It proved that the story was as important as the game. That the story inspired campaigns and grand fleets and grander games. It validated Black Library’s efforts – the novels Execution Hour & Shadow Point that accompanied the game were seminal – and paved the way for Inquisitor and later Epic Armageddon. Battlefleet Gothic was, for me, the brightest star in the Golden Age and a star that gave life to other parts of the hobby. And it did it all without anyone one realising.

Good hunting Battefleet Gothic.

A Tribute to Epic Armageddon

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It’s well documented that I embarked on my adventures in wargaming at the tender age of 7 when I got a copy of Hero Quest. However, I didn’t properly understand just what I was letting myself in for until my brother got a copy of Epic: Space Marine. I’ll be honest, it took me a while to get to grips with the game. It wasn’t helped by the fact that back there and back then I generally speaking wouldn’t read. Anything. So my brother had to teach me the rules. Granted, once I had them down I was a contender despite the game being, at times a great lumbering beast that’d take all day to play.

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But we absolutely loved it and were fielding legions worth of Space Marines and a dozen or so Titans between us by the time we reached secondary school and we met people who played 40k. Even then it took a little while for us to be swayed by a game that, as far as we could tell, had less cool shit in it and demoted you from Warmaster to Captain. However, despite moving into the 30mm world Epic still remained forever in my heart as genesis not only for the hobby but for the 40k universe as a whole as it’s near limitless ambitions meant that it was forever fleshing out, expanding or explaining leaving 40k in its wake to rip off the best bits.

As time wore on 40k began to leave Epic behind, despite the release of Titan Legions and the truly mental Imperator Titan. When it eventually resurfaced much to my heart skipping delight it was in the form of Epic 40,000. If I’m honest, it was a bit shit. And not because it contained a fraction of the plastic its predecessor had in the box.

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It was a remarkably ambitious shift in rules and I totally saw what the Games Workshop was trying to do with it. It was a bold effort to strip down the long-winded infantry engagements that were often an inconvenient necessity of Epic into something more interesting, more decisive and quicker. Blast markers were, in theory, a brilliant idea. Firefights as a concept was inspired. Attack runs from flyers elegant. The Death Ray special rule…not explained and over powered but still. The reality, however, was that largely down to shoddy and poorly written rules, everything was complicated, unclear, laborious and, as a result, longer than it should have been. And unless you were Space Marines you would never ever ever win.

Epic 40,000 was a failure by any measure, but not for lack of trying on Games Workshop’s part. The models were good and the plastic scenery was amazing and highly sought after to this day. Pages of errata and FAQs followed on from the release as well as a magazine intended to make it good not shit. Desperately trying to salvage what was the crown jewel in the GW crown.

There were some gems buried amidst the unpolished turd that was Epic 40,000. For a start, flyers were far more devastating. As was anything with super heavy or Titan somewhere in its description. In fact there was no point in taking anything else. On the up side, it was also the first time we saw the current design of the Thunderhawk Gunship and Warlord Titan. Fighta Bomma’s also came screaming into the 41st millennium to harass the forces of man to the present day.

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The design of Land Raiders was moved forward and formed the basis of the current plastic kit. The design itself became a Forge World Heresy-era (ish) kit. But that hull design was, again, genesis for how Space Marine vehicles would look for the next 16 years and beyond. It also, most importantly of all gave us the mechanic that would later be revised and applied to the truly tremendous Battlefleet Gothic and by extension Epic Armageddon.

Sadly by the time Epic Armageddon was released, after years of fucking about and delays and a truly overwhelming amount of community support, the game was doomed. The tragedy is that Epic, back in the day, was just as prominent and just as important as Warhammer & Warhammer 40k. Necromunda & Mordheim were always intended to be secondary systems but Epic was core. And, if I’m honest, should have remained so. I suspect economics and space in the store had as much to do with its down grading as anything else but the fact remains that Epic, whatever its iteration, was never meant to find itself first under Fanatic and later Specialist Games. It was never meant to have the support yanked out from under it.

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Epic Armageddon, despite a phenomenally good rule set which catapulted it into the stratosphere of all time wargaming greats, it was never going to be enough because it coincided with the decision to produce the entire Epic range in metal. Making everything mind bendingly, and unsustainably expensive, even by Games Workshop standards at the time. And, as with all the Specialist Games at the time suffered from some terrible sculpts.

And the beautiful thing was that, despite its obvious ousting from its former place of glory the fans loved it. And still love it even now. More so even.

But what makes Epic so great? It’s really not just the rules, although the current rules are brilliant, it’s the sheer ambition and imagination that has always come hand in hand with Epic. As I mentioned above, it allows you to be a warmaster. To command legions of Space Marines and company upon company of armour. And because of its…ahem…epic scale, it had room for all the truly mental stuff like the Chaos Daemon engines. Stuff that we’re starting to see crop in 40k and Apocalypse now.

To this day Epic will always hold a very special place in my heart. I will never forget the feeling of excitement I got going into Games Workshop High Wycombe and handing over £5 for a Space Marine Legion or Space Marine Land Raider box. And the funny thing was that it didn’t occur to us back then not to collect all the armies. We had thousands of stands of infantry. Hundreds of tanks. Dozens of Titans. And we had them all on display. Even when Hive War came out I got the supplement and a fairly decent starting army for my birthday and I can honestly say I’ve never felt that kind of wondrous excitement since. Granted I’m a seasoned and bitter old wargamer now but I like to think that I can still be surprised and still be excited by my hobby, but Epic was and is special just for its simple, unabashed desire to live up to its name. Yes it sometimes missed the mark and yes sometimes games would take days because rules just weren’t clear enough or there was too much shit on the board, but that was fine because it was always enjoyable. And that was its real secret weapon. It was eternally fun.

Knowing the game will no longer be produced and that the current generation of young gamers, and those that follow them, will never get to play it, or even hear of it, makes me immensely sad. More so than any other of the Specialist Games we’re paying tribute to all this week. Because Warhammer 40,000 as it is now simply wouldn’t exist. The ambitious nature of Apocalypse is in response to Epic’s passing because on some level the Games Workshop understands that we all want to conquer worlds, not just city blocks.

There is an argument that Apocalypse is commercially driven and on some level that’s probably true, but I also have to believe that on another level Apocalypse exists so gamers like me can look at the Heldrake, the Lord of Skulls, Stompas and Super Heavies and be cast back to that time when we commanded those genuinely apocalyptic forces. And we can smile to our selves and think: I can remember when you could fit one of those in the palm of a child’s hand. And Super Heavies they were 3 for £5.

All that aside, nothing will ever change the contribution Epic: Space Marine, Epic: Titan Legions, Epic: 40,000 & Epic: Armageddon made to the Games Workshop hobby. Its rules, models and background continue to inspire even now. And to this day the Titan Legions rule books have some of the best fluff and rules ever written.

If we have to say good-bye at all, and if Epic Armageddon were its swan song then its melody would make grown men weep. Epic, from the bottom of my heart, I salute you.

A Tribute to Necromunda

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Necromunda I have to say was my first real love affair with Games Workshop. I’d played 40K, Man ‘O’ War and Space Hulk to name a few, but it was Necromunda that really grabbed me the hobby spot and gave it a good rummage, as Phil would say. [He’s right, I would. Ed.]

Released in 1995 and designed by Andy Chambers, Jervis Johnson and Rick Priestly it had the second edition Warhammer 40k rule set at its beating heart and, frankly, played a damn sight better than 40k. The boxed game included everything you needed to get started, including enough models to create 2 gangs. And most importantly the terrain. The terrain for Necromunda was something else and a bit of a first for Games Workshop, it allowed you to build a gaming board with different levels, ‘proper’ hard cover and walkways that were as flimsy as they were risky to navigate.

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No one really used the plastic miniatures that came with the game from memory because they were a bit rubbish, and released alongside the boxed game were 6 gang boxes, which consisted of House Cawdor (religious nutters), House Goliath (homoerotic meat heads), House Vansaar (Dune Freman), House Escher (honestly just hot women), House Delaque (skin head gestapo) and House Orlocks (madmax greasy bikers). Each boxed gang came with 8 figures: 1 Leader, 1 Heavy, 4 Gangers and 2 Juves. The booster packs gave players options for weapon variants as well as a few models that are, even now, highly sought after.

Then in 1996 Outlanders was released which gave you more scenery and rules for several new gangs including the ever unpleasant Spyre Hunters. I don’t know anyone who wanted to play against them as it was pretty much a sure thing you were going to get your ass whooped. [I had no bother, are you sure you weren’t just rubbish? Ed.] You also got Ratskins, Scavvies, Redemptionists and the Arbites. The Redemptionists had the effect of making House Cawdor a bit more popular, but I always had a thing for the Ratskins but at the time could never justify replacing my Orlock gang because they’re amazing.

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Anyway that’s enough of the proper factual stuff, time to gush. As I said Necromunda was my first real love affair with wargaming. This is mainly own to the terrain. I remember walking into my local Games Workshop for games night and see this multi-level game board with models on each level and guys measuring between them to get the best shot off. I have to say I was nursing a hobby boner. I had never seen anything like this, and that night I bought my box of House Orlock and some new paints and borrowed a set of the rules from the store and the next week I was back with my newly painted Necrosapiens ready to do battle.

 It didn’t take long for people to start co-opting the Necromunda scenery for their games of 40k. Or better yet, combining sets for über games of Necromunda. It was an important moment in the Games Workshop hobby as it made the masses realise that games didn’t have to be played on green boards with hills, trees and the bunker that came free with White Dwarf that one time. In many ways Necromunda was genesis for things like Cities of Death and Apocalypse.

Something else that drew me in was the fact I got to name my gang and its members what I wanted and create a little back story for them, much like Lee’s Marienburger’s for Mordheim that would follow a few years later. They were the Necrosapiens (I was young forgive me). But again it was something I hadn’t come across before in a Games Workshop game and I got a bit excited. The development your gang and characters would go through created a rich and enthralling story and much more compelling than just marching armies across a flat game board. And much like Mordheim it gave you the ability to develop your gang by acquiring territory to earn money, and gaining skills and abilities as well as new weapons.

It was also the first game that I bothered getting involved with the national campaign. The battle for Hive Primus which from memory was immense and won by, as it goes, House Orlock. Go greasy biker boys!

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At the end of the day though it was the terrain that made Necromunda the success it was, it was so ground breaking and made every game different. You could clip the cardboard walkways into the bulk heads in so many different ways creating towers and ramps, it also gave people the chance to create their own terrain and we saw some great bunkers and towers being brought in to add to the stores game board for the night’s games. I also very clearly remember having games round at my friends and none of us had any of the terrain so we used old carboard boxes and ice cream tubs and some really good imagination.

It’s sad that this massively inspirational and ground breaking game is now no longer in production. It was a great introduction to the Games Workshop hobby and a lot easier to learn and play than the special rules heavy 40K. I find it mad now that I have come back to the hobby to find Necromunda left to gather dust, having been neglected support these last few years. Yes I know there were articles in White Dwarf and the Necromunda magazine but only for a short period of time and I feel if new gangs or models that weren’t terrible had been released then maybe it would have grown. But then again maybe not. Perhaps it’s just me reminiscing back to those days when I got to a point in Necromunda people would refuse to play me. And with a sensible head on, it was never going to make Games Workshop loads of money because once you had your gang that was really it. Well that and some old cardboard boxes and ice cream tubs, so it was inevitable in this commercial lead economy we are in.

It is nice to see that this game does live on in people’s hearts and some games clubs have regular Necormunda meets. I find myself yearning for a House Escher gang that I always wanted but never bought. This has also inspired me to create a muti-level game board for Mordheim to play on with The Chaps. I know it’s not the right game but the principles of a good Necromunda board do translate.

So I say farewell to my first real love of wargaming, and shake my fist in Games Workshop’s general direction for all those who have never known the greatness of duffing up a rival gang in the underhive of Necromunda’s Hive Primus. If you are one of those people honestly, find the rules, find some models that’ll suit and have it. You won’t regret it.

A Tribute to Inquisitor

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Looking back on Inquisitor, there was a lot wrong with it when it came out. The models, whilst beautiful, were far too big compared to anything similar of the same type of gaming, which made getting into it quite hard and conversions harder. It also required a completely different painting style that only a handful of GW staffers were trained in at launch. The rules were this sort of weird hybrid of loosely defined gameplay mechanics with a smattering of RPG elements. The inclusion of Space Marines pretty much broke the game system, with long-term players having to adopt a no space marine policy except on special occasions.

Yet some of my fondest memories of wargaming are from playing Inquisitor. So what gives? I think it’s because Inquisitor, at its heart, encouraged creativity and experimentation. By having rules that were detailed, but not too thorough, it encouraged players to be a bit looser with the rules themselves, all in the aid of fun and the cinematic. I’ll never forget the trials of my friend’s Priest character with one cybernetic testicle that stopped him from running, (he had to take a toughness test if he did, due to the poorly made bionic smashing against his other gentleman plum) or the Elder Ranger that somehow always managed to miss every shot he took. Or the one time a group of us had nearly escaped a planet via shuttle, until a rogue Techpriest crashed a digger into it, causing much laughter from us all.

What I’m trying to get at is that, despite a slightly dodgy rule system, Inquisitor was all about having fun. I think in a way it wasn’t as successful because it required a bit of a shift of perspective from Games Workshop’s usual approach to wargaming. Whilst 40k or Necromunda may have narrative elements as a part of them, the underlying goal is still all about winning. Whereas Inquisitor was more about entering into a contract with other players, to have as fun a time a possible and create a fun story in the 40k universe. In that way, it was more akin to something like Dungeons and Dragons or other roleplaying games. It’s the only Games Workshop game I can remember that suggested you have a GM or ‘games master’, to help direct players actions and game flow.

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But there’s a bigger factor to Inquisitor than the gameplay side of things. It’s a fun game, but Inquisitor is more than that. The game has a legacy that fundamentally reshaped the approach people took to the 40k universe and its background. Inquisitor offered us a view of the Imperium away from the battlefield and expanded upon just how things worked on a local and sector wide scale in more detail than ever before. It let the Imperium of Man become a place people lived in, rather than a series of clichés and, more to the point, planetary punch ups. In many ways, though it’s a horrible place, the new direction to the background humanised the Imperium and made me actually care for it.

That was the joy of all the Specialist Games I suppose. They provided an outlet for their creators to truly experiment and play with the 40k universe and it came out the richer for it. Every small bit of artwork, every supposedly superfluous bit of detail fleshed out a universe that, whist epic in scale, never bothered much to explain exactly who, after all the world ending epic conflict, would wash the dishes*.

I certainly don’t think there would be half the current background on the Inquisition, nay the Imperium itself, that there is today without it. It explored this prior untapped resource, shadowy figures who toil unceasingly to protect the Imperium by whatever means necessary. It also introduced us to Radicals and in doing so, allowed 40k’s concept of a morally grey universe to finally take centre stage once more. We see this reflected in novels by the Black Library, in Fantasy Flights’ wonderful RPG games (in many ways spiritual successors to Inquisitor). Let us not forget that Inquisitor gave rise to the Eisenhorn trilogy which was vital to the success of the Black Library and the ever-expanding 40k universe found in their huge range of novels.

Though the 40k codices tend deal a bit more with absolutes these days, Inquisitors’ legacy is still in there, nipping at the heels of every ‘definitive’ statement and every ‘fact’. It makes me question everything I’m told about the Imperium of Man. Very apt for a game that starts with the phrase “Everything you have been told is a lie”. It really is a staggeringly good book to read.

I’m not sure how the rumored box set revival will change things up, but I bet it won’t allow for a priest with a bionic testicle. I’ll be watching from the shadows though, just in case.

*That phrase comes from a line that I remember a comedian saying on a late night show when I was younger, “If there were a new popular film to come out about an alien attack or a worldwide event, British people would be more interested in finding out about who cleans up afterwards and does the dishes”. It struck me as pretty apt and ever since I’ve referred to our cultural obsession with the small details and the underdog by that phrase.

A Tribute to Mordheim

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How many people have played Mordheim? Yes? No? You’re not sure? Is it Warhammer Skirmish? Well the truth is, essentially, it is Warhammer Skirmish but at the same time it’s so much more than Warhammer Skirmish. And that which sets the two very similar systems apart is that which elevates Mordheim above its counterpart and most other fantasy skirmish games – character. It’s this character that I will discuss a little to try to impart upon you just why it’s so much fun and why it should be the most important element of any game you play.

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Just for those who don’t know, Mordheim and Warhammer Skirmish both use the same basic rules as Warhammer Fantasy, adding some complexity to enable the individual models to do a little more than simply march around and charge/shoot each other.  Mordheim was actually created first, believe it or not, being released as a full boxed game with rules for campaigns, scenarios, character progression etc. Then backed up by new releases and expansions. A while later Games Workshop then took the decision to release a somewhat stripped down version of these rules in the back of the Warhammer Fantasy Rulebook, and with the winds of change blowing against the Specialist Games range, Mordheim was subsequently left to gather dust in a corner of their website before being killed off completely.

Here is where the difference between the two becomes apparent as the sections Games Workshop decided to leave out of the WFB were actually the best parts – and not just for Mordheim, but for all games. The thing that made Mordheim great wasn’t the basic rules or the models or the terrain, (which were all good as well) it was the individual character that evolved around each of your heroes as you played games with them.  It made you want to play more and more just to see what happened to them next, akin to a cheesy soap opera. Only with far more decapitating and shouting. Each of your Heroes began to develop their own personalities and story arcs as they, and other heroes, developed fears and hatreds towards one and another.  The random nature of the character progression through skills and stat increases means that you often have to play in a style different to what you would want, or equip models other than you had intended.  So much so that the Heroes begin to take on a life of their own, their individual character and abilities determining what you do with them:  ‘Should I move my Leader on top of that table and blast away with his pistols? Probably not, he’ll be an easy target.  But it’s what he would do, so that’s what I will do’ is a common train of thought.

You might be familiar with my Warband leader, Baron Ludwig von Bomberg – a wealthy Marienburger, who’s also a bit of a drunken womaniser.  He didn’t start this way though, oh no, not even close.  Almost everyone at some point in their gaming lives will want a mighty champion leading their troops, armed to the teeth and as hard as nails, and I was no different in this instance.  But it didn’t take long for his obvious lack of ability with his pistols to become a point of hilarious interest. His stats and equipment meant he should have been dropping fools left, right and centre but this was never the case, to the point where the other Chaps began to joke that he must be pissed all the time and that’s why he kept missing.  And it stuck. His stats and skills have improved significantly since then but his effect on the game has roughly stayed the same. No matter how hard I try, he’s still never really that good.

An element of the campaign rules which adds to your games enormously is the Heroes injury table.  I shit you not, there’s nothing funnier than watching what happens to your opponents heroes after you’ve kicked the crap out of them in the game. Neil, of The Chaps, has a Skaven hero that’s now has -1 movement, -1 toughness and -1 something else, and is known as Mr Glass for his obvious fragility. He’s still a whopping Strength 7 with his flail so he still has his uses, but must be nurtured carefully into combat, which is made all the harder (and funnier) but the fact he can’t run the aforementioned -1 Movement, all as a result of the injuries he has suffered during his long career.  All laughing and joking is done in good fun, there’s no spitefulness involved – and you know that you’ll be on the receiving end next week so laugh while you can is generally the rule.  But again, it all adds to the character of the game and the personality of each model.

Mordheim is a game that has this character and personality intrinsically woven into its identity and would be a hollow shell without it. Warhammer Skirmish stands as a testament to what happens to games when you remove that element which is a shame as it’s decent enough addition to the WFB rules – but alas, only a shadow when compared with its predecessor and a poor replacement.  There shouldn’t be many reasons why players can’t impart a certain degree of character to all the games they play – the simple naming of your characters does wonders as you immediately start to note their performance on a more personal level.

Keeping track of kills/deaths or playing units according to their character rather than what might necessarily be in the best interest of winning (within reason, of course) are all ways raising a wargame above a competition between players and showing it to be a more a way of telling a story and enjoying it.  If I’m honest about it, Mordheim was the first game that made me realise losing could be just as fun as winning and that winning wasn’t everything. Once you unburden yourself of that pressure to succeed every time you play, you will enjoy your games far more and focus on the special moments that make the game worth playing instead of bragging rights. The challenge, in all games, now being to play a characterful force while remaining competitive – not necessarily always winning, but not having my arse handed to me on a regular basis either.

For me, Mordheim is right up there in my ‘best wargames ever’ category (along with most of the Specialist Games really) but you don’t have to agree with me on that.  I just hope you agree that the more character you can impart on a game the better it will be.

Mordheim for the Chaps and I will never really die, but all the same I must impart a heartfelt cheerio as the funereal barge of the Specialist Games range drifts into the sunset.

A Tribute to Blood Bowl

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With the era of Games Workshop’s Specialist Games coming to a close I would like to take a moment to reminisce about the coveted game of the mighty lord Nuffle: Blood Bowl! My experiences with Blood Bowl are relatively fresh. I will be the first to admit that I have not always been a fan of this game. Roughly ten years ago I started my journey into wargaming with Warhammer 40,000. I was causally strolling through an issue of the White Dwarf and I happened to notice a small section of the issue containing a segment on games like Mordheim, Battlefleet Gothic and Blood Bowl. Battlefleet seemed interesting at the time, but I had no desire to collect floating pieces of metal that break under a steady breeze. I looked hard at Mordheim, which is basically the dirty dozen style game of Warhammer Fantasy and while it seemed like an easy transition for my gaming group (the transfer from Warhammer 40K to Fantasy was happening at our store) but for no particular reason the game just did not catch on locally. Last, we have the game of the hour, Blood Bowl! Although it seemed interesting in concept, I just couldn’t get past the silly nature of the miniature aesthetics and decided to avoid it.

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Fast forward to this year. I had always been aware of the Blood Bowl computer game, but heard mixed reviews on the title. Honestly I did not really think about it a whole bunch, until that one fateful day. If you’re a regular listener of my podcast (The Warmonger) you will know that I love…okay, maybe that’s too strong…I mildly, to an exceptional degree, enjoy user-generated YouTube content based on video games/miniatures etc. One of my regular haunting grounds is the old Game Station Network (currently called Polaris). Back in February, TGS began a tournament league, which included a variety of their network personalities like Total Biscuit, Jesscox, Dodger and Wowcrendor to name a few. This series was absolutely amazing! With most of the hosts having no clue how to play the game (excluding TB and Angry Joe) it turned out exactly how you would expect. Dark Elves running for it, but falling on their faces. Amazons getting smashed by Chaos Dwarves. Wood Elf teams getting crippled to one a man. This series was immense.

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The beauty of this league was that each YouTube celebrity made their own teams, and added a degree of personality and flare to them. My personal favourite was the All Star Player: Little Skittles (Skink) “Making it Rainbow”. 

So as you could probably imagine…I have the Blood Bowl itch so to speak. I fed my Blood Bowl addiction with the easy to access nature of the video game. Needless to say, the video game is far from perfect and is still pretty difficult to control. Regardless, I became obsessed with Blood Bowl to the point where I began to look up list combinations and also started to play the amazing 23 team selection that was provided within the game. With the exception of the Slaan (no longer in the Video game), an all-new Khorne daemon team was recently added and was actually made playable in the normal miniature Blood Bowl as well.

Over the past few months, I have gorged over more Blood Bowl content then an Ogre Tyrant at a Skaven Buffet! I even started listening to several Blood Bowl podcasts like: 3 Die Block and Both Down, which both have their own unique levels of witty banter and sportscaster quality entertainment. As I listened to each show, my appreciation for the Blood Bowl miniature’s game began to grow. Competitive local leagues, inventive game segments and team building really started to tempt my miniature collecting desires.

Then the rumours started to spill. Games Workshop was rumoured to re-release Blood Bowl this September as a one-off box game in the same fashion as Dread Fleet and Space Hulk.

And low, the penny collecting did begin. And I let be known unto the masses that I would collect money from recycling bottles. 

So things were beginning to look bright and double rainbow for my Blood Bowl obsession! But of course this is why we can’t have nice things…

It is no surprise to me that since the very beginning of my hobby career that the Specialist Games were beginning their slow decline into obscurity. It is only now, at the end that I truly regret not trying Blood Bowl sooner.

Too be frank, it wasn’t really the game that makes Blood Bowl amazing. There are comparatively better games in this genre now, Dreadball being one. It hasn’t always been the smoothest of rule sets. What makes Blood Bowl worth your time is the interactions and devotion of its fans around the world. Games Workshop abandoned the game aeons ago in favour of bigger projects, yet Blood Bowl lived on! It’s like the Chaos Gods of old, were not yet finished and kept coming back for more. Over the past decade, there have been national events and competitions ranging from North America to Europe to Australia. Blood Bowl has become a global classic! It has reached audiences that may never have otherwise come across wargaming! The NAF Website continues to update and I have yet to see a game system be run so effectively by a passionate group of people, without the help of the a major company.

 I am upset to see the end of an era for all Games Workshop Specialist Games. I am beginning to see why these games can contain so much character and still be fresh to play, even after all these years. If this is truly the end, hopefully we can see more classic GW properties make their way over to digital platforms for years to come.

Keep Making It Rainbow!