The future is here. Just what the hell is it though?
Awakening from the clichéd post-ETC hobby slumber, I rub my bleary eyes and am confused...
Even Back to the Future doesn't seem to have the answers…
As everyone even remotely connected to the dark and crazy world of tabletop gaming will be aware, the summer of 2015 saw a seismic shift, leading to destruction on levels not normally seen outside of a disaster movie. There have been some parallels in history I’m told, but even I am too young to remember those. I guess it is almost with a sense of privilege that we got to experience first-hand a truly historic and terrifying event.
Sure, like any slowly dying aristocracy, the signs where there for all to see. The Persian rugs were threadbare, the ancient tapestries depicting momentous events were sun bleached and hanging limp. A slight layer of dust clung to the books in a library that remained the envy of the world. Even then, when, upon careful consideration, you could tell that the household staff had been diminished in numbers and that some of the prize silver had been hawked off to keep the lights on, there was an air of quiet dignity to the scene. The end may have been inevitable, another memory ground under the pitiless wheels of progress and modernisation to be forgotten by an increasingly unenlightened world, but this was true royalty, and it was going to do things properly.
After all, when the end is all there is, the manner of it matters a great deal.
Yes, the behemoth that was Warhammer Fantasy Battles, that eclectic Tolkenian tabletop adventure that accounted for years of people’s lives (and fortunes from their wallets) from a time when most players were not even a thought in their pubescent parents' minds - before household computers were the norm, before there were more mobile phones in this country than people, and *way* before internet rage became a vocation, through to this very year – it saw the rise and fall of nations.
In the modern day when immediate gratification is a right and patience a largely alien notion something like this should really make people pause and reflect.
The king is not only dead, his kingdom has been torn asunder and the ashes spread to the corners of the world.
WFB had many (seriously, *many*) issues with it. But that was part of the fun in many ways. We all lived through it, and, a lot of people agreed, it kept getting better and better (slowly, like a maturing oak). The imperfect balance of the game was also its own draw (imperfect balance is important in the longevity of a game). Most of us who have played for more than five years have seen the rise and fall of armies. The stories accompanying these added to the actual DNA of the game. The library of fiction that accompanied the game was rich and varied – from the metal early days with content definitely not aimed at children through to the more modern times with the now standard fantasy tropes.
A large part of it was not only the monopoly of presence – GW after all are the only company of their type, establishing a strong retail presence and priming the pump for the wider tabletop/modelling scene – but the sheer unparalleled scale of it. The sheer number of armies and supporting materials is something no other game has ever come close to matching (even its big sister game largely relies on different flavours of vanilla ice cream). All this meant that collective decades, if not centuries, of time were spent idly pondering one or more of its innumerable aspects by people across the world.
And then it died.
Like the fading glory of empires before it, its demise was inevitable.
The investment (in time and money) to get into the game was simply far too much for the modern world of Candy Crush, cardboard crack and pre-painted star ships. The cost of sustaining over a dozen unique armies was simply too much in a world where the average gamer rarely added to their collection in truly real significant numbers – the price of the laudable continuous backwards compatibility of their product.
The writing was on the wall, and I, for one, will always be thankful that GW chose to see off the world with a big bang, rather than a hard cut to black.
Like the death of any close friend however, the inevitability of it all did not make it any less painful to experience.
As is the nature of society in this day and age, the body was not yet at room temperature before the 24 hour news cycle got round to the “what next” question that had been sitting, all cute and elephant like, in the room for some time.
For many, normally those with limited amount of time in the hobby, the question was (relatively) easily answered. Find a game that was challenging, ideally not *too* expensive to play and with a decent number of players playing it locally = winning. For others the search was on to find something that filled the much wider hole left by the departure of a large part of their lives
Just as Europe could not stay united following the death of Charlemagne, the eventual fracturing of the tournament scene (at the heart of things for many of us) was inevitable.
So, just what should take its place?
I should note, this is all about me, people will play all sorts of things for their own crazy reasons ;)
There appears to be several serious pretenders to the throne, though it appears unlikely that any one of them will have the power to recreate the true glory of what was lost:
Warhammer: Age of Sigmar
This appears to be the natural successor, coming from the loins of the company with the world’s longest and strongest track record of tabletop games. The lack of rectangles (turns out this is a *major* deal) and the inexplicable lack of an internal points system immediately torn the old scene asunder. Many veterans of WFB have flat out refused to play it, decrying its many flaws became a hobby in itself. Strong sales point for the game seem to be the models, backwards compatibility of armies and a (probably) deceptively complex ruleset with very low entry requirements.
Kings of War
The little game in the corner we all used to laugh at with her braces, silly hair and truly terrible models. Now she’s grown up and is striking in her own sort of way. A *key* thing here, it turns out, is rectangles. The game has never made a secret of its aim to tap into the existing GW fanbase and they moved to reap the whirlwind. Strong sales points were (by all accounts) simple, balanced rules and compatibility with existing GW armies.
Privateer Press (Warmachine/Hordes)
The quintessential (and almost clichéd) standard refuge for those fleeing GW and all it stands for. Exploded into the public consciousness with the advent of Warhammer 8th edition as many players fled to its eager embrace. Strong sales points are (I am told), incredibly clear & tight rules, low cost of entry and made-for-tournament design.
The ‘other’ established skirmish game alternative to Warhammer. The scene has been “there” for a while, though no one outside it has any real idea of the scale. Seemingly a quirky mix of Western, Steam Punk and bizarre nightmare things. The models have certainly improved over the years as well. The strong sales points seems to be mission-specific force selection, solid rules set and cards instead of dice.
The new kid on the block. This is not a tabletop hobby in the same way as the others – this is strictly a ‘game’, with everything coming prepainted and ready to use. Low model count and (by all accounts) tight rules, in addition to a rapidly growing scene would be the big sales point here. But its not. The big sales point is that its STAR WARS! Enough said really.
Star Wars Armada
Seems to be similar to the above, but with fleet based action, rather than space dogfights. Looks cool, though , from casual observations, it seems far less popular.
I honestly know very little about this. Science fiction skirmish game doesn’t really fit in the “fantasy” setting of the above options, but it certainly has exploded in popularity. Seems to have an anime type look.
Similar in look, in many ways, the much loved Epic games of yore. Models have a hit-and-miss aesthetic in a world that seems pretty solidly set up.
Seemingly a historical/fantasy mashup skirmish game with, one hears, very solid rules. Beautiful models.
Magic The Gathering
People love it. I have so far resisted it… It scares me.
In the seeming vacuum that followed the death WFB two notable fan-made options quickly laid claim to the hearts of gamers the world over. The driver here, understandably, was the ETC scene.
There is an event to go to in August next year, and people wanted to know what they would be playing – the costs and time associated with that adventure are not inconsiderable.
On the one hand “internet celebrity” Furion went to work with a design brief to tweak 8th edition to eliminate the need for comp.
On the other an assortment of games, who, it is fair to say, largely disliked 8th edition, armed with extensive community feedback, set about more serious root and branch re-writes to create '9th Age'
Following a vote of the teams 9th Age was the winner – winning on the basis of its mission statement one assumes. It is now the game that will be played at the 2016 ETC in Athens.
A re-write of WFB. Compatible with all existing armies with constant community input to make sure issues are promptly addressed. Main selling point appears to be that the ETC will be using it next year.
So, these, broadly speaking, seem to be the options.
Where shall I be investing my hard earned money and non-existent free time?
That, as Cumberbatch is paid to say, is the question.
What do *I* look for in a game?
With an almighty twenty seconds of reflection I would probably sum up the key things for me as:
“Fluff” is a terrible term in my opinion (I’ve long ago stopped trying to be humble ;) ), by implication it is classifying this aspect of things as somehow “lesser” than the rest. The thing that got me into WFB in the first place was, after all, the background setting (and its Tolkenian vibes), not any game mechanics you can point to. A rich, easily accessible, background setting that has that impossible to describe ‘hook’ that advertisers and film makers are always looking for is worth a hell of a lot in my eyes.
Once we have a setting, how the game plays is obviously fundamentally important. Does it flow? Does it seem to appropriately recreate what is happening within the rules? Is there scope for pouring endless hours of thought into ‘solving’ list-writing? Does it balance on that knife edge of indepth and fun?
Does the game “look” right? Obviously models are important here. More importantly, in many ways, is how units and the armies themselves look. Is it a cinematic representation of carnage (akin to aspects of 8th edition), or is it all about the minutia of measurements that epitomised the dark sides of 7th? Quite simply, would it be fun to watch two other people play this game?
Nothing good is free. Heck, I live in London, the expectation is that everything is expensive. ‘Cost’ is more than financial though – and no one *wants* to spend a fortune. Is it going to take a vast amount of time to learn enough to play the game? Do games themselves take ages, or can I easily fit one in in an evening?
How is the game sold to me. Is it a hefty tomb spilling with knowledge and possibilities? Or is it but an introduction into some endless micro-transaction iWorld? How hard will it be to get everything I could possibly need to play this game?
‘Fun’ speaks for itself really. It is, to one extent or another, why we do all this. And the things that can contribute to this aspect are in many ways unquantifiable. Like judging any form of art, a lot of it is gut feel.
This is the most important one in many ways. People not ‘in the know’ will assume this is a by-product of an overly competitive mindset (or an insatiable desire for alcohol). That is missing the point. The social aspect of this hobby is why we spend hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds a year travelling around the country (an internationally), to push plastic around. People may be despicable Skaven-pushers, or collect Dwarfs, but away from the table they become friends. There are other scenes of course, but a scene that is as close as possible to the one we have all loved would be fantastic.
|Now that was a party!|
Away from this, perhaps unattainable, dream a scene of scale and variety (I prefer not every event to be in essence the same – have never understood how the Poles played ETC comp all the time) is the ideal – if the people are not twats that would be great too.
So, with these loose criteria (and any others that occur to me as I go) I am going to take a look at my options and try to work out what the hell I am doing.
It’s going to be an arduous, though hopefully enjoyable, journey of exploration – I’m quite excited really.
Until next time