Thursday, 22 September 2011

What should the Games Workshop do with the Hobbit License

Strangely unlike most people I actually think the Lord of the Rings license was a great thing for Games Workshop to get involved with. I'm not going to go over all the rules and whether it was a good game or not, or even whether Games Workshop made the best use of the license. No for me it was a wise thing to get involved in purely because people loved the books and loved the films, and at the time it was a huge event, it was a merchandising beast. I think on the whole they did an ace job with the miniatures as well. I actually worked the launch weekend of Lord of the Rings and I think its fair to say it was insanely busy and popular and that from a strictly business point of view it seems to me, at the time, to have been a shrewd decision. Certainly initially we as a shop at least just couldn't keep up with demand for months and months on end, that level of interest in the product was never going to be sustainable, however whether or not they've been able to maintain those customers interests in their product is far more fuzzy I guess. I'm not privy to whether or not over the life time of the license it has proved to be a massive money spinner for them, but I think it must have been otherwise why go for the Hobbit license? I think its also fair to point out that I personally do not think the Hobbit will be anywhere near as big an event as the Lord of the Rings was.

So am I excited by the prospect of them doing Hobbit based games? Hell yeah if done right it could provide a good little diversion to my current gaming habits and a new entry level product for them as a company. I think 'The Mines of Moria' box set was a brilliant product and in essence was close to being a proper game in box. If you didn't want to buy anything else then you didn't need to, it stood alone as a great way of getting into the hobby. The Hobbit if used properly as a license could be even better at achieving that aim for Games Workshop and the wider hobby in terms of recruiting new comers. Games Workshops core product, is regardless of your opinion on its quality, an expensive hobby to get into for the first time. I don't want to turn this into a debate about Games Workshops product cost, that's not the point, all I'll say is that the cost of getting started in the hobby is expensive... it possibly always has been, but were I starting out today I'm not so sure I'd get into the hobby because of the cost required, as well as the time required before getting the full reward of the hobby (a fully painted army).

So the way I see it the hobby as a whole needs its entry point products; products that it can use as hooks to entice people into the hobby and then get them addicted to collecting and painting toy soldiers, mwahahahaaa!!! ahem, sorry. There used to be many products like this when I was younger, Warhammer Quest or Hero Quest, Space Hulk or Space Crusade. Now for whatever reason these products have all but disappeared from the Games Workshop hobby, so much so that somehow over the last 10 or so years of my life I seem to have forgotten that it was indeed board games like these that made up much of my hobby and gaming time as a child. Its bizarre the tricks your memory plays on you. I think if done properly the Hobbit could be a truly awesome dungeon crawler, and an excellent entry level product that is currently missing from Games Workshops arsenal of products; that cheap truly self contained entry level game.

Let me explain, collecting armies is great for us old hands, but just think how daunting it must be for somebody starting out in the hobby today in terms of finance and time commitment. There's also a huge level of knowledge required to be assimilated before you can play a game, its a very demanding hobby. I know we have starter sets for various games and they're great they really are, but they're not really the 'proper' game are they? Well I don't think they are, don't get me wrong for what you get in Island of Blood I think its a good deal but there you have two armies and forces chosen for you, its kinda like walking into a sweet shop and being told you can only have mint cremes and chocolate mice... but I want but I want fizzy cherry cola bottles!!! However these fixed 'forces' are perfectly OK and acceptable in dungeon crawlers and it would be even more so with a narrative driven Hobbit themed dungeon crawler, as that would be the experience you'd expect. Much like say the D&D Adventure System Games, like Castle Ravenloft, a more co-operative experience parents could enjoy with their children, instead of just sitting them in front of a TV or Xbox 360. Plus wouldn't Smaug just make an excellent end of game boss?

Just think of the cool ring/invisibility mechanics you could have...

I really hope they don't therefore just use the Hobbit license as a way to try and bolster the sales of the Lord of the Rings games, as I think that would be a gloriously missed opportunity in my opinion. I'm not too sure of the sales figures for the Lord of the Rings product line and I wouldn't claim to know, but it seems to me that the games based on the Lord of the Rings aren't all that popular anymore, for whatever reason. So I'd see an attempt to directly breath life into that product line as ultimately fruitless and throwing good money after bad. I could however see that off of the back of a successful Hobbit 'game in a box' product that the Lord of the Rings range might get increased spin off sales as it would become the natural stepping stone for many after playing something like a Hobbit dungeon crawler. Do I think they'll do this? I honestly don't know its really just my own ramblings on what I'm hoping for and of course much will rely on what the damned details of the license with New Line says, but hey a gamer can hope can't he? If you are currently looking for an entry level product there aren't too many out there, however the one I'd recommend would be Dwarf Kings Hold: Dead Rising, review here and a further look at the game after more experience with it can be found here, it even achieved an Approved by Cats Award. Peace out!


  1. When the first game was launched, is it true that the store staff weren't allowed to bring up any of the other GW products if a customer asked about LOTR?

    I always found that a little odd as the good members of staff would usually toss a few questions around to figure out what the best game system for a new person was. I mean, it makes sense from the perspective of New Line ("they want a product based on our license, so you'd better damn well sell them that product"), so I guess I understand why the clause would be there, but still...

  2. Unfortunatly LotR games suffered from being overly simple and just poor from a games design angle. The minis were nice however.

  3. @Kemp, no. I honestly can't remember ever being told not to bring up Fantasy or 40k. If a customer walked through the door you were meant to great them and do the 10 commandments bollocks. While I worked at the Games Workshop I never remembered anyone coming up to me to tell me not to pimp their other wares if somebody was just after LotR. Honestly from New Lines point of view it wouldn't make sense either, they had their royalties, all they wanted would want to make sure is that their IP wasn't being used in ways that weren't included in the License. Hell if GW had paid too much for it and needed it to make its money back quickly then I could understand them taking that decision themselves but it was seen as a way of bringing new people into the shops. I've heard this rumour before and I hand on heart never had experience of it. That's not to say it didn't happen later though.

    @Angus, I never really played the games that much. I learned enough to run intro games and painted the miniatures as I liked them. It does however seem like interest in it as a product has petered out.

  4. As skirmish and scenario-driven games, they were fantastic, and I think that's the main attraction to the LotR games were, that you could act out scenes from the books and movies and the wider LotR world. The mistake in my opinion is that GW tried to push (as ever) for new ranges and larger scale (and possibly making Aragorn too good). Large scale battles is why Warhammer Fantasy exists, and War of the Ring can be simplified into 'WHFB in Middle-Earth'. Small scale scenarios however, like Frodo trying to escape the Ringwraiths or the Fellowship fleeing through Moria or Amon Hen can be much more exciting and tense than, say a Helm's Deep or Minas Tirith scenario because the difference between victory adn defeat could be the one dice roll to see if model X loses its final wound whereas the in larger scale games, individual models have less impact on the field. Now I'm not saying that the Minas Tirith/Helm's Deep scenarios aren't as good, they have their place all right, but I the important thing for LotR I think is that it is story-driven. In 40k, the story-scenario setting is downplayed because it's one battle amongst millions. Maybe this one Forge World/ Hive City will fall, oh well we have plenty more. Same with Fantasy to a lesser degree as there are so many factions that one cannot truly rise above to conquer all. With LotR, it's Sauron vs the Free peoples. Any one battle can turn the tide of one of the greatest fantasy sagas ever told. So yeah, I agree with you that it needs to be narrative-driven and small-scale. I mean, GW have barely any scope to 'scale up' this range either, as the Battle of the Five armies was exactly one (1) battle and not nearly as epic in proportions as the LotR battles. Though, knowing them, they'll release a box of that on the basis that the more models you put on a box, the more you can charge for them...

  5. @GoldenKaos... you cynic you, that's my job!!! :P

    I think you're right I remember running intro games based around the Weathertop scenario and a few other and the small scale of them and their narrative nature was really engaging. However I agree I lost all interest in it as a product line when they started pushing the games towards larger scales... I think yesterdays article on why the GW should be split in two covers why I think that happens and actually now you mention it the LotR games are the perfect example of where the two businesses with Games Workshop actually clash and ultimately harm each other. Thanks for that post, very illuminating. :D

  6. Here's hoping for smaller scale skirmish (ideally boxset based) game. The figures already have rules in War of the Ring and the Battle of 5 armies also exists

  7. @Neil, a smaller skirmish game would be interesting to a point, but they've already tried that and that didn't float their fiscal boat. Part of the problem with the LotR range as I saw it from a retail perspective was that although it was a small scale skirmish game the actual range of miniatures in the line was quite high and as such it took up a large proportion of shelf space for the turnover it achieved... not good. So if they followed that model again, having seen it doesn't bloody work, well it'd be dumb. I really don't think the Hobbit will be anywhere near as massive an event as LotR was, so I don't think there will be the same sort of intense purchasing of any and all related content so the Hobbit will have to work harder for those sales.

    A game in a box can sit on a Shelf, take up hardly any space and appeal to none hobbyists who are used to buying and playing board games.They could follow it up with expansions that could lead into doing things with those LotR models if they called the the game system something snappy like the Middle Earth Dungeon Engine, source books make oodles of cash as people just buy them for their games no matter what. The way I see it the GW already has much of the natural geek market, you know people like me. If they want to grow their business they really need to start attracting people from outside the sector to their product and doing the same stuff they always have won't do that. A skirmish game might not be too bad for you and I but... I don't think it'll do what they need it too.

  8. Well I'd love a dungeon bash, but really I want a limited (or even better supported) release of warhammer quest so its balancing the two evils.

    I also want a Beorn figure that's really nice, not the awful thing they released for Dogs of War all those years ago.

    Trivia for you - I worked at GW Brum a few years before you from what I can work out.

  9. You know what, I too would love a re-release of Warhammer Quest and for the myriad of reasons many hobbyists have come up with as to why GW should do it... I think there's one reason they won't, Fantasy Flight Games!!! I've started wandering of late whether or not there's some kind of agreement with Fantasy Flight not to tread on their 'board game toes' so to speak. With Space Hulk we had components manufactures by FFG as well. Of course it could just be utter nonsense but given how strong the feeling is in the community about re-doing Warhammer Quest I think the GW would be utterly onkers for not doing it if there's not a legal reason they're not!!!

    The reason I'd like to see a Hobbit dungeon crawler is that these films brought non hobbyists towards the hobby and they were then met with a full on wargame... let me be blunt that was dumb. Squares and grids and boards are concept most people are comfortable with, measuring tapes AoE and all the other wargaming mechanics they're not. I've recently found board games are a great back door into the hobby in general and if the GW want a product that will work to bring new faces in and possibly serve as a route to their other products a board game / dungeon crawler is totally the way to go!!!

  10. From your numerous previous posts around the topic it sounds like the board game jump was a big part of your early wargaming. The HB/GW tie in games like Heroquest alongside Space Hulk were certainly mine - 3rd edition WFB and Rogue Trader were the biggest books I'd ever seen that you were supposed to read from cover to cover, it was sometime before I actually played a game of those after I got them.

    With this in mind your point about a Hobbit board game couldn't be more true. Console and PC games are not a replacement for the board game introduction - what interest the likes of Dawn of War and Space Marine, and now the new Hobbit films draw in would be scared away by tape measures as you mentioned.

    The thing about Warhammer Quest (and before that for me Advanced Heroquest) and later the Realms of Chaos books was that they actively encouraged you to try out a few of each type of monster to expand your adventures and later hooking you on the army that appealed to you most (skaven and undead for me). Thinking about it, sadly Warhammer hasn't really supported the blister pack/small samples route for some time (although these new plastic hero figures packs make me wonder) but the LoTR range largely does. So yes, on reflection the Hobbit adventure board game does sound like a winner.

  11. Well....I'll admit I have an entirely different suggestion as to what GW should do with their Hobbit License...
    Jervis might never recover, though...

  12. @Neil, that's pretty much my reasoning about it all as well. I think the point about Warhammer not really favouring 'sampling' of the product range is a point people have been making for years. Will that change anytime soon? Sadly it doesn't seem like it.

    @SinSynn, would it involve lube or wouldn't you use any? Perhaps that could be a topic for a blog for you? ;)

  13. I suppose maybe that's WHY they haven't rereleased Warhammer Quest... you throw a Hobbit IP on that, and not only is it an entry level game, but it's a BRAND NAME entry level game that they can have ready ahead of time to come out when the movies do.

  14. @Dave G, lets sorta hope so. I really do think a re-booted Warhammer Quest would be great, but tying all that in with the Hobbit would be marketing gold. Honestly I'd drop the cash on it and be a very happy monkey indeed. Will they do it though, I'm not so sure. If they use the Hobbit as an excuse to try and breath life into an already dead game system they will want beating with the stupid stick.