|Yeah so I also used in my HoP Idol article... so sue me!|
I wrote an article a fair few months ago now for the HoP Idol contest, sprouting off about how I think this is currently a Golden Age of Gaming, or words to that effect! Obviously there was a word limit associated with that particular article, and I don't think I fully explored the themes I'd developed while writing the piece. To put it bluntly I could waffle for Britain at the Olympics and not break into a sweat, me and word limits don't get along. I first started to feel that wargaming was going through a bit of a Renaissance period mid to late 2009. But, as we all sit here, probably half soaked from drinking a little bit too much, gazing longingly into 2012 full of expectant joy, I don't think wargaming has ever looked better or healthier. So as long as the Mayans got it horribly wrong we're all good, right? So sitting here as I do, Moscow Mule in hand, yeah I know I've started early, I thought I'd return to that original article and discuss why I think it is a Golden Age of Gaming, and hopefully I'll convince you all of that fact too.
However, lets talk Games Workshop first. Now I know I've taken some shots lately at Games Workshop, and I feel fully justified in doing so. But, I've had to take a step back and ask myself whether or not Games Workshop has really gotten any worse? Or is it just that the competition has gotten so much better. So much so that now when I look at Games Workshop it is in a far less favourable light? It is certainly a distinct possibility I guess. However, whether grumpy old gamers like to admit it or not, it is the foundation laid down by Games Workshop in many ways that has led to this Golden Age of Gaming! Yeah, OK, that might need some further explanation. In my Imperium Riposte article, I mentioned how Games Workshop have expanded our hobby massively, but they also brought a professionalism to it as well. With this approach has come technical advancements in plastic miniatures that are trickling down to other companies. No doubt as the technology becomes cheaper we will see other firms being able to benefit from this technology. Even Finecast... please here me out before you lynch me, is possibly the future. As Games Workshop screw that product up, others are learning from it you see.
|I might not like the game, but the artwork is evocative.|
There will come a point when metal of all types just becomes too expensive for our hobby to bare. And, Games Workshop taking the plunge first has allowed others to see what they've done right (very little in my opinion), but most importantly where they got it horrifically wrong. Sure Battlefront have mass produced resin tanks at 15mm scale but they're not detailed 28mm multi-part figures now are they? I've seen some pretty awesome test runs by a small little British firm based in Shepton Mallet, Somerset... but I promised I wouldn't talk about those. No, Games Workshop have once again boldly gone where nobody has gone before, with mass produced resin figures. With Forge World too they've shown that it's possible to produce exceptionally fine detailed products, at volumes not to be sniffed at. This year they also showed that as a company they're still willing to try new things. Sure Dreadfleet wasn't a roaring success. But it was a heartening release nevertheless, as it shows there might be life left in the old dog yet. Regardless of my personal opinions about their current products they've opened things up to such an extent and grown the hobby over the years, that now others can come along and plant roots in the fertile ground left behind. They're the pioneers, and as such the hobby owes them much.
|Either you can get over them... or you should just move on!|
|I'll keep on saying it, Warjacks are just fecking cool. Oh yes they are!|
It would be rude and remiss of me not to mention Privateer Press in the next breath after Games Workshop. As I don't like to be rude I will indeed talk about the American contender to Games Workshops crown. Since their founding in 2000 they've made waves in the hobby. At first they were like little ripples in a pond, slowly those ripples have grown into waves, and now they're threatening to break out into full on surf... they're not quite at tsunami levels yet. They're doing things their own way and because of this they are winning fans and becoming increasingly popular. Many think they're just copying the Games Workshops model, and maybe they are to an extent. But their two main games are anything but simple copycats. HoMachine (yeah I'm sticking with it) stepped onto the scene in 2003, and I think it's fair to say it was a bit of a slow burner. Privateer Press did lay the foundation though for future success that we're witnessing now in the MkII period. They developed a style of game, miniatures and back story all of their own. They realised the importance of getting all three things right. Many others had failed to grasp the holy trinity of wargaming; game, miniatures and back story.
In 2010 they released Warmachine and Hordes MKII, and the ground swell amongst gamers has been impressive. I don't mind admitting that the second coming of HoMachine has me hooked on Angry Elves and Celtic Trolls! True the art direction of the miniatures has a weirdly American Football or Ice Hockey vibe to them. What with their huge muscular looks and massive shoulder pads... and it won't be for everyone. The quality of their more recent sculpts and their plastic resin kits has been very, very high indeed. They're the equal in terms of quality at the very least of Games Workshop. After playing Games Workshop games Privateer Presses HoMachine system can feel like a familiar breath of fresh air. It retains enough of 'normal' Games Workshop esque wargaming conventions, to not feel totally alien and therefore is welcoming. Yet it injects enough new mechanics for it to feel exciting to many making 'the' switch. I've contentiously argued that HoMachine is Pure Game as opposed to a wargame, but I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing. No doubt it requires a slightly different mind set to that engendered by the market leaders products, but it remains internally consistent as a game unlike the market leaders products.
Privateer Press don't represent a brave new world totally though. They represent a steady and considered evolution of the status quo. That's no bad thing, as it is change, just not radical change, and as such it'll be more readily accepted by others. Even if the pace of change isn't as rapid as some might like. The industry needed a 'Privateer Press' to slowly 'wean' gamers off of Games Workshop. To show them that there are other options out there. And they've risen to the task beautifully if you ask me. They've slowly opened gamers eyes to new possibilities. They've driven that wedge into the hobby that was so desperately needed to break the mould. To disrupt the never ending cycle the hobby had got itself trapped in. We're all more receptive to new ideas and new games now. The genie is out of the bottle, the horse has bolted, the secret is out, Pandoras box has been opened and the gaming world is all the better for it. Was that enough clichés? The biggest surprise Privateer Press have given me though? I bumped into two young gamers here in the West Midlands who had brought some Warmachine stuff. They wanted some advice on what to get next. As I was chatting to them I asked what other things they played. 'We've just started' they told me, 'we saw some videos on Youtube and thought it looked cool'... hang on, you weren't converted by Games Workshop? 'No Space Marines are gay', say what now? 'and Warjacks just look cool', indeed they do! Indeed they do!
|Look at that sexy sultry stare, long flowing locks, no not her... Achilles!!!|
My current first love of wargaming, Infinity, also offered up an interesting story of how people are being introduced to wargaming via the Internet. Many months ago I wrote a series of articles on why I think Infinity is the best game out there. It's had a fair few hits as I think people are interested and intrigued by the game. However, one Australian chap contacted me to ask some more detailed questions. I started by explaining the game relative to the products provided by Games Workshop, his response? 'What's the Games Workshop?' I have too be honest at first I thought it was typical Aussie humour, you know dry sarcastic wit. They almost do it as good as us Brits. But no, here was an individual who had never heard of wargaming at all. He'd ended up at my blog by image surfing on Google, ultimately he'd found my site because of the artwork of Chester Ocampo. He'd then read my articles about Infinity and been suitably interested to contact me. I explained the whole concept of wargaming too him and explained what Infinity was about. I also put him in touch with a gamer I knew in Melbourne who agreed to do an intro game for him. The result? One new wargamer in the world, totally without any help from Games Workshop.
|Look at it. No LOOK AT IT!!! Beautifully scary.|
|Like Warjacks, TAGs also totally kick ass and are cool.|
|Very JRPG... and cool in its own unique way!|
Anima Tactics too talks to the computer game generation. Those of us who might just love JRPGs a little bit too much. The sort of gamer who doesn't mind admitting that they cried when Aerith died in Final Fantasy VII... not that I did mind you. I'm all man me *sob* such a senseless death *sob*. Talk to a young child about invulnerable saves and steadfast and they'll go all boss eyed! Then ask them if they understand Haste, Slow and other familiar phrases from computer games and they'll instantly get it. So in steps the first of Cipher Studio's games, Anima Tactics. If you've played JRPGs then you'll love this game, it's like the best JRPG combat system wrought into a wargame. It too, like Infinity, has got some truly gorgeous miniatures in it's ever growing range, and they only seem to get better and better with each new release. The game sits within the wider pantheon of Anima products as well, which include a supposedly quite good RPG and collectible card game, both from Fantasy Flight Games I believe. There is a really rich background and world to this game and the full colour rulebook does a great job of expressing that world too you as well.
|Hell Dorado has a very 'dark' fantasy vibe to it.|
But Cipher have another game in their locker too, the tumultuous Hell Dorado. It's not had an easy life Hell Dorado, and many think the game is doomed or cursed. Maybe it is, but that just makes it way cooler in my opinion. It started it's life as a French wargame published by Asmodee, they of board game fame. It didn't go too well, sure there are many conflicting and competing reasons as to why it struggled, but no one who had played the game could deny it was a dark, twisted and adult universe with an amazing little skirmish game to back it up! The miniatures aren't half bad either, in fact they're pretty darn good. In 2009 Asomdee canned Hell Dorado, it had been a critical success in France, Germany, Spain and Italy... but not in the English speaking world. Probably because they never actually got round to releasing a bloody official English rulebook. D'oh! Hell Dorado was rescued from oblivion by Cipher Studios sometime in 2010, and then began the long slow and arduous task of getting the product back to market. There have been some hiccups along the way for sure. However, we do though finally have an official English rulebook, and it's still the great game it always was, with a splendid range of medieval themed fantasy miniatures. Do take a look at Hell Dorado.
|It's the Mad Hatter!!!|
But hey, if I still haven't piqued your interest with any of that awesome sounding gaming goodness, then there is yet more where they came from. Perhaps steampunk robots, sci-fi anime badassery, doe eyed JRPG types and kick ass medieval knights in hell aren't your thing, then so be it. I think you're mad... but who am I to judge? So perhaps we have to up the Wyrdness then? So how about steampunk-western-horror-victoriana-sci-fantasy? If you're thinking 'WTF' you have obviously never been introduced into the slightly insane world of Malifaux, or many peoples 'other' game. I'm not even going to try to explain the back story or the world. Mainly because it can't be done adequately in this article that's for sure, but suffice to say it's varied and wacky as you're likely to get. There is literally something for everyone in Mofaux (yrah I'm sticking with that too), and if you don't mind the huge mash up of conflicting ideas it's gloriously entertaining at times. It too has some interesting play mechanics, the most famous of which is the games use of playing cards instead of dice to decide everything. It's this element of poker that give the game play much of its unique flavour, and the alternating activation means your not twiddling your thumbs for protracted periods of time. It's just fun.
Nope? Perhaps something entirely different altogether then? Have you heard of Spartan Games? They're a small but rapidly growing company from the home of cider, Somerset, based here in good old Blighty. They specialise in naval and space combat games. Their games are incredibly reasonable in terms of asking price too. You can pretty much get up and running in any of Spartan Games products for under £50. Not bad at all, and all their miniatures are highly detailed digitally sculpted works of resin art. What of the games? Well we have the fantasy themed Uncharted Seas, great as a fill in for Naval combat in Warhammer Fantasy or Kings of War campaigns. If you actually like your steampunk then you should definitely take a closer look at Dystopian Wars, that range of miniatures is truly awesome! Finally we have their futuristic space sci-fi game, Firestorm Armada, what's not to love about big spaceships blowing each other apart? Their games are all quick to learn and fun to play, but offer a fair deal of tactical depth. They're not the most rules intensive games but they do offer a nice blend of depth and fun... plus for some of you Games Workshop refugees you get to throw a ton of dice!
|Kings of War - Dwarfs still like beards and drink beer.|
No? You want big battles maybe, a bit like Games Workshops games... but maybe a bit more fluid and not as expensive? Why didn't you say so, surely you've heard of Mantic Games? Mantic's motto of 'Big armies, big battles, great prices' should sound pretty enticing to most Games Workshop gamers. I think it's fair to say of all the companies and game systems that I've mentioned so far, only Mantic could be accurately described as taking Games Workshop head on. They have a mass fantasy battle game called Kings of War that is gaining in popularity. They've also just released their answer to Games Workshops 40k, Warpath, which I'll be covering a bit more in the new year. Both games share the same design principle of doing things at the unit level rather than the individual and unit level Games Workshop games have got themselves tangled up in. This is the change I've advocated Games Workshop making for years and years now, and you know what? By and large it works God damn it! Sure the two game systems aren't perfect and could do with more work, but that's the great thing. You see Mantic listen to gamers and make changes accordingly. You still have a chance to shape Kings of War and Warpath into something truly great if you get involved.
What of the Mantic miniatures I here you ask? Aren't they just cheap crap? No, they're not and I'll happily show anyone my Kings of War Orcs to prove otherwise, I think they're bloody brilliant. I know many people are in love with Brian Nelson's 'Warhammer Orcs', and I too have a soft spot for some of them as well, but I honestly hand on heart can say I prefer the design brief of Mantics Orcs. In fact Mantics miniatures are designed to be true scale 28mm as opposed to Games Workshops and Privateer Presses 'Heroic scale' miniatures. This means that heads, feet and hands should all be in scale as opposed to being gigantic and over sized. I personally appreciate this design decision, even if I don't personally like their Elves. The Dwarfs are quite good, as are their evil kin the Abyssal Dwarfs. Much of their Undead range is better than Games Workshops plastics and their resin pieces aren't all floppy and bendy! Best of all, compared to Games Workshop prices they're as cheap as chips!
|There is something visually pleasing about FoW games!|
Want a break from fantasy and futuristic grim darkness, possibly a bit more reality? Try one of the biggest wargames in the world right now, the ever popular Flames of War produced by New Zealands Battlefront Games. For many 'serious' historical wargamers what Battlefront have done to 15mm WWII wargaming is Games Worshopisation of the hobby. They've packaged the complex historical setting and detail neatly into a product that consumers can understand and appreciate. It's slick, and if there is anything grumpy old gamers don't like it's slick professionally produced product. Battlefront have made the myriad of choices really easy to understand. With their Early, Mid and Late war tags you can now easily see, which options belong in which periods of WWII. Their reference books are fantastically well researched so us as gamers don't need to go out and get a history PhD ourselves. They've made it accessible, and the game is rather slick and tactical too. So have they MacDonaldised WWII wargames? Maybe just a little bit, but they are still a classy outfit.
But there's also another historical games company in town doing likewise at 28mm scale. They are Warlord Games. Hey I'm not a big historical gaming fan, but the list of games they produce is interesting and has honestly had me looking at historical wargaming in a different light. Again they have their detractors amongst a certain sub-set of grumpy old gamers. Like Battlefront though they've packaged historical wargaming in a way that many Games Workshop addled and rationalised brains can cope with. My dad liked his historical miniatures and he still does. I've always got a bit freaked out by actual historical wargaming, I have no problem with butchering Elves or obliterating space ninjas. But actual historical battles, where actual people died? That's not really me, or it wasn't, perhaps as I've gotten older I've grown to appreciate the history of military conflict. I have a respect for the tactical decisions many real world generals have had to make and I guess the challenges they faced have started to interest me. And maybe my tastes are changing and say what you like about what Warlord Games making historical wargaming more accessible, but they've got me looking very closely at their products, and so far I've liked the look of what I've seen.
|Paolo Parente's artwork and designs are brilliant.|
If actual historical games give you the heebe jeebies how about some Weird War II if the real stuff is a bit close to the bone for you? We've also got Fantasy Flight Games moving into wargames with Dust Warfare. Yes, the purveyors of fantastically cool board games are dipping their ever so creative toes into proper wargaming territory. And they've got none other than Andy Chambers on board to help them with the rules. The miniatures I already know are utterly fantastic, as I own a fair few of them already for the board game based Dust Tactics. However, Fantasy Flight Games aren't stopping there, they've also landed themselves the Star Wars license. Pretty exciting stuff right? Well they've already announced Star Wars X-Wing, which will be a tactical space combat game... yes that's right an X-Wing versus Tie Fighter wargame. I mean come on if that doesn't get you excited then I'm starting to wonder whether or not you can call yourself a geek! It's also incredibly exciting to see what Fantasy Flight Games can actually do in the wargames arena. They've started to totally boss the board game sector and are making great strides into card game sales as well. Plus their RPG business is not to be sneezed at. They're a well run company, and having another professional and competent player in the market can only be a good thing for us consumers.
But there are other games too, things that I don't play currently games like Heavy Gear Blitz, Bushido, MERCS, Cutlass, Warpath, Freebooters Fate, Dark Age, Eden, Dust Warfare and many more besides... whoa, I need to catch my breath. Will they all survive? Who knows, but that so many companies are willing to try it out, and to bring us new gaming experiences should really excite all of us that love this hobby. Inevitably some of these great games will go to the wall, forgot in a gaming gold rush. And while that is a sad thought, their is no doubt that the strong competition they will all provide for each other can only be a boon for us gamers. Think about it, with so many great games out their, unique games, they are all going to have to work that little bit harder to earn our hobby cash. They will all be vying for our attention. This will drive up quality and possibly lower prices too. So again, there hasn't ever been a better time to get into a new game, to take a chance on something new. The last thing anyone of us wants is to discover that years down the line we all let the greatest game ever go the way of the Dodo. Simply because we didn't bother to take a look at it. Now that would be a tragedy!
|Thanks Jake for a great little board game!|
But lets be honest here, the biggest gaming news for me in 2011 was undoubtedly my rediscovery of board games and my love of them. My stars would be Gears of War and Dwarf Kings Hold: Dead Rising, but I have to give more than honourable mentions to Mansions of Madness, Chaos in the Old World and even a knowing nod and a wink to Claustrophobia. Board games have brought my geeky hobby to my partner Dr Brainiac as well. They've brought me and my friends together on multiple nights of gaming goodness, again involving people who wouldn't normally game with us, like Geology Girl. It's been great introducing reluctant naysayers to the hobbying world, even if we did have to ply them with alcohol and sugary treats first! Board games have also kept my hobby fresh and alive, they've offered me and my friends an entire world in a box. I've stalked through haunted mansions, been an evil deity hell bent on corrupting an entire continent and I've been a steroid munching meathead who shoots first and forgets to ask questions later! I've led battle hardened future soldiers against unimaginable hordes and yeah fine, I've also been a female rogue on far too many occasions too. I've even been playing Studio McVey's Sedition Wars Alpha, and I'm excited about that I really am, as it appears to be a wargame on a corridor based board. It's looking like fun.
So there you have it. I'm still not too sure I've covered everything sufficiently you know. There's just so much really cool stuff out there. And so many really cool things happening in our hobby. Arrrghhh, there's just not enough time or space in my gaming room for it all. I haven't even touched on cool miniatures only companies like Studio McVey, Kingdom Death or Bane Legions, oh, I guess I just did! Nor have I spoken about the great range of hobbying materials we have now from companies like Gale Force 9, The Army Painter, Reaper, Tamiya and Vallejo. It's like every aspect of the hobby is growing and there's just way more choice out there for us all in every aspect. It's not just games and miniatures, it is the paint we use, and the brushes we use to apply them with. The Internet has helped here too as we now have better access to the experts in the hobby, as many of them write their own blogs. We can ask then direct questions about painting, sculpting and hell even writing army lists! It really, truly is the Golden Age of wargaming! Surely I can't be the only one who feels this way, can I? Any way, there's a Long Island Iced Tea with my name on it, and I'm rambling now.
I really do think the times they are a changing, will Games Workshop go bankrupt and disappear from the hobby? No way, they are way too big for that too happen, and I wouldn't like to see it happen either. For all their faults and ills, and trust me there are many, I'm still grateful to them for what they do for this hobby. No other company brings in fresh blood like they do. Or have expanded the hobby as much. However, I can see that current state of affairs changing too. I'm sure as Privateer Press gets bigger and Battlefront continue to grow, then they too will begin playing a much bigger role in hobbyist recruitment. Maybe even games like Infinity will start doing their bit also, attracting people to the hobby that the grim dark can't. Because lets face it, under Games Workshops stewardship the hobby has stagnated somewhat. Sure for the guys behind Games Workshop 2000 AD was a big influence, but for my generation it was anime, manga and Japanese computer games that filled our imaginations and have resonance with us. Many of the new products on the market reflect this. It's healthy to have options, and it's healthy to have competition. Long may it continue. Peace out and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!