Friday, 13 September 2013

Ch...ch...ch....changes...

I've been back in wargaming for about three years now. It's quite interesting to look at the things that have changed in that time.

First up, from my viewpoint, the demise of Warhammer Historical (and specifically WAB) as an entry point to non-fantasy/SF wargaming, is a biggie. I've gone on enough about this and the policy decisions round it that I don't need to do so again, but if any of my newer readers want to give me more page views by catching up on my opinions, do feel free :D

GW's confessed business model - to sell figures - isn't actually that dumb, if you step back and take a look at it. Rules are a one-off purchase (unless you go with the 40K approach): if you're a full-time business, the real money is in enticing people to get their lead and plastic pile from you.

There have been a couple of attempts to replace WAB, of which the obvious three are Clash of Empires, War and Conquest, and Hail Caesar. None of them have really taken off as much, as far as I can tell, as WAB did in its heyday. I find the first too close to WAB with the serials filed off, from the couple of games I've played. I'd like to get a better look at WAC, as it's probably the closest in spirit to what WAB 3.0 could have become, and the army lists are pretty comprehensive.

Hail Caesar has the advantage that WAB had, only in spades: not only do a major games company (Warlord) back it, they actually produce figure ranges for it! My issues with it, though, are twofold: it seems to generally require rather more figures than a corresponding game of WAB, and I still find the command activation system slightly flawed.

Next up, the rise of Dark Ages gaming. Specifically, obviously, SAGA, which has been a flash of genius on the part of Gripping Beast and their partners since they've got figures to go with the rules. I still find it a bit beer-and-pretzels: it's a great game, but it's not exactly a simulation (Mike Hobbs and I are recording another podcast with Neil tonight: that should give him a chance to have a go at me :D). But of course, in addition to that, there's the Duxes (or perhaps, the Duces?) Britanniarum and Bellorum, which set out to do different things and both do them pretty well (you know where my preferences lie, though :D).

In WW2, we seem to have seen the steady fall of one big ruleset backed by a massive range of figures, and the rise of another in a different scale, while smart rule makers happily ride in on the availability of minis in both scales. Man at War tried to emulate the former in the Napoleonic period... the jury's kind of still out on that one: they're still going but slowly.

Then there's the (re-) rise of games at the skirmish/RPG-lite scale (I could give you a list, but I don't have all day :D) The likes of Judge Dredd, In Her Majesty's Name spring to mind.  They do sort of hark back to Mordheim/Necromunda, but they do seem to be growing in popularity as a ... if you like, form-factor... for gaming. These do seem to come as 'rules with figures' packages - brilliant if the setting and the rules work, and the figures are up to scratch.

The real biggie, though? Kickstarter. I mean, just... wow. Things are happening in the gaming world that just weren't possible before as a result. As long as people can get their heads round the concept that Kickstarter's raison d'être is advance funding and a clearer idea of the market for the vendor, and not purely loads of cool free swag RIGHT NOW for the buyer, we're in with a shout of some great things coming through it. But it's clear from a couple of notable events such as the withdrawal of the Beyond the Gates of Antares Kickstarter, that not everyone seems to 'get' how best to use it.

That said: wargames? The hobby's rockin', man, as the guitarist in a band I used to be in would say. I can't wait to see what happens next.


10 comments:

  1. Mike, have you tried Impetus (the full game, not the basic). For all that the translation is occasionally wanting, it covers a wide historical spectrum, is mid-range in terms of figure demand, and in both my experience and that of others, subtly promotes period-appropriate tactics. You're not compelled to do things historically, but doing so actually works.

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  2. Necromunda was surprisingly playable, if you didn't charge into close combat at every opportunity (something that the authors of the rules clearly expected you to do). Stay a bit further back (as my mates and I did, being not quite in the GW target demographic, indeed one of us having bought the game at a knock-down price when they withdrew it), and it was a nice little skirmish game between untrained militia-grade troops. No great subtlety, but had its moments.

    I think the rules-with-figures and the GW model both reinforce the thing that's been mentioned here and elsewhere a few times before: that the money's in lead, not in PDFs. There are free rules for pretty much any period and setting out there, and if you don't mind a bit of tweaking you can get something that'll do a decent job with very little effort. (The rule set I'm working on right now will be released cc-by-sa.) The only way I can see to make money on rules is the GW/FloW model: bring out new books every year or two, and make tournament play important enough that a lot of players feel they have to have them.

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  3. Quite the golden age we're living in, isn't it? I really like what I see of TFL's CoC rules set, and DB. On the small action side I'm getting to know the Pulp Alley set, which is a hoot and a half, as my American wife would say.

    I think one major game-changer coming up is the expiration next year of a number of patents relating to 3D printing. It'll mean the machines and the raw materials required will be far cheaper and more readily available, with a commensurate drop in prices for 3D print work. Look to see an explosion of self-produced models of all kinds from 2014 onward.

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    1. Yeah, I was going to mention 3D printers (and, particularly, printer/scanners) as constituting probably the next huge shift in the industry. I'm looking forward to it, but it's probably still a few years off before it really starts to make big waves.

      In the meantime, the rise of skirmish gaming, I think, has presented a great point of entry for would-be minis gamers. I love a good "big battle" game, but I know from experience that newbies can often find ranks and ranks of painted figures to be an intimidating barrier ("You mean I have to paint all those figures just to have a game?"). The number of minis required for a skirmish game is much less intimidating.

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  4. We certainly live in interesting times and not necessarily in the 'bad way' intended by the oriental curse.

    You forgot to mention the rise of the plastic 'multi-pose' figure, which makes 28mm 'big battles' affordable if not practical to many and which gives you a typical variation across a unit that metal can't match.

    I don't see 'metal' being wholly replaced anytime soon though and in terms of quality, there are too many excellent sculptors crawling out of the mire... which is of course bad news for the established ranges of metal blobs that still populate some ranges.

    Take a moment to regret the passing of WAB by all means, but we should be looking forwards to what is to come. Admittedly somewhat ironic as a hobby largely dealing in the past. ;-)

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    1. Re multi-pose plastic - my first figures when i got back into the hobby were Warlord plastic Romans, so for the stretch under discussion, for me anyway, they've always been around. I concede I only missed their onset by a smidge, though :D

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  5. I too remember WAB from its heyday with great affection. But I too am loving all the new skirmish rules hitting our hobby tables ATM
    great post
    Peace James

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  6. Nice recap of the state of the hobby.

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  7. Good post, I am watching the kickstarters at the moment. I have backed just the one but could see this getting habit forming

    Ian

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  8. I'll second Firemonkeyboy in that Impetus is great newish alternative for ancient/medieval wargaming. If your into horse and musket a lot of exciting new things have come along with biggie's being Black Powder and Maurice. I agree wargaming is alive and well!

    Christopher

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