Friday, November 18, 2011

Warhammer Love Affair

Over the last 18 months since 8th edition came out we have all seen or heard our fair share of rage quitting diatribes and podcasting soliloquies about what’s wrong with 8th edition and Warhammer in general.  Typically, they all share the same set of bullet points as if they came from a common script.  The most repetitive complaint is the game has been "dumbed" down with the extra randomness and pre measuring.   This is probably a logical conclusion if you directly compare 8th edition to 7th edition without considering GW’s intent to take Warhammer in a completely different direction with 8th edition.  On the other side, there are many gamers, myself included, who strongly disliked 7th edition and found 8th edition to be a welcomed change.  The other oft-lobbied complaint is that hobby has gotten too expensive, typically citing some of the outrageous GW prices which usually tangents off to a discussion of corporate greed.  Agreed, this is an expensive hobby which creates a significant barrier to entry for new players.  Fortunately the market is full of burgeoning competition ready to provide able alternatives if you are willing to invest the time.  There is also a lot of content out there to help the new player get into the hobby.  In particular Ohiohammer and Noobhammer have had some excellent podcasts on the subject.  Rather than to continue the endless debate I thought it would be better to spend my time on something more positive.  So here is why, for me personally, I enjoy Warhammer and continue to play it.   It turns out that it is the same reasons that got me started in the hobby in the first place so many years ago.  It is a testament to GW in that even though the game itself is perpetually evolving they have stayed true to what makes Warhammer great.

Themed Armies

As a self-described hobby gamer (queue the Domus cringe) this is the most important aspect of Warhammer.  GW has carefully woven a substantial tapestry and evocative back-story that sets the stage for our epic battles.  However, rather than fleshing out the tome in its entirety they have masterfully and purposefully left sporadic holes in the overall story.  These openings are fuel for imagination.  Our creativeness can expound on the unexplored or unexplained to create “our” army while not detracting from the overall “cannon” of Warhammer (unless you are Domus).  It is uniquely Warhammer in that our armies can be part of a bigger community yet maintain that sense of individuality.   For me themed armies are part of the definitive Warhammer experience. 

Narrative Play

Dove tailed onto themed armies another thing that makes Warhammer great is the narrative games where it is less about winning and losing and more about telling a great story that visually unfolds before you on the tabletop.  GW’s support for this type of “fluff” garage gaming through the inclusion of special rules and scenarios is proof positive that GW understands that Warhammer is as much about the journey as it is about the destination.  Being able to play the two flavors of Warhammer (competitive and narrative) also goes a long way to keep the game fresh. 


On the most basic level, it starts when we select which army we will play.  We could base this personal decision on the "competitiveness" of the book, the aesthetic of the model range, evocative background and fluff or maybe the army play style.  Army selection is just the first step in a long line of almost endless army customization by the player.  We decide what units to bring, how big those units will be and what armament to equipment them with.  We even decide things like what formation the unit will use.  Then if we consider the customization that goes on at the character level, it can be almost completely overwhelming.   Finally, the customization is completely scalable.  The larger the army the more decision we have to make.  

So why is customization a good thing?  In short, it gives us total control over our army.  It lets us set the stage for our Warhammer experience as the choices we make integrally influence both the theme and competitiveness of the army.  It defines the way we want to play Warhammer.  Equally important it increases the variety of armies we will see and play against, internet lists notwithstanding, which adds a breath of fresh air and increases long-term enjoyment.  The customization also tangibly supports in-game the theme and fluff we have created for our army.  Just keep in mind that this level of customization will sacrifice some game balance.  With these many moving pieces, it is extremely difficult to balance every combination.     

Mass Infantry

While I have played some great skirmish games in my day, nothing can thematically top the look of two large armies of mass ranked units opposing each other on the battlefield.  It is the opening scene in Fellowship of the Ring unfolded on the tabletop in front of you.  It works because Warhammer perfectly hits the right aggregate tactical level where we balance the actions of the individual against the actions of the whole unit or army.   In addition, it looks so damn cool with that many models on the table.

Established Player Base

Simply put a tabletop miniatures game is only as good as the players playing the game.  These games, including Warhammer, are as much about the social experience as it is about the game mechanics.   There is nothing worse than having a great game without anyone to play it with.  Given the long history of Warhammer, you will find active players and gaming groups in just about every region of the United States.

Game Support

You can complain about the prices, but you cannot complain abut the support.  Over the years I’ve picked many a good game that were eventually forgotten after the company that brought it out either went out of business or moved on to other things.  In terms of gaming, there are few games that are as a sure a bet to be around for years to come like Warhammer.  You can be safe in knowing that your hobby investment will continue to pay off dividends for years to come.

So that, in a long winded nutshell, is why I love Warhammer.  While these aspects are not unique to Warhammer the amalgamation of all these aspects into one great game is.


Mr Saturday said...

Great post, I couldn't agree move, especially on the themed armies, narrative play and customization points. As you say, the fact that you can play both fluffy scenario driven warhammer and uber-competitive tournament warhammer with essentially the same set of rules is not to be sniffed at.

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