Thursday, 2 July 2015

Games Workshop (16 years later) - Part 2

As I outlined in my previous post, I recently nipped to Games Workshop's Warhammer World to learn what had changed in the 16 years since I got into these models and (little did I know at the time). Walked out with an incredible drive to start painting them again.

A lot has changed over these 16 years and from what I can see, nothing has changed for the worse, here are a few of the things I have noticed when coming back into the hobby.

There's not enough info for beginners

The first thing I noticed when coming back to this Hobby was that there isn't much space for beginners. The assumption that there would be such a space is more to do with how the world around us has changed than my memories of coming into this space when I was young.

Back then, there was no internet, you found out about everything you knew from Magazines or from your mates (or their stories about what their older brother has done). So there was no real info space for say, a lone beginner for Games Workshop to get some hooks into them.

Today you have the internet, so my first port of call was, expecting some clever web UX designer to have pre-empted the customer journey from all sides. In the space for the beginner, there would surely be a big "START HERE" sign of some kind, leading them down a path of info of what GW is, all their main products, get some hooks into the visitor along the way and purposefully lead them into an obvious purchase. But this isn't there. Instead you are greeted with, what's new this week. which is good for those people who are established in the hobby, but nothing for beginners and returnees.

So for me, I went to the web page and was greeted with a great list of Eldar products and nothing more. the entire page wwas branded with Eldar from the latest releases (that week) to the cover of the latest White Dwarf. Forgive me for thinking that Eldar was the biggest thing GW do now but it turns out, that was just that week. Go there this week and it's all Dark Angels and Ultramarines.

When I've visited Warhammer World I finally got a good insight into the finer details of what I missed and where to start as an old newbie and perhaps this is the point. GW want you in the store because it's the passion of the staff that really sell this hobby to you. But if this were the case, wheres their cues to get you into the store in the first place. It was surprising that I didn't see many people of today's younger generation hovering round, unless they were with their dad. I mean, they are there in dribs and drabs but the shops were full when I was young, you could mistake a GW store for a creche at times. And maybe Warhammer World isn't the GW market for youngsters. like the high street stores are, but this is just an observation I couldn't help but notice. I hope it isn't actual ignorance of bringing young generations into this hobby at an early age.

I had loads of knowledge about how the hobby works and I didn't know where to start. So in the end I figured, why not start with the latest version of 40k.

40k is dead, long live 40k

Note: As a preface, I never had an interest in the Fantasy, Warhammer game and Lord of the Rings didn't exist and seems to be pretty much ignored now, so I can't comment on any changes here.

When I started, Games Workshop was Relatively Simple, There were 2 main games; Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, every other product in the store centered around these 2 pillars. be they models, books or the games themselves. When I played, I bought the Warhammer 40,000 game as boxed set. It was known but not advertised (the same way iPads are just called iPad and we don't have an iPad 7) that this was the second edition of the game. Coming to the end of that hobby period they were about to release, or even did release (I can't remember) the Third Edition.

Knowing this I wanted to see what the 40k (Common abbreviation of Warhammer 40,000) game looked like now. Turns out, there isn't one.

Well, there is, but there isn't. There is no boxed product called Warhammer 40,000 or Warhammer 40,000 Starter Pack as I expected. Warhammer 40,000 has become an entity beyond a single boxed product and has truly become the umbrella under which all 40k products fall. Which is correct when you look at it, Warhammer 40,000 is "The Game" in which all products bearing it's mark belong to, as it always was.

The boxed product you buy as your intro to 40k is called Dark Vengeance, (which is basically 40k 7th edition, 6th edition was called Assault on Black Reach). This may seem to go against what i said above about nothing for beginners, but let me be clear. Above I mean there's not enough info to welcome beginners into the hobby you have to pick at bits and pieces yourself until your invested. But once you are and you understand that Dark Vengeance is the real starter set. At only £65 for what you get in this boxed set, it's a fantastic bargain (especially when compared to some of the ridiculous prices for individual models). Back in the day you got 20 Space Marines, 20 Orks and a load of Goblins, all of them stood in the same pose, now you get;

  • A Rule Book
  • Dice
  • All the measure sticks and templates (in plastic now, not cardboard like you used to get)
  • Dark Angels Company Master
  • Dark Angels Librarian
  • Dark Angels Tactical Squad (10 marines with a unique squad leader)
  • Dark Angels Terminator Squad (5 models)
  • Dark Angels Ravenwing Bike Squad (3 Bikes)
  • Chaos Lord
  • Chaos Aspiring Champion
  • Chaos Chosen Marines (6 Marines)
  • Chaos Cultists (2 squads of 10 cultists)
  • Chaos Hellbrute (basically a chaos Dreadnought)

When you consider something like a Hellbrute (although a more customisable version) is £33 alone, you can see why this set packs incredible value. It's a fantastic hook for the beginner, just a pity how much leg work the beginner has to do to commit to this £65 spend in the first place.

After buying this set, the one thing I noticed is that the detail of the models is far beyond anything I saw in my younger days, every model was clearly an individual (expect some of the cultists had a twin), even more impressive is this level of detail on plastic (resin) miniatures.

Games Workshop tried to discontinue The Metal, but The Metal lingers on

This is a fun one as I predicted this back when I was first into the hobby and now seeing it come to fruition is better than I could have hoped. back in the day, you had plastic and metal. Plastic models were used for mass production of exactly the same model. you want 20 identical space marines. plastic is the way to go, they were simple, not very detailed and cheap for a good quantity. If you wanted cooler looking, more original and far more detailed models, you bought the metals ones, which were lead when I started and quickly changed to become what GW dubbed as white metal. They were heavier, a bastard to glue and more expensive. But my best mates mum worked at the original head office in Eastwood and on occasion we were able to use their discount to get Plastic models at 50% off and metal stuff on a ridiculously low cost based on weight. 5 chaos dreadnoughts for £30 cheap.

AS the hobby grew, the plastic miniatures started to get much more detailed and something like a Space Marine tactical Squad was brilliantly detailed with things like skulls, purity seals and the Aquilla (the big winged markings on the chest) were superbly pronounced. it still couldn't quite do the amount of individual detailed pieces that you would get on a metal miniature.

But things have changed drastically. Plastic, or Resin even (I don't know enough about the difference to even comment much) clearly reigns supreme. As a clear example, swords. on a metal model (the most detailed back in the day) swords would have flat edges, probably because the sword would need to be quite thick in miniature form as the metal was still somewhat mailable, thin parts cold easily bend and break off in transport. But the Swords on models that have them in Dark vengeance are incredibly thin. almost breakable. Thankfully the blister packaging keeps them safe in transport but too much forceful handling would see them snap off beyond repair.
Left: Old Terminator Models, Right: New Model

The lighter weight of plastic miniatures coupled with the new model creation process being digital sculpting in this new age of computers instead of hand sculpting. GW now has the opportunity to make much more detailed and much larger models than ever before. More on larger models later.

The move to plastic hasn't been without it's challenges however. For a time, and possibly still, GW started switching the production of it's older (my generation's) metal miniatures to (what I believe is) resin miniatures. This produced miniatures with much smoother surfaces and sharper edges than the medal models, but the whole range is plagued with examples of air bubbles made in the production process so you have gaps and holes in the models. It's also widely speculated that the production of resin models is much lower than the comparative metal miniatures but GW added a huge price bump. People were not happy, just do a quick Google search for "finecast" and have a look at the posts, not pleasant. Or, even check out the images on a google search and you'll see it's littered with the imperfections showing up as the most popular (albeit unpopular) results.

Even the example below has several imperfections (see if you can spot them.)

Although there have been these hiccups and the pricing is questionable the final results (when they work) are undoubtedly far better than anything which has come before and i'm looking forward to replacing some of my old models with new versions. It was difficult to remove the mould lines or convert the metal miniatures. that's now long gone thanks to plastic being a much softer material. Conversions are much better now too thanks to the wider range of models on the market.

New Armies, New Names

Just to finish off this part of the article I wanted to mention some of the more expected changes. New armies. There are 2 I can think of; the Tau and Necrons are 2 races which appeared shortly after I left this hobby originally. The first are what I would describe as Eldar but cool. AS 40k is based off the original fantasy Warhammer game, every fantasy race essentially has a 40k equivalent and the Eldar are basically elves in space. Tau are much more original, They have a style which I'd describe as the bastard child of a Japanese Samurai and the aliens from Space: Above and Beyond. I think they look cool.

The Necrons are pretty much a cybernetic race which is interesting, but the name sounds like they're into some disgusting sexual acts.

What I didn't expect is to have an armies name completely change. Oddly, and for reasons I dodn't care to understand, the Imperial Guard (the Guardsmen who guard the Imperium) are now called Astra Militarum, which is probably Latin for Space Military.

yeah, whatever.

There are still a few more differences to go over and I'll cover that in the next part, but so far a lot of major improvements in the last 16 years, a few odd things and some challenges along the way. but generally. It's so much bigger and better now than it ever was.

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