The death of Warhammer Fantasy

It’s official. Warhammer fantasy is now dead. The Old World is no more.

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For anyone who knows the game, this is probably old news by now. This was something I posted on facebook a couple of weeks ago. Among my many hobbies  were role-playing and war-gaming.

Warhammer was the first ‘role playing game’ I ever played. My friends at school used the first edition rules as a RPG, rather than a war game. When I first played WHFRP I thought that the Old World was one of the best thought out, most realistic and most interesting fantasy game settings I had ever played in. I loved that players had backgrounds as outlaws, watchmen and scribes, rather than the generic fighter, cleric, wizard. The campaign that started with Death on the Rike, Shadows over Bogenhafen etc. was an excellent mystery adventure series.

As anyone who plays GW games knows, Fantasy has been earning GW far less than 40k and sales had been falling. I think it is about 15% of total revenue. GW handled it very badly. They tried to hype it up in the stupidest way possible, with the End of Times, an epic battle against chaos that threatened to destroy the whole world. They introduced huge, expensive models to appeal to the hard core players and alienate everyone else.

Their latest response has been even stupider. They have written off the whole world setting. The End of Times did destroy the Old World. They have written off the whole setting and started again in a setting with very little depth, intended to have more of a 40k feel (and look, if you have seen the new “Sigmarines”)

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The new rules remove the need for points cost and codexes, instead having warscrolls for each unit that can be downloaded for free. It is intended to make it easier for a beginner to play, without having a properly developed army. It is now a game in which you just bring whatever mismatched models you have and throw them together into an army. Generic fantasy war gaming at its most generic.

the old races are still there, but with silly names. Duardin, not dwarves. Orruk’s not orcs. Aelfs instead of elves etc. all of which are a bit naff and probably just for copyright.

With such a dramatic change in rules and very little play testing, even GW have admitted that there will be lots of flaws in the rules. Is it worth playing? Perhaps, if you are a beginner, and that is the plan. GW wants to lure children to fantasy, by making it easy to get into.

Is it going to be a rewarding experience? Probably not. The lack of world depth will frustrate many and the RPG aspect is almost certainly gone for good. GW produced some good RPGs in their time, but role players didn’t spend as much money as war gamers, so GW never cared about them.

I had planned to try taking up war gaming again this year, as there is a gaming shop in Shenzhen, and try out fantasy, as I like the models, but now I am not sure if I will bother.

Farewell Old World. Gone but not forgotten.

That is what I wrote two weeks ago. Since then I have had a better chance to evaluate the rules, the stats and the game balance. I have seen how other peoples games have gone and thought about why GW did this.

AoS seems to be intended to appeal to children, with simpler rules and the ability to just play with whatever you happen to have with you, rather than any points value of army. A lot of experienced players are talking about how they have been introducing their children to AoS. There is no need for formations, models can skirmish and turn freely, flanks don’t matter, you can shoot into combat etc. You can take a few models or thousands, with no need for an army list.

There are also a bunch of silly extra rules connected to certain figures, to give you bonuses for talking to your models or your imaginary horse, grumbling in a dwarvish manner, having the biggest mustache and granting random sexual favours to your opponent. (I kid you not)

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According to GW, these rules were deliberately silly and are intended as a final farewell to some of the old armies. At present these are the same models, but GW plans to change the look of some of these races and phase out the old models.

For years GWs strategy has been to produce stupid looking, but very detailed models and charge an arm and a leg for them. Or to add a whole new range of models and skew the rules, so that an army must have them to win (flyers).
I am not surprised that they have been losing fans to other games.

I think the best fantasy models GW did were for LOTR and The Hobbit, but they seem to regard that as very much a niche market for movie fans only. They were popular during the first three movies, being a cheaper alternative to fantasy. But there were far less released for the Hobbit movies and the prices jumped by 66%, so they didn’t get much following. I don’t know anyone who still plays LOTR. I doubt GW will do any more with them, unless there is another movie. Could Peter Jackson do the Silmarillion?

The free rules were a GW response to other gaming companies and wargames, like warmachine, that are trying to compete with games workshop.

What Age of Sigmar most lacks is game balance. The only nod towards game balance is a sudden death rule if you have 50% fewer figures, but this makes very little concession to the power of the figures. 20 Chaos warriors are far more powerful than 30 goblins, but would still get the Sudden death advantage. Alternately, you could put 1,000 chaos warriors against the goblins. Sure, the goblins would only need to kill one unit to win, but how could they kill a unit 1000 strong? What about 20 heroes on dragons against 30 goblins?

Players are expected to create their own house rules to create balance, such as counting up the total HP of the miniatures, but this is still very open to exploitation.

AoS is probably also intended as a way to get power gamers to buy some of the stupidly overpriced ruler models (who would otherwise pay £35 for one figure when you can get a whole unit for £20) and the stupidly expensive End of Times garbage. (£60+ each). The only game balance seems to come from model count or total hit point count. To use Bretonnians as an example, A paladin has 5 HP and is a hero. A mounted paladin is the same, as is a paladin on a pegasus or a lord on a pegasus, and the damsel and the fey enchantress and the green knight etc. Buying the models, you can get two damsels for less than one fey enchantress, but the Fey Enchantress is far more powerful, yet is regarded as equal in game balance terms.

Beyond this, there are a lot of stupid, broken rules that can easily be exploited to destroy the game. Demon armies can just keep summoning more and more units, most of which can also summon units exponentially, yet that isn’t even the worst loophole. An article posted after discussion with a GW rep included the following phrase.

I asked him if he knew that it was possible to win the game first turn with the screaming bell/fateweaver thing. ‘Thats deliberate’ he said. ‘You can do whatever you want in this game, but if you do stuff like that you probably wont have many people to play against.”

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Once upon a time Games Workshop created Warhammer and it was a hit. Then they created Warhammer 40K, which was like Warhammer, but in space. Gradually 40K became more developed and more popular, but fantasy declined. Now there is Age of Sigmar, which is meant to be like 40K, but not in space. Games Workshop stock took a hit as soon as AoS came out and I think it will continue to fall, simply because Games Workshop management don’t currently seem to have a clue what they are doing. It seems to be a desperate attempt to get 40K players to play fantasy.

There is only war, as the forces of the Immortal God Emperor (Sigmar) battles across the cosmos (9 planes) against the forces of chaos, aided by his elite space marines (stormcast eternals). The new models seem to pretty much look and function like Blood Angel space marines, the wings being like the jump packs.  Each group of the Sigmarines, or Stormcast belongs to one of eight Stormhosts. Each Stormhost is analogous to a 40K chapter of Space Marines.The game might be a simple battle system, but if I wanted to play 40K, I would. The new models are also more expensive than most of the old fantasy models.

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There will be no more Warhammer Fantasy. Age of Sigmar is here to stay. GW claim they will be creating rules to allow the option of more balanced play, along with narrative campaigns. Perhaps in time GW will find rules which are simple, yet actually work, but I don’t care. I might play AoS from time to time, but there is nothing about Age of Sigmar that will draw me into the world. I think most of my friends will be sticking with 8th edition Fantasy, even if nothing new will ever be done for it. Actually, after how upset some of my friends got with the changes to 6th edition 40K, followed rapidly by the vast expense of the 7th edition rules and codexes (and a 20% drop in GW shares) perhaps playing a system that will never be updated is a good thing. Alternately, perhaps it is time to see what other fantasy wargames are out there.