Wednesday 21 September 2011

Ah Ha, Me Hearties!

Knowing me, knowing you, we all have a love-hate (or hate-love) relationship with the evil empire of gaming. We might love what it was, but hate what it is. We might love its settings, even its current games (I enjoy WFB8e myself, even if you do need several hundred miniatures to play it properly), but hate its business model. Or its arrogance. Or its rabid lawyers. Or its attempt to strip its settings of any adult sensibilities, making them child-friendly, but with skullz. And just this weekend, I said that I was thinking of consciously abstaining from Games Workshop and supporting other British games companies that I feel have captured some of the feel of early / earlier Games Workshop. Such as Mantic.

But then, on Monday, on Talk Like Pirate Day, with another mid-thirties birthday looming, I went into my local Games Workshop and pre-ordered (or ordered, as we used to say) their new pirate memory game.

Believe me, this is a lot better than the Games Workshop produced video… look for that on YouTube.

Dreadfleet has managed to summon up a lot of negative reaction. I find some of these reactions baffling.

First, price. Sure, £70 is a lot of money. But, having been into one of my two non-GW FLGS recently – Rules of Play, the other being Firestorm – I know that there are big box boardgames that come in just as expensive. And, as others have pointed out, Games Workshop is in competition with other, non-tabletop gaming forms of entertainment these days. Now, imagine the afternoons’ entertainment you get from taking your kids to a football or rugby game… and the price.

And the components do look good too, with 10 ship models (that are pretty big) and a bunch of scenery, and a good sized playmat. Sure, the sculpts are in the overblown Games Workshop-style – which some have criticised are being ‘cartoony’ – but that is as much the end-point of having John Blanche as your chief visionary for thirty years as it is the kiddification of the gaming worlds. His paintings that were used to illustrate Games Workshop stuff in the 1980s were pretty out there… [on which note, check out gothic punk and fuckyeahbritisholdschoolgaming to get your nostalgia kick in the eyes]

But there are two related negative reactions that are even more baffling. Some are complaining that, as Dreadfleet is a one off, they will not be able to spend hundreds of pounds expanding the game. ‘The game won’t be supported’, they moan. So… we won’t see a never ending stream of new models and rulebooks, that carry with them the implication that if we don’t buy and use these, we’re not playing it right. Well, good! [And I play a whole bunch of games that are not supported anymore, such as WFRP1e, and games that don’t need any support, such as, well, any boardgame in existence.]

Another related set of negative reactions can summarised as, ‘who the hell is this game aimed at? Not me, I’m waiting for the new Blood Angels Codex / Vampire Counts Army Book. Maybe,’ they say, ‘I’d be interested if I could use my existing miniatures in the game, or bring the Dreadfleet miniatures over to my WFB games…’

But that is the very attraction of Dreadfleet. It is a boxed game, complete in itself. Not a crippled version of a tabletop wargame, the way that starter sets for WFB – such as Battle for Skull Pass – have been. A game that involves no commitment to ‘the Hobby’ in order to play in the way that the designers intended. A game that you can play it with anyone who pops over, not only those with whom you share a crippling addiction to plastic crack.

So its not a revamp of Warhammer Quest. Sure, that’s a shame. So its not a new version of Blood Bowl – well, you can still get that for £50 from Games Workshop, so I don’t understand why anyone would want to risk ruining the game with a 're-implementation'. But it is a new game from Games Workshop that does not require the hundreds of pounds and hundreds of hours commitment that assembling and painting two armies (yes, two because that is what you need to play a game) and enough scenery to play a proper game of 40K or WFB.

It is strange to read people criticism Games Workshop because they are NOT maximising the amount of money they can squeeze from gamers. I not sure that it’s a bad business decision, as some seem to think – see Jake Thornton’s blog for an industry insider’s argument on the business case for Dreadfleet. Well, they certainly got £70 out of me. But let us imagine that it is a mistake, that those critics ‘worried’ about Games Workshop’s business plan are right. What conclusion should we come to? That the game designers at Games Workshop have created a cool game (or, at least, a game that they think is cool) and have managed to bring it to market against corporate demands to maximise their hold on the disposable income of British geek-dom. And that, surely, is a good thing.

Caveats – 1) the models could be riddled with miscasts. 2) The ruleset could be terrible. We’ll see in October.

[For an interesting discussion about visiting Games Workshop as an adult with a taste in the kind of games that GW have long abandoned, see Fighting Fantasist.]


  1. o its not a new version of Blood Bowl – well, you can still get that for £50 from Games Workshop

    I've not followed much of the gnashing and wailing about Dreadfleet, but even so I have noticed one or two people complaining that it's not a re-release of Blood Bowl. I love Blood Bowl and think it's one of the Evil Empire's best games, and as such I'm very pleased that it's still available to buy. So I really don't understand the moans about it not being released since, you know, it's already out.

  2. Kelvin, not only is Blood Bowl already available, you can buy a whole bunch of teams and star players, and download the 'living rulebook'. How's that for support?

    Sure, the teams are about £30 a pop, but that's it, you're done, you have a team. I've also seen some complaints that the Blood Bowl teams have been the same sculpts for the past 20 years. So? I'm not the only person who spends a lot of time trying to track down 'classic' miniatures on eBay. With Blood Bowl I can just order them from Games Workshop.

    By the way, I too love Blood Bowl - I originally got the edition with the polystyrene board, but that has disappeared somewhere down the line so I'll be trying to pick up a new set, or at least a board, blocking dice, and set of templates, sometime soon.

    I might well post pictures of my Karak Angaz Miners' Welfare team in a post or two - which, for all I said about classic miniatures, is largely made up of miniatures (donated by D) that are older than the current fierce and dynamic Dwarf sculpts available from Games Workshop.

  3. And where would you be without my kind donations! ;-)

  4. You're right, seventy quid's pretty orthodox for big box boardgames. That's why I don't buy them. Products like Dreadfleet are sealed away from me, partly by the cost and also by the desire to try before I buy - I'm not going to spend seventy quid on something I'm not sure about. The thing with board games, of course, is that if you're trying them, you know someone who owns them, and so... do you really need your own copy?

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