Saturday, July 4, 2015

One blogger's opinion on Age of Sigmar

Bottom-line up-front, Games Workshop made a necessary business decision strategically, but utterly botched it tactically.

I have been feeling increasingly despondent for my hobby over the last several months, first as the Warhammer End Times series suggested a total, destructive reboot for the Warhammer setting, and then over the last couple of weeks, as the leaks for Age of Sigmar (AoS) have hit the Internet.  Now that we see the official release, it's the nail in the coffin, on many levels.  Goodbye, Warhammer Fantasy.  I am sad to see you go.  It is the end of an era of my imaginative life.

I should say, I am basing my conclusion on one key assumption:  AoS is the replacement for Warhammer Fantasy.  There will not be a 9th Edition for the mass battle game.  AoS supposedly scales to be either a skirmish game or a mass battle game.  That said, even if GW surprises us with a 9th Edition, we can be pretty confident that the setting is dead and is not coming back.

I acknowledge the need for Games Workshop to overhaul Warhammer Fantasy.  From a business point-of-view, GW has been losing sales, and it is widely accepted that Fantasy has become a marginal revenue stream.  Some Internet pundits speculate that, percentage-wise, Fantasy brings in single digits, next to all other GW revenue streams.  The Chapterhouse case revealed to us that 40K brings in over 50%.  So when you account for other revenue streams, such as licensing games to Fantasy Flight Games, licensing for video games, novels, etc., it's easy to deduce that Fantasy indeed is low on the totem pole.

So, yes, given the SKU space that Fantasy demands, something needed to be done to consolidate the product, strengthen the IP, boost sales, and help it flow through the sales channels.  AoS accomplishes all of these things.  At the expense of Fantasy itself.

It is grossly transparent that the final form of AoS serves these business goals.  The design, the aesthetic, the rules -- everything stinks of a corporate template handed to the design team.  The  wellspring of creativity is sourced, or at least bounded, by committee in a conference room.

Part of this corporate decision was to replicate the formula for success that GW enjoys for 40K.  That's evident by the emergence of the new faction of Sigmarites.  They are blatantly an attempt to shoehorn Space Marine equivalents into Fantasy.

The reception of the Sigmarites on social media have been split.  I've been surprised how much of that split has been positive.  There's nothing wrong with a positive reception -- it's a matter of taste and opinion.  I suppose I expected more people to share my revulsion of the Sigmarite concept and aesthetic.  I'm fine if I'm in the minority.  I'll concede to the masses on that one.

But for me personally, I think the design caters to base, adolescent-male machismo.  Otherwise known as "big-dick envy".  "Look at me, I'm bigger and more powerful than the average 28mm model, I have impenetrable armor, and I'm basically an angel with a holy license to bust brains with my oversized hammer."  Banal.  One-dimensional.  Lowest common denominator.

My cynical view extends to some degree to Space Marines, but I can overlook that when it comes to Space Marines for a couple of reasons.  First, I have nostalgia for first seeing Space Marine models in the late 1980's, before the fiction overlaid them with trite, macho motivations.  I remember them simply as the cool sci-fi model, riffing off of Star Wars stormtroopers, pragmatically labeled, "Space Marine", with no other connotation, other than what I myself could imagine for that model's adventures.  I still like those models.  Second, while I'm critical of the general flavor of the fiction as being basically a pro-wrestling cartoon, the 40K setting and its imagery benefits from years of investment from multiple authors and artists.  The setting and imagery is rich enough for everyone to find something compelling, even cynical bastards like me.

So back to Sigmarites.  Yes, GW is marketing to 14-year olds, not 40-year olds.  That is a mistake which I'll get to later, but let's address the 14-year old market on its own.  GW is betting that their brand new, "original" (and therefore IP-protected) fantasy setting and imagery will appeal to the average 14-year-old.  But kids these days (ha, ha) have both the benefit and curse of being inundated with scores of fantasy settings.  Videogame titles, Magic: The Gathering, World of Warcraft, role-playing games, boardgames, miniatures games, books, movies.  The average 14-year-old has seen it all, a 100 times over.  The AoS setting is just another entry in a crowded field.  A kid is going to digest it in 10 minutes and then move on to the next colorful distraction.

Was the original Warhammer world any better on that count?  I think so.  Sure, it was based on Tolkien, Moorcock, and Lieber, but as much grief as we gave GW for riffing off other properties, that's what gave it its strength.  Warhammer's origin was coupled with the fantasy settings that launched the modern fantasy genre.  The hundreds of games and settings that now exist trace their lineage to those very few original creations.  Sure, the Warhammer world was derivative, but it could still boast being 2nd-generation, not 12th or 20th.

And, Warhammer benefited from over three decades of development, where it carved out its very own character and flavor, even though it was built on Tolkienesque tropes.  I imagine a 14-year-old can sense this richness and find it compelling enough to see it stand out from the crowd.  And the success of the Lord of the Rings movies provides an even firmer frame-of-reference, to make the Warhammer setting feel like a familiar world.  The Age of Sigmar setting, on the other hand, is a 20th-generation, boardroom-contrived invention, that competes with every other disposable setting on the market.

OK, so one reason to create a new setting is so that GW can protect its intellectual property (IP).  I would argue that Warhammer Fantasy succeeded just fine for 30+ years, despite its weak IP.  However, I already noted that Warhammer's percent contribution to sales is insufficient.  Will strengthening the IP improve that revenue percentage?  Not likely.  Strengthening the IP is motivated by something independent of percent sales.  After all, GW is strengthening the IP of its cash-cow, Warhammer 40K, its 50%-sales golden-boy.  No, GW wants to strengthen its IP across-the-board, across all of its products, for legal reasons, not to improve percent-sales.

GW protects IP in order to prevent piracy.  I respect IP, and I detest piracy.  However, there's a point of diminishing returns.  At some point, a company is going to lose more money protecting itself than it actually loses to piracy.  Which means a company should accept some amount of piracy and just press on with business.  GW was plenty successful, without having to go the extreme of re-branding the Imperial Guard to be Adeptus Militarum (can you really enforce copyright on faux-Latin?) or renaming elf-kind to be the ludicrously copyrightable Aelfs.  Again, superficial "creativity", driven by the board-room, not the creative spirit.

So, it's easy for me to be critical.  How would I have done things differently?

Well, actually, I would have done things very similarly to what GW did with Age of Sigmar, just not to the extreme that they did it.  It's in the extremes where I think GW is shooting themselves in the foot.

Warhammer has two barriers to entry: cost and time.

To counter these barriers to entry, I've said for years that Warhammer needed a skirmish game.  A skirmish game would make the game accessible to new players in terms of cost and time; it would give GW the opportunity to modernize its ruleset; and it would stake its claim in the nascent-at-the-time, but now dominant, skirmish-game market.

But I said that GW needed a skirmish game as an augmentation to the mass-battle game, not as a replacement.  A skirmish game could serve as a gateway game to Warhammer Fantasy.  And even in its own right, a skirmish game can succeed as a revenue generator.  You don't have to buy deep (i.e. more units).  You can buy wide (i.e. more factions).  This model is working for Infinity and Malifaux.  Players don't stop with one faction.  They collect multiple factions.  They buy more stuff.  The skirmish model works as a business model.  Add to that the temptation to eventually buy ranks upon ranks of duplicate models for a mass-combat game, and, yes, you've got a money-maker either way!

But to replace the mass-battle game with a skirmish game shoots both of GW's feet.  One foot:  denying the opportunity to buy boatloads of models for an army-scale game (assuming those SKU counts continue the current downsizing trend).  Second foot:  like the world setting, a skirmish game on its own must now compete with other skirmish games that have found firm footing in the market.  AoS is just another contender, and not a very good one, given its rules.

Ah, the rules.  Another case of extremes.  Yes, absolutely, the antiquated, bloated rules needed streamlining.  The literal tomes of knowledge needed to play Warhammer and Warhammer 40K contribute to the 'time' barrier of entry.  Modern rulesets are cleaner, tighter, and more elegant.  And it is now common practice to offer core rules that are digestible, accessible, and easy-to-learn, while augmented by rules in profile cards (war scrolls in AoS's case) which add the necessary depth to the game.  With the rules on cards, the rules are now distributed and immediately reference-able.

But only 4 pages of core rules?  I spent 3 years trimming my 80-page rule-set, Mini Mayhem, and I made it down to 10.  And that 10 pages is only sufficient to demo the game.  Malifaux made it down to 73 pages.  Deadzone made it to 50.  Wrath of Kings made it down to 18.  In my opinion, Wrath of Kings pretty much reaches the practical limit.

I am a huge advocate for streamlining rules.  But AoS achieved streamlined rules by oversimplifying the mechanics.  For example, they conveniently eliminate the traditional bugbears of line-of-sight and cover.  Genius?  No.  Evasive and corporate.  All traditional terrain, like hills and forests, are just treated generically.  To the point that a unit that is standing on a hill or standing on a wall gets a cover bonus.  What?  But not if the unit is on the other side of said hill or wall.  Hunh?  But, hey, terrain sold by Games Workshop have special rules.  And copyrightable names.  So you should really use those.

There are plenty of other omissions or gloss-overs that beg an FAQ, but probably the most controversial "innovation" is the lack of a points system.  This concept smacks of Jervis Johnson's crusade to remind people to "just have fun" with the game.  I'm a filthy-casual, narrative gamer.  I subscribe to Jervis' philosophy, when I have the luxury to play a game with a like-minded friend.  But this strategy disenfranchises the majority of gamers.

Most gamers:

  • Expect and want points systems.  For them, the strategic, between-game list-building is as much a part of the enjoyment of the game as actually playing the game.  Like deck-building for Magic.
  • Are accustomed to points systems and find anything else foreign and unsettling, i.e. they'll look for something else that's in their comfort-zone instead.
  • Use the points system to quickly and easily establish the social contract for a pick-up game, either with a friend or with a stranger.

GW is doing two things here.  One thing is to impose their philosophy of casual gaming onto their player base.  The other thing is to recuse themselves of balancing the game.  Let's look at each of these Things in turn.

Thing 1.  Casual/narrative gaming versus competitive/tournament gaming.  I belong to the former camp, but I learned something important from Mike Brandt, founder of the NOVA Open convention.  Mike strives to offer multiple formats for his convention in order to satisfy all gamer types.  He states that designing a game to satisfy the tournament gamer will satisfy both the tournament gamer and the casual gamer.  But it doesn't work in reverse.  I'm convinced his statement is accurate.

A points system brings two players into the same ballpark towards having a fair game.  Within that ballpark, there's enough slop for the extremes of the two player-types to diverge, but on-average, two players can expect a decent match-up.  The points system supports organized play, and it likewise enables casual players to show up at a game store and find pick-up games with strangers.

However, if the rules are open-ended and geared towards the casual gamer, the players must spend time up-front establishing their social contract.  Organized play, tournament or otherwise, can't afford the time to accomplish this arrangement.  The tournament organizers must augment the base rules with rules of their own in order to pre-arrange the social contract.

A points system is a yardstick on which both player-types can rely to engage in fair play.  A loosey-goosey system of Calvin-ball serves neither player-type.  Except those few, rare players who want a game of Calvin-ball with one another.  However, most players aren't entering a 3- to 4-hour game, having invested hours of prep time, just to "wing it".

Thing 2.  In a perverse sense, eliminating a points system actually "solves" the problem of game balance.  For the designers.  Eliminating the points system shifts the responsibility of balance onto the players.  Now, I actually support this concept in part.  I contend that it is impossible to balance a miniatures game.  Therefore, the design must accommodate imbalance, not by attempting the impossible task of balancing the factions, but through other means.

Malifaux solves this conundrum by shifting the responsibility of game-balance partially to the players.  But Malifaux shifts the responsibility responsibly.  The game designers for Malifaux still share responsibility for balancing the factions as best they can.  And Wyrd crowdsources play-testing to the community.  Wyrd designers are doing their part, and Wyrd achieves massive play-testing.  From that point on, the rules force the players to do their part.

Players select their own missions from a pool of options.  Once each player knows their mission (and possibly their opponent's), each player selects his or her skirmish crew.  Malifaux is one of very few games that define this sequence for game setup.  This sequence enables a player to define his or her own win conditions, with some knowledge of the competition.

If a player is pounded into the dirt, a player must look to their own decisions to evaluate why that curb-stomp happened.  The player can't blame the game design or blame overpowered units or blame a win-at-all-costs opponent.  At least not entirely.  No one in Malifaux complains about game balance.  Even a filthy-casual like me asks instead, "What can I do differently next time?".

AoS, on the other hand, places all of the responsibility for game balance in the players hands.  The players must decide what determines a fair matchup.  The players have no guidelines to use except intuition and what is likely a flimsy social contract.  Gamers rely on rules to establish the social contract.  Sure, imaginative players with time on their hands can define their own rules and social contract, but commercial games solve that problem for them.  It's part of what the players are paying for, as consumers.  It's an expected, modern efficiency, like using money instead of barter.

GW abandons their responsibility to provide these rules as a part of their product.  Many, if not most players, will reject this game out-of-hand, simply because the rules and thus the game are incomplete and inconvenient.

GW believes the majority of their player-base consists of casual garage-gamers, not tournament players.  Hard to say, even for GW, who pride themselves for not doing market research (according to the preamble to one of the recent financial reports).  But either way, abandoning the points system disenfranchises most types of gamers, except for the type that prefers blatant narrative, asymmetrical games.  I'm comfortable in that zone personally, and many of my friends are as well.  But I believe we're the minority.  As a business course-of-action, GW needs to appeal the majority.  And if they serve the majority, they just so happen to serve the minority as well.  Besides, we narrative gamers will craft our asymmetrical, Calvin-ball games regardless.

Another controversial development for the rules are the physical "enactments" to gain in-game modifiers, e.g. dancing and such.  This community has struggled for years to overcome a geek stereotype and gain credibility as near-mainstream entertainment.  Players will not be happy to publicly display sub-juvenile behavior, as mandated by the rules.  Yeah, that's great that GW wants Warhammer to be light-hearted and fun.  I think the player base can handle that part on their own, without having it shoved down our throats with a sense-of-humor geared towards entertaining 6-year-olds.

OK, I've been pretty heavy-handed.  I would like to add a positive note.  I am happy to report that friends in my gaming group are enthused to play Age of Sigmar.  I am glad that they are excited for the game, and I do not wish to diminish their enthusiasm.  I find their excitement encouraging.  It reminds me to keep my options open and to keep an open mind.

For instance, I can continue playing 8th Edition.  After all, the Triumph & Treachery variant was the most fun I've ever had playing the game, and I would play that game at the drop of a hat.  I can try out Kings of War.  I can design my own game.  Oh wait, I already did that.  Back when I was disenchanted with 6th Edition.  So I can resurrect Mini Mayhem, the best designed game in the history of wargaming, and continue painting and playing with my models.

I'm just saddened that the Warhammer setting has been destroyed.

So if I was GW, what would I have done differently?

I would have consolidated armies, similar to what they've done, if not identically (with the exception of the all-Elf alliance; I would have divvied those races among the new consolidations).  Consolidating armies aids the SKU issue.  If the SKU's are that out-of-control, retrench some of them to direct order.  Keep the reseller channels active by providing them with the basic units, the stuff that everybody needs for the core of their respective army.

Next, I would have expanded on the existing Warhammer world.  There were already rich reserves of creativity in the "stubs" of foreign lands of Araby, Nippon, Ind, Cathay, Albion, Estonia, etc.  Design a core human sprue that can be tailored with expansion sets for each nation.  The expansion sets would add nation-specific weapons, outfits, and armor.  Add monsters and special units by, again, maintaining them in-house via direct-order, instead of crowding SKUs on the store shelves.

But as it stands, the Warhammer world is dead.  30+ years of story and creativity is cast to the bargain bin.  In its place is the Age of Stinkmar.  Sorry, I just came up with that, and it's late, and I'm feeling catty.

Said slightly more seriously, Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K define Games Workshop's identity.   Destroying Warhammer Fantasy is akin to shooting off half their face.

24 comments:

  1. You hit the nail on the head, Shades. It's not so much a rules set as it is a suggestion a framework of a possible rules set.

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  2. It's a bummer. Nothing I've heard has any _soul_ to it, you know? One of the reasons Warhammer was so successful is that, at it's start and at its heart, it was people throwing stuff they thought was cool at the wall and seeing what stuck... this feels so designed-by-committee it makes my teeth ache.

    I want it to be successful, and I want it to not suck, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm going to be disappointed on both counts and that a lot of people in Nottingham are going to lose their jobs over the decision to make this thing that wasn't theirs.

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  3. You reminded me of my plans last year to start a Cathay army, and I'm sad for the likely dwindling of fan-created content. I can relate to your emotional loss--I was crushed when Spartan discontinued The Uncharted Seas, my first love of miniature gaming. Maybe your perspective is best--WFB is now consigned to the same dead games closet to join BattleFleet Gothic, Mordheim, Confrontation, and Ex Illis. But the silver lining is that 8th edition may evolve with fans over the coming years and may become something better than what the board room directors at GW could have done with a 9th edition.

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  4. You are very correct on most of this. One thing that I feel isn't mentioned is the fact that this is also not supporting the independent stores that carry their products. Instead of coming up with reasonably priced rule sets that can support the stores that get their product out to the people they give it away and say the hundreds of dollars of stuff we have on our shelves is now worthless. The other side of this is they are trying to "merge" the fantasy and 40K brands, which appeals to no one. If people wanted to use space marines in a skirmish game they already have that option this doesn't help them keep any diversity which is paramount in sustainability.

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  5. This is very well written, and takes reality in account for the business side of GW (which a lot of rants/posts are not doing). They are going to protect their IP so they don't get in another "Space Marine" or Chapterhouse type situation (and really, GW "won" that case but they lost on a ton of points. That case taught them the things they had to do, now, to protect themselves again in the future (I guess even lawyers can learn ;) ). And I agree, a skirmish game to "complement" the main game would have been my preferred method. I do see some of the advantages from their side....new playground, new factions that we don't have to introduce into the already detailed world that don't match up, etc. Agreed on the points values (and I too am a narrative player who occasionally plays tournaments). Its the one thing I can't figure out....unless they are going to release a "tournaments" book or a WFB 9th later on (and I can see the latter, but not the former). But yeah....I still can't believe this is the end. #RIPWarhammer One interesting thing, Jervis was the one who first started the old Grand Tournaments (AFAIR), but I think he was a bit surprised on how it changed things when they were made "O-F-F-I-C-I-A-L". I know it all started as a GM'd game, and to pull back from some of that stuff I can see him pushing the "friendly matches" version hard. But no points?

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    1. Kaleb, you're correct. Jervis did launch the GTs. And then he regretted it so much, he published a mea culpa in The Citadel Journal #48 entitled, "Points Values -- Who Needs 'Em?!?" ....pretty telling, given the article was published in 2002....!

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  6. Really great article, Shades. As a tournament player primarily (and 40k), AoS bothers me more as writing on the wall than as the game itself and the seemingly flawed conclusions GW makes about its consumer base.

    That said, I'm also not completely doom and gloom on the game. There is an element of the game that does allow for balance in that you have no list. The issue is, this requires massive collections to be on hand. Good in theory for GW, but unwieldy for most. It also doesn't answer the social contract issue completely, as I can show up to a game, see my opponent's available collection lacks certain elements, and counter it.

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  7. Agree wholeheartedly. GW made an attempt to improve IP protections by destroying the previous setting and boost sales by adding a derivative of Space Marines to Fantasy (the almost literal Angels of Death now). Both mistakes in my mind. Tossing out the old setting and creating the "new setting" is still derivative. Sure, the names are different but calling a lizardman a Seraphon isn't really a good protection. He's still clearly a lizardman. The Sigmarities, storm born, whatever, I simply have no words for. It's such a blatant attempt to cash in on the Space marine crowd that, if I still played 40k, I might even be insulted.

    The four page rules aren't terrible but could be expanded to 8-12 and probably work fine. It wouldn't be a terribly deep game but at least the rules would be clear. The warscrolls I was actually impressed by other than the complete silliness embedded into some of the rules (unnecessary, if I want humor built into the game structure I'll go play Cards Against Humanity). I just don't like that army building is now a negotiation with my opponent as it completely kills pick up games with random players.

    Again, great article. It says most of what I've thought about this release. GW can call Age of Sigmar Warhammer, but, they've sucked the Fantasy out of the game to me. Age of Sigmar just doesn't feel like Warhammer, the game of Fantasy Battles. It feels like they took Warhammer 40k and now we have Warhammer 10K.

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  8. I really thought that the 4-pages of rules was just a quickstart ruleset tailored for what was in the starter box. It seems that's not the case. That little bland 4 pages is IT. Really?

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  9. Thanks for the dialogue, everyone, and the positive feedback. It's great to hear other people's thoughts, and I appreciate everyone staying on an even keel, even if I listed a little on occasion!

    There may be some hope on one front, the prospect for the points system. The latest rumors suggest GW plans to publish scenarios which offer narrative-oriented and balanced match-ups, organized by war-scroll. There's even a rumor on Bell of Lost Souls that GW will release a book of scenarios, lists, and fluff, to support a world-wide campaign. The expectation is that the book will provide enough structure to support organized play, re-establishing the social contract for tournaments and pick-up games alike.

    Even if the rumors are true, GW could have done themselves a favor and publicized such a plan, rather than suffer the negative community backlash, the rage-quitting, and the damage to their potential sales.

    Maybe I'll eventually try out AoS and judge it on its own merit as a skirmish game. I do fancy an easy way to bring my GW models to the tabletop, and I do want a skirmish option. But I still want my rank-and-file, mass-combat game. And I still want my old Warhammer world back!

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  10. Shades I'm with you.

    I want the old Warhammer back. Until GW realizes their mistake and brings it back this is going to be a flop.

    I know so many gamers are not going to buy any models for this unless its to use them for another system if they look cool.

    We will see where this goes but GW is stubborn and won't let this defeat disapeer to quickly so I predict it will be a couple of years before they try to change it back or give us a new panic edition.

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  11. A well written article and far more thought out than what I wrote. You put into words much of what has been troubling me lately. Thank you Shades.

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    1. Also- does it seem like they took the 3d models of already existing models and just modified them to make the new stuff rather than actually pay someone to design all new stuff. look at the Hellbrute like monster the chaos side has.

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    2. I'm glad I could offer a voice, Bob. I'm not always the most coherent of voices, so I'm glad to hear my words resonated with you and other folks. I really appreciate the feedback. It makes spending the better part of a weekend day writing the post worth it!

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  12. Very well written and sums up my feeling on the situation exactly. Thanks for the help with organising thoughts on the matter.

    There is one more thing nagging me. I think one of the most blatant snubs to the community was the End Times series, where it would now appear that the community was used as crowd funding to support the development AoS and to steady the share holders. It promised a verdant game which would stand the test of time, but was given no time to establish within the community before being overwritten. There is an argument that it leaves a legacy for 8th players, but lets be honest if that game survives it will be purely as the core game or an adaptation of the core. Not the OTT rules from End Times.

    I don't even know how to summarise the betrayal over that business decision. Either way I'm looking at other systems such as malifaux and returning to the unsupported specialist games. I'm hoping my gaming community adopts Kings if War for my large scale battling.

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  13. Great read, the one thing I disagree with is the idea that many 14-years could appreciate the depth and layers of the old Warhammer world. This kind of depth, of texture, takes a certain kind of sophistication that comes with age, with maturity.

    I mean, many young people find Tolkien boring, because they have already seen and read a dozen rip-offs, all with better action, shinier castles, more dramatic magic. In comparison Tolkien's books seem bland, boring. Their hidden depth, their flow of language, their poetry, their mythic themes are for many teenagers exactly that, hidden.

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    1. I would argue that the typical 14-year old who gets into this game (or tabletop gaming in general) isn't your stereotyped teenager. I started the game around 10 years old, and consumed the fluff and backstory ravenously. I might not have caught all the references, but I always appreciated the interconnected nature of the worlds and room for fan theory. If anything I think your average adult gamer is more apt to ignore or overlook fluff because they have more ready access to miniatures to play; as a kid I had more access to the books than models to play with.

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    2. I can't claim to know anything about the zeitgeist of the modern pre-teen, but drawing from my own experience (so long ago...), I have almost the identical experience as Evan. I read the books around 5th grade, and I was totally enamored with them and regarded them as something that stood apart from everything else. As a kid, I couldn't read more than one book in the Thomas Covenant series or the Sword of Shannara series, before I tossed aside the series, writing it off as a lame knock-off to "the trilogy that ruled them all".

      Based on just that one super-biased and out-dated data point, I'd say a 10- to 14-year-old is certainly capable of appreciating the depth and quality of Lord of the Rings, even if it's more by gut than by experience.

      But I had a vastly smaller pool of sources to inspire me. That's where I think the main difference lies. Exposure, not maturity.

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    3. While I too devoured the background and hunted lore ravenously in my youth, I think that something important is that it was *OUR* youth, not what's going on today. I mean, what else did I have time for but to read a bunch of esoteric stuff? I even stayed up super late in college debating narrative themes and fluff with friends. But "time is money" is even more ingrained now, with every minute of the day a competition for our attention (already mentioned in the blog post) , whether through analog gaming, video gaming, reading, internet, and various types of social media.

      But I just wanted to say that this was a great read and I think well thought out.

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    4. Thank you, Simon!

      Yeah, I've occasionally remarked how appreciating music is along these lines as well. I used to "set aside time", not even aware that's what I was doing, to listen to an LP vinyl record. And that's all I was doing. Well, maybe admire the cover art on a spacious "canvas" and read the liner notes and lyrics. But listening to an album was a dedicated activity. Now, it's always background music on shuffle-play. There's just a big difference in consumption habits these days.

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  14. I am hearing multiple anecdotal reports of female partners being convinced to try out AoS. Some are actually *requesting* to try it out. They tell me it's because the rules are accessible and more straightforward. So, good on GW for that success. I feel like my long-running recommendation to at least *add* a stream-lined skirmish game is vindicated.

    There is one counter-case, where a female feels disenfranchised by one of the silly rules that grant a bonus only if the player has a beard. Arguably, that discrimination goes beyond gender discrimination and is more accurately beardless-person discrimination. ;-)

    I jest. I think that rule does reveal a mindset that is endemic in GW, a mindset that presumes that the game is directed towards only a specific demographic. A demographic that excludes 50% of the planet. That's a very poor marketing strategy for any business. Well, all businesses except athletic-cup manufacturers, I suppose.

    I'm also hearing how folks are easily and quickly establishing narrative-oriented games by simple 'agreement' -- by simply applying Wheaton's Rule ("don't be a dick"). These folks are doing just fine without a points system, and they say that the approach is liberating. They are simply agreeing to a game setup which they expect to be a fair and/or interesting game. As I alluded to in my original post, this is actually how I prefer to operate. So I find that part of the system attractive and almost tempting to play.

    I'm just skeptical whether a no-points approach will succeed for the majority of the gamer community, as a business strategy. While I'm skeptical, I do hope it succeeds. I think this is the only opportunity, and GW is the only company, to pull it off -- to introduce this paradigm-shift of achieving "balance" without the dependency on a points-system.

    By the way, I say paradigm-shift, recognizing that many historical players have always operated this way. It's a radical concept more for the non-historical gamers.

    Also, back to my point that I believe wargames are impossible to balance, points systems have always garnered complaints of imbalance throughout their entire history anyway.

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  15. I firmly agree with your comment, "The wellspring of creativity is sourced, or at least bounded, by committee in a conference room." They didn’t just sell models and rulebooks: they cultivated, sustained, and sold us on a community. Only cutting-edge business schools understand that accomplishment. GW applied an antiquated black-box calculus to an incomparable and dynamic consumer base. The IP protection initiatives illustrate their incompetence when you consider the fact they sold us green stuff, provided extra bits in our blister sets, and explicitly encouraged us to make conversions in the rulebooks. Moreover, changing the names for IP purposes (like Aelf or Orruk) in a universally understood fantasy genre is like changing universal monsters to names like Dragula or Frankensteen. It is a petty attempt to control branding in something that was never theirs to begin with; instances like this fosters residual mistrust amongst the gaming community.

    But nothing has engendered more mistrust than the advent of AoS. The recent introduction has also seriously challenged my understanding of the corporate/gamer cohabitation. When AoS first launched, I thought the WFB community would persist without interruption: maintaining its resilience to external pressure and arbitrary changes. As much as I would like to be positive, I feel for the large part I am wrong. People will always play 8th edition but securing a game worldwide will no longer be guaranteed with the same degree of certainty. The community is quite frail without some centralized coordinator. GW has dictated the course of change and we are now along for the ride. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl stated, “When we are no longer able to change a situation–we are forced to change ourselves.” I’ve discovered the change in myself along with the silver lining. I am now playing Malifaux.

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    1. I agree, Unknown. GW has ceded its leadership role as a binding force for a massive component of the hobby's player-base. That player-base is disbanding. Some are gravitating to other games; some are abandoning the hobby completely. Some are even playing Age of Sigmar. But AoS is now just another option among many other games -- it is not the hobby leader that Warhammer Fantasy was.

      I think this event marks a new era in the hobby. In a sense, we're in a golden age, in terms of choice. But I think the amount of choice works against the hobby as much as it works for it. The player communities are fractured across multiple game systems. It becomes harder to establish and grow a local community for any given game system.

      These conditions may eventually force a consolidation towards fewer games. It's really hard to know who will come out on top, though. There are so many strong contenders. Privateer Press, Wyrd Miniatures, Corvus Belli, Spartan Games, Hawk Wargames, Mantic, Cool Mini or Not -- just to name some off the top of my head.

      I guess another direction the market could take is to actually see the player-base grow to accommodate all these strong properties. That's viable, given how I see the miniatures-gaming conventions continue to grow and diversify. It will be very interesting to observe how the industry shakes out over the next couple of years.

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