The Arrival of a new army book for Warhammer Orcs & Goblins has been met with much excitement and a little cynicism. It's the first new book for Warhammer 8th edition and the first printed in full colour and hard back. I have seen the book up close and it's certainly lushly printed and produced (although the large format, light page count gives in the feel of a Christmas annual). One advantage of hard back is that you can leave the book open on a particular page without having to break the spine. At the same time the price has gone up from £17.50 to £22.50, making it Games Workshop's most expensive army book ever, a price certain to be matched by future books.
While all this has been going on, Mantic Games have released the army list for their new range of Abyssal Dwarves. It's one page long and can be downloaded for free from their website.
If I stopped writing here and left the obvious implication hanging then I would fully expect a raft of comments from people telling me how much they like big shiny rulebooks, how they add to the gaming experience and they love reading through the background drooling over the pictures, not to mention the lovely new book smell that can never be reproduced in a download.*
There is no denying the appeal of a nicely produced rule book. Enough of my treasured wargaming memories are tied up in the thrill of pooring over page after page of charts and tables, evocative world descriptions and endless pictures of battles I can only dream of recreating. I still remember devouring every last page of the 4th edition Warhammer Armies: Orcs & Goblins, right down to the mail order catalogue pages in the back. I acknowledge that, to some extent, my cynicism about the new book stems from the fact that this is the fourth Orc & Goblin army book to be released since I started playing Warhammer and for me, very little of the material is entirely new.
But at same time, I have tried to consider things from the perspective of a new player. In order to start an Orc & Goblin army in Warhammer 8th edition you have to spend £67.50 before you even get a single miniature on the table (£45 for the rulebook £22.50 for the Army book). In contrast, Kings of War, Mantic's game, is available for free and a printed copy is handed out with any reasonably substantial purchase.
I find myself wondering how I would feel if I had just started gaming now. Mantic have nothing as evocative as the Warhammer world background to draw on, their background consists of a few paragraphs on a website and a couple of magazine articles, nor do they have anything that matches the sheer impact of the Arachnarok Spider. But you need a lot of models before you can use the Spider in a game, and with Mantic I get a lot of models for my money and don't have to spend anything on rules.
I think of my little brother, just turned 15. He loves rulebooks, devouring them with enthusiasm I can't match any more. He falls asleep reading through them. But he owns almost none. Of the many games he plays, Anima Tactics, Infinity, Malifaux, Secrets of the Third Reich, the only books he bought himself are his Warhammer Army books and he had to be pushed hard to get those. Otherwise, he borrows my copies. Why? Because if he has the £15, £20, £30 or even £45 required for a rulebook, he'd rather spend it on models.
Of course, not every 15 year old has access to the library of a 31 year wargames addict, but I do wonder how many of them would make the calculation outlined above if given the choice (not to mention how many would just say forget it and buy a new X-Box game). Might their be some logic in a two tear rule distribution system. GW already includes cut down rule book in the Isle of Blood starter set, would their be some sense in making that available separately?
I don't think the era of the nice shiny rulebook is over by any means. But given Games Workshop's explicit focus on the younger end of the Wargaming market, it's method of distributing rules seems to belong to an earlier age.
*Actually I fully expect to get these comments anyway. If I wanted people to read what I had written before commenting I wouldn't be writing on the Internet.