Tuesday 6 July 2010

Warhammer - past caring?

The imminent arrival of a new edition of Warhammer has once again prompted varied discussion among gamers (i.e. arguments), ranging from the genuinely excited through to the actively angry who insist they will never play again, around to the pitied scorn of the group of gamers who, apparently gave it up years ago and yet are still incapable of talking about anything else. Previously, I have greeted new editions with cautious optimism tempered by a degree of cynicism that has matured with age, or decrepitude. But this time, I am finding it hard to care.

Games Workshop finds itself in an interesting, but difficult position as a games company. The wise old sage / drunken old man (take your pick) of fantasy wargaming companies, it is now older than much of its customer base (including me, thank goodness). Warhammer is over a quarter of a century old, has passed through seven editions, with the page count of the rule book increasing each time. Unlike video games, wargame rules do not develop as technology changes, unless someone invents a polyhedron with an as yet unknown number of sides (roll on the d15), so there is no inherent need for new editions. The endless cycle of renewal into which Games Workshop has got themselves trapped it is a factor of the age of the game.

In a way, they're victims of their own success. Most miniature companies die a death after a few years, meaning that most games get through one or two editions at most. The second being an opportunity to tidy up issues no-one thought of when the original rules were written. In the case of Warhammer the motivation has become entirely different, the need to maintain the momentum of the game.

This can be seen in the various smaller games Games Workshop released over the years, Blood Bowl, Necromunda, Mordheim, Inquistor, the pattern is always the same. The rule book and first set of models were greeted with a flurry of enthusiasm and blanket coverage in White Dwarf. Demo games were run, sales made and more models steadily released over the next year to eighteen months. As often as not a supplement appeared, prompting more models. Then, as ideas ran out, coverage and new models slip along with sales and the game is pushed to the back of the warehouse before being flogged off half price in 'mega-sales'. Or at least that was the case, until Games Workshop moved all these games into one area and focused on Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000 and Lord of the Rings as their core business.

The problem for Warhammer is that if the releases dry up, the momentum dies and so does the interest. This can be postponed for a while with the release of novelty supplements, like Mighty Empires, new scenery, campaigns and even whole new armies. But only so many new armies can be sustained and retiring them creates bad feeling and makes players wary of the next new idea. The solution, a new edition and an excuse to begin the cycle all over again re-releasing armies and producing new models, or rather new versions of the old models.

Not that there's anything really wrong with this as a marketing strategy. If you have no truly new product, the only solution is to find a way to repackage the old. I'm not knocking Games Workshop for behaving like a business. What I am saying is that I am past the point where I can get excited about it.

The new edition has already spurred a new wave of interest and the arguments about rule changes have already begun. Which armies will be wrecked? Which will be elevated? How many new models and of what kind will be needed to keep armies viable? Will this edition save or destroy the game? All of which obscures the main point. It doesn't matter.

No edition of Warhammer had been perfectly fair and balanced. Doubtless if they had worked on it the design studio could have produced such a game by incremental refinements since 2nd edition, but that has never been the goal. New editions do one of two things, shake up the game radically (but not too radically, don't want to drive away the players) or tweak them slightly to maintain momentum and justify some new army books. They don't improve the balance of the game. They rarely even make it better. Up the magic levels, allow two ranks to fight, improve characters, weaken characters, emphasise infantry or cavalry, move the magic phase. In the long run it all evens out. A substantial consensus has formed around the idea that some armies are too powerful in seventh edition, but there is much less consensus about which (Daemons, Dark Elves and Vampires are popular but by no means universal). With the new rules something else will move to the fore and this will be tweaked with the release of ninth edition no later than 2015 (assuming Nottingham doesn't sink into the sea).

The point is, new editions don't make the game better and aren't supposed to. They generate interest and justify new products, that's it. By all means buy the new book, play the new game and enjoy those elements you find appealing, I probably will, but don't ascribe greater importance to the event than it deserves. A new edition is here, another one will be along in a minute, we should be past the point when we are shocked that the sun rises in the morning.

Monday 14 June 2010

What future for wargaming?

When it comes down to it, this hobby is ultimately about playing with toy soldiers. However much we try to dress it up, a direct line can be drawn from the group of kids playing with action figures, making gun noises and arguing that your man didn't shoot theirs because theirs jumped out of the way at the last second, to gaming clubs and tournaments. The only change is that the arguments that my soldier couldn't be hit because he's a ninja and can dodge all guns has been replaced by long, weary message board arguments about game balance.

The more knowing and, usually, experienced wargamers realise this. Some even go so far as to describe their hobby as 'playing with toy soldiers.' While many teenage gamers loudly insist that they collect miniatures, the truth is that for many, if not most, of us wargaming was an excuse not to stop playing with toys when we reached our teenage years.

The reason I raise this well known, if not always admitted, truth is the toy industry is changing and, it is probable, that this will have profound implications for the wargaming hobby. Wargamers who are also parents may be aware that children are losing interest in toys at a younger and younger age. This is not, despite what the tabloid press might believe, because children are becoming delinquent alcoholics and drug users before they reach double figures, but more because of video games. Take a look at this report, it makes for interesting reading.

This is an interesting and potential worrying trend. If much of the hobby is made up of toy soldier collectors who never quite grew up, or rather didn't see growing up as a reason to get rid of their toys, a generation with limited interest in toys presents a poor pool to draw recruits. But the implications might be greater even than that.

The 1980s and 1990s produced a generation of children who wanted tactile contact with their heroes. The advent of Star Wars, which spawned a more extensive range of toys than had ever been seen before, and the relaxation of the US law that prevented toy companies funding cartoons (effectively allowing 25 minute toy adverts) enabled children to acquire toy versions of just about every major character going. Children wanted to be able to touch, hold, interact and collect their heroes. I can't speak for every child of the 1980s, but, for me, having a decent range of toys was an essential prerequisite for me taking an interest in a range of characters. The principle reason I never became very attached to Marvel comics was because, in the UK at least, their were no action figures until the 1990s. I wanted direct, physical contact with my heroes.

But we are now producing a generation of children who have grown up with video and computer games. Or at least have grown up with half decent ones in which the on the screen characters can be recognised as being something. I grew up with the Spectrum 48K and, as good as some games were, the appeal of moving single coloured blobs around the screen was never likely to be a substitute for my Optimus Prime toy. In contrast, children now are used to characters all but indistinguishable from the ones they see on TV being directly under their control. Their ways of playing have changed and they have a less tactile relationship with the characters.

Though 'less tactile' is possibly not the right phrase to use. They expect tactile contact through, controller, mouse key board and, increasingly, touch screen. This article suggests that this new generation will expect their entertainment to be interactive and that traditional television and film may well be in trouble.

For a long time computer and video games were dismissed by the wargaming community. Games Workshop famously referred to them as a 'pass time rather than a hobby.' Which was reasonable. Video games were fun, but failed to replicate the sense of control or achievement experienced by wargamers assembling and painting an entire army. Developments in video gaming technology, however, may mean this is no longer the case.

Take World of Warcraft, famously addictive time sponging MMORPG. The scope of player behaviour in this virtual environment is vast. As well as creating and advancing their characters, players can form guilds with other players, creating badges and charters, acquire through combat, quests, purchase or trade hundreds of different items of equipment and customise their characters appearance endlessly. The game now features items of equipment that have no effect on the way the character plays, only on their appearance. When 'the Wrath of the Liche King' expansion was released, the ability to customise haircuts was trumpeted almost as loudly as the new continent. The bottom line is that players can spend as much time customising their characters as the wargame armies.

Games that more directly compete with traditional wargaming are also moving in this direction. Warhammer 40,000 spin off Dawn of War II allows players to design colour schemes for their online armies. It's no match for painting a whole army yourself, but how long, in a world where computer sculpting is already becoming standard, before whole wargame armies can be created and painted from scratch before being launched into a virtual environment without any physical model ever existing?

Such a development would probably be no substitute for traditional wargaming to most of the current generation of wargamers. But what about a generation that has no expectation of being able to physically hold their toys? Or is used to an entirely different method of interaction with them?

So what does this mean for traditional wargaming? I think it's in no danger of dying out yet. But we could see its audience skewing older and more specialised. Just as the comic industry has moved to favouring older and more die-hard fans as its audience has shrunk. Meanwhile, the mainstream may have to find new ways to appeal to new audiences, just as comic companies have pushed films, television and video games. Games Workshop have already demonstrated the value of licensing with Dawn of War and Warhammer Online. Online versions of Field of Glory and AT-43 already exist. The future of wargaming will be shaped by a generation of wargamers who, instead of keeping hold of their toy soldiers, choose to keep hold of their control pads.

Sunday 6 June 2010

Musings on sales tactics

A couple of weeks back I was due to meet up with someone and being faintly paranoid and borderline autistic (very rare among wargamers I’m sure) I found myself with an extra hour of time to kill. With no fixed plans and not enough spare cash I wandered into Games Workshop. This is a relatively rare occurrence for me. Not because I hate and despise Games Workshop and all it stands for, as a cursory examination of past blog posts should indicate, but more because after twenty years of this stuff I have accumulated more Games Workshop models than I am likely to paint a life time (mostly because I keep buying more models). On the rare occasions that I do feel the need to buy more GW models, I tend to do it at shows or over the Internet where I get a discount.

But one of these rare occurrences was likely to be coming up soon; the release of the new plastic River Trolls had caught my attention. I know they’re not to everyone’s taste, but they certainly fit mine and manage to be a bit cheaper than their metal equivalents. Having only seen them in pictures I was hoping they might have a few assembled and out of the box (they did and they turned out to be a touch smaller than I had expected, but that’s not the point of the story so I have covered it in this aside for the benefit of the other borderline autistic wargamers desperate to know of which I have already stated there are few).

Of course a customer walking into Games Workshop produces a reaction similar to a half finished ice cream thrown into a bin full of wasps on a hot day. Three paces into the shop, standing in front of the ‘New’ shelf I became aware of a flash of red in my peripheral vision and a slight buzzing sound.

“Here for the new Trolls?” Came the question.

Opinions are divided on the GW customer service and the attentiveness/pushiness of their staff. Some people loath it with a fiery passion usually reserved only for badly placed ad breaks or Piers Morgan. Others seem to quite like it, possibly because of the momentary experience of the warmth of human contact in a world of lonliness devoid of interaction with anyone outside of the Internet. I’m divided on the subject depending on my mood. Today I was feeling tolerant, but a touch playful, so I decided to be honest.

“Not really. To be honest, if I want them I’ll get them off the Internet and get a discount.”

“Fair enough”. I wasn’t ‘fair enough’ and we both knew it. But this guy was canny enough to realise I wasn’t going to be persuaded. I continued to browse aimlessly for a minute, considering whether the Warhammer 40,000 plastic craters would be usable in Malifaux. Then the buzzing started again.

“Here for the new Trolls?” A second red shirt had appeared. This one had a beard and was, therefore, higher ranking and more persistant than his predecessor. I repeated my earlier exchange, but this one was not to be fobbed off so easily.

“So what are you painting at the moment?”

One advantage of no longer being a pustule faced, urchin with a voice like air being let slowly out of a balloon, is that I am spared the usual ‘do you play our games then?’ questioning. The combination of age and height is enough to convince most GW drones that I am an experienced gamer. That said, I do occasionally forget to shave so they may also think I’m a homeless person and the inevitable stench or urine is merely being masked by the vile reek of teenage body odour that hangs over every Games Workshop like fallout at a nuclear bomb site.

Having approached me and ascertained that I did not stink of piss, the staff member had engaged plan B, ‘engage customer in banter about gaming and that.’

As I mentioned earlier, I was in a playful mood. So I decided to be brutally honest.

“Malifaux mostly. Then a whole bunch of English Civil War plastics for Warhammer English Civil War.”

So I’m too much of a wimp to be entirely brutal and provided him with an escape card by mentioning warhammer. The ECW stuff is true, I have them and plan to paint them, but probably won’t get to them for a while. But I didn’t want to torture the poor guy. As it was his mental fuse was momentarily blown by the mention of a game that his company did not produce. Fortunately, this one was a veteran and after a moment he started on his new plan of attack.

“Have you seen our painting guides?” He indicated them two shelves away from where I was standing. “They’ve got lots of good tips, even if you have a lot of experience.”

I acknowledged them, but informed him that I had accumulated quite a lot of painting guides over the years. He nodded, before suggesting that, if I was local, I should bring my models down for a painting workshop. By this point my brutality was ebbing, and I mumbled my usual excuse about being equal distance from three of four Games Workshops. He persisted, insisting that there was always something to learn.

This struck me as rather an odd plan of attack. He wasn’t strictly trying to sell me anything, but seemed to want me to commit to further time in the store. I would have expected him to try and get rid of the miserable old git who was trying to wreck his carefully constructed work with talk of other games. Maybe he was planning a conversion. Like a catholic priest offering pre-packaged homophobia to wavering Anglicans. Just get him to come back; we’ll have him in the end.

I was dismissive of his plans. Once again I was honest, telling him that my painting was good enough for gaming purposes, but I would never be Golden Daemon standard. Surprisingly, he tried to talk me round, insisting that we can always learn and improve. I was caught off guard. Had he mistaken my honest appraisal of my skills for some kind of wargaming emotional crisis? Was he worried that I might head home and, despairing of my lack of ability, fire a spray can of varnish into my mouth or swallow a tube of superglue? Or was he simply keeping up the sales pitch and trying to convince me that a painting tutorial was worth my while? Probably the second if I’m honest.

The conversation continued, but we had reached an impasse. He was unwilling to give up and I would not be persuaded. But then my playfulness re-emerged. Pulling out my Iphone, I offered to show him pictures of my models on my photo-bucket app (any excuse to get out the Iphone). At this he backed off, insisting he had to see my models themselves and he ‘didn’t like pictures’ before turning his attention to a pre-pubescent drooling over the latest lethally sharp piece of plastic on the painting table.

Victory, of a sort, I had successfully out-geeked him with my combination of tedious wargaming stories and unreliable technology. I exited the shop, my time having been successfully been wasted.

But the encounter did make me realise what I dislike about the Games Workshop sales approach, and why so many others hate it as well. On leaving the shop, the over-friendly red shirt called out a cheery farewell, which I reciprocated, before muttering ‘prick’ under my breath.

Why had I done that? It had been almost a reflex. The poor sod hadn’t been doing anything other than his job. So why had I felt such reflexive disdain? But then I realised that the problem was that he had been doing his job. His apparent interest in my painting projects and, apparent, concern about my painting skills had been an act to try and get me to come back to the shop and be sold stuff. Any stuff. As long as I paid money for it he would have happily handed me a carpet tile and insisted that it was what I needed to improve my gaming/painting/modelling/whatever.
The GW staff pretend to be fellow hobbyists interested in a chat. They feign interest, concern of anything else. They’ll happily be your best friend, but it’s all an act to make a sale. None of his concern or interest was real. It’s this fakery that bothers me, far more than the buzzing, the shouting and the over-enthusiasm.

Of course this form of sales is common in most other businesses. Try walking into Dixons or PC World or a clothes shop (assuming it isn’t one that that charges so much that rude disdain is part of the brand appeal) or even a bank, without being accosted by a ‘can I help you.’ Again, some people like the friendliness. Others cringe. It doesn’t help that in Britain we’re collective wary of unprompted social interaction with strangers and like to preserve a transparent dome of privacy that extends at least half a metre around our bodies. Ever watch a group of British people on a train? It’s like watching people in the Matrix. Not the virtual world why everyone is a ninja and Keanu Reeves can fly, the endless rows of pods full of goo. We all stubbornly refuse to acknowledge anyone else around us, engaging in a mass delusion that we’re the only ones there. This lack of comfort with strangers explains why the touch-feely sales approach can be so off putting.

And it isn’t what we normally get in games shops. Most of the games shops I’ve been are staffed by the same collection of socially ill-equipped geeks that shop there. Most of them are more interested in talking wargame news than they are in selling stuff. It might not be good for business, but it’s more comfortable for me as a customer. On one occasion, I made an ill-advised comment that a particular game struck me as a rip-off of Warhammer 40,000, only to be confronted by an angry rebuttal from a member of staff standing nearby. A bad sales tactic certainly, I was too uncomfortable to buy anything after that, but there was reassuring that he cared about something more than flogging me models, a reminder that he was a real person.
While I know that Games Workshop staff are real people with lives, loves, passions, problems, hopes, dreams and fears outside of their work, I can’t quite shake the residual fear that they may all come out of an injection mould in a factory somewhere.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

The Evil Empire and its wicked pricing policy

The semi-annual Games Workshop price increase comes around again with all the regularity of games day and, as usual, the wargaming community is divided over its implications. The usual crowd of mildly smug Games Workshop refusers, for whom 50% of their message board time is spent reminding everyone that they abandoned Games Workshop years ago and how little they care about it, are joined by a fresh crew of outraged individuals for whom this year, not last year, but this year is the vorpal sword that broke the Jabberwocky's back. For this group Games Workshop prices are an atrocity on a par with war crimes, Enron, MPs expenses and Britain's Got Talent.

Meanwhile, the Games Workshop apologists stalk the blogs, forums and message boards arguing that the costs of running an international chain of stores and of producing so much plastic justifies the GW's prices, as if anyone not working for the company should actually care. They argue that Games Workshop should behave like a business and charge whatever the market can stand, whilst blindly failing to realise that they are working as Games Workshops unpaid marketing department.

The annual price increase slap fight always leaves me a bit cold, partly because I already have enough GW models to melt down and use to build a small car, and partly because GW pricing strikes me as neither particularly reasonable nor outrageously extortionate.

GW are certainly not the cheapest manufacturers of plastic miniatures around. Even a cursory glance at the web-stores of Victrix or Perry miniatures will reveal 50-60 Napoleonic or American Civil war soldiers going for £15 - £20. The comparatively expensive Warlord games offer 30 Roman Legionnaires for £17 (the swine). Of course historical miniatures will always be cheaper than fantasy because of the reduced design work required. Fantasy miniature producers still need someone to make this nonsense up, even if it does largely involve copying the last batch of models, but making them either more or less spiky depending on the way things are going. But historical producers can copy their designs out of an osprey book which is probably even cheaper (at least if you get your Osprey from Amazon or wait for Waterstones to offer 3 for 2).

But, in spite of this, newish boys and girls Mantic games are still making Games Workshop look like robber barons by offering 20 plastic skeletons or elves (and soon dwarves) for £12.50, while Games Workshop expects that much for 10 of its Empire state troops. Evidently, Fantasy isn't that expensive to produce.

So, case settled. Games Workshop are the Microsoft, Sony or Nestle of the wargaming world. Smash their filthy monopolistic practices and stop them exporting their dodgy powdered milk to third world countries. Or maybe not. Because while Games Workshop aren't the cheapest out there their not the most expensive either.

After years of childish swagger in which they attempted to use metal figures as some kind of phallic substitute, Privateer Press have finally dipped their toe in the plastic lake and gotten it all grey and gooey for their trouble. New unit boxes and Warjacks for Warmachine and Hordes already grace the shelves of many a hobby store and demonstrate that it ain't as easy as it looks. For example, a box of 5 Exemplar Cinerators or Bastions will cost you £30. These are big bulky, models in heavy armour with ludicrous shoulder pads, so some of the cost is probably in that. But they aren't four times as bulky as an Empire state trooper (£12 for 10) and certainly not as bulky as a Chaos Knight (half the price at £15 for 5). Meanwhile, the new Warjacks sell at £20, the cost of a Warhammer 40,000 tank. But they do have a variety of arms allowing you to assemble them in several configurations. Great news for manufacturers and totally irrelevant to the rest of us.

If you turn your attention to metal models it gets worse. Malifaux models come in starter boxes of 4 – 6 for £18 - £20. Your 10 man box of Empire Great Swords doesn't look so bad now does it? Ah, but you can't compare plastic to metal. Well, ignoring that I just did, we can look at the Games Workshop metals. Characters are pretty pricey, up to £12 a time, but troop boxes are selling at £15 - £20 for 5. Not cheap, but not any more expensive. Especially when compared to Anima Tactics models, that sell for at least £7 each and as much as £30 for the big guys. But they come with cards so that's alright then.

So Games Workshop are not the most expensive or the cheapest miniature company. And I just spent a lot of word explaining that not particularly interesting truth. But wait, there's more and I'm about to use a lot more words.

You see hardly anyone complains about the price of Malifaux or Anima Tactics models, even though they are demonstrate-ably more expensive that the Great Satan of Gaming itself. Yet every year we have the same tedious wailing about Games Workshop pricing. There has to be a reason for this. Games Workshops prominence in the industry is a factor, but I don't think that's the whole story.

Malifaux and Anima Tactic are pricey. But they are easy to start. Malifaux requires a starter box and a rulebook for a total of about £50 that's enough for a comfortable game. You'll probably want to spend out a bit more on this, you're a wargamer and, therefore, probably borderline autistic, but still a decent sized crew (as they call them) is likely to set you back under £100. Anima Tactics is the same, another £30 rule book, although you can forgo it and use the free downloadable starter book and still have most of the rules, and a dozen or so figures. Both games are determinately skirmish-based and that keeps the overall cost down even if the per figure cost is way up.

Warmachine is a bit larger scale, but still emphasises that a game can be played with a single Warcaster and a handful or Warjacks. Add a couple of units to bulk things up and, thanks to the low cost of the rule book, you are still looking at around £100 for a decent sized force.

But you decide to add yet more figures. No problem for Malifaux or Anima. Each figure is essentially autonomous. Buy the figure, the rules come bundled with it or their in the main rulebook. Assemble, paint and get it on the table that afternoon, only to watch it be destroyed as you have no clue how to use it properly. But the point is that adding to your party/crew/army is easy. Warmachine, again, is more expensive, but the unit boxes are still pretty complete. You may be spending £20 - £30, but you have a block you can insert straight into your force.

Now look at Games Workshop. Well you'll need a rulebook (£35) and an army book (£15-20). So you 50 quids gone and you have nothing but rules. Plenty of good bedtime reading, but nothing to game with. Things improve if you buy a starter box at £40 with a slimmed down rulebook and a bunch of models, but this is sod all good if you don't want either of the armies in the box.

Meanwhile, at the next table someone has the Malifaux models out, while over there three people are painting Anima Tactics. Well they're not actually, because your in Games Workshop and while you're in there the rest of the industry just winked out of existence, but still.

Once you have your rulebooks your going to need an army. The £55 battalion boxes are a start, but they will only furnish you with around 500 points of models for the most part. Enough to get you going, but a pretty weak version of the full game. So you turn you grab a few more units. You going to need around half a dozen or so, and some characters, and your still only at 1,000 points, the minimum level that the Warhammer rulebook is prepared to mention.

Plus, each new box, generally offers only half a unit. 10 Empire State troops aren't going to get you very far, you need 20. And this is the key problem. Games Workshop armies are expected to be huge and are actually growing. Take a look at the website or any White Dwarf and look at the vast horde of assembled and painted models stretching so wide that they creep outside your peripheral vision. Not only does this make armies expensive to collect, it makes each unit a much less important part of each army. When you have only a small number of figures, each one is special and each addition makes a big difference to how your army plays. In Warhammer, who's going to notice one missing skeleton or elf?

So, if you're still bothering to read, this, the problem isn't that Games Workshop models are particularly expensive, its that you need so many of them to play and you can't add them to your army one at a time. Everything comes in bulk and, as great as each individual model may be, it feels unimportant. And yet Games Workshop seem determined to push massive battles even further, first Warhammer 40,000 Apocalypse, then War of the Rings. White Dwarf battle reports have moved from a standard size of 2,000 points for Warhammer or 1,500 for Warhammer 40,000 to 2,000 or more for Warhammer 40,000 and around 4,000 for Warhammer. The message sent to new player is that all Games Workshop armies are massive hordes and you individual model doesn't matter a bit compared to the vast size of your whole army.

When you think about, that was Sauron's approach to warfare, rolling over the enemy with his hordes of nameless orcs and trolls. The good guys relied on smaller numbers and emphasised that each individual had an important role to play. Inevitably we're back here and Games Workshop is the dark lord. The problem isn't the price of your models, it's all about how they're sold.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Big new project

Despite the appearance of some new Chaos pictures last week, I haven't actually been working on Chaos for a while. In fact, apart from a few Anima Tactics models (of which more later) I haven't done a lot of painting this year. The reason for this is below.

Behold Dragonshire:

Not my name, I hasten to add or even my designs. The designs come from Fat Dragon games a company that specialise in card terrain in PDF form that you print and assemble yourself. You buy a product and are given a link to a zip file containing a number of PDF documents. You can then print these out to card, cut them out and stick them together to make your scenery.

A number of companies doing this that have sprung up in the last few years taking advantage of the Internet as a distribution system and broadband making large downloads a reasonable possibility.

I have been using cared scenery in my games for a while. You may have noticed card buildings and fences in my previous posts, these were made by World Works games (and two of their buildings have been added to Dragonshire with a few modifications), another company doing the same sort of work. I don't have any strong preferences between the two companies, they both do fine work, but Fat Dragon had a sale on and so I scooped up Dragonshire for less than ten quid.

Card terrain is becoming increasingly popular, though it seems to be aimed principally at role players, possibly because of the need for a range of layouts assembled quickly. In the wargaming world there is an element of snobbery about this kind of terrain, with some gamers preferring more three dimensional models, either built from scratch, from resin or, increasingly plastic.

The drawback is that this kind of scenery can be expensive and usually has to be painted, if not made from scratch. It can look stunning, but not everyone is an expert modeller and painter. The advantage of card modelling is that with a relatively small amount of work you can have a range of scenery that looks good on the table. If not quite as good as the sort of thing the experts produce.

Dragonshire comes with a range of base tiles you can print out to form your town/ city streets. Fat Dragon recommends mounting them on foam card. But I preferred to mount 12 onto large sheets of thick card, as its cheaper and less likely to come apart in the middle of a game. A bit of careful planning and I was able to produce four base boards that can be arranged in a number of formations.

Below are the four different boards:

If you look carefully, you can see that they all have a road leading off at the top, bottom, left and right, so they can be put together in any formation. That should make for a fair variety of layouts.

I still have plans for a couple more boards as well as a few more extra bits and pieces, such as carts, market stalls, barrels and so on to make games a bit more cluttered and interesting. The town will probably be principally used for Anima Tactics and other skirmish games, but a city fight version of Warhammer might be interesting.

One big advantage of the Dragonshire buildings is that they are designed to be taken apart so that you can see, and place models inside.

The building divides into a base, roof and two floors. In this example there is also a balcony that hangs from one wall. The tabs on the base and just visible under the second floor hold each level in place making the easy to disassemble but still strong enough to hold together. Models can smash their way in and out of houses and even fight on roof tops thanks to some useful stands that balance on the roofs and provided models with much needed stability.

Unfortunately none of this is as cheap as you might expect. The set itself was a bargain, but you have to add the cost of glue, card, paper and, most importantly, printer ink. I have gone through three colour cartridges already and each building uses about five sheets of card. Of course if these were plastic Games Workshop buildings each one would have set me back £15 at least and the whole layout would have had to be be painted as well, so in the long run this is probably much cheaper. Just not quite as cheap as it first appears.

Hopefully more pictures when the whole thing is finished.

Sunday 31 January 2010

Scum and Villainy

Last night BBC 2 screened a documentary about the development of the World Wide Web in which it was stated that 90% of all blogs are dormant. This gave me the motivation I needed to return to the 10%.

Not that I imagine anyone was in any great suspense waiting for my return. I don't know that anyone actually reads this other than myself. I am not a great social networker and don't really do anything to promote this, beyond once posting a scenario on the Anima Tactics message board and leaving the link in my signature where I doubt anyone would notice it.

Strangely this blog is more for my benefit than the audience, which may be faintly narcissistic, but is not necessarily unvaluable. Like a diary, the act of blogging often helps to clarify thoughts and feelings by forcing you to verbalise them. In my case these thoughts may be constrained to encouraging me to get on and paint some models, but that still has some value in its way.

By imagining an audience waiting to see these pictures it encourages me to take them and, by extension, paint more models to photograph. So even if my audience is imaginary it still plays a useful purpose in providing me with a reason to get on and do something.

The odd comment would still be nice though.

These were taken some months back, but I never got round to posting them. With my Chaos army nearing completion (after only 15 years) it was time to provide it with some suitable leadership.Slaanesh Champion with flail

Certainly the oldest model in my Chaos army and one of the oldest in my collection. He actually dates back to before I even started collected Games Workshop miniatures in 1990. I kept the black and brass colour scheme of the army, but added the pink to give him a Slaanesh twist. I am actually very pleased with the contrast.

Slaanesh Sorcerer.

Actually bought at Games Day 1994, when he was a pre-release model. Given that I didn't paint him for fifteen years I'm not sure I gained the full value of the pre-release. More pink for contrast. The white and bone were something of an experiment for another model to see how well they would contrast with the pink and black. I am actually very pleased with the model, striking in a way that a Slaanesh model should be. The bold colours also give him a faintly cartoony look which suits the sculpting style.

Tzeentch Sorcerer

Another old model, this time from a Games Workshop sale where I acquired him for a pound. Again I added some brighter colours to show his allegiance, provide some contrast and make him stand out. This time the Tzeentchian colours of blue and yellow. Another cartoony look that I think works, I can imagine him as the villain from a 1980s cartoon series.

Chaos Champion

A more generic champion, though with the red cloak he can serve for a Khorne champion in a pinch. One of my favourite Chaos Models, I nevertheless made a few tweaks. The model used to have two slender horns curving upwards with a skull suspended between them that I thought were a little over decorative for a champion I imagine being quite brutal. The replacement horns are from a Chaos Space Marine. I also swapped the axe head in his right hand for the top of an old Chaos Halberd because I felt the old axe was a little too simple for a champion.

I added this shot simply because I was very pleased with the shading and highlighting effect on the cloak. I painted it red mainly to contrast with the Chaos Warriors, who all have grey cloaks, but I am actually quite proud of how striking the finished result is.

With so many models complete I thought it was time for a group shot of the entire army again
The Champions on the hill survey the whole army. Then from the back
Top Row: Chaos Warriors
Third Row: Marauders with flails, Dragon Ogres, Marauders with Hand weapons and shields
Second Row: Chariots, Chaos Knights, Marauder Horsemen
Front Row: Chaos Hounds.

I added the stormy background using GIMP (free alternative to photoshop, I urge everyone to download it and have a play) to give the image the right moody look.

As always, more pictures in photo bucket: http://s663.photobucket.com/albums/uu353/Humorous_Conclusion/Warriors%20of%20Chaos/

I won't promise more pictures at any particular time as its asking for trouble. As soon as I say I'm going to post something on a particular day it's a certainty that I won't do it. But I do have some more models to photograph and another big project to show off. So do check back, assuming you exist.