Monday 25 April 2011

Marketing matters

Since acquiring the Helldorado game system, Cipher Studios seems to have been a bit overloaded and haven't been releasing their Anima Tactics figures at the usual pace. Previously they had put out two or three figures a month, but in the last month this has slipped. The lack of figures and announcements of new figures has lead to much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Anima fan community.This was relieved somewhat by the recent announcement of two new figures on Cipher's blog and forums.

Personally I was glad of the break. I already have plenty of other models to paint and no shortage of Anima Tactics figures to game with. What I did find interesting was how little time it took before vocal members of the message board community started worrying that the game was and before long no-one will play it. The ironic twist was that similar complaints have been made about Cipher's handling of Helldorado, with delays to the release of English rulebook being accused of doing untold harm to the game (despite English rules still available here).

I kind of get that people are worried about investing in a game that isn't going to last. It can be a pain having a box full of models and no-one to play against. But the speed of reaction seems excessive. Anima Tactics has plenty of models for all factions even Black Sun, the most recently released. There's plenty to keep the game going without a constant schedule of releases. It seems that a few too many sudden deaths of different games have left wargamers a little jumpy to see the least. Though it may also be that wargamers are a little too trained to believe marketing.

For a time, during Warhammer 6th and 7th edition, Games Workshop tried to release all models for an army at same time as they released the army book, with maybe a couple of special characters left out. Given that their previous schedule had consisted of releasing models whenever they felt like it and that some units never appeared, this was a huge improvement. Fast forward a few years and the strategy changed, they would release some models with the army book and then wait to release more a few months later. This was spun as 'not waiting for a new army book before releasing new models', but it really meant not supplying all the models at the same time as the book.

What surprised me was level of enthusiasm for this plan from gamers.

"Hooray I don't have to wait for new army book for new models!" They cried.

"All they're doing is stagger releasing, not supplying anything new," I felt like yelling.

Plus, if all the models from the book are available, why does it matter if there aren't any more releases? You can still buy them six months later. It's as though people had thought that they couldn't buy a model more than a month old.

Privateer Press got much praise for the release of a cheap rule book for War Machine with rules for all models and factions. But then they followed it up with a new book, which cost more, and had more rules for all factions. Then again. And again. By time of the new edition, you needed five books for full rules for each faction. But again, several gamers seemed happy about this. "

"Yay, new releases, I don't have to wait ages for new models."

"But you still have the same number of models. And now you have to buy five rule books."

It wasn't so bad for players who had followed the game from the start, but it was pretty off-putting for new players or those who had lost track to be confronted by so many expansions. And before someone points out that under the new edition, Privateer Press have separate army books for each faction, they have admitted this is only a stop gap to get old models working with the new rules. The rules for every faction books have started up again.

I get that all gamers have an interest in their preferred game doing well. But it seems to have reached a stage where gamers confuse what is good for the game with what is good for them personally. Yes I want my games to do well, but I also want it to cost me as little as possible and to not have to spend out money every month on new models just to keep up. Also, new releases are not always a good thing, sometimes it can be nice to switch projects and not have a huge backlog of models and supplements to catch up with when you return to an old game.

So, in conclusion, I can live without new Anima Tactics figures for a month or so, don't care exactly when Games Workshop releases new models and would be more inclined to play War Machine if I didn't have to buy every supplement book to keep up.

Sunday 17 April 2011

The big Salute Review 2011

After all the months of build up the big event, Salute, has been and gone. Very much the biggest event in the wargaming calendar, with so many traders and games that putting together a coherent summary is a near impossible task. While the South London Warlords always have a theme (this year the American Civil War) it is always very loosely applied. There is little sense of unity and no prevailing impression. Also, I am a long way from being a professional photographer and others will provide better photo summaries, such as Joe Dever.

Most people approach Salute with a particular focus, whether it is shopping, gaming or even trying to record the event. But focusing on one tends to be detrimental to others. You can't spend all your time shopping and get a good sense of the games. I was buying this year and so didn't spend as much time gaming as I might have liked.

With all that in mind, I won't try to describe the show as a whole, but will will try to convey a few key impressions.

2011 seems to be the year when every company is legally obliged to release a set of Ancients rules. At Salute Hail Caesar from Warlord went head to head with Great Escape Game's Clash of Empires, while Scarab miniatures were demoing War and Conquest. I had already preordered Clash of Empires. Hail Caesar intrigued, particularly due to its lack of army lists and Rick Priestly's writing, but it seems better suited to very large armies and large tables.

Both seemed to be doing well. COE was probably helped by being available from a good number of traders. I got mine from Gripping Beast as they were handing out a free diorama of a Roman Centurion fighting a Dacian soldier and they were running very short by the end of the show. For Hail Caesar you seemed to have to go the source, but Warlord apparently ran out by the end of the show.

Swayed by Conquest Game's and Gripping Beasts's plastics, I had decided to build armies of Saxons and Normans. This also had the advantage that they would be usable in Gripping Beast's and Tomahawk's forthcoming Saga rules for Dark Age skirmishes. The game was being demoed at Salute and has an intriguing set of rules involving special Saga dice that determine permissable based on a battle board that is specific to the forces being used. It also apparently designed to scale up to bigger games.

Also being demoed was Mantic Games Dwarf Kings Hold, a new dungeon crawl game that uses their existing plastic Undead and Dwarves, although the version on display was a touch different than usual, using three ups for a giant sized game. The game itself uses a counter-based activation system. Dwarves get four counters a turn, the Undead start with three but only get one new one a turn. However, the Undead counters allow up to four skeletons to be activated at once. The effect is that the Dwarves generally have more options, but the Undead are better positioned to plan ahead, and have to use superior numbers to bring down the dwarves who hit harder. I have to say I was pretty terrible as the Undead, getting comprehensively smashed by my little brother, but it was an enjoyably straight forward and quick playing experience, unlike some dungeon crawl games I have played. I could see it as a good way to end a gaming session or fill in a bit of spare time.

I always like to watch the Doctor Who games that Crooked Dice put on. The rules are unofficial and so free to download with most of the miniatures being improvised or unofficial look alikes. Crooked dice's game mixed their own models with Heresy's and Haslefree's to create what would have been the most convaluted episodes ever, with Daleks, the Master, Autons and Gas Mask children taking on the Doctor, the Time Agents and Winston Churchill.

Meanwhile, at pride of place at the front of the hall the Daleks were invading the Tomb of the Cybermen, in a large scale participation game with custom rules and figures made from, sadly out of production, die cast figures.

UPDATE I have since been informed that the models are not out of production, not sure why I got the from.

The last game I wanted to talk about was Cthuleudo, half Call of Cthulhu and half Cluedo and entirely mad. Apparently highly involved, it evidently went on for hour and a half. Even though I didn't get to play, the board was packed with detail, both ranging from Chulhu statues to hidden Daleks.

So Salute is over for another year and hopefully the miniatures acquired will last until the next one. I have stacks of new plastic Saxons and Normans to paint, not to mention Dr Who, Helldorado and Infinity all of which will have time for at a later date.

Monday 11 April 2011

Fairy Meat - a retrospective

As it has been two months since my HeroQuest retrospective I think it's time for another, although this one is less a look at an old favourite and more a look at a game I never quite got around to playing.

Fairy Meat was produced by Kenzer & Co, a US company better known for their roleplaying products and probably best known for the long running RPG themed comic Knights of the Dinner Table. Fairy Meat represented a rare foray for them into wargaming. Written by Scott Leaton, it had one unique selling point: Fairy Meat was billed as a 1:1 scale wargame, that is to say the 'miniatures' were life size.

Themed around battling groups of fairies who would not only kill but eat one another to restore health, Fairy Meat had its tongue well and truly in its cheek from the front cover, depicting a classical fairy chewing on the arm of a rival (this particular fairy would suffer a number of grizzly fates on the covers of the subsequent supplement books). The tone continued with a byline that credited two fictional characters (from the KODT comic) and went on to list suggestions as to where to play the game ("A local forest preserve", "that filthy mess you call a bedroom") and where not to ("The middle of the road", "Prison(unless you're already there)"). Fairy Meat was not a game that could be taken very seriously.

The 32 page rulebook was printed in two tone colour with fairly cheap stapled binding, but it did come with a series of card inserts, including counters and record cards. It also included a set of cut out fairy stand ups and cardboard wings to stick to your existing miniatures, suggesting that Kenzer and Co did not initially intend to produce a range of miniatures of their own. The rules themselves contained a number of innovative ideas. Included using a deck of playing cards instead of dice and the idea that kill and life points (essentially attack and defence) doubled as wounds, with fairies converting each into 'meat' when injured, meaning that the fairy's fighting ability diminished as it was injured. It's most enjoyably quirky feature was the ability to regenerate life by eating other fairies. On death a fairy was replaced by their meat counters which could be collected and fought over by other fairies (friends or enemies).

The book was quickly followed by range of miniatures. The first batch of fairies were well enough sculpted and demonstrated a good range of the fairy weapons, but suffered from someone bland facial expressions and a lack of character. The second range of five were a substantial improvement with a quirky, cartoony appearance a range of gleeful facial expressions.

A much fun as the first book was, the real fun came with the first supplement, Clockwork Stomp. This introduced the Gnomes: Physically slow and lacking kill points (leaving them unable to fight hand to hand) Gnomes were rendered effective by their range of lethal hardware including the Torcheon (Flamethrower), Hand Cannon, Riddlegun and the legendary Chain Killer Auto Cannon. They could also be kitted out with bionic parts and be accompanied by cyborg clock fairies. And they were huge, more than twice the height of a fairy and considerably more bulky.

In common with a number of Kenzer and Co products (and to be fair those of many small publishers) there was a sense that you were paying a lot for relatively low production values. The rulebooks 32 pages cost me £16.99, back in 2000, more than the Malifaux rulebook today. The miniatures also seemed expensive in their day, fairies were £3 each and the Gnomes a hefty £16.99. Having said that, the latter weigh a ton being almost solid metal and it is inconceivable that they would cost so little today. They did, however, suffer badly from flash and some truly horrible mould lines and I had to do considerable work with greenstuff to fill some conspicuous gaps.

Kenzer and Co introduced the game with a promo comic strip in KODT that saw several of the regular characters playing the game. Having been a fanatical KODT fan for some time I snapped it up from my Friendly Local Game Shop along with the first batch of miniatures in spite of the expense. However, a lack of further support from the FLGS limited by options and the game languished for a while. was to pick it up again (from a different shop) after Kenzer released the excellent (and far better value) starter set which contained starter rules, two supplements (including Clockwork Stomp), the second batch of fairies and a bunch of extra counters.

My first Gnome was another quick buy from the FLGS, but my second and third came, oddly, from a holiday in Washington DC, where I scooped them out of the Bargain bin of a game shop in Georgetown for $10 a piece, reasoning, correctly that I would never get another opportunity.

Unfortunately, models have languished unpainted ever since on my "plan to do something with eventually" list. Well I finally got round to it, painting up seven fairies and two Gnomes (almost). It's long overdue, but hopefully I will soon get a chance to put a sadly overlooked and refreshingly quirky game to the test.

Sadly, Kenzer and Co have long since stopped producing the miniatures and getting hold of them can be tough, but the rules are still available in PDF form both directly from Kenzer and Co and from RPG now, so if anyone fancies converting some miniatures and having a go they still can.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Abandoning Metal

A few days ago another miniature company, Heresy miniatures, announced that it was putting up its prices. This is becoming all too common, particularly in the UK where the rising cost of metal has been accompanied by a hike in VAT which has hit particularly hard.

I have to give Heresy considerable credit for taking the time to fully explain the reasons for these increase and to note that the cost of metal used is at £23.75 per KG. The consequence of this was that much of the discussion on the miniature page was sympathetic, even supportive. It is worth noting, however, that Heresy are still trying to keep prices as low as possible understanding that there are limits to how much people will pay for a miniature no matter how justified. This lead one poster, by the name of JoeKGusher to speculate that there might come a point when we look back on this time as a golden age of miniature production as we play with paper chits.

It's a very strong statement, but it did lead me to think back on how miniature gaming has changed in the last few years, particularly when looking at Fantasy and Science Fiction. Games Workshop have always been in the business of selling large scale, mass-battle games, but if we look at the rest of the industry there appears to have been a shift. Five or Six years ago two of the biggest non-GW players were Rackham with Confrontation and Ragnarok and Privateer Press with War Machine. The former produced a skirmish game that was intended to provide a bridge to a larger scale game, the latter was designed to scale up to almost Warhammer size.

If we look today at the Fantasy and Science Fiction games being produced we find Malifaux, Anima Tactics, Helldorado, Infinity all skirmish games with no pretension at being anything bigger. Other than GW, the only company pushing a mass battle game is Mantic who are focused on ultra-cheap plastics. The new norm appears to be metals for skirmish games with no more than a dozen miniatures aside and plastic for mass battles with metal used for personalities and resin for big things.

We haven't quite gotten to that stage with Historical miniatures, but that is very much the direction of travel. More and more plastic historicals are being produced, and companies like Warlord are increasingly using metal only for specialists, characters and extra parts. It has always been cheaper to produce historical miniatures than fantasy and science fiction, which may support metal for a while longer, but if the price of metal continues to rise then plastic may be the only choice. Historical miniature companies are by no means immune to rising costs in any case and a number have put their prices up.

So the future of wargaming is looking to be plastics for mass battles and metals only for skirmishing and personalities. In a few years time it is likely that the bulk of most people's armies will be plastic.


Since I wrote the above, rumours have been all over the Internet about Games Workshop giving up on selling metal models. The details are unclear, and vary from a temporary hault in production, to switching to resin, to making metal miniatures available only through direct sales. Games Workshop have said, as yet, nothing.

If this any truth in this, I can't see them dropping all metal miniatures at a stroke or shifting to resin. There are too many armies that are dependent on metal miniatures, if only for characters, to make a dropping all metal are viable proposition. At the same time, GW's target market of young teenagers, many of whom will have never played a wargame before, makes a shift to a toxic substance that would require warning labels and leave their products unable to bare the European toy safety kite mark impractical.

If it does happen, I suspect the most likely result would be a shift to plastic/resin similar to the stuff that Mantic and Privateer Press use. This has the virtue of being cheaper than metal, but holds detail well and is not actually toxic.

Either way, this does seem to support my view that for mass battle games, metal may be dying off, though I am surprised to see it being apparently abandoned even for character models.