Monday 20 May 2013

Mantic as the new, old Games Workshop

I'm feeling quite excited by the Mars Attacks game. It's not so much the game itself, though the idea of 80 foot robots and giant insects is quite appealing, but more what it says about Mantic as a company.

It feels significant that at the moment Games Workshop is killing off Specialist games, Mantic are expanding. GW have reached a point where if they ever release another game it will be a short-run limited edition thing like Dread Fleet. Their core business is servicing Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000 and LOTR/the Hobbit. And by servicing I mostly mean new versions of the same thing.

When Games Workshop first started out it was a decidedly chaotic company. Initially a games shop, it rapidly became a distributor (kind of by default as no-one else in the UK was selling Dungeons & Dragons), then a publisher first, then a miniature manufacturer. It dabbled in roleplaying games, wargames even computer games (back in the days when they were released on cassettes) it even went through a mad phase of being a music publisher. There didn't seem to be any limit to what they company would try.

When I first encountered Games Workshop in 1990, there was still evidence of that approach. It didn't sell any other companies products and its RPG coverage had shrunk to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but it still had a wide and eclectic range of products. As well as Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, which were then sold as rulebooks, it produced miniature-based board games, like Space Hulk and Advanced Hero Quest, more traditional stand-alone wargames like Talisman and Dungeon Quest and odd eccentricities like the Troll Games marketed to children and Top trumps copy Combat Cards. Then there were left overs from previous licensed products, they still sold a handful of Lord of the Rings models as well as the plastic Daleks and Cybermen box left over from the days when the company held the Doctor Who licence.

Over time, this range has reduced. New games, and even whole divisions, have come and gone, but ultimately the trend has been downwards until only the current big three remain.

Of course you could argue that they simply outsourced this stuff top Fantasy Flight games who have produced a pretty good range of RPGs, board games and card games based on GW IP (though I still have their version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay).

Mantic aren't Games Workshop at their height, but they do show a likable willingness to try out different things. Their core business is Kings of War and Warpath, but they have also dabbled in board games, Project Pandora and Dwarf Kings Hold, and board game/wargame hybrids like Dreadball and Dead Zone. Now we have a licensed game with a very different aesthetic and, possibly, a different scale. It's still very early days, but I'm encouraged that if Specialist Games has been killed off, that another company is willing to experiment with different types of game.


  1. I go back even further than your first encounter, back into the early 80's. Back then it really was a 'Games Workshop', making and developing a wide range of games. Your description of GW being a chaotic company back then is right on the money. They were innovators, willing to take a risk and try anything that excited them. That's not a description I would apply to them now, or any time in the last decade, if truth be told.

  2. I think Mantic is fortunate that current technology and crowd funding allows them to take chances that Games Workshop wasn't originally able to. And arguably the animosity against GW (and it's significant wealth) would prevent it from participating in a Kickstarter (although Reaper pulled it off nicely) to fund some of the games people would like them to make, or model selections (cough cough Squats cough cough).

    I also like that Mantic is trying different things but it almost feels like they are running down stairs if you get my drift.

  3. I too am reminded of those earlyish days of Games Workshop during which they were producing all sorts of stuff; I hope Mantic doesn't end up in the same situation GW have.

  4. I find it increasingly difficult to be excited by GW products. Always more of the same.