Note: I’m not proclaiming to be an expert on Warhammer. This is a post about how I found my initial experiences of the game and how I find it compares to board gaming so far.
Okay, I will start by ‘fessing up; I never considered playing Warhammer.
I knew of it, and had nothing against it per se. I just wasn’t too fussed with discovering more. I was also a bit ‘meh’ about Games Workshop, who are known to have a worryingly long list of consumer misdemeanors (which I won’t comment on in this particular post). Still, I was quite keen to try the new edition of Blood Bowl last year, as it sounded fun and had a ‘familiar’ board game feel. Warhammer on the other hand is a different sort of ballpark and has a whole universe of it’s own. Warhammer40k, as I’ve recently discovered is separate from Warhammer, which is far more generic fantasy fodder. 40k however is geared toward the gothic/sci-fi aesthetic.
Sometimes it takes another person to push me into a gaming experience. Magic The Gathering, D&D and Pathfinder were things I wouldn’t have necessarily tried if they hadn’t been suggested to me. In the case of MTG it’s actually what lead me down the board gaming path, so I always think trying things is worth it. On the whole I’m pretty easy going and opened minded, whether it’s movies, games or activities. My philosophy is that you don’t know until you try, and if you’re not keen then what have you really lost? Except, possibly, an hour or two out of your life. Which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that bad- especially if you’re anything like me and will gladly procrastinate for an evening doing…well anything except what I’m supposed to be doing. So having spent a week getting Warhammer happy I thought I would write a little piece on how I found it so far, and how it compares to playing board games.
Bit of background; this is a newest (8th to be exact) edition of a 1987 game. The rulebook comes with all the information you need to play the style of game that you want and there are 22 different missions, with more to be released. But aside from the starter set (we are playing Dark Imperium) you may purchase further sets to mod your army. It’s an expensive hobby, depending how deep you want to go with it. Having watched the game being unboxed I must say it was a lovely package with gorgeous artwork. The only thing that left me a tad miffed was the outer cardboard sleeve. For a fairly costly product I wondered why it wasn’t a regular box lid. I suspect manufacturing costs are the root cause, but also that hardcore fans are likely to transfer their pieces into an epic storage unit, (a gilded trunk springs to mind), and therefore the original box isn’t so important.
What you do get is a beautiful hardback rulebook, which is lovingly detailed with backstory and illustrations. The actual core rules are also printed on a small foldout booklet. There were also ‘sprues’ (sheets) of miniatures, which was no big surprise of course. But my experience of miniatures so far has been that they are ready to go. If you want them to look pretty you have to paint them, but I was surprised that you had to self assemble them, buy your own supplies to clip them/glue them etc. I wouldn’t say that this put me off though, in fact I quite liked the idea, and I was definitely up for painting them at a later date. I assisted (somewhat) with the cleaning (scraping off the gluey nubs here and there) and assembling of the miniatures (there is a really decent guide manual) and for the most part I found it super relaxing. It was quite a departure from a regular way to spend an evening and it certainly gave my busy mind a focus. I found the more complex models a bit too fiddly and they got me feeling quite impatient and irritable. Then again this was on a different day of the week, so my mood had shifted from where we first started. One day I might be happy to fiddle around with little pieces and get super focused. Another day I might want to throw it all across the room in despair. The models I found to be impressive. They are very detailed, very attractive and so evocative. I think attractive is the wrong term perhaps, one of them in particular left me feeling uneasy and I hated handling it, it was just horrible. The fact that a model could evoke that revulsion in me is pretty interesting. So it definitely achieves what it sets out to, especially with the Death Guard (i.e.- bad guy) faction.
Last weekend the actual game was finally upon us. Data sheets (factions and their various details/abilities) had been reproduced from the manual and printed, and I must say I was a little surprised that there was nothing like this included in the game itself. Aside from the hardback manual and small rules leaflet, everything else is only available in the manual. Which is bizarre to me. It’s a gorgeous book, most certainly a collectable. Wouldn’t it being passed around and manhandled by grubby paws make every collector want to keel over and die with anxiety? Maybe we’re supposed to remember all the information, but c’mon. There was so much to remember, even with just the starter factions. Without the self made data sheets I would have been screwed. So that (to me) is baffling, but I have an inkling as to why this might be, which I’ll touch upon shortly.
We made our ‘terrain’, and as beginners this was no more than a fluffy throw rug chucked over the table and a few random objects (coasters, jars) in for good measure. For those familiar with the game, or for fanatics I can imagine making the terrain would be fantastic fun, and once again I’m not opposed to the idea of wiling away an afternoon doing so. Because actually when it came to playing the game I realised that setting the scene is important. Creating this fictional world and immersing yourself within it is important. Caring about anything you’re doing is important. Because if you take all that away then it really is just throwing dice, totting up numbers and measuring distances. I wouldn’t say that as first time players we did all those things, I certainly wasn’t playing pretend and shouting ‘over the top lads!’ or anything like that (not to say I might not in the future if the mood strikes!) but put it this way: the first night that was spent playing with the basic rules and figuring it out my brain quietly melted. I’m pretty impatient with new games and just wanting to play. I love information; my problem is I need to know it all, immediately, and when I can’t grasp it quickly enough I become super frustrated. I did wonder if I was ever going to find it fun at one point (and had accidently stabbing myself with a scalpel whilst modeling been worth it). The second night was a little more fun. This is when I could see myself enjoying it long term. It came at the exact moment I finally remembered the sequences, actions and had memorized some numbers (without continuously peering at data sheets) and I was away. I like it when I know stuff, I like when I grasp that knowledge and run with it. I just don’t find the muddling- through-feeling-like-a-blundering-idiot part all that fun.
Now having learnt the (basic) game it’s not all that complicated. It just seems to take a long time. Imagine playing a board game where each player’s turn takes 20-25 minutes. That’s Warhammer, and if this isn’t your regular type of gaming it can take a while to get used to. That’s also why you need to immerse yourself in the setting in order to give damn. Otherwise you may sit there wondering why you’re watching someone else do all the things for a fairly lengthy (by board gaming standards) amount of time. Many modern games these days tend to take this into account, and pre-empt that this may not be all that fun for other players. Games Workshop have clearly stuck to their guns and kept it traditional. The same applies to the rules manual being the only place to access information. Part of me thinks ‘good for them’. I mean you can only bend to the consumers will so much, and then aren’t you just selling the product to be like everything else? They’re keeping it old school, and that’s fair enough. It’s different for sure. But not necessarily bad! Admittedly it helps that as the rounds progress and more of your army dies off, then things start moving far more rapidly, as there are fewer pieces to utlise. The combat phase involves everybody so that’s always something to look forward to. I embrace the fighting aspect- always down for a rumble.
Without going into a full breakdown of rules (which would be agony to repeat at this point) I’ll briefly lay it out:
- You have your chosen army faction.
- You divide the surface area in which you are playing.
- You each place terrain.
- You each place objective markers.
- Each player’s turn consists of moving, using physic abilities, shooting, charging, fighting and checking morale. Rolling dice, measuring distances with tape measures and referencing your faction’s data sheets, achieves this.
- Victory conditions depend of whichever mission you are playing.
And that is the premise of a basic game of 40k. I’ll end this by saying that I actually enjoyed the game quite a bit, and I absolutely want to play again. I weirdly enjoyed handling a tape measure. Maybe it’s because it’s a novelty, or perhaps because I rarely have a reason to measure anything in my daily life. It was fun! I liked the precision that you have to make your moves with. I liked the combat and popping off the enemy one by one. Once again I enjoyed how good the miniatures were, from their appearance to poses, I think they work really well. I can imagine them actually fighting, what they would be doing or saying, and I can see why this is a fantastic fantasy gaming system, that you can create a world around. It’s like a grown up make-believe. I’m especially looking forward to some miniature painting, although how they’ll turn out is anybody’s guess!
To summarise, from one board gamer to another: You’ll probably like Warhammer40k if….
- You played the original game.
- You don’t mind a dungeon crawl style affair.
- You like RPG.
- You can get into the theme and the setting.
- You enjoy measuring things and being precise.
- You are happy to create the game from scratch, to get a little imaginative and arty/crafy.
- You don’t mind daft sounding terminology. The word Nurgle. Hmmm.
- If you want to play something a little bit different from the norm.
- You don’t mind getting a little old school.
You probably won’t be so fussed if….
- The thought of gluing together little pieces brings you out in a cold sweat.
- You are enraged at the mere concept of a game costing well over £50 and having to self assemble the models and create your own terrain.
- You like cards, boards, player aids and components. To your mind a game simply isn’t a decent game without that stuff (btw there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s a preference like any other.)
- You are incredibly impatient to have your turn, in which case you are SOL with this game. There is much waiting in those first rounds.
I hope you enjoyed this departure from the usual and thanks so much for reading!