Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Go on then, lets do some Hobby Resolutions!

Greetings fellow wargamers and hobbyists, and welcome to the cusp of a brave new year! It’s that time again, when we say farewell to the year that is ending, slam home a new powerpack, check our sights, and set the time circuits for 2015. Whatever you do…don’t look back.

It seems that year upon year we hobbyists and gamers make the same kind of wishful and occasionally wildly unachievable New Year’s resolutions that everyone else does, though we of course tend to make two sets of resolutions – the mundane kind, like ‘this year I will drink less’, or ‘this year I will lose weight’ – and then, hobby related, resolutions. For us, I think these are the ones that really matter.

While on the subject of hobby resolutions, I have to wonder whether this is something that is unique to Wargamers, or whether it is something that is undertaken across the whole spectrum of hobbyists, from the Scale Model crowd, to the X-Wing mob, the board gamers and even the card gamers? I’d like to find out a little more about this phenomenon.

So, I guess the point of this post (as I am sure it will be for every other hobbyist’s ‘Resolutions post’ you are likely to read), is to tell you all what kind of promise I plan to make for the coming year. Well I decided some months ago what my plan for the coming months (and years) would be, and I guess that this is a chance to make it official.

My New Year’s Hobby Resolution for 2015 is to paint a minimum of 250 models by the end of the year. I am not sure if this seems like a lot or not. It’s certainly enough models to make up one and a half to two armies, so I guess it is quite a few – given that many people make it their task to complete a single army within the current year.

When I break it down to ‘model count per month’, it only comes out at 20, which I think seems much more manageable – 5 each week every week. I plan to continue whenever possible to spend my one hour lunch break at work each day painting, and Thursday evenings for another hour or more while the wife is out at her class, so it’s perfectly achievable in my opinion, apart from the painting time I invariably lose when assembling new models! So the answer is seemingly to not purchase any more models. Or go on holiday – at least not without my painting kit.

In fact, I also need to consider the amount of time it would take to paint single large models as well, which might take 2 weeks on their own. I guess I need to refine my batch painting techniques so that when I am painting infantry models in bulk, I can whizz through them that much quicker. I already bought myself a can of Halfords ‘Rover Russet Brown’ to use to base coat my Bretonnian Peasants and my Orks, after getting on very well with the Halfords matt black primer. Best try a test model first though!

And why 250 for the year? Well, a couple of months ago I had a bit of a tot up of the approximate number of models I have in my Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 collections, and I determined that at a rate of 250 models per year I could have all of my Warhammer and 40K models painted by the time my son turns 8, which is an age at which I think he will be old enough to really start to understand the games to a degree that will allow us to properly start his ‘wargamer training’.

So, there is my hobby resolution for 2015 (and beyond), and my thinking behind it. I really intend push hard on this, and to keep up the momentum both by listening to gaming podcasts while I paint, and to change it up with every new unit I paint between the various armies I have, just to prevent me from getting bored painting all the models from a single army before moving on to the next army. This does however prevent me from taking part in any of the various ‘army painting challenges’ that people are running, because I’m not planning on spending enough time on any one army to complete it in the year – but you never know I guess.

I’d be interested to know what your hobby resolutions are, whatever kind of gaming you are into, so feel free to drop in a comment.

I wish you all a safe and prosperous New Year, full of hobby goodness. See you on the other side, and for the last time in 2014 - thanks for reading.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Next Generation...

Greetings fellow wargamers and hobbyists, and welcome once more during this festive season.

A few days ago, while listening to the Heelanhammer podcast, Wayne and Dan made a brief comment about planning to introduce their kids to the hobby of miniature wargaming, as I imagine many of us expect to do if we haven't done so already, and it made me realise two things.

Firstly, it brought me to the belief that our hobby - particularly where is concerns Games Workshop games - is now in a place it has never been in before. The second generation of players is coming through. The Old Guard (people like yours truly, and I guess the majority of hobbyists or gamers over 30 years old) are settling down and raising families of our own, and I expect most of us have plans for our own kids to benefit from our years of collecting and gaming experience.

My son is not yet four, but already asks to play with 'daddy's toy soldiers'. This is to be expected I suppose, not only because lots of kids take an interested in what mummy and daddy are doing, but also because it's fairly typical for small boys to want to play with toy soldiers, tanks, knights and dragons at some stage. I'd like to think that little girls could also take just as keen an interest in these things if they lean in that direction. If I had a daughter I would be surprised if she didn't take an interest with all the gaming stuff I have laying around.

So this is all fairly obvious I guess, but it does lead me neatly onto my second point of discussion, which relates to Games Workshop's approach to sales.

The commonly held opinion seems to me to be that Games Workshop's target market, partcularly in their stores, is the 'new gamer', which the usual discussions indicate people believe is the 'young teenager'/pre-teen. A 'hook them while they're young' approach, if you will. Well I can't knock that approach in general I guess, it worked on me.

I have started to wonder now after listening to Dan and Wayne chatting whether that tried and tested approach is inherently flawed. When I think now about those new gamers Games Workshop are targetting, I have to wonder how many of those kids are the offspring of the first generation of gamers?

********Intermission Rant*********

Ok, a quick sentence or two my thoughts about marketing practises that target children, for example adverts for toys during Saturday morning TV time. First off, I have to wonder about the ethical thinking behind bombarding small children with sparkly jingles and pictures of things they all of a sudden want, when they have no understanding of the way they are being manipulated or (more importantly), little understanding of the fact that toys and games are not paid for with fake money from their play shop.

Secondly, I will never understand why any company would target their marketing campaigns towards people WHO HAVE NO MONEY!!!

Typically, small children (in modern countries at any rate) don't have jobs, and at best have some small amount of 'pocket money' which they are paid by their parents in exchange for good behaviour, but even then they can't always spend it on whatever they want. 'Pester Power' should not be a thing! Parents should not be put in a position where they face arguments with the kids or capitulation in the face of screaming children that won't take no for an answer. 
This is not a civilised state of affairs. I can't stand in my bosses office and demand a pay rise otherwise I'll scream and scream and scream until I am sick. It just isn't cricket.

********Rant Over********

Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that these days, how many of the 'new gamers' are really wide eyed and new to the world of hobby wargaming, and how many of them have parents with stern faces and Void Shielded wallets?

To paraphrase a line from Cuba Gooding Jnr, we know what it's all about: we've been to the puppet show and we've seen the strings. We also know what things cost, what perhaps is worth spending money on and what isn't and what is good value compared to what is not. We know about third party manufactured models and we know about discount retailers. We know about the second hand trade in miniatures. We know about ebay. Our eyes (for the most part) are wide open.

It's all well and good a company like Games Workshop building a strategy that focusses on new blood, but I have a feeling that a considerable amount of that new blood will become inaccessible unless we, the parents, the veterans, decide that the hobby is still a worthwhile, rewarding and financially justifiable pastime.

If however we become disillusioned and feel disconnected from what Games Workshop are doing with their games and miniatures, then we may well be making the decisions  about whether our kids get into what can easily become a huge investment in time and money, and critically (and very different from what was happening when I was starting out in the hobby), we would be making those decisions based on actual experience and first hand knowledge. Until now I can see a situation having existed where kids have talked their unknowing parents and grand parents into parting with cash based on their kids assurances that it's all very necessary.

In conclusion, I think that Games Workshop (and perhaps companies like them) need to pay just as much attention to what they need to do to keep the veterans engaged and happy with the state of play as they pay to ways of attracting the raw recruits, because the line between the two is only going to become greyer and greyer.

At the moment, but depending very heavily on what we see over the next few months, I think Games Workshop are doing what could be great things with the End Times series, but the long term impact of that and how it fits in with (or doesn't fit in with as the case may be) the 9th edition of Warhammer will put everyone in a very interesting place.

I think that Games Workshop should certainly think about their sales tactics; for example putting together bundles of models and actually giving some kind of discount for buying the bundle. Their quality may be second to none, but sometimes price wins out.

Anyway, these are my thoughts. If Games Workshop wants to be selling miniatures and games to my son in the years to come, they need to make sure I remain engaged in the hobby and supportive of my son's involvement with the company's products and methods.

Something for us all to think about in the years to come I think. Thanks for reading... 

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A world of uncertainty...

Greetings fellow wargamers and hobbyists, welcome back (after what seems like an age) to my humble abode. Before I begin waxing lyrical on my thoughts about the recent surprises unleashed upon an unsuspecting populous by Games Workshop, I am pleased announce the upcoming return of the Sprue Cutters Union!

I don't think it will be until the new year, but I expect this will be a full and regular posting revival, so watch this space.

Now, with that out of the way, what has happened in the hobby (for me at least) since my last post back in October? Well that post was about making choices between the shiny new thing that catches your eye, and the things you perhaps should really be dedicating your funds to in order to keep up with the game and give your army the solid foundation it needs to keep you playing with as much competitive edge as everyone else.

The choice I was faced with making was between the amazing new Nagash model, and the (also newly released) Void Raven Bomber for my Dark Eldar, who struggle with anti-flyer weapons at the best of times and entirely lacked any fliers. The Void Raven (and perhaps common sense) won out.

More recently, we have seen a spate of releases in the Warhammer End Times series, which began with Nagash (which I have read - introducing the End Times and the return of the Great Necromancer, not to mention his triumph in the lands of Nekhara), continued in Glottkin (which I have not yet read, but I believe in which the Nurgle-blessed Brothers Glott lead their hordes in an invasion of the Empire), and now forges on with Khaine (also which I have not read, but I am sure is crammed with Elven brofisting and sharing of festive cookie recipes).

There has also been some consternation about a release of red armoured Space Marines and debate over the introduction of a new base size for Space Marine models from Games Workshop, but I won't go into that now. Suffice to say that the important thing about the new base size is that we do not have to re-base our existing collections, so the quantity of fig I am prepared to give is relatively small.

So, major movements in GW's End Times story, and in general seeming to be received very well by the gaming community! You may think at this point that there is a distinct limit to how much I should be talking about the End Times until after I have read the second and third books, and that would be a perfectly reasonable thing to say, but I do not intend to give an in depth run down of everything that has happened so far in the story. I'm not the type for that kind of article, and other blogs and podcasts have already done so probably better than I could.

No. What I want to talk about today briefly is just my thoughts on the whole thing. We know what's in the books: amazing background material and new rules - but what do we, the gamers, actually think about the idea itself and its execution?

One last quick thing I would like to say as an aside before I spill the random and ill considered contents of my brain onto the page is that the other reason I am writing this and that I am also looking forward to the return of the Sprue Cutters Union, is that my chances to get out and play games has taken a major hit the last few months due to a clash with a class my wife is attending (give and take, you know how these things can be), and so my urge to write has become steadily stronger, both for giving some love to my blog, but also for writing some prose. I guess now is the time. So if this post seems a little confused or lacking in direction, that is the reason. Lots of urge perhaps requiring more in the way of moderation. On with the show.

The End Times series so far seems to have done exactly what many of us have wanted for some considerable time: it has introduced a major advance in the story line (comments about the Storm of Chaos aside - the return of Nagash and the family reunion between the Elves makes it much more than a simple re-run of that). What isn't clear is exactly how the series is intended to impact our games. Now this won't cause a moment's consternation for those of us who are used to simply cherry picking what we want from the ever expanding base of rules and source material available, but make things a little trickier for tournament organisers and players.

In my humble opinion it's not so much the new rules themselves, rather the fact that we don't have all of the rules yet that will be part of the extended End Times Release. Of course some of the rules seem unbalanced (because many of them are) when taken in isolation, but it's not until all of the End Times books (and complimentary Errata and FAQ documents) are in our hands that we will really be able to judge whether all the new rules and units are balanced when taken as a whole.

This is no different to when 8th Edition Fantasy landed, and the first few army books written for that edition were released. Things didn't begin to feel more balanced until the majority of armies had books for 8th, and look where we are now. The game as a whole is in a fantastic place, barring just one or two little tweaks. Tournament organisers need to take a breath, perhaps consult with their gamers and decide which elements of the new releases they want to include and which they don't. As new rules come out, the balance will probably change, and all they can do is do their best to maintain the level playing field, which I am sure that they are doing to the best of their ability and under tricky circumstances.

Ok then, why all the uncertainty? Well, at this present juncture there are several things going through my mind that make me hesitate before I do or purchase anything.

I would like to own all of the End Times books, but with them being in and out of stock all over the place at the minute that is easier said than done. And even if I could buy the second and third books, because we had first the hardbacks, now seemingly softback versions, and without knowing for sure how many books there will be, my inclination is to wait and see, and see also whether there will be a single compiled 'End Times mega-tome' at the end of it all.

Until I know what is going to be released and when, I don't feel happy committing funds to any of my armies, because I don't know yet what the long term effects will be. I certainly don't feel confident buying anything towards my Bretonnians over and above the models I bought and built earlier this year, because what is going to happen to the Bretonnians, Skaven and Beastmen is anyone's guess at the moment.

I for one expected to see a new book for each of them before anything major came out. In fact that is only partly true. I expected to see new books for them before 9th edition hits, and one of the questions floating around the ether at the moment is whether the End Times series is some kind of scene setting or table laying for the release of a 9th edition rules set. I did want to run a campaign at my local club, but apart from struggling to make it to games at the moment, The End Times has left everything up in the air.

Simply, we just don't know, and not knowing makes me want to hold off and see what happens. The background material is amazing, the books themselves are amazingly well produced (which is one reason it would be a shame to plump for digital versions), and the background material is amazing. Did I already say amazing? I think I did. Ok, time to expand on that a little I think, and show my age as well...

When I read the Nagash background and realised the scope of the story, I was awestruck. Several well established characters struck down out of the blue (although I had to think in a couple of cases to remind myself who they were, so perhaps not so big a loss), and entire countries and states overrun and decimated by hordes of northmen or over eager rodents. I thought to myself 'nah, this is far more than a simple rehashing of the Storm of Chaos. This is big. If it sticks'.

And I suppose that's one of the big questions weighing heavy on people's minds. Is this some kind of alternate source book style setting for playing games in, is it a fundamental change in the core background, or will it simply vanish when 9th edition arrives and cause riots in the gaming stores? I know which option I would prefer.

Like I said, I am not going to detail a blow by blow account of what I know about the story, because others have been there and done that. What I will do is pick out my three favourite bits of the story, all of which relate to new (or old) characters.

First off, I thought it was really cool to see the return of Dieter Helsnicht to the Warhammer world. He was a key reason I started playing Warhammer in the first place, after reading the battle report in issue 174 of White Dwarf way back in the mid 90's where Gav Thorpe lead the Undead in a battle called 'Revenge of the Doomlord', the Doomlord being Dieter Helsnicht, The Doomlord of Middenheim, and a playable special character who appeared in the 4th edition Undead army book alongside Nagash the last time he had rules. For a couple of years I have toyed with the idea of making my own Dieter Helsnicht model to replace the old metal one I have using the Chaos Lord riding a manticore model, but haven't got round to it yet. Perhaps there will be a new model now he's back - yet another uncertainty?

Next, the frighteningly powerful and somewhat depraved 'Nameless', a character whose identity has been speculated about at length. I think I know who the Nameless really is, so much so that I will be rather disappointed if it turns out to be someone else. My money is on it being The Great Enchanter: Constant Drachenfels. This is for three reasons. First, the Nameless is referred to as a Great Enchanter, and second, his initial location when called by Nagash is given as the Grey Mountains, which happens to be where Castle Drachenfels is, and thirdly, in the (very old) novel by the same name, Drachenfels has the power to control others. I think it's fair to say that also fits the modus operandi of the Nameless.

Third, and most importantly: the return of Vlad von Carstein. I am proud to say that Vlad is my all time favourite character in Warhammer, and to tag an 'in joke' at the moment, the story of Vlad and Isabella is a much better love story than Twilight. It was also done great justice in my opinion by Steven Saville's von Carstein trilogy. I am pleased beyond words that Vlad has returned, and his involvement with the story has shown how important and powerful he is. He may not be the most powerful sorcerer in the world, or the very best with a blade, but his will is iron, and his intellect and long term vision know no bounds.

This of course is all irrelevant, because all he wants in the world is his wife back. I dearly hope he gets his wish. And that at some point he takes some small measure of revenge against the upstart Manfred. That boy needs to be reminded that there are people it simply does not do to cross, and the fact that Nagash brought Vlad back from true death to lead the fight against Chaos in the north speaks volumes about both the Great Necromancer's belief in Vlad's abilities, and his trust that he can be left to act freely without upsetting his plans where Manfred cannot. Yay Vlad.

All we can do now is wait, enjoy each new release as it comes out, enjoy listening to various podcasts talk about them, and let things be the uncertain miasma they are at this moment. What more can we do?

I guess we could play a bit more 40k while the dust settles...

Until next time, thanks for reading.

P.S. I may not have been able to get much gaming done recently, but I have done a bit of painting, though I didn't make it to the end of the recent Hobby Survivors Series 10. I managed to get the first 15 of my Men at Arms painted for my Bretonnians (using Fireforge Games Foot Sergeants), and I also painted a Giant for our club painting competition, which unfortunately didn't work out quite as planned because only two of us finished our models.

Anyway, here are some pics. Next, I'll be working on my Hive Crone/Harpy kit, which I intend to magnetise to allow me to switch between both kit options.