Following the light of the sun, we left for the Oldhammer World
September 18, 2014 6:47 PM   Subscribe

From humble beginnings as a tabletop game shop in London in the late 1970s with an exclusive contract to distribute Dungeons & Dragons in the United Kingdom, Games Workshop soon moved into producing its own games, most notably the wildly successful Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000. Over the years, the company has transformed itself into a slick marketing machine, dedicated to selling its own (expensive) products to an ever-younger demographic, while managing to live up to its reputation as the big bad corporation of tabletop gaming. For fans of the spirit and style of the Games Workshop of their youth that aren't interested in the company's products today, there’s Oldhammer: an Internet community dedicated to playing Warhammer as it existed in the 1980s.

Centered around a forum and a network of blogs, the Oldhammer community believes in a return to older rulesets, like Warhammer Fantasy Battle, 3rd Edition (1987) and Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1987). Of course, there’s also a Facebook group, as well as French and Spanish communities. An annual event called Bring Out Your Lead (the first event in 2013 was called Oldhammer Weekend) allows fans to get together and game in a laid back, non-competitive atmosphere and was recently held last month at Wargames Foundry in Nottingham*. Events this year included Wacky Races-esque custom games, Judge Dredd, and a siege. People are already planning games for next year, like this massive pirate-themed naval battle.

Members of the Oldhammer community recently unveiled Project Alchemy, an online charity raffle benefitting UNICEF, offering up lots of rare Games Workshop-related merchandise and production material as prizes.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, Realm of Chaos 80s and Warhammer for Adults are two of the better Oldhammer blogs, with regular updates and lots of material to pour through. Collecting Citadel Miniatures and The Stuff of Legends have lots of photos of old miniatures, which you can look for on eBay and other marketplaces, just beware of high prices. The Showroom section of the Oldhammer Forum is a good place to check out the projects and miniatures members have recently completed, while the WIP section is similarly self-explanatory.

Thankfully, there are other options for classic miniatures, or at least miniatures embodying the style of the 1980s. The aforementioned Wargames Foundry sells miniatures from old Games Workshop molds, thanks to Foundry owner Bryan Ansell’s involvement in setting up Games Workshop’s Citadel Miniatures. Oldhammer community members have also gotten in on the act, with many sculpting (and occasionally selling) their own figures. The Oldhammer blog includes more links to manufacturers producing miniatures in an Oldhammer "style." (Just scroll down a bit, it's on the right hand side)

If you’re looking to rekindle some of that classic Games Workshop magic on your tabletop but don’t feel like plunking down the money for expensive out-of-print miniatures, you’ve got some other options:

Fantasy Flight Games has been re-releasing a number of old Games Workshop boardgames over the past few years, including Talisman, Horus Heresy and Dungeonquest. They’ve also been developing new games with the Warhammer IP, like Chaos in the Old World, Warhammer: Invasion, Warhammer: Diskwars, Warhammer 40,000: Relic and Warhammer 40,000: Conquest. Games Workshop itself is re-releasing Space Hulk, and of course there’s always the recent video game versions of Talisman, Blood Bowl, Space Hulk, Warhammer Quest and Chainsaw Warrior. A digital version of Mordheim is also in development, for release sometime later this year.

* More Bring Out Your Lead 2014 coverage (in no particular order): 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
posted by yellowlightman (30 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Great post.

I'm more of a collector than a player of WFB and W40K, I really don't play much at all these days, but I have been playing since the late 80s, and I don't get the attraction of the original rulesets apart from the desire to capture one's lost youth. Of course one can always complain about certain aspects of any rule set, but if I recall correclty, there were so many inconsistencies, holes and errors in the original rules that they were, if not unplayable then quite frustrating.

As for the miniatures, putting aside for a moment the corporate practices of GW, their sculpting and pressing of miniatures these days is just amazing. Yes we had "Failcast" in the last few years, but they still consistently put out fantastic, dynamic and creative stuff. Of course there was some great old skool stuff too, but overall the more recent stuff is simply better. I fail to see the attraction for old stuff, quality-wise, as a generalisation (we all have favourite pieces, and they can be from way back, or the latest ForgeWorld).

I would be interested to see if, adjusting for inflation, if recent products are more expensive per item NIB.

I also don't really agree that the vibe of GW is all about making money and directing kiddies to just do the one certain, competitive thing. Reading the rules and WD, there are many many article, by John Blanche as well as lots of others, stressing that this game is for the players to use and mess around with, that all rules are essentially negotiable, that creativity is encouraged, that fair play and enjoying the game are far more important than winning. That message is repeated a lot in their official writings. And artistically, they love mods, no straight miniature has won a Golden Demon since forever.

It's great that people want a relaxed vibe to play and paint with - but I wouldn't suggest this is something GW has ever worked against - it's more a feature of modern society I guess. there are heaps of wargaming clubs around that focus on the casual vibe, and that's great.

Of course GW are aggressive in protecting their IP. They're not the only company working their way in the brave new world of low cost global production and manufacturing. I've heard arguments that they were plagiarists themselves and that IP is meaningless, but this is bullshit, GW has created a strong and very distinct world that people want to visit. GW does have a right to protect that patch. That said, they fuck over the Aussie consumers for no justifiable reason whatsoever (just like Apple does), and PM me for some recommendations for Chinacast.

GW has restricted access to some of their fine old games (Epic, SpaceHulk, Bloodbowl) and I wish they hadn't, but I guess it was a commercial decision, it's not worth a big whinge, and as noted, they're releasing new SpaceHulk again (got my re-release the other year).
posted by wilful at 7:31 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh and Talisman, definitely going to buy that for the boys soon. Wont be playing it with a bong hit for each level this time around I guess...
posted by wilful at 7:32 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used to buy the books and just read them because they were fun. I can't paint anything and the rules, at least when I played in the 90s, were ridiculously bad. I am incredibly impressed that they've managed to survive the digital age.

The one game I did end up playing quite a bit was Necromunda. Interesting world, low investment, manageable game size. It also had character advancement which prefigured the "put a RPG in everything" craze of the modern age. I would love to play a game like that again, particularly if everything came in the box.

Also all the amazing terrain-building my friends got into around the same time should have made me expect something like Minecraft...

I still can't believe they never sued Blizzard.
posted by selfnoise at 7:43 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have to say, I've played a lot of MMOs, and the Warhammer MMORPG was one of the best for fun realm versus realm play. It was easy to enter, fun to play and quick to advance. I know nothing of Warhammer beyond this, but it makes me predisposed to like it.
posted by mollweide at 7:43 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh also the Necromunda box came with this modular terrain, which was great if you had been using like books and cereal boxes painted green. I am SUCH an artist.
posted by selfnoise at 7:45 PM on September 18, 2014

If you're in Minneapolis and like games it is worth stopping by the Fantasy Flight headquarters. They have a huge room with all their own games and many other company's games, and they sell cheap beer and snacks.
posted by miyabo at 7:59 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Necromunda looked really good, but I decided to not get into it - I had been around Games Workshop long enough to know that it was one of their temporary games; one day they'd stop supporting it and stop selling it, and everyone would stop playing it, and I'd be left with another expensive investment gathering dust. (I spent a lot of time painting and modelling, so the monetary expense wasn't even the biggest cost)

I love tabletop games, but they're just not workable for me now that I'm a grown up - I don't enjoy games where I'm still learning the rules (or the other people are), which means the games aren't fun unless a group commits to playing the same game repeatedly over the long term, and most adults just can't find time for that. I'm much too busy with whining on metafilter and stuff.
posted by anonymisc at 8:53 PM on September 18, 2014

The new kits are still so great. I don't play 40k any more in favour of Warmachine, but I am still regularly tempted to buy 40k kits just to assemble and paint them. The computer design and molding process means that stuff just goes together like a dream, and the styrene plastic is excellent for converting.

It's a shock to the system when you buy new metal figures from other manufacturers and are back to filling gaps with putty...
posted by xiw at 9:23 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I work in the tabletop gaming industry, and one constant is that my employer attracts more criticism the more its practices are seen as resembling GW. I suppose it's hard to be the biggest player in the game without also becoming the big bad, but they really haven't been doing themselves any favours for the last five years or so, particularly down here in Australasia.
posted by Soulfather at 9:49 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

The question this old Squat player has is why is the "Screech!" template un-searchable? I can't be the only one who remembers it.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:25 AM on September 19, 2014

I've heard arguments that they were plagiarists themselves and that IP is meaningless, but this is bullshit, GW has created a strong and very distinct world that people want to visit.

So you're saying that the "distance" between Tolkien/Moorcock/ActualHistory and WH is bigger than the distance between e.g. Warcraft and Warhammer? I really like the Old World (coming from WFRP), but "very distinct" wouldn't be the words I'd use.

Which reminds me that I really should get my old 1st. Ed. RPG and The Enemy Within out of storage.
posted by pseudocode at 12:30 AM on September 19, 2014

I believe I owe a good portion of my diminished eyesight to Epic scale miniature painting at a young age. I absolutely loved Warhammer, loved the universe being built, loved the assembling and painting. All of that, though, and if don't think I ever played more than ten or twelve actual games. Given that I had full Space Marine, Eldar (and Harlequin!), and Epic (Imperium) armies, I can't even imagine what the cost ends up at per actual game played.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:01 AM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

So you're saying that the "distance" between Tolkien/Moorcock/ActualHistory and WH is bigger than the distance between e.g. Warcraft and Warhammer?

I don't play enough Warcraft to know in terms of story, but in terms of art and artistic direction, the distance is noticeably bigger, yes. But I would think he's referring more to WH40K, which was very very distinct (at least until Blizzard copied the inhabitants and art style, and microprose/2K copied the gameplay, among others, etc.) it has been quite influential across most mediums, not just games.

posted by anonymisc at 1:12 AM on September 19, 2014

Never got into Warhammer miniature gaming myself but my friends and I did give the Warhammer FRPG a shot a few times. Loved the character creation and the setting, but the game itself wasn't all that compelling to us and we kept returning to the more Tolkien-esque roleplaying games.

We played the heck out of Talisman on the other hand. I've still got my original copy of it sitting in the closet but have had no luck getting my wife or adult friends interested, so it just sits there gathering dust.
posted by JaredSeth at 2:44 AM on September 19, 2014

pseudocode, what I am saying is that GW employees have done is create a distinct milieu that is easily describable as that company's intellectual property, no one else's. They really don't have to apologise and make excuses for their underpinnings in Moorcock etc, they have gone far further and deeper in their own world. Anyone ripping it off and saying oh but GW ripped it off in the first place are deluding themselves.
posted by wilful at 2:53 AM on September 19, 2014

Monsters in outer space with Geiger-esque carapaces, long tails and frightening tongues hunt bad-assed hombres in claustrophobic corridors, seeking to kill or impregnate them. Said hombres, who drive large, flat-faced tanks, fight back with flamethrowers and very large machine guns. They all die, mostly. Whose 'distinct milieu' am I describing? ;)

(Lest I be written off as a GW hater, my copy of SH will be here early next week, and I'll paint everything inside, once I'm finished painting my Darkside Cowboys.)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:36 AM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Robotic metal skeletons with a rule called "We'll be back."

Still, I'm willing to forgive a myriad of 'borrowed concepts' if it means I can field an army of dudes armed with badass stadium rock guitars. That there was never any straight up licencing going on with GWAR for the Noise Marines still mystifies me.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:40 AM on September 19, 2014

Diskwars: Warhammer is supposed to be very good.

I heard a rumor that GW used to sell bags of sand to modelers for $15.
posted by mecran01 at 4:38 AM on September 19, 2014

I don't think I ever got around to actually playing a single game of anything Warhammery (except maybe Talisman, which doesn't really count), but I was fascinated by the universe - as a seven year old used to reading Famous Five books it was my first introduction to dark science fiction, and hoo boy when you poked around in the corners it was very dark indeed. I'd borrow a codex off someone, skip over all the rules and stats and the boring stuff and just go through section to section reading the fluff pieces and gaping at the illustrations. I would buy a box of models, misassemble them, half-paint them with eager concentration and then just take them out and imagine them every now and then.

Eventually I got my hands on some of the old short fiction collections (mostly Warhammer fantasy, not the sci-fi 40k) and they were INCREDIBLE. My eyes were suddenly opened to a world of high weirdness and exhilarating gothic insanity never paralleled since - stories of strangeness and vastness completely at odds with the swords'n'fighting that everyone else thought the setting was about. Stories of a neighbour who grows disquieting tropical plants in his city garden, or a woman who painstakingly reassembles a shattered stained glass window in a ruin only to encounter something coming out of the light that shines through it, or a spice trading family travelling down a river on a barge, or of a Norse quest to the uttermost north travelling through frozen reaches filled with madness and trying to remain sane.

That's what Warhammer is about to me. That's the engine that drives it and the force that pulls children in even though the company invents more and more annoying ways of depriving them of their pocket money. It's about the depth and potential of its background lore, mostly dreamt up by jobbing British sci-fi authors in the 80s taking the opportunity to experiment and practice their craft, spurred on by the epic vastness of the universe.

I found a couple of old books in some dusty boxes a few months ago, and to my adult eyes more used to reading Pynchon than Pratchett, they more than hold up.
posted by forgetful snow at 5:00 AM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's a distinct lack of blood and skulls in this thread, just saying.
posted by ersatz at 5:08 AM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Self-plug for my Windows CounterMaker program. Makes ranks of stand-up little card soldiers, good for wargames.
posted by alasdair at 5:26 AM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

How early was Blood for the Blood God? Was that in Rogue Trader, or later?

Also, Skulls for the Skull Throne.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:53 AM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I heard a rumor that GW used to sell bags of sand to modelers for $15.

Their superglue and paint brush prices were always astonishing.

That new Space Hulk looks interesting, it was always the purest and most fun game GW made (rather than hooking you into a pocket money sapping hobby)
posted by brilliantmistake at 6:45 AM on September 19, 2014

Yeah, I'm a big fan of GW, and I love their models, but to say they were "influenced" by a lot of movies and pop culture is an understatement. I think if they had been big enough that James Cameron or HR Giger had noticed them in the late '80's / early '90's, they would have been sued out of existence. I'm not against IP, but I personally feel they don't have a huge leg to stand on when complaining about people riffing on their designs.

More to the topic, I've perused a lot of the older rules in recent years, and yeesh. I get nostalgia, but a lot of them are just awful. The models also don't hold up very well; I managed to snag a bunch of old Necron and Space Marine stuff a while back, and by today's standards they are pretty amazingly clunky and unappealingly cartoon-like. GW has come a long way in their modeling capabilities, and I don't think there's much from the '80's and '90's that stands up to anything they're doing today.

The fluff is also a bit of a problem, personally. I like the overarching story, but the names in particular are so godawful. A lot of the early stuff was just written by some friends in their basement, more or less, and it shows. The clunkiest or most off-putting parts of the modern books tends to all be stuff that's a holdover from that era.
posted by tocts at 6:52 AM on September 19, 2014

The next "Total War" game from Creative Assembly is strongly rumored to be set in the Warhammer universe, since they bought the license a couple years back. There's already an unofficial mod for Medieval II, and it seems to be fairly popular 10 years on. I wonder if Sega/CA learned their lesson from Rome II and will be adding more RPG elements instead of making it an afterthought, because it seems that would be a wonderful mesh with the tabletop elements. I'm sure the grognards (or whatever the Warhammer equivalent is) have a lot to say about this, but it has a lot of potential to expand the audience.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:53 AM on September 19, 2014

I went through a WH40K phase around 2003-2005. I really enjoyed the lore and the model building and painting. I didn't enjoy the rules lawyering and debating about line of sight.

Forgeworld makes some really awesome stuff.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:24 AM on September 19, 2014

Necromunda was easily my favorite of the 40k universe lines, and yeah it's a goddamn tragedy that it's been left by the wayside for current revision. It's one of the gamesets that positively screams for a modern PC version, especially with the resurgence of the tactical squad combat genre, but no apparently licensing out another shoddy Space Hulk iteration or yet more Blood Bowl expansions for digital release is of a higher priority. I still have TWO sets of the terrain, altho the figures have been long lost to time.. and prowling ebay for a decent squad of gangers will set you back 80-100 bucks or more.

A few years back, there was a series of yubtub vids by someone who was handcrafting a PC version of the tabletop game, but it hasn't been updated in some time.. likely smashed by the iron hammer of GW's C&D orders.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:53 AM on September 19, 2014

Chaos in the Old World is just an absolute goddamn delight of a board game; it sits in the complexity range with Game of Thrones (but with less diplomacy). Lots of replay value, and fun as heck if you play it with blood-for-the-blood-god type friends.
posted by Shepherd at 9:57 AM on September 19, 2014

borrowed concepts

A previous comment of mine on the topic.
posted by radwolf76 at 3:37 AM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chaos in the Old World is just an absolute goddamn delight of a board game

Indeed, it is; I had a chance to play another game of it this weekend, and it was a really good time. It's got solid mechanics and a lot of tension from start to finish.

I will say, I wish the components weren't so frustrating. The board, tokens, and cards are all very pretty, but in every situation where they had a choice to err on the side of theme or usability, they chose theme. Consequently, there's all sorts of important information that's very easy to miss. Issues include:

Territory borders are easy to mistake (because the whole map is browns, yellows, and rusts, with rusty blood red borders).

On-board tokens that give important information blend in to the board's color palette.

There's no enumerated spaces to hold corruption tokens, so they tend to just sit in uneven stacks. It's often really important to know how many are on a territory, meaning you end up having to pick them up and count them (giving away entirely to other players that you're interested in that territory)

One power/faction (Nurgle) depends heavily on territory tagged with a keyword ("Populous") that is really tiny, just below the territory name, and it's super easy for people to miss.

One power/faction (Tzeentch) depends heavily on cards tagged with an icon labeling them Magic, which is indicated on cards by a really low-key icon that looks more like it's just background decoration than anything else, making it very easy to miss.

Etc, etc. I view it as just about the worst graphic design I've ever seen in a board game (pretty, but oh so useless). I don't think I've ever played a game without at least one player making a fairly big mistake due to usability issues. It's a fun game, but one that screams for a component remodel.
posted by tocts at 7:27 AM on September 21, 2014

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