Sunday, April 23, 2006

The dirty truth about Warhammer 40K

Recently, I've noticed it has become socially acceptable for wargamers to play Warhammer ancients. Not so many years ago, admitting to playing warhammer in any form was akin to suggesting you liked to decide games by throwing pencils at each others troops. Wargamers are seldom in a position to feel socially superior to any group, but the teenage audience for Games Workshop were generally seen as the lowest of the the low.

To date this transformation of attitudes, driven as it is by a trend towards bigger figures, painted in more cartoony fashions - presented as more realistic on the most doubtful of evidence - has not really cut in to the one aspect of the Games Workshop market I actually play regularly. Warhammer 40,000.

Why is that?

Associations with rather too much cryptofacist regalia, blocky weaponry and badly designed rip offs of variously their own fantasy ranges and certain obvious films were bad enough, but the first edition of 40k, as it became known was largely unworkable; fine for a couple of dozen figures a side, and certainly flexible, but over complicated and lacking any realistic structure for the games people wanted to play. Big 'ole battles. After a few games under the old rules, which saw me thrashed by rulemongerers using all the as yet unrestricted tricks in the book (Orks with photon and warp grenades anyone), I gave it up as a bad thing; stored my figures for a while before selling them off.

I still earned a meagre living selling the things in a shop, but that's by the by.

Many years passed and I lieu of any other local opponents when I moved, I was seduced into trying the game again. Oh my! I don't know what edition they officially were, third perhaps, but finally the rules made sense. All the problems were more or less ironed out (and fourth edition has sorted most of them); forces were balanced, games manageable to play to a conclusion in a reasonable period of time. And even to a point realistic tactically (accepting the huge exagerations implicit in the alien forces).

I got sucked into it all again.

But of course I started this with a question; why isn't there a developing scene of Warhammer Moderns players? Well to a point there are, they have a yahoo group (virtually silent) and a version of the rules ( And having tried them out I found that with some simple adjustments WarhammerWW2 works really well. Yet the few versions of modern gaming using the core system of Games Workshops rules, have stuck to using the Ancients core system. Why?

Well; I can only speculate really, myself. But I was once told that GW themselves liked the idea of one day selling historical figures in its' own shops, having games of Alexander versus Darius alongside Dwarves and Orcs. However they got really uncomfortable about the fact thet world war two was the obvious line to take 40k down, Kevin Pavlick developed his version of 40k years ago, and this meant Germans, which equals Nazis.

Big problem that, for a company with a chronic image problem to begin with.

Many parents, I know from selling stuff to them for years are really uncomfortable with some of the content of Warhammer 40,000. I firmly believe that whislt certain elements became more realistic, the 'Teutonic' overtones prevalent in both early Space Marines, and their arch enemies (Orks and oddly enough early Genestealers) were steadily airbrushed out. It's not a route they seem prepared to go down, too many negatives that would impact on their core business. I understand Mr Pavlicks rules are quietly ignored by GW (there's something too about it not being an infringement of copyright in the USA to modify someones rule system if not for profit); but they aren't ready yet to plug a version of them in their magazines, as they do for the latest 'Ancients' supplement. Too risky.

Which to conclude is a shame for there are certain obvious points to having a historical version of 40k; my regular opponent was gently weaned onto historical gaming through Warhammer WW2, after all when he already knew the rules it was just an army that he didn't know. All the concepts are familiar, and the forces remain at least of some interest, thanks to endless war movies and TV shows.

Fact is you can always find a 40k'er, not always a wargamer.

It's nice to make the two the same thing.

It just needs an accessible set of rules and a little support to work...


  1. Interesting stuff here. Our mostly historical wargames club, where 40k does get played every now and again (along with WFB) have been wondering how best to encourage players from the local GW store to come along to our club. It's hard going and even harder to work out why.

    Good luck with the Blog. It looks very promising. Will you be adding a RSS feed?



  2. Warhammer WW2 lives on -