Bashing Games Workshop


Games Workshop—the company gamers love to hate. Is it the worldwide success, the relentless corporate mindset, the short-sighted business practices or the eye-watering prices? It’s everything; and yet Games Workshop still sells plastic and (self-proclaimed) ‘finecast’ figures and over-priced books hand over fist all over the world.

But maybe, finally, Games Workshop has jumped the proverbial shark. Because no matter how ridiculous the prices get, no matter how many times their lawyers strong-arm their fans and distributors, and no matter how many times they re-release the same old rules in shiny new clothes, the figures have usually been pretty damn good. The Games Workshop Warhammer (fantasy) and Warhammer 40,000 (sci-fi) universes have decades of development behind them, and are distinctive and imaginative. So when I got the latest issue of White Dwarf, I was pretty shocked by the new Chaos figures they’ve just released.

But hold on—why do I get White Dwarf magazine, when it’s just a glossy advertisement for GW products that I don’t even buy? Well, it’s kind of a habit that won’t go away, and my girlfriend is kind enough to tack a subscription for me on the end of every Christmas present pile. And it’s an enjoyable bit of eye candy, despite the endless gushing self-congratulatory hyperbole about their own products that quickly becomes tiresome. With a few gaps here and there in the late 200s-early 300s, I’ve got almost every issue since #1 back in 1977 (for some bizarre reason they’re no longer numbered, but the last one is getting up to #400).

Anyway, back to the shark-jumping. The latest fanfare is for a bunch of Chaos Warriors for the Warhammer Fantasy Battle game. And these are by far the worst figures I have seen Games Workshop produce for quite some time. I don’t know who is approving these things, but they are nowhere near the standard that such a market-leading miniatures company should be churning out. Let’s have a look shall we? (Click all of the following images to see larger versions.)

GW Chaos

What? What’s happened to the dynamic poses, the realistic detail, the gritty fantasy? What we have now is something a lot closer to the following—the image on the left recently posted by someone on a Warhammer forum that I think perfectly captures the feel of the new Chaos chariot, and the image on the right, the figures that GW was making for the Heroquest game twenty-four years ago in 1989:

GW Toys

The same thick, chunky shapes, the same static, lifeless poses, the same cartoony, kiddy feel. Now, to further elucidate my point, here’s a quick look at what some other miniatures companies are producing these days. These from the Dark Age game:

Dark Age

And these from Privateer Press:

Privateer Press

Compared to these characterful, inspiring miniatures, the GW efforts are looking more and more like something you’d buy in K-Mart, or bundled with a Happy Meal. Then again, maybe that’s the direction the company suits are targeting.

Let’s hope this is just a minor aberration and GW stop making such clunky-looking figures. While I no longer buy their product, it’s a shame to see the quality level deteriorate to this degree—especially when the prices are so outrageous. Because despite everything that’s made them a target of mockery, I still have a small soft spot for the company that loomed so large in my early years as a gamer.

You’re Not From Around Here Are You?


Talking about Games Workshop … my girlfriend was is in town today and rang me to ask if I needed anything; I asked her to get me a tub of basing sand from the Games Workshop store (I very rarely darken the door of a GW store as I don’t play their miniatures games, but I do paint miniatures for boardgames).

She squared her shoulders against the sensory onslaught of heavy metal music and smelly pubescent boys, walked in and asked for a tub of sand. The guy behind the counter looked at her and said:

“He sent you on a mission didn’t he?”

Games Workshop Announce Dreadfleet

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Back in my day (he says, putting his feet up by the fire and drawing back on his pipe), Games Workshop made fantastic, over-the top, ‘big box’ games in addition to their core tabletop miniatures systems. Games like Necromunda, Space Hulk, Blood Bowl, Dark Future and my personal favourite, a fantasy naval combat game called Man O’ War. These games are long, long gone, and if, for example, you want to get a few fleets of Man O’War miniatures together these days it will cost you a pretty penny on Ebay. Luckily, I bought these games when they were first released, and have built up a nice collection of miniatures for them over the years.

Although these games did have expansions and decent ranges of miniatures, they weren’t big money spinners like Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000, so they were dropped from the GW product line. Gamers like me waited in vain for them to return until suddenly, in 2009, a impressive new ‘limited edition’ of Space Hulk was released. Chock full of components and unique miniatures of incredibly high quality, and folding in some of the rules from expansions to make a stand-alone game, it showed that GW really could still pull out the stops and make an amazing miniatures-based boardgame if it wanted to. Space Hulk sold out of its print run pretty quickly, and it seemed thereafter that GW were content to leave Fantasy Flight Games to make money from their licences.

But to everyone’s surprise, it seems they aren’t done mining their old glory days yet. Dreadfleet has just been quietly announced, a truly excessive and wonderfully extravagant-looking production with a huge gaming mat, 10 fantastically detailed ship models, over 130 cards, and numerous other bits. And all I can say, frankly, despite the crazy price (AUD$190) is … gimme!

I don’t see any sign of ship template cards, so it’s possible this is a completely different system than the original Man O’ War, or at least a simplified version; and certainly that game has entire fleets for each of the races and offers much more in the way of variety and large naval battle action than this new incarnation. It does seem a little strange for there to be only ten ships, each from a different race. But in any case, this really does look spectacular, and will probably be another short-run sellout for the company. It’s just a shame these revamped re-releases are one-offs—but then that’s probably a good thing for gamer bank accounts.

Man O’War will always be a firm favourite of my game collection (and Uncharted Seas from Spartan Games also gets good reviews) but Dreadfleet still looks to be an impressive indulgence—and perhaps a reminder that there’s still a bit of life in the old GW yet.

Click here to watch a video overview of Dreadfleet (and reflect on how much more professional the Fantasy Flight preview videos are).

Also check out this preview, which talks about the artwork and development of Dreadfleet. It’s great to see John Blanche’s eclectic art style—which I personally think has much more character than a lot of contemporary fantasy art—dominate this new game.

Grab ’em while you can!


Sometimes you just have to shake your head in disbelief at the stupidity and short-sightedness of some companies. Case in point: Games Workshop. Multi-million dollar exchange-listed behemoth tabletop games company.
They must have hired a new law firm or something, because gamers all over the world are receiving cease-and-desist letters from the suits to pull down from the net anything and everything that mentions their games. This morning, all the rules summaries and reference sheets I’ve done for their games were removed from BoardGameGeek, and I fully expect to get the email any day now that forces me to remove them from this site as well.

So I suggest, if you play any of these games, grab the sheets now while you still can.

Anyone with half a brain can’t help but be amazed by this kind of treatment. How can any company be so stupid as to penalise their own fans; people who are putting countless hours of their own effort into advertising their product for free? I mean, really, how can having online rules summaries for twenty-year-old games like Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb and Rogue Trooper hurt the company? Even if the game is still in print, it is common practice for companies to make their game rules available online. These games can’t be played by rules alone.

I could go on from here into how this kind of customer-bashing has become de rigeur for companies all over the world, and how the knee-jerk response of companies to the internet is completely missing the obvious fact that they will actually end up selling more product if they allow the fans to promote and support it online. But we’d be here all day.

Suffice it to say that gamers know which way the wind is blowing, and are deserting Games Workshop in droves. Eventually the twelve-year-olds that these days make up their core customers will wake up to the facts as well, stop supporting this aging corporate beast of a company, and go elsewhere to game companies that actually care about their customers.

In the meantime, let’s all watch Games Workshop dig its own grave.

The Games Workshop Files Purge of ’09 (BoardgameGeek GeekList).