Strolling through my garage on my way to workout I always have to pass by what still remains of a once very large miniatures collection, often looking over at the shelved boxes and the few figures I keep sitting out that are all longing for paint. I can remember when I was younger and stepped through the doors of my very first game convention, wandering past the many tables of boardgames and minis that were on display and just checking everything out and taking it all in.
I was there with some friends to buy a few new pieces for my recently purchased Skaven Blood Bowl team, a game that was my first real experience with anything miniatures related at the time. It was okay but I never really connected with the feel of it, playing mostly to just hang out with my buddies and not caring if I won or lost, although fouling the living tar out of every downed player that I could was one heck of a good time. I meandered by the vendors searching for just the right figures to sub in for a star player or two, not really finding anything that I fell in love with or couldn’t say no to. But then a certain gaming table that was off to the far side of the floor caught my eye, one that was loaded with awesome looking terrain, a home-made giant robot, and brightly colored game pieces that were all brimming with shooty goodness. The fellow heading it could see that I was more than curious and introduced himself as a Games Workshop Outrider, at least back when they still had those, and told me the name of the game was Get the Gargant, which would turn out to be the very first scenario for Warhammer 40,000 I would ever play, and end up shaping my interests and gaming direction for years to come.
Looking back on it, I can tell you about so many things that appealed to me about Warhammer 40K once I got sucked into it. For starters, the background and setting it presented were always my cup of tea, the future being in a dark age of stagnant and declining technology just striking me as really different from most of the other science fiction I was familiar with at the time. I loved the idea that the only thing holding humanity together was a near dead emperor trapped on his own golden throne, having to consume the psychic essences of thousands of blindly devoted pilgrims a day just to survive and eke out an existence. I liked the rules and the gameplay a hell of a lot at the time too, and absolutely fell in love with all of the cool minis, monsters, and vehicles that went with it, I mean how could I not after all. Me and my friends used to play nearly every weekend before our Saturday night D&D games when we were younger, pitting Space Marines and the Imperial Guard against crazed Space Orks and ravenous Tyranids. We made up our own scenarios and built terrain to go along with nearly every battle, and it was always fun to add new models to our collections and see how they worked against our opponents’ forces. But somewhere along the line 40K gradually started to lose its luster and appeal for me, and the more I see these miniatures in my garage today the more it takes me back and makes me wonder just what happened and why.
Now, tabletop miniatures games have always been something that have required a lot of space in order to play, not to mention just storing your models along with the empty shelves and totes the game pieces are going to eat up, so that’s not the issue as it’s expected to come with the territory. What did begin to turn me off was that the rules kept going through what seemed like a new edition over and over again, with each one necessitating the purchase of a new rule book and codex, and almost having to relearn how to play from scratch. It seemed like every year of so they brought out updated material or just completely changed the game system altogether, with each revision brining the possibility that a large chunk of your hard painted, and not to mention expensive (see below), models could be rendered obsolete and useless by being written out of the background. It always bummed me out when I had finally gotten comfortable with a current system and play style, only to have the rules suddenly change and the entire dynamic I liked and had worked out be lost and useless. In the end, the constant shifting of the rules and endless stream of supplemental material became too much for me to care about, and my interests began to turn elsewhere.
Another thing that began to bug me was that the setting and background began to shift, seeming to move away from the dark and dying tech vibe to one of a more conventional, and crisp, sci-fi feel. Models and new units began to be added, with everything from giant walking Imperial Knights to Spacemarine jet bikes and personal flight units making an appearance, all things that were hinted at being dead or lost to the past in previous editions. I know that a company has to keep a game world and background fresh and new or it can quickly stagnate and become irrelevant, but I miss the grim days of the far future where humanity was just barely hanging on. This Is just my personal taste, but I always prefer something a bit more gritty over the overblown and epic, and Warhammer 40K, not to mention Age of Sigmar (god, don’t get me started), has just moved away from that, so it was just another factor that caused me to slowly sour on it.
Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about the biggie when it comes to Games Workshop, and by extension their products, and that’s their price point. Pretty much with all of their lines, Games Workshop has priced me right out of giving a crap about any of their products. As I mentioned above, they seem to release a new rules edition along with required supplemental material every other year or so, and believe me those ain’t cheap. When a base rulebook runs about sixty bucks and then a codex another forty or fifty, just so you can use your damn game pieces, it’s all getting a bit much. Heck, the boxed set alone is a hundred and sixty, and you still have to drop money on paints and supplies just to prep the pieces for play. What else strikes me as a very horrible trend is how the rules are structured when it comes to buying the miniatures that are produced. It used to be that a game of 40K was a rather balanced affair, with both players having a relatively equal force of models to game with. Now, it seems the rules almost favor the player that runs out and buys the biggest and best models, prioritizing winning the game over actually enjoying it, and giving the edge to the player that has dropped the most cash as a reward.
Here’s an example of what I mean. The game used to run on a percentage point system and then later with guidelines called force organization charts, pitting an HQ (headquarters) unit, your general, and a couple of infantry squads against each other. These could be purchased for a relatively decent price, getting everything that you might need for around seventy-five dollars or so back in the day. I remember when the base boxed kits were about twenty-five or thirty bucks each and a commander would retail for around fifteen, so I could live with it, and they were ALL made of metal. Now you’re paying at least twenty-five dollars for a single plastic figure and upwards of fifty for a standard kit, which is also plastic. But here’s the thing. With the way the rules are structured now, don’t even think about going this route if you actually want to have a chance in hell of winning or being competitive, because it just won’t happen if you keep it basic. The game has been structured, and very sneakily I might add, to favor the use of its bigger models. The balance has been destroyed and almost wiped out altogether by the advent of apocalypse formations and unbound armies, allowing a free for all of about any damn thing a player wants to use in a game. “Well that’s cool,” you might say, but here’s my gripe with that. Suppose I have a collection that I bring to play with that is made up of nothing but tanks. At fifty dollars a pop, I bring eight tanks, four-hundred dollars, and utterly crush your poor little infantry-based army. Now, you don’t feel like having that happen again, so you go out and you buy yourself a couple of knights (think big robots), at about one-twenty-five a go, and throw in a big ass jet along with them for another hundred bucks just for fun. So, in order to remain competitive, I have to go and buy bigger stuff too, and then you have to keep up with me by buying even bigger and better than that, and then so on and so forth until we’re both broke and have to peddle our painting talents together on the corner just for snack money. It’s just a vicious cycle that keeps on going and I just refused to let it drain my cash anymore, which is a shame, because honestly the models are still really well done, but I don’t feel like I’m getting my value anymore, let alone having a good time. But Games Workshop keeps on chugging along and the prices keep on climbing, and more folks than besides just myself have walked away from Warhammer 40K as a result, and there’s probably still more to come before it’s over.
I hope I’m not coming off as just a surly old gamer with an axe to grind with my ranting above, as It’s just how I personally feel about a game that at one time I did love to play and collect for. I haven’t bought anything 40K related now for at least a good few years, which again bums me out because I really did enjoy it for a time and painting up all the little goodies I could get my hands on. I do still play around with miniatures on occasion these days when the mood strikes me, though, but my tastes and preferences lately lean more towards small skirmish style systems like Frostgrave or the old, and still very well done, Mordheim rules. If you still like yourself some Warhammer 40K then more power to you, maybe one day I’ll come back into the fold myself because you never know for sure, just not anytime soon. Anyway, happy gaming, gang. FOR THE EMPORER!
Maybe Frostgrave of Mordheim for a future review? That sounds like fun.