Tea and Biscuits with Lauby and Frontline Gamer: Starting the Hobby, part 1

With Von is taking a short HoP sabbatical, there was an obvious hole in the posting schedule that needed to be filled.  Unfortunately, we can’t just keep making SinSynn write about Flames of War indefinitely.  And believe me, we tried.  Luckily, Von has many IRL friends who were willing to help out in his stead.  Frontline Gamer, in particular, jumped at the chance and even had some rather complete thoughts on what we could write about.  

Still not entirely convinced that Frontline Gamer isn’t a hyper intelligent cat.

What follows is the first part of a conversation we’re having about the nature of our hobby.  The idea being that will we discuss a topic in a semi guided fashion until we reach some kind of conclusion… or Von returns.  Whichever happens first.

Lauby: Waaaaaay back in the dimly remembered days of last october, Frontline Gamer conducted an interview with me as part of the wildly successful HoP Idol contest. A lot of great topics came up and new pals were made. Sadly, far, far too much of what either one of us had to say about anything ended up not written down or on the cutting room floor due to time and space constraints. After having gone back and read through the post to mine it for ideas, I found this question:

Thinking about why you started and when you started, I had a bit of a worrying piece of introspection two weeks ago or so when talking to a friend about starting the hobby right now. If you were looking at the hobby today would you get into it? Because I’m not so sure I would, mainly to do with the upfront cost and time investment required now. Should we be worried about this?

Truly an interesting subject, but we didn’t even get close to exhausting this as a topic of discussion. Let’s call that the short answer version. So this is where we start the series at:  the pursuit of the long answer.

FG: Indeed, when I was interviewing you for the HoP Idol contest I was all too aware of the time constraints we were both under to get the article done. I really don’t think we fully explored this question at all. I guess where I was coming from with this question was seeing my own young nephews try and start out in the hobby. In some respects it’s far more accessible now than it has ever been. With the Internet and certainly here in the UK Games Workshops large high street presence it’s easier to come into contact with the hobby. However, where as I can remember spending my pocket money on a few Dark Futures cars one month and being able to play a game, I watched my nephews tire of having to wait month after month to get an army together. So I’m personally confused about the issues this question churns out, what would you say it’s like across the pond where you live?

Lauby: I’d say it’s fairly similar. I have distinct memories of trying to cobble together a space marine army for 3rd edition and a Warriors of Chaos army for Fantasy that very much parallel your nephew’s experience. Not much has changed… at least as far as GW’s version of our hobby is concerned. They have always been a bit of a grind to get into. Here I am as a full grown man (in body if not spirit) and I still have to do a fair bit of waiting and scraping. There just isn’t a point of entry into their two biggest games that doesn’t bring the term “huge capital outlay” to mind.

FG: I suppose there’s an element of truth to what you say. However, I distinctly remember 4th Edition Fantasy armies being smaller than they are nowadays. I also remember that the justification and implementation of plastic miniatures was very different to what we have now. Back then we had once piece plastic moulded spearmen and archers, the idea was that they were deliberately cheap wound counters. The idea being to reduce the cost of armies by not having to by lots of expensive metal rank and file miniatures. Somewhere along the way that principle has been forgotten back at Lenton Lane. While I have no doubts that the current plastic kits produced by Games Workshop are a significant step up from their original offerings in terms of quality, it just seems that they’ve gone back to the same problems they had with expense that surrounded building large units of metal rank and file mini’s. Cost. I think it’s fair to say that Ronnie Renton and Mantic are probably closer to the original ethos behind Games Workshops own switch to plastics now.

Lauby: Looks like we have a clear case of that “the more things change the more they stay the same” malarkey as far as G-Dubs goes. Shifting gears to Kings of War and whatever Kings of War in Space is really called, I feel you on the in terms of cost and model conceptualization, but here’s a question for you:

Who the hell plays Kings of War?

Let’s expand that so I’m not picking on anyone specific and say – who the hell plays any game? It’s an important question to ask. Even of the GW powerhouses.

Does anyone even play the game you’re interested in? How often does that happen? Do you even want any contact with a certain player base if one exists? These are all part of that simple question.

It’s not enough for us to simply look at a price point and go from there. We have to look at being able to get into the hobby from a lot of angles.

FG: No I totally agree, I’ve often said myself that the two to tango thing is what cripples many smaller games. I’m known as Games Pimp in these parts because I swear I could pimp any game to anyone successfully! lol. But the truth is that sometimes it’s hard to build a community up for certain games.

That’s where Games Workshop does have a massive advantage though, no matter where I go pretty much in the UK I know I’ll be able to play 40k. That’s very appealing for many. You could say they’re ubiquitous I guess. But that brings with it a double edged sword because in many case we come right back round to the cost thing again don’t we?

Their games are expensive to start up, there’s no real easy entry point and it can take months and months to have saved up enough stuff to play the game ‘properly’. Their three main games aren’t massively scalable and I feel they’re missing an entry point for new gamers in their range.

They used to have their specialist games like Necromunda, Mordheim etc. Games that were far more reasonable on the purse strings, and were still well supported and full on games in their own right. They presented an easier ‘in’ to the hobby didn’t they?

Lauby: Yeah, there are a lot of old fans of Mordheim, Necromunda and Bloodbowl out there who would really like to see those games come back. The common sense argument is that the old skirmish games could act as an effective and cheap entry point into the wider world of the GW universe. But as I’m thinking about it now, even if GW jumped straight back into those games with all the zest and verve they could muster – would they be good entry points? I’m not convinced anymore. I think the the two main systems have grown so far in scale that even in the there just aren’t enough dudes in your warbands to make a real dent in the start up cost. Nevermind the fact that the vast majority of your gangers, Bloodbowl team etc just aren’t usable in those bigger games. In effect, the skirmish game becomes an additional cost.

That being said, I think the self contained stand alone games like Space Hulk, and some of the others you mentioned are a much better option for a gateway drug. I’m also going to include Heroquest and Space Crusade in that pile as well (actually, ESPECIALLY those two). There’s still that issue of ‘an additional cost’, but it’s a one shot deal with a reasonable scale and a distinct lack of collecting. Space Hulk in particular proved that you can make some amazing game pieces AND have them be useful to one of the larger systems.

FG: I think that’s the point though isn’t it? I don’t think they necessarily have to be precursor products do they? They just have to be an introduction to the hobby. You know – see if you like it and want to progress onto the bigger games. I just think they’re missing a trick, because I was snared partly by my father, but mainly by Talisman, Blood Bowl and dark Futures. Warhammer would never have followed if it hadn’t been for those 3 games. For my friends I used Hero Quest and Space Hulk to draw them in. Yeah, that’s right even as a child I was a games pimp! Without those games and then Blood Bowl I’d never have convinced my friends Warhammer Fantasy was worth getting involved with. It was the smaller games that got them hooked. I just think Games Workshops product line right now possibly turns away potential hobbyists by not presenting them with an appropriate option, and no Assault on Black Reach isn’t an appropriate option! Thing is though, are any other games companies out there really doing any better? Are Privateer Press producting ‘gateway’ products? Or are they preaching to the already converted, you know diehard gamers like us who are already in?

All right folks, that wall of text is high enough for the day.  We’ll pick this back up next week right were we left off.  

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