Tea and Biscuits with Lauby and Frontline Gamer: Starting the Hobby, part 2

Frontline Gamer and I are still subbing in for Von while he’s on walkabout.  Last Saturday we kicked off a conversation about starting the hobby in this day and age.  Our intention was to wrap things up in one post and move onto other important questions like “do red ones really go faster?” or “what’s the deal with airline food?”.    Once we were past the first paragraph, it was quickly apparent this was gonna be a multi-parter.  So begins part 2 right were we left off last week.

Lauby: Ah good, we’re moving on to a game company that’s worthy of my scorn! Actually, I can’t afford to be quite that flippant. Starting over: I think there are a lot of flaws with Privateer Press on the whole. Obviously, none of them seem to be crippling the game but they’re there. Now, as much fun as it would be rake HoMachine over the coals, it could quickly take over the conversation.

Get it! hahaha.

Suffice it to say that there is certainly a lot of traction to your argument and I think Privateer Press is absolutely preaching to the converted. And always has been. During the old days of Mk I, the game’s biggest selling point was that it wasn’t 40k. Hell, all that page 5 nonsense was and still is a clear dig at GW. Even once you get past that, there’s still more. PP consistently has a sustained arms race thing going on and a rule set that is much more complex than makes sense for the size of the games they push for. Add in what many people call a steep learning curve and the single most unforgiving win condition I’ve ever seen and you really do have to stop and say: how could HoMachine be for anyone BUT die-hards. Which means that a great deal of the perceived cheapness of HoMachine doesn’t provide such a clear cut advantage.

FG: Yeah that’s sort of my take on Privateer Press’ games to an extent, certainly on cost you end up wanting a lot of ‘kit’ in your toolbox for whichever faction you play. Plus the scale seems to be getting bigger by the minute. I’ve often argued that HoMachine is pure game as opposed to wargame, and I’m not going to go over that right now. What I will say though is that the game is very complex on the board, and extremely unforgiving to newcomers. By complex on the board I mean the level of synergy between troops, combo’s etc. none of it is difficult to grasp in terms of individual rules really, BUT in terms of tactics on the board I do think it’s aimed at experienced gamers. I happen to like the game as it goes, but I can see its faults and certainly wouldn’t shy away from mentioning them.

see below

In the first article Fiendil mentioned Grind, Bodgers and the Warmachine starter box in the comments. Bodgers is a card game, and as fun as the first editions was (not played the second edition) I’m not so sure it’s a gateway product. Maybe a Trojan horse product in terms of being less scary than miniatures but containing lots of advertising material for them. The Warmachine starter box doesn’t convince me as a gateway product. It’s still the full game as it were, but without the full options and range, it’s a snare product not a gateway product, in the same way Assault on Black Reach and The Island of Blood are.

However, I have taken a step back and looked again at Grind. It could be a gateway product. Simple to learn and a far less daunting amount of miniatures to construct and paint. But, I do feel these an even better Gateway product produced by Privateer Press, Monsterapocalypse. Pre-painted mini’s, easy to learn rules and in comes with a pre-made battlefield and scenery, great product. However, it’s been sold via normal retail channels, and that’s the hobby’s problem we’re facing now isn’t it? What about selling these sorts of self-contained at comic book stores, or supermarkets?

Lauby: I’m not so sure that things are so simple. Existing in the first place and being profitable aren’t even necessarily relevant to this idea of a gateway we’re bouncing around. Assuming that we’re even talking about the same thing… lots of room for local differences to be a factor in our conceptualizations.

Anyways, I took some time to dig out what was left of my Heroquest game and you know what? I couldn’t find a GW logo anywhere on it except the back page of the rulebook. Where’s the path to GW proper there? Moving beyond a specific company and out into the ‘hobby at large’, the connection between a self contained boardgame and the world of the actual wargaming hobby is tenuous at best. It’s a completely different mindset is what I’m saying. We can also certainly lump the related video games in here as well.

And there’s always the problem of making the leap from the gateway to the actual, hard to find specialty shop stuff. At least in the US, the weird store with the strange name is the only, physical, place to get some of this stuff – even the kind of gateway thing that I think you’re on about. You can’t just go into Toys R Us and say “one Super Dungeon Explore, my good man – and make it snappy”.

Not available at fine toy stores everywhere.

FG: Ah yes defining what a gateway product is. I guess for me it’s something that exposes someone to the wider hobby in some way. For me it doesn’t necessarily have to be a game or require the painting of miniatures. The THQ computer games for example could be gateway products that introduce people to the 40k universe. If that’s handled correctly by GW I guess that works fine.

The same is true of any board game too I suppose. I think of the hobby as having 3 aspects to it that makes it fun I guess, the games themselves, the collecting and painting of miniatures and the fluff. The Holy trinity if you will. So realistically any product that gets out there and brings new people into contact with one of these three aspects is a major boon. But they’ve got to be out there and be discovered.

You’re absolutely right when you say it’s no good having a great product if that product is still delivered to the same old gamers via the same old channels. So I guess distribution of these product is also of paramount importance. So gateway products, whatever they are, need to be seen in different outlets. They need to be seen in toy stores, supermarkets and anywhere else we wouldn’t normally see them.

On that note I think I’ve just had a slight epiphany… I think GW do have an exceedingly good number of gateway products that maybe I originally overlooked. I often see Black Library books on sale at train stations, bookstores and other more mainstream outlets. I also know of people who have been roped into the hobby via them too. Perhaps GW had a master plan all along?

Lauby: I think you’re on to something with the book idea.  While were on the subjects of tie in novels and table top games, I have to say that this is exactly how I got into the hobby in the first place.  It was actually a Battletech novel that sucked me into this whole thing in the first place.  This book, in fact:

I had just finished it, and was super pumped for giant ass robots.  There, in the back pages, was an add for the actual game.  Before too long, I had my first copy of Battletech in my hot little hands.  BUT – I was able to get that first game in the same bookstore that I got the novel.  But beyond that past convenience, I wholeheartedly agree that a Black Library novel is a fantastic gateway.  It’s cheap, it’s interesting, it’s available and it has the adds in it!  Heck, Prospero Burns was even a New York Times best seller back in 2011.  How crazy and how awesome is that for what we’re talking about?

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