Tea and Biscuits with Lauby and Frontline Gamer: Starting the Hobby, part 3

Here we are with part three of the conversation Frontline Gamer and I are having while we sub in for the delightfully bearded Von.  Last week we ended things up on a discussion of the the perfect gateway product – the trashy novel!  But you can read all of that here.

FG: I think we’ve pretty much covered the whole gateway product haven’t we? I think we agree that it’s certainly not just the product itself, but more that the industry needs to do more in general to engage with potential new customers. Is that about where we are at? The idea that perhaps simply preaching to the converted isn’t going to rope that many new people in. It seems to this observer that many games companies are willing to leave it to Serendipity when it comes to recruitment. That’s no way to run a business in my mind, but they’ve relied for so long on the goodwill of us gamers to do the hard work for them, well I say we need help because the player base for a lot of these games remains fragile and underdeveloped in many regions around the globe. I mean you’ve said to me that you’re basically living in a gaming wilderness, what’s that like?

Pictured: a typical gaming wilderness

Lauby: In a word, shitty. Connecting to a game is pretty hard when you walk into a game store and the owner can’t even tell you what day the regulars game on. And I’m talking about the established games here – Warhammer and HoMachine (which is all anyone carries that I’ve seen). What makes all this crazy is the fact that I live in one of the most populated stretches of land in America!

I fully admit that I may just be out of the loop in regards to southern Connecticut gaming (someone please correct me if I am!), but the fact that the stores only carry GW and Privateer Press is very clear indication of what people are actually playing. And it makes perfect sense that it would be those two companies as the constants. You can invest in those games and be pretty confident that you can find someone to game with. And, just as importantly, you can be pretty confident that those companies won’t disappear altogether.

No matter what game you’ve got your little heart set on, you gotta have someone to play with in the first place. You know, a player base. Unfortunately, these things can be incredibly fragile- even for the established systems. Now, obviously there are some key differences between a group of you and your buds versus the dudes at the gaming store, but the principle remains – all it takes is a few IRL changes to a get into some solid dwindling. Never a good thing. Especially for a gaming group focused on a more niche product. Now, as a veteran you kinda know the drill so you can bounce back. But for someone who just found out that you can buy a whole mess of little metal soldiers, it’s an entirely different story.

Pictured: a mess of little metal soldiers

FG: That sounds like fun! I often forget that living in the Midlands here in the UK is like living in wargames Mecca. I could happily find a game of Warhammer Fantasy, 40k, HoMachine or Flames of War if I wanted too. there’s even some pretty stable communities for MoFaux and the various Spartan Games products. It’s also fair to say that Infinity has started to gain in popularity around here. I mean within a 20 mile radius of my home there are something like 10 Games Workshops and at least 3 independent stores too.
I’m not too sure how many gaming clubs there are but just off of the top of my head I could name about seven and all of them play things outside of Games Workshops bubble. I guess I’ve been spoiled a little bit by where I live and the gamers I know. But this plethora of games that are played locally doesn’t actually make the choice for a newcomer any easier I guess. Sure there’s plenty of places to play 40k, but the fact that you could say the same about flames of War and others does mean it opens up different issues round here.

We have a problem with games migration in some parts of the West Midlands. People play so many games that they’ll often switch to playing something different at a drop of a hat. So they might have played MoFaux intensely for 3 months and then suddenly just decide to start playing Dystopian Wars. that’s a different kind of fragility I guess, it’s more about uncertainty of player base than there being no player base at all. But that’s still a problem for a newcomer to the hobby. The newer breed of skirmish games have possibly opened up a whole new can of worms for people as much as they’ve liberated people.

Pictured: a libertine

Lauby: I completely agree.  All that choice is about the best thing for us old farts, but sometimes having that much choice is kinda scary too.  I was just taking a look at your Salute to-do list, for instance.  In a perfect world where you could find a gaming group for any game on that long list, how the holy hell would you even begin to choose!?  There’s so much out there right now!  And as we both know, simply picking a game based on what look cool isn’t always the best strategy.

Especially since the rules themselves are a big part of this.  One gets the sense from GW – both its actions as a company and the various statements by the employees – that it views the models as the most important part of what it does.  That’s true to an extent, but how’s 8th edition fantasy going so far, guys?  Rules are important is what I’m saying.  You can have the most amazing horse-drawn laser cannon in the world, but people are gonna regret buying it if doesn’t perform. You’ve got to have an actual game behind all that stage dressing.

Which brings us right back to the rules issue I brought up last week with HoMachine.  To be fair to PP, they aren’t the only company out there with a complicated ruleset.  The two up and comers – Malifaux and Infinity  – aren’t exactly the easiest things to learn – especially with someone new to the hobby.  Which I actually have a great deal of experience with.  Special Lady Friend and I chose Malifaux as a game we could play together and while it’s a great deal of fun, it was not the ideal choice for a ‘my first game’ scenario.

Now, you’ve had a great deal more experience with Infinity than I have, FG.  My sense is that the reactive turn stuff and the slightly off translation of the rules could confuse things – just to name a few concerns.  How does it rate as a first game?

And Since Frontline Gamer is off to Salute, we’ll pick it up next week.  See you then.

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