User Content Friday – Dungeons & Bolters: The Door To 40k

Due to technical* problems it looks like this weeks Top X has sadly been pushed back a day or two – maybe more. Because missing one of our scheduled posts is frowned upon ’round these parts, the User Content Friday is making a brief comback.  This time we have a neat little post from Roll With It about gateway drugs and the how kids are the future.  Special thanks to Porky’s Expanse for pointing me to this post and for being a link aggregating machine!

*Not so much technological problems, but things that are, technically, problems.

With the dawn of the New Year comes the gloomy news that Games Workshop have issued a profits warning. Sales were down over the past 12 months and the expected Christmas rush didn’t happen leaving share prices dropping rapidly. The reasons for this can be found debated across the internet; poor economy, overseas distribution, miniature prices, neglected armies, rulesets and periodical updates etc. However, I do think a big factor is the first step prospective gamers need to take.

Easy to pick up and play, Heroquest
proved to be the ideal start in the hobby.

I had a conversation with Dan, one of the newer guys at Roll With It, who has got back into the gaming side of things after a hiatus. We were discussing where we started and what exposed us to the 40k universe. It turns out that both us, as well as a few other members got into the game via the same route – board games. Specifically the Milton Bradley-published Hero Quest (1989) and Space Crusade (1990) games that were mass marketed through the usual toy chain outlets and department stores. Both games contained a hefty number of Citadel designed miniatures and rules designed in collaboration with the studio. I knew nothing of Games Workshop at the time but a friend received a copy of Hero Quest for Christmas in 1989 which led to many nights spent inside when it was raining exploring dungeons with a group of mates. The fact that it was a mainstream kids ‘toy’ meant it was ‘cool’. We played it and loved it (and it wasn’t long before I bought my own copy as well).

I’d never actually considered myself a ‘gamer’ and the idea of D&D type games didn’t appeal. Dare I say it; it seemed to be too ‘geeky’. They were the group of kids at school with long hair, leather jackets and iron maiden T-shirts. I never fitted into that group and I’m ashamed to say that I probably mocked them from time to time as school children are want to do. However one day I sat in an art class and another friend of mine was drawing something really impressive that grabbed my attention. It was a Space Marine. It transpired he bought White Dwarf on a regular basis but strangely not for the games or the miniatures – he bought it for the artwork. He pulled it out of his backpack and handed it over. Through luck, fortune, fate or whatever you want to call it, this was WD134. Significant because it featured an expansion set of rules for Hero Quest. I borrowed the magazine and read it from cover to cover, exposing myself to the 40k universe that I didn’t know existed. I remember sitting there and thinking; Oh my God, there is a shop that only sells these things!

There the hobby was born to me and I went on to Space Crusade, followed by Space Hulk and subsequently arrived at Warhammer 40k (Rogue Trader). The road that Games Workshop had laid was a clear and obvious one with great big Titan-sized signposts along the route. I’m sure there are thousands like me who went from not-interested to 40k-hobbyist in under a year, following much the same route. It was a clever ploy to get you hooked into their systems and it worked. The stepping stones were easy to find, despite the fact that Games Workshop don’t actively advertise their games through the normal channels.

1991’s White Dwarf 134 alongside
its follow up article from 1992.

The problem now is that these stepping stones so to speak, simply aren’t there. Unless a kid knows someone else who plays 40k or live in a town with a Games Workshop store they’ll likely go through their formative years not knowing Games Workshop even exist. There is no longer that self-contained system-in-a-box available from Argos or Debenhams.

The problem is compounded by the fact that even if they know of Games Workshop and its products and want to start up gaming their first step is going to be Assault on Black Reach or its fantasy counterpart Island of Blood yet neither of those are really suitable as a first stage. There are simply too many rules and procedures to take on board for a first time gamer and players can be put off by the daunting amount to learn before they’ve even had chance to immerse themselves in it.

I’ve seen a few people across the various 40k related blogs and forums mention that Specialist Games need to be relaunched, and I completely agree with them. Advanced Heroquest/Warhammer Quest and Space Hulk both work as fine introductions into their respective universes yet they have been abandoned to oblivion or limited release. Even better if they cold be sold through the regular retail channels. Games Workshop actively attempt to appeal to children, and try to get them into their stores, but its difficult to get them there if they have no idea what a Genestealer is. The kids today are the future of the hobby. In twenty years time they will be the guys in my shoes now so come on GW, get the specialist and introductory games back in so the 40k (and fantasy I suppose) universe can continue to grow, thrive and be an enjoyable place to battle for a long time yet.

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