Wintercon, and the Way of Warhammer

This weekend at Exhibition Park in Canberra (also known as EPIC, bro), it was Wintercon: Canberra’s other games con. It’s held in the middle of winter, in one of the coldest parts of Australia, so is pretty much just locals. Actually I’m just guessing that – but it does have way, way less people attending than Cancon does in January. I didn’t play in anything, but I briefly went along both days this year.

wintercon malifaux poster

A Malifaux poster from the con.

The first day, I went with one of the players from my D&D game, who is just getting into the whole gaming scene. It was his first con. He’s a huge video gamer from way back, but he’s new to our scene. He calls D&D, wargames etc. “these sorts of games” or sometimes “traditional games” which I find interesting.

There were around a dozen 40k tables, more (maybe sixteen or eighteen?) Warmahordes tables, ten or so Bolt Action tables, three Warzone Ressurrection, two Infinity, two Bushido, two Malifaux, and a bunch of historical games. I didn’t spot any WHFB (or Age of Sigmar) but I could have just not noticed. There was also D&D and a board game library and shops and things but that’s not really important to you guys I guess.

A shot of the con. I suspect this is last year, but you get the idea. Photo not by me.

A shot of the con. I suspect this is last year, but you get the idea. Photo not by me.

It was funny actually, the fantasy and SF tables (including Bolt Action, so the classification system clearly wasn’t foolproof) were on one side of the hall and the historicals (DBMM, Impetus, Flames of War, Wings of Glory and maybe some others) were on the other. I asked my friend to tell me what he noticed when he looked at the two sides of the room. He pointed over at the historical end and said “those guys are all like in their forties and fifties or older. And they’re all guys. Oh and they have leather jackets and military caps and stuff.” Then he turned to the fantasy and SF side and said “they look more like us, I guess, like in their twenties or thirties, and some of them are women.”

I had to agree with him. He liked the look of the historical 15mm games the best though. He thought they looked the most impressive, and that’s even after he saw all the giant warjacks and stuff on the fantasy side of the room.

The second day I went with the family, and we spent most of the time chatting with one of the store vendors who I know socially (his wife and mrs. ronin are old classmates). That was after we er… extracted our son from the car. In an astonishing display of careful parenting, he was accidentally locked in with the keys, and then refused to unlock the door to free himself until we had agreed to buy him “maccas chips” (that’s McDonalds fries to you non-antipodeans) on the way home. I’m proud of you, son.

Anyway. Hard-ball playing recalctrant offspring aside, I had an interesting chat. The two main pillars of our friend’s business are GW products and Magic cards. I mentioned that Age of Sigmar had cometh, and had enrag-ed the internets. He just kind of made a face and said “yeah, but only the old guys though. And it doesn’t matter what they think. The kids are going nuts for it.”

Interesting. Veeery interesting. Now this is a throw-away remark, true, but it comes from someone who doesn’t play at all, and doesn’t follow the rumour mill much – all he follows is how well things are selling, and Age of Sigmar is apparently doing all right. He’s been selling a few. It made me think that yeah… if I was a kid and I walked past an Age of Sigmar set-up, it looks pretty exciting. Maybe it doesn’t matter that the models are (as Sandwyrm says) hard to put together – they just need to look cool enough to get a ten year old to buy them. Maybe they’ll persevere despite the difficulty. I would have at that age, come to think of it.

And maybe the models can do just that: sell the game. Most ten year olds, even very bright ones, don’t care much about tight rules. They don’t need ’em, because they have imaginations to fill in the gaps. Things like distances being measured from the weapon seem a bit crazy to us, but to a kid it makes sense I guess. Their minds are going to more focused on the model itself rather than the rules around it. Again, I know mine was.  Don’t think I ever noticed bases much, and certainly didn’t put any effort into painting or texturing them.

As well as reminding me of the worrying idea mentioned in the comments a few days ago on Thuloid’s recent post, that our hobby is in the same cultural space as model railways and we are all old duffers at heart (if not in reality), all this made me think for some reason about the recent re-branding of GW’s stores. I noticed this a few weeks ago when I went past the local GW and it was suddenly the Warhammer shop. This was one of those rare times in today’s world when I found something out by actually seeing it with my own eyes before I even got my first email from GW (yes, I still get them) telling me this was happening.

So here’s a thought: maybe GW has decided to go into the business of selling an aesthetic. The Warhammer aesthetic. Maybe they want to make a world where people see their stuff, and instead of having it fragmented into 40k and fantasy and wargames and video games and books and what-have-you, people just see it all and think Warhammer. The look; the giant shoulder-pads; the dynamic large kits; the OTT weapons. Perhaps GW just wants it all visually unified in the minds of people who aren’t yet customers as “Warhammer,” instantly recognizable, and worry about the rest later. One of the reasons I think this is that my friend, the new RP gamer, pointed at some Warmachine models in their packaging and said “so is that made by the people who make Warhammer?” He thought, as a relative outsider, that it was a GW variant, and I couldn’t blame him. They do look remarkably similar when you look with fresh eyes.

None of these thoughts are probably new. But sometimes with all our micro-analysis as adult wargamers and readers and writers of the blogosphere, I think we can lose sight of the forest, what with all the trees. I know I can. Perhaps Age of Sigmar, and the re-branding of GW stores, is an attempt to expand away from the existing customers. To let them go if they want out, and nab a new generation who’ll support the brand for the next thirty years. And the first step is by stripping back and making what people already think of when they think of Warhammer easier to find and more unified.

Warhammer. It’s a game, it’s a shop, it’s a look, it’s a universe.

Till next time, have a good one,

James

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  • Bush Craft

    AoS seems like a step towards the old school boxed set stuff like Hero Quest, Battlemasters, etc…that nostalgic nerds have been demanding for ages. So maybe it’s not all bad. I still don’t see me jumping back into fantasy any time soon, though.

    And, seriously, how can we fix this invasion of question marks on the new site. Ridonk.

    • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

      ?what question marks??

    • It’s because of how people are putting their articles in. I’m going to guess that Ronin wrote his article in something like Word and then pasted it into WordPress. The problem is how Word, and other word processors, do single and double quotes; they aren’t HTML friendly. WordPress tries to interpret the fancy quotes and can’t and thus you get the ? in place of quotes.

      Moral of the story, write the articles inside WordPress and you will never see a ? where it doesn’t belong.

      • Cedric Ballbusch

        Strange…The lesson I learned from the question mark thing was never draw on an inside straight…

      • That’ll be it. I usually write them in notepad during my lunch breaks at work and then copy and paste. I’ll see if I can figure out a way in future to paste in an html friendly format. The whole world is just assuming everyone has constant internet access these days, but my work is underground with no wireless. It kills me trying to listen to music at work because everything wants to sync with clouds and doesn’t want me to just store music on my phone 🙁

        I’ll see if I can edit out the ?’s. Oh that reminds me while you’re here Thor, I think my first two SAGA posts lost all their comments in the site transfer. Is it too late to get them back?

        • There’s an icon in the toolbar, something like paste plain text. Try that next time. Remember, you can always preview to check it if you’re not sure.

          I’m still trying to fix that crap. Disqus support is proving utterly useless and I haven’t had time to mess with it lately.

          • No rush dude. Even if we can’t ever get them back it’s not like anybody’s life is at stake 😀 I appreciate all the work you’re putting in, really.

            And I’ll try the plain txt thing next time.

      • Bush Craft

        I’m guessing “paste as plain text” instead of just “paste” will fix the problem.

        ^HINT HINT HINT HINT 😉

    • Hey BC nice to see you man 🙂

      Yeah, I think the smaller model count compared with things like Island of Blood does remind me of Heroquest etc. now that you mention it.

      And I managed to get rid of some of the ?’s, but some of them are stubborn bastards.

      • Bush Craft

        Yeah things have been crazy for a while on the home front so ive been a ghost. Sorry. Was in jail for a bit, long story and charges dropped o_O

        • Holy shit dude I’m sorry to hear that. That’s intense!

          I hope everything’s on the up now?

          • Bush Craft

            Sorta. Every day’s an adventure but it’s settling down. “Down-ish” LOL

        • You can’t just drop a bomb like that and saunter off (with sin being absent I feel I have to enforce the no sauntering rule 🙂 )

          Long story?

          More like a genuinely interesting story!!!
          My mind is now goggling at the possibilities !!¿¿¿

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            I dunno, most of my stories that end with me cooling my heels in the local hoosegow are pretty dull. Now the ones that start there, those are better.

          • Bush Craft

            Hell of a cliffhanger, eh? Now you HAVE to watch the next episode…

          • I’m no good with weekly serials ill have to wait till it comes out in a boxset 🙂

          • Bush Craft

            In the meantime just google my mugshot

          • This “incident” hit the international news did it 😉

  • Cedric Ballbusch

    Well, the latest financials aren’t out, but generally GW is seeing declining sales based upon what appears to be a dwindling customer base. Is wargaming in a demographic death spiral? Probably. Of course, most Westernized nations’ birth rates are below replacement, so it’s not exactly a unique problem…

    Still, kids today (ie anyone younger than me) just don’t have the patience in the main for wargaming. Remember back when getting information required you to go to the library? And serious academics demanded that you at least understand some basic French(plus maybe some Latin and Greek)? Now: google. How do you get someone raised with the internet to spend hundreds of hours painting tiny soldiers? This doesn’t apply to everyone, but instant gratification is a creeping problem.

    As a side note, 15mm Historicals do make for a pretty impressive sight. The better detail of 28mm fantasy gets lost in the masses.

    • Porky_Poster

      I think part of the solution might be for the smaller producers to get together to offer a kind of Rosetta Stone in the form of an overarching or interlinking meta-setting and system that allows everyone to use any number of minis in maybe any scale and to move between the settings as preferred, and so almost play anywhere with anyone.

      It could become less the ‘x, y or z hobby’, and more just ‘miniature games’. It might start as a rival standard to GW, but if so presumably a more open one that could change and outlast the current status quo, and maybe even one that GW would later want to join. They’d only have to hammer it out, and have a regular review or permanent panel to deal with issues as they arose. It could be win-win-win.

      • Cedric Ballbusch

        I would argue that historicals more or less already do this. Particularly for pre-1500 or ‘ancients’ gaming, which accepts anyone with pointy sticks facing off, despite the madness of Edward III fighting Gudea.

        Expending that to fantasy is much more difficult, but to some extend the old D&D assumed setting did that, and any number of supplements could be dropped in on the edge of the map without difficulty.

        • We saw some guys on the weekend playing ancient Egyptians versus medieval Europeans. NOt sure how that works out to be a balanced game.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            Impetus is an Italian game, and quite a good one.

            Like most (all?) pre-1500 rules it does not consider differences in technology or tactics. The logical foundation for this is the notion that an Egyptian Mehfat with a cast bronze axe functions within is time in a manner similar or identical to a Fleming with a Halberd.

            The (unintended?) consequence of this is that any army is a viable opponent within the rules against any other.

          • Yes, most medieval and ancient wargaming is a lot less interested in the difference between whether the bloke has a bronze sword and a wooden shield, or a short spear and a hide shield. Instead they often focus on how they work as a tactical unit, i.e. did they fight as a close order infantry unit advancing to attack in close combat or did they operate in a loose group mainly attacking at short range with thrown weapons and maybe a charge against a disorganised enemy etc. So with this paradigm what is the difference between a Macedonian Phalanx versus a Swiss Pike block? Mainly cultural and technological – the way they operated in a tactical sense is more or less the same. They formed into deep blocks which advanced to close combat, and basically marched over enemy units.
            I believe that a lot of the impetus behind this is actually tournament play and the recognition that while many people are interested in pre-1500 warfare there is a huge variety of potential playable periods within that broad category. So if you limit your ruleset to one particular area then you limit the potential pool of players to only those that enjoy that period.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            You’re touching on multiple levels of practicality. If there was a difference in the operation of Swiss and Macedonian pikemen, we don’t have enough information to identify it. So, makes sense to gloss over details since there is so much bout premodern warfare we don’t understand.

            From a gameplay (and figure manufacturing) standpoint it makes sense too. No one is going to buy Medieval Burmese if they’re stuck with historical opponents.

      • Thuloid

        Be kinda silly to start as a rival to GW at this point, given that GW has ceded the fantasy field. But I get the point.

        • Porky_Poster

          I think they’re still in it. AoS might not be too fantastical or classic fantasy, but both are there, and even 40K is fantastical enough that space dragons and the like are always a possibility. If you’re thinking more WFB-style ranked-up gaming, it may still be too early to say – there might yet be something coming that allows ranking up on the War of the Ring bases or similar. That said, I am assuming the producers involved in any convention like this would mainly be the guys behind the various more or less fantastical skirmish games and mini ranges.

      • Porky, this could be a promise I end up being unable to keep, but do you think it would be fun if I started off a project like this here at the House, with everyone sticking their oars in? Just for interest’s sake, at least at first.

        I reckon we could make a historical style generic SF game that would work with any models at any scale (although maybe not Infinity up to Epic. We might have to leave out the small-small skirmish level but that’s OK – there are heaps of them anyway).

        • Porky_Poster

          I wouldn’t want to encourage it, because the case of WarStrike suggests that to do it properly a lot of hard work needs to go in, and it could be that the initial blank slate turns out to be the natural peak of interest, with the ongoing development over time attracting ever less feedback in the comments, for being ever less open.

          I do think though the idea could be broken down into hot topics, maybe as a series in which each post looks at a staple or common feature of the type of game and proposes or prompts discussion with the suggestion of a possible optimal form, possibly relating it back to that Rosetta Stone idea, and maybe interlinking or modularity. Maybe the general outcomes from that round of comment could be fed back into a second stage of the series where a possible game form is proposed, or a set of game forms, one per post.

          At that point there might be a pretty solid more or less HoP-approved outline and a sense at your end of whether there’s likely to be momentum for a further stage. Or interest from those producers. Or a Kickstarter…

          • Hmm. Yeah I haven’t been following Warstrike, which is a bit remiss of me I know. Although I was thinking of a pamphlet-sized, broad, generic ruleset, like a historical game. Not a fine-grained 40k-style one that attempts to model every possibility, which is what I presume Warstrike is going for (although I could be wrong).

            I’ll give it some more thought anyway. It might sound monumentally arrogant of me, but part of me feels that making a decent wargame doesn’t need to be that hard – keep it simple for balance, mock it up in smashwords with some pictures you commission/rent from Deviant Art, and you’re away. I mean, charge three dollars for it and see what happens. I wonder sometimes if we overcomplicate things.

    • I dunno, I think painting models is a temperament thing. There might always be kids who enjoy the slow perfectionistic detail involved. But I take your point, we live in a world where that tendency is harder to become manifest.

      As I understand it wargaming was always a very small niche, and still is comparatively. Perhaps the larger scale of the industry in the last ten or fifteen years was an anomaly and rather than a death spiral, we can see it as a return to normality?

  • Porky_Poster

    I think the scene when any of us got into it, even if in a supposed golden age, was never necessarily much more than a suggestion, maybe only a clutch of moderately compatible found ideas superficially expressed in well-worn aesthetics and linguistic patterns that we then extrapolated into and experienced as a deep new way of being, not so much because of what it was as when it was.

    The settings and the structures to follow might have shaped our thinking enough that we can’t easily break the pattern, and the gamers getting in now may only be following a current variant on the same path. Maybe each generation gets the tabletop gaming and subcultural environment it deserves, and possibly vice versa. Age of Sigmar might get everything it deserves too.

    Maybe the key moment is not the first mini, or game, or win, or even conversion, campaign or ruleset, but breaking free, and how early we do it, and how. Anyone still in that’s getting pushed out now might be getting the opportunity of a major lesson, and possibly an overdue or urgent one.

    Those getting in may have something to gain and we can’t begrudge them that, but I think we may have a duty to give the option of our own experience.

    • I sometimes think that one of the main differences between the supposed golden age of the GW games and now is that somewhere in the earl 2000s the aesthetic calcified and completely stopped referencing the outside world. I’m building an Inquisitor using a model by Hasslfree and it’s funny: the model’s armour is a modern, almost Infinity style power armour suit with a sleek helmet, yet it looks very old-fashioned next to my other 40k models. The last time 40k accepted standard SF visual tropes was a very long time ago. It’s had it’s own aesthetic for such a long time, and been largely resistant to visual SF design fashions. But the aesthetic of Rogue Trader was mostly that of the standard vision of the future at the time. Escape from New York meets Judge Dredd. NOw the elements that were from elsewhere are almost completely gone, and 40k has a unique aesthetic that resists infiltration.

      Sorry Im not sure that reply has anything to do with your comment. Maybe you can figure it out 🙂

  • Hi everyone, first off thanks for the great comments as always. Unfortunately I havejust come down with a terrible flu, so I’ll do my best to be involved in the discussion but if I don’t make sense you might have to talk amonsgt yourselves!