This might be a good time to play my GW fanboy card for a moment. If you spend any time on gamer forums on the web you will find a shocking amount of vitriol against Games Workshop. Criticisms range from anger over the release schedule to disappointment over a new codex. Price always seems to be an issue and veteran gamers always get wistful for the "good old days." While I can appreciate the criticisms and well understand where they come from, I don't think any of them really cancel out the good that GW does for gamers in general. Here is how my argument for GW goes, point by point.
Point 1: "GW products are too expensive."
I disagree. The hobby has always been expensive. Most hobbies are. Take a minute and look at what it would take to get into car racing, scuba diving, or hang gliding. Thousands will be spent on equipment, travel and training. To top it off, you could die! Even people who merely go to the gym or start running will eventually pay a good deal on new shoes, spandex, and membership dues. In short, people will generally pay what they can afford as long as they think it is worth it. Some will say that GW is uniquely expensive because of the number of models you need to play with. The argument goes that Malifaux or Warmachine is a better option since you can play full games with fewer pieces. While this is true, it hasn't ever stopped me from spending my full hobby allowance even after purchasing my one starter box. There will always be another model I want or a new crew to start. The problem with these kinds of skirmish games is that in order to have such a small buy-in, they are limited when it comes to playing with a larger force. I will never really be able to field all my Resurrectionists together, even though I only own about a $150 dollars worth. Such a game would be neither fun nor realistic. However, I can easily field every Space Marine I ever bought, along with Every Imperial Guard and Sister of Battle model, at the same time!. By now the number is something like 400+ individual models. The game scales well with the right rule set (Apocalypse). Further, I can field just five Space Marines and the same basic rules work for that size game as well (Kill Team). I know that Warmachine is trying to address the scaling issue, but they are a long way from the flexibility that GW offers. While some of the new game systems do make it financially easy to start, they pretty severely limit what you can do on the table once you have been collecting for a while.
For me, it all comes down to budgeting. I will soon be starting a new GW army and I will plan to budget just $30 a month over the course of a year to see what I can come up with. This will be $360, a pretty significant investment for any game. However, when I am done, I hope to have an army that can be fielded at any points level. The same investment in Malifaux, for instance, would yield me 10-12 crews, but they could only be fielded in one kind of battle while all the rest sat on the shelf.
I recently did some research into all the starting boxes offered by the mainline gaming companies. Warmachine offers 8 basic starter boxes (around $50) with a model count of anywhere from 3 to 6 models. Malifaux offers 24 starter boxes (around $30) with an average of 5 models per box. Games Workshop offers 26 starter boxes (around $100) with a model count from 16 (Ogre Kingdoms) to 51 (Tomb Kings), with most armies falling in the 30 model range. Many 40K armies even come with a tank or other large size model. Further, all the GW box sets are fully customizeable, poseable, and upgradeable. Chances are that you will also be left with a pile of bits for further conversion work. Here is the average cost per model, assuming you buy one of the smaller kits with 5 models and one of the GW kits with 30 models. Privateer: $10 per model. Malifaux: $6 per model. GW: $3.33 per model. Despite the larger initial cost, the value is worth it.
Point 2: GW doesn't release new stuff fast enough.
This is a complex issue and I admit that I do not have any insider knowledge on the process. However, a company like Privateer obviously has a different workload than GW. If Privateer decides to rework the entire line of one army, we are talking about resculpting around 100+ models. For GW to do the same thing, we are talking more like a few thousand individual pieces spread out over a number of individual sprues and finecast sculpts. For instance, the basic Space Wolf Pack sprue has 218 individual pieces. Most of them must be designed to be interchangeable with every other kit as well. This is a massive undertaking that simply takes a long time to get right.
I am a Sisters of Battle player, so I know what it means to wait for a new codex (8 years). This never really bothered me all that much. As long as I had the old codex, I could play with the models I already had without needing to worry about changing the army too much. The stability of that was actually pretty nice, because it gave me time to hone my skills and gradually build up my force over a decade. If I wanted to play the army in a new way, all I had to do was change up a few units here and there and it was different! I didn't need to wait for a new special character or special unit to come out for that, like in Warmachine. The flexibility to change the army was already in the list itself.
If the new stuff comes out too quickly, gamers complain about the old stuff being made obsolete. If they don't come out fast enough, gamers complain about the old stuff becoming obsolete. Frankly, I think 5-7 years between codices is fine, with a simple FAQ to update them if a new rulebook comes out, which GW has done.
Point 3: "The scale of Warhammer is just too big for me nowadays."
This is something I have heard from several friends and podcasters who have made the jump from GW to Privateer and Wyrd. This is one that I can't really argue with, since it is a matter of personal taste. Further, I know that it can be a challenge to get all those GW models painted up. Here then, is my own take on this particular issue.
- Skirmish games limit my tactical options. In a skirmish game, there is a very limited number of troops on the board. It will be hard to factor in a lot of redundancies. Each unit therefore bears a greater burden than in a larger game, where more units can support one another.
- Some units become indispensable in Skirmish game. Because of the lack of redundancy in a skirmish force, the general will usually have to rely on one uber-powerful unit to win the game, such as a caster, master, or big nasty. This is not necessarily true in Warhammer. Generally, a force will be able to survive the unanswered death of one or two units and even win. The exceptions would be armies like the Vampire Counts (melting units with loss of HQ) and Necrons (phase out with death of troops). Some reckon that this attribute makes these armies particularly vulnerable, if not weak.
- For me, wargames should have an epic feel. It may be nice to be able to set up a skirmish game in under ten minutes, but there is something special about a large table full of ranks and ranks of soldiery, or a half-dozen rumbling tanks. While skirmish games are great, I always get the feeling that they are leaving the best story untold- the big battle that is happening just over the next hill.
Whatever GW's faults may be, I think they make the best models and have the coolest background. I love playing Warhammer and plan to do so for years to come.