Why Warhammer?

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In this video, I’m going to talk about something a little different. Usually I try focus how to get more out of one of GWs skirmish games, but a recent comment made me realise, that new players don’t always understand why Warhammer is so popular.

I think the common assumption is that GW make good games and great miniatures, but you can get better miniatures and there definitely are better rules sets. So today I’m going to talk about why players like me are big Warhammer fans, whether that be 40k, Age of Sigmar, or the old world. And also how Warhammer and Games Workshop are not the same thing, even though we often confuse the hobby and the company.

To understand why Warhammer is so popular, we need to go back to the start of Games Workshop. It started as a couple of friends playing Dungeons & Dragons in the late seventies. They actually managed to get a start as the UK distributor for D&D and when they lost it they went their own direction. So initially we got Warhammer and later 40k. Warhammer has been around for nearly 50 years now, so many fans have grown up with it.

Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40k are their own unique and well developed settings, but they weren’t always that way. Throughout the decades they’ve slowly added layers increasing in depth and in complexity. Those layers often were ripped wholesale from popular media at the time. This means the settings are layered with tropes and popular media that many of us have grown up with.

Heroquest came out in 1989 and Space Crusade came out soon after in 1990. These were made in collaboration between GW and Milton Bradley. These boxes were very influential if you were growing up around that time and the dream of having a fully painted set was real enough that it still lives on for many of us. Of course now we’re a bit older, this is something we can actually achieve, personally I have fully painted Space Hulk and Cursed City boxes, which could be seen as modern versions of Space Crusade and Heroquest.

To follow on from that. White Dwarf magazine was available in newsagents when I was young. So I had seen the board games and when I wanted to know more I was able to pick up this magazine.  In it, are all these fantastic looking miniatures laid out with their classic goblin green bases and ‘eavy metal style paint schemes. This easy access meant GW became a well known brand, at least in the markets where you could pick up White Dwarf.

That went up a step with the release of the Lord of the Rings game and more specifically with the weekly Battle Games magazine that came along with models. This first pack was an absolute bargain, and if you stuck with it you got to build up a pretty amazing collection. Obviously, at the time Lord of the Rings was a particularly hot licence, so this brought many new people in. 

Over the years, we’ve also seen some pretty amazing computer games get released. There have been some pretty horrible duds it must be said, but games like Dawn of War were such great games in their own right that people who had never heard of Games Workshop were playing them. This again increased the awareness of the brand and the hobby, even if many didn’t make the jump from computer to tabletop.

Black Library was founded in 1997. Initially they were focused on short stories for the Inferno magazine, but after time it really kicked off into a serious publishing company with a collection of amazing authors. While I suspect this was initially directed at existing fans, there are now plenty of fans who have never picked up a paint brush but are eagerly waiting the next book in their favourite series.

Okay, so we’ve talked about some history and lots of entry points into the game. There are newer entry ways that I’ve probably missed because they weren’t relevant to me. The key point here I’m trying to make is for many of us, Warhammer has been around all our lives. If we’ve not been active in the hobby, then it’s been at least background noise. It’s simultaneously something familiar that reminds us of our childhood and also something lasting that we expect to still be around in 10, 20 years time.

Okay, that’s some of the history and how GW gets it’s hooks into you. Next up I want to look at the Hobby, what the various aspects are and why they seem particularly relevant to life today.

Opinions will differ on what exactly to count as ‘the hobby’, but for me I think there are 3 core elements. The part GW love, us spending money which I do feel deserves it’s own place as part of the hobby, then you have the assembly and painting of models, and finally actually playing the games. 

Now, you can enjoy Warhammer however you want. So if you never buy a single model, never paint anything, and aren’t interest in throwing dice but your still a fan, that’s awesome. Lots of people enjoy Warhammer in their own way. My wife for example is a massive fan of the Lore and Warhammer Cosplay, which is why our house has a life sized boltgun and a worrying number of skulls.

That said, I do want to focus on these 3 elements of purchasing, painting, and playing as I feel they are particularly relevant to the modern life we find ourselves in.

First up purchasing. At some point I’ll do a video about how to Warhammer responsibly, because Games Workshop work extra hard at separating you from your cash. The hobby is expensive, everything is super hyped all the time, and the limited releases really play on that fear of missing out.  That said, if you’re working your 9 to 5, you’ve paid all your bills, and you have a little left over just for yourself, then picking up something from GW is a good endorphin rush. No different to collecting stamps or any similar hobby. Sure, it might end up sitting on a shelf for a few years before you get around to it but if you have that money to spend, you enjoy buying Warhammer, and do so responsibly then there’s no harm.

Next is the assembly and painting, something that many would consider the main part of the hobby. For me there are a couple of key aspects of this. First is that it’s a creative task that I can really focus on. That ticks a couple of boxes for me. I get a way to express myself and I also get some time where I can put away the stress of work and life and just focus on the miniatures. The idea of mindfulness is common enough these days, but actually sitting down to work on some miniatures really is one of the best practical expressions of it. Everything else becomes secondary, we just focus on the model in front of us.

Another aspect I quite like about this part of the hobby is it can fit into your schedule however you want to. If you’ve got responsibilities, work, school, kids, whatever, hobby will wait until your free and it’s there for you when you need it. You often hear of parents who use it as a way to unwind with maybe 30 minutes or so of hobby after the kids are in bed. You get to do it at your own pace which is a refreshing change from the go-go-go attitude common in modern society.

You do also get a chance to improve and grow and at the end of it you have something to show. It doesn’t really matter how good you are, a model with some colours on it is better than one without.

The third pillar in my example is actually playing the game. Putting aside whether the game is any good or not, it’s a nice excuse for a social activity. Maybe that’s meeting up with a mate, or it could mean getting to know new players at your local store. As a grow-up, having an excuse to meet up with friends can be tricky and getting to know new people often is a challenge. Playing a game is a great way to work around that. I get to meet with a mate, talk about some Warhammer, and roll some dice. Honestly, it’s something I really look forward to.

As an added bonus, if the game is good, which honestly I’d hope it is, then it makes for a nice intellectual challenge and hopefully a great story at the end. 

As a brief aside, because Warhammer is almost a common language, I can happily chat away with someone I’ve met for the first time if I know we’re both interested in Warhammer. That makes for a great way to connect. It also allows for what is called a para-social connection, so in the image here we have Nick, Wade, Ben, and Peachy. When the pandemic kicked off, Warhammer had a big surge. Most put that down to how the hobby is something you can happily do at home, but for me it was the daily twitch streams. At the end of work each day I’d put this up on the TV and this was a big chunk of my social contact at the time. These were my friends, even though they still have no idea who I am. There is a wealth of content creators that cover Warhammer and sometimes having them on the background really feels like you’re part of the conversation. And that’s kinda nice.

Now different people will have different approaches and experiences with each of these aspects. It’s absolutely fine if you like one but not the others, so maybe you just want to play games and aren’t interested in the paint. Maybe you enjoy painting but aren’t particularly interested in playing thats find to. It’s also totally fine to enjoy Warhammer without going near a single miniature, maybe you just enjoy reading black library books and playing Warhammer computer games, you get to Warhammer your own way.

There are also people who paint the miniatures they have before they buy more, obviously those people are psychopaths. That kind of behaviour is dangerous, because as we all know if you accidentally paint all your backlog then you will die, that is a fact.

This is a great hobby with numerous benefits. It really fits well into modern life and can be a really satisfying pastime. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though.

Games Workshop are in the business of making money. A quick flick through youtube and you’ll find half a dozen videos posted on any particular day talking about Games Workshop is screwing us all over somehow. Whether that’s another big price increase, some dumb rule issue that wasn’t properly play-tested, mistreatment of their staff, or even just the casual neglect of a faction not getting updates for a decade.

Games Workshop is a hugely successful company and like all big companies, its primary motivation is making more money. If you look at the board of directors, you’ll see lots of accountants and solicitors, not so many creatives. So the decision from the top will always focus on maximising profit.

GW isn’t a monolith though, it’s made up of all sorts. I’ve already mentioned Nick and Wade who are still with GW. There are tons of people within the company dedicated to making Warhammer as fun as possible, because it’s something they love and enjoy. So there’s constantly this tension within the company between a focus on making money and a desire to just make good content. Sometimes these things align, I suspect Dan Abnett is let write what he wants because they know it’ll sell. On the other hand, we’ve heard crazy stories of play-testing happening during lunch breaks because management decided it didn’t add any value.

The real question here though, is why don’t we just all pack up and move our hobby over to some where a big company can’t take advantage of us. There are plenty of rules sets out there that are arguably better than anything GW produces. The 3d printing industry has really kicked off over the last decade and you can print models at home that rival even the best Games Workshop miniatures.

Indeed, for a good while GW was in the bad books. During the late 2000s and early 2010s Games Workshop had a very insular approach only interested in selling models and less in engaging with their customers. Game lines were cut, there was no social media presence, and rules seemed more to sell models than actually have a fun game. Luckily they reversed that course somewhat in 2015 when the CEO changed, and these days GW has a more better understanding of what their customers want even if they still are very focused on making money.

So lets talk a little about why players are sticking with Games workshop.

A phrase that’s gain a lot of popularity lately due to discussions around Dungeons & Dragons is Network Externality. This is an economics term that describes how the value for a product increases as more people use it. Typically this is applied to social networking sites, where if all your friends use it then it’s great but if none of your friends do it’s probably not worth it. Similarly, in gaming we have Magic, Dungeons & Dragons, and Warhammer. If you want to play a card game, there are games much better than Magic, but if you randomly pop into a gaming store anywhere in the world you’ve got a pretty good chance of finding someone else playing Magic. Same for RPGs, D&D is the most popular roleplaying game in the world because it is the most popular roleplaying game in the world. The logic sounds circular, but does actually make sense. Warhammer is the same. If you’re looking to play a wargame, then your best bet is to play a Games Workshop game as they are well supported and you have a good chance of finding someone to play with.

A better word for this is of course the Community. Like any community, the Warhammer community has it’s ups and downs, but it is a community and you can be part of it. Whether that’s having a discussion about a point of lore in one of the discords, laughing along with the Painting Phase when they do their weekly chat, or following one of the painting guides like Mediocre Hobbies or Duncan Rhode’s Painting Academy.

If you’re starting brand new into one of these games, putting together a new army or team can look like a massive endeavour. If you’ve been in the hobby for a while, you’ll have build up a collection that can draw on. Chances are you’ll be excited by whatever the new thing is, but when that Intercessor team for kill team went up, you probably already had the models. Whether they were painted and ready to go or still in their original box somewhere in the back of a cabinet.

One of the great things about Warhammer is how old products are still supported. So even if you don’t have the most up to date Cadian models that recently came out, your twenty year old Cadian Shock Troops will still get the job done. This might mean you have an old army or two that you occasionally add to, or it might mean you have have bits and pieces from lots of factions.

GW has been around for years, so it’s a safe assumption that it will be around for years to come. Over the years there have been plenty of wargames that have come and gone, and while you could use some of those miniatures in other games, it’s hard to find anything as lasting as Warhammer.

Because this is all supported, you’ve already got your foot in the door and at the absolute worst you just play what you have and don’t bother purchasing new models.

This is exactly what happened with Blood Bowl. For years Games Workshop didn’t support it and instead the fans kept the game alive refining the rules the making their own miniatures. It is great that GW are supporting the game again, and the new edition really is great, but it goes to show how Warhammer and GW are not always the same thing.

This is somewhat of a cautionary tale for Games Workshop. We don’t actually need them. In the years without GW, Blood Bowl actually massive improved because the team who took on the rules were interested in making the best game they could rather than just money.

If you’re a new player, give this some thought the next time you’re planning a purchase. If you’re thinking about picking up a new Astra Militarum army, maybe just get a box of Cadian Shock Troops and consider the army a long term project rather than burning out on a big army all at once.

Similarly, consider your terrain. Each piece is an investment in your collection. If possible, try get something that works across multiple games. We can currently see a good cross over with the Kill Team Gallowdark terrain which could happily be used for Necromunda or Boarding Actions. Similarly, the weird trees from the current Warcry terrain could easily be from the Ash Wastes or an alien world. 

In the same way your model collection grows, so does your Lore. I think Warhammer has more in common with Marvel than it does Star Wars. Leutin, one of the big Lore youtube channels, made the case that there isn’t really a main character in Warhammer. So unlike with Star Wars where you mostly follow the Skywalker story, Warhammer has all these unconnected stories that make up the whole like you do with the various Marvel comics.

You might have read a different collection of books to the ones I have, so you end up with your own personal perspective on the universe and there is always more out there to explore. As you get deeper, you’ll catch more and more of the references and the story team do a pretty good job of leaving questions unanswered so the fans can speculate wildly.

Another aspect of the lore is the number of distinct factions there are. People are hardwired to make connections and be part of a group and the factions in game play on that. Most fans have a favourite 40k faction and often also a favourite sub faction like a Space Marine chapter or Eldar craftworld. You probably have your own favourite fantasy army, and that might be the different for Age of Sigmar and the Old World. At some point that moves beyond a faction you like, to a faction you play, until eventually it becomes part of who you are. That’s not to suggest Chaos fans suddenly become evil bad guys or Dwarf fans suddenly develop an affinity for mining, but when we’re down in the pub trash talking you know which side your on and when Games Workshop does a big release for your faction you’re likely to spend.

So these are some of the reasons we stick with Warhammer. There’s a great community, although expensive these miniatures are often a good investment, the lore is deep and engaging, and we often become attached to a particular faction.

It’s important to note at this point, that Games Workshop is not Warhammer. You can quite happily Warhammer away for years without ever making a Games Workshop purchase. For many of us that could be because we already have a big backlog, but for new players that might mean picking up more affordable miniatures from other companies. Now, you’re not going to be able to play those miniatures in Warhammer world, but most of us don’t play games there weekly, so that’s not really a problem.

It’s up to Games Workshop to remain relevant. If they completely screw up the rules for 10th edition of 40k, then there’s a good chance players just won’t play it. Maybe we’ll stick to an old edition or we’ll focus on another game instead. Now there is a lot of leeway here, personally I’m not a fan of the current rules of 40k which is why I focus on the skirmish games instead, but enough players still enjoy 40k that it remains one of GW’s more profitable ranges. That only goes so far though.

Games Workshop uses various different techniques to sell product, and recognising that can be a big help in knowing whether it’s worth your while or not. Easier said than done though, especially when we have limited releases that go up on a Saturday morning and are sold in a few minutes. Even if you’re not getting some limited special edition, Games Workshop products are very expensive, so it’s important that we understand on how best to get value out of that.

I recently picked up the Crimson Court underworlds warband with the plan of getting them painted for a Warcry project. So I’ve very much enjoyed seeing the updates of Darren Latham who has been working on Prince Duvalle from that box. Darren is an amazing painter and he’s doing 10 steps for just the red armour. For some models I’m happy to just blast through with some contrast to get them on the table as soon as possible, but for these miniatures I think I might try push myself and follow Darren’s recipe as much as possible. That doesn’t change the value of the model per se, especially as actually painting a model usually devalues it, but it will mean I’ll be spending more time on it, so for me it does. This is the community element that I talked about earlier.

Now, this isn’t to justify Games Workshops pricing strategy, which essentially boils down to how much blood can they squeeze from us, but there are elements that can increase the personal value. That Darren is painting the same model and posting about it is a big help for me. That he uses GW paints makes me more likely to stick with the Citadel paint range. After I paint the model I’ll be able to share it using the #WarhammerCommunity tag so other Warhammer fans can see it. Although I could use a different companies model, I’ll be able to turn up to my local store and my opponent will recognise these models. A few years down the line, if I decide to build an Undead army for Age of Sigmar then I’ll have these guys ready to go. Indeed, since I also have the Cursed City box, it might already have the makings of an army.

So that’s why I still Warhammer even though I know Games Workshop are just interested in the money. I grew up with it and it has a place in my heart. I love the background, I enjoy the games with friends, I value the community aspects, and I find painting relaxing and rewarding. Although I often spent a little more than I should, I understand how to get the most value out of the hobby. I’ve also been collecting for quite a while, so I’m usually not starting from scratch whether that’s models or scenery.

As an example, this Chaos Jakhal is the monthly free miniature from my local GW store. I popped in one evening after a friendly chat with one of the staff there. That it was free is actually the least part of the it’s value for me, as I’ve still got tons of miniatures in my back log and I’ve no real plans for this Jakhal. 

He was fun to paint and when I head back into the store I’ll show him off. I even posted him on my Instagram feed where I managed to get a few likes. He will probably sit with my Necromunda collection for a while until I figure out what to do with him. Could I have done all this with a miniature from another game? Maybe, at least somewhat, but because this Jakhal is a Warhammer model he’s part of a greater legacy, stretching back to my youth and hopefully extending well into my future.

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