Sunday, May 1, 2016

Fantasy Gaming - The Lay of the Land

Over the past week I've copped a bit of flak by being critical of...well...everything. I've pointed out flaws in the three game systems competing for the Fantasy gamer's attention.

However if people stepped back I think that they would see that it wasn't all negative but in fact "I'm from the Internet and I'm here to help".

Be aware this is at a macro rather than micro level. Your game may be doing really well in your group "but Timmy, the world doesn't revolve around you".

So how do I see the lay of the land? Be warned it's going to be brutal! If you don't like honesty then step away from the screen now.

Age of Sigmar

The heir apparent to WFB. If people are honest it is failing everywhere with the possible exception of Britain (but I'd question even that). Don't believe me? GW threw the sink at it post July 2015 but then had to issue a sales warning in December. It might...and this is being selling as much as WFB was (but I doubt it) but look at what its cost. GW had to effectively suspend 40k releases to even get it a foothold.

Now after being told "No Points Good, Points Bad" , in true Orwellian style it is now "No Points Good, New Points Better". This is being dressed up as a win by the AoS community as indicative of the new more community responsive GW. However the more you scratch the upcoming release the less community involvement there appears to be. In fact the cynic in me would say all you have to do to get the UK community stamp of approval is invite them for a game and a lunch and show them a book Finance directed you to produce. This isn't SCGT's a 2000 point system that was developed post December to save a game that was "failing" financially.

The great myth "We are a model company, not a games company" has been exposed for all its flaccidity. Funny that. You need some context to sell your models. The Old World was a context, the Realmgates of Sigmar...not so much.

One of the great "benefits" of AoS, lower entry costs compared to Fantasy has by all evidence been abandoned. The price point of AoS models far exceeds anything pre-ET. Yes you might not need 40 Witch Elves but is that really relevant when 3 Monstrous Cav cost you 2.5x a box of 10.

While Europe, the USA (outside pockets of Ohio) and Rest of the World has, on anecdotal evidence, been an unmitigated disaster all is not necessarily lost. GW is still the big dog on the block. They make by far the best models and they have by far the deepest pockets (although they are a listed company with those constraints). What we do know is that they will be around in 5-10 years still making models.

Personally, I'll never play AoS because I'm not interested in a Fantasy Skirmish game as my main outlet the removal of ranks and flanks meant I was never part of the target market. GW may make it succeed out of sheer obstinacy but certainly the evidence is that they've done a fair amount of throwing baby out with the bath water.

The Ninth Age

Mea Culpa. I never thought that they would get this far. At the outset I thought committees full of European technocrats would have the whole project splinter in 6-12 months. It still might but hats off to their progress.

Effectively it is a thinly veiled reproduction of 8th Ed - which isn't a bad thing. They have assembled a cast of hundreds to recreate what was essentially the GW game with 15% ETC input. That 15% has balanced the problems that ETC gamers saw with the game and to that goal they've done a great job.

The problem is that it is effectively euro-centric. It does have exposure in the UK and USA but in both cases it is definitely behind the main game.

The elephant in the room is where does Ninth Age get new players. Already this year's ETC is going to be much smaller and you've got to think that over time the rules set will appeal to a less and less numerous core group. The term "Ever Decreasing Circles" comes to mind.

There is constant reassurance that this is not a problem. It is sufficiently "not a problem" that there has been an official blog post on why it is "not a problem" and various acolytes have been dispatched to forums to explain why it is "not a problem".

But it is an issue. And the authors know it. There is a massive reliance on local community to run with it and we all know that gamers are a fickle crew. An argument here, boredom there and people drift away.

Similarly keeping a crew of 100+ authors involved and motivated post launch will be a very interesting exercise. Real life is likely to remove people from the mix and the glamour work is now done.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that T9A will never have more active players than it does on 30 April 2016.

It is also not necessarily helped by being the ETC system. I mean this in that it is the most competitive of environments. While participants have been helping development you've got to feel that Easter eggs have been squirrelled away to give teams an advantage come Greece. I'm envisaging a pretty substantial patch post ETC.

Kings of War

I love this game as I find it best pushes my ranks and flanks button. It has enormous advantages as I see it:

  • No single figure removal
  • Tight ruleset with limited ambiguity
  • Fast play mechanics allowing a game to be all over in less than 2 hours
  • Ability to use existing armies

However it also has one of the most defensive group of players/adherents I've seen. Any implied criticism is taken immediately to heart as though you've told them their child is ugly.


Suggest potential changes and immediately the accusations come that "you are trying to make it into Warhammer". However that market is the best pool from which to convert players - perhaps listening to some of their barriers wouldn't hurt people too much. Maybe suggestions are impractical but at least entertain the conversation.


Suggest Mantic could do things better and the White Knights mobilise in force "Mantic are a small company" "they have multiple focus e.g. Kickstarters".


Sorry but that only works to a point. A tournament pack from Rules Committee has taken 4+ months and still not arrived.


Suggest Mantic have missed opportunities at a macro level and you just don't understand. Well I think it is fair to say that a UK Clash of Kings drawing 30 people is a failure, that not taking advantage of the ETC as a continued opportunity is an opportunity missed, etc. In the UK KoW is definitely in 3rd place and to ensure future growth the company needs to support the community. This isn't prize support but the running of marquee events. The same in the US. Mantic really need the USA to fully embrace KoW and I know I'd be running company CoK events in each of the Masters regions for the next two years at least.



So that's how I see it. From my own POV I'm going to continue to play KoW put will try T9A and see how it develops. AoS isn't aimed at me and I'm unlikely to ever be a convert.


Hopefully people will read his as an honest assessment and hopefully it provokes some conversation.


  1. Pete - Have you seen these -they appeared without much/any fanfare
    Tournament packs?

    1. Yeah. Talking about the one from the Rules Committee. Was due to have scenarios with new victory conditiins

  2. Nicely said Pete. I spent the morning reading v1.0 of 9th while watching the Snooker. They've helpfully highlighted the changes between it and 8th Ed in blue so you can see the differences easily.

    Overall, the new rule set appears to have taken inspiration from 40k, Warmachine and earlier versions of WHFB. Changes to LOS, charges, movement particularly wheeling and magic while small in terms of the amount of text are actual extremely significant. I'm not sure how much play testing they've done, I assume its a fair bit, but there is IMO a greater degree of interpretation required to play the game than in 8th i.e. in places there will be confusion and argument over play as written vs. play as intended.

    I read most of the rule books for the different races as well and many of the changes are pretty good as are the production values of the only fully completed army book. Others though as you stated reflect how ETC was played - the new scenarios are good, but many other changes seem to emphasise particular types of game play ahead of others. In short I'd forgotten how complex the rules were in places and 9th hasn't resolved that. I agree with you in that KoW is a much more streamlined game in that respect.

    9th is being used at NICON and Panzershrek this year but outside of a few committed individuals I can't see it getting off the ground. Official company produced rules at least have the benefit of independence - going by the forum traffic many still don't accept the changes 9th has made. Only being able to direct their criticism at each-other and not GW will only serve to fragment what is a relatively small group.

    1. I hope 9th does get off the ground but I think they need to ditch the veneer of it being a new Fantasy world suited for narrative gaming and focus on what it is; a knockoff of WFB 8th Ed updated for balance and tournament play

  3. Good write up Pete.
    I find that I sit somewhere in between wanting to play 9th age and KoW.
    There are several aspects of KoW I like, and I think you highlighted the best, ie no model removal, tight ruleset etc, but being a WHFB player, a lot of it is too dissimilar for me to really get involved.
    I think Mantic needs to hire some professional writers and develop the fluff. Release short stories, novels, fluff to support each release. I find this is sorely missing from KoW.
    I also think that they need to work of 3rd edition. Where first edition was a foray into something different, 2nd edition refined it and made it their own. However the market has changed. A 3rd edition needs to now pander to the wider community, that is, not the Mantic community. There is a large untapped market out there just waiting to be loved.
    In addition to this, they need to step up there game and produce a higher quality of model, and in multi part plastics. Before people say it costs too much, I'll just point out companies like Rubicon, who use the likes of Renedra.

    1. I agree Tim.

      Two key things that Mantic could work on are expanding the fluff as you suggest.

      And sculpt some nice models. I haven't seen any Mantic models that I want to own other than the Undead zombies. I've bought 3-4 other sets of models and ditched them all - Skeletons, Werewolves, Fleabags.

      The plastic is awful, the fit is shocking. They are just not worth the added investment in time to make acceptable.

      When you move around the range they appear to be at least 15-20 years behind GW in quality.

      Don't get me started on the goofy short leg syndrome - Elementals, Ogres, Trolls and the like.

      I'd love to buy their models but at present I think I get far better quality buying early 90s GW metals

    2. There recent centaurs they released "look" great. I don't know if they go together well, and they may not be to everyone's taste.
      But for me, I like the more realistic proportions.
      The recent releases from GW look like World of Warcraft to me. All stumpy legs and ridiculous proportioned weapons.

  4. Corvus Beli produce a tournament rules pack with the new scenarios for each year like privateer press do. Changing the victory conditions stimulates the use of new units which stimulates new purchases. When these companies do it it's great, when GW did something like this it's a money grab.

    In my experience players want to buy new models for their army and explore different tactical options if we didn't we would be playing chess.

    It would be interesting to see the growth of Warlord games and Mantic. Warlord seem to have done very well for themselves as a sales and distribution company. This includes picking up struggling games from other companies (Judge Dredd from Mongoose and Gates of Antares from Rick Priestly) who had struggled with kick starter projects. They seem to have a range of games and make great models.
    It I'll be interesting to see whether Warlord make an assault on the fantasy market by developing a fantasy adaptation of their Hail Caesar rules like they have done for som many other periods. Combined with their ability to produce high quality models could make them a real player.

    Mantic seem to struggle to make appealing models so risk missing out on the vast majority of revenue from players purchasing models.

    1. Couldn't agree more John. Mantic models are dire.

      I'd much rather see them use Warlord to produce their models.

      However their current business model appears to shotgun Kickstarters. They have a quantity focus rather than quality. I suspect they've done their numbers and this approach works best. It does make it hard to support them if you have any type of focus on model quality.

  5. Hopefully it provokes some conversation? Sorry, all I can do is agree with you, and say that I'm taking the same approach to the games I intend to be playing.

    The part about T9A that really gets to me is the break in the immersion that's caused by the very ETC specific hard caps. The army book says you can upgrade a Sylvan Elf archer to have black arrows for 4 points/model, with you so far. Wait, I can only take 50 of them in an army? Why? I can have many units of 'scouts', but only one unit can be upgraded to scout?
    Not that I would ever take that many archers or whatever, but it comes across as completely arbitrary and a clear indication that they need to do all kinds of individual patches to force players to take armies that fit a certain definition of balance or power.

    1. And that's a really good point Nick.

      There is a real risk T9A doesn't know what it is.....a fantasy ruleset based on a mythical world or a tournament ruleset for use at the ETC.

      So there are artificial constraints such as you mention that contradict the narrative.

      KoW seems to be missing that as long as TOs don't try to impose artificial comp on the system