Plastic Addiction: Games Workshop and Me

AoS or 40K
‘Age of Sigmar’ or ‘Warhammer 40,000’ – which is best? Images copyright Games Workshop.

Welcome to the first of another regular series of columns from me (this is where I should point out that I’m an ideas generator and not at all a completer-finisher, so who knows how long any of these columns will last!) The aim of these posts is to explore my relationship with  Games Workshop, the much loved and equally pilloried UK games manufacturer.

Not long after joining GeekDad, I explained in one of our “Formative Years” posts, that Games Workshop is hugely responsible for my passion for games and geekery. From the age of 12 onwards, just about every moment of my spare time was devoted to Games Workshop and its games. I played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay as often as I could, and when I couldn’t do that I played Warhammer Fantasy Battle. When I couldn’t do either, I read about them, made up armies, or rolled up new characters.

But time passes and other things absorb it. I fell away from the hobby. I returned a couple of times, mainly to paint, rather than play (curiously something I loathed doing as a teenager,) but I was merely a dabbler on the fringes of the scene.

Then I heard about Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, and I was, frankly, appalled by what I read. So much so, I wrote this. Yet, despite feeling like my childhood had been ruined (more on hobbyist entitlement in a future post,) I found myself inexorably dragged back into the Warhammer world. Even to the point where I’ve started making YouTube videos about it. I’ll be honest, I still sit on the fringes of the hobby. There are some amazingly talented people far more deeply immersed in the lore than I. I consider myself an enthusiastic dabbler rather than anything resembling an expert.

I’ve come back to the game. I love the ease of access of Age of Sigmar. I’ve enjoyed the battles I’ve played, yet there a still a number of things that just don’t sit right with me.

Here’s the first: Why destroy the Old World?

Okay, I partly know the answer to this; Intellectual Property. As well as a rules overhaul, GW wanted (needed?) to rebrand; to stop being generic. Elves became Aelfs, Dwarfs, Duardin, and my beloved, Arthurian inspired Bretonnians were consigned to the cosmic graveyard.

The sadly defunct Bretonnians on display at Warhammer World. Photo: Robin Brooks

And there is the crux of my inability to engage fully with the game. I’m just not that interested in this new-forged world. I concede it’s partly my fault. I haven’t read very much of the “fluff” that goes with it. (As an aside, the term fluff irritates me. It’s possibly part of the reason I can’t engage with the backstory – fluff is something you pick off and discard. Fluff adds nothing.)

The Mortal Realms are, to me, a crappy concept. Eight realms all different, each with its own characteristic race dwelling there.  It’s the sort of idea a twelve-year-old creates. From a battle perspective, it’s fine. You only need a tabletop and some mystical scenery and you’re off, but once you start trying to tell stories within the construct it starts to look false.

I don’t understand what the people who populate the Mortal Realms are doing there. What are their jobs? Where do they live? Where are the farms? Where does the gold they pay their bills with come from? The boring stuff of life is no longer implicit in the setting, and I think it’s needed to ground the stories.

The surroundings don’t, so far, support good storytelling. It’s like eating Michelin starred food inside a McDonald’s. The Old World, like many fantasy stories, had that grounding because it was based on Europe in the Middle Ages. Not particularly strong world-building, but it did at least have firm foundations.

I’m caught in a Catch-22 situation. The stories don’t interest me because I know little about the characters and settings. So I don’t read them, which means I haven’t built a foundation on which new narrative blocks can be placed. With each new release comes a new block, but I have nowhere to put it, so I largely ignore it.  As a result, I’ve found it difficult to buy into the new models that GW have produced for Age of Sigmar.  I appreciate the craft that has gone into them, but none of them excite me. So far, there has been no “Shut up and take my money” release.

What has been exciting me are the models from Warhammer 40,000. I have never played “Space Warhammer” in my life. During my formative years, I was always about Tolkien and fantasy. Now, though, I found myself drawn to the setting.

The 40K universe has now been in existence for 30 years, and a huge number of books and rules supplements have been written for it. The wealth of information available for the various Space Marine Chapters is almost overwhelming. There are even two distinct periods, the 41st Millennium, and the hugely fleshed out 31st Millennium, with its Horus Heresy story arc.

When Games Workshop announced their 40K “Gathering Storm” campaign, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. This promised huge universe-changing events, the destruction of planets, and the return of sleeping heroes. The narratives being told here are built on solid foundations. The stories and the characters have meaning and a wider significance. It’s what I’ve found lacking in Age of Sigmar. 

Shut up and take my money! The awesome Triumverate of the Primarch. Image Copyright: Games Workshop

It helps that the Games Workshop studio designers have been knocking out it of the park with the new 40K miniatures. Which is why, despite not playing the game, I knew I had to have the “Triumvirate of The Primarch,” boxed set when it came out.

The quality of these models is breathtaking, as it was for the models from the first two parts of the Gathering Storm arc. The detail and the dynamic poses spark a visceral need for them to be painted, played with, and new stories created.

I haven’t quite taken the plunge into playing Warhammer 40,000 yet. There are a number of rumored rules changes and the game seems unnecessarily complex when compared with the pared down simplicity of Age of Sigmar. I find myself in the curious position of liking the mechanics of one system and the setting of the other. For now, my colors are still nailed to the fantasy mast but I will be watching the 40K announcements with interest.

In the meantime, I want to paint my Primarch and the amazing Cypher sculpt. I’ve been painting a fair amount this year, but have failed to convert any of my daubings into a GeekDad Paints! post. For the Primarch set, I intend to document as I go, and hope to deliver a series of posts that describes the trials and tribulations of triumvirate tinting.

Until then, what do you think of the Age of Sigmar setting?

Do you fail to get it? Is there some vital link I’m missing to realize the true majesty of the Mortal Realms? Where do you stand with Games Workshop?

The company is on an upward curve at the moment – what do you hope to see in the coming months? Please add your thoughts in the comments below. It would be great to have some GW, GD & GM discussion!

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