A new Games Workshop boxed set is something that should bring joy and cheer to hobbyists and gamers everywhere. Yet, it rarely seems to be that way. Time and again there isn’t enough stock to meet demand. Come the preorder day, if you don’t log on at 10 am sharp to place your order, then there’s a good chance you might miss out altogether. Surely, things would be different for their latest hot release, Warhammer Quest: Cursed City?
I should start by cutting GW some slack. 2020/21 has been unprecedented in its logistical difficulties. In the UK (where most of GW’s products are made) Cursed City hit the shops on the 17th of April, just a few days after non-essential shops were allowed to reopen. Preorders were opened a week before on the 10th. There will undoubtedly have been supply and warehouse issues in bringing this game to the street. We’ve seen these issues with GW and Fantasy Flight Games, with Playstations and Xboxes. With, well, just about everything really. I don’t think there are too many people who would have minded waiting a little longer for their Cursed City.
Except now, it seems, that if you missed out on the first wave, you’ve missed out forever. There will be no more waves. Cursed City has been expunged from the GW website. It’s as though it never existed. If you want a copy you are now at the mercy of those who manage to bag several copies and are happy to sell to the highest bidder.
One can’t help but feel it doesn’t have to be this way. I’m not a business expert, but GW’s apparent inability to prepare enough stock to meet demand surely can only hurt them, right? Not in the short term, perhaps. There are no storage costs for all these Cursed City boxes that have flown off the shelves, but what about the longer-term?
When writing my GeekDad reviews of GW stuff, I tend to try to look at it from a parenting perspective. Buying these boxes for your children or to play with your children is a very different experience from that of regular GW hobbyists. The Cursed City release has made me wary of recommending anything to GeekDad readers again. As parents, we often don’t have the luxury of being in the right place at the right time to place an order. Who wants to have the children invested in something, only to discover a key product has quickly become unavailable, never to return?
A Brief Overview of the Cursed City Release
A couple of months before release, Games Workshop dropped some big hints that a new Warhammer Quest game was coming. As the rumors built to a fever pitch, it was confirmed it would be a fantasy, Age of Sigmar, release and that it would be a noirish affair featuring vampires. The game had its own website with teasers for the game and a gradually increasing roster of miniatures that would feature. Miniatures that looked sublime.
Much earlier than usual in their reveal process, the Warhammer Community team spoiled the entire box contents, and it was a beautiful beast. Lots of counters, bespoke dice, beautifully rendered game tiles, and those oh-so-sweet miniatures. Eight heroes to choose from and a host of bad guys to pit them against. Countless review units were sent out, including one to me at GeekDad, for which I was very grateful. In the week leading up to release, you couldn’t move for Cursed City YouTube content.
Cursed City is the fourth box since the Warhammer Quest reboot started with Silver Tower and the third to take place in the Age of Sigmar universe. The previous installment, Blackstone Fortress, set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, was a successful release and one that spawned several expansions that were eagerly snapped up by fans of the game.
The makeup of Cursed City essentially makes it a fantasy Blackstone Fortress. There has been some fine-tuning of the rules, but Cursed City is much closer in essence to Blackstone Fortress than it is Silver Tower or Shadows Over Hammerhal.
Perhaps the community made some assumptions, but there was nothing in the release, particularly given the build-up and its similarity to Blackstone Fortress, to suggest that Cursed City wouldn’t be an ongoing supported game with further expansions. More importantly, there was absolutely nothing to suggest that there would only be a single print run. Why go to the trouble of creating an entire website and area map—an entire mythology—if you didn’t intend to expand on it further?
Making an Ass of U and Me
Assumptions are dangerous things. Hype for the release met almost hysterical levels. Copies sold out by about 10 minutes after prerelease went live. I heard from several smaller game shops that requests far outstripped supply. It’s true that there were still copies around, but the reality is lots of people who wanted copies of Cursed City were going to miss out first time around.
But that was OK, there would be a second print run. The limited stock made sense to us. COVID-19 and tankers stuck in the Suez—these were tough times for getting products where they were meant to be. It sucked if you missed out, but as my great aunt used to say, “patience is a virtue.” The box would come back. Those who needed to save money for what is a premium release had time to do so.
It was only after release that the rumors started. Cursed City was to be a limited release. There would be no extra copies. The silence from GW was deafening. There were snapshots of a few customer service conversations doing the rounds on social media. These suggested there would be no reprint, but the waters were muddied by the fact in at least one case this was referring to the Cursed City novel that was released at the same time. Then, a few days after the official release date, the box completely disappeared from the website—not “temporarily unavailable,” just gone. Yet still no official word from GW about the fate of Cursed City. Just one screen-captured statement from a customer service query that the game had gone and would not be returning.
I find the silence baffling. Perhaps GW messed up and underestimated how many sets it needed. Perhaps there are sets trapped somewhere in a transit hell-hole. Perhaps GW never intended to make expansions; perhaps it did. Perhaps it printed as many as it wanted and doesn’t ever intend to do anything about it for those who missed out. Whatever the reasoning, fill us, the customer, in! We might not like the decision, but at least we know where we stand.
What Now for Cursed City and Beyond?
As things stand, it does seem that the animated corpses of the Cursed City have been buried for good. Leaving aside the commercial sense of not selling as many copies of something as you might have done, I find the whole situation worrying for multiple reasons.
First, the lack of clarity is bordering on contemptuous. GW has a loyal fanbase, and its refusal to engage with a clear statement suggests it takes that fanbase for granted. Next, this kind of scarcity model, playing on customers’ FOMO is a) not a particularly pleasant way of conducting your business and b) opens up the floor to scalping. The ethics of scalping is probably beyond the scope of this piece; I’ve talked about it on GeekDad before, and personally, I hate it and I think it’s bad for the hobby as a whole.
Above all, however, the way the Cursed City release was handled, whilst on the surface successful, may have long-term ramifications.
Many people got into this hobby because of games like Heroquest and Advanced Heroquest, the forebears of Cursed City. Some 30 years later, they’re still playing and still pouring money into GW coffers. Near enough to zero new people will be brought to the hobby by Cursed City. There will be no “oh wow, that looks cool, I wanna try it,” because unless you were online at the hours of 10:00 and 10:05 on Saturday 10th April, this game has gone for you.
If you want to save up for the game and buy it? Well, you can’t; you have to have ALL the money at exactly the right time, otherwise, you’re stuffed. Juggling your finances, then sorry, you have been excluded from joining the quest. Casual gamer, who had the temerity to be at your kid’s soccer match that Saturday morning? Sorry. You’re out of luck. I exaggerate, but it’s a real problem.
As a reviewer and recommender of games, what would I say? Firstly, what is the point of reviewing the game? I’d be wasting hours of my life because the review is of no use to anybody. You either have the game already, or you’re never going to get it. Going forward, where does this leave me with recommending GW games to parents and people jumping into the hobby? I would say be careful. If you’re interested in the main strands Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar, you’re probably going to be ok. There always seems to be enough stock of these games—though the big boxes do sell out very quickly.
If you’re interested in GW’s “Boxed Games” strand, I’d advise caution. Do you want to sign on for something you may never able to get? If games and their expansions sell out almost instantly, do you want to be chasing that? Chasing a game that might punish you for being on holiday on a crucial weekend or having something better to do than endlessly pressing F5 on a Saturday morning? How do you explain to your children that you can’t play the final installment of a game you’ve loved playing together because they sold out so fast? Nobody needs that stress in their lives. (I should point out that this isn’t universally true of GW games. There has never been an issue with short stock of Warhammer Underworlds. The odd temporary glitch, but nothing permanent.)
People will start to look elsewhere. Fantasy Flight Games is bringing a new version of Descent to the table soon. Bardsung will be available for retail in the not-too-distant future, and there are many other options available in what is an expanding market. I’m not suggesting that these other companies won’t be free from similar issues. I’ve been chasing a number of products from FFG in the last 12 months, but pretty much everything I wanted has turned up at some point or other.
There are other options, and people on the edges of the hobby will take them. There doesn’t seem to be much point in making sumptuous gateway games if you’re going to lock the door it opens. Selling products to your fans, fast, is great, but in order to expand you need to bring new customers in. Games like Cursed City can do that, but not if they’re unavailable. Compounding that with a total disregard for communicating with your fanbase and potential new customers is borderline unforgivable.
Except, I suspect most people will forgive. Being a Games Workshop fan has always been something of a love-hate relationship. You could be forgiven for thinking that the main part of the hobby is moaning about the company the makes all the swag. GW has had a huge year. It sells miniatures fast. There are no shortage of fans, and this post is probably just shouting into the wind. I suppose I’m becoming a bit fed up of all these wonderful toys being available, but then feeling frustrated that they’re not readily available for all.
The Cursed City farrago may just prove to be a small wrinkle in the road to even bigger profits. Already amongst the community pages I frequent, the anger has subsided. There are resigned shrugs; this is how GW works. Another big box has already been announced (for Necromunda). A different beast, but it will generate massive interest. Warhammer Fest online is next week, and it promises to be a cavalcade of new wonders for us to feast our eyes on. The hype train never stops. It’s almost as though the anticipation of the new stuff is more important than playing with last week’s new stuff. The FOMO is stoked high and the profits roll in.
If this is the case, I don’t suppose GW will change its operating procedure. More copies would be desirable, as would new expansions, but perhaps these smaller boxes don’t attract the sort of sales GW are looking for. We may not like it, we may miss out, but the fanbase keeps buying and profits keep rising. By financial metrics alone, Cursed City can certainly be considered a success.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.