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Author Topic: We Don't Need Another Warhammer  (Read 4134 times)

Offline Easy E

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We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« on: November 16, 2023, 03:39:20 PM »
Those of you who have been reading my blog, interact with me online, or heard some of my interviews know one of my key maxims as a Wargame Designer.  Innovation is Over-rated.  Therefore, you maybe a bit surprised to see a post about doing things different!

I often think of my own development as a wargame designer as Path A.  I started with Dungeons and Dragons in the mid-80's.  Saw an advert for Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader and got into that.  Played that for a long time.  Did time playing the Specialist Games. Then, eventually moved over to historical and other games at some point.  I have heard this exact same story from so many gamers and wargame designers.  Hence, why I call it Path A as it is so common.

Due to this Path A, there is a common Indie Wargamer joke that we all started out trying to build a better Warhammer.  The first "published" rules I ever had were for a variant set of rules called "Jungle Fight" that was published in Firebase #7 a fanzine I found on the Old Warseer forum.  I am pretty sure you can still track them down.  Indeed, much of my early work was "Modding" Specialist Games to fit my campaigns and wants.     



I have sad news for everyone though.  No one actually wants a new Warhammer, well; at least not from you.     

So, how much of variation from the comfortable mechanics are wargamers willing to stand before they reject a game?  Certain games, and certain genres come with some expectations about what the game should do.  How far can you vary from what they expect, and how much should you lean into it? 

I explore this topic in a bit more detail on the blog, and posit a 80/20 approach to "new concepts".  However, I would be interested in what you guys think?  What is your personal limit?  What games have gone "over-the-line" and which ones had the right amount of new shiny? 



Oh yeah, if you want to read the blog it is here:
https://bloodandspectacles.blogspot.com/2023/11/wargame-design-we-dont-need-another.html
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Offline Elbows

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2023, 10:28:45 PM »
I think it comes down to something rather simple; making something for the "most" consumers.  The highest selling product in almost every industry is rarely the best one, the most innovative one, or the most cherished one.  It's commonly the most basic one.

In automotive circles, the highest selling vehicles aren't "cool".  They're Beetles, Golfs, Camry's, F-150 pick-up trucks, etc.  They're rather unassuming, mass-market products.

The same can be found in mass market media, such as films.  The simplest way to make a profit is an inoffensive PG-13 action flick which can appeal to a vast audience both domestically and internationally.  Consider Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, superhero films, etc.  No one is giving these films awards for script/acting/etc.

Bringing it back to gaming, it's the same thing.  Consider the Warhammer franchise and the D&D franchise.  Both massive market/segment leaders...but both rather underwhelming products.  GW had some well-designed games back in the 1990's, but since going corporate their stuff is incredibly...basic?  D&D is super popular, but most long-time role-players prefer other game systems/settings, etc.   Neither of these two monstrous games have really developed or innovated.  However they're common house-hold names and they can roll on with little opposition.

So the question becomes; are you trying to make millions of dollars, or are you trying to make a good game?  Those two things don't go hand-in-hand necessarily.

If innovation produced the majority of sales, neither Warhammer nor D&D would be king of the mountain in their respective domains.  The overwhelming majority of your consumers are not that picky about what they're playing.  In many instances a game simply needs to be popular enough and good "enough" to keep enough customers. 

A ton of GW and D&D players also play exclusively that game - having never even tried other games, so they have an excellent captive audience.  I know a ton of kids locally who have never played another wargame outside of 40K...full stop.  You're likely never going to draw those kids away from 40K even if your game is significantly better.

In short, I think that newer, more interesting game design will absolutely create fans...but I don't think anyone is going to unseat something like Warhammer or D&D.  They're too entrenched in the common gaming culture.

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Offline fred

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2023, 07:39:09 AM »
Interesting thoughts. Some random ones of my own around this topic.

With WH & 40K there is history, nostalgia and setting that all play into its popularity. I’ve never been a big WH or 40K player, but several of my group have been over the years (many years) and whilst they don’t play that much of either game now, they still have huge armies and an interest in the setting and the lore.

Marketing is a big thing around popularity - I would put FoW and Bolt Action in that camp - both are very much games, and fairly simple ones at their core, but are hugely popular, and somehow for historical games have managed to continue to produce endless faction books - which perhaps leans into list building being something that matters to lots of players.

I think a lot of the smaller rulesets are by people who prefer a different style of game - and this is almost a self-selecting group.

With mechanics I think there is more cross-over between game styles and types (eg board games) so we see more acceptance of new mechanisms in games. But there is definitely a balance point - if there is too much new stuff, then as a player it is really hard to work out how to play the game. This can be mitigated by extras such as how to play videos (even play though videos can help) rules with good examples, and rules that have been thought about as something to be absorbed off the page, rather than through playing along side the author!

Once you get some of the core mechanics that an author uses, then other games from them are much easier to assimilate (both TFL and Big Red Bat games have fallen into this group for me)

Offline Daeothar

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2023, 08:43:48 AM »
I've been pondering on this for quite some time myself.

Living in continental Europe, I think I've walked a very common path when it comes down to wargaming, considering the gaming environment over here:

Dabbled a bit in D&D and other RPG's in my early teens, but this never found any real traction. Then Hero Quest and Space Crusade were released here, bringing miniature gaming to the masses and I was all over it.

This eventually got me into WH40K and this was my gaming environment for many, many years. I was a mod on a 40K forum, but I eventually wanted to do something not-40K. No matter it was WHFB; it had no place on that forum, so I found this one.

And LAF turned out to be Pandora's Box for me. So many systems, rules and miniature lines I never even knew existed! And this in turn got me way down the rabbithole.

I found so many new rulessets, settings and aesthetics that it was almost overwhelming, and I wanted a piece of everything.

This translated in my gaming becoming very fragmented. Instead of finished 40K armies, I now had many, many projects, all half finished, usually because of the next new shiney popping up.

And since my local meta is basically me and one gaming buddy, we forced eachother into many different systems, some which the other might have not started on their own.

But all of these rules sets made us realize that there was no such thing as a fully scaleable, system that could realistically (mind; I use this term very loosely here ;) ) pit every type of unit from any game against eachother and be balanced.

So we set out to (re)invent the wheel, and write the all-encompassing system that could for instance pit Roman Legionaires against Space Marines, or Moria Goblins versus a Battlemech, but still be balanced points wise.

This was mostly my buddy's baby, and even though we got a pretty good and workable system going, it eventually petered out.

Turns out our system was neither innovative or as flexible as we wanted it to be. Although to be fair; we had only built and tested the basic 'engine'; it could have developed into something a bit more polished. But I felt that we were running into unexpected barriers that we did not resolve.

Looking back (this was just a couple of years ago), it appears that we shamelessly borrowed elements from a whole range of systems and made them work together. Nothing wrong with that, but it did made me stop and look back.

When was I actually really having fun playing a game? And this I narrowed down to playing X-Wing for years and playing 40K for even longer back in the day.

And what did these systems, which were both hugely popular when I played them, have in common? Simplicity. They were not the best systems, theoretically. There were and are better ones out there. Heck; I've played a lot of those myself, but I'm not a rules lawyer, and I think most people are not.

So a system that might be slightly flawed but is easy to learn has a great appeal to most (casual) gamers. A greater appeal than those games that are better in most respects, but have a steep learning curve, are hard to find players for etc.

Also; the two games I mentioned both have a hugely succesful and compelling setting, which helps with the immersion and therefore fun.

All of the above now has me exploring simple rules sets, such as One Page Rules' Grimdark Future. that set actually ticks almost all of the boxes for me: Simple, easy to learn, setting agnostic (although we all know it's a pocketsized 40K ::) ) and, dare I say it, fun.

Oldhammer obviously has some appeal to me as well for the same reasons.

So I feel I've come full circle; I started out with the most generic and well known game out there, branched out into ever expanding territories but am now coming around to games comparable to the one I started out with.

Nostalgia? This surely plays a role here. But I think the overarching sentiment is that when I game, I don't want it to be overly complex. I am mostly a builder and painter; gaming comes a far second for me, but when I do game, I want it to be enjoyable. And me being me, I tend to enjoy simple, straighforward games, where tactical accumen is more important than knowledge of the intricacies of a given rules set.

And I can't imagine I'm alone in this.
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Offline Easy E

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2023, 08:11:55 PM »
Well, I hope no Indie wargame designer is trying to make a million dollars.  If so, I have some bad news for them!   lol


Good thoughts all.  As always, your comments get my mental wheels turning a bit.  Don't mind the squeaking!

Offline Khusru2

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2023, 08:22:26 AM »
For me, WRG shattered the illusion of invulnerability with the transition from 6th edition to 7th. I know for some it was from 7th to DBA.
After that I tried a few other rules which seemed interesting but weren"t the game I enjoyed, and enjoy, to this day.

Offline EZPAINTER

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2023, 10:48:09 AM »
A famous dude once said "your best work won't be original". I can't really talk because you can look up any of my posts here and see them laced with a vaguely arrogant self importance. I guess it's my hobby persona but the point I'm making is I'm self aware of It and I think YOU don't want a new Warhammer. Whereas...I do. Some do. Many do. People like what they know. Furthermore...Warhammer bores me a lot of the time. It's to dense. I spent a decade as a teenager making simplified gw games just to get my head around them.
I think the Cruz is the "we" in YOUR opinion.
I've written many rule sets and all of them without fail have games workshop jump tables.
At the end of the day as an artist one must naturally and first iterate then move slowly away until they get something unique and fresh. Fresh rarely appears on its own independently.
Also it depends on your metric for success. If it's simply finishing something then hey who cares. If it's making money then yes...it's more Important who the audience is.
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Offline fastolfrus

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2023, 12:41:56 PM »
For me, WRG shattered the illusion of invulnerability with the transition from 6th edition to 7th. I know for some it was from 7th to DBA.
After that I tried a few other rules which seemed interesting but weren"t the game I enjoyed, and enjoy, to this day.

6th? I'm still on 4th...
Gary, Glynis, and Alasdair (there are three of us, but we are too mean to have more than one login)

Offline fastolfrus

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2023, 01:03:53 PM »
Doubt that I'm the right person to answer the question since I started gaming at a school club years before D&D existed, and even longer before GW rulesets.
When WFB came out it was a novelty. The bucket of dice was simple. The roll a tubful to hit then pick out the hits and roll them to damage (or roll saves) was easy. The armies, samurai. vikings, arabs, crusaders, elves, goblins etc. looked interesting, and there was an explanation of how the points system worked if you wanted to do your own lists, although with the caveat that the points system didn't work if you put in anything big like a giant, dragon, or balrog.
But their marketing team were very skilled and soon any gaming was automatically associated with GW, much like vacuum cleaners are all generically hoovers, and hoovering is a verb. I think they rested on their laurels to milk the cash cow. For a few decades I ran a local school club, and at the start of each new year I would ask if there were any gamers amongst the new intake. There would usually be a few, at first it was possibly 50%, who were at least aware of GW, but as time progressed there were very few. In my last couple of years at the club there was no-one who admitted any prior knowledge of gaming (or for that matter model-making. But the decline in model-making as a hobby is another topic).
Given the number of players that start with GW, and the vast amount of plastic that GW shift, you would perhaps expect there to be huge crowds of veteran gamers everywhere, but I get the impression that a lot drift away after a couple of years and never pick up a dice in anger again.

Offline Dentatus

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2023, 04:36:21 PM »
I think it's a waste of time trying to make 'another Warhammer' when Warhammer dominates the mainstream, commercial war game landscape.

While that makes WH the market's reference point, it's a presupposition that a 'Warhammer clone' is every game designer's goal.

There's obviously a desire for alternatives and innovation in mass battle, skirmish rule sets, and RPGs as evidenced by the constant flow of new games and rule books. I think many of these alternatives are still around precisely because they aren't trying to make 'another Warhammer.'   

They may never achieve the financial success of GW - or WotC, or Asmodee - but I attribute those companies profits more to timing, marketing, and licensing popular IP than product quality.

As an indie game designer, I never thought I'd de-throne GW or make a million $$$; I just wrote up a quick and easy way to get my minis on the table and other people seemed to like it. So, I keep writing and thankfully they keep selling.   




Offline Robosmith

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #10 on: December 03, 2023, 01:15:45 AM »
This post is going to skirt the forum rules but such is life.

Innovation doesn't matter, execution matters. Some of the most successful things ever are purely refinement of what was already there. If you can take an average game and polish it, tighten the rules and make it fun you have a product people will want. The rub is you need to find an audience for that and then find a way to tap into the market. The current zeitgeist is very politically correct and inclusive to the point where the closest parallels to the GW market share is something like Youtube or Twitch TV despite being very different industries, as they share the same culture and weaknesses of that. There is a built in audience for opposition to those websites and their policies big enough to create large competitors (Rumble promotes it's self as a free speech alternative to youtube, and kick a less-restrictive Twitch). Often it's done in a mocking way showing how these alternative platforms are superior to the original creating a more fanatical fan base in a console war of My platform VS YOUR platform.

Back in the early 2000s Privateer Press (rest in peace) marketed their game as the MANLY ROBOT SMASHING GAME and told disenfranchised Warhammer players "Our rules are tight, we're not like GW with loose rules and a million models on the table marking wounds. We play with BIG ROBOTS and they FIGHT TO WIN!" and they built a strong fanbase and became the only real rival to GW we've ever seen because of it. They took disenfranchised players, solved their problems (loose rules, too many models making it expensive) and made a real name for themselves when GW was at it's weakest. The same way the online platforms have to created markets for non-politically correct groups based purely on not being the thing some of their user base is sick of. A company could come along today and for example point at the new empire kits having more African women's heads than European male heads and if handled with the right snark and respect for the Perry-era Empire models get a lot of disenfranchised fans on board with a single snarky swipe at GW. It would do the rounds on the places anti-GW guys hang out and get reposted because those places are making those jokes themselves and want to support others making them. You're creating an underground marketing campaign by tapping into a group of mobile gamers by feeding them what they want to hear and have shown they're willing to invest time in discussing/promoting despite being side lined. They want to be heard, supported and validated to the point where there's millions of dollars being spread around based purely on being counter culture if the people getting paid believe what they say or not. Counter culture audiences makes ideal marketers and rabid fanboys if you can keep them happy.

Games are kept a float by the average Joe buying on mass but to get that flock you need preachers and preachers need a reason to love your game. As others have said a quality product is rarely the way to success, the most popular of everything is always a generic, mostly bland but acceptable thing with years of marketing behind it. The popular alternatives are almost always counter culture to that game or parasitic versions of it (Warmachine and One Page Rules). So your options to be successful are either hard counter culture so you build a fanatical 'Screw GW' fanbase able to demo your game, constantly talk about it online and be aggressive grass root marketers for you (..or pay to have your stuff spammed every where. That worked for Tiktok and now Temu) or you offer GW-lite for free and have to constantly chase GW's tail because your fanbase will demand rules for their new space marine weapons every time GW preview a new model.

I also recall seeing stats from Steam where only something like 2% of gamers play more than one game. That means there's almost no mobility in the computing gaming market where it's easy to load up another one. I would hate to know the player mobility in Wargaming with such a high investment. Which is also why I think being counter culture is so important. The players who are mobile are going to be mobile from disenfranchisement more than anything else so you need to tap into that. Right now there is a lot of angry gamers wanting a shift in the company culture surrounding a lot of gaming systems, the GW crowd aren't happy, the WOTC crowd aren't happy and quite a few others are making noise about the same issues. It's a good time for a company like Privateer Press did back in the 2000s to come in and sweep up a lot of players. The unrest is building across wargaming, card game players and role players, which gives you a lot of design space to play with and pull in a lot of fanatics with a multi-system universe under one banner (like PP did with the Iron Kingdoms). All it's going to take is some decent lore and a refined game system and we could see a major new name in the industry over night.

tl;dr When dealing with a monolith like GW your only hope of success is being counter culture or a parasite and any functional product is enough if you can convince the disenfranchised you're opposed to the monolith too.

Offline Patrice

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #11 on: December 03, 2023, 11:33:13 AM »
Very interesting.  :)

I started with D&D and almost at the same time with old-fashioned wargames rules available in France (“Charges“, “La Flèche et l'Épée“ which I think was a translation of the WRG 5th(?) and “Les Aigles“) and later DBA. With all this I never needed to go into Warhammer although it was much played around me.

This was before internet so it was not easy to hear about other rules, the choice that seemed apparent in (English) magazines was between mass battles and very small skirmishes with lots of stats per figures. But what I really wanted (without being able to understand it ar first) was neither of these, it was something between. Which I began to do in 1996 and I ended up with something entirely different – so different, in fact, that no many people like it and that it will never be entirely finished  lol ...but that's what I like to play.  :D

Offline Aerendar Valandil

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #12 on: December 03, 2023, 11:56:07 AM »
but I get the impression that a lot drift away after a couple of years and never pick up a dice in anger again.

Most get the box for christmas, perhaps paint a few models and play a few games, and it ends up dusty in the attic. That is why GW sells. But that is not too much better than many small games and model companies, that thrive on the 'oh shiny' sentiment of other games, most of it ending unpainted in a very elaborate storage box as well.

The mainstream can be good or not good (GW is very mixed in that, but certainly not all of it is bad), but yes, most people, even veteran players, especially those with a life, want a few systems that are played regularly. As much as quantity, currency is a quality by itself. At our club, there are several 40K players who occasionally drool about WWII, Napoleonic or even skirmish level GW games, but they stick to their 40K stuff and rules simply because it is easy to set up, they have the stuff ready and everybody knows the rules. Children, Job, Wife, and all commitments of life simply prohibit extending the hobby to more periods and rulesets. In the deceades they play and collect, 40K has seen better and worse editions and periods of complete nonsense, but they stick to it because finding a new (and especially smaller en and more sepcialised) player base, learning new concepts and painting new figs is simply too much. Quality (whatever that may mean, because that is very, very subjective!) is secondary. As much as continuity by the way: in a few years, 40K will still exist. (Yes, we thought that of Fantasy as well, I know.) Most indie games willceaso to exits or be comatose. 

I understand that.
« Last Edit: December 03, 2023, 11:59:34 AM by Aerendar Valandil »

Offline Robosmith

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2023, 07:06:54 PM »
Most get the box for christmas, perhaps paint a few models and play a few games, and it ends up dusty in the attic. That is why GW sells. But that is not too much better than many small games and model companies, that thrive on the 'oh shiny' sentiment of other games, most of it ending unpainted in a very elaborate storage box as well.

The mainstream can be good or not good (GW is very mixed in that, but certainly not all of it is bad), but yes, most people, even veteran players, especially those with a life, want a few systems that are played regularly. As much as quantity, currency is a quality by itself. At our club, there are several 40K players who occasionally drool about WWII, Napoleonic or even skirmish level GW games, but they stick to their 40K stuff and rules simply because it is easy to set up, they have the stuff ready and everybody knows the rules. Children, Job, Wife, and all commitments of life simply prohibit extending the hobby to more periods and rulesets. In the deceades they play and collect, 40K has seen better and worse editions and periods of complete nonsense, but they stick to it because finding a new (and especially smaller en and more sepcialised) player base, learning new concepts and painting new figs is simply too much. Quality (whatever that may mean, because that is very, very subjective!) is secondary. As much as continuity by the way: in a few years, 40K will still exist. (Yes, we thought that of Fantasy as well, I know.) Most indie games willceaso to exits or be comatose. 

I understand that.

You're right the majority of GW's revenue is pump and dumping box sets and then whales buying new armies regularly. There's always the question of how high they can price hike before that market dries up. Every time we expect it to happen but it keeps going.

40k players change systems quite often. They play the brand name but the rule systems are quite different. 2nd ed is nothing like 3rd ed which is nothing like 6th and then 8th. They're happy to system hop and learn new systems as long as it has the name on it. Which makes it a weird situation. They won't change systems while changing systems every 2-5 years depending on your definition of a system change.

Offline Basementboy

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Re: We Don't Need Another Warhammer
« Reply #14 on: December 14, 2023, 09:47:45 AM »
Very interesting way of putting it- to move back to WoTC then it’s been insane watching them start to lose their grip on the TTRPG market over the last year, and it does make one wonder how long it’ll be before GW goes the same way.

Either way, I have to agree with Aerendar’s point. I don’t want to know a million rulesets, I want a couple dozen at most that are fun, and relatively intuitively, and most importantly, one that I know I’ll be able to game with other people. So the community behind a game is always as big of a pull factor as the game itself- which means Warhammer will always be able to exert a huge attraction to incoming gamers as long as GW can maintain that core dedicated fan base. Majestic 13 is a dark sci-Fi war game with fantastic reviews across the board, but I’m not going to play it because there simply isn’t a community around the game.
All of this being my long-winded way of saying that big games are fun because they’re big games- the community is the real selling point.

 

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