Sunday, 10 August 2014

Presenting the Games Workshop official product name generator

I can exclusively reveal the current system that Games Workshop uses to generate names for it's products. In a nod to the classic games of yore, it's all done through a simple table. Roll a D100 and consult table A to generate the first part of name and then another D100 and consult table B to generate part 2.

01 – 05 Dark 01 – 05 Blade
06 – 10 Death 06 – 07 Blaster
11 – 14 Fire 08 – 15 Brute
15 – 17 Forge 16 – 19 Claw
18 – 26 Hell 20 – 24 Crusher
27 – 30 Inferno 25 – 28 Engine
31 – 35 Iron 29 – 35 Fang
36 – 40 Mauler 36 – 40 Fiend
41 – 47 Murder 41 – 43 Flayer
48 – 53 Night 44 – 47 Forge
54 – 56 Raven 48 – 50 Furnace
57 – 61 Razor 51 – 55 Grinder
62 – 63 Rot 56 – 62 Guard
64 – 69 Skull 63 – 68 Mauler
70 – 75 Slaughter 69 – 73 Pod
76 – 80 Soul 74 – 76 Raven
81 – 83 Stone 77 – 82 Skull
84 – 89 Storm 83 – 88 Storm
90 – 95 Thunder 89 – 94 Talon
95 – 00 Venom 95 – 00 Wing

If you roll the same word twice, you can re-roll or just go with it. You can never have too much of a good word.

Depending on the success of the random table, the current plan is to restructure the design studio as a single man operation consisting of Jervis Johnson and a huge book of random name, rule and fluff generators.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Bushido - Battle in the Swamp, with pictures

Here are a few pictures from my latest game of Bushido the first since I finished my project to paint all my Bushido models and the first in which I got to use all painted models and scenery.

I don't have the notes or patience for a full battle report, but I'll provide a quick summary.

The battle was between the Temple of Ro-Kan (mostly monks plus a handful of primates) and the Savage Wave (an alliance of Oni, big red demons, and Bakemono, small green ones). The scenario objective was to rotate the stone idols to face their starting line. The faction with the mostly idols at the end of turns 2, 4 and 6 would get 1 victory point. To complicate matters, one of the idols belonging to the scoring side would disappear after scoring.

The temple advanced rapidly and took control of two idols, despite taking fire from Bakemono archers hiding in the woods and the snares of Bakemono scout, Tra-Peng.
The Savage Wave advance was slowed by the powers of Master Monk Ekusa (riding on a tortoise) who left the Oni contemplating existence and not moving very much.
Water manipulating Monk Rikku called up a wall of water to shield the Monks from the Bakemono archers, while diminutive Monk Koji's pack of macaques confront a Bakemono bushi on the bridge.
The macaques were killed or scattered, but their place was quickly taken by their Gorilla-sized cousin and the Bakemono Bushi defeated. With a bedazzled Oni still blocking the bridge, a Bakemono spearman made his way through the swamp.
Meanwhile, Bakemono drummers Okina and Oto moved the central Buddha statue back to a neutral position and Tra-Peng moved it to face the Savage Wave's side and snatched a victory point
Koji and his remaining macaque made short work of the of the Bakemono spearmen, but Wakka the Oni hurled his massive stone Buddha head at Master Ekusa. Yumi pushed the master out of the way and took the hit herself, but a combination of Master Ekusa's healing powers and her own (courtesy of an upgrade card) brought her back to full strength.

Having finally finished contemplating his existence, the Oni Ushiused his dominate power to take control of Yumi. Master Ekusa responded by calling an aura of tranquillity that stopped her from attacking her own side, so Ushi drove her away from the bridge at top speed. Meanwhile, Gori-san took care of the Bakemono archers.
With Yumi recovered, Ushi used his power on Master Ekusa, driving him away. But it was too late, with Koji distracting Ushi and Yumi taking care of Tra-Peng, Rikki and the tiny Aiko rotated the central statue back to the Temple's line taking a victory point and winning the game.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Restricted Visions

It occurred to me that I never did follow up on my Warhammer Visions experiment.

WHSmiths managed to shift one copy in that month and, since then, have been getting in six or seven copies a month, almost all of which are still there at the end.

This is not a very scientific survey, for all I know Warhammer Visions is wildly popular. That said, most of the newsagents near me that stock it always seem to have plenty of copies. Which suggests that it isn't selling well, but also that they keep stocking it in large numbers.

I don't have any axe to grind regarding Warhammer Visions. I haven't been a regular White Dwarf reader in years and the White Dwarf weekly/Warhammer Visions split took place over a year after I last bought a copy. There behaviour isn't irritating so much as baffling.

Warhammer Visions appears to be a very confused publication. It's supposed to be about pictures, but its pages are half the size of the old White Dwarf. It is the only publication they sell through mainstream newsagents, but it is an expensive premium product that is likely to be baffling to anyone not already familiar with Games Workshop and its products. And its sealed in plastic, so that you can't browse and have to spend £8 to find out what it contains. Not to mention that if you want nice pictures of painted miniatures, Google Images will supply enough to last a life time.

On the other hand, we have the weekly White Dwarf. It's more expensive the the old White Dwarf on a monthly basis, but each issue is comparatively cheap. It's published frequently and has plenty of news and up to date information. But if you want it you have to go to Games Workshop or a games shop. So it's only available to existing gamers and hobbyists.

What is the thinking here? The odd thing about Games Workshop is that, because it tries to control all aspects of its business itself, from development through to retail, it's not necessary for every part of the business to make money. White Dwarf or Warhammer Visions don't have to be independently profitable as long as they serve the purpose of marketing Games Workshop's core business. For that matter, even rule books don't have to make money if they help to shift more models. But Games Workshop acts like everything they do has to make money. Or that everything do is inherently worth paying for.

So we end up with the odd spectacle of Games Workshop trying to increase its output of printed publications at a time when more and more content is going online and expecting its existing customers to pay extra to cover the cost.

Now I have no idea of this is working or not. But either way it's astonishing that this is where Games Workshop has ended up.

Monday, 9 June 2014

An Epic Scale Development

Oddly, since Games Workshop finally killing off Epic Armageddon, activity surrounding the games has, if anything increased. Troublemaker games are on their third Indiegogo campaign for miniatures that comfortably fill the niche abandoned by GW and Onslaught Miniatures are hard at work producing 6mm versions of every 40K army GW never bothered to touch.

Stranger than this is the fact that rule development is still continuing apace, over at the Epic Armageddon section of Tactical Command with new versions of army lists still being released.

Part of the reason for this is the legacy of Epic Armageddon's development, in which alpha versions of army lists would be released to the community for play testing, with changes incorporated into the official versions released in the rule books. When Games Workshop largely gave up on the game after only two books, there were still dozens of 40K armies without an army list and so development continued, initially on the Specialist Games website before moving when the site was killed off.

But with no more rulebooks being released, there can never be an official version of any army list. So the development continues without end in sight. More than that, with Games Workshop having abandoned the game there is no longer any final authority on what constitutes an official rule. So, instead of these representing new versions of the same list progressing towards a final version, what we actually have is an endless stream of army list variants. After all, if you prefer, say, version 2.0 of the Knight World army list over version 2.1, who is to say that 2.1 is more valid?

For Games Workshop's core games, Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, the cycle of rules releases exists to justify new miniature releases and drive interest in the games. There is no requirement for each new version to be an improvement over the previous one, because that isn't the purpose of the new rules, or at least it hasn't been for a while. In contrast, the Epic army lists are being released because each new army list is supposed to represent an improvement over what went before.

The problem with this is it assumes that rules can continue to improve until they reach a definitive ideal form; the perfect army list, if you like. But this isn't achievable. While there are some rules that almost everyone can agree are just bad (imagine an army list with models immune to all attacks, that could move the length of the board had multiple auto-hit, auto-kill weapons and who cost 1 point each), as they get better it gets more subjective. Spend any time reading through rules discussions about any game on any forum and you will find that one players favourite rule is the one that ruins the whole army for everyone else.

When a company publishes an official army list, it halts the development process, at least for a while. It isn't saying that this army list is perfect, but it does say that this is as good as any and this is the version that will be used. Games Workshop abandoning Epic Armageddon has removed that part of the process and so development can continue, endlessly, with no end point and no final form.

So by finally abandoning Epic Armageddon, Games Workshop have actually extended the development process indefinitely.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Exponential Growth

The UK Games Expo was one of those events I always seemed to miss because I thought it was later in the year than in actually was. By the time I got round to looking at tickets it turned out to be the following weekend, or worse, the weekend just gone. But last year I finally got my act together and booked tickets for Saturday and Sunday.

The Expo is a very different event from Salute. While Salute is, essentially, a shopping experience focused on wargaming, the Expo is a multi-day event which is as much about roleplaying, board games and card games as wargames, if not more so. It also a broader event, taking in tournaments, roleplaying events, seminars, family rooms and even some weird new electronic games.

 You can tell this isn't a wargames convention because the Forge World stand isn't buried under the bodies of the dead and dying.

It also takes place in a hotel, which lends it a very different atmosphere to Salute, which is to say it has one. That isn't entirely fair to Salute, which does have atmosphere, but one that is entirely imported, the location itself being essentially a huge sterile box. The Expo has spent the last two years in the NEC Metropole hotel in Birmingham, which gives it more the feel of a convention or conference.

 Raising funds for world conquest through begging in a hotel lobby. How the mighty have fallen.

I had a great time last year, playing and buying a bunch of different games. Having a room in the hotel meant you could retire from the bustle for a rest, or drop off your purchases so you didn't have to drag them around and there was plenty of space set aside to simply sit down and game. The organisers even offered a game library, which was a nice touch.

Given how much I enjoyed last year, I made sure to get myself organised this year, booking time off work so I could take in the whole event from Friday to Sunday and booking in for a tournament and a roleplaying session as well as making a point of attending some of the seminars, as I had ignored them last year.

 Some strange new game that runs on electricity. I doubt it will have much appeal.

This years Expo was even better attended than last you could see it was a big success. Though not everyone seems to think so - take a look at this blog post and then come back.

To be fair, Saturday was by far the busiest day and things did ease off considerably by Sunday. The bring and buy sale was accessible and the trade halls much easier to navigate. That said, I wouldn't have wanted to try negotiating the Games Lore stand mid-morning on a Saturday with a child in tow.

 Annoyingly, I forgot to take any photos until Sunday, so these make the event look positively sedate.

The organisers had taken into account the increased numbers and booked more space in the hotel. This meant there was a third trader hall, many of the tournaments were moved into a separate area and the amount of space for roleplaying events increased. But some parts of the convention couldn't be or simply weren't expanded. The seminars were still held in the same room as last year. This space had little ventilation and the air-conditioning struggled to cope with the mass of bodies. The trader hall increased in size, but so did the number of traders so there wasn't any more room to move. And, weirdly, the breakfast buffet, which had been a relaxed affair last year, was left with queues to get in and then again to get food. Again, to their credit, the hotel had recognised the problem by Sunday morning and opened up a second area.

All of this illustrates the paradox of these kind of events. The more successful and popular an event, the more attendees it attracts, but the more this increases crowding and reduces the enjoyment for those same attendees. Eventually, the event has to move to a bigger venue, which costs more and so demands even more attendees. And so the cycle continues.

The organisers of the Expo seem quite relaxed about this at the moment. In an interview in the show guide they talked casually about attracting as many as 10,000 attendees. However, the organisers of other shows have adopted a very different attitude.

The Salute guide included a half page advert from Newbury and Reading Wargames society announcing that their annual show, Colours, would not be taking place in  2014. Apart from the weirdness of advertising the non-existence of a show, the advert neatly illustrates the paradox of success. The advert is quite blunt, the event had simply gotten too big for the society to run comfortably and they would rather take a year off to plan than face a potential disaster.

 Colours 2014

Nor is this a problem unique to wargaming. Hyper-Japan is a Japanese cultural festival taking in elements of fashion, food, manga, anime and any other bit of Japanese culture it can find, including Yakult. It has always taken place from Friday to Sunday, but this year the Saturday event will be further divided into two seperate events divided by a one hour gap between 14:15 and 15:15. This was, apparently, to avoid the huge queueing problems created because the show had more attendees than insurance would allow into the venue at any one time. I've booked a ticket for Friday and it will be interesting to see how many others make the same decision.

Similarly, I have skipped the MCM London Comic Con (Formally the London Expo) for the past two years, because what was once a reasonably relaxed event had grown to the extent that you could expect to queue for over an hour for entry, even with pre-booked tickets, and could expect the same level of gridlock experience at the UK Games Expo Games Lore stand on Saturday, at the whole event.

Is there a solution to this? I think there is, of a sort, though it's a fairly brutal one. Either a show reaches the point Colours has, where its organisers decide its all gone too far and decide to kill it or rest if for a while or it grows so big that the experience stops being fun and the show dies on its own. I'm not sure that has happened to any show I know of yet, but it remains a possibility.

 Well-attended or over-crowded?

But doesn't that mean the show is dead? Well, yes, after a fashion. But if the demand is there someone, somewhere will step in and set up a new show, starting from scratch and the business of watching it slowly grow begins again. And so we retain a kind of equilibrium in which shows come and go, but the experience of them remains constant. Where is the Expo in this cycle of growth and decay? Who knows, ask me again next year.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

A gesture or other action used to display respect

So Salute, probably the UK's biggest wargaming convention not run by Games Workshop, has been and gone a few weeks now, which gives me enough time to reflect on it (or alternatively I've been too lazy and disorganised to write this until now). It's a strange beast of a convention, larger than almost any other and yet oddly specialised and lacking elements of the others.

Let us take a look at the venue since 2006, the Excel centre in the heart of London's regeneration zone, spitting distance from Canary Wharf, where high finance feasted on the corpse of the old working class. It is essentially a huge empty space in which things happen. It has no character of its own, but imports it through the events it hosts. So while other conventions occupy schools, hotels and leisure centres and somehow take on some of the character of the locations into themselves, Salute takes place in a characterless void. Which is not to say it has no character of its own, simply that what it has it has to bring with it, giving us the purest vision of the character of a wargames event, uninfluenced by anything around it.

 The queue is now big enough that it gets its own convention space, creating a kind of pre-convention, convention. Albeit a rather dull one.

Excel is also staggeringly vast. On the day of Salute it was simultaneously playing host to registration for the London Marathon, an event for property investors,* and some kind of baking convention. Given the overwhelming male bias towards wargaming and the lesser, but still existent, female bias in baking, I like to imagine the possibility of a husband and wife combination attending the same location on the same day for different conventions, meeting up at the end of the day and possibly for lunch. That the largest wargaming show can occupy only a small part of its venue says something about the nature of wargaming as a minority pursuit.

The Excel centre also provides convention attendees with a range of refreshments through booths arranged between conventions which, this year, included a pop-up restaurant. An apt inclusion given that Salute is, in essence, a pop-up wargaming superstore that trades for only one day each year. This is why it amused me to see a Salute guide posted on the Miniature Page that suggested arriving late to avoid the queues and to go to the gaming table while everyone else is buying. As if gaming is the primary purpose of Salute.

Lord of the Rings played with large scale figures. Achievable for most gamers in a smaller scale

Which isn't to say that the gaming isn't important. It is. But it's role is similar to that of the open tables in Games Workshop stores, to make the hobby manifest. Wargaming is a hobby that offers much more than it initially supplies, relying on its enthusiasts to add much of the value to the component parts supplied. The games show us what the hobby can be. The simpler games show us what we can do, the more complex, something to aspire to. Without them, we are simply buying lumps of metal and plastic (and the odd nicely decorated rulebook). There are no tournaments at Salute, so all games are a form of demonstration, even if its a demonstration you can interact with.

 Most gamers probable couldn't or wouldn't do this

So what is the appeal of Salute if it is, essentially, a huge shop with highly restrictive opening hours and a charge to step through the door? In the Internet age there is nothing at Salute that can't be had with a few minutes web-searching and a few days or weeks wait by the letter box. What's lost in postage, is regained in not paying for tickets or train fairs. And yet, even as I cut down on the amount I spend at other shows, I still strain my budget to take us much as I can to Salute and come home with a bag bulging at the seems with new metal and plastic bits. Why is this?

 Jugula, Gripping Beast and Tomahawks new Gladiator game. Demo-games are already part advertising

Wargaming is fundamentally tactile. Its minority enthusiasts a hold out who still insist that their gaming experience must be actual and not simply digital. Given the hobby's origins, how could a virtual shopping experience satisfy? Of course we use online stores, the opportunity is too good, but at heart we will always want a physical experience of shopping, one that excites with the physical possibilities of our hobby before we have paid any money. And that is what Salute offers, for one day of the year

*There's a glorious juxtaposition here between an event for people who expend a considerable physical effort for the benefit of others and a sense of personal satisfaction and one for people who intend to make money off the back of a necessity without contributing any real value to it.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

White Dwarf 193

It has been far too long since I wrote one of these (actually it's been even longer than that, given that I started this post and then abandoned it in order to start again). To be honest, the principle reason I have been avoiding them is that I have to go and scan a bunch of pages for pictures which drags out the publishing time of the posts.

But with White Dwarf monthly now officially dead as a concept, it feels like the right time to pursue this with an increased sense of vigour. While my collection doesn't extend to the end of the monthly magazine, I have dipped in and out frequently enough that I can pull together a representative sample of most eras of the magazine, even if I have to abandon the strictly once a year rule. And with the magazine at an end, so to do these entries.

The cover comes from Codex Angels of Death, which covered the Dark Angels and Blood Angels, neither of whom are featured prominently in this issue

To business and White Dwarf 193. We have reached a turning point in that this issue represents the first, and nearly the last, time that the magazine has consciously been re-designed.  White Dwarf has absolutely changed over time, 181 looked nothing like 121, but this is the first time someone has consciously said "That thing we used to do? We're not doing it anymore, we're doing something else." This happened with White Dwarf 191, the second issue to be edited by Jake Thornton.

On the surface the really big changes amount to an increased page count and the introduction of two pages of card pull outs. The latter felt hugely valuable at the time, given how much of Games Workshops games were delivered in the form of cards of one sort or another, from board sections, to magic item cards, to vehicle datafaxes, to army cards, to counters, to wargear cards and on and on. So including a card section was adding a lot of value to the magazine. Of which more later.

Beyond the immediate, not much else appears to have changed. Visually, the magazine is much the same as White Dwarf 181 but turned up to 11. This is exemplified by the replacement of the venerable old White Dwarf logo with a bigger, more angry and cartoony version by Wayne England. Inside, the "red period" is still in full swing with everything painted in bright bold colours. Articles have huge, colour headings, expansive box outs and side bars (one article, on Warhammer 40,000 missions is more side-boxes than article) and huge coloured borders either side of the page into which content occasionally intrudes.

 How much of this is article and how much is sidebar?

So not so much a reinvention or redesign as the same thing further emphasised? Not quite, because if you take an even closer look, there is something else going on below the surface here. But to understand what that is, we have to go back to the start of our journey.

I have written about this before, but back when White Dwarf 121 was published, Games Workshop was chronically inept at the business of producing and distributing rules. They weren't necessarily bad at writing them but there was very little sense of what they were for or how to deliver them to customers. This is why Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 were published as books and everything else as boxed games; why Warhammer had a single slim volume of army lists and Warhammer 40,000 was divided into an odd mix of articles of White Dwarf compendiums; why the Space Marines shared a book with the Imperial Guard and Squats while Chaos and Orks got two thick hard back volumes each. It was a glorious mess and one from which White Dwarf benefited hugely.

White Dwarf 121 contained preview material from Realms of Chaos months before its release, alongside articles for Space Hulk and Advanced Hero Quest that had no planned home in any supplement at all. Add to that a painting guide and showcase that essentially looks at whatever the 'Eavy Metal team felt like working on without any reference to the rest of the magazine content. What's left is an Ork preview, that looks like news, but acts as an introduction to over a years worth of Ork material that would eventually, after much re-editing, find its way into the huge Ork rule books. Its probable that the books only got that big because the designers kept churning out more content.

So what we had was a design studio that seemingly did whatever it felt like, without any sense of how it would be published, and a White Dwarf magazine that simply helped itself to whatever it liked, because there wasn't anywhere better to put it. We end up with magazine articles that look like rule book extracts and rule books full of magazine articles because no-one is clear on what anything is for. Meanwhile, only a small part of White Dwarf actually consists of the sort of content you might find in a conventional magazine.

By White Dwarf 193 this has changed. Games Workshop finally has a definitive model for publishing rules, albeit one with a few rough edges. Release a large boxed game, then a supplement that covers all the bits you couldn't fit in the main game plus some cards. Some lucky games get more than one. For most games, this is enough. For Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, each army gets its own book which includes all the rules needed to play that army plus an army list. This model makes it far easier to get what you need to actually play the game, albeit at a cost, so that you can focus on actually building an army.

The downside of this for White Dwarf is much of its content dries up. Even then, it takes some time before this is accepted. Consequently the rules articles continue, although now they're re-printing content from recently or soon to be released supplements. The process is gradual, so White Dwarf 157 can still fill up half its pages with a preview army list for the Space Wolves, even while re-printing the Grand Theogonist rules for Warhammer. And the studio occasionally throw them a bone, such as the Chaos Dwarf rules, as no-one is planning to give them a proper book at this point.

Along the way, they also figure out tactics articles and battle reports are a good way of generating content that doesn't belong in a rule book most of the time. But the effects are still patchy.

What we start to see from White Dwarf 191 onwards, is a conscious attempt to restructure White Dwarf as an entity in its own right, and not just a dumping ground for leftover studio material. As a consequence, we start to see material that feels more consciously "magaziney" for want of a better term. The first big thing is the introduction of interviews, some with key members of the GW studio, such as Andy Chambers in this issue, others with "celebrity" gamers or people who have produced nicely painted models or armies. None of these are particularly in depth, but they do provide the kind of behind-the-scenes information that a magazine for GW fans, as opposed to a rules dump, should provide.

 Now we do interviews

Other subtler changes take place. There is a visible shift towards trying to provide genuinely useful content. The 'Eavy Metal article in this issue takes the form of a response to questions, there is a new modelling workshop article on game boards and we get semi-regular rules FAQ article. The article on the newly-released Imperial Guard Hellhound becomes part rules re-print and part tactics article, giving the magazine some added value. This issue battle report is a follow on from an article in the previous issue, which presented a linked campaign of Warhammer scenarios setting Orcs against Dark Elves, with instructions on how to build Orc huts. The battle report puts the final scenario to the test. The end result is a neat thematic link that demonstrates that article ideas can be put to practical use.

 The battle report shows off Orc huts made from Pringles tubes

The other way way in which White Dwarf tries to carve out an identity for itself is by creating a distinction between the White Dwarf team and the studio team. The WD team are introduced in photographs on the opening page for the first time. These photos are repeated by each article to reinforce a sense of authorship. Members of the team interview studio staff, which has the effect of placing the WD team slightly outside the GW structure and bringing them closer to the reader. Prominent GW staff, Andy Chambers, Jervis Johnson and Nigel Stillman are given semi-regular columns with names that highlight their "guest" status.

 The editorial and meet the team page. Some look happier to be here than others.

The overall effect of this is to give White Dwarf a clear identity of its own, one that is at least in part distinct from Games Workshop and the studio. It is also making a clear attempt to justify itself on its own terms, which means providing useful content to its readers, albeit with varying degrees of success. Say what you like about the aesthetic choices of the era, and they are certainly out of keeping with Games Workshop of today, but there is a sense that the team behind this issue were really trying to produce a good gaming magazine.