A Field Guide to the unsavory tactics of Games Workshop
Maybe you’re new to gaming. Maybe you’re Rip Van Winkle. But for some reason, you don’t know why Games Workshop draws so much ire from gamers. Don’t fret. Just use this handy field guide to spot all the less than savory tactics that Games Workshop has done over the past 20 years. There are lots of examples of why people are frustrated by Games Workshop. Let’s take a look at them before they issue a cease and desist letter to The Gaming Annex.
Brief History of Games Workshop
Founded in London, England in 1975, Games Workshop was originally a manufacturer of game boards like chess and Mancala. They would partner with the US firm TSR to become the European importer of Dungeons & Dragons. They expanded in 1979 by adding the Citadel Miniatures division. Citadel Miniatures would become the manufacturer of all (or at least their most important) plastic components. Games Workshop has published many different games over the years: Fury of Dracula, Talisman and Cosmic Encounter to name a few. But they continue to mine two IP’s almost exclusively: Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K. One is a fantasy miniatures war game and the other is a science fiction miniatures war game. Games Workshop is noted for making some amazing miniatures and for developing several highly rated board games. They partnered with Fantasy Flight Games to make a line of games that were well received and nicely supported.
Wonderful and richly themed games. Great production values. Partnered with TSR and Fantasy Flight. Sounds like a great company. So why do so many people have a bone to pick with Games Workshop?
Those amazing miniatures I mentioned? Yeah. They cost an arm and a leg. And your first born. Seen here are a squad of Space Marine Terminators. You get five 28mm scale figures (just over 1″ tall). These figures will need to be assembled and painted. The price: a staggering $50. That’s $10 per figure! And the terminators represent only one squad of your army. You need numerous squads to field a full-fledged army.
When you compare this pricing to, say, new Star Wars action figures, you can see the price gouging in effect. Check out this new stormtrooper. He comes packaged in a blister pack, comes with several weapons and accoutrements, has 5 points of articulation and stands 5″ tall. He comes pre-painted and looks just like the dudes from the movies. He costs $7.99! Maybe the difference in pricing has to do with the fact that Space Marines never miss and Stormtroopers never hit?
The Ork army also costs a staggering amount. These cool looking Orks are called a Warbiker mob. They come with power axes and machine gunned motorcycles. But these green-skinned brutes won’t just raid the battlefield; they’ll raid your wallet. You get three of them in a package–unassembled and unpainted–for $41. That comes to about $14 per figure. Maybe the Orks are called the “Green Tide” because they cost so much green?
Still not convinced of Games Workshop’s opulent pricing? The Tyranid warriors are the taskmasters and vanguard of the Tyranid invasion. They devour genetic material and then evolve before the next battle. They are a menace to any planet they encounter. They are also a menace to one’s personal finances. For $51 you get a squad of three figures.
The thing about Games Workshop is that everything is opulently priced. I’ve given several examples of their miniatures being overpriced. But they sell rulebooks for $50 a pop. Each army has a rulebook (called a “codex”). And you pretty much need it to play. This is above and beyond the regular rules (which cost $60 and up).
Vehicles and larger vehicles should cost more. But Games Workshop’s pricing has such a higher baseline, that it eclipses all others. The new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, has a line of toys with vehicles. The TIE Striker comes mostly assembled and completely painted. It also comes with a TIE pilot and other accoutrements. Its cost: $49.99. One could collect all the Star Wars toys for less money than one could buy unpainted GW figures.
We haven’t even touched on the cost of painting and sculpting your miniatures. All miniature wargames require this. It’s a feature of the hobby. I dislike painting my figures so this feature is lost on me. But to each his own. When we compare Games Workshop not to action figures but to other miniature wargames, how does it compare? Polyhedron Collider had an excellent article on this subject in 2014. While slightly dated, the gist is still the same. The author made the following estimates
- Warhammer 40,000: $300
- Warmachine & Hordes: $218
- Dropzone Commander: $188
- Infinity: $116
$300 gets you two small armies in the Warhammer (or WH 40K) universe. If you want a larger army, you will have to pay more money. If you get bored with these and want to try a new army, that is another huge investment. If that were the end of it, I would not have much to blog about. And the gaming community would not have much of a bone to pick. But, alas, that is NOT the end of it.
Banned and Obsolete Units
It should be painfully obvious from the above examples that Games Workshop charges substantially more for their products than other toy manufacturers or other wargame publishers. Games Workshop has done more than just gouge its customer base with its pricing: it also gouges its customer base by banning units and in some cases entire armies.
Consider the Space Dwarves. For every fantasy trope there is a 40K trope. High elves are called Eldar in the year 41,000. The Undead are called Necrons, robotic warriors that reanimate even after being killed. And the dwarves are called Squats: tiny humans from a high gravity world.
These tough little dudes could be fielded as a full-fledged 40K army. You could drop your coin on these various space dwarf units and go to battle against the Tyranids or the Dark Eldar, pushing back their tyranny and vile ploys.
Until the 3rd Edition was released.
All remnants of the Squats were banned. So if you had a Squat army, you were plum out of luck. You had to start all over if you wanted to play in sanctioned games of Warhammer.
And that sucks!
Warhammer Fantasy has not gone unscathed. The Tomb Kings army has not been re-upped with the release of Age of Sigmar. People who spent hundreds of dollars and hours cobbling a Tomb Kings army are still smarting over Games Workshop’s decision to ban them.
When Games Workshop isn’t banning entire armies, they ban portions of armies. Take the popular Grot Bomm Launcha. This tough little ork would fire a guided missile at the enemy. The missile was guided by a gretchin (a space goblin). Each time the ork player would fire this unit, he had to lose a gretchin who would sacrifice himself to kill the enemy. This unit was banned, forcing ork army owners to buy new figures if they wanted to field 40K armies.
Indeed, that is the goal of Games Workshop. Games Workshop releases new editions of their WH and WH40K lines in order to force players to buy new miniatures. If you aren’t buying miniatures, you are not a Games Workshop customer. To help you be a customer, GW will ban units or entire armies so you have to purchase more products.
And that, folks, is unsavory.
Cease and Desist
Games Workshop has released a host of board games over the years. All of these board games have been released in order to augment their WH and WH40K licenses. This means that their games will go unsupported much sooner than the gaming community is ready to let them go. Rules questions, player aids and the like are not handled by the publisher but by the gaming community. This is true of lots of game publishers. But only GW sends our cease and desist letters.
Games Workshop is a jealous overlord. They protect their intellectual properties by force. The force being their legal department. Take Blood Bowl for example. Each team comes from the Warhammer universe: Skaven, Orks, elves, etc. And each has its own set of rules and special powers. Rules questions are going to abound. But Games Workshop only released the Blood Bowl games to whet our appetites for their main games. So rules questions would not be answered.
The gaming communities would craft their own FAQ’s and player aids and upload them to boardgamegeek and the like. For free you could download these helpful materials so as to play your beloved GW game.
Then the great Games Workshop Purge of ’09 happened.
The lawyers from Games Workshop issued cease and desist letters to the admins of boardgamegeek.com, demanding they remove all such file content. In a blink of an eye, years of love went down the drain as players no longer had the fan support (or the publisher support) for Blood Bowl, Man-o-War or Warhammer Quest.
While Games Workshop has the legal right to the creation, distribution and use of its properties, this gamer is not alone in feeling Games Workshop does not have the moral right to stop its fans from supporting the games we love. Games Workshop’s cease and desist letters amounted to a collective middle finger to all us loyal fans.
When Games Workshop isn’t bullying little ol’ boardgamegeek.com, they try pushing around internet giant amazon.com. Author M.C.A. Hogarth wrote a novel called, “Spots the Space Marine”. Games Workshop makes miniature armies called “space marines”. They have a trademark on them. They were under the impression their trademark extended beyond games and applied to literature.
Amazon yanked the book from their shelves and asked Hogarth to work out the difference with GW herself. The gaming community was horrified by yet another act of overreach from Games Workshop. Hogarth got support from the gaming community. The trademark on “space marine” does not apply to copyrighted material so Amazon reinstated her book. Score one for the good guys!
Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here…???
Games Workshop’s latest releases of Warhammer and 40K seem to have a built-in scheme to ensure you keep buying minis. Most armies have a summoning ability that allows you to add extra units to your armies during a game. To be competitive, you need may need 2,000 or 3,000 points of figures ($700 to $1,250 worth of plastic). Additionally, GW filed for divorce from Fantasy Flight. Support for GW games will no longer be provided by Fantasy Flight as of February 2017. Given everything I’ve thus written about, should we abandon all hope?
No. Not entirely. Hope persists.
Games Workshop has brought board game development back in-house instead of having FFG do all the heavy lifting. This means we should expect some choice games from the publisher we-love-to-hate. A new treatment of their classic Warhammer Quest (Silver Tower) is in print. A new edition of the popular Blood Bowl game is being published.
Games Workshop’s history has rubbed the gaming community the wrong way for a long time. And the gaming community has too many other publishers from which to buy products to be beholden to these UK overlords. While the news of new Warhammer Quest and Blood Bowl releases are welcome news, GW has a long road of penitence ahead of it.
In the meantime, WTF, Games Workshop!
Links for additional consideration!