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OzHammer brings the beef

It arrived today, my order from OzHammer. Initial thoughts are positive, the box is quite sturdy and it is addressed correctly. Always a positive in my books.

Opening the package up I find it is well packed. Air bags have been used to bulk out the extra space, which is better than letting the thing rattle around inside.

And the correct product is included. Also a big positive. It is shrink wrapped, so safe to assume it is a brand new box.

Now, let’s get technical.

This box of Minotaurs when bought from Games Workshop Australia costs AUD$74.00. At the local game shop they offer 10% off of Games Workshop products, which is roughly AUD$67.00 for the box. Bought through OzHammer using PayPal, this box comes to AUD$46.23.

Because I am such a big shot war game blogger and all, Rob at OzHammer offered me free shipping. Now, even when taking shipping into account, that still brings this box of Minotaurs to well below the AUD$67.00 mark.

The order was placed on 23 September and confirmed the next day. It was then posted out to me on 25 September, arriving today 4 October. That is a little over a week. Rob kept me informed of the orders progress throughout the process, which was a nice touch.

Obviously this service has its pros and cons. On the cost side it is substantially cheaper than the regular channels of buying in Australia. In fact, I believe this is the first Games Workshop product I have bought in at least a year. Also OzHammer handles its invoicing through PayPal, which means you aren’t handing your credit card information out to a complete stranger. Admittedly, you are using a partial stranger as an intermediary to a complete stranger, but that is another conversation all together.

Obviously there is a wait time, so this isn’t for products you absolutely have to have ‘right now’. Also, it does mean bypassing the local game store, which is not something I always promote. I like to support my game shops, god knows, they support me enough. But OzHammer seems like a nice auxiliary service, something to use in conjunction with local retail spending.

So far my experience with this service is very good. I don’t like to push commercial stuff like this too hard, but I would be really interested to see some other people order some items from this and see what their thoughts are.

All in all, though, this is a very reliable and transparent operator that is trying to keep the war gaming good times going. In the very least it is worth checking it out.

http://ozhammer.webs.com

A fair trade?

Along with the rest of the internet, today I received my semi-regular email from Games Workshop with their advanced orders. Normally I have a quick look, take it all in and store it away, and then continue on with my life. However this edition of the email has caused me pause.

One of the items in the pre-order are these Fenrisian wolves, for the Space Wolf army in Warhammer 40,000. I actually don’t mind these models too much. They look really nicely sculpted, are very dynamic, and aren’t too cartoonishly over exaggerated in proportion.

But then there are these guys.

Now I am just lost. As individual parts I suppose they aren’t too bad. The wolves are equally nicely done as those above, and I suppose Games Workshop has their Space Marines down pat now, so not surprise there that they don’t look too bad. But put together this just looks… odd.

But really what sits badly with me is the whole concept of this. No matter how well sculpted either of these sets are, I can’t reconcile the background fiction of these into the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

I will admit, I am hardly a boundless reference for 40k, but even I have a basic understanding of the games fiction. Troops riding beast into battle fits into the Ork aesthetic, and only just passed in the Imperial Guard. But into Space Marines?

To me, this is an excellent example of what I mean when I talk about developing ideas. These wolves and wolf cavalry just reek of ‘first idea’. And idea that hasn’t really made it past the initial conception stage. It just seems like something that has been included that is cool or will sell, rather than because it seems like something that will add value to the Space Wolf fiction or their army list.

Now I freely admit, I could be totally wrong. It may just be that I am expecting more of professional creatives than is reasonable. And I also don’t mean to single out Games Workshop in particular, this is important to realise. I am sure I can find examples in a whole host of game systems, from a variety of companies.

This in particular just stood out to me as a prime example of the growing trend of less than impressive creative development beginning to rear its head. And as I always fall back on, I understand that at the core of this, these are products created by a company. So on some level they feel they have to trade off creativity and originality for stuff that is cool and will sell.

But my gut feeling is that these aren’t mutually exclusive. And it is sad that we are starting to lose site of that.

 

G’day, Servus, etc.

I was originally going to include this post with a soon to be following one that showed a few test minis, but soon came to the realisation that it would end up being quite the long and winding blog post.

Anyway, enough of that, let me introduce myself. The name is Brad, the one and the same that Matt occasionally references (and abuses) in some of the blog posts here. I’ve known Matt for a long time now and we seem to be good mates, discuss and play Warhammer against each other amongst other activities. So what am I doing writing on Matt’s blog then? Well after having a hiatus from Warhammer due to 8th edition, writing a PhD thesis and moving overseas I am starting to get back into it with the most devious of races, the Skaven.

Given that Matt is a total ratman fanatic and that my hobby time is far too limited to run an interesting blog of my own we decided that it would be most excellent if I could post my experiences on an irregular basis.

I’m not one for long an rambling posts, so I’ll leave the introduction there. When I return it will be with some pictures of the test miniatures that I am working on, where I attempt to do something a little different than the ‘standard’ Skaven colour scheme.

’til next time.

Where current publications lack

At the beginning of each year I sit down and think about what Skavenblight Gazette can do that year. What has been working and can be developed? What isn’t working and can be dropped? What needs adding?

Normally when looking at starting or renewing a project like this I would do some research. Look at examples, both good and bad, of similar works and see how they handle different issues. This mainly entails looking at the relevant items, in this case wargame and miniature related publications, and analysing them.

At least in my neck of the woods, only two miniature wargame related magazines exist on the shelves. White Dwarf and Wargames Illustrated. A handful more are available to order, like Unseen Lerker or No Quarter. Then there is the clutch of other fan made webzines.

Comparing content from these example publications against Skavenblight Gazette, both content that has actually been published and content ideas to be written, I have noticed something. And I will probably be stating the obvious when I say this, but sometimes you have to break it down to build it all up again.

Everybody, the commercial publications and the fan made webzines, is publishing the same handful of themes. That being, painting articles, rules pieces, previews, interviews, modelling and converting instructionals. And that can all be topped off with miniature galleries.

Now I realise that some, no, all of this is handy stuff to have available. Who doesn’t want to read about proper paint application, or look at the interesting conversions?

But I have the feeling that there is more. That this isn’t everything that is going on in the hobby. These are the themes that commercial publishers have normally pushed because they pertain to the most immediate and relevant part of their business, selling miniatures and rules (either their own or advertisers). And the fans have followed suite because, well, they haven’t had the financial need to sit down and seriously think about the publishing game and what the miniature wargame format is lacking.

Which is fine. Except when you are like me and everything has to be turned up to 11.

So what do you think is lacking from these publications, both pint and digital, commercial and fan made, that us gamers would be interested in? My initial example I could think of was casting.

You can find discussions and tutorials on casting on some blogs and forums, but I doubt you would find much of one in a commercial magazine. Because they want you to buy their cast pieces, not model and cast your own, or make copies of theirs (for backup reasons, I assure you!). And while the blog and forum posts are great, they are limited by the fact that they inherently don’t have a peer standard. They are written because the person who wrote them wanted to, and there is no onus on having to produce something that is accessible to everyone.

Which, again, is fine. Except where people don’t have the necessary skills to decipher the work.

What I am hoping for is feedback. Tell me what you like and dislike in publications, but also, what you would like to see that you haven’t before. There are facets of our hobby that we have an interest in but have not been catered to by commercial press. I want to know what these are, no matter how small or outlandish.

Storm of Tirade

Just briefly I wanted to talk about the Warhammer expansion, Storm of Magic, that came out recently, as well as the worldwide campaign that is associated with it.

I haven’t read the rules or the book at all, but more often than not I have been hearing good things. Eventually I will get around to ingesting the book, but for now I can talk about what I know.

Firstly, whoever approved the name Storm of Magic should be fired. Or at least demoted. Yes, I realise that magic flows on ‘winds’ in the Warhammer world. And yes, I understand then what a ‘storm’ would be in this sense. But please. Remember Storm of Chaos? You used your storm convention on that. Sit down Games Workshop, focus, and come up with a new idea. It takes a lot to phase me, but this kind if un-inventive drivel just makes me want to find those responsible and punch them in the face.

Second, the campaign name. I suppose after Storm of Magic I shouldn’t be surprised that lacklustre name generation is all the rage, but really. Storm of Magic: Scourge of the Storm? Stop saying storm! Think of another bleed’n word!

Thirdly, as far as I can tell, this isn’t a real worldwide campaign. Yes, people from different countries can participate in the one event. But I personally wouldn’t call it a campaign.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, and I must admit once learning the basic details of how it is run I didn’t investigate any further to learn more, it is basically a facility that allows you to send win/loss results and photos to Games Workshop through Facebook. And then… that’s it. No other player participation, apparently no story arc to push. It is just Games Workshop trying to validate itself by flaunting all its Facebook friends. I don’t even have a Facebook account, and I don’t want to be forced into creating one just to be roughly pushed in a predetermined direction by Games Workshop.

As a general concept I don’t mind the Facebook/campaign interaction idea, but I don’t think it is appropriate for a Game Workshop campaign. Not when they have proved in the past that they can develop and run their own independent campaign system. They can like it back through Facebook if they want, that is fine, but using it as a central method of participation seems like a bad idea. At least to me. But then again, I hate social media. Even blogs.

Especially blogs.

Tavern Talk – Painting: Beginners and Beyond

Time for drinks down at the Trading Post.

I have decided to try a different thing this time around.  I thought I would offer you this scenario and see what your advice would be:

A new starter to the hobby has approached you, their army has been selected (insert your own preference if needs be) and rather than ask you questions about how to game or army composition they instead ask you about painting.  Your reply is….

Basically, what tips would you give to a new starter in the hobby.  Everything from paints, to basing.  What are your top tips?

This is best addressed in a list style format. Away we go!

  1. Before you even start painting, properly prepare the model. Clean off mould lines and give it a wash if you have too. Since this is for a beginner, I wouldn’t recommend trying to fill gaps. That can come later.
  2. Pick a rank and file model to start with. Don’t leap straight into Azhag the Slaughterer. It might be worth investing in a plastic box set that you like the look of, to allow you to mess about and try different colours. Be prepared that this lot of models might not even be the army you end up choosing.
  3. A black undercoat will most likely give a more satisfying final model. However, it is harder to get lighter colours to get even coverage, so beware of that.
  4. The most common mistake I see of beginner painters is laying their paint on too thick. There’s no shame in this, I did the same thing starting out. But the goal is to lay down multiple, thin coats to create a more even coverage. Practise not only your brush techniques, but also watering down paints to different consistencies and seeing how that affects the application.
  5. Look after your brush. And don’t chew on it. That’s just nasty.
  6. Your fine detail brush is for just that, fine detail. Make sure you have a higher point sized brush for applying paint to larger areas.
  7. Practise painting a couple of models before you worry about basing. Take it one step at a time.
  8. Try out some different basing materials and techniques before deciding on one for your entire army. You don’t want to commit to something that isn’t going to look right, or prove to be too difficult, to apply over hundreds of models.
  9. Renew the water you use to clean your brush regularly. A murky grey slop isn’t the best environment for proper brush hygiene.
  10. Send a pie to anyone who gives you useful painting tips.

The Circle of Life

Drew, one of the owners of Gamers Guild, and I were talking the other day when I was in there.

Our discussion started with the price rise and the new Finecast range from Games Workshop, but quickly veered off in another direction. As all our conversations are want to do.

Eventually we arrived upon the topic of tabletop games in general, and more specifically, the renewing of a cycle we currently seem to be finding ourselves in. And this cycle? Game system capacity. Exciting, no?

All this stemmed from something that has been tugging at my mind for a while now. That is, the relationship Games Workshop and Privateer Press have found themselves in.

Games Workshops primary games consist of large-scale conflicts that really call for a sizable amount of miniatures to properly play. As has been noted elsewhere, by basically everyone, the standard capacity of a game has been steadily growing with each edition. Be it Warhammer, 40k, or even Lord of the Rings.

Privateer Press primarily focus on skirmish games that only require a small amount of miniatures to play a standard sized game. Though the are fairly well established, they are still considered an up-and-coming company, and a lot of players are taking up their systems. They also offer a lot of on-the-ground player support and interaction.

What I find fascinating is how players are currently perceiving each companies game systems. Games Workshop is regularly attacked with fervour for the size of their games and price of their products. Meanwhile, players beg Privateer Press to include facilities for them to play even larger games of their flagship systems and the ability to purchase far more models in bulk.

I am sure this is all part of a cycle, as something like twenty years ago, Games Workshop was in Privateer Press’s position and only just starting to expand their products. Since things happen so much faster now, in ten years I fully expect Privateer Press to be the new corporate monster, savaging the wailing and lamenting players with 2020 vigour.

If I can pull any kind of conclusion or point from all this, I suppose it is that we should all be mindful of where we have been. And where we are going. The more stake we have in something, especially a company, the more it hurts when they slight us. And whether it be Games Workshop, Privateer Press, or the next big thing, disappointments and poor decisions are inevitable.

This should never get in the way of breaking out the dice, opening a beer, and beating the living daylights out of your friends on the tabletop, though.

The Break Test

You probably already know this. It is everywhere.

A couple of days ago Mark Wells, CEO of Games Workshop, wrote an open letter to the community explaining Games Workshops position with this whole online store thing. There is a handy version over at Warseer to read.

On the face of it, it sounds reasonable and straight forward. Games Workshop are protecting their investment in the community.

But left to think about it for a while, a few things strike me as not quite right. The whole letter is based on some fairly broad, and questionable, assumptions.

As you know, we introduce people to the Games Workshop hobby of collecting, painting and gaming with Citadel miniatures through our Hobby Centres and local independent trade accounts. Games Workshop Hobby Centres run introductory games and painting sessions, beginner lessons, hobby activities and events. We provide all these services free of charge. We only recover this investment if customers then buy products from us.

Firstly, this. Any customer that buys Games Workshop products, be they from a Games Workshop store, an independent stockist or even an online store, are buying from Games Workshop. I assume the profits from a more direct sale at a Games Workshop store are ideal, but surely any sale provides an income? Otherwise, how do they maintain their business model.

It is for this reason that we have changed our European Trade terms. Over recent years, a number of currencies have moved a long way from their historical relative values, and this has opened the door for some traders to try to take advantage of these currency movements and offer deep discounts to overseas hobbyists. This has been the case with European internet traders selling to some of our customers overseas.

So in this internet age, the online traders are participating in the act to “introduce people to the Games Workshop hobby”. And making products available at a cheaper price than some peoples home countries? All this without actually hurting Games Workshops base sale of its product. Those monsters!

While this may seem great in the short term, the simple fact is that European internet traders will not invest any money in growing the hobby in your country. Their model is to minimise their costs and free-ride on the investment of Games Workshop and local independent shops in creating a customer base.

Again, this sounds straight forward enough. But if internet traders hurt the hobby to that extent, who sell to them at all? Why not lock them out of the market? Surely the European dealers are hurting the European market as much as any other?

Not to mention the internet dealers are accused of not investing money into growing the hobby in a particular country. Except, this isn’t exactly true. Part of growing the hobby is supplying players with items they need to participate. No miniatures, book, dice, whatever, means no participation. So is the inference that Games Workshop want everyone to get on board with them or just shove off? It certainly seems that way.

Another thing of note, quite a few players in my area buy (bought?) Games Workshop miniatures from international internet dealers, and yet, our local hobby stockist is doing better than ever. Being able to bulk out armies cheaper than buying from regular retail seems to leave players room to contribute towards the games store.

The inevitable consequence if this was allowed to continue is that Games Workshop would not be able to operate Hobby Centres, nor to support local trade accounts. And if this happened in more territories outside Europe, the loss of volume would leave Games Workshop no choice but to scale back our investment in new product development, further eroding our customer base. Not something that we or our customers would want us to do.

This sounds more like a threat than a response. If you don’t tow the line, then no new stuff for you!

Personally, I haven’t been into a Games Workshop store in four or five years. They are places for new players to be set on the path, but anyone half established in the hobby really has no use for one. Not because they don’t want to be involved, but because the stores offer nothing for them. The irony is, this isn’t the fault of the players, but of Games Workshop. It seem like their store focus is one thing on paper, but a totally other thing when put into practise. As Mark puts it earlier, they are an introductory facility, but they are being pushed as something for players of all stripes.

The best, and most thought out, response I have read so far has come from Wayland Games. It hits all the important points in a calm and rational manner, and from the perspective of an actual company. Good to see someone approaching this from the right angle, with the correct tone.

What this whole episode has done is disenchanted me with Games Workshop further. Previously I have been accommodating to their manoeuvres, as I understand they are a company and are in the business of selling their product. But this latest development has had them attack some beliefs I hold dear, those on the internet and global trading, as well as their role within the community, and I am officially on the ‘not happy’ list.

I realise a lot of people say this, and then just chicken out. All bluster and no follow through. So my promise to Games Workshop is this. As of now, I will spend as little as possible on Games Workshop products. I am still a Warhammer player, and will continue to support the game. But I revoke my membership to the Games Workshop fanclub until further notice. This means no purchases of Games Workshop products to the very best of my ability.

I’m sure one or two will sneak in, but all purchases will be aired here. My expenditure on Games Workshop will be public knowledge, so that the company can see how their actions have effected my perception of them, as well as their bottom line.

Despite all this, I don’t think Games Workshop are greedy. Misguided, perhaps. Possibly ill-informed of their own importance. But I look forward to a time when I can include myself back amongst those who poudly fly the Games Workshop flag.

Tavern Talk – Tournaments and Comp

The bar has been reopened!

Tournaments are a very interesting and popular way to play Warhammer, giving an individual the opportunity to play games against players from around the country or to try out different format.  The tournament might be fun, but the organisers often find a need to change how the game is played.  These changes come in the form of restrictions, such as ‘no double rare choices’, ‘maximum of 12 power dice per magic phase’ or they might be the outright banning of certain items (‘no power scroll’).  Many tournaments come out with large rules packs full of restrictions, others have none at all.
The question is how do you feel about comp’ed tournaments?  Do you view these restrictions as important to balance out the game, or are they just a pointless dumbing down of the rules?  What do you like or dislike about these comp’ed tournaments?  What are your experience with them?

I’m at a little bit of a disadvantage here, as I still haven’t had a chance to play in a tournament with the new rule edition.

But so far, playing games of Warhammer, I have been left with the impression that this edition of Warhammer was made with tournaments specifically not in mind. The whole tone of the book and the rules seems to be ‘fun first, rules second’. Not that I think this is bad, far from it. I always prefer a fun game to an unenjoyable one. But certainly this doesn’t lend itself to a highly competitive environment.

With this in mind, it seems only fair for tournament organisers to be able to put restrictions and rules changes into their games. In an ideal world this wouldn’t have to be done, and we could all play the game as-is on equal footing, but that just isn’t the case. While this theoretically provides an equal footing, it also creates its own unique set of problems. For example, you can’t just attend a tournament with ‘out-of-the-box’ knowledge, you have to read and understand a players pack.

My major concern has always been, at what point does the game stop being Warhammer and start being something else entirely? If 10% of the rules are changed, is that still Warhammer. What if it was 50%? 80%? At what point does the title ‘Warhammer tournament’ not accurately describe the proceedings? I have no answer, but it is something that has long weighed on my mind.

In the end though, it is unavoidable that restrictions and alterations will be made. As always, it is up to the tournament organisers to use their best judgement, and for players to just roll with the punches.

The story of scenery

In my last post, about my barn, Kuffy left the following comment:

Great stuff Matt, really well done. I love how you have themed it with the odd little placement, this adds a lot of character to the piece. I’d love to play on a board with this fully painted.

Looking at the watchtower you recently painted, are you doing a Skaven/Bretonnian feeling to all your terrain?

This is an interesting question, and one I felt warranted its own post.

Something I have learnt over the years is that a piece of scenery can be raised from acceptable to great by giving it a story. This doesn’t mean you have to create elaborate fiction to wrap each piece in, that is insanity. Rather, you give a scenery piece details that ground it into some kind of a reality. In the case of the barn, it is the farm implements and scatter around it. For the Skaven tower, it is the machinery, moss and discarded weapons.

What this does is connect the larger structure of the piece with the world it is supposed to inhabit. As in our world, buildings do not just spring up out of the ground. They are built with purpose, and people use them in their day-to-day activities. This means they accrue the usual junk, wear and debris that contact with humanity generates. What this leaves you with isn’t just, say, a house. It is someones house. However, in the Warhamer world, it is just as likely that they are a psychotic necromancer as they are a farmer.

These little stories can be added to a piece of scenery, be it a house or a hill, by arranging elements to construct a narrative. It doesn’t have to be a particularly impressive or detailed narrative. The axe in the stump by a pile of wood is a good example. A pretty standard visual metaphor, but a simple scene that tells a particular story. Group three or four of these small stories together and you can give the impression you are intending.

It really is quite simple, once you understand the devices needed to visually indicate a narrative exists. The trick isn’t to explicitly tell a specific tale, but to give an overall summary. This lets the observer of the piece construct their own story, which draws them into the world.

You will notice that this is what makes great scenery. The core skills for building a piece are fairly simple to cultivate, and just about anyone can soon be knocking out a convincing shack. But think of all the scenery you have seen that has made you go “Wow!”. While the basic construction skills are most likely impressive, it is the little details that pull you in and connect you to the piece. This is the power of narrative in a piece of scenery.

As for the other part of the question, the answer is ostensibly yes. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but now I look at it I’m glad I started down this path. Since first starting my Bretonnian army I have had it in the back of my mind that both them and the Skaven should somehow be linked. I didn’t want it to be glaringly obvious, though. Not like, piling Skaven bodies on the Knights Errant bases or covering the Stormvermin in knights armour. Rather, I wanted them to both feel like they were part of the some story somehow, without it being too overt in the miniatures themselves.

It turns out the perfect way to link them isn’t in the armies themselves, but in constructing the scenery they will usually fight over to reflect them both. While for the last two pieces, the Skaven tower and the barn, this has been largely reactionary (as well as partially dictated by my bits box) I can now start to plan this out a little more. Essentially the scenery will follow one of two themes. Those being the Skaven infiltrating or invading Bretonnian structures, and Bretonnians attempting to purge their land of alien ratman devices.

I am actually quite excited about this revelation, as I can carry this idea across to any other armies I decide to collect. For instance, if I collect Dwarfs I can then link the Skaven to them through their scenery. Collect High Elves after that? Link the Dwarfs and High Elves in the same way. Or the Bretonnians and High Elves. Why not both? In the end I will have not just a collection of armies and scenery, but an interlocking set of narratives ready to be given life.