9th Age: The Trenches Of A Few Powergamers

I had a short exchange of thoughts in the GWHobby forum, that old forum for GWfanboys and a few Facebook-deniers, about 9th Age & Kings of War. I just couldn’t resist the temptation to provoke Cergorach and some other GWnerds in the forum was diplomatic as usual. So I wrote:

Er is een Warhammer Fantasy US Masters die afgelopen najaar heeft beslist dat ze verder gaan met Kings of War. Het spel staat te boek als snel en simpel en gebalanceerd. Het is gewoon een pragmatische beslissing van gamers die vlotte toernooitjes willen doen. In Europa daarentegen is de gehechtheid aan WHFB kennelijk zo groot dat een groepje Europese toernooispelers een ziljoen uren steekt in het updaten van de achtste editie, met nodeloos gedoe over intellectueel eigendom, nieuwe illustraties, playtests, updates, en oefensessies.

Het komt op mij over op het voor enorme bedragen willen restaureren van de oude familieroestbak “omdat we die al zo lang hebben” terwijl de garage om de hoek voor een koopje solide gloednieuwe alternatieven heeft. Misschien is het ook angst. De toernooispelerskliek raakt het ‘ik ken de regels beter dan jij’ voordeel kwijt zodra Warhammer verlaten wordt. Powergamers zullen liever willen updaten wat ze al hadden zodat ze kunnen blijven winnen dan overstappen op een nieuw systeem dat de krachtsverhoudingen helemaal op zijn kop zet. Ben vooral benauwd dat 9th age er straks op neerkomt dat hier in Europa een groepje ouwe powergamers zich jarenlang opsluit in een eigen reservaat. Je kunt KoW en 9th met de zelfde legers spelen, maar ontwikkelen van een eigen systeem bevordert dat mensen zich gaan ingraven.

(to give you an idea. Don’t want to quote myself too much. Read the thread if you really want. For the non-Dutch readers of this blog, I spoke out against the Warhammer conservatives who are trying to keep a zombie system alive and dig themselves in the trenches of their ‘our Warhammer version is the best’-idea).

The problem I fear is that this new/old Warhammer 9th age will cause further fragmentation in the Warhammer scene. 8th Edition is abandoned by Games Workshop. 8th edition is said to be overly complex and unbalanced, so maybe it was time. From a distance and as a neutral historical wargamer, I just don’t get why this 9th age-group develops another competing system if their main goal is to have a flourishing fantasy wargame scene. Competition is the root of rivalry and rivalry is the root of rifts. 

I stumbled upon a blog about what happened with DBM (ancient wargaming) a couple of years ago in New Zealand. Wargames Room wrote:

For many years DBM dominated the Ancient gaming scene. However, when “Field of Glory” hit the shelves players flocked to purchase a copy, at least locally. FOG it seemed was more enjoyable to play, it was more historic and so well designed it would not need revisions. Further it would result in even more people playing Ancients. Now, some five years on, the gloss has worn off. Ancients is more fragmented and Ancient gaming struggling to recruit players. Now fragmentation is not always bad, however it is interesting that the period that once dominated New Zealand wargames conventions now struggles to achieve enough players to run a competition with any rule system.

So he asked:

So what is it that drives people to try the newest rules? Is it dissatisfaction with older rules? Perhaps it is just a wish to try something new? Any or all of these things are of course fine, but wargamers are such an opinionated bunch it is hard to sort the wood from the trees. Is new really better, or is it really more about an enjoyable game with a good group of friends that makes or breaks a wargame rule set?

Some answers/comments:

  • “In my experience, most gamers are always ready to try something new hoping that “this will be the one”, sort of like knights searching for the Holy Grail (which probably doesn’t exist).”
  • “I think it’s better to stay with a popular system with a few flaws than to spend fruitless years trying to “write your own”. The problem is that very few people have the knowledge and leisure to do that. And from experience, those that do can waste years on a dud.
  • “In NZ while yes the gamers are fragmented put simply we dont have the population base to support multiple issues and periods and have you seen natcon lately same old 40/50 somethings that have been doing the rounds for the last 20 years hardly any new blood”

This strengthened my doom&gloom view about fantasy wargaming. The scene here in Holland is equally small. 9th age will linger on, and so will KoW, but the tournament scene will slowly fade away.

Is that a problem? Not really. I share the view of others who think that any set of rules is OK as long as it involves an enjoyable game with a good group of friends. Any game, any ruleset. I don’t care about tournaments. But if I did, I would be worried.

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