What Matters In Wargame Reviews: A Checklist

As a preparation for my first real ‘serious’ game review I try to collate a topic list with subjects that the reviewer has to cover. A checklist. Even Han Solo and Chewbacca use checklists in the movies, so why not a simple miniature wargamer? I based this preliminary list on the writings of Nikolas Lloyd, useful comments in a discussion thread on Lead Adventure and the Deltavector game design blogs. This checklist is a follow-up to my earlier blog about do’s/don’ts.

  1. Short hard facts.
    • How many players, time to play a standard game, costs, scale, time needed to prepare a game, IGOUGO/other activation system, # miniatures needed, price of the core game, type: is it a points-based-list building-balanced tournament game or casual game
  2. Scale of the game:
    • skirmish: individual fights with single miniatures, small squads tactical: combined arms, different unit types working together, divisions with support, battlegroupsgrand tactical: larger battles with brigades, or several brigades working together.
  3. A brief description of the game.
    • With brief I mean only an overview. A very detailed description of game mechanics is often boring and just a copypaste of the rules. It can be useful to link to publisher, a how-to-play-video or other detailed blog about the game rules.
  4. Layout and background
    • Some rulebooks are gorgeous coffee table books, others are PDFs in a very simple style. I like it if the book gives a brief historical and military background – or a convincing fictional background, if fantasy/SF. Is the layout good value for money?
  5. Completeness of the book. Does it have scenarios and army lists? The best sets of rules have some mechanism for creating scenarios and include army lists. For other systems supplemental books are a neccessity. I don’t like that really.
  6. What is the goal of the game designer?
    • An important point. If the designer wants fastplay, the design should be judged for (not) attaining this goal. For example, many old rulesets are trivially criticised because they were too complex, too many tables, etc. Old designs however stressed historical realism and had a more granular approach than modern games. So the reviewer’s question is: is/was the design ‘historical’? The goal of GW, as my second example, is to sell miniatures. So AoS should not subjectively be reviewed as ‘the inferior replacement of the WHFB-game that I as older gamer liked so much’ but as a marketing tool to reach a younger age group in a challenging market. Personal opinions about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ games matter very much, but are not leading.
  7. Resource management system
    • Some wargames have a resource management system. The Conan miniature boardgame and the Fast Play Grande Armee Sam Mustafa rules have a dice pool that can be used to reroll or influence results. The DBA pip system is in fact a limited resource of commands that can be given to battlegroups. In Maurice and Dropzone Commander, the players draw and discard cards.
  8. Setup
    • Some games allow you to make choices before playing, like dropoff-points (Chain of Command) or a mini-campaign game (Blücher). Others rules just suggest to make groups within 6 inch /15 cm of your table edge. Setup scenario’s can allow or force choices.
  9. Initiative/momentum
    • How can a player force the other player to act or withdraw? Chess, the ultimate diceless wargame, is a positional combination game. A move can force a countermove and you can take and keep the initiative. Although we are talking dice, good tactical wargames should have a system to put and maintain pressure on the opponent and force him to countermove. DBA and Blücher for example use a zone of control. Some games dice for initiative and the winner can choose to play first or last.
  10. Speed of the game
    • A wargame must move reasonably quickly. Modern gamers often have an afternoon for a game. So a game should be playable in 2-3 hrs. A more complicated set of rules should have ways of combining the efforts of many troops, and of requiring some to run away. Related is the subject of unit management. A unit could be a single miniature, a squad, or a larger battlegroup/corps. Players can control about 5-12 units per turn, as a rule of thumb. If the rules allow the player to micromanage subunits, the game might slow down – or the game might feel unrealistic, the godlike CiC controlling every single sniper before his multiple divisions encircle a city. A turn shouldn’t take too long and have opportunities to be interrupted. Again, this should be regarded with the game as a whole in mind. A game mechanic can work quite well for a skirmish or a medium-sized battle, but when it comes to large battles, it might be slow due to the number or units that have to be moved or the number or dice that have to be rolled. Might be boring if you have to wait 15 minutes or more before you can do something.
  11. Dice mechanics/game mechanics
    • I don’t mean to make every review a complex essay about the dice statistics and the tables. But a reviewer should pay attention to the dice mechanics used and the effect on the game. Buckets of dice affects a game differently than a quick combat results table.What is the move-shoot-ratio? A game where you shoot 4 x further than you shoot (m1:4s) tends to favour shooting (unless you make the weapon fire deliberately inaccurate or weak); a game where move 4 x further than you shoot (m4:1s) tends to make movement and manueuver all-important.  What’s the effect on the game you play? And is it realistic for the period?Lethality is a factor. How quickly can you hurt your opponent’s unit? If you hit on a D6 4+ and damage on a second 4+ ‘to wound’ roll then the lethality is 50%x50%= 25%. Cover can decrease the chance to damage. In comparison, for Infinity cover is a lot more important than for Lord of the Rings. Do you like that because in SF highpowered long distance rifles should be more important than in melee-centered fantasy combat? Again, move-shoot-ratio plays a role. If a long-distance-weapon is very mobile and very lethal, it might change the balance of the game.Relative unit strength. How strong is elite compared to recruits? Is the quality difference reflected in strength or in a morale value? Consistency of the mechanics. How many different dice/game mechanics are used? Is is one clear procedure, or with many different tables, different interlinked dice rolls with sometimes 1, sometimes buckets of dice?
    • Does the game have/allow deathstar units? A ‘deathstar‘ is a unit that comes at a huge points cost, but with near invulnerability and massive damage output and some sort of exploitable weakness (so that it can be countered). Insanely powerful units with huge blast weapons add too much randomness: the deathstar will destroy all opposing units independent of tactics used, or it will be destroyed and, because it is the main and overpowered part of the army, the battle is lost instantly. In general the deathstar criterium is part of the broad question ‘is the game balanced’. That’s a hard question to answer, and maybe not fair, the mythical French guard was in real life harder to beat than other units, and so was the mythical Königstiger tank. If a game is obviously balanced badly, a reviewer should mention that, in particular if the stated goal of the designer is to make a balanced ‘tournament game’.
  12. Uncertainty
    • Wargame generals tend to act like the 1000ft general, they see all units and know all their stats. That works in chess, but a) if you somehow try to emulate armed warfare, surprise is paramount b) as you see in Stratego uncertainty can make a game very interesting.
  13. Luck/strategy balance.
    • Wargames are not much fun if they involve decisions which are too easy or too rare. To continue to be interesting, the game should require the player to make decisions, and these should be difficult ones.
  14. Easy to learn, hard to master
    • That means that the same goal can be reached in different ways, with different tactics.
  15. Is the game engine suitable to the period?
    • Players should be encouraged by the rules to use historical tactics, but not forced to. Stupid tactics should be penalized.
  16. How’s the quickref sheet?
    • Did the author summarise the key rules on a few sheets, and is it a good summary?
  17. Clarity
    • Are the rules clearly structured and worded, unambigous, does the book give enough examples of play which properly illustrate how the game works?
  18. Support
    • Does the author, publisher or a community support the rulebook? Can I ask questions about the rules?

I’m thinking about standardized situations to playtest a game, like attacking a high point, attacking with superior numbers, attacking with elite or attacking by surprise. I must work that out.

Dropzone RCQ In Retrospect: The Overcomplication Trap

As the few regular followers of my blog might have noticed my current main project is 10mm scifi, more exactly 10mm Dropzone Commander. The basic game had good reviews in the starting years (between 2012-2015), the sculpts are lovely and the price OK, thanks to the low pound. Affordable fun. Sooner or later I will publish a detailed comparative review of the game, as part of my grand ambition to test several similar wargames and decide what I like most.

I bought for just 50 euro the 2017 version 1.1 two-player box (scenery, two armies, shiny rulebook, I can recommend it). I also bought the 2 supplements, the Reconquest I&II books, as part of the compendium. I will reserve my final judgment until I have played a few grand battles, but as a late convert I question the direction the game has taken.

My PHR army, against DZC’s cardboard scenery.

The core DZC game is a quite simple game, fastplay rock-paper-scissors with quick maneuvering, more or less. Quick dropships with slow infantry grab victory points. AA units can shoot at the dropships but not at infantry or grab points. Armour can shoot at AA and infantry but not grab victory points.

Game engine is the well-known 40K/epic engine. Roll to hit: roll to wound: roll for save: subtract damage. You might not like 40K but a simple standard and popular format is useful for fastplay. That I like. The original game has a simple alternate activation system, with a flexible shoot-move or move-shoot sequence that can sometimes be interrupted by your opponent’s reaction shooting. I played it yesterday and I had fun.

The four starting factions have strong national characteristics. Human UCM are the all rounders, certain defensive modifiers; alien Scourge are quick attackers; Cyborg PHR are slow, heavy bombarders; the vulnerable Shaltari move like a stealthy, weak but dangerous ‘swarm’.

I suppose the designer’s original idea was to make a fastplay tournament game to fill the gap left behind by OOP Epic Armageddon and Battlefleet Gothic. His former employer Spartan Games made the – then successful -Firestorm Armada-BFG clone. Dropzone Commander was a hit indeed and at a certain point the Hawk Studio had 9 staff members.

But wargames need regular updates. Otherwise the clients lose interest and move to other systems. The wargame market is a challenging market. So inevitably and like so many other studio’s Hawk published supplements with extra units, characters, and armies and background. I like the books and the units, but what about the evolution of the game?

In the first Reconquest RCQ-1 supplement Hawk introduced the Resistance: overarmored, undergunned, an irregular rebel force with strong infantry. I read comparisons with the 40K Orks. For a collectible miniatures game this is the way to go: introduce more factions, more units and more special rules to support the new factions and units, and give more opportunities for listbuilding. Ask Games Workshop.

RCQ-1 gave exceptions to the standard game engine. Transition units can change into a different form (think Transformers) and have extra statlines. The rules introduced a new platoon type, a new defensive modifier ‘evasion’ for the Resistance and 6 new cannons.

UCM for example received a swarm weapon, ‘Focus Fire’, with a special procedure with several modifiers to get maximum impact. The rules:

“One or more hits may be discarded, and then the Focus Fire value (e.g. Focus-4) of each discarded hit may be added to the Energy (E) value of another hit (up to a maximum of E-13).”

The rule as such is clear. In-game it means that a player with this weapon must modify the result and consult a special table after rolling as an exception to the core rules. It complicates the original rules.

RCQ-2 introduced weather, random events, animals as non-playing characters to the game and an extra NPC Fauna phase. And again new units – new commanders and heavier units, with more weapons, longer ranges and more damage points. Below the stat sheet of the DZC Apex, a dragon freeroaming the tabletop.

In short: a player has 8 possible modifications, including evasion (extra roll) and regeneration (extra roll) and two alternate weapons. When activated, the players roll first which player will activate this miniature (extra roll).

From Christian Busch blog

The Apex miniature is OOP. Nice to have, lovely sculpt. Probably an experiment, a fun project or a show creature, not an obligatory buy. However for me the DZC Apex is a symbol for the direction the game has taken: needless complexity, choices, extra rolls, extra tables, for extra miniatures.

Besides, the choice to give DZC strong commanders big guns, and units a more diverse range of weapons, might change the nature of the game. Instead of a quick 6-turn rock-paper-scissors game Dropzone becomes more like Battletech or Adeptus Titanicus, fight the big Godzilla’s and take them down. Faction strengths and weaknesses are watered down.

The new PHR giant robot

I can’t judge the BfE 2.0 rules. Didn’t buy it. They add a lot of chrome, 200 pages background/alternate history, integrating FAQs and errata. Well, that’s nice. It also adds rules for Behemoths – these are fearsome giant Godzillas for every race. I expect that this will be the start for a new arms race = new Dropzone miniature range, because bigger monsters need bigger warriors to counter. It might be the way to survival, but it’s also a trap.

So I have sincere doubts about the update. In comparison, the generic Dirtside II rules are free and have been roughly the same since 1993. The generic Quadrant 13 ruleset was published in 2012 and not updated. It’s a SciFi adaptation of the IABSM engine. Future War Commander (2008) is an adaptation or Warmaster and hasn’t seen updates since then. Don’t fix what’s not broken.

10mm grand tactical SF is a niche within the SF wargames hobby which is a niche within the niche tabletop wargames hobby. The DZC models are gorgeous, better than 6mm SF, cheaper than 15mm metal SF and a bargain compared to 240-euro 8mm Adeptus Titanicus. I will continue to buy them.

But the updated rules, for me as a casual player, no tournament visitor? DZC 1.1. is perfect. What’s wrong with small-scale rock-paper-scissors?

Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Do’s & Don’ts

Life is hard. I recently blogged about the Little Wars TV-review methodology, and pointed to apparent mistakes in their rating system. Although I praised the show, I really love their intelligent chat, a few commenters on facebook tore me to pieces. I was writing bullshit. How dare I? Clickbait! Etc. Well – that’s Facebook dynamics.

But I made a promise in my blog: to devise a review system and write one or more reviews that are logical, sharp, honest (objective is not the word) and informative. Here are my first thoughts, after consulting BGG and other sources.

Do’s and don’ts

1) The review should make comparisons. Why is Chain of Command better or worse than Bolt Action? A reviewer must play several games before reviewing – I set the bar at five at least. Too many reviewers just open the box and write how they like their new toys . They are very happy to share their positive opinion of a new system they bought, or give a general impression after just one game.

2) The review should be totally independent. Several bloggers that I follow receive a game for free from the publisher. They are fair and disclose that. However, those reviews still risk being subconsciously too positive (after all, it’s a gift), focusing on first impressions and whats-in-the-box-articles. Often these blogs lack price and system comparisons. I will pay for games myself, with my own hard-earned money. Or borrow the rules and test them thoroughly.

3) The reviewer should play and review the market leader. In SF for example, the market leader is 40K. That’s a truth that I hold self evident. Thus, not all SF games are created equal. 40K is in many aspects the benchmark of the SF-genre. Is any other scifi-game that I want to review in comparison faster to learn than 40K? How is the art compared to GW art? What’s the price of the model? Game mechanics?

Ditto with Flames of War – Flames of War might be good, or bad, but only in comparison with lesser known games like Spearhead, and not “because I read in many blogs about the car park rules and that Germans always win”.

4) Don’t review only the games that you like. Reviews are personal opinions. I might not like game X because it’s simple IGOUGO. I might like game Y because it isn’t. Readers of the review should know my taste, the anchors that I use. The games that I review negatively are such anchors. A good review contains links to similar (own) reviews.

5) A review should be well-researched. Not only my own opinion matters, but also the opinion of others. A quality review links and mentions how blogger X and Y rated the game, and why, and why I think the same or different.

6) Mechanics, in particular dice mechanics, should be discussed in the blog. I don’t mean to say that all reviews should contain a ‘full chapter’ about boring dice statistics. But if a certain mechanic results in a lot of dice rolling without much effect, then that should be mentioned.

For example: the popular Black Powder series has a Command Value test with two dice. Researching dice statistics with two dice, I discovered that the outcomes are not equally spread. So the question rises: is this procedure, played this way, a ‘good’ procedure?

7) The reviewer should bear in mind what the goal of the design/ designer is. The GW games were from the moment of creation a marketing tool to sell more fantasy miniatures to hobbyists. 40K and WHFB/AoS are collectible miniature games: every month more miniatures with more special powers are added that you need to collect to remain competitive in the miniature tournament scene. Same with X-Wing. Same with Warmachine. Same with the Collectible Card Game Magic the Gathering. Every few years the rules need a reboot to counter minmaxing and to clean up the mess with all the special rules and powers created for the earlier miniature waves.

Many reviewers blame companies for this policy, but that’s how capitalism works. So don’t review Age of Sigmar badly solely because it replaced the WHFB universe. Check if it attains it’s desired goal, simple fastplay in a fantasy world where there is only war. Don’t blame Warmaster/Black Powder-influenced rulesets for not being able to move your wing. The designers believe that this mechanic reflects friction and miscommunication in battles. Does this design exaggerates historicial friction? That’s the only relevant question when reviewing. Same with target group: if a game is designed for advanced wargamers, the more snobbish ones, then don’t blame the rules for not being fastplay.

8) The reviewer should abstain from simple rating systems, 1-10, three or five stars etc. Commercial games are often average to good, but maybe not my taste. I think all rating systems simplify the small difference between average, above average and ‘quite good’ too much. The LWTV-vlogs with their ratings clearly suffer that problem. Besides, I believe that thorough rule reviews should be written, not vod- or podcasted, that’s superficial chat – always. Video is about pictures, not about depth.

9) A thorough review should be balanced and based on many aspects of the game, not on a few defining ones. Often a game is rated as ‘good’ by bloggers/vloggers because it’s a boxed set with beautiful figures, or the rules are reviewed positively because reviewer regards them as innovative. I have doubts about that approach.

Try to compare, for example, David Ensteness’ Et Sans Resultat! and Sam Mustafa’s Blücher, both corps level Napoleonic games. I play Blücher and it’s an excellent game, concise, not too expensive. ESR (that I will try at some point) is said to be slower and more expensive, but – author Ensteness is playing in a different league. Mustafa joyfully writes a new ruleset every two years, sold as cheap PDFs. Ensteness is Flames of Warring Napoleonics: one period, and he’s marketing a full package including 10mm figures, battlepacks, relatively expensive but well-researched illustrated supplements, and scenery.

So what is better? Mustafa sells a relatively complete ruleset with rules for pick-up campaigns and pick-up battles. Ensteness sells beautiful books with detailed historical orders of battle, uniform painting guides included.

Same with Ancients. DBA was back in the nineties a very innovative system. What is better: fastplay tournament DBA in formal English with very simple illustrations, or the nicely illustrated and well-written hardcover Hail Caesar book made by and published for beer-and-pretzel-gamers?

10) A thorough reviewer compares games with the help of a topic list and standard situations., like, but not limited to, attacking a hill, defending against superior numbers, crossing difficult terrain while charging, attack from behind, etc. The Heretical Gaming blogger played the same Mons Graupius battle with three different rulesets. That’s what’s I call quality.

I still have to devise the topic list. Clarity of the rules of course, but also the consistency of the dice mechanics.

I know it sounds ambitious. I’m a lawyer IRL, and some of my concepts are derived from my law background – what’s the goal of the law, what do other lawyers think, is it an effective rule? I might be forced to compare a few more rulebooks than my usual range and play many more games than just two if I follow my own review rules. Well, Brutus says I am ambitious – and Brutus is an honourable man.

I just hope that I will live long and prosper!

Earlier thoughts in my ongoing review project: Part I here, part II here, part III here, part IV here.

What LittleWarsTV is doing WRONG

I love the new vlog Little Wars TV. Compared to many other vlogs they’re doing most things right. They’re – apparently – independent; experienced; entertaining; and interested in history. Beasts Of War, now On TableTop, is totally the opposite: a marketing channel for kickstarters and the games industry, all reviews are positive, all vlogs are advertorials. However LWTV’s reviews are wrong.

Again, most aspects of LWTV reviews are quite right. The games they have reviewed are peer reviewed; they play a wargame more than once, with different players; they use a weighted rating system; and they give arguments for their opinions. Still their reviews lack structure and comparison. ‘Just being better’ than others is not good enough, not good enough is not right, not right is wrong. Sorry, my friends.

More precisely, they have broad categories, presentation, playability, mechanics, historical flavour and support, that they rate 1-10. Check their methodology, here

  • presentation is: is it looking good? – 10%
  • playability is: is it easy to learn, how few miniatures do you need, can you play it within 2-3 hours, are the rules clear? – 30%
  • mechanics is: are the mechanics innovative and not (too) random – 30%
  • historical flavour: are the tactics in line with the period: does it play as you expect: are the tactics well-researched? – 20%
  • is the rulesystem supported by a community and/or by the authors/company? Is the support free? – 10%

LWTV reviewed Chain of Command, Force on Force, Combat Patrol and Disposable Heroes II, all platoon level modern games. I wondered.

  • Why is the special command & control system of CoC and the randomized movement worse than the IGOUGO system and reaction system of FoF?
  • Why does FoF get very high marks for the hard-cover book, while the hard-cover is out of print? Why on the other hand is the presentation score of Disposable Heroes negatively influenced because of the fact that one of the reviewers just doesn’t like hardcover?
  • The reviewers complained that for FoF they had to consult a lot of rules over and over again, that the game lasted quite long and that some rules are very granular. Why is it playable?
  • Why is Combat Patrol Steves most favorite WW2 game, while he is jus as positive about FoF? And why is DH2 also his most favorite WW2 game?
  • Is the FoF system with different dice (beat a value with d4-d6-d8-d10-d12) superior to CoC D6-system with modifiers or Combat Patrols card drawing system? Is Combat Patrol innovative or just WW2-Magic the Gathering?
  • How often did the club play FoF? The vlodcast says twice a year, how many games did the reviewers play?
  • If innovation is influencing playability and mechanics, shouldn’t it be a separate category?
  • historical flavour is sometimes tactics, sometimes a ‘feel’, sometimes ‘the (limited) ability to coordinate your troops and sometimes a special mechanic. But then it should be a sub-part of mechanics, isn’t it?
  • Why is the Combat Patrol’s very mediocre website rated as good? Because the designer is a friendly guy trying hard?

In the end, the aggregated scores for the 4 games are:

  • CoC 69 (give it a try)
  • Disposable Heroes (written by one of the club members) 74 (highly recommended)
  • Force on Force 77 (highly recommended)
  • Combat Patron (70, highly recommended)

But the deviation is quite high. CoC is reviewed by 6 gamers and scores between 44 and 100. Disposable Heroes 2 is reviewed by just 3 gamers, scores 69, 70 and 84. The high 77 rating is too much influenced by reviewer Josh.

LWTV accentuates”innovation” but doesn’t say a word about the dice statistics and how they influence the game. Or the scale conversion. In many WW2 games the ranges are skewed to adjust them to the standard 6×4 table. Historically that’s nonsense. Is skewing a plus to playability? Or is it negative in the historical flavour category?

As I see it, the ‘methodology’ is more a topic list with talking points in a logical order. I like the intelligent chat in the LWTV-vodcast about historical wargames and after each review I have a short impression of the game.

For a vodcast, the show is doing fine. I like how they are promoting the lesser known, original games and how this vodcast promotes the fun of the historical miniatures hobby. Oldfashioned roll to hit, roll to wound, roll for morale-games might however be more playable and better just because they follow the standard dice mechanics of wargaming..

So for serious reviews I think I prefer written blogs, like for example Deltavector that does a very good job. I’m exploring how to write an informative, professional wargame review, The LWTV-list is not bad but I hope to do it better myself, some day.

Why I Hate Games Workshop Lawyers

They Did It Again!

Why are lawyers like nuclear weapons? If one side has one, the other side has to get one. Once launched, they cannot be recalled. When they land, they screw up everything forever.

I’m a lawyer. Sometimes I say I became a lawyer to fight other lawyers, because they are the scum of the earth. To defeat heavyweight boxers you need to become one.

Above the ‘War Banner’ name and trademark. They announced this month that they will become Dark Peak Games. Reason:

On the 1st March 2019 Games Workshop Limited (GW) requested the withdrawal of our trademark WAR BANNER as in their opinion it bears significant similarity to GW’s registered trademark WARHAMMER with our registration being sought in relation to the same classification of goods which GW sells under WARHAMMER.

In their defence GW has used its trademark WARHAMMER to sell sculpted miniatures, publications and accessories for tabletop wargaming since the release of ‘Warhammer 1st Edition’ in 1983. Over the years, GW has amassed considerable goodwill and reputation in this mark through its widespread and consistent use.

After seeking legal advice Mark Farr and Andy Hobday decided to comply and have worked with GW to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Above the ‘old’ logo’s. Below the new ‘Warhammer’ logo, revealed yesterday, April, 5th.

via Warhammer Community

UK and European trade mark law states that

“a person infringes a registered trade mark if he uses in the course of trade a sign which is identical with the trade mark in relation to goods or services which are identical with those for which it is registered”.[2] 

A person may also infringe a registered trade mark where the sign is similar and the goods or services are similar to those for which the mark is registered and there is a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public as a result.[3]

A leading case is the European ‘Arthur’ vs ‘Arthur & Felicie’ case. Both were fashion trade marks. ‘Arthur’ was a handwritten word, Arthur & Felicie not. The European Court of Justice decided that in in the fashion industry the two trade marks were too similar, And to make a long story short, it all depends on the circumstances, will a common consumer confuse the two brands/ trade marks? ‘Arthur & Felicie’ lost the case against ‘Arthur’ in the end.

The true story

Let me give you the true story – money. It’s a big wallet vs small wallet-situation.

The original Warhammer logo, with colours, and the ‘Warhammer 40.000’ logo bore no resemblance to War Banner. Every IP lawyer would have a hard case to prove that ‘War Banner’, two separate words, are similar to ‘Warhammer’ or, ‘Warhammer 40.000’. But.

You see: the new WH logo is black and white. It might bear a passing resemblance to the black-and-white War Banner logo.

That could mean that dwarfish War Banner, just like Arthur, might have had a case against giant Games Workshop. Warhammer is the older brand, though. So the possible outcome of proceedings is not sure.

GW has the biggest wallet. War Banner/ Footsore Miniatures is a tiny company. I’m quite sure that the IP lawyers decided to nuke the War Banner trade mark to prevent legal claims or other IP difficulties with the new black and white logo. A pre-emptive strike, in nuclear war terms. And an easy victory, because tiny War Banner doesn’t have the money to pay IP proceedings, anyway, not to mention damages if they would lose the case.

So big money wins again.

That’s why I hate Games Workshop lawyers. Not because they are not good in what they do, but because big money wins small cases. Why is money king?

(PS: A company ‘Peak Games’ immediately objected so War Banner, who adapted the name ‘Dark Peak Games’, will continue as ‘Footsore Miniatures’, their trade name. Peak/Dark Peak is quite similar of course)

9th Age: The Friendly Reply That Is Censored In The T9A-forum

fantasy miniatures painted by a 9th-ager. From their website.

Here is what I tried to reply in the T9A-forum. The community opened a T9A-forum thread with all kinds of accusations, but I was permabanned and can’t reply directly. Logged in with a different account, but my reply has not been allowed. So I publish my polite reaction here. The names are the forum names of 9th-agers who published a reaction there.
Original blog here.


—————————————————–
I’m Napoleon in Elba aka Leftblank. I think most of you hate me.
After publishing my blog I was immediately permabanned. I still am. I log in with a different account this time. I will probably be permabanned again. However I would like to reply to some weird accusations and assumptions.

1. I’m not a troll. I published a link in your forum to give you the possibility to reply, to react, to exchange views, to disagree. I can be very cynical and sarcastic if I want and I have been before. I plead guilty. But this specific post a troll post? It’s dry. I analyze risks that were taken (some I don’t understand) and I at least try to find solutions for your biggest problem, you’re losing connection with the original fanbase of WHFB 8th ed. players. The fact that I’m fearless or stupid enough to return to this forum and tell you I’m not a troll will to some confirm the idea that I am anyway 😦

2. I’m not a shill. In fact I didn’t know what a shill was 🙂 and had to look it up. I understand it’s a covert advertiser. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m just a regular beer drinking wargamer from Holland, a friendly wargame dad, very independent. Rule collector. Sadly, nobody pays me for my smalltime independent ‘nothing is perfect’-opinions.

3. Some of you accuse me of cherry picking. How many more forum posts do I need to quote? Maybe I should quote the thread Getting Hate out of the System: Food for Thought for Those Embittered at Games Workshop that was started by Karak Norn Clansman because he had seen “a lot of antipathy towards GW on here”. Or Giladis from the Executive Board who wrote about Age of Sigmar “It is simple enough for what I need to entertain a little kid and draw him to later be interested into more complex stuff”.
What concerns me is that the AoS-haters that I quote are involved as pretty important team members and that forum regulars say that the anti-AoS-tone is the dominant tone.

4. One of the weirdest accusations was by Blonde Beer, PR Team. I just once mentioned a few months ago nothing more than his common first name in a common Dutch forum where his first name is common. It’s something I corrected immediately when he asked. However he still blames me and thinks all my arguments are false, he doubts I’m a lawyer and describes himself as “a man who has received several threats, ranging from pretty, to pretty dark ones, thanks to my work in the pr section of the staff”. Is he suggesting that I threatened him? I absolutely did not. Never. BTW, Blonde Beer, if you want my apology again, here it is.  Please accept it. Please attack arguments, not persons.
BTW, Wombat, please remove the home address of the old Phil Barker in Cambridge 🙂

5. Google Trends: before publishing I indeed checked google trends for both “9th age” and for “9th Age Warhammer” and compared this query with KoW and AoS. 9th and age are very popular queries in India and Pakistan because of the age of 9th-graders. So I dismissed that first query as irrelevant and used “9th age Warhammer”. Not that it really matters, even with the India/Pakistan queries, ‘9th age’ is rarely queried compared with the two others. It’s not that I have an ‘agenda’ as Tiny suggests, but apart from other data I checked Google Trends to get an impression of the popularity of the system. It’s important, because I think that the lifeblood of the game is not the generation of hardcore 9th-age ETC tournament players, but the much larger group of casual players and newer generations.

6. Some readers mention tournament numbers as an indication for success. I don’t doubt that T9A has a future as a tournament game and that players will play it for years to come, just like DBA and WRG and Oldhammer. And that’s nice! Great! But this game that started so ambitious will not attract new gamers anymore and slowly wither away. Number of tournaments in 2017 or 2018 is not decisive for the long term future of the game. In particular not if the stated ambition is to be the ‘leading’ (or at least ‘important’) fantasy mass battle game.

7. ‘Cam’ said: “I think the fact he doesn’t allow comments says a lot”. I allow comments in my blog, check the original link. But the original link was censored by the mods and altered in a google archive link that was published instead. Because I was branded a troll or shill by them. Feel free to comment, however.

8. A GW-fanboy? Me? I’m too old for that. I love the small independent designers. Wargames Research Group, Too Fat Lardies, Warmaster, Sam Mustafa. My most recent buy was Dropzone Commander last week, last ruleset the 6mm Fasto Furioso chariot race game from Ghanesha Games. T9A, AoS and KoW are more or less interchangeable IMHO. I think I rate AoS the lowest of the trio, I don’t like skirmish games so much. Much better than all three is WRG’s Hordes of the Things, but that’s a personal opinion. I wrote this blog because I sincerely believe that this project is heading in the wrong direction due to overambition and tunnel vision.

9. IP problems. I don’t claim that IP problems are impossible. If my client would ask me: I want to clone a wargame and sell it to the world, I would say: know what you’re doing, beware of the law. T9A had two reasons to drop all original background:

a. If T9A continues as homebrew WHFB 8.5 rules, GW might send a cease and desist letter and then all is lost. So we must.
b. Everybody will play WHFB 9th Age and the leading position of WHFB will be taken over by the far superior T9A. GW will not tolerate the continuation as free and popular community game.

The first reason is/was simply not true and at not tested and exaggerated. GW tolerates many homebrew sets. I forgot to mention in my blog, but the Warhammer Armies Project has been updating and reusing GW IP and WHFB since 2010. The author is publishing rulebooks, updates, army books, just like the T9A-community. No cease & desist.

The second reason is overambitious and becomes more overambitious with every lost player.

Anyway, there’s no turning back. Consequence however is that T9A has drifted further away from mainstream casual (Warhammer) fantasy wargaming, instead of uniting it. I leave it to your American IP lawyers if 9th Age has distanced itself enough. If the answer is yes, you could cautiously move forward and gain a little bit money with Kickstarters and/or crowdfunding.

10. Some wonder about my conclusions. Maybe they hoped that I would conclude that T9A is doomed and will die within a couple of years. It’s not that black, wargame fan communities can survive for a long time. But this T9A community lost connection with a larger group of casual players, I think. And it’s vulnerable because so connected to the ETC. As said above by your forum member Warboss_R’ok, you need a certain density of players per city.
If you would publish a more integrated ruleset with a basic version and a more advanced tournament variant, campaigns, fun games and easy conversion from/to AoS, KoW, the non-WHFB-army & rulebooks might become interesting for more casual gamers outside the T9A-community. Marketing should help as well. For marketing T9A needs money. New generations are not going to buy your story, you need to sell it. So think about crowdfunding and other ways to make small profit, to pay the website and small ads to increase visibility. That is my general idea. Or more: hope.
Feel free to disagree.
And think twice about censoring or incivilities. It’s only toy soldiers, you see.

Update: this reply was indeed rejected by T9A and I was indeed permabanned for a second time. They have every right to do so, it’s their forum, but why are they afraid for opinions?
The Facebook group allowed this post, but apart from some mature reactions others place memes or are derogatory.
Anyway, what goes around comes around, I said what I want to say and I understand that many hardcore fans are annoyed. Such is life. I wish the community all the best and I hope that they will think about the general direction of the project.

Reacties

  1. The Orange Road23 juli 2018 om 03:421) You never actually apologised to me before 2) You didnt actually post that just on a single forum, you posted it on several locations. 3) You havent responded at all to my feedback before. 4) I dont use my real name on forums, and I also do not know you at all, so using my real life name is frankly bizar to me.

    I wil accep your apology, but I still think you should really work on how you act in a public matter. I have defended in that very topic itself your right to have an opinion but like I said there, the way you bring feedback isn’t in a way that tempts me to spend a lot of time reading it.

  2. Unknown23 juli 2018 om 07:06I just really wonder why you would wirite such an article. Me and my friends are really enjoying 9th Age. We even started a second local campaign, pulling in more Oldhammerers tournament are blossomming. 8 september we have another GT and 9 september a 9th Age minihammer (10mm) tourny. Life is good. All you do is launch negativity and doubt. Which can only really mean there is some sort of personal thing going on. Anyway – I love reacting on the Oldhammer FB page, as a few simple replies actually make people see it’s not as bad as some like to think. It’s pretty good actually. Grtz
  3. hjp[23 juli 2018 om 10:28“If you would publish a more integrated ruleset with a basic version and a more advanced tournament variant, campaigns, fun games and easy conversion from/to AoS, KoW, the non-WHFB-army & rulebooks might become interesting for more casual gamers outside the T9A-community. Marketing should help as well. For marketing T9A needs money. “

    I have to address this point because there is an basic ruleset and its quite fun. There are campaign packs in the homebrew section(which do get used, but it’s up to people to use them). And I think the Ninth Scroll magazine has campaign stuff and fun rules for extra units. 
    Not sure what you mean by “easy Conversion from/to AoS, KoW, the non WHFB-amy”. because AoS is a different game. Are you referring to them models? because those are also larger scale and either way that is up to the individual hobbyest. 

    The marketing part – there are SEVERAL companies who use the T9A names for their models. Took a couple years for them to get going but they now have a decent selection of minis. 
    Marketing is mostly word of mouth. That’s just how these types of games go. 
  4. Chris Moore24 juli 2018 om 06:11I have to chime in for us in the South East of the United States. In my region, especially Georgia, 9th Age is dead. No games are being played and the interest doesn’t exist and this makes me sad because I enjoy 9th Age and want to see it thrive I can’t speak for Europe, but I know American wargamers want a physical product they can buy. They need to sell it and market it. As of right now it’s a fringe game in the states. At least down South. I have to agree with the original article that 9th Age is losing ground and needs to change how it approaches the world community. I don’t want to see this game fade away but it’s possible it will if nothing changes That said, I think it’s a great gane, and applaud the hard work and time that has gone into it. But without a product that can be pushed it will never truly suc

9th Age Warhammer Fantasy: Sadly, A Slowly Sinking Ship

Why 9th Age will last, but never succeed

When in 2015 WHFB stopped, one of the ‘The Ninth Age’-community spokesmen, co-founder Sir Joker, wrote,

“People around the world don’t know how to move forward because their beloved hobby has been terminated. We offer you the chance to reunite the community (…) Our goal is to create the rule system people deserve, a rule system that is designed to be played competitively, a rule system build by the community for the community.”
Fast forward three years, where are they now? A 9th-age-player concluded that the game was made for

 a dying breed of gamers. And all the stuff we love in the game are what keeps new players, modern players, from loving it.

How can a game be an ambitious rewrite of WHFB 8th ed. with a quite active tournament scene, and still be a ruleset on life support? Because of that. The project team has made several strategic errors – some irrepairable – that have turned the project – imho – in a Grailseeking quest. And although I admire the hard work, the great layout, the blood sweat and tears of T9A, I predict that ‘The Ninth Age’ will in the end be nothing more than a fringe movement in mass battle fantasy wargaming.
Not a dominant ruleset that attracts new generations.
The decline, actually, is quite sad. Non-profit volunteer games have my sympathy. I write this blog not because I hate 9th Age or fantasy battling, but because I wonder about a gamer’s community that still dream that they are the world’s next Games Workshop.

How many people actually play 9th age?

Google Trends

Google Trends shows how often 9th Age has been queried, since 2015. The graph below is a comparison between Age of Sigmar (blue line), Kings of War (yellow line) and T9A (green line).

After a boost in the beginning AoS fell down to about 11.000 queries per month, but the trend is upward, to 29k past months: KoW started at 15-19.000, but is now down to 6-7000 per month: 9th Age Warhammer has been seldom queried last three years, 1000 or lower.

Actual numbers are a bit hard to estimate. The 9th-age slim rulebook was downloaded 160,000 times, the v1.3 army books 40.000 times, the 9th-age forum has 11269 members. 1129 filled in a poll. About 1000 players play the game once per week or more.

However, the USA scene is rapidly declining. Aenarion43, Assistant Head of Playtesting, wrote an alarming post.
He collected USA tournament data, 2014-2017.

  • 2014: 37 WHFB tournaments, 32 attendees on average
  • 2015: 52 WHFB tournaments, 26 attendees on average
  • 2016, 33 T9A tournaments, 33 attendees on average
  • 2017: 22 T9A/30 attendees on average.

He points out that the increase in player attendance from 2016 to 2017 was correlated with a 16% drop in players overall.

 So it wasn’t “the game growing” as ‘people were forced to concentrate as the game diminished’.

He expects the trend to continue:

 Less tournaments with slightly higher attendance and a drop in the number of overall players.

He and his group collated a large number of anecdotal reports of people of people stating that their communities had died, moved on to other games “sick of changing rules”

He concludes: “Personally, I wouldn’t consider a game that’s only played by a small coterie of hardcore tournament players to be successful. That feels like where the game is headed if it continues on its current direction. 9th Age is digging itself into a hole and dying. Unless there is a MAJOR change in the game’s design direction, it’s going to die in the USA within 2 years.”

That’s the USA, where large gaming convention Adepticon canceled all 9th-age games in 2018. Europe is less clear and probably in a much better state. However, DeBelial, a Polish player and Tool Support member, collected the total number of Polish tournament players last few years. He writes:

 I noticed the same trend in Poland. (…) when you look at overall number of tournament participants, things are not looking good:

  • 2014 (WFB): 834
  • 2015 (WFB): 545
  • 2016 (T9A): 474
  • 2017 (T9A): 381

Artegis from Vienna writes: “Sir Joker knows that 9th Age community in Vienna is almost null. Rarely you see people playing… “

 Few years ago, there were plenty of tournaments in 8th Edition. Now the quantity of players is reducing slowly.

Traumdieb writes (in German) about the Müchen scene: the casual gamers don’t come to the 9th Age tournaments anymore, to many rule changes, three more or less active 9th-agers (formerly 10), a canceled tournament, a club not playing 9th age anymore.

And Frederique from Oslo reports: “I could also blame my gaming club in Oslo, where 90% of the Norwegian ETC fantasy team has always come from, since they all switched to warmachine (!) after Prague.

 The majority of the club did not have faith in the longevity of a fan-made project, and I admit I shared that view to some extent.

My general impression – sorry Sir Joker, sorry Warhammer fans, sorry friendly volunteer rule writers – is that T9A is not succesful at all and is fighting a losing battle against AoS and many other more popular wargame rulesets. Capture the Flag or King of the Hill? Not T9A.
It’s the result of several mistakes that I will list below.

Error #1: Prominent 9th-agers talk disdainful about Age of Sigmar

Check this discussion, (p.31)
Taki, from the T9A Background Team, called AoS in this thread:

 full of stupidity and bad game design

Morgan Treeman, T9A Community Engagement, reacts. He thinks the only reason why so many people play AoS is

 that it has the name ‘Games Workshop’: attached to it. If any small company had come out with this game, nobody would be playing it.

And:

 GW games are not good. They are for 12 year olds (…) just lazy rules writing

Yatagarasu, from T9A Lectoring team, quarreled during AoS-games with AoS-players because his opponents played for fun. Thus he dislikes AoS-players as a group. he has

 not so much criticism of Age itself, but more so of the types of players I have encountered while playing. 

During an AoS game, he lectured his loose-on-rules-opponent about the charge rules, and was branded as “toxic” and “hyper-competitive”.
He calls the AoS-rules

 horrid (…) players getting rewarded for poor play (…) it just reeks of poor design and laziness (…) I would be happy if I never looked on a General’s handbook again

Such takes on AoS and Games Workshop are – I quote T9A-forum veteran Baranovich – are very

 cynical and unappreciative of the good things that GW brought to the hobby over the past 30 years

Baranovich writes:

So all this banter and bluster about how GW supposedly ripped us off is nonsense. You might think AOS is a juvenile game that is beneath your maturity and depth level. But if you think that then you miss the entire point of AOS. The game has competitive depth if you want to find it. But the game also allows those two friends to play with their little, tiny forces of ratmen and skeletons.
And that’s important for the future of the wargaming hobby. Getting new players to enter the hobby is a constant priority on these forums and a constant topic of discussion. AOS accomplishes that for new fantasy players…at a crucially important young age.
He asks:

Isn’t gettting new players into the hobby a GOOD thing? Well that’s precisely what AOS provides, despite your dislike of it for its supposed “lack of depth” and its supposed failure to meet your “level of statistical balance”. That’s why you should play AOS.
And also he is getting

 quite tired of every thread turning into an AOS- bashing thread. AOS has its issues like any game does. But to imply that if you don’t like 9th Age then go play the kiddie-version of fantasy is simply insulting.

Kings of War, btw, is in the forums generally described less unfriendly but still disdainful as ‘bland’

Why disdain is a problem

Many new (fantasy) wargamers enter the hobby via Games Workshop. If you send the AoS-fanbase the message that they play a stupid, horrid game, that AoS is inferior, if you belittle AoS-players, then the T9A-community is estranging itself from the dominant fantasy fanbase. You don’t win the sympathy battle this way. Before people play your game, they first must like you.

Error 2: the overambitious staff and lawyers ruled out ‘fair use’ of GW IP

Players have asked why WHFB 8th Edition needed such a complex facelift. Why so serious? Why not a set of simple house rules based on the intellectual property of Games Workshop, just like Blood Bowl? House rules are not forbidden. Bugman, head of public relations, wrote in reply in  the T9A-forum:

If house rules contain no IP, then you would be correct. If those rules contain IP and are shared amoungest friends then that’s okay. If you publish them in the internet then that’s not okay. If they end up being played in thousands of homes and hundreds of tournaments every year, then that’s also not okay. Yes there is a lot of Blood Bowl fan made material out there but none of it has the breadth, length or reach of this game, not even close. The need to rebalance the game and army books does require publishing of stat lines and other rules/names. That is illegal and it’s not our IP, therefore we can not do it.

And Lawgnome, member of T9A’s legal team, wrote about the impossibility of fair use:

 the goal of T9A is to reach as wide of a market as possible so that we can have neat things like global tournaments and new people joining the hobby so that it can continue in perpetuity. 

He continued

 This is why we aren’t doing this: we want this to be a game that we can play for years, rather than putting an old game on life support until all interest fades

PR-team member Blonde Beer wrote that the original idea was clean up the old game and make it tournament ready but that lawyers told them

 they needed to do something else (not sure what, just something else). So, the concept of creating a new game was born (…) something other than Warhammer (damn lawyers …) but needed to fill the void left by the demise of that game.

The two American volunteer IP lawyers that advise the community advised against contacting GW explain that they

 have not entered into any discussions with GW

relating to securing their approval, for two reasons: 1) distrust “they are not on our side” and 2) the correspondence could be a threat “if we became really successful”. They continue:
“we expect our project to have a much greater market penetration (…) This is not simply viewed as a fan made project, but rather we have taken a global perspective to produce the very best fantasy based table top wargame out there.”

(…) if our game got too big (like if it was basis for a large number of tournaments around the world, for example), then it is a prime target for getting shut down, which would really suck for everyone that doesn’t want to play AoS of KoW. 

In short, they fear legal action and because the community doesn’t have the resources to fight a legal battle, only a fantasy battle, the lawyers have advised to be careful, stay on the safe side of the road and create something ‘different’.

Why ‘we are different’ is a problem

House rules are often not a problem. I wouldn’t trust GW too quickly, but their official IP policy nowadays sounds relaxed. They say they are unlikely to object if the product is non-commercial, not professionally distributed and clearly unofficial. GW didn’t object to

  • the Blood Bowl living rulebook
  • the Grim&Perilous Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay ‘retroclone’, (but) later rewritten and now published as Zweihänder
  • Warmaster freely republished by Rick Priestley
  • War & Conquest, the ‘spiritual successor’ of Warhammer Historical, commercially published by former GW manager Rob Broom
  • or War & Sorcery, the fantasy conversion of War & Conquest
  • the Oldhammer movement
  • Blackhammer, a French Warhammer-living rulebook project
  • The WarhammerCE-project, a 7th-edition living rulebook, with balanced and rewritten rules
  • Fluffhammer, presented (in German) as an updated version of 8th edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Just like T9A they present themselves as a living rules community project, but they are more positive about AoS (‘ínnovative, but just not what we like’), they maintain the Old World background and make clear that they are non-commercial, unofficial and that the copyrights belong to Games Workshop.
  • The Warhammer Armies Project, 8th/9th edition Warhammer singlehandedly edited by a Swedish fan, 

The ‘we want global domination’- approach of T9A brings only one big advantage. A shared feeling that the community is busy with something huge that will result in the Second Coming – the return of the good times. But it brings many disadvantages.

  • A feeling of competition with GW makes a soft compromise with the mother company impossible.
  • Legal problems quadruple.
  • The decision to throw all GW IP overboard bears the risk of losing a large group of GW-fans who loved the old IP. If the group of quitters is larger than the group of new recruits, the player base declines.
  • The project becomes larger and harder to manage. Instead of only updating the rules – not a simple task as such – you need marketeers, PR, a legal committee, new background… T9A indeed has organized such teams, which is excellent, but players complain that the decision making process is bureaucratic.
  • If the Second Coming is delayed, people lose faith.

Besides, (being a lawyer myself) I wonder how useful all the legal camouflage is. Project co-founder Tiny wrote on July 24th, 2015 about T9A in the news section (link):

 Basically it will be an updated version of 8th warhammer. Pretty much like how 7th edition was an updated version of 6th.

In theory, this quote would be enough for a simple cease & desist letter that the T9A lawyers fear so much. And only this simple cease and desist letter, they claim, would already be enough to kill the whole project.

Error 3: The community is overstressing ‘balance’ in a WHFB mass battle game

T9A is focused on balance and tournament play. The community leaders play the game as a Warhammer team tournament at the European Team Championship. That means that all armies should have a roughly equal strength to give all teams an equal chance.
Thus, the community is constantly evaluating and playtesting points, rules, army lists, army lists used in tournament, tournament results and battle reports to get the ultimate balance.
T9A founding father and head of Rules Team Fjugin, also ETC tournament boss, wrote

 External balance (all armies of equal power level) is something we value highly (…) Internal balance (choices within the army of equal power level) is something we also value highly.

When beta-version 0.99 was published, Tiny wrote:

 The task of balance is a major one, and no one can expect perfect balance within so little time. It’s easy to overlook something. It’s easy to make wrong calls. But time and tournament results will tell all, and from this information we can only further improve.

And: “With all that said we’re also aware that balance is still not perfect, but we’re certain this is a step in the right direction towards a better and more balanced game. In the coming month the balance work continues. Army book committees will focus on improving the internal balance”
Just_Flo, head of Tournaments Analysis, collects with his team the worldwide tournament results and use Excel to analyze the results statistically. The teams calculates average results.

 between 0,45 and 0,55 we consider armies to be balanced. Under 0,45 they underperform and over 0,55 they overperform

Skargit Crookfang, Community Engagement Team, commented in a thread:

 The obsessive need to balance and test rather than bring the fun out of it all is kind of telling.

Aenarion43, Assistant Head of Playtesting, gives as example a simple magic spell that the rules team made more complex for the sake of balance:

 And that’s what the project always seems to be doing. It takes something that is NOT broken, and “fixes” it by adding restrictions or making it harder to use 

He adds:

 The obsession with balance and making a game that is purely determined by skill is hurting the project. Oftentimes it feels like the [staff] would much prefer to take dice rolls away entirely, and are pushing to make them a formality in this game.

To solve the problem of complexity that blocks newbies to start with 9th-age, the community has developed a simpler Quickstarter, a T9A beginner’s version. Head of Quickstarter Team writes:

 another important thing to say is that we are now focusing on fun, flavour, identity, money, painting, not on balance. we cannot work on balance until we’ve done the necessary adjustments to the rules.

Why single focus is a risk

The quest for balance is important for tournament players who want a level playing field for every fantasy army they use in every tournament. But:

  • true balance is impossible(link1link2)
  • it’s eternal. Values and rules are continuously finetuned, but to which avail?
  • Finding the optimal unbalanced winning army composition is for many players a key part of the game, while others want a weak army
  • Focus might be wrong. True balance never was a sales argument. The earlier versions of WHFB gained mass popularity despite severe balancing problems. Same for 40K
  • Focus on balance might be unimportant for new players/newbies. They want painted armies, fluff, huge warmachines, impressive regiments, cinematic action. Fun. Balance is only important for players who want a kind of ‘fantasy chess’
  • marketing is more important than rules. If the average player thinks Age of Sigmar or KoW is just as balanced – or more balanced – than T9A, they will buy and play AoS/KoW and never go back to the nonsupported, nonmarketed T9A. Why should they?
  • The rebalancing of older WHFB armies estranges the old guard who discover that their strong armies are suddenly significantly weaker. T9A is nicknamed ‘Nerfhammer’ for that reason.

So, again, this bears the risk of losing a group of veteran players while the ‘better balance’ doesn’t attract a new generation.
The quickstarter brings a new focus, namely, simplicity, quickplay and (more) fun. That’s good for attracting new players and a smart move, in fact. However, the quickstarter game has to compete against commercial publications like free Kings of War, free Age of Sigmar, or (for total newbies) other games like Oathmark, Star Wars Legion, Warhammer 40K.

The future position of T9A on the wargames market

The wargames market is a niche market. Young teenagers buy armies and play games against peers. Older gamers collect armies and often play casual games in shops, at home or at a club.

To summarize the general state of the hobby:

  • Thanks to the Internet, wargaming has a wider audience than ever before.
  • A lot of companies and groups and independent writers publish rules.
  • Rules are free or quite cheap. The Osprey books for example are about 15 GBP, KoW and AoS are free, Bolt Action digital is GBP 20.
  • Kickstarters and niche skirmish games dominate the trade. The wargame magazines publish mainly reviews and scenario’s for skirmish games
  • Quickplay is popular.
  • Many popular historical rank-and-file wargames (the Warlord Black Powder series in particular) are casual multiplayer games. 
  • Point systems are often (not more than) a guideline for a quick pick-up game
  • Some wargames have a small but loyal though fractured tournament scene. The games DBA, DBM, DBMM, Fields of Glory, Art de la Guerre (all not supported by large companies) have an active tournament scene. Warhammer 40K, AoS, FoW, KoW, Bolt Action and X-Wing are very popular tournament games, supported by the wargames industry.

So, will it die?

No. The wargame De Bellis Antiquitatis, an Ancients/Medieval balanced ruleset, was published in 1990. The game, that evolved into DBM and DBMM, was very popular as a tournament game in the nineties. The game mechanics probably were an inspiration for the creators of Blood Bowl. The game ran out of fashion – badly written rules, amateur layout, rise of other rulesets – but still a small, grey and very dedicated generation of wargamers plays tournaments.
Same with Blood Bowl, that survived a long Out-Of-Production time. Same with older WHFB editions.
Same with Oldhammer. On Oldhammer.net one recently could apply for the Warhammer 4th Edition Scottish Masters, with 7 players.
Likewise, T9A, the love child of a dedicated community, will not die as such. As long as the same incrowd organizes the ETC as independent Warhammer/FoW tournament, the game will retain followers and local fans will organize local tournaments. That could go on for years.
However.
However I’m sad.

  • The community hastened the inevitable decline by single focusing on the European Tournament Championship. If Fjugin and a few others quit, or the ETC decides to drop the game, then the final curtain falls and T9A will become one of the many projects on freewargamesrules.com or Wargames Vault.
  • The current approach requires an intimate knowledge of the arcane art of armylisting and unit combinations. It’s the miniature wargaming variant of a collectible card game. Such a game is only a challenge for veterans, not rookies/casual players.
  • I’m not optimistic about the Quickstarter. To publish a simpler Quickstarter as introductory WHFB-style game is a good idea. The game looks fine. But why should casual gamers like the QS more than KoW or AoS? Or LotR, with excellent reviews?
  • I get the impression that the community overlooks the fact that AoS has improved since the General’s handbook and that a group of smart players will probably design AoS-house or tournament rules. Just like the 8th Ed. gamers did. In fact, they did already.
  • Besides, casual play relies on having other casual gamers around. Fact of life: KoW and AoS already have more casual players, so why switch? And how many will move to the T9A ‘mother’-rules?
  • The community has no money for agressive marketing.
  • The fact that a few influential WHFB-gamers jumped offboard is a bad sign.

It’s sad. I liked the rebel thing of T9A, you can kill our game but you can’t kill us. But in the end they kill themselves.

Can the community turn the tide?

With a change of focus, the good things can be preserved

  • Bashing of ‘other systems’ should stop. Age of Sigmar is not childish. Kings of War is not ‘bland’. It’s different, but not ‘inferior’.
  • Stop the megalomaniac tone. 9th Age is no competitor for Games Workshop.
  • The group should focus more on compatibility with other systems. Square bases or round bases shouldn’t make a difference
  • The community should start a new website with a webshop and a paid membership. The current website is more a volunteer forum with many toxic threads and free downloads, paid by volunteer payments. Not very inviting, not generating enough money for agressive marketing.
  • Think about unequal battles. Blitzkrieg Commander II for instance, a WW2 Warmaster adaptation, explains that battles are never equal and has a system to make army lists deliberately different. But the inequality is rebalanced in the victory point system, an army that is 25% stronger needs 25% more victory points.
  • Quickstarter and tournament game should be more integrated. Simple basic rules and advanced tournament rules in one booklet. Now the Quickstarter appears to be an undervalued downgrade from the ‘main’ rules. Maybe this simple LotR/WHFB-style wargame with a 9th-age upgrade has more chance of survival among the casual players than a complex tournament game with a simplified ‘pearls for the swines’ edition.
  • Think about kickstarters. pay-to-print, and higher tournament entrance fees to finance T9A development costs.
  • Think about scenario books. For example, Et Sans Résultat is a Napoleonic mass battle game roughly based on the (outdated and overly complex) Empire rules. ESR is one of the many Napoleonic rulesets and not the most popular. The company however has published beautiful scenario books with conversion guidelines for other rulesets. In the same vein: why not rework a Battle of the Bulge campaign guide as “Fantasy Battle of the Bulge”-guide with several linked scenario’s. background, a gallery and an online conversion scheme for AoS, KoW or other fantasy battle systems? Or give an outline how to link separate scenario’s as a ‘best of five’-campaign (like BKCII).
  • Emphasize more the fun part of fantasy battling, not the tournaments and the advanced rules.
  • Ask around. What do seasoned game designers like John Lambshead, Rick Priestley himself, Alessio Cavatore, Tomas Pirinen, Brian Ansell think of 9th Age? Is it good, is it good enough, what would they change?
  • O – and don’t kill every discussion with “you shouldn’t be so negative about us volunteers who work so hard”, “we are different” or “wait until our next edition”. Not al criticism is unfair. Some is in fact helpful. Not listening – thàt would be the saddest of the story. 

PS: I published this blog in the 9th-age forum. Only reaction: an immediate permaban and deletion of the link, for “trying and undermine with his misleading information, toxic blog.” And a thread with weird accusations, like “probably a covert advertiser for Age of Sigmar”, who “claims to be a lawyer”.Sorry guys, I’m just a regular beer drinking guy who loves wargames since a was a kid. Lion in court. Lamb at home. Two lovely kids. I have blogged about speedpainting, 6mm, wargame campaigns, Waterloo, scenery – writing is part of my wargames hobby as well. If this blog made you angry, read the label. If you wonder why I don’t react in the T9A-forum – it’s impossible for me. If you wonder why I’m critical – because I covertly advertise for your survival. Not your death.
I tried to reply to the weird accusations but the reaction was banned as well. But you can read my reply as a separate blog post here, if you really want.