Celebrity deaths and world development issues aside, 2016 shaped up to be an incredibly eventful year for Games Workshop hobbyists. In this three-part series over the next couple of days, I will look back a bit on the year that was, and into the year that’s coming. There’ll be a bit about my thoughts regarding my own progress, the development of Games Workshop as a company, and what I expect from the new year. In this first installment, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on releases and progress this year, from the point of view of a customer, fan and interested study of Games Workshop.
It’s safe to say that the year we just experienced, turned out to be an unprecedented change of direction from Games Workshop as a whole. Social media interaction, a clear and visible online profile through Warhammer TV and their touching onto live streaming, more frequent FAQs with direct community interaction and the Warhammer Community website are the most prominent examples. Less visible, but nonetheless as impressive are the Age of Sigmar app and its fluid rules updates, their acknowledging the value and resource that is the South Coast Grand Tournament after the event, and finally their new handle on leaks and rumours; if someone leaks something, quickly show them a better version of the same thing and steal the headlines for yourself.
Another surprise, both positively and negatively, was the development of the online store. Two things in particular spring to mind; the “Last Chance to Buy” clearout sales, and the “Made to Order” concept. Lots and lots of things have been said about the clearing out and discontinuing of older models, and in particular the Tomb Kings (the poor Bretonnians doesn’t even get much love from the raging internet crowd these days) – in general, I think it’s a good thing, although I still experience the occasional moment of “damn it” every so often when I realise something I’d like the odd bit from is now gone forever.
Or, seemingly so. The “Made to Order” programme, as well as the reissuing of the Balewind Vortex and Magewrath Throne terrain pieces, does leave us some hope for the future. Having collected Juan Diaz Daemonettes in bulks of between three and thirteen for well over two years now, I finally sat at fifty-eight Daemonettes and nine Seekers when the option to order them again arrived; for a fraction of what I’ve paid for that initial bulk, I got to round out my collection (and even get a few ones left over that will find their way onto a very exclusive Exalted Seeker Chariot) at a reasonable price, without having to go via eBay, and without having to painstrip a single claw. Their willingness to listen to fan requests and let popular models return, albeit with limited availability, is a huge step in the right direction even in spite of the clearouts. Besides, I don’t see anyone running down the door after the old Teclis model…
And finally, we get to the real mindblower of the year – discounts. For the first time in recent memory, Games Workshop began handing out significant bundle sale discounts, and lots of them to boot. Whether it’s the series of Start Collecting-boxes, all of which contain a large model that alone is usually close to the box in price range, and two lesser units that for certain box sets comes out as nearly free compared to the monster, or army bundles such as Icewind Assault or King Vlagorescu’s Ghoulish Hosts, buying bulk now offers a premium of actual cash savings. What’s even more impressive is the content – most of these boxes contain actually relevant models, often even recent releases, that will see play, and not only things they want to use for removing stock. This suggests these boxes are a long term addition, that the idea of selling more kits through people buying a Start Collecting-box rather than a large kit alone trumps simply just aiming for any sale.
Of course there’s been hiccups as well – the Canoness Veridyan release was a farcical gust from the past, and the couple of months where their Facebook presence suddenly went silent without a word before or after the fact did not go unnoticed. Warhammer 40,000 remains as convoluted and uninteresting as ever and is in dire need of a design overhaul, and lore development is taking a direction that is anything but immersive and engaging, in favour of a sensationalist approach to “let’s create something badass.” The conclusion of The Beast-series, as well as the whole Wrath of Magnus-campaign barely held fanfiction-level quality. The Games Workshop we know and love can do better than this, and it’s a worrying sign that they are taking this direction with their lore.
On that note, I’m going to finish off with the first annual LD10 awards for this year’s releases. Taking into consideration all game systems, hobby products and lore, these are my favourites and least liked things from 2016:
RELEASE OF THE YEAR – Sylvaneth.
There are no two ways around it – the Sylvaneth was nothing short of breathtaking. A model range that’s beyond stunning, and that perfectly incorporates the existing model range, including what to my mind is the most beautiful Citadel miniture ever. A ruleset that is perfectly balanced, both internally and in the Age of Sigmar meta – strong, but not overpowered, easy to learn but difficult to master, and forgiving to simple mistakes but not dumbed down enough to let you play bad and still win. And finally, they were the first Age of Sigmar-faction whose lore actually engaged me as a reader. Their take on the fantasy trope in the Sylvaneth release is well considered and well written, taking the overall theme and package to another level. Sylvaneth are above and beyond the new benchmark for how a faction release should look.
Honourable mentions: Blood Bowl, the General’s Handbook, Silver Tower.
RE-RELEASE OF THE YEAR – Beastclaw Raiders.
Between Age of Sigmar’s multitude of old and outdated factions, “Made to Order” and the boxed game sets repackaging models past their expiration date, there were no shortage of re-releases this year. The one release that to me stand out, however, are the Beastclaw Raiders. Without a single new model release, and no hype outside of a video of Duncan Rhodes painting a five year old kit, this book silently dropped into the online store, contaning a ruleset that compleltely overturned the way we play Age of Sigmar, and a lore that completely redefined what to me was an incredibly boring and underdeveloped Warhammer faction and race. The ogors went from duller than slate grey Victorian sky, to merciless raiders of the Everwinter over the course of a few pages, their lore suddenly up there with the Sylvaneth in terms of immersive content. Suddenly, the Bestclaw Raiders were a force to be reckoned with, and models that had stood on store shelves for years untouched deservedly found their way into many, many gamers’ and collectors’ homes.
Honourable mentions: Imperial Agents/Sisters of Battle, Bonesplitterz, Imperial Knights: Renegade.
MODEL OF THE YEAR – Alarielle the Everqueen.
That I still do not own this model, is not through a shortage of funds or will, but a massive effort of discipline, and a bottomless dread of not doing her justice. As stated above, Alarielle to me is without a doubt the most stunning model Citadel have ever produced. From the utter majesty of her pose, to the perfect relation of curves between her body, dress and spear, to the savage duality of this fragile, yet godlike woman atop the monstrous Wardroth Beetle, there is no single detail about this model I dislike.
Honourable mentions: Stormcast Eternals Lord-Veritant, Genestealer Patriarch, Lake-Town House.
WORST MODEL OF THE YEAR – Magnus the Red.
What a disgustingly lazy sculpt this model is. The pose is static and inanimate, the armour is boring and uninspired, his face is simply an overgrown Space Marine, and his wings are lesser versions of the High Elven Phoenix. This model to me represents everything wrong with the new trend of making things bigger, and bigger, and bigger – at one point, you have to start limiting yourself to not have to force unnecessary detail onto the model, bogging it down. Magnus the Red fails in every department, and ends up a massive letterweight and little else.
Honourable mentions: Archaon the Everchosen, Corvus Blackstar, Ironjawz Gore-Gruntas.
HOBBY-PRODUCT OF THE YEAR – Valhallan Blizzard.
We had no shortage of improvement in the hobby department this year, but what stands above the rest with a clear margin is the fact that Citadel finally, after decades of experimenting with flock, texture, PVA glue and baking soda, managed to actually create snow. Valhallan Blizzard acts exactly like the snow on your car window when you desperately wipe it off in the morning trying to get to work on time when you apply it, and it dries to fully contain that look on your bases. Having already settled on Mourn Mountain Snow as my “this is it” for snow on bases, this product simply improved my quality of life and models by aeons.
Honourable mentions: Chaos Black XL spray, Shattered Dominion, the technical gem paints.
And that wraps up my review of Games Workshop for 2016 – tune back in tomorrow for a recap of my own year of modelling, painting and gaming.