Here’s the thing. I know you liked 40k.
Regardless of what your feeling are now, you liked it at one point and judging by the fact you are reading this article I’m pretty sure you really liked it.
The worlds premier tabletop gaming magazine is the tagline, I’ll be the judge of that. Not to be confused with the Women’s Institute, Wargames Illustrated is £4.95 ($8.95, €6.95) for 106 pages with 27 pages of adverts including one for a military history degree course from the university of Wolverhampton.
If you’ve ever hear people talk about BloodBowl at any time between its third edition in 1993 and now 2016 (before its forthcoming re-release by Games Workshop) you’d think they were discussing the second coming of Christ In 28mm scale. If you haven’t heard of BloodBowl it’s fair to say it’s possibly the most popular out of print game at the moment, people love it. The US tournament in 2015 had 78 players 11 years after its last release, the Official UK tournament would draw around 200 players before GW canned it, in 2007 they held the record for most attendees of a GW event ever with 272 players.
Naturally I think I could do it better.
The teams vary in power. A quick look at the tournament rankings puts a half dozen teams at the top all the time, you’d think this would be a negative point but in fact this is advertised as a game were certain teams like Goblins and Halflings are much harder to win with and people still play them. I would personally let this continue and wait for the momentous time when a 3rd tier team wins a major tournament.
The models are all metal and have to be placed on their side, face up or face down after they suffer a block or fall over. This is going to be less of a problem once they all get re-released in plastic but it always ended up in chipped noses and chest plates if you weren’t careful. The problem I always have is that the model has to be positioned so that it’s clearly face up or down, sometimes with small models or models in more interesting poses they will roll around over the pitch. Unfortunately, Games Workshop has decided to “solve” this problem but positioning all their human linesmen with their arms outstretched as if they are pretending to be group of goalkeepers.
Here’s good joke, how do you kill all interest in playing BloodBowl in your local club. The answer is to form a league. Ok, you caught me that isn’t a joke it’s more of a terrible waste of potential, a bit like the standard rules on how to form a BloodBowl league. The problem is that once teams start injuring other players and scoring touchdowns they will start acquiring skills that allow them to injure even more players and score even more touchdowns. Meanwhile once other teams start to lose players to injury they will continue to lose players and struggle to acquire the same skills. The bottom half of the league will lose interest in spending 1-2 hours playing a game against the top teams and almost certainly will resort to flinging their own faeces at the other players until you take the electric cattle prods to them.
This issue has been “fixed” by allowing teams that perform badly to use special star players extra re rolls and coaches for one off matches but this rarely seems to work. As the introduction of a player of fixed skill into a match rarely is exactly what a lower ranked team needs to compete with a fully fleshed out veteran team. The answer is simple but unpopular, automatically replace anyone who is killed or injured with a standard version of that player if the injury or death occurs to a player who is on 0-5 SPP so that injuries only concern the high ranked teams, make an apothecary require an upkeep cost so that these teams can risk games without one for a saving of gold but doing so can come back to punish them.
The final and most controversial change I would enforce is to only allow teams to have 3 players who can have extra skills and stat increases. This allows them to actually cultivate actual star players rather than farm an entire team of them and will cut down on the amount of explaining of individual extra skills like that painful process of working out which players in your lineup has “Guard” in a Dwarf team or the exciting realisation you have just declared a Blitz action against a player with extra Strength and are likely to lose your Blitz and cause a Turnover.
If you want to catch up on the previous articles on the models or the marketing click here and here or you could just continue reading, the articles can be viewed in any order. This is the third of three articles on everything I don’t like…
About the games themselves:
Key rules point. X Wing has a hidden manoeuvre dial system (taken from Wings of War), Gates of Antares has a random order dice activation system (taken from Bolt Action), Warmachine has a focus point boosting system to allocate power around your force, if you fail a critical roll on BloodBowl your turn ends immediately, if your system is just a bland series of rolls to hit and damage like Dark Age you’ve lost.
Small numbers on the stat line and smaller dice results. I understand that working out percentage chances with a D10 makes more sense than a D8 but 6 and 9 look remarkably similar and that little line under the number to see which way it is viewed from does not help. Dark Age is again a culprit here with a D20 system that really doesn’t need to be that complicated.
No excessive marking of wounds for each model. If you have to put sleeves around cards and then mark off the boxes with a dry wipe marker it means your combat damage system is too complicated, I don’t mind a few large models needing many wounds or health points but rank and file humans or goblins don’t need this.
2′ by 2′ or 3′ by 3′ game areas. I live in the UK, the UK has tiny, tiny houses which have equally tiny tables and I don’t have room to stick a stick a 4′ by 4′ or 4′ by 6′ piece of MDF down and play on that. I understand that FLGS (or Friendly Local Game Stores if you’re not in the know) have tables that size but squeezing the established gamers off of them is a hard prospect.
Living Rulebook. Rather than publishing a large FAQ for each problem that is found in the rulebook why not keep a cut down digital living rulebook online for an instant lookup. Then set one or two dates in the year to review the rules to cut out the ones that don’t work and / or make new rules official for organised play.
Balance your models. I understand games might be unbalanced, that’s fine, no company can playtest the games more than their fans will put it through, however the idea that the rules need to be changed or FAQ’d because they have made mistakes in balancing the models themselves is literally insane. Again I’m looking directly at GW while I type this but they are not the only ones by a long shot. As a 40k gamer for a long time there have been several eras where individual models dominate the game whist others get left unused, there was an ten year gap in updating the Dark Eldar and Necron codexes the first time round meanwhile Necron flyers, Wraithlords and Grey Knight Paladins have enjoyed spells of domination that only stopped when the rules or codex cycled out or when you dropped £600 on a new army to counter them.
Quickstart rules video. This leads me to a point I have been meaning to make about tactical miniature games for a long time. Why is it so hard to record a video showing off how to play the game online? Typing “Lets Play Deadzone” into YouTube results in a number of videos about the previous edition of the game, however it does have two playthroughs, one from Mantic and one from Beasts of War both of which are extremely bloated and look like they have been done in one take. The Mantic guys make a rules mistake in the first 2 minutes by forgetting to roll the command dice. When I was being taught the basics it took less than 10 minutes including set up. Itâ€™s a shame as the quick nature of the rules of this game are one of its strongest points.
Call to action. I want a reason to buy and get involved now. I’ve often looked at various miniature sites and wondered if I should buy their models or games systems and most of the time I think “no, I’ll come back and look at that after I’ve finished project X, Y and / or Z”. Kickstarter gives you an impetus to buy as soon as possible, this is great as the company gets all the cash in one go and can start producing content and the players all start playing at one time once the rules and share their feedback. However if you want to give an added incentive I would recommend what FFG did with X Wing and offer competitive play events with limited edition tokens and cards.
While we are on that subject Fantasy Fight Games has the market nailed down for competitive play, just offer a box of goodies that tournament organisers can buy with limited edition kit in and let them host their own tournaments. Job done. FFG does this 4 times a year but your mileage may vary.
All done, you can go back to what you were doing now.
If you didn’t like the previous article you’re really not going to like this one. Before you start I am aware that the people who create miniature games are doing it for the love and aren’t marketers or PR guys but if no one else is going to call them out on the issues they run into I guess I’ll have to be the guy who casts the first stone. This is the second of three articles on everything I don’t like.
About the marketing:
On every box or book I would like a QR code taking you to a 2 minute video elevator pitch about the game. Selling is not about looking excited while sitting next to a board while you give people a blow by blow description of the rules. It needs to look like this, this or this. And not like the frothing love fest that Beasts of War churns out.
Key sales point. Games Workshop has a network of shops you can go into a find a person to play a game without buying a table or scenery, it’s the biggest. X Wing has pre-painted miniatures. Warmachine has the steampunk flavour locked down as well as a group of supporters who are all embittered former squat players who hate Games Workshop. Tor Gamings Relics has an army of patchwork cloth British infantry, Malifaux has pigs. Flames of War is the best way to command an army of real historical tanks and infantry. The Laws of Marketing suggest that if you aren’t the first in the market (Games Workshop) you need to be the first in a subsection of it.
Read books on marketing and human psychology. Marketing is not a scammy way of exploiting your customers to get them to buy from you, it’s a way of keeping your customer base happy and allowing you to provide them with a great experience. This does not mean you have to antagonise them with pop up windows or clickbait. Did you know there are 6 major ways to persuade people into following a certain course of action, find out more here and be amazed.
Create website, create mailing list, create content for website, add the subscribe button to the bottom of every post, build subscribers, send emails on your progress, repeat until you have enough subscribers to sell products to.
Don’t undercharge. Frostgrave, Warlord Games’ Historical and Bolt Action lines can sell you a standard infantry model in a set for £1 each, Mantic will match those prices when they run a Kickstarter but often seem to run at about £2, other companies seem to approach £3-£5. Character kits which will usually only need to be purchased once can be sold for £7-12. If you want to read about why you shouldn’t chase the bottom of the market you can read here, here and here. The bottom line is companies need money to continue making good products and so giving them less money will only make their next product less good. Another point is that these companies are making a product for you to spend real time putting together and painting. This will take at least 2 hours but sometimes 4 or 5. As an experiment take your current hourly wage and work out how much money you could have earnt while you were painting a model, if you look at it like this you’ll see that there really isn’t as big a difference between £1 and £5 as you think.
Don’t overcharge. Games Workshop has tried to sell single figure character kits for £18 before rapidly backing down and stuffing them in with a bundle of other miniatures. They have also tried to charge £30 for a unit of 10 models or £22 for a unit of 5 models that you will need to buy two copies of to complete a unit. While this does average out to the £3-4 mark I have just identified as being ideal for infantry you’ve got to remember that as part of a standard sized force both will be making up less than 10% of it.
Overcharge if you are offering extras. Kingdom Death offers models for £16 with base inserts, numbered and signed cards and two prices of artwork. If you only want to sell single models that will only be purchased once this seems to work out pretty well.
Mobile and tablet friendly website please. There are free products on the market that handle dynamic web design so you don’t have to, this blog for instance resizes itself depending on screen size. This website doesn’t: don’t be like them.
Well done, 2 down, 1 more to go, read part 3 here
I went to the UK Gamers Expo this year and indulged in a binge of demos for various miniature games and I can happily report that there are a number of shining stars out there that could easily take off based on theme, quality of models or elegance of rules. However, I’m also sad to report that it exposed the Achilles heel of miniature wargaming in that the rules are often impossible to teach while keeping the game fun and that the models themselves are often simply avatars for a tableau of cards with hit points, energy counters and special rules that sit on the edge of the table and challenge each player to try and remember them.
I had a think about what I would be looking for out of a new game on the market and everything I don’t like in the current offerings. Make no mistake, I play these games because I like them but its hard to sit back and claim that this hobby churns out the type of quality products that the current Golden Age of Board Games is producing.
This is the first of three articles on everything I don’t like…
About the miniatures themselves:
I want everything to stick to around 28-32mm heroic scale models so they match everything on the market today (GW is 28mm Warmachine is 30-32mm), I love the look of 52mm stuff but you can’t get scenery to match it, ask the guys who created Smog 1888, I also like the look of 15mm and 10mm models but they have the same problem with scenery and also the fact painting infantry that small fills me with dread. Picture found here)
Multi part sprue. As a kit basher the ability to swap torsos and legs around as well as extra parts fills me with an uncomfortable amount of joy. Not everyone wants a model to look exactly the same as another, different arm and head combinations take up a tiny amount of space if added to the mould correctly. In fact if you are going that far why not add things like tiny familiars to a wizards sprue, flying drones to a futuristic soldiers kit or tiny goblin creatures to a giant Orc model. I’d go so far as to say that you need to fill up as much space in the sprue as possible, just cram stuff in there as long as it doesn’t effect the quality.
Hire a decent designer. Its 2016, we use computers and 3D modelling these days so there is no reason to produce models that look like this, this or this any more. It’s unfair of me to expect every company to do this but at least publish the free stuff sculpts to your viewing public for feedback.
Hire a decent painter. Its 2016, we use things called Washes and Airbrushes so there is no reason to show your models looking like this, this or this. Again you could say I’m being harsh because as soon as you take a photo and blow it up to the size you need to stick it on a box or a website you will see some uncomfortable specks of dirt or parts you missed but I can forgive the pointless use of Photoshop here.
Get a painting guide for the figures, show people what to do with their new models with a HD video or even a narrated slideshow on Youtube. As long as it’s a decent quality you can show your audience how to paint up these figures, here is a guy going through Imperial Assault, here are the Games Workshop versions.
A kit that fits through a letterbox. Possibly not practical, the current restrictions on large letter sizes are 35.3cm x 25cm x 2.5cm. If this is possible it would be great as even though I use a separate mailing address to take deliveries of large objects a lot of people are put off of shopping online due to having to take a trip to their local post office if they are out when the mailman comes. Obviously some units are going to be too large to manage this but they can be flagged as such on the companies website.
No lipped bases. The bases used by Warmachine and Malifaux make no sense to me at all, I can only assume someone saw a standard GW produced slottabase and decided that they wanted to make something so entirely different it would make their miniatures stand out, which while a idea that sounds good on paper produces bases that you can’t pick up, and leave you manhandling the actual miniature in order to move it around. The reason they look so nice is that Games Workshop kept putting models on undersized bases for years before coming up with the 32mm size they now use for Space Marines. I’m not saying that all companies need to rename their products but if you are starting from scratch just use the old school standard.
Plastic or Resin or UniCast when it’s ready. Plastic is ideal but most companies don’t have that kind of money so I’ll settle for resin as its light it won’t scratch and its tough as long as the kit is thick enough. Lead or white metal is awful to work with and leaves horrible to find mould lines and fragments everywhere. UniCast is a very flexible system that allows you to cast models in one piece in a way that would be otherwise impossible. Jake Thornton has Ben talking about this a lot recently.
Extras in the box. Steve Jobs worked out that unboxing a product was important to ensure the users experience was as good as possible. Miniature companies ignored this for a long time and then along came Fantasy Flights’ X Wing Miniatures game with a prepainted model, cardboard tokens, equipment cards, multiple pilot cards and a manoeuvre dial squeezed in. Several years later its one of the highest grossing miniature games on the market meanwhile everyone else stuffs a plastic sprue or metal model out of the mould and into a box with an appropriate sized base. Tor Gaming’s Relics models have laser cut wooden counters, it wouldn’t be hard for someone to throw some artwork, glass gems to count damage, plastic tokens to mark shields or explosions, poker chips with decals on, transfers, the list is almost endless.
Painted pictures of the models on the boxes. This really winds me up. Now I understand that the production process these days starts with a 3d model that gets sent away to be cast and by the time it comes back there is no time to change the picture on the box but at least stick a bloody QR code on the front of the kit that links to a webpage that will hold a mobile friendly shot of the models after a professional painter has finished with it. This seems endemic in this industry, especially with Kickstarters more and more common. I constantly see 3D shots of the model or prototype pictures and have to hunt down the painted shot of the model or models on someone’s Facebook page. I’m left wondering if anyone is ever actually painting up Malifaux or Guild Ball models these days or even if the models advertised actually exist anywhere outside of a computer. And while I’m on the subject I don’t want photoshopped images of the models stuck up anywhere in the sales page. I’m looking at you Games Workshop. If a model is holding a burning sword then I want to see how well that sword looks, not a photoshopped rendered version of it to make it look better. Dreamforge Games sells itself extremely short by trying to combine both worlds by giving the 3D models a computer painted skin and putting them on a 3D background. These aren’t Revell models, you can’t just paint a picture of what you hope it will look like and hope that I will buy anyway.
Still reading? Why not move to part 2 here
FYI that header image of unpainted miniatures and unfinished terrain is from Wikipedia, well done wargamers, good job.