By that I mean Yu-Gi-Oh wrecked how we play 40k.
From my running the 14th Black Crusade tournament to being present for the gaming nights at the store I work at to being a regular visitor at Bell of Lost Souls, I’ve caught enough snippets and chatter that I feel my above statement is pretty accurate. (To be fair, maybe I should say instead that Magic the Gathering killed the Warhammer hobby –but where’s the fun in being on the internet if I can’t take a stab at causing some nerd rage?)
This idea has been forming and stewing in my brain for a bit now, and it has to do with how the hobby has been changing the last few years. I’m sure by posting on my blog how not all change is necessarily good, I’m going to come across as a salty old crusty gamer who is resistant to any and all change. But I don’t think that description quite fits me: I’ve been selling the newest, shiniest most up-to-date versions of Warhammer and allaying customers’ fears and resistance to changing systems since 40k’s Battle Manual and Vehicle Manual first hit the shelves so many years ago.
I’ve been playing 40k since 1989; over that time, I’ve done more than just played the game. Within 3 years of starting up in 40k, I worked for a couple independent stores selling the game (and doing my best to open peoples’ eyes to 40k and Warhammer). After a few years, I then worked for Games Workshop not just selling the game but running store events to promote the hobby further (I was even part of an ‘inner circle’ meeting at the Canadian HQ to help plan the national events being organised for an upcoming year). After 5 years there, I’m now, once again, working at an independent store selling the game and introducing people to the hobby. Of most relevance, I’ve immersed myself over the last year in running Warhammer tournaments, the 14th Black Crusade being the most recent one I’ve helped create, organise and run.
So what makes me different from all those at Bell of Lost Souls who live, breathe and type about Warhammer more fervently than I do?
I’d say collectible card games.
–Oh I don’t play them. I’ve known for a long time that I’m just not a CCG player. I’ve tried; man, I’ve tried. I’ve sunk money into Magic the Gathering, Start Trek, Star Wars, Illuminati, Call of Cthulhu, Legend of the Five Rings, 40k and even the City of Heroes CCGs. And none of them took.
But I’ve been up to my neck in the Warhammer hobby since before there were such things as collectable card games and the world wide web (seriously, the internet only came into existence in 1991 in Europe and 1992 in USA –though really the internet didn’t remotely resemble what we have now until 1993 or shorty thereafter). I was working at a hobby store before the launch of Magic the Gathering –more importantly, I was working at a hobby store during and after the launch of Magic and have seen how that game affected the gaming landscape. Having never really stopped working in hobby shops since Magic’s release, I have seen quite a lot.
What have I gained from being exposed to CCGs for such a long time? First off, utter disdain as a consumer for their business model: products that don’t let you know what you’re buying until after you’ve paid your money just rubs me the wrong way. (But as a guy who sees how people will drop serious money on the games $5 at a time, yet scoff at the price of any game that costs more than $20, I can see the value in having a store carry CCGs). I also realised that I find deck building to be tedious in the extreme and that my brain just isn’t wired to play combo-stacking, interrupt-laden card games, collectible or otherwise. (Ask me about how things are going with me and Fantasy Flight Games’ Warhammer: Invasion –even though I do think the game is straight-up awesome, I suck at it).
*This is the point where I’ve realised the length of this post has now gone far beyond a mere rant*
So what do I mean by saying that Yu-Gi-Oh killed 40k? I mean that the way Warhammer players play their game –their hobby— is barely different from how Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic players play their game –their pastime.
Back in the Day
Back in the day –y’know, back when we wore an onion on our belt because it was the fashion– Warhammer players didn’t get CCG players. It’s understandable: how fun could it be constantly putting cards in and taking cards out of plastic card-holding pages; where’s the fun in always re-organising your collection? That aside, where was the fun in dropping money on several packs (more packs than you’d guess) hoping to get that one card that would activate your deck, win you all your games (guarantee success in all future endeavors etc etc).
Likewise, CCG players didn’t ‘get’ Warhammer players. I at least understand where they were coming from: why did there have to be such a delay between buying something and implementing it into your games? Where’s the fun in dropping money on something only to have to wait until it’s been prepped, and painted before you can use it? What if it doesn’t pan out? What a waste that is of your money and time.
More importantly, the two groups tended to not quite glom onto what made the other group’s chosen vice so attractive to them. CCG players, by and large, stuck to their game, and miniatures games players stuck to theirs. The two groups were pretty much mutually exclusive (pretty much). What I faintly remember was that CCG players were left unenthused by miniature war gaming and the collecting of armies; and Warhammer players tended to turn any CCG game into a game where they continuously built up their forces…kind of like playing Risk.
The Big Change
Though I’ve been involved with Warhammer and exposed to CCGs for so long, I was never paying enough attention to the big picture enough to really map out industry changes and the ramifications of said changes. Somewhere between 2000 and 2005, Warhammer players switched gears and began to play their game …differently. Little things began to disappear:
-people no longer painted battle honours on individual figures after games where the miniature miraculously performed beyond its capabilities
-players no longer suffered through having a less-than-optimal squad choice in their army simply because they owned the figures and they were painted
-the painted army was transformed from being what made Warhammer 40,000 AWESOME to a hurdle and, in many peoples’ eyes, what limited the game.
Players’ attitudes have changed as well; beyond the disdain of painted models that is now held by the majority of Warhammer and 40k players, the army list and its components has now become the focus of the game, what makes the game awesome. People put more energy now into reorganising their lists, pulling units out, dropping units in, min-maxing, optimizing, spamming and synergizing their lists. List building is a main component of the game now and is the dominant source of hobby involvement for a growing number of gamers; all we need to figure out now is how to fit our armies in plastic binder pages (to all the doubters, that stinging sensation is the truth).
(What feels like the majority of) players now focus on how to create a “sure thing” with their army lists rather than on how to play with cool models in a myriad of battlefield situations. Seriously, 8th Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battles is gaining some serious opponents just from the new rolling-for-charge-distance rule. Why? Because that new rule removes mathematical, chess-like precision from the game and puts chance back into the game, forcing players to adjust to unforeseen circumstances (just like a real general would, I might add).
What convinces me the most about this “new” attitude is how units are now perceived; all you have to do is read all the angry replies to articles espousing the merits of a foot-Eldar army: the nerd-rage chorus can be summarized as “why would you play an army list that’s effective 85% of the time when there exists a list that’s effective 88% of the time?” ….which always seems to be the responding chorus to all unorthodox list-building articles you’ll read.
And that’s the huge shift, right there.
Players have switched from focusing on cool models to focusing not just the better units but the best units–and the best combos. Since when have miniatures games been all about building combos, anyway? That makes it feel like the only fundamental difference between Yu-Gi-Oh and 40k is that 40k uses a more contrived play mat (plus it’s quite a bit more 3-D than card games are). Warhammer players now apply the same criteria as CCG players apply to their decks: the list “works” or it doesn’t; the squad stays in the list if it works or it gets replaced if it doesn’t. Simple. Cards get put into a deck and taken out based entirely on whether it makes the deck win and units are treated no differently. I’d like to say this is a trait possessed more by the Win-At-All-Costs players, but this attitude has saturated gaming communities–again, I’ve read enough online and seen enough tournaments and ‘pick up game’ nights at several games stores to know that it’s not just limited to the players at the top tables at tournaments.
Suffice it to say things have changed since the days when we wore onions on our belts.
(So what to do about this? I’m not sure if I know that answer–but that‘s another rant entirely.)