Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Golden Age of GW boardgames

Back in the 1980s, Games Workshop used to have its fingers in many, many pies - pretty much everything apart from the nascent computer gaming industry. While its line of miniatures was expanding and the first couple of editions of Warhammer were published, it also dabbled in RPGs like Judge Dredd and Golden Heroes. In addition, apart from cutting its teeth importing board games from the US, GW also began designing and publishing board games.

Probably the most widely known of these is Talisman, now back in print thanks to Fantasy Flight Games, which appears to have the rights to publish board games based on the GW IP. It has given me the opportunity to start filling in some of the holes left in my collection when the originals went out of print. However, and here's the real point of this post, I'm hoping to also be able to play through my collection of GW board games over the course of 2012, if at all possible. We'll see how we go. Here's is what we've got:

Fury of Dracula (1st edition)

Fury of Dracula I bought when in the Lower Sixth (not sure what the US educational equivalent is). I had originally ordered some Call of Cthulhu supplements, as it was around the time I was getting more interested in playing something other than AD&D. As it happened, GW has sold out of the items I wanted, but they sent me some tokens instead, and I used them to buy FoD. We already owned a copy of Scotland Yard, which uses a similar hidden movement mechanic to FoD. I played this game a LOT between 1987 and about 1991. The new version from FFG adds a fourth hunter character to the game and slightly tweaks the way the game manages hidden movement. I'm still in two minds which is the better.

Rogue Trooper (1st edition)

Back in the Eighties, GW had the license to publish games related to 2000AD properties, and Rogue Trooper was one of the beneficiaries of this. It was an excellent game. Players took on the roles of Genetic Infantrymen, scouring Nu Earth for clues to the identity of the traitor who betrayed the GIs in the Quartz Zone Massacre. In many ways, Runebound reminds me of RT, with its hex map and card-driven encounter and equipment systems. I took this game to university with me in my third year, when we'd all run out of drinking money, and it was a major hit. We were regularly able to put together six player games.

Block Mania (1st Edition)

Staying with the 2000AD theme, my brother picked up Block Mania and Mega Mania in GW Reading at a time when they were selling off all their non-Warhammer stuff in favour of focusing on their miniatures games. He got them for £5 each. He's since 'loaned' them to me on a semi-permanent basis, as his place is too small for stockpiling games. Block Mania players each take control of a hab block in Mega City One and try to do as much damage as possible to the other players' blocks before the Judges arrive to clear up. The end-game mechanic is great, as the game automates the arriving Judges and their assets, like H-wagons and riot foam. The players can't beat the law, but the game ends once all rioters have been dealt with.

Blood Royale (1st Edition)

A friend of mine bought this and then donated it to me when he left school. We used to play this when we should have been revising for our A-levels. It's a long but entertaining game of medieval power politics, which has elements of role-playing in it. You control a dynasty, rolling attributes for the various members of your dynasty as they are born, and seeking to arrange strategically beneficial marriages with other European noble houses. Like in Imperial, there was also scope for being disenfranchised - i .e. having your kingdom taken away from you, although invading and occupying another player's realm was hard, as you still had to pay your armies, and foreign territories had more scope to rebel. I also liked the way that knights killed in battle took 10 years to replace, representing the real losses to chivalric manpower medieval battles could wreak.

Space Hulk (1st edition)

Some would argue SH is not strictly a boardgame, but that is how it was original marketed. At the time GW was beginning to publish games that combined elements of miniatures and boardgaming together, and I suspect we're getting back there now with the likes of Tannhauser and Battles of Westeros. We played a bit of SH when we first got it, but then went on to lose the pieces having made a botched attempt to paint them all. I'm now in the process of replacing them by painting up contemporary GW Space Marines and Genestealers, which I will hopefully have ready soon. My brother was the real SH afficionado, and also managed to buy Deathwing, one of its supplements, before he went off it. I see supplements for all editions of this game are still trading for silly money on eBay. We recently played some Death Angel here in Brighton, although it was not quite the same.

Dark Future (1st edition)

Now THIS I have not played before. I recall seeing it covered in White Dwarf in some detail when GW was first marketing it, but it obviously didn't sell well enough, as the effort ground to a halt. I didn't have enough sterling to buy it either, and since then it has generally been trading for £50+ on eBay. Recently, however, I jumped into an auction for two copies plus some extra bits and pieces and got it for far less. It looks to me that quite some painting time will still need to be spent on it before it is ready, so will probably kick this project into Q3 or Q4.

Warrior Knights (2nd edition)

At the time GW first published WK it seemed like a great game. I was writing a PBM game concept with a school friend called Dominion which we intended to eventually turn into a money spinner (well, £250 a month seemed like a lot of money in 1988). WK WAS, to all intents and purposes, the same game, but smaller. Our idea, the Grand Duchy of Irongrim, was a little more like George Martin's Westeros in concept. It could well have worked, but we got detoured by A-levels, university, chicks, etc. Same old story really. I got the chance to play the second edition more recently in an epic session that went on to three o'clock in the morning. I've now got my own copy and hope to play it in 2012.

Blood Bowl (3rd Edition)

I bought 1e Blood Bowl in about 1989 (another GW sale) and took it to university, playing it a lot with my flat mate in the early 1990s in North London. I quickly learned that teams like the Halflings and Skaven were a bit underpowered! Later, I progressed to 2e when my brother bought it, and then more recently have been playing 3e using a Chaos team. Overall, I think I favour the latest edition over the previous incarnations of the game, which tended to drag on a bit. 3e Blood Bowl strikes me as the most suitable for league play, although some people I know find the heavy reliance on dice rolls to be frustrating. Still, if I get a couple of games of this in during 2012, I'll be happy.

The big question is whether Talisman, which was arguably the most successful of the GW boardgame releases of the Eighties, is too close to Runebound to warrant buying...? I've never played it, so difficult to compare. I distinctly remember standing in a book store in Worcester faced with a choice between the first edition of Warhammer, ICE's Fellowship of the Ring, and GW's Talisman, but only having enough money to buy one. In the end I went with Warhammer.

That's pretty much it. I've recently been playing some of the scenarios from the Blood Bath At Orc's Drift campaign pack, which was released by GW in the 1980s for Warhammer. You can read more about it here. The plan next year is to continue with this campaign, and hopefully take it to its conclusion, using the Lord of the Rings rules from GW.

1 comment:

  1. All of thee Dark Future rules -- including White Dwarf articles -- are available from GW's website, something I've always found a bit bizarre given their usual habit of forgetting their older games.

    I adore Blood Bowl, so I'd be happy to take you up on a game. Just say when!