I've been a mech-head for forever. Whether it was Transformers, Beast Wars, the giant megazords in Power Rangers, or my first brush with anime - Gundam Wing, I wanted to watch anything that had a giant robot in it. After some years of having had my fantasy itch scratched with the likes of The Hobbit, The Legend of Zelda, MtG, and Mage Knight, I was beyond pumped for the likes of MechWarrior. Well, to say Mage Knight had left me pumped is a bit of a misidentification. I had played from about 2001 until the game was canned in 2005, this, in turn set Mechwarrior to fill my time and budget throughout high school.
MechWarrior managed to tick all the right boxes for me. My home community was exceptionally skilled, hosting at least one world champion and several other regional champs, and it drove the group to play better, and write better lists. Similarly, in the beginning, there were real perks to taking an army composed of the same faction, or even a few factions unified with an alliance upgrade. But, late in its life, something happened with the last set(s) that were supposed to be released. There's a few different versions of the tale, but the long and the short of it is that boosters were discontinued and the game went to a series of box sets for its last year or so of production. There was some limited experimentation with faction branded sets, but that was quickly dropped as they company released a barrage of some 36 mercenary mechs in various sets. These were models that could work for any faction for a price, but ultimately, if your army was composed exclusively of them, you didn't need to pay that tax. Included with some of these was a spin off rule set for a faster, smaller game, with variant win conditions, but on the whole, it was significantly divergent from the traditional method of play.
And then, just like that, MechWarrior had breathed its last, no whispers of unreleased product, no leaks of a future that could have been, just the end. The timing was convenient enough as the home group had just started dabbling in Monsterpocalypse, but either way, I was off to school, and out to pick up a game to play with new people, since I knew that Mechs and Monsters would still be at home for me. And lo I was brought into the fold with 40k. 5th edition was just a year old or so, Space Wolves were fast approaching, WM/H's playgroup was hit or miss, and nobody, I mean nobody was playing Fantasy. So, whether or not it was a perfect fit for me, I found myself buying Assault on Black Reach.
Previously in games, my tactic was to find the big, heavy hitting units, that were incredibly durable, and maximize those. Similarly, coming from MechWarrior, I was expecting a shooting based game. These expectations and experiences would give me a rotten start to 40k. From the time I pulled the demo out of the box, I had so many questions. Why couldn't I measure ranges? Why did rapid fire weapons suck? And the only answer I got was 'that's 5th edition for you'. This caused a little dissonance for me, as every other game I had played operated on a single rule set and simply released new product for it. More to the point, product was released more often than twice a year, and when anyone got it, everyone got it. Every card or miniature game I had ever played was this way, so seeing a 'D&D' style edition system was unique. So, in response to these gripes, I decided to focus on fielding terminators. They had a better save, shot longer range, shot more, and could move and shoot effectively, in addition to toting an invulnerable save. They seemed like the total package.
Only, as most of us know, they aren't. At all. But my regular opponent the next dorm over had already decided he wasn't going to teach me necessarily. He was just going to beat me two or three games a night, two or three nights a week. His list never changed, but neither did mine really. I had sunk a fair amount of money into trying to make terminators work, and on college funds, it was tricky to try to find the time or money to afford new units. These almost regularly scheduled beatings nearly pushed me out of 40k, and gaming all together, as Standard had never really been my thing for Magic.
Ultimately, as my regulars will know, I'm already back at this point in some ways. The product I got is not initially what I signed on for. 5th edition was clunky and saddled with a host of other problems. Fast forward to 7th edition, where I had hoped Maelstrom would keep me hooked, and I find myself incredibly disinterested in a mission type that rewards seemingly increasingly toxic elements of 40k. And this is the crossroads of my issues with GW. They keep charging me for more rules, but typically offer little in the way of new product. For a models company, this makes me scratch my head. Outside of Orks and Harlequins, new model releases have been limited. Sure, we've gotten 'new' kits, but they've been re-releases of older, out of date kits. In fact, since Dark Eldar and Necrons got their relaunches, 6th edition was defined by the Knight class models, even into the Ork one at the start of 7th, and the Warden sprue for the Imperial kit. Other than that? We saw Grimnar on his sled, and the Harlequins. Admittedly, Chaos and Dark Angels saw new kits, but no Knight class models. In fact, given how those codices shook out, I really want to call them 5th edition codices. And that's a repeated pattern with 7th. Everything before Necrons feels like a 6th edition codex, but with minor extras tacked on.
And, by that token, we here at Rites have been fondly reminiscing on those isolated points where a new edition has been 'rounded out'. There's a tier one list, but it doesn't feel worlds away from the rest of the lists. More to the point, the most common point we enjoyed was the bubble between the Dark Angels and Daemons releases, early in 6th edition, before the string that forced us into 7th: Daemons, Tau, Eldar, and Space Marines. Tau have fallen back from the top of those boards, but the others have a nigh unassailable hold on the top tables, even after their new codices. This baffles me, and brings us all the way to now.
That's right, story time has lead up to my rant about Age of Sigmar. In theory, this has been the most significant re-branding or restructuring or relaunch of any GW product since I've started playing. Possibly even larger than the hop from Rogue Trader to 40k if what I hear is to be believed. Why? Because GW's beloved first child, Fantasy, was dying under the crushing weight of 'archaic' rules and immense buy in cost. I don't know if Fantasy was actually making money or not, but, if the End Times were anything to go by, there ended up being more of a fanbase than expected. To that end, GW had seemingly planned a (debate-ably) quiet sendoff for 8th edition, with plans to relaunch or re-brand the game in some way, even if it was just 9th edition.
To me, this leads to one of the first problems with Fantasy and GW's handling of it, which shows some of its self in 40k as well, and it is this: the graybeards. Those people who have been playing the game for a very long time, and who have little reason to invest in new units, and sometimes even lack significant reason to invest in new rules, especially if their play group has decided to stick to the rule set of a previous edition. To this end, GW likely felt little fiscal responsibility to appease this part of their player base. Similarly, it explains why GW keeps re-releasing old kits with new bits (bone swords, grav weapons, chapter specific kits), as well as their seemingly idiotic faults and failings of balance, as they're designed to drive sales. This, for me, is the first chink in GW's armor. Even if Privateer Press and Fantasy Flight and Wizards of the Coast are all in business exclusively for business sake, they tend to do a pretty respectable job of shielding their consumer base from just feeling like they're in the Matrix: trapped in a game they'll never win, working for an entity who places no value on them as a person. I've also used the analogy of the Wonka Factory with GW; they seem to proudly say they never read blogs, forums or tournament results. In fact, they had a Facebook page for a brief while, before it collapsed under weight of negativity and absolute lack of actual community interaction.
I digress, but we've covered where or why GW felt it was okay to radically change Fantasy: finances. But where else have they mis-stepped? Their rules. I've said it before, I'll say it again. With AoS, GW finally made a big push to identify themselves as a models company first, and rules company second. All the rules are free. And this moves them into competition with X-Wing and WM/H (a booming market), the rules are simple, straightforward, and fast. We're talking a system that's very capable of 50 minute rounds. But this sounds like praise, especially for my harping on 40k for its problem of 'you buy a rulebook and then throw it away when you buy your codex', especially when you consider the high praise I've had for X-Wing. It's a radical departure for GW to step up its game and produce a living rule set, and open up the opportunity to release kits 'whenever' and bolster a failing faction. But GW totally missed the point of those systems. Those systems drive sales with strong internal and external balance. Sales figures are predictable because everything is worth taking a look at - worth considering. You don't see a new product released for just one faction at a time unless it's an entire new faction and then it's about getting them a leg up into the game. GW, as we all know, took the 'no balance but that you find yourself' route, and gave us no system, setup, guidelines, rules, or boundaries. The closest they got was that 100 models per player will take all evening to play. Joy.
And then there's that little gem. If it's real (sources suggest it is), it is the first sign of GW going into what I can only hope is DEFCON 1. And it's an abysmal sign of that. For starters, it's a 'leaked' document, not something published by GW up front. And it's all about trying to sell imbalance. To me, it presents its self as dismissive and demeaning. GW doesn't say 'we messed up'. There's no tone of 'mea culpa'. Rather, this says 'try to placate the whiners in your stores'. And it's still abysmal. So, Nagash is equal to a skink priest? Skaven slaves are equal to
high elf Aelf swordsmen? No wonder this was done quietly. GW's still phoning it in, and they don't want us to know they don't care. All of this got me thinking, when was the last time they updated the FAQ for 40k? November 2014. And some of those FAQs are for codices that have gotten updated. GW is either too busy or too ignorant to even pull down old FAQ for codices which 'no longer exist'.
Where's that leave me? Questioning a lot of choices that brought me here, and where they'll take me from here. I recently had the chance to partake of an event that got a little fire back into me for 40k. I had a close game that had me sweating it out and pushing until the last die was rolled. But as enjoyable as it was, these events and reflections have led me to put my GW purchases on hold for the foreseeable future. I may grab something here or there for my marines, and grab a few things from FW to see if they kickstart my interest in 30k, but for the most part, my wallet is going to be parting ways with GW until they're willing to see that treating me as if I need them, rather than the other way around, is not a way to do business. I'll keep playing and keep writing, but don't expect to see me buying.