Thursday, November 12, 2015

You're So Chuffing Special

Well well. Games Workshop has already surprised me once this year by producing a version of Warhammer Fantasy Battle with charm and character and -- most surprising of all -- a sensible price point. I thought that was a one-off and that the company would soon return to its predictable and unadventurous form, but it seems that I was quite wrong.

Back in the good old days Games Workshop produced all sorts of wonderful stuff but as time went on, more and more of the interesting games disappeared and the company began to focus its attentions on Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy Battle and, in later years, The Lord of the Rings. Some of those other games survived for a while as part of the so-called Specialist Games brand before that too shuffled off into oblivion.

The Specialist Games family included Blood Bowl -- one of the greatest board games ever created -- and Necromunda and Mordheim, two smaller-scale skirmish war games that I have never played but are always being discussed in glowing terms by those who have. The Specialist Games site also hosted the Dark Future rules as a free download for years after the game went out of print, a gesture that was so uncharacteristic of Games Workshop that it seemed like it could only be some sort of clerical error or cyber-vandalism.

Anyway, the point is that it was a sad day when the Specialist Games division disappeared.

Today, Games Workshop announced that it's setting up a new Specialist Design Studio and some of the upcoming titles include Blood Bowl and Necromunda. This has come as a bit of a surprise; even after the official announcement, it still feels like a hoax. Games Workshop said these games weren't worth supporting, that the cost was too much and the audience too small, and yet here we are.

I wonder if it's because this ponderous giant of an organisation that doesn't do market research and doesn't watch what its competitors are doing has at long last noticed that Fantasy Flight is making plenty of money republishing old Games Workshop board games and role-playing games, that Hawk Wargames is doing well with something that looks a lot like Space Marine, and that Mantic has had considerable success with more or less reviving the entire Specialist Games range?

Perhaps it's something more boring about maintaining copyrights and trademarks, or maybe there's someone new in charge who has a fondness for the old days. Perhaps the company is desperate and is trying anything to win back customers. Whatever the reasons behind the move, it's exciting news and I'll be watching this new studio with interest.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting times!

    In the world of the internet and the long tail you'd think there ought to be a way of GW making some money out of their "specialist" games (a slightly bizarre label which I'll try not to dwell on). I was wondering whether the buzz around Frostgrave might also factor in there along with Mantic's success in why these merit a second look, never mind that Mordheim's now safely sealed off in the past so considerably easier from a branding / game universe perspective. But I notice there's no mention of it in the announcement, so maybe no joy there :(

    The main potential fly in the ointment I can see with Necromunda is (presumably) the need to maintain a consistent narrative with its much bigger cousin, and hence not only overhead for this new studio but also potential disappointment for the fans.

    But meanwhile let's see, and as you say watch with interest...