Hi everyone, I was reading Thuloid’s Adepticon report at the House of Paincakes this morning, and the discussion about Mantic got me thinking about the relationship between miniatures and rules. There was some interesting talk about Mantic’s Kings of War, and their strategy of capitalizing on Warhammer Fantasy Battle’s percieved mishandling. I realized that the current norm – companies that are combination miniatures manufacturers/rules producers – is, like most norms, an accident of history. Like many things in the fantasy (as opposed to historical) wargaming hobby, this norm can be traced to Games Workshop. Back in the 1980s Games Workshop was a tiny, system-agnostic wargames and RPG company, who partnered up with the then-growing Citadel miniatures company. Their mission was to design a game specifically to give people a reason to buy more Citadel miniatures which, at the time, were created and sold mainly for use as D&D characters. (By the way, I learned all this in an interview with Rick Priestley on the D6 Generation podcast.)
Back then, the people at Citadel and GW had astutely noticed that there was lots of money to be made with fantasy miniatures, if people only had a reason to keep buying them. So the process was begun, and over time the two entities became more and more closely enmeshed, until the relationship between Citadel and GW was totally symbiotic. The business model worked. We all know how dominant GW (as the symbiote is now commonly referred to) became in the world of fantasy wargaming. Other companies followed suit, and today we have a prevailing sense that this is just industry best practice. It feels as though not many creators even think twice about it: artists set about designing rules to match their creations, thinking that no-one will buy their models unless there is a game to play with them; and games designers seek out sculptors to create a proprietary, official model range that will illustrate their rules.
But there was a side effect of Games Workshop’s success, and it is one that shows us that perhaps things don’t have to be this way. The background of GW’s fantasy universes grew and became deeper, more complex and seasoned with age. As the company got richer, “real” SF authors were hired to write the inevitable novel tie-ins. Video games were produced. People who have never held a miniature have experienced the setting and loved it. Over time these universes became what, in the last few years, people have started to call “valuable IPs.” Perhaps more valuable now than the miniatures?
I don’t know. But I feel as though things have changed a lot since the 1980s. There is now a proliferation of media types, and in this age information is currency. A few years ago I rankled at the idea of an X-Box with no disc drive, but now I’m happily watching Netflix. This new information consciousness has even changed my attitude to other, older things. I now get books from the library much more often than I used to because why buy them? Information is independant of the physical media in which it manifests.
In terms of wargames, the setting and rules are the message; the unique part of the package. The miniatures are part of the physical medium, and thus could look like anything, or be anything: cardboard, 3D-printed, official or not, it doesn’t really matter. Of course this was always true, but it seems more true now, or at least more obvious. The idea of a line of official miniatures, backed by a game, being the mainstay of a company’s profit-generation made a lot of sense in the 1980s. Now I’m not so sure. A game with a proprietary set of miniatures that “must” be used? Miniatures that are only ever used to play one game? If these ideas seem a warm, comforting throwback to the pre-internet age to me, then how will they seem to my son in a few years? Pretty alien I imagine.
So I’m not sure where I’m going with all this. Just musing. But I look forward to a world where, alongside the proprietary games with their official model ranges, we have professional companies that make only high quality miniatures-agnostic rules, and artists forgetting about trying to write rules and focusing on creating wild and creative rules-agnostic miniatures, and others making alternative rules and models for the proprietary systems, and everything inside, outside, and in-between. Just like historical wargames. Oh, and players willing to take those rules and miniatures, and use them every now and then to throw down their WWII tank company against a squad of their mate’s Space Marines, or a band of some artist’s unique Wood Sprites, just to see who wins. I certainly would – it’s the sort of thing I did all the time as a kid. My brother and I once even sculpted our own gnomes and smurfs to use in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Let’s not forget, that’s why Warhammer 40,000 was invented: people wanted to use their SF and fantasy models all at once.
We can blow it all up if we want to.
Till next time, James