The split between Games Workshop and Fantasy Flight Games is the gaming world’s equivalent of the Brangelina split: whether you love them, are indifferent towards them, or fall somewhere in between, if you’re a gamer, you’re at least aware of these two companies and have likely played at least one of their myriad games. Whatever the reasons and whoever may be at fault (*looking at you, GW*), it’s clear who the biggest losers will be here: the members of the gaming community.
In the GW-FFG pairing, we witnessed what awesome things could come to be when the richness of GW’s intellectual properties was wedded to the excellent game design and mechanics that Fantasy Flight is known for: Chaos in the Old World; LCGs for both Warhammer Fantasy and 40K; an update of Talisman, followed by a 40K reimplementation; the Starcraft board game reborn as Forbidden Stars…Horus Heresy (What? You’ve never played Horus Heresy?).
The Games Workshop license allowed games to be created that made up for both companies’ biggest weaknesses: clunky, sometimes dated mechanics in GW’s games, and FFG’s somewhat derivative, lackluster settings. The two company’s strengths complement each other perfectly , and the resultant products are greater than the sum of their parts; now that the parts are splitting back up, neither one has me excited.
Games Workshop has over the past year or so ramped up its release schedule of boardgames set in the 40K universe. Based on the various reviews I’ve read, while the minis are their typical high-quality, the gameplay elements are fairly mediocre. The customer base for them is primarily 40K players who buy them for the minis and who may not even bother with the included game. They hold little appeal for people who are strictly boardgamers; their typical sticker price, while usually representing a savings on miniatures for 40K players, is still much higher than what people to whom $60 or more for a single game is often the norm. Combined with the necessity of spending a significant amount of time assembling miniatures before you can even play the game (note that this doesn’t even take painting them into account), this makes them a non-starter for gamers who don’t dip into both the boardgame and miniature gaming pools.
On the other side of the fence, Fantasy Flight recently announced their new Runewars Miniatures game, which is scheduled to be released next year. Runewars is one of my absolute favorite boardgames, but I don’t know if I’d get into a miniatures game based on it.
I respect Fantasy Flight’s attempt to break into new territory with their upcoming Runewars Miniatures, and I suspect that they would have preferred continuing the license, focusing on what they’re good at rather than trying to create a new product to compete with their former partner, but I don’t feel confident that this one will have much impact or staying power. For one thing, unless they change aspects of their manufacturing processes, I feel that they may be venturing too far out from their core competencies. The quality of their minis included in their board games have always been very high — for board games. Compare them to almost any other bona fide miniatures company, and their relative quality is debatable.
I also find the combination of promoting the hobby aspect of painting miniatures combined with flat, 2D terrain to be strange and unappealing. I understand the necessity of flat terrain pieces when utilizing the Flightpath system, but it doesn’t negate my apprehensiveness. Flat terrain works with games like X-Wing and Armada where the terrain doesn’t take up a significant portion of the table and where flat terrain that miniatures can sit on top of helps enhance the sense of 3-dimensional movement on a 2-dimensional plane; but these games comfortably occupy a different space than what Runewars Miniatures will; while technically miniatures games, they’re really a hybrid between miniatures games and boardgames. They feature the collecting, army-building and free tabletop movement aspects of miniatures games, but they lack the features that establishe miniatures games as a hobby in their own right, distinct from boardgames: painting miniatures and using three-dimensional terrain pieces.
However, the biggest concern with a miniatures game set in the world of Terrinoth stems from their main weakness: a lack of compelling, engaging IP. Their sci-fi and fantasy settings aren’t bad, but they’re not great. But to capture the attention span and dollars which are necessary to build a customer base for a succesful miniatures game, what is needed even more than a solid ruleset or even great miniatures is an awesome setting. If you’re asking customers to get involved in something that will require a significant investment of time and money over the long haul in order to fully experience, you’d better deliver something awesome that will make the investment worthwhile.
Tabletop gaming will continue to be popular after the FFG-GW split. While they are big names in the industry, the fact remains that they are only two players in a growing market. I’m sure that Fantasy Flight will continue to create great games and Games Workshop will continue producing high-quality miniatures, but the gaming world will be that much poorer over the loss of what could have been.