Sunday, 20 November 2011
GW did a weird one-off game release recently for something called Dreadfleet. I didn't buy it because I objected to a load of things.
1 - It was £70
2 - It was another Space Hulk-style "teh limited" thing whereby they'd do one print run and then take the backup tapes with the manuscripts on and microwave them or something, trying to artificially create demand.(*)
3 - Their bizarre and secretive nature meant that they wouldn't tell you anything about it, clearly relying upon a docile herd of ruminant fanboys to go out and buy it anyway (which they didn't), either failing to realise or just not caring that Space Hulk was a known and much-loved quantity and Forthcoming Mystery Game isn't.
So, whilst I lack sales figures for it, it doesn't seem to have been much of a success and to be honest - if it hasn't been they fucking deserve that.
Anyway, when I found a review online that claimed it was the worst game that GW had ever put out (the review didn't put full stops between the words Worst, Game and Ever put may as well have done) my first, and somewhat smug thoughts were;
"What, worse that Trolls In the Pantry? Oii, That's My Leg? Combat Cards? Those cut-down versions of Battlefleet Gothic, Blood Bowl and Advanced Heroquest where you rolled the dice in the box lid? Reviewer is probably a 12 year old who started with the last edition of 40k."
I didn't expect to be morally chastened by the reviewer immediately explaining why the aforementioned GW miscellanea where all, in their own ways, better games than Dreadfleet. Colour me intrigued.
What I didn't realise was that quirkworthy.com is actually Jake Thornton, pro games designer and ex-WD editor. This is clearly pretty serious stuff if somebody like him is prepared to go public with opinions like that.
Jake's review highlights something about Dreadfleet and by extension GW that is starting to concern me. He's massively critical of it's randomness in that the randomness is moving control and tactical choice away from players. Dreadfleet effectively plays the players. (Yeah, I know - In Soviet Nottinghamshire Game Plays You!) and as a man who knows game design, Jake points out that this is a leveller between veteran player and novice.
Something I am picking up from Warhammer players at Stourbridge is that random charge moves and the randomness of magic is working to the detriment of the game. And we're a bit atypical at Stourbridge in that nobody played Warhammer until the last days of WFB7. I know that a lot of clubs and playing groups that had stuck with WFB for years have stepped away from 8 bemoaning the random nature of it and the the fact that it's suddenly inflated unit sizes seem a marketing decision, not a gaming decision.
Bang these three factors together - increased randomness in WFB, DF's totally random nature and a clear example of ledger sheet bottom line interfering in the design process and I'm starting to wonder if GW shirts have hit upon the random factor as a deliberate policy with which to make GW games more attractive for a beginner. Trouble getting started because everyone else is a veteran player with a well-tuned army? No problem any more as we'll remove player tactics from it and an good day you can easily beat "that guy".
If I'm right, then I suspect the forthcoming release of the next version of 40k could kill the game dead at Stourbridge. And that's a worry, not just for club numbers (we need a certain minimum to break even with the cost of room hire) but for GW's position within the market as "price makers" which might make other manufacturers follow this lead. Less of this tactical choice and rewarding skill please, but of this random bollocks whereby anyone can win.
(*) Everyone remembers the odd way that they found about 60,000 copies of SH in a warehouse a couple of weeks after the launch. Nearly all GW branches have some in the backroom if you ask nicely and the shop isn't full so we have the idiot and self-inflicted situation whereby they dare not lose face by admitting that it didn't sell out so would rather not sell surplus stock.