Saturday, March 3, 2012

GW's Third Wheel

I woke up today and decided to write my most unpopular post ever.  I spent all week trying to choose between a number of subjects, but I couldn't seem to get myself motivated.  But this morning, I jumped from my bed filled with a passion, and that passion pushed me here...

Everyone knows that Games Workshop is a large company with many Divisions.  That being said, most people don't know that GW also does this with their games.  There are two divisions in that gaming world- 'Core' games and 'Specialist' games (at one point known as 'Fanatic' games).  More amazingly, people will assume that GW's Core games are Warhammer and 40k.  Little do they know that the Lord of the Rings game is also a Core game!

I bring this up for two reasons: 
1- The level of disrespect that GW gets for the LotR game is horrendous.  I plan on pimping the hell outta this game for a few reasons, but that'll come later.
2- The game itself is quite good, but too many gamers have become entrenched in their own 'way' and ignore this game altogether.  The engine itself is great, and this game does a great job of filling a niche in the miniatures-wargaming world.  And that's the reason I'll be pimpin' it...

Let's jump in and break this down:
So why did GW pick up and even place such an emphasis on this universe?  It's important to note that I have a great deal of experience in this subject, so let me spread the enlightenment and banish the ignorance...  There are many reasons that could rationally fit, but one is the real reason-

Market Share!!!

Wait, what?  What does that even mean?  It's simple, young one...  Not everyone is into knights and dragons (especially here in the US of A), and not everyone is into spacemen with guns and aliens.  That being true, every grownup in the world is familiar with the Hobbit and every person with even a small bit of interest in the realm of 'fantasy' was caught by the movies being released for Lord of the Rings.  Why would any company of strong values and specific focus not jump on this bandwagon?  Here's millions of customers that GW would suddenly gain access to.

Now I've heard customers over the years say that Star Wars or Harry Potter would be better than Lord of the Rings.  My response is that these people are idiots.  How can a wargame company make a game that 40k is already loosely based on?  How can a wargame company make a game about a bunch of kids and their adventures in a universe with no war?  Simple arguments, but gamers tend to be opinionated people, and not necessarily right.  Add to this the hatred of Star Wars by Trekkers such as myself (and even Star Wars fans hatred of the prequels), or the hatred of Harry Potter by true 'fantasy'-lovers as myself, and you lose a large portion of the customer base.  Needless to say, this was a good decision by GW and the amount of money that they made off that game proves it.

Last point here- I'm sure I'll get the comments of how few people who bought the game stuck with it and the 'bubble' burst on GW only a few years later.  I'm sure these comments will contend that this proves that the LotR game hurt GW more than it helped and again proves that GW's choice was a terrible one.  This is easy to answer.  First- both points are correct.  However, it's because the idiot staff in the stores at the time did NOT do their jobs, which is to spend time develping the customers from beginner to competent hobbyist.  Those red-shirts sat behind the registers and took peoples' money happily, only to get their monthly bonuses and not to 'make new hobbyists'.  I say this because I've witnessed myself, and my shops were always near the top of the list for LotR sales.  I can also say that most GW staff, being Warhammer or 40k players, didn't care about the LotR game.  This meant that very few stores saw any real support for the game and the bubble was bound to burst.  To prove that point- GW made all LotR blisters discounted 80% for staff in 2002.  Why?  Because even the 'Ivory Tower' noticed the lack of staff sales and was trying to inject a little passion.  Did it work?  A little, but certainly not long enough to guarantee the 'bubble' wouldn't burst.  And there you have it.

Now onto the more fun, less marketting side- the game itself!
GW really filled a niche in the wargaming world when they produced this game.  The advantages to the game fit clearly into three categories- the models, the rules, and the scale.

First, the models.  So many other wargames, from GW or from other companies, use the 'epic' scale on the miniatures.  The hands are bigger, the armor and weapons unrealistic, or the features are overblown on the minis.  Reaper and Rakham make fantastic fantasy models, but at 28mm and using this 'epic' style, don't always 'fit'.  I love those companies and minis, but my DnD games should not be populated by Barbarians that are nearly the size of the Dragons they're fighting- while holding swords that three men couldn't swing together!  LotR miniatures are in 25mm and exhibit realistic features (they do this to copy the movies and therefore the real humans that portrayed those characters).  I can't lie, but I find these models so much more attractive.  But that's just me...  Add to that the phenomenal models that GW made and you really have a winner.  Do I think that LotR models are better than Confrontation or even Warhammer models?  No, but I do consider them great for the realistic style they portray.

Second, the rules.  Warhammer and even 40k are 'conditional' rulesets.  FoW is even worse for that 'if so, then' habit.  Some games use the 'turn-by-turn' sequence while others use the 'integrated activation' format.  Some games use the 'buff' style (see also, WarMachine) where all other models can't act until one 'leader' does their thing.  Worst of all are the games that require chart after chart to determine what happens.  Not LotR.  The Strategy Battle game is as simple as it gets, yet still very complicated in tactics.  Every model moves, then shoots, then moves again to 'assault' someone, then fights.  Even with the exceptions inherent to any ruleset, it took less than ten minutes to teach a newbie how to play.  The most complicated part of the game is the 'to wound' chart, but with a little study can be memorized as well.  I happen to be a fan of anything that is simple to start yet  not limitting later on.
  On this point, I've heard so many gamers complain that the rules weren't complicated enough and the game sucked.  When I asked how they played the game, the response was almost universally that they only played a 'demo game' and their entire opinion was based on that one or very few experiences.  That makes me sad, and I promise that some of the best games I've ever played were LotR.  Remember, this comes from a long-time wargamer and 40k player. 

Finally, the scale.  Yes, there are alot of smaller 'Skirmish-games' out there.  Yes, 40k can be played at a smaller size (Warhammer not so much).  But LotR is always small enough to be played in a manner of minutes.  Not only are the rules simple enough so they don't slow the game down, but the number of models and the objective of the game means that a collection of a dozen 'doods' and a spare half-hour during lunch-break is just as much fun as a massive tournament game situation.  In fact, the game scales better at around 350-500 points, which rarely leads to more than 30 models!  The cost to collect a force rarely tops $100 (even at tournie-size, unless characters and rarer metal models are the player's focus) and the gaming area itself is as small as a coffee table or as large as a card table.  Everything about the Lord of the Rings game is about small, intimate conflicts between a good force and an evil force. 
  I do have to note here that there is a much larger-scale version of the game known as War of the Ring.  I also have to note that 'cheeze' is still prevelant in the tournament scene for the normal game, but dice controls the majority of the action.  This means that the scale of the game is not only small in collection and area, but also in competitive nature.  The game is limitted to a fun battle to tell a good story.  Anything else is the normal wargamer putting their own 'spin' on it to get something more akin to other, different games.  Again, it makes me sad.

If these arguments aren't enough to make you wanna investigate more about the game, then stay tuned for more.  In the future, I'll put up pictures of my painted collection, how-to articles on playing the game, and tactics.  But until that undetermined time, I highly suggest you check the game out.  It may be GW's 'third wheel', but it's alot more fun and cooler than the community seems to think.  And remember, this coming from a wargamer who grew up on 40k.  That's gotta mean something...

Let me know what y'all think, and of course,
Happy Gaming!

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