To a certain extent I chalk this up to tribalism. The cancellation of Warhammer Fantasy Battles and the introduction of Age of Sigmar was perhaps the most divisive event in the hobby's historey, and people are still bitter on both sides, heavily entrenched by this point after a cold war of burnt rulebooks, Youtube rants, and Manchild tantrums.
More than that, perhaps, I think that comparisons between the two games are misguided, because they are very different things. Warhammer Fantasy Battles (at least from 3rd edition onwards) was a mass battle game of tactical movement featuring the clash of large armies in a gritty and grimdark Renaissance-era Germanic pseudo-Europe. Age of Sigmar is a skirmish game with streamlined rules and characterful forces in a High Fantasy planar kitchen-sink setting. Neither game attempts or succeeds to do the same thing as the other, the only thing the share in common is some IP elements, many of which are in the slow process of being re-interpreted as Age of Sigmnar defines itself.
But that's a "reasonable" position, meaning it has very little traction in internet arguments fueled primarily by emotion, one-upmanship, and the unfortunately consumerist Geek tendency to define oneself by the Things that one buys, so any criticism of those Things is taken as a personal attack.
And it's in that environment we get the current "hot take" from Spikey Bitz contributor Jack Stover, an "article" of the Clickbaity title ""Oldhammer Died For Good Reason".
Consider this me taking the bait, I suppose, but the post in question is such a morass of ignorance, self-absorption, and logical fallicies that I can''t help but indulge in a ranty response. At the least, however, I am doing this on my own website, rather than engaging in the comments section.
Anyhow, there's a lot of stupid to get through here, so I'll be taking this piece by piece. For anyone that can't be bothered, the TL;DR version is simply...
OK, not even through the first sentence (actually, the issue starts with the article's title), and we have one of the most prevalent mis-steps with the article. The author constantly erroneously uses the term "Oldhammer", something he apparently only ever heard once in passing online somewhere, misunderstood, and did not bother to do even the most rudimentary degree of research regarding. This is why I have to put the word "article" in quotations - this ...blog?...fails at even the most basic standards of journalism, even for an editorial. This is essentially verbal diarrhea online, the equivalent of an extended Twitter Tweet, and from the outset the "author" let's us know his utter lack of credibility,
So, to explain, The Oldhammer movement started before the end of WFB and the introduction of AOS, spurned on by a disatisfaction with the direction of the 7th and 8th edition, and looking back to the playstyle, aesthetics, and setting of the game in it's early editions, when the Old World was a very different place from what it became after the corporatization beginning with 4th edition. To a large extent the Oldhammer community could be closely compared the The OSR of role-playing games.
Like the OSR, Oldhammer is hard to succinctly define, involving a matrix of forums, blogs, and social media groups, and encompasses a mix of archaeological nostalgia, DIY gaming ideologiy, and an art movement.
However, from the outset, Oldhammer has had a very definitive, logical, and defendable border. Oldhammer represents not just Warhammer, but Games Workshop itself, at a very specific moment in time, namely the period between 1st through 3rd edition.
While there is a bit of overlap into the beginnings of 4th edition, it was also clearly in this edition that the approach and intention of the game's rules were radically altered from what came before. Oldhammer is a game of dark tongue-in-cheek British humour mixed with Thatcherian political subversiveness, bad puns, and a toolbox approach to rules. Oldhammer featured a Gamemaster, narrative scenarios, and "build-it-yourself" units, characters, and war machines. The setting was being built from the ground up in a creative hurricane of pop-culture references, real world history, and grimdark Gilliam-esque in-jokes.
In contrast, by the time of 8th edition, WFB had completed it's stark transition to a tournament-based game aimed at adolescents, with "official" rules and characters that activelly opposed player in-put or creativity, and scrubbed clean of any sense of humour or "politically incorrect" elements such as one-eyed rape monsters, lobotomized slaves, or tacit endorsements of the French Revolution.
The period from 4th edition to 6th birthed it's own offshoot community, affectionately referred to as Middlehammer.
After the End Times, disenfranchised fans of later editions who didn't flock to Kings of War or give up the hobby altogether in a storm of angst, splintered to various fan-based retroclones.
So...where were we?
Don't get me wrong, I liked the 90s just fine, even if my point of reference as part of Generation X is less Nokia phones and...name-brand trousers?...and more alternative rock concerts, vertigo comics, and probably a bunch of shows the author's parents wouldn't let him watch.
This seems like an appropriate chance to use the phrase
Warhammer Fantasy RPG"
It would take longer to set up a game of AOS than an equivalent point level of WFB, because it's all individually-based with no use of movement trays, which makes this "argument" doubly fallacious.
I was expecting some spiteful hyperbole after the nonsense before this point, but as I'm unable to detect even a hint of humorous exaggeration in this complaint, all I can assume is that it reflects some particular deficiency unique to Mr. Stover.
Here’s the biggest problem with [redacted mis-usesd term] Nothing worked out of the box."
But...40K? You think you can play a game of 8th edition 40K with a single box of marines? WTF? No. No, not even a little bit. Either Mr. Stover has never played 40K or he is being deliberately disingenuous. It's kinda hard to decide which is worse.
At this point I'm kinda thinking maybe we're just being punked. I mean, this seems more like deliberate stupidity to gain controversy. Was Spikey Bitz numbers dipping a bit? Is Stover just trolling to whip up a flame war for the comment section?
Anyways, at this point another, possibly extremely illuminating fact about Mr. Stover is let slip I think. Let me call attention to the sentence "Throw them on their bases and glue bolters into their hands, you’re ready to play.". Notice anything missing?
Yeah, not a word about painting those miniatures.
Is Mr. Stover one of those perniciuous blights on the hobby who doesn't have enough respect for his fellow players to throw a few basecoats or a wash on their unpainted plastic?
That aside though, this is where the entire argument falls apart entirely. Warhammer Fantasy was a wargame. It was a clash of armies. Stover is complaining that armies contain more than one small unit - in other words, this criticism comes down to - " this game that isn't a skirmish game isn't a skirmish game. "
It's basically like saying "one of the reasons a brand of car isn't any good is because it isn't a boat". So while I started out acceding the point I thought he was making to some degree, it turned out to be the most inane criticism yet.
Or unwilling to play with anything but "official" GW models? You know that WFB can be played in 15mm or 10mm if you wanted? That's right, you could have a 5000K Warhammer army for less than the cost of an AOS starter box.
Ah, but that sort of attitude is probably too genuinely Oldhammer for you to wrap your head around.
Regardless, it's completely irrelevant. AOS being "good" in anyone's subjective opinion does not make any other game inherently "bad". That such an implication is made as an attempted argument only serves to display Stover's tribalism more starkly.
I almost get the feeling from this that he is somehow concerned that the return of Warhammer Fantasy is going to mean the end of AOS, despite there being no indication that is the case. Quite the opposite.
A less charitable interpretation is that this is Stover essentially saying "you should like what I like, and if you like something else you are wrong". Eerily similar to my reaction to Venturella's diatribe against display boards.
This is my personal opinion t hat is not shared, endorsed, or supported by Spikey Bits or any of its associates. So don’t go crying about how Spikey Bits are a bunch of salty anti-GW contrarians and go hunting for Rob Baer’s blood, come hunting for mine. (You won’t, because you won’t read this deep into the article anyway.) If your primary place for gaming is a Games Workshop store, then you can’t play [NOT] Oldhammer.
Because [NOT] Oldhammer requires 8×4 feet of flat, continuous table space. You cannot cram all your armies, dice, books, and peripherals on a six-foot table and play [NOT] Oldhammer. Ask any serious [NOT} Oldhammer player and they’ll tell you I’m right. Or even better…they’ll give you a waffling answer like “Well, you really only need a six-foot table but…”
Most GW stores no longer have this kind of space. They have six-foot Realm of Battle tile tables set up, and Realm of Battle tiles are half hills. [NOT] Oldhammer models on regiment trays can’t stand on Realm of Battle hills. They slide off of them."
Seriously, this is REALLY grasping at straws at this point.
Plus, WTF is a "serious Oldhammer player"?
It's funny how much those phrases make it sound like someone is lying.
I have nothing against any of those games. I particularly enjoy Kill Team, I think it's one of the best games GW has ever done. But none of those are mass battle games. They aren't comparable OR substitutes for Warhammer Fantasy Battles.
Again, Stover is just basically saying "these boats are better than that car"
Ultimately I can't tell if Stover is just trolling or he's an idiot. I'm not sure which is the better option. But in the end, I wrote this response for me, not for him, so it's my time to waste. If Spikey Bitz gets a few extra clicks because of it and that was all their goal was overall, in the end I don't really mind that. But there are better ways to sustain a website.
Anyways, this did get me thinking about my own personal criticism of the final edition of Warhammer Fantasy, something I posted about recently in an unrelated online forum conversation, and since it's relevant I think I'll repost it here, if only to show how far from the (very easy) mark Stover's attempt fell short.
1. Size of effective units. I played Skaven. What this meant was, that for a competitive minimum force (2000 points, because the game was horribly unbalanced below that point, and I don't have the 6-8 hours free time to play 3K or higher) that meant two blocks of 50 slaves, 3 units of at least 40 clanrats, 1 or more unit of 30-40 Stormvermin...and already that is 250 miniatures, add another 50 in special units, characters, and warmachines. Some armies didn't have it THAT bad...Skaven are a horde army after all...but GW's pricing structure made damn sure you were still paying the same amount.
I could almost (alllllllmost) forgive those punks at the GW store playing with unpainted minis.
And, to be frank, I did use unit fillers.
1b. Ultimately I will say though, that the amount of minis wasn't my main problem. I actually really liked the visual spectacle of two huge forces clashing on the battlefield. Moreso, it was that it was so many of the same models. Armies had a lot of unit choices, but a large portion of them were useless, or sub-optimal so that you were willingly putting yourself at a disadvantage fielding them. This unfortunately generally included the majority of "centerpiece" models. Those huge, monsters that are really fun to paint and cost 300 points to field? Yeah, sorry, taken out by cannons in the first round. Want to include a Verminlord? Yeah, sorry, no, not unless you're playing a 5000 point game and can afford to throw away 600 points on a cool looking model that will be gone by the third round. Slaves and Clanrats are the same models, and while there was a good variety of sculpts between Island of Blood and the Clanrat box, that is still months of painting 200 of the same unit figures. I got really good at painting Skaven, but I cannot say that I was getting anywhere near the enjoyment of painting my 150th Clanrat as I did the first 10 to 20.
2. The rulebook was HORRIBLY written and laid out. I mentioned previously the errata was as thick as the actual rules section. So much so, that they really should have just rewritten 8th and put out an 8.5 at some point during the game's life. What this meant was the game had a STEEP learning curve. I think, of the manymany games I played, there were probably only a handful of times (if that) that we didn't discover after the game that we had done something wrong. Not because any of my gaming circle were cheating, but because the rules were just so unclear and badly organized, and contained so many exceptions spread out nonsensically.
3. Multiple armies never got an update. That includes Skaven - I was stuck the entire life cycle of that game with a rulebook written for the previous edition. Armies like Breetonnia were even worse - I think they were still using a 6th edition army book. Which also sorta ties into...
3b. The armies were completely unbalanced. There was no oversight committee - the author of any given armybook basically did what they wanted, with the only caveat that the newest miniatures had to have the BEST rules, so they'd sell better. There was NO consistency, and some armies were lavished with effective rules, and others were like the neglected stepchildren . Think those Beastmen look cool? Sorry, your army sucks, and GW doesn't care, because dwarves sell better. Oh yeah, and that STEEP learning curve mentioned earlier? Well that applies here as well, because nobody is going to tell you that your choice of army sucks. You have to drop a grand on minis, spend weeks lavishing them with paint, and then field them long enough to realize that your inexperience and lack of familiarity with the rules isn't the reason you're constantly losing - your army just isn't as good as your opponent's. Compare THAT experience to the anger you felt when Monty Cook wrote about putting "trap options" in an RPG...
IV. So that also ties into the lack of an "entry point" for new players. I have mixed feelings about this one. I agree with the criticism, but I entered the game with 8th, after the ten years since I last put paintbrush to lead. So, there was an entry point, it was just a veryvery steep one - a mountain of money and time, as it were. And no, that's not a good thing. It's not a good thing that the "starter box" for the game didn't give two playable beginner forces - as a Skaven player it was just a cheap way to get clanrats. I bought 4 Island of Blood boxes and traded out 3 of the high elf halves for Skaven halves. That's what the "starter box" was for - it was essentially the equivalent of AOS's "start collecting" boxes.
5, Lack of customization. This was maybe the biggest one for me. I want my army, to be my army. I appreciate GW has some of the best fluff in fantasy wargaming (maybe fantasy as a genre overall) history. But I have an imagination too. I have an urge to customize, to create. Part of this is coming from a background as a roleplayer. But more than that, is that I started Warhammer with 3rd edition, and edition where you made your own characters, built your own units, even designed your own war machines. In 8th, the best you could do was decide on a magic item loadout for your generals. Of course, AOS would be way worse in that regard, but I still rankled at this.
6. The game's rules didn't match the fluff. Like, at all. I understood the need for compromise in the name of playability and balance, but the descriptions of units and creatures almost universally had no relationship to the statline and usefulness of the models in the game. Your armybook tells you that you are fielding badass warriors of the type legends are written, powerful monsters that strike terror in the hearts of all that face them, devastating weapons of war...and in game terms, that often meant "cannon fodder".
7. And then we get to what I really dislike about 8th edition the most. While I don't think 8th is, at it's heart, an overly complex game. - the organization, writing, and errata made it difficult to learn and implement the rules, but ultimately the rules were a very tight evolution of the Warhammer system ; nor will I ever claim it wasn't fun - I had an enormous amount of enjoyment playing 8th, and it effectively re-ignited my interest in miniature wargaming overall. To this day, there are times I miss it.
However, I am of the opinion that the ultimate goal of a wargamng system should be to provide a means of simulating warfare, even with the inclusion of fantasy elements such as magic and inhuman species. I am of the opinion that A general's ability to win should depend on superior tactical decisions, being clever and adaptable, and employing strategies just as a general in their position, in that world, would do so. And this is where 8th fails most spectacularly. You win 8th edition by gaming the system. "Tactics" are based on exploiting loopholes in the rules, strategies means correctly "list-building". 3rd edition is far away the most complex, most crunchy, and most unbalanced edition of the game, but it went out of it's way to add "real" military tactics and formations to the game. 8th is almost the opposite in this regard,; it is a "eurogame" to 3rd's "ameritrash"., and that ultimately means that when you play 8th edition, you are not playing the general of a fantasy army in the Warhammer world, you are simply playing a game.
Things I liked -
1. The magic system. To this day my favourite of any in any miniature wargame I've played or read. Simple, evocative, not a replacement for troops - you cannot win the game with any spell - but still impressive and powerful. It "feels" magical, which few magic systems even in RPGs even manage to pull off. And it does it without points or cards.
2. The focus on infantry. Unlike certain previous editions, core infantry is no longer just a "tax" paid just to field a legal army. Standard Core choices ultimately decide the battle,and thanks to steadfast and no more ‘front rank wipe’, anyone attacking a block of infantry needs to have a plan in place, and hit them with multiple units. No more opportunistic cavalry charges unrealistically breaking a mass of infantry three times their size.
2b. And on that same note, no more "Herohammer". Characters in 8th played the proper role of support, and you no longer had single powerful individuals that couldn't be killed, wading through hordes of infantry.
3. Random charges. I know some aren’t keen on this, but I find it adds much more strategy to the movement phase. Prior editions, one could comfortably hold their cavalry at 9″ away from most Infantry., and they could do nothing about it. Now rather than being used simply for hurling them into the first combat you can, and hoping for a ‘front rank wipe’, that increased movement is better off actually maneuvering into an advantageous position, to support a later combined charge.
3b. Add to that pre-measuring, and the the game overall played so much faster, without the headache of constantly trying to estimate inches, and the frustration of failed charges because your eyeballing of the gameboard was off by a quarter an inch.
IV. Artillery and shooting no longer dominates the game. You can do some damage to a unit, take out big single monsters, but your shooting is not going to win the entire game. The focus, once again, is on infantry, with ranged attacks in the role of support.
5. The glorious risk-reward subsystems. This particularly defined Skaven - there were so many opportunities to ""gamble", in proper chaotic Skaven fashion. Your Ratling gun could blow themselves up, or deal a ridiculous number of shots. Your doomwheel could charge into the flank of a horde, grinding and unleashing lightning, or it could fly off the edge of the table. Feeding some Slaves a bottle of Skavenbrew might turn them into savage beserkers, or just poison the lot of them.Technology and magic was volatile and unreliable, and this added so many surprises to the game that it was just as enjoyable to win or lose.
6. As mentioned before, regardless of how much effort went into painting, and how many ridiculous GW prices had to be paid, the spectacle of an 8th edition game was just breathtaking. I know Skirmish games are all the rage, but nothing satisfies me from a wargame more than the clash of huge armies on the board. 8th looked and felt like a battle between 2 armies,
7.Ultimately, the rules were fun. This is my counterpoint to my main complaint about the game. As much as I disliked that the game was not about real-world military tactics, however many loopholes the system left to be exploited, and regardless of how badly the rules were written, I enjoyed playing it immensely. More than I've ever enjoyed a game of AoS, more than I've ever enjoyed a game of 40K, and more than I've ever enjoyed a game of KoW. 8th edition was visceral, charming, flavourful, and epic. Every third party alternative I've tried has been a veggieburger to WFB's quarter pounder.
So, none of that is me advocating for a return of 8th edition. It was what it was, and it had it's time. There was plenty to criticize, and plenty to love. I have no clue what this new game will be, but I don't think it's going to be a "9th edition" or a continuation of 8th in any way. I HOPE it takes the classic WFB system, and does a new iteration of that, one that's streamlined, play-tested, and sustainable, in the same way that Horus Heresy has stuck with an older 40K system and exists separate from the edition treadmill. I HOPE that it's not just a rank and file variation of AoS, I think that would be a disaster. I HOPE that it's an oppurtunity to explore areas of the Warhammer world that were largely ignored or left barely fleshed-out (Kiev, Cathay, Nippon). I HOPE it embraces the dark humour that WFB once embodied. I HOPE it's an opportunity to revisit forgotten Warhammer creations, like Zoats and Fimir. And I HOPE it combines the balance, creativity, and DIY ethos of 6th edition, the customization of 3rd edition, and the good parts of 8th edition.
But, as they say, hope and 25 cents will get you a lollipop. I'm glad the Old World is coming back, but I don't put any stock in what I hope, I'll just wait and see.