Video games aren’t the only pastime that has thrived during lockdown, as the original Warhammer tabletop game becomes more popular than ever.
Games Workshop is a company that has inspired a cult like following in the 45 years it has catered to tabletop fantasy battle enthusiasts, but now things seem to have changed and it may finally be cool to say you play Warhammer. Thanks to the lockdown there has been a proliferation of online groups in recent months, as players old and new start to build their armies. It’s become a running joke that Games Workshop is single-handedly supporting the UK economy, as it is now officially the best performing retailer of the last decade.
If all you’ve ever done is walk past a Games Workshop shop you could’ve been mistaken for thinking Warhammer is just for teenagers with hours to spend setting up intricately modelled landscapes and battlegrounds, to populate with armies of orcs, elves, and humans. After all, players command these armies, all of which have different stats and abilities, across spaces defined by school rulers.
Gameplay involves rolling dice to resolve combat but you’ll only win by knowing your opponent’s weaknesses. Beware of getting involved if you enjoy a tidy house though, as playing may mean you have to sacrifice your living room floor completely to Goblins riding Squigs.
For those who prefer to imagine they are battling in space Warhammer 40,000, with its Space Marine super-warriors in mechanised suits, has great sci-fi appeal. Inspired by Aliens and Star Wars, rather than Tolkien, extraterrestrial armies such as the Tyranids and the Eldar stride across alien landscapes and/or your dinner table. 40K now even has a Borg and Terminator inspired race called Necrons, which include skeletons with ray guns.
Beyond playing the game as intended, building and painting an army can be a lot of fun on its own and last year Games Workshop released a Recruit Edition of Warhammer 40K which is a great place to start. The set includes a handful of miniatures, dice, range rulers, a mat, and a Recruit Manual featuring each unit’s datasheet and guidance to help you learn the basics of the game.
There’s also a new Start Collecting series which is a great way to introduce yourself to a new army or add to your existing force, as well as saving you some money. These pre-made armies range from Goblins to Space Marines and are also popular with veteran players. For example, the Fungal Loonhorde box set is a great addition to any Night Goblin army and includes six stone trolls, whose magical resistance and natural armour make them a strong choice against magical units, and 10 Squig hoppers – which are basically bouncing balls of teeth, totally without fear and a deep hatred for Dwarves.
Those familiar with Warhammer have seen it go through several editions, some more successful than others. Games Workshop threw out the rule book when they introduced Age of Sigmar in 2015, doing away with standard fantasy tropes and stereotypes. Age of Sigmar carved itself a new world inhabited by the human Stormcast Eternals, who worshipped the god Sigmar.
Stealing a lot of designs and mechanics from Warhammer 40K, it’s a game of pared down, loose units designed for a faster paced experience. Not everyone was happy with this new, simpler set-up though and some still favour the old Warhammer over this dramatic simplification, which lacks the deeper tactical play of the original. Many miss the ambiguous rules that created unique styles of play from group to group, as well as the heavy army books that have now been replaced by shorter warscrolls. But your shelves will thank you and Warhammer is arguably a more accessible experience because of these changes.
Lockdown has seen many confined to their home and in some cases moving back in with the parents. Rooting through your loft and finding old armies from earlier editions of Warhammer has now become extremely profitable, with prices soaring in the last year. There’s nothing to stop you playing with these familiar models though, as Games Workshop has also published conversion rules for their existing range of miniatures. But for reinforcements you’ll have to spend your time scouring dedicated Facebook marketplaces with ever increasing price tags.
Make no mistake, Warhammer is not a cheap hobby. It can be seen as comparable in price to buying a new PlayStation 5 game every month, just without the initial layout for a console. The Age of Sigmar starter set comes with everything you need for around £75. If you are willing to splash out there are some more aspirational miniatures, such as the customisable Mega-Gargant for Age of Sigmar or the huge Baneblade tank for 40K. These miniatures will set you back around £100 each but are the pride of Games Workshops sculptors and end up a highlight of any player’s army.
Warhammer has some serious competition in the likes of American company Privateer Press, who made War Machine in response to many of the issues people had with Games Workshop. Guildball by Steamforged, with its precise rules and measurements, is a homage to Games Workshop’s Blood Bowl, with a football sports theme rather than all-out war. A competitor for 40K is Corvus Belli’s sci-fi skirmish game Infinity, although it’s overly complex and too often your fate is sealed by the roll of a die instead of a cunning strategy.
For the moment Warhammer is definitely less about playing and more about painting and collecting. But there’s a surge of nostalgia for the old metal miniatures and hushed whispers of the return of square bases. Warhammer has never been more popular and it’s going to be fascinating to see what happens when the pandemic is over and Games Workshop’s captive audience disappears. Some, no doubt, will lose interest but the golden age of Warhammer may still be yet to come.
By Lucy Orr
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