The other day I visited a local gaming club for the first time to play a game of Malifaux. I was thoroughly owned, but I intended to gloss over that and discuss a strange statement that came up. One of the guys expressed an interest in Malifaux and said that it made him want to play Necromunda and Mordheim again.
I have good memories of playing both of those games. The background that accompanied these rules was superb and it was lots of fun getting involved in my first skirmish level game. They were, in my opinion, terrible rules sets though. Shoe-horning the larger scale games mechanics into a smaller setting was lazy and in my opinion ineffective. The campaign systems were terrible and unbalanced. Characters rapidly became very powerful and it was far too effective to spam, for example taking many heroes in Mordheim or mass slings etc. So why on earth would you want to go back to that when there was a much more viable game with an obvious player base sitting right in front of you?
I have no idea why, when they mentioned it, I said if you do run a campaign sign me up.
I posed the question on twitter and ending up having a long conversation with Dominic Westerland, @dumbluck, about it. The first thing he said is that there isn't anything else that fills that niche. Although initially I thought he may have meant Sci-Fi and Fantasy skirmish rule sets, it seems the real lure of these games came from the campaign setting and character development.
I really struggle with games where there are rules for models gaining experience and gaining extra skills, it never feels 'right'. For example, my gang leader in Necromunda is a veteran of many fights but does not have access to any of the incredible skills available to a juve after his first fight. He can quickly become surpassed by the average ganger who makes a lucky roll. The very act of killing people does not make you stronger, experience and skills take a long time to learn. However, I can definitely see the attraction. When these models change they begin to build up a character in your head, it is a very powerful tool for making narrative games.
The next thing that came up, from when I tried to list games I thought could act as replacement fantasy and sci-fi skirmish games, is the concept of 'buying into a game'. One of the games I listed, which neither of us knew the name of but somehow we both understood each other, was described by Dominic as having awful models. I wasn't overly convinced by his assessment, but argued that if you don't like them you can simply get models from elsewhere and use them with the rules set. He argued that he prefers buying models designed for a game where possible because you are buying into the whole experience. The background, the style etc. are all represented. It is a very interesting point, one that could be expanded upon elsewhere and most likely should be investigated by miniature companies. I initially said that if the game rules are good I would just proxy, but the more I thought about it I realized that was not true. For example, I have been repeatedly told of the merits of Dreadball but when I didn't like the figures I didn't look any further. It seems that people prefer to buy into a whole game or not at all.
Are the old figures for GW skirmish games that great? Honestly, I don't think so, but they do have loads of character and I think this is where a sense of nostalgia really kicks in. When you look back on those old figures it really takes you back to the good old days of playing games as a kid. No other new rules set or models can do that. I called it gaming apathy on twitter, but that might be a very negative word, but I think that basically a few people have kept there old miniatures and rules and enough people have good memories for it to be an easy game to fall back to. It will take a very good game with great models to break the emotional attachment to these old games and replace them.
This has been quite a long ramble from me and I am sorry if it's not overly coherent but, basically, I think we have yet to have a game with good character progression rules and models nice enough to sever the emotional attachment we have to the old GW skirmish games. At least that's what I think, get in contact if you have any more thoughts. Until then.