Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Free Prize Inside! - Review of the New White Dwarf Format

So, this was my first White Dwarf issue purchase since, IDK, early high school?

I bought it because $9 for a magazine and a $30 model (that I could sell to make back the cost if I didn't like it), seemed completely risk-free. Plus, I do generally enjoy GW's board games and wanted to check that out.

This magazine is just full of it. It felt like everything and everyone was worthy of celebrity status- most notably, it contained about 40 pages of what amount to strictly advertisements (differentiated from most of the magazine, which, of course is promotion, in one way or another, of their lines), and another 40 pages of people's paint jobs (for more than half the total length).

 So... what does this leave, in terms of actual content?

-6 page of concept/design notes
-23 pages of board game rules (being generous here, so including things like a page that says these are board game rules)

-13 pages of hobby guides

Plus, some stuff that maybe counts...
-14 pages of battle report (I guess this counts?)
-6 pages of how they made a fancy battlefield
-the rest in really basic army background that you'd find in their respective army book

So... depending on how generous you're being, somewhere around 1/3 of the magazine is stuff that you couldn't find, on a hobby site, news site, or their own website, and 1/6 of the magazine had any lasting content (rules).

 (The first page of their introductory guide to Knights, which they called "the Ultimate" guide. First, short introductions aren't ultimate resources. Second,  it's mostly just photographs of models on their website with better backgrounds.)

Game rules
Skipping straight to said actual content, i.e. the worthwhile stuff.

There are a number of stat cards, but they're neither laid out so they can be cut out from the magazine, nor is there any sort of digital access to printable copies- but this is printed now, and not when I was in high school (like the aforementioned previous issue), so it's a bit lacking these days.

Deathwatch: Overkill
There's rules for 5 model new models and how to integrate them. However, it's a pretty good price point for added content, at $35 for a bunch of options, plus all your DW:OK models are usable in an army with the expansion squad.

Space Hulk
One page introduces Ducts and how to integrate them into any scenario; one page is a new mission specifically designed to use these rules.

I think this is great. It doesn't use new components, and adds what I think is the most necessary addition to the game: more options for the Genestealer force, plus a balancing mechanic. The scenario is nice, too.

Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth
This includes one new character (reusing an existing model), and options to vary forces in 6 scenarios. This adds a pretty nice bit of replay value. It, of course, encourages you to buy another copy of the game, but reasonably any 40k player will have a bunch of extra options.

Lost Patrol
Man, I really do hate this game edition. The option to replace scouts with Terminators is, in my opinion, basically a patch, and still, too little, too late. Those terminators are almost as expensive as the game, but, again, you probably have some lying around, unless you took the bait as an introductory board game.

Assassinorum: Execution Force
This includes 3 pages on adding the 4 basic daemon types (plus their command sections as modifiers, for 16 types) to your game, and then a page of 9 variant challenges.

Considering replay value is what most people complain about on this one, I think this is pretty nice. The rules are pretty basic, but if you've already got the units from playing other GW games, this is nice. Otherwise, this follows the trend of some overpriced expansion content.

This is a little awkward, since they needed to deal with treating this like a preview instead of an expansion. It comes with rules for the included free model, plus rules for incorporating two extra, higher-level characters. Not knowing anything about the game, umm, this seems... things?

Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower
There are two minis rules here: one for the above bonus model; one for the "famous" White Dwarf (more on this below). There are already a ton of heroes (IIRC around 40 at the time of writing this), so, this is pretty weak content, in my opinion. A new variant or scenario would have been more impressive than a pair of simple character additions in the flood of models they have already, one set of which was already released in two places already (still called a White Dwarf Exclusive, though?).

A Dward'in? ...Doo-ar-deen? ...D'warden? No idea how to pronounce their new IP.
Warhammer: Age of Sigmar
So... the White Dwarf. The handling of this guy really, really irritates me.

The rules, though, include a whole paragraph, which, in short, says in some of the most explicitly clear language I've ever seen GW publish, that the only way to legally field him is to buy their Unforged (I think this is some sort of re-branded trollslayer?) and paint it in the exact color scheme featured in the painting tutorial. Not, "paint one of our dwarves with white hair," or "use any White Dwarf model or this guy," or "duh, this is the model we recommend, since we've displayed him prominently," but "buy this model and paint it in this way, or you can't play our game" when they didn't even bother to make a unique sculpt but just repackaged an existing one.

It's just way too hard of a sell, and a jovial tone doesn't change the content. It reminds me of a lot of my complaints with Age of Sigmar, where it's these weird rules proscribing how you (the player) act while playing toys with your friend, rather than worthwhile rules.

It's just... immature- it's like you're over at your (10-year-old self's) 10-year-old friend's house, and he tells you you can't be the space man because space men have helmets and your toy doesn't have a one, except that friend is a multinational company that's been around for 40 years. (For the record, the magazine is rated 12+, for some reason- maybe England has a law about too many skulls?)

IDK how their new points system works, but he doesn't have a value, if he's supposed to.

Stormcloud Attack
This includes new rules for the new flyer. Seems like a reasonable addition. IDK, don't really know anything about the game.

Other Content
Design notes
The most prominent part of this was the Deathwatch section. This was a bit of a disappointment, because the reasoning behind the original, large-scale, Artemis model (the original Deathwatch marine) was one I thought was really intelligently thought out, and the notes felt very superficial.

They did provide a rules preview, but they were in a tiny, if legible, thumbnail about 4" wide. With all the padding in the magazine, I think they could have managed a couple pages to get you started trying out the army.

Considering that this issue previewed/launched 5 titles  (Gorechosen (board game); Deathwatch (army); Kill Team (starter); Death Masque (starter); Traitor's Hate (expansion)), the actual content related to these is pretty disappointing. There's basically nothing to do with strategy, rules, or options, minus maybe a page describing the testing/thought process for Deathwatch. The rest is just a lot of broad descriptions or ways of saying "you have a lot of options," or "look how cool," or some random flavor text. Given a fairly broad display of new content, they basically denied their readers any actual information, minus some weird little callouts.

Hobby Guides
Besides my irritation at the White Dwarf, there's some decent info here, to a few color schemes, and step-by-step, even if they inevitably use it mostly as a guide to all the paint brushes and trademarked colors you should be buying. It's decently well thought-out as introductory material for players getting in to the game, but I don't really know how sustainable that stuff is for a monthly format.

Battle Report
This was, eh, reasonably informative. It was about the closest to strategy that the entire issue really touched on. Unfortunately, the entire battle, as far as I can tell, was basically limited to "how high can you roll 1 specific d6, each turn?" and, short of skewed odds or fantastic strategies to affect the countdown, would have ended that way, based on how long things take and some averages. So, this was more of a fault of the underlying scenario than that of the report/players.

Well, the only important question is, will I keep buying?

The answer is, probably not. 25 pages of content and a decently nice model for $9 is a pretty good deal, and, if there are more like that, there's a decent chance I'll selectively buy an issue or two (which, I guess, is an improvement for them over none). But, cut either of those out or down (issue 2's cover has been leaked, and it has some sort of digital promo, and an unknown amount of rules), and there isn't much incentive that's not an astounding price for either models or rules, on their own, and I don't appreciate the hard sell for the rest of the magazine.

The rules portion of the magazine was perfectly passable: Some things allowed me to engage with more content with models and sets I already have; some had rules to expand games with boxed sets that are fairly reasonable and I might even buy, down the line- this did exactly what it should: reward people for their collections and encourage them to expand their collections.

But I don't need 100+ pages of magazine, to tell me how to buy or enjoy my toys the way the company proscribes.

A lot of the problem, honestly, is that there isn't really a need for magazines like this any more. The time, back in the 90's or even early 2000's when niche audiences were scattered and ineffective at networking/communicating, and trade magazines were a way to stay informed and engaged, are long dead. The greater online gaming community (mostly forums, and blogs like this one) that GW shunned provides all the leaks, discussion, knowledge base, and pretty painted models you need, and even carrying something around to casually and conveniently read isn't a niche it fills, since so many people (especially ones who already engage in this somewhat pricey hobby) already have ereaders and smart phones.

There's what could be a very content-heavy little 50-page magazine, but, true to the fashion of their settings, GW made one more bloated anachronism.

(Photos are from Games Workshop's website)

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