Barriers to Entry

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I think I mentioned here recently that I was gathering supplies to begin painting miniatures for my campaign — If I didn’t mention it before, I just did. Miniatures were always one of those things in my early D&D years, that seemed like they were purely for show purposes, not for gaming. Nevertheless, I remember buying large quantities of miniatures, even trying to paint a few. While my early attempts at painting never turned out well, likely because I never primed any of my miniatures and used acrylic paints, I think I’m mature enough at this point that I’m confident in my ability to paint miniatures — given the right tools.

I was reading Mike Mearls’ LiveJournal a few days ago and noticed that he, too, was gearing up to paint and play some Warhammer 40k. Since I know the owner of a Games Workshop store around here I tend to have a lot of exposure to Games Workshop models. I was even consulting with the owner of the store about the possibility of buying Warhammer miniatures to use in my D&D game.

Warhammer and Warhammer 40k are some amazing games. The problem, though, is that unless you’ve got a few hundred dollars and a few hundred hours to spend, you’ll never play the games. The price, of course, is the major factor. When I was consulting about buying potential models I found that it would cost me $17 to buy a full set of “generic fantasy villagers” from the Mordheim line, or probably about $30 at retail. That’s just for the figures. Then you’ve got to consider that the figures need to be assembled, primed, and painted, and you’re looking at another $60 to $70. Granted, you’ll be able to reuse your paints and your primer for a few more sets of guys, but the problem is getting started.

I love Games Workshops’ fluff. Warhammer 40k especially has an amazing universe as the backdrop for their game. Their art is usually fantastic (although I think it has declined in recent years) — Bleak, gothic futuristic architecture. Blasted ruins brimming with hundreds of thousands of fearful alien beasts, surrounding the noble and brutal Space Marines. Even the humans in the setting seem — Inhuman. It seems like it would be a fun game to play, but let’s face it, I’m never going to dedicate enough money or time to build an entire army.

Mass combat games are dead. The computer can do it better. There’s no reason for me to want to play the Warhammer tabletop games except as a way to develop unique stories. And I don’t need 2000 points of miniatures to tell a story, I need two, three, eight. I don’t want to field a whole squad of units whose only purpose is to be cannon fodder for my hero unit, I just want my hero units. If I’m going to use generic fodder I want it as easy and simple as possible — Prepainted, please. If I’m spending the effort to assemble and paint the unit you can bet I’m thinking about its story. A few years ago I bought a set of Dark Eldar. I only painted one or two, but I created a whole roster of each unit, their names and histories. These are units whose only purpose in the game as-written is to soak up fire and die.

Ultimately I have to wonder about Games Workshop’s business strategy. I can buy sets of 10 enamel paints at a craft store for $10, where Games Workshop official paints cost something $4 per half ounce. I can buy prepainted Dungeons and Dragons-line miniatures at around 50 cents per unit. Granted, the Dungeons and Dragons line miniatures are cheaper looking and usually are fantastic creatures rather than human-looking units, but still. When it comes down to dropping the better part of a hundred dollars on units against a few dollars the choice is obvious.

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