Games Workshop at the 2013 GAMA Trade Show

Painted miniature terrain from Cities of Death in foreground before Games Workshop banner displayGames Workshop had a much stronger presence at the 2013 GAMA Trade Show than the previous year. Still represented at GTS by North American Director of Sales Andre Kieren, GW hosted two Premier Presentations for retailers on Tuesday, March 19, ran a table at Wednesday’s Game Night, as well as exhibited in the Bally’s Convention Center.

Games Workshop Premier Presentation

Andre Kieren began his presentation by remarking that Games Workshop is “having a great year”. He asked for a show of hands from attending crowd, revealing that an overwhelming number of retailers attending already carry GW products. Most of the hands remained in the air when he asked whether they also run GW tournaments. The company has recovered from a dip in retail stores carrying GW products, going from a low of 700 independent gaming stores in 2006 to over 1400 now (presumably in North America). Kieren attributed the mid-decade dip to “poor customer service in the past”. One area that Andre Kieren touched on is Games Workshop’s new focus on running events for newcomers and he pointed to Wizards of the Coast’s consistent success in that specific arena. Even Escalation Leagues can be too much for newer players who may not have the resources or time to paint even a squad of Space Marines, so hosting events like Space Marine Paintball or a Kill Team activity could involve them further in the hobby, Kieren suggested.

GW Employee Andre Kieren addresses seated audience during Power Point presentation

Andrew Kieren Addresses Retailers at the Games Workshop Premier Presentation

The Modules and Retailers’ Unused Product Support

According to Andre Kieren, over 450 independent stockists have yet to use their product support which will expire in May, and which will not roll over.

The meat of GW’s presentation was a slideshow detailing the costs and benefits of each of the first three module racks that GW encourages retailers to carry. Module 1 consists of their best-selling products such as Space Marine Tactical Squads, Warhammer 40,000 Dark Vengeance boxes, Lord of the Rings starter boxes, and so on. The modules make it easy for stores whose specialty is perhaps board games or card games to diversify out into tabletop wargaming. Each module also comes with product support from Games Workshop, with Module 1 offering $300 of unrestricted product support. A store can use the unrestricted product support to claim more merchandise from GW for whatever product they would like during the course of the year. This support can replace older product such as obsolete codexes, be used for prize support, or to create store terrain. Rather than being a regular calendar year and ending in December, the product support year ends in May, since GW’s fiscal year begins in June. According to Andre Kieren, over 450 independent stockists have yet to use their product support which will expire in May, and which will not roll over. Additional product support is offered for each increasing tier of module ordered with Module 2 offering $300 in restricted product support and $300 in unrestricted product support. The essential difference is that restricted product support should only be used for events.

And the Horus Heresy of Disgruntled Retailers: Terms & Conditions

Before Andre Kieren and company could even get to the matter of unused store credit and top-selling modules though, they endured a hail of verbal bolt pistol fire concerning changes to their Terms and Conditions, as well as other retailer complaints. Kieren first reassured retailers that if they qualify as stockists, that the updated terms and conditions would not change the free shipping that already exists on certain orders.

When asked though whether GW was trying to eliminate online sales by other businesses, Kieren smiled and pointed out “We’ve been trying to do this for 10 years.” With the changes, GW has made “a renewed attempt to effectively enforce” the pre-existing terms and conditions that have been in place before, Kieren added. He then put it in management-speak and said that Games Workshop wants to “reserve the online channel to ourselves.”

Part of this is due to the practice of shelling, in which other companies or individuals shuck GW’s packaging and sell the plastic sprues directly or part them out, thereby “erroding” GW’s brand. Another assault on GW’s intellectual property Kieren cited was the drop-casting and selling of Space Marine shoulder pads. Unfortunately for consumers, GW does not like the practice of people clipping plasma guns and selling them separately. Will GW be going back into the bits business itself? Kieren’s answer: no. When a retailer asked for clarification on shelling, pointing to online website Battlewagon Bits, Kieren responded, “Yes, the way you are describing what Battlewagon Bits is, we would not want that.” GW has subsequently followed through on that.

At this point, one retailer complimented Games Workshop’s response, saying that “We’ve been getting screwed for so long by these guys [Battle Wagon Bits and other shellers]” He was met with a smattering of applause. When another member of the audience joked “So there’s an Errata coming, right?” it broke some of the tension in the room.

Someone in the back of the room pointed out that he had liked the Games Workshop Outriders program that was active over a decade ago, as a useful tool in helping him to run events and sell GW games. He went on to add that his store is now selling more Privateer Press products and that Flames of War is about to overtake his GW sales. Are there any plans of reviving the Outriders program, he asked. Kieren’s response was a firm no, because GW had done a cost-benefit-analysis which included a huge tax fine incurred in the early 2000s because the corporation had not paid its Outrider volunteers for what amounted to actual work. Consequently it discontinued the program.

Another question posed concerned the new requirement for retailers to actively separate GW merchandise from obscene and pornographic materials. Kieren didn’t think that a store carrying the Walking Dead would be an issue. As for consequences for violators of the terms and conditions and whether GW would “blacklist” distributors or retailers in a retailer’s words, Kieren answered in the negative. GW will “not blacklist. I wouldn’t use that term… yes, [there would be] consequences.”

Space Marine Paintball and Paint and Take

When he reached the end of his slideshow presentation, Kieren asked the attendees whether they were familiar with Space Marine Paintball. When only three raised their hands, Kieren invited volunteers to come forward to learn the mini-game, while another GW employee ran a Paint and Take on another small table at the front of the room. This effectively ended any further GW-bashing or debate from the audience, but also left the rest of the retailers who could not possibly participate at the front tables to disperse or talk to one another.

Retailers cluster around Games Workshop realm of battle board to learn Space Marine Paintball

Retailers at the Games Workshop Premier Presentation Learn Space Marine Paintball

GW in the Exhibitors’ Hall and at Game Night

Beautiful painted Warhammer 40k miniatures in GW display caseIf there was anything new and shiny in GW’s spacious booth in the Exhibitors’ Hall, it was carefully hidden away. Instead there was the usual amount of brilliantly painted miniatures in glass display cases that any GW retail store should boast. Andre Kieren and his staff were on hand to answer any retailer’s or distributor’s questions and to possibly enroll any new retailer in Games Workshop’s program.

In a like manner, Games Workshop ran a table at Wednesday night’s Game Night with some of the same activities from the Premier Presentation on offer including what looked like another round of Space Marine Paintball and some Hobbit-related gaming at a well-attended table.

GW Employee Andre Kieren speaking with GTS Attendee at GW booth in Bally's Convention Center

Andre Kieren Speaks to a GTS Attendee in the GTS Exhibitors’ Hall

Games Workshop at Gen Con 2012

Games Workshop had something of a phantom presence at Gen Con. To be sure, you could spot a Games Workshop banner hanging overhead in the Vendors’ Hall, but the floor space beneath it was being used for its subsidiaries, Forge World and the Black Library. The vast main gaming hall comprised of Halls C, E, F, and G had hundreds of tables seating thousands of gamers (which may be quite an understatement), so it was surprising to only spot a handful of Warhammer 40K games as I passed through day and night and no games of Warhammer Fantasy.

Warhammer 40k Apocalypse game unfolding with alien Tyranids versus valiant Dark Angels

A Horde of Tyranids Have Breached the Imperial Defenses in a Game of Apocalypse

One evening I did spy a game of Apocalypse unfolding with a Forge World Imperial Fortress attempting to hold the line against the teeming hordes of Tyranids which had managed to infiltrate into the landing pad area fashioned out of sytrofoam.

Specialist Games

On the other hand, GW games that have been relegated to Specialist Games status like Space Hulk, Warmaster, and Mordheim actually seemed to be more prevalent. Several Mordheim Warband leaders competed against one another across three to four tables bedecked with Miniature Building Authority buildings and other pieces of terrain.

Small skirmish Mordheim warbands battle through ruined city streets in 28mm scale

An Undead Warband Battles Against an Imperial Faction in Mordheim

The beautifully painted Warmaster armies below ironically belong to two Privateer Press employees who were marshaling them one evening. Besides the actual lettered halls like D, E, and F, Gen Con has large hallways which make taking pictures of cosplayers pretty easy and prevent congestion. They are also used after hours for impromptu games like Warmaster, but more frequently for social games like Are You a Werewolf? or card and board games.

Warmaster-scale Dragon and Eagles for High Elves army at Gen Con

A High Elves Army for Warmaster Boasting a Dragon and Giant Eagles

This was actually the first time in over 20 years of gaming I had ever seen any Warmaster being played, much less seen any fully painted forces in person. While it’s quite possible the two generals of the armies see one another more frequently than at Gen Con, for many gamers Gen Con provides the rare opportunity to get in a game or two of a favorite niche game system with a different opponent than normal or simply to play a favorite game at all.

High Elves versus Undead in Warmaster Game at Gen Con in tiny scale

A Tiny Battle Unfolding Pitting High Elves vs. the Undead in Warmaster

Space Hulk was also going on in the main gaming hall. Outside of Warhammer 40K, Warhammer Fantasy, and Lord of the Rings, Space Hulk does seem to get the most playtime of Games Workshop’s smaller titles. The fairly recent rerelease of the game has also captured new gamers’ interest as well. While I didn’t see any Dread Fleet games at Gen Con, on my flight to Indianapolis, an employee of a different gaming company was touting the virtues of Dread Fleet’s ancestor, Man O’War, the epic-scale fleet action game set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe which was released in the 1990s. I am positive that the gamer on the plane would have loved to get some games of Man O’War in at Gen Con if he were given the chance.

Gamers enjoy the Space Hulk board game from Games Workshop at Gen Con 2012

A Whole Swarm of Genestealers Waits Off the Space Hulk Board to Assault Unwary Terminators

The Omnipresent Emperor is Watching

Even outside the gaming halls, Games Workshop maintained a presence. In Cardhalla, builders can come and make anything they desire with the donated playing cards. The resulting structures are then knocked down on Saturday evening at 10:30 with change and coins wrapped in dollar bills. The money collected is given to a charity, the STARS Youth Foundation, with the honor of throwing the first donation going to the winner of a special auction.

Games Workshop trademark Double-Headed Aquila made of cards at 2012 Gen Con

Initially the GW Aquila was blue when I stopped by Cardhalla on Thursday night. Nearby I was pleased to recognize an Inquisitorial emblem, also from Warhammer 40K. While I may have just gently nudged some of the cards behind me, the pile of Austin Powers cards at my feet in the photo below was not my doing, though I do appreciate Dr. Evil’s trademark pinky smirk on one of the cards at my feet. I also appreciate that the double-headed Games Workshop Aquila and the Inquisitorial emblem are made out of Star Trek and Star Wars cards respectively, with some Magic: TG cards laying the foundation of the Aquila. I have to imagine that the creator was very aware that GW’s emblem is trademarked and fiercely protected and that he appreciated his own irony.

Cardhalla Thursday night at Gen Con with an Inquisitor symbol from Warhammer 40k made out of playing cards

By Saturday though the Aquila had undergone a face lift and was now using the red Austin Powers cards in place of the Star Trek CCG cards.

Games Workshop Aquila Symbol Made of Red Austin Powers cards at Gen Con 2012 Cardhalla

The red Aquila wasn’t the only change. The forces of Chaos had put an end to the Inquisitorial reign at Cardhalla. While it’s quite possible that it was stepped on and sloppily repaired, I have to suspect that a servant of Tzeentch took offense to the emblem and corrupted it for his own purpose.

Games Workshop Inquisitor Emblem Tainted by the Forces of Chaos on Saturday in Cardhalla at Gen Con

Vendors and Licensees

Painted Ork Warlord warboss Ghazghkull Thraka for $22 at Gen Con

A Painted Ghazghkull Thraka for $22 is a Steal

One of the strongest Games Workshop presences I saw actually was a shopkeeper in the form of Darryl Dean from the Game Room in Toledo, Ohio. Within the world of Adepticon and Gen Con though, Darryl is known as the “Bits Guy” for the huge quanitty of storage containers full of plastic and metal bits that he brings to the shows. He also was selling completely intact and painted miniatures with low prices like $5 for a Brettonian or Empire knight. Around the painted miniatures Dean had team upon team of painted Blood Bowl miniatures for about $80 a team. He also had a selection of Imperial Guard and Space Marine vehicles.

Ghazghkull Thraka for $22 with a pretty good paint job caught my eye (and helped empty my wallet). I also picked up a Looted Leman Russ battle tank to join my growing Waaagh!, as well as various Witch Hunter and Daemonhunter Inquisitorial servants, including an interesting conversion featuring Necron parts with a plasma cannon.

Painted rack of Space Marine tanks on sale at Gen Con for around $30

Darryl Dean tends to pick up the armies which he then resells en masse, when a group of players switch from one system to another, such as Warhammer Fantasy Battles to Warhammer 40K. Sometimes he buys 10 armies at once. Dean is leery of eBay, only selling at the Game Room and at shows like Gen Con and Chicago’s Adepticon, but is thinking of expanding to Rock-Con in Rockford, Illinois and WinterCon in Rochester, Michigan.

Another aspect of Games Workshop’s phantom yet pervasive presence at Gen Con came through Fantasy Flight Games. Fantasy Flight Games has held Games Workshop licenses for quite some time and the company was showing off Relic at Gen Con, offering attendees the chance to play the Warhammer 40K-themed board game for the first time. Relic draws heavily from Talisman, but pits its 2-4 players against one another in a race to vanquish as many foes of the Imperium as possible.

Board game Relic from Fantasy Flight Games at Gen Con based on Warhammer 40K universe

Relic Board Game from Fantasy Flight Games at Gen Con 2012

Games Workshop Witchfate Tor

The Games Workshop Witchfate Tor model painted and assembledUnfortunately I had not watched a dullspork’s videos on Witchfate Tor (2, 3, 4) before purchasing mine. (If you do decide you want a Witchfate Tor, be sure to watch dullspork’s assembly.). Nor did I watch dreamspiritwar’s unboxing or his painted version. And I ignored the horrible paint scheme on the box and all the weird bits attached to the Tor, the tower. I reasoned that these were accessories and I could go for a cleaner build and have some interesting bits to add to my bits box.

Curse you, Witchfate Tor, and your large enticing box! Opening it, you get the four floors in bags. Immediately it becomes clear: Games Workshop has thrown out the last decade of improvements in its plastic models and their incredible modularity and versatility. Instead my Witchfate Tor, except for its paintjob, will look pretty much like your Witchfate Tor, like dullspork’s Tor, and so on. The basic Games Workshop Watchtower has many more options and therefore many more uses.

Witchfate Tor’s model itself has so many piddling little details. There are hourglasses in the window, which begs the question: how does one paint an hourglass? I actually do need to know this, because I have potion bottles to paint. I ended up simply cutting the hourglasses out of the window arches though: problem solved! The larger door panels both have their own assemblage of skulls to the left of them, but these have candles dripping wax and they are lit. So there are little candle flames to paint. Do you treat every little shield as an actual shield and paint it? There are wall mountings for chains to pick out. I painted the rune stone in the wall the same colors as the surround stones, but it could be distinctive too.

Those are just the small details. Below are Witchfate Tor’s major design flaws after the video:

Doors in the Air

Want to build your Witchfate Tor with only doors on the ground floor with only one box? Good luck! Witchfate Tor has two iron grated archways that you will need to use. Who doesn’t love a balcony on a miniature building? It allows you to put a model on the outside and have it interact with other models. However my love of balconies comes to a crashing halt with Witchfate Tor. To my untrained eye I would never want to set foot on Witchfate’s unsupported open-air balconies. The comet design on its surface is not enough to entice me out. Call me craven. There is no snap-on cool feature with these balconies. Unless there’s an extremely ingenious way of attaching them, you must glue them if you want to use them.

Columns

Two story version of Witchfate Tor

The Stunty Witchfate Tor

The four “pillars” shown mounted on the outside are hollow. To conceal their hollow nature, you have to push them far back against the tower’s stony walls. You are still left with gaps on the sides of the columns then, as well as on the columns’ tops. If you add magnets to keep the columns from falling off during play, then the column juts out at an angle, creating an even bigger gap. To get rid of any gap at all, you would have to glue them in place. Where will you glue the columns?

GW plastic models can make excellent alternatives to the columns

Statues instead of columns.

A. To the stone base? Now you can’t replace them with anything cooler, the tower will be hard to remove, and they still have hollow backs.
B. To the side of the ground floor? Now you have committed to the look of the ground floor and adding floors on top of it may be a challenge. (This is the build that GW shows on the back of the box, but not explicitly in the directions.)
C. To both the ground and second floors? Now you have rendered the fully-textured ground floor moot, but hopefully have reduced the top and side gaps.

While I won’t be gluing them anytime soon, I think B would be your best bet. This is what dullspork has done. Take advantage of the gap with the second floor to slide your second floor on and off. It should not catch if you glue it correctly. But say goodbye to a little stunted Ground Floor-Top Floor tower, because the columns can’t fit with the top floor’s overhang.

Top Floor’s Hollow Spires

This is similar to the columns above. I am not sure what to call them, but the the top of the tower is ringed by 12 fingers or spires that reach up and create a menacing and strong look. In between each pair of fingers are two pointy spikes. On the backside though of each finger is its hollow form. Of course, being a three dimensional bit of terrain, there is no backside to Witchfate Tor; when you see the front of 4 fingers, you see the “backs” of 5 others. Why would stone be hollowed out? Of course, it would not. This is a moulding or sculpting design flaw. The really anal will want to fill these in. I have spent too much time on Witchfate Tor as it is right now to bother with that detail.

Basic Assembly

The four pieces that compose each level require strength to combine, as well as a lot of carving away with a hobby knife. Now, I will say that the end result, once painted, appears seemless. I can’t tell where the four pieces come together except by knowing the pieces involved. I think others have struggled with the basic assembly as well. The instructions from GW say “This tower can be assembled in a variety of ways. Below is just one example.” If I remember correctly the four parts to each level are not interchangeable with each other. I think you get 2 A’s and 2 B’s on each floor with them connecting in ABAB fashion. You can’t flip an A unless you want an upside down door or window frame.

The Good in Witchfate Tor

For all of its flaws, Witchfate Tor is undeniably a dominant and impressive centerpiece to add to your gaming table. It will likely be the tallest structure. Even though I don’t see the use of the interiors in WHFB (the game it was designed for!), I think some DMs and perhaps Mordheim players will actually battle through the various floors of it. The panels with the skulls under the archways are easy to paint and really evoke a certain mood. Likewise the top tower with its skulls under the lookout windows, as well as just the overall look of the top, is great. Sandwiched between these more simplistic powerful elements are the goofy two floors with all their odd accessories.

Conclusion

Taking a few steps back from working on Witchfate Tor, it would actually be a somewhat decent piece from an up and coming gaming company. It is sizable and relatively easy to paint. I expect much more of Games Workshop though and I suspect that many other gamers do as well. Though I see a number of Witchfate Tors assembled to create monstrous towers in the pages of White Dwarf, I don’t think it’s gone over well with GW fans.