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Foundry antics

December 30, 2004 10:10 AM - Posted by Robartes - Category: General

The Miniatures Page announced the imminent release of the Foundry Medieval Warfare rules the other day.

For those of you that are not versed in the wily ways of wargame rules, Medieval Warfare is a ruleset produced by Terry L. Gore, of Saga, who among other things produce the excellent Saga magazine on medieval and dark age (or early medieval) history. Apart from Medieval Warfare, there is also Ancient Warfare, Renaissance Warfare, Victorian Warfare and a few other Warfares that have not been released yet (I even think I have a copy of Ancient Warfare in my rules bookshelf somewhere - I’ll have to check). For the last couple of years (at least), the Foundry has apparently had plans to publish a version of these rules, polished up with (Foundry) miniature photos, painting and modelling guides, and generally the kind of ‘fluff’ one also gets in publications like WAB (not that there is anything wrong with that).

It seems that now, after only a few years of urging by Mr. Gore, Foundry is finally gearing up to a release of the rules. And that brings me to my point (what, already?). A couple of years ago, it seemed that Foundry was on the way of redefining its involvement in the hobby, orienting themselves more along the line of a business rather than a hobby venture, following in the footsteps of the ten pound gorilla of the miniatures hobby, Games Workshop. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, they messed it up quite a bit, loosing some of their major sculptors (the Perries, Mark Copplestone) and quite a lot of their karma with the general wargames public.

Even though their figures remain some of the best in the hobby (although with a lot less of a lead, if any, than five years ago), some of their decisions with regards to pricing and packaging of their figures, the long transitional period where it seemed that there was a different pricing structure every other day and their perceived attempt to turn Wargames Illustrated into Foundry Illustrated has set quite a lot of bad blood among the hard core of historical wargamers, to the point that until a year or so ago, almost every miniature related mailing list or forum had its regularly recurring ‘Foundry bashing’ thread.

The last year or two, however, has seen the Foundry returning to a more stable state. Gone are the days of regular releases of entirely new gimmick period figures (Judge Dredd, War Orcs etc) that were clearly aimed at trying to build a ‘Foundry Hobby’ much in the style of the ‘Games Workshop hobby’. Instead, we see the rerelease of old historical ranges that had been unavailable for years (a move correcting what was probably the most questionable decision they made during their wild period) and a general refocus on their core clientèle of historical wargamers.

However, I think that their move into ruleset publishing (no matter how long delayed) indicates that they have still not given up the dream of building a ‘Foundry hobby’, especially if you consider the fact that they now also provide paints, brushes and generally most of the items you need to build an army.

On the one hand, I think this is a good thing: for the various hobby shops out there, historical wargaming has always been a losing venture, especially in the current days of internet shopping. There simply was no way of stocking even remotely sufficient amounts of the myriad of figure lines of even a single manufacturer to please historically inclined customers, and that’s not even speaking of the incredible plethora of historical manufacturers that are supplying our side of the hobby (or habit ? :) ). When a single manufacturer starts bundling things together, it also paves the way for fringe stuff like rules starter kits and army kits including paints and brushes, which are things that I think will be profitable to sell for hobby shops, and consequently will be sold and might even bring more innocent young ones into the fold of historical wargaming (insert maniacal laughter here).

On the other hand, there is the (possibly misguided) gag reflex most historical wargamers have when one thinks of the Foundry mutating into a historical Games Workshop (or even more sinister, being acquired by GW and becoming GW Historical).

I think interesting times are ahead of us. Any ideas?

Comments on this entry

As is often the case, GW is often mentioned in stories like this. “Oh my God, I hope they don’t turn into another GW”. But, GW is THE succes-story of miniature wargaming. GW is living proof of the fact that miniature wargaming can be a broad hobby that appeals to many people. I see GW not as an evil, but as the logical evolution of miniature wargaming over the past 50 years. GW has made miniature wargaming succesful, and has attracted many young people to miniature wargaming in general.

But, the critics say, it is not proper miniature wargaming! It is fantasy (shock, horror). And they have the nerve to publish rules AND miniatures at the same time! And they have convinced their customers that GW has invented miniature wargaming, sorry, the “GW Hobby”, without paying respect to the diversity that miniature wargaming has to offer.

Some of these critiques are of course not unfounded. On the other hand, it is the price to pay for making miniature gaming into a mainstream hobby. You have to be commercial, and that means competing with other companies, and leaving the “company-in-a-garage-during-the-weekends” stage behind you.

Where am I going with all this? Ah yes, Foundry! In my opinion, the state of Foundry is reflecting the attitude of many historical gamers. They are complaining that historicals are overshadowed by fantasy (GW), but at the same time, when a company wants to make historicals ‘bigger’, it is looked upon with a mix of jealousy, accusations of price-gouging, etc.

I feel that historical wargaming needs more of a GW attitude if it wants to become more succesful (whether that’s a good thing is something else entirely, which I also have my doubts about). In the Spring, GW will release “Battle of the 5 Armies”. From what I’ve heard so far, it will be a boxed set, containing rules, 10mm figures, scenery, and everything you need in order to play this specific battle. All in one box. Probably the figures aren’t painted yet, but that’s only a matter of time (look at the succes of prepainted miniatures, WizKids is a good example).

Why would this not be possible for historicals? In fact, it is happening. Memoir 44 is a good example, although it is still perceived as board game, but a similar box could be made for a ‘true’ tabletop miniature game. The formula for success should be that once you open the box, you should be able to start playing almost immediatly.

Historical wargaming is still too much a hobby that requires too much effort before you actually have a game on the table. Figure ranges for periods are spread over different manufacturers. Rules from someone else. Scenery from yet another company, then you need paints, etc., etc. Too difficult, it should be made easier, and more accessible!!!

At one point, I was imagining how a historical miniature wargaming shop should look like, in order to compete with the internet. A possible strategy could indeed be that you make ‘packs’, centered around periods or even specific battles. E.g. you could design a pack around the battle for La Haye Sainte. You write up the history, maybe the rules, and most important, a list of equipment that’s needed, scenery-wise and figure-wise (as a shopkeeper, you have selected particular figure ranges in advance). Then, you have to make sure you actually have stocked these items. So, if a gamer wants to get into Napoleonics, he can pick one of your predesigned scenario packs, and buy the figures on the spot. He will be sure he has everything he needs, he doesn’t have to browse through the catalogs of dozens of different manufacturers, and can go home and have everything in place for that specific scenario. The more advanced gamer can still substitute the recommended figures with others (which are probably not available in your shop), or by ones which he already has.

The bottom line is that as a shopkeeper, you do not have to stock every single item. You have to preselect ranges, based on what you think your customers will need, or based on what you think are good ranges to play with and that will sell. It is stupid to stock all possible Old Guard miniatures from all possible manufacturers. You have to select the best ones, and sell that in your shop. Bookshops also do not stock every single book in the world, but they do make selections for their customers. Bookshops have adapted to the internet, and wargaming shops should do the same. Provide services instead of unlimited stock that doesn’t move.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to start my own shop (I like my current job too much :-)), but it does mean I’m convinced there’s a future for miniature wargaming, even for specialty shops that sell miniature wargaming. It just won’t come easy.

Ok, enough ranting, back to computer graphics now …

EDIT: corrected typo in the link to Wizkids causing it not to display correctly. Robartes

December 30, 2004 4:16 PM - Posted by Phil Dutre

I must say that when I started to write the above entry, I had the typical GW bashing and ‘gnashing of teeth at the betrayal of the hobby’ tone in mind. However, when writing it, it dawned on me that this particular move - getting all of the required components within the same manufacturer’s catalog - actually makes a lot of sense, and is the way to the future, as Phil quite correctly states in his comment.

In my opinion, many gamers still see the hobby as a garage and cottage type endeavour, and that is the reason why the mentality of GW, although it is fully the norm in the business world and GW probably is a lot more customer friendly than some other corporations out there, is often seen as the antithesis of ‘good’ hobby gaming.

But I think Phil is right in his analysis of what it takes to become a successful hobby shop in our neck of the woods, and what the hobby as a whole needs to grow further (whether or not this is necessary remains, of course, debatable). Phil, if you won the lottery, would you start a wargames shop? I think I would :)

December 30, 2004 4:28 PM - Posted by Robartes

Ok, let’s make a deal: if either one of us wins the lottery, we’ll start a shop together. And we’ll hire Rudi Geudens as a senior advisor to the board of directors, which comes with a well-funded salary package and plenty of stock options.

Anyway, I want to say that I have nothing against the old cycle of researching a period, searching for good figures, designing your own rules, painting the figures, and then playing a game. I love doing this myself! But, wargamers have to realize that this is not the formula of success, and will keep a wargaming a small niche hobby. This approach of the hobby is not ‘sellable’.

Ergo, if you want to make miniature wargaming succesful, look at why fantasy wargaming is so succesful (the lesser known fantasy miniature wargaming companies are probably bigger than the largest historical companies). If the wargaming community doesn’t want to follow that model, that’s a perfectly valid option, but then wargaming will have it difficult to grow or even to stay alive.

December 30, 2004 4:54 PM - Posted by Phil Dutre


As good Belgians, can we agree on my salary off-line, please?


December 31, 2004 3:19 PM - Posted by Rudi Geudens

I mentioned on this thread before that GW is publishing a box for Battle of the 5 Armies, everything included.

Here’s a sneak preview:

Of course, we probably can expect expansions soon ;-)

January 26, 2005 9:34 PM - Posted by Phil Dutre