Tuesday, 12 January 2016

When is oldhammer not oldhammer and does it matter? or How i stopped worrying and learned to love my miniatures

It's only recently occurred to me that I might not be an archetypal Oldhammerer (if such a person exists). Someone asked about 'Oldhammerable' ranges on another forum and I gave him the standard answer, naming various minature ranges etc. but then another commenter suggested that that wasn't the point and that it should be about playing with what you have. That you should be bending the games to fit the miniatures you own rather than the other way round. That the games were originally designed to allow people to play mass games using their collection of figures (a collection that they may have just built up playing RPG's or buying figures that they liked ). As I read his reply I felt myself agreeing. Of course that's what it's about! This thought started to bump up against a couple of others until it got to the point where I felt I needed to write some stuff down.




One of these thoughts was about playing fantasy games. Now up until now I've been basing my army building on the idea that one day, when they are finished (yeah, like that's ever going to happen!), they'll be used in a glorious battle of 3rd edition Warhammer and we'll all be happy little campers and float happily off into the sunset of nostalgia, linking our arms and planning the next dramatic chapter. The problem is, 3rd ed is a bit of a clunky monster. It takes a fucking age to play. Let's be honest, most of the time it's a bunch of 40 year old blokes flicking through a 25 year old book looking for a rule they don't remember (and was probably from a different edition anyway). Don't get me wrong, it's brilliant to be playing a Fantasy Wargame on that scale and the aesthetic of 3rd ed is what brought me back but I've only actually played a single game (and a couple of skirmishes) and I can't see me confining my Fantasy Army to 3rd ed for ever. For a start, it's just not logistically possible. In just under a week I'll be turning 40. I have a job with a fair amount of responsibility. I have a lovely wife. And I have 4 kids. Time is a precious commodity. Never mind finding the time to paint all those figures. Actually finding the time to indulge in a game of 3rd Edition Warhammer is a major piece of logistical juggling and weighs heavy on the spousal favour matrix.


Secondly, someone else I was chatting to mentioned that 90% of the enjoyment of the game was the army building, the painting of figures and the preparation for the game, reaching a peak as you and your opponent stand back and admire the hundreds of figures laid out on the board ready for battle. After that the fun quotient can drop away dramatically as you slog through the rule book and measure the angle of wheeled charges. I can honestly say I see his point.

So whats the solution? Well one would be to stop worrying about sticking to the 'hammer' part of the equation and just having fun playing games. There are loads of rule set out there. Kings of war being one, that try to do the same thing that warhammer does. But why bother? When WAB died there was suddenly a host of replacement sets like Clash of Empires and War and Conquest and then Hail Caeser came along and tried to soak up all the sad ex-wabers. Thing is they are just the same game with different knickers on essentially. So why bother, stick to the original if it's what you like.



You could go back to the source and try Fantasy Warriors or Fantasy Warlord but it would still be an exercise in rule researching and book flicking probably in an effort to find out why the games weren't successful in the first place.


Second choice is to go for something new. Frostgrave looks like a great game with loads of scope for skirmish games and although they have figures produced by Northstar (more of which later) they aren't proscriptive meaning that you can use the figures that you want and if they just happen to be the classic figures form GW's golden period, so what?


And what about Otherworlds Fantasy Skirmish? We already know they make gorgeous figures in an old school style but they've teamed up with Crooked Dice, the guys behind 7TV to make a classic dungeon crawling adventure set of rules. Old school in style with gorgeous illustrations, why wouldn't I spend my shekels on it?


And if I'm still looking to throw down in a bigger battle stylee I could do a lot worse than Dragon Rampant which is the fantasy version of Lion Rampant. The game is fun, fast and scalable. I get to throw down any miniatures I like and it's written in a way that acknowledges the past of fantasy gaming and goes running around with a big happy smile on it's face.

So.
It's no old.
It's not Warhammer.
It can't be Oldhammer.
Can it?


Well who am I to decide? As long as I'm getting my game in and playing with people I have met through the 'Oldhammer movement', getting my favourite miniatures on the table, playing a narrative based game while talking shit and drinking a beer (and hopefully keeping it quiet enough to not wake the kids!) then I'm a happy camper. As long as I'm having fun playing a miniatures game then that was the best outcome of 'Oldhammer'. Nothing else really matters.

But do I have to be using old miniatures? Do I have to have earned my stripes stalking ebay at 4 in the morning. Asphyxiating myself over a sink of goo while trying to scrub off 20 year old paint jobs? Does it matter that I like the Otherworld Bugbears more than the original citadel ones and want to buy half a dozen for my Hobgoblin army? Am I not allowed to buy the gorgeous Copplestone figures form Northstar to play Frostgrave or Dragon Rampant with? God forbid I build a figure out of plastic parts!!


Cos if I play a game that is new and isn't warhammer and I don't use old citadel figures then it isn't Oldhammer and I should be pursued by an Inquisitor and declared a Heretic. Shouldn't I?

The same criteria fits for sci-fi gaming as well. I know 40K but I don't play it properly. I don't do big battles any more and I strip Rogue Trader down to it's barest essentials in order to have a fun game. Of course I could use Necromunda but I can't stand the combat system. It grinds me for some reason. But there is no sensible reason to keep myself confined to those systems just cos they are 'Oldhammer approved!' I bought Tomorrow's War a couple of years ago to try out for that very reason. Didn't like them much but at least there are options. And sometimes they are hiding in plain site. Like Pulp Alley. Loads of folk have had great success using Pulp Alley to play games themed around the Rogue Trader universe.


And there is always The Judge Dredd miniatures game, which despite the occasionally dodgy sculpt, is actually a solid little sic-fi ruleset with some decent campaign elements built in.


Osprey are pumping out rule sets at a fair old rate and Black ops is one of the latest. A nice little set for playing espionage based skirmish games.


They've also got a specifically Sci-fi set coming out in the summer.


There isn't much information yet but I do know that Northstar will be doing a range of figures for it and if they are of the same quality as the Frostgrave figures (Copplestone, Saleh etc) then there is something to get excited about. Some great sci-fi skirmish figures would be very welcome no matter what ruleset I use them in!

So what was my point again?

Oldhammer is great. I've reinvigorated my love of miniatures and wargaming. I've met a load of very cool gents from all over the world and we chat like over excited school kids all the bloody time. It's the reason this blog exists and the reason I've collected a whole load of figures that my 12 year old self would be tremendously jealous of. I've had more fun and exciting games since I delved into 'the movement' than at any time before....but 3rd Edition Warhammer and Rogue Trader are not the end of my gaming. They were the beginning. They just happened to have taken that hallowed position in my life twice. They will always be dear to me. But they are still just the beginning, I want to try stuff, play around see what fits, juggle, wriggle, try and complete a game in less time than it takes my wife's mood to sour.

So it comes down to this. If my whole attitude to gaming is characterised by the types of old school games I learned to play from 3rd Edition and Rogue Trader? If I play games and chat with people who have similar tastes to mine and who I met through Oldhammer? If I use some classic citadel miniatures mixed in with more modern ones without batting and eyelid? If I do all this without playing a Games Workshop game?

Can it still be Oldhammer?

45 comments:

  1. Great piece of writing (which of course means that I entirely agree with you). Oldhammer was my re-entry point and it's still an important movement for me, but I've expanded my horizons beyond purely those rule sets and purely those miniatures. There's so much great new stuff out there and I want to explore it, and maybe when I play Frostgrave there will still be the occasional classic Jes Goodwin sculpt present alongside a Reaper Bones wolf or a resin Hasslefree barbarian. It doesn't matter anymore to me.

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    1. Thankyou very much. I opened my head and let the keyboard do the talking.

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  2. Opening the 'what is oldhammer' debate is always a dangerous game :D

    What brought me to oldhammer was my love of old citadel figures. What's kept me here is meeting and playing games with great people. I couldn't care less if a ruleset was written 30 years ago or last week. If it allows me to push soldiers around with people who play games in the right spirit, then I'm in.

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    1. Spot on Phil. You've nailed my reasons in a nutshell.

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    2. I wasn't trying to open up the debate, that's been done plenty of times already, I was just trying to widen it a bit.

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    3. And I think you did it well, my comment was made with tongue firmly in cheek.

      I have copies of the Judge Dredd rules and the Otherworld skirmish rules, neither of which have ever been played, and I've just added the Dragon Rampant rulebook to my collection. I seem to be a rulebook hoarder as well as a hoarder of miniatures.

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  3. Hello, and sorry for my bad english.
    Oldhammer is more than rusty miniatures and old books. Oldhammer is play style, oldhammer is a wish... a wish to play "oldie". To be fair, to enjoy the game, to create a nice adventure or scenary. A way of "enjoy your game, paint your miniatures and play fair and friendly". Yeah... sound like the 70´s, so hippy.

    I am playink Kings of War, and y think that i can play oldhammer style in this new game. I can play Mordheim and play "old style" too.

    Well... i have not a lot of old plumb in my bookcasem but i have enough to say "yes, this miniatures are oldies, but they have a new live in KoW, but playing old style".

    Maybe i seems a heretic to somebody... Well, this is only a opinion, as mine is.

    Thank you for your fantastic work and greetings from Spain.

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    1. Thanks for taking your time to read my musings and responding. Hola!

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  4. Totally agree mate, and it's exactly why we've never used the tag Oldhammer to describe what we do on the Tales from the Maeslstom blog (plus we were doing it first :-P), it often seems to lead to a need to define, which invariably leads to exclusion (shortly followed by suffering then the dark side....)

    Perhaps it just doesn't need a name :-)

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    1. I mentioned to you before that Tales from the Maelstrom was the key for me rediscovering Rogue Trader and that was long before I'd heard the term 'Oldhammer'. Maybe your right, a name seems to only cause problems. ;)

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  5. Thought provoking commentary, Colin! Although, I love the idea of playing a game of 3rd Ed WHFB (and will one day have an army for it), I'm totally with you on the use of other systems. To me (from my experiences at the 2 BOYLs that I have attended), Oldhammer is an ethos and the use of the RT and WH settings; regardless of what system is used to do it.

    I love what Oldhammer has done for my hobby time. I owe it a friendships of a number of people, who despite only meeting in person once or twice, I consider some of my best friends. For me it's now about using/painting/converting/trading cool miniatures (whatever age they are) and playing fun, story-led games (whatever system) with some good friends.

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    1. I'd never have met you for starters.....

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    2. Don't let that put you off - It's done good things for you too!

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  6. Well said Sir! The games are an excuse to play with toy soldiers with friends. I would tentatively suggest the Oldhammer is useful as a touchstone for a shared interest in a particular style of figure and approach to gaming. But it is the spirit that is most important!

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    1. If it's the spirit that matters mine would be a single malt

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  7. Great article! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the matter Whiskey Priest. As for what Oldhammer is? I am too busy painting my lovely collection of miniatures, reading blog posts about miniatures and getting in great games with my friends to worry about it!

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    1. I only worry about people falling out about it. I'm a lover not a fighter. But citadel never did but that range out ;)

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  8. Great article. I must admit, I was recently thinking much the same thing: hopefully us OGRE lads will get together and play frostgrave, and if we do so, will it be oldhammer? I think the answer is yes, but I'm not sure WHY the answer is yes.

    With regards to 3rd ed, I think it holds an important place as a lingua franca for the movement (I think I'll blog about this), but you're right, it's not the be all and end all. It's the beginning...

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    1. And your article is great as well, lets get a game in soon

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  9. Must admit, I've ceased all usage of the 'O' word in general, on my blog or anywhere else.

    Yeah, I'm mainly into 3rd Ed WFB and Rogue Trader, but I've recently bought into Frostgrave fairly heavily, as well as a whole pile of non-vintage halflings, and I'm planning on picking up the Dragon Rampart rules, as they look pretty fun.

    I even enjoyed reading the Age Of Sigmar rules, and am planning on running a game using them in the near future! Using old Citadel lead, mind. ;)

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    1. To be honest I've always been itchy about labelling anything I do using the 'O' word but it is the reason that we are able to have chats about the existential meaning of our choice of old toy soldiers so it does have some currency.

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    2. Thing is, unlike most of the people in the 'scene', I never really stopped playing WFB3 or RT. I left the hobby for a while, but came back where I left off. It's not some retro fun historical gaming experience, it's just gaming, for me.

      I mean, I used to have these same discussions in rec.games.miniatures.warhammer back in the early '00's! I think I was just called an 'old twat' back then.

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  10. I'm inclined to agree with Axiom's comment. Another part of the problem seems to be the unnecessary belief/attitude that if one oldhammers, one can only oldhammer. Is Frostgrave oldhammer? Of course not, but I've seen people try to shoe-horn it in to justify their oldhammerness.

    And this is why I laugh when people try to define oldhammer--it doesn't matter what oldhammer is, so long add we're all having fun!

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    1. I've always seen it as the people rather than the thing

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  11. A well done article. I noticed some rule books I do not yet have and have just preordered Rogue Stars. I like reading and collecting rulebooks and more and more seem to pile up in my games room. But despite of this collection I only see a small section as part of the old hammer range which is mainly centered on Games Workshop products, especially 3rd edition, rogue trader and the miniatures of that time. This is the core (for me) the oldhammer hobby is orbiting. Sometimes it will have more distance, sometimes less but the point of gravity is fixed.
    That does not keep me from basing reaper miniatures for Dragon Rampant, play Freebooter's Fate or slowly continue to paint up my Coftyrans for This Quar's War, but I would not post about it in the oldhammer forum or set up a game at the BOYL event. The advantage of oldhammerers is though, that they usually have a relaxed way of gaming, so they are perfectly capable of playing other games in the same spirit. Not sure if they would make those games oldhammer games but in the end...who cares. Enjoy the games.

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    1. I'm looking forward to seeing if Rogue Stars is any good as well. I would suggest the choice of name may mean that it is aimed in our direction.
      I seem to pick up lots of rules sets as well, it's a bad habit :)

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  12. Don't forget the SONG OF BLADES AND HEROS ! It perfectly fits the Oldhammer spirit and can be played with virtualy everything ( and the the author Andrea Sfiligoi is a very kind and passionate player )

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    1. Isn't that what things like a Fistful of Kungfu is based on? I've got that so I'll have another read.

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  13. Another one for the agree column. Every game I've played of Age of Sigmar has been played with my 3E Warhammer armies! I think I have all of the rule books you listed above. Right now I am putting together a Frostgrave Warband made from three different manufacturers. They ARE some clunky rules in 3E and Rogue Trader. I think the thing that appeals most to about those games is that there were no army lists. Even, when the lists were introduced, it was stated in no uncertain terms that they were suggestions of typical forces. Only later did army lists become something to which you were supposed to conform. Again see Age of Sigmar.. The rules light approach makes for fantastic games when you play in the Oldhammer spirit!

    In any case, I will happily play different games with different models. The Oldhammer esthetic and style of play is more important to me than the rules...

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    1. I've yet to try out Age of Sigmar but I've no doubt it'll happen at some point in the future as I've got some Nott's based mates who seem to be pulling me in that direction. I'll use my Hobgobs though!

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  14. Great posting as a fellow 40+ gamer the importance of games rather than matching miniatures is the way forward.
    You are right my 12 year old self would be very jellous of the collection I have amassed, if only I had his spare time :-)
    Cheers
    Stu

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    1. Half of the fun is seeing the figure that you'd only ever seen as pencil sketches in Journals in your hand. All that stuiff I couldn't afford (or paint!) at the time as eventually become mine. MINE!

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  15. Very interesting post indeed. For me there are two things in Oldhammer - a love of 1980's era minis and a particular way of playing games with them. And that way is put off by the tournament style play that came to dominate the hobby for a while. Ultimately playing games (whether it is mini based games, boardgames, online games etc) is meant to be fun. I'm simply not interested in arguing over rules with people as I get that in my day job as a tax lawyer.

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    1. I agree. If your not having fun then you're doing it wrong.

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  16. A wonderfully written article, the "What is Oldhammer?" debate gets quite heated in many camps. Everyone has their own version of what it is, it's a very personal thing.

    You may find several people in those groups that have a very similar version to your own and they butt heads with other groups that are doing it differently.

    I came into the hobby as 2nd ed 40k and 4th ed whfb dawned, hearing about all the old cool editions I'd just missed; I own those editions now too and they are fun to read but I've yet to play them.
    I love modern plastic miniatures, the ease of conversion possibilities etc. I play older editions with some friends that still like them and I current editions with other friends that like them.

    My personal side of the debate goes like this:

    The question/s: "What is Oldhammer?, Is this Oldhammer? Am I doing Oldhammer right?"
    All these Questions are answered with this comeback question: "Are you having fun?"

    If the answer is YES, you're doing it right. If the answer is No, keep looking until you find that sweet spot you enjoy.

    This is your hobby, it is always a personal thing and everybody is welcome to enjoy it in their own way.

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    1. Every single member of the Forum/FB group/Google+ group will have a different view of what Oldhammer is about. And that's the way it should be. Vive la difference!

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  17. I have quiet a few of those rule sets and do intend to play them all. Since Christmas I've been making Frostgrave ruins so I hope to share a few games with everyone soon.

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  18. I think you summarized it all pretty well. As long as you get some fun with your minis, it's perfectly ok, no need to care about labels. Labels tend to bring problems into the equation.
    I'm trying to have a game using some of the rulesets you mentioned! Hope I manage to do so!

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  19. The ethos of miniature wargaming was, is, and will always be about the figures and one's own collection. Rules are only incidental. Rules come and go, but figures stay with you for a much longer time.

    I am a big proponent of letting your figures drive the rules you use, rather than the other way around as you see too often these days in rulesets with codified army lists.

    10 years or 20 years from now I will most likely be using rulesets that still have to be written. But I am pretty sure those games will involve figures that are already in my collection today.

    Shameless plug: I wrote an opinion piece about this called "It's the figures, stupid!" in WSS 78. Also part of the discussion can be found here http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=372524

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  20. The key thing is to play exactly how you want to, only bending to accommodate your opponent/s (and GM if you have one) rather than being dictated to by any commercial entity.

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  21. Thank you WP. In some sense, I guess that's what I've been doing all along. I bought in to Rogue Trader, but the rules were never . . . well . . . the book is fantastic and the art is lovely, but damn it takes a long time to play a game with much more than a couple dozen miniatures. I've been dabbling with alternate rules since the 90s. I've used Full Thrust for space games thinking I could link them to RT. I've long dabbled with Stargrunt II. I've used Pulp Alley for narrative stuff for a few years now. And lately, I tried a WWII quick play ruleset that's packed away right now, so I can't tell you what it is. But the point was always wanting something that was quick, fun, balanced, and replayable with like-minded friends.

    I think I've actually used a citadel ruleset precisely once since the early nineties. (Well, a few times if you count Talisman and a brief foray into Bloodbowl that went nowhere.) Mind you, I'm quite all right with anyone using any rules they want. And if folks want to throw down with RT, I'll be there . . . all night. For my own gaming I'm quite content to hunt for something that plays fast, light, and fun. Lots of good options. My only desire is to enjoy the company of interested players so that we all have a good time.

    Now that I've rambled on far too much, thank you. Well said. Yes, I'll gladly call it Oldhammer. No, we don't really need the name. But if it's invitational and I get to bring my own toys that seems a decent enough handle for the aesthetic at least. Maybe it's nothing more than an acknowledgement that much of what we are today came from that golden era.

    No matter how you play, with what rules, or miniatures, have fun. And here's to hoping we get to play together sometime.

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  22. If Oldhammer is just an ethos, then I think you could easily use Age of Sigmar rules and new figures (whether GW or not) and still be "Oldhammer". As a viable ruleset for old-style games, I think it's often over-looked.

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  23. A great, and thoughtful post - I think from the volume of comments that you're onto something!

    Not much else to add, except that I noticed this today in the intro to Dragon Rampant - "As a consequence, this book is dedicated to Richard Halliwell, Rick Priestley, and Bryan Ansell, whose fault it all is.". So maybe Dragon Rampant is Oldhammer... (you'd have to assume that the echoing of the WFB 2nd edition dedication is deliberate, even if he did add an Oxford comma...) :)

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  24. I'm another one who agree's. I've always thought the point of Oldhammer was not about a love of a particular set of rules but wanting to return to an attitude where the exploration of ideas were central. I feel that two things damaged the hobby: the chasing of profit and the rules lawyer tournament mentality. The first was inevitable with rapid growth of Games Workshop. But I do feel the increased shrinking of profits might cause the company to take a hard look at it's attitudes. The other, the tournament and rules lawyer attitude was a result of the dominance of the internet forums giving a false idea of how ost people want to play. Third edition should always be seen as a starting point for something new, not the holy grail that we are trying to achieve.

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  25. Great article. By reading the text I realised, that I never liked the Warhammer Rules at all. It was my start in tabletop games. I liked the painting and army building aspect, but the game itself was rather slow and there was always someone referring the rulebook causing a brake. There are better rulesets nowadays. I prefer Song of Blades and Heroes. This brought me back to wargaming. When I read the rules the first time I thought after every paragraph: just this way, that's it! There is so much freedom in everything and the games are fast and tactical, although they're simple and easy to learn. I don't need hundreds of different spells. There is one attack spell. If you think it should be a fireball spell - go for it. Another player plays it as a lightning bolt - no problem. SBH is really for players who prefer the narrative play.

    In my opinion Oldhammer has the same spirit as SBH. It's the opposite of the Games Workshop strategy. Take every miniature from every manufacturer you like. Play together, not against each other. You have only won, when all players had fun. Scenery hasn't to be perfect it must have soul. And therefore I love the Citadel miniatures range of the 80s: they aren't perfect, but they have soul.

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