Warhammer’s first edition was reviewed in White Dwarf 43 (July 1983), by Joe Dever. Dever’s opinion was favourable and awarded the game an overall score of 8/10. He praised its “attractive” presentation, and commented that “the best aspects of the Reaper system have been recognised and incorporated into Warhammer”. Dever was, however, under no illusion that Warhammer was at this stage really an RPG, but was instead “a set of fantasy wargame rules … with a role-playing supplement”.
Dragon did not review Warhammer until some time later (issue 85, May 1984), but then provided two reviews. The first was by Ken Rolston, who regarded the wargame rules as a “quite satisfactory” introductory game, but found the role-playing treatment “unimpressive and cursory”. He also gently noted the spelling and grammatical errors, but acknowledged the rules were “well-organized [sic] and readable”.
The second review was by Katharine Kerr and was presented as a “counterpoint” to Rolston’s. Strangely, though, Kerr’s review makes the same points as Rolston’s. She describes the miniatures rules as “very good”, but the RPG “embarrassingly bad”. She notes at length the spelling and grammatical errors, but also points out the rules are clear and “logically presented”. Kerr focuses heavily on the system’s role-playing deficiencies, but says little on its value as a wargame. She concludes: “perhaps someday [sic] the game will be revised to make it live up to its potential; until then it will be a curiosity and nothing more”.
It’s hard to disagree with the reviewers’ main points (though Rolston perhaps presents them in the most balanced fashion). WFB1 offered a simple, but playable skirmish game, but a barely functioning RPG. The text was reasonably well organised, but lacking in polish. It certainly was a system that would benefit from a revision.
You can read the reviews in full below. (Click on the images, select the review and click View Full Size. You may have to scroll down to see the View Full Size button.)
WFB1 reviews in White Dwarf and Dragon
Warhammer was not without competition in the fantasy wargame space. Competitors included the original Chainmail (Gary Gygax and Jeff Perrin, Guidon Games, 1971), Swords & Spells (Gary Gygax, TSR, 1976), Middle Earth Wargames Rules (G Highley, S Johnson, K Minear and K White, Skytrex, 1976), Wizards & Warfare (Peter Irving, Leicester Micromodels, 1976), The Emerald Tablet (Jay Facciolo, Tom Loback and Joe Miceli, Creative Wargames Workshop, 1977), The Quest for Thane Tostig (Eric and William Knowles, Navwar, 1977), Archworld (Sheila and Mike Gilbert, Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1977) and, of course, Reaper (Rick Priestley and Richard Halliwell, Tabletop Games, 1978). It is notable, though, that Warhammer‘s wargame competitors were old by 1983 and for the most part little more than homebrew. For all its gaps and presentational problems, Warhammer stood up well against its competition.
Warhammer also had two other advantages. It had the support of miniatures from Citadel and the distribution of GW. With TSR’s wargame rules presumably long out of print, none of Warhammer‘s peers could compete on these aspects. It was this combination of rules, miniatures and distribution that in my view drove Warhammer‘s initial success.
The WFRP Story will continue after a hiatus. During that time I will post on other subjects.
Title art by Chris Achilleos. Used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.