This post continues my history of WFRP1, which started here.
WFB2 was reviewed in White Dwarf 66 (June 1985) by Robert Alcock. He described it as “a vast improvement” on WFB1 and awarded it an overall rating of 8/10. He did, however, have one substantial objection: “personally I do not like throwing a bucket full of dice to cause casualties and then find that your opponent gets most of them back with a saving throw”. As noted in part V, this inelegant mechanism was forced on the designers by Bryan Ansell’s insistence on only using D6 dice.
Alcock concluded his review with a noteworthy lament:
Warhammer does remain the only viable set of fantasy mass battle rules. The continued flippant attitude of the mainstream historical wargame establishment to fantasy gaming has made this so.
– Robert Alcock, White Dwarf 66
It was not just the historical wargame establishment that ignored fantasy wargaming. Equally the RPG community neglected its wargaming roots. As I observed in part VIII, this meant there were no credible fantasy wargame competitors when WFB1 was launched, and that remained true when WFB2 appeared.
A competitor did, however, appear shortly after WFB2. In March 1985 TSR launched AD&D Battlesystem. This was a large boxed set containing a 32-page rule book, 24-page scenario book, 16-page guide to painting miniatures and making terrain, some cardstock terrain sheets and 800 counters and card bases.
With the support of the preeminent fantasy games company and compatibility with the market-leading RPG, Battlesystem had the potential to be a major competitor to Warhammer. Yet it appears to have had limited impact on Citadel’s game. In my opinion this was for several reasons.
One was that Battlesystem was not designed as a standalone wargame, but as an RPG supplement. It therefore did not address the fantasy wargaming market in its entirety, but a subset of it that was interested in RPGs.
Moreover, the Battlesystem rules amounted to a wargame for roleplayers. Its mechanics were simple and lacked many elements required to satisfy wargamers. Graeme Davis observed in his review in WD70 (October 1985) that it was “not as detailed as some fantasy wargame rules”. In Imagine 30 (September 1985) Roger Musson noted it had some “some omissions” and characterised it as an introductory game. Battlesystem also carried a substantial rules overhead to ensure compatibility with AD&D, leading, for example, to lengthy unit descriptions.
Battlesystem had commercial disadvantages versus WFB2, at least in the UK. The end of TSR’s distribution arrangement with GW and Bryan Ansell’s takeover of GW meant it did not receive significant sales and marketing support from GW. It was also expensive. Its UK retail price of £15.95 was much higher than WFB2‘s £9.95, even before the additional cost of AD&D rulebooks. Graeme Davis commented in his review: “it may have priced itself out the market from the start”.
Warhammer also had superior miniatures support. Although there were many AD&D miniatures, the ranges to my mind were more directed at role-playing encounters than bulding armies.
In short Battlesystem left the fantasy wargaming market open for Warhammer to dominate.
Review of WFB2 in White Dwarf 66
‘The WFRP Story’ continues here.
Title image and internal art used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.