THE WFRP STORY XXV: “A BUCKET FULL OF DICE”

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.

White Dwarf 66 WFB2 Review

Review of WFB2 in White Dwarf 66

For more perspectives on Battlesystem, see Grognardia, Boardgame Geek and Beasts of War (parts one, two and three).

This concludes this section of ‘The WFRP Story’. There will be a hiatus before I resume and take the story to the launch of WFRP1 in the next section. I will continue to blog on other subjects during this period.

Title image and internal art used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.

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5 thoughts on “THE WFRP STORY XXV: “A BUCKET FULL OF DICE”

  1. It’s interesting that Ansell insisted on D6 only. I’m not sure that making a table top wargame use only D6 stops looking less quirky, if that was the plan.

    I think D10s would have been superior and synergise quite nicely with the denary attributes of WFB. It would also have brought the WFB and WFRP rulesets closer. Although in the long run, that may not have been a great side effect.

    £9.95…them were the days.

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    1. I can see how a reliance on D6 might have been an asset in the 1970s when polyhedral dice were harder to get hold of. I am less sure of its benefits in the mid 1980s. I personally would have preferred a different dice system and fewer die rolls, but given how successful WFB has been, I doubt Bryan Ansell has many regrets.

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      1. A think use of the D6 sent out a very simple message to shops and customers alike: this is a normal game, like Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly. Yes, there are those funny metal figures, but you can use small bits of card with ‘ORC’ written on them instead, and just get the dice out of another board game.

        That might not have been the thinking behind it, but when you’re trying to introduce an unusual game to a wider market then keeping whatever you can familiar is a good idea.

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  2. It is interesting that Robert Alcock mentions Mike Gilberts Archworld – which is more of a campaign level wargame than the battle/skirmish level we are familiar with from Warhammer. Rather it is the world-building that is familiar, there are supernatural evil barbarains raiding down from the northern wastes, quasi-aztec empires a’la Lustria and nations with 11th-16th century technology rub shoulders with each other, alongside a smorgabord of D&D and Tolkien-like goblins, elves and dwarves, and cultic legions not dissimilar to the Knights of the Cleansing Flame and Red Redemptionists. By no means as cited an influence on Warhammer as D&D and Glorantha. Worth taking a look at if you can find a reasonably priced copy.

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