Revisiting the Old World: Thoughts from a Longtime Warhammer Player

Tabletop Games - OPINION
Artwork of an evil warrior with horns

Awesome fantasy artwork that is soooo unofficial it's not even funny.

 

 

Like many fans of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, I was deeply upset when Games-Workshop decided to blow up the Old World. I understood the decision, as the game had become stagnant as far as sales go and wasn't as successful as Warhammer 40,000, but it still hurt quite a bit. Miniature wargaming is similar to collectible card gaming, but not in every way. Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon players enjoy their hobby by buying cards and building decks to stomp their foes. Many hours can be spent on this, or as many do in today’s time, a superior deck is a simple google search away (as are Warhammer army lists). When cards go out of rotation, they are still usable in many legacy formats, and older Warhammer editions can be played (if you can find an opponent for them).

But with Warhammer, players not only build expensive armies, but many of them hand paint their miniatures, a painstaking process that takes many laborious hours. When Games-Workshop blew up the Old World, it was like setting these armies on fire (which some people actually did, yikes!). The miniatures were no longer really usable except for by way of playing older editions, which for Warhammer, can go stale given the far more limited meta options available as compared to the card games mentioned above, which feature thousands of cards.

Those of us who follow Warhammer Fantasy know of all of these troubles, and I won’t rehash the same sentiments here (more than I already have). What I would like to talk about in this article is the re-emergence of Warhammer Fantasy in the form of Warhammer: The Old World. For those who do not know about Warhammer Fantasy, and what the Old World is all about, read the following sections. If you know about all of this, feel free to skip on down to the “Warhammer The Old World: The Way It Should Be” if you’re interested in an old Warhammer boomer’s thoughts on the subject.


Warhammer models on a grass mat with house and fence terrain

The vicious Lizardmen do battle against the men of the Empire, in poor quality photo fashion.

Introduction to Warhammer: The Old World

The Old World is the original setting for the popular tabletop game, Warhammer Fantasy Battle. It is a world of mid-fantasy, full of magic and mystery, yet grounded in themes inspired by history. The game was created by Games Workshop in 1983 and has since become a beloved classic among tabletop gamers. The world is populated by a variety of races, from Humans, Dwarves, and Elves, to Orcs, Skaven (rat-men), and Chaos Warriors.

The game revolves around the conflict between the different races, with each side vying for domination and control of the Old World. Players can choose to command armies of various species, and battle it out in epic battles on the tabletop using miniatures. The game includes a variety of scenarios and rules that can be customized to create unique and exciting battles.

The Old World has been the setting for many expansions and editions of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, as well as a variety of spin-off games, such as Mordheim, Warmaster, Warhammer 40K and Warhammer Age of Sigmar. As mentioned above, Games-Workshop canceled Warhammer Fantasy Battles and blew up the this setting back in 2015 in favor of the new, higher fantasy Age of Sigmar setting.

 The Green Knight battling the Necromancer Heinrich KemmlerThe Green Knight battling the Necromancer Heinrich Kemmler


A Look at the Different Editions of the Old World

Since its inception, Warhammer Fantasy Battle has gone through several editions, most featuring notable changes in rules and scope. Warhammer Fantasy Battles 5th edition and 7th edition featured minor rules changes from their predecessors, while 6th edition refocused the game by making rank-and-file troops more significant (instead of heroes, which 5th edition was known for). The most recent edition, 8th edition, was released in 2018 and is one of the most popular editions of the game.

The 8th edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle includes many changes from previous editions. The main changes involve streamlining the rules, adding a lot of magical items, and refocusing on large masses of infantry. A great deal of chance was added to the game's mechanics as well, with rules increasing the number of dice rolls made being introduced, which decreased the tactical elements of the game.

The most impactful rule change of 8th edition was the introduction of the steadfast rule, which made tactics such as flanking trivial in most (but not all) cases. In previous editions, combat was resolved with far fewer dice rolls on average, with combat scores calculated from elements such as ranks, the presence of standards, number of models in the unit, and flanking (attacking from the side) having far greater weight in determining the victor. 8th edition's steadfast rule made break tests (the roll made to see if the loser flees in a panic) unmodified, so if the unit is in greater numbers than their foe, the modifiers above are discounted. The odds of running, even when flanked or heavily damaged, were decreased significantly for massive units. This lead to games being more about the best fighting units and the most powerful spells, and less about maneuvering and tactics. I would say that 8th edition is one of the more divisive editions. These rules changes were no doubt intended to encourage the existing player base to purchase more models for their armies, as an effective army had to secure steadfast to win in most cases. But the side effect of this approach was the cost of entry for new players became for the most part unreasonable.   

The other editions of the game are still available for players who wish to experience the classic Warhammer Fantasy Battle experience. Several Warhammer Fantasy enthusiasts have made their own homebrew versions of the game, such as Warhammer: Renaissance, Warhammer Armies Project, and a totally different game based on Warhammer Fantasy rules; Fantasy Battles: The 9th Age. There are also a great many 3D sculpted and traditionally sculpted models available by independent sculptors for those who are looking for substitutes for some of Warhammer's discontinued miniatures. 

A follow-up to the original Warhammer Fantasy setting was announced by Games-Workshop back in 2019. Games-Workshop has since stated that the game will be a rank-and-file game, with inspiration from the older editions of Warhammer Fantasy, which has many fans, including myself, excited and curious. What will Warhammer: The Old World be? As a grizzled Warhammer player for over 22 years, I’ll put “my stank” on the topic.

 

Warhammer: The Old World The Way It Should Be

If you’ve spent any time on online Warhammer forums or chatting among Warhammer Fantasy veterans, you’ll know that many of us don’t see things the same way as far as our thoughts on what Warhammer: The Old World should be like. So what do I hope to see, and what do I expect will happen? Here goes.

 

Warhammer: The Old World Rules

Though I have no data to back this up, I feel like most Warhammer Fantasy Battles fans online would like Warhammer: The Old World to be a revamp of 6th edition with some minor to moderate changes. This isn’t the worst idea really, as that edition is widely thought of as the most balanced (though it was far from actually being balanced, it was probably the most balanced). It was also the only modern edition that featured army books for every army (if you count the Ravening Hordes Chaos Dwarfs list).

Although 5th edition is my favorite, I would be quite happy with 6th edition being the foundation for the game. I enjoyed 5th edition’s absurd heroes, and nutty army builds (I recently played a game of 5th where I built a Dwarf army whose general cast necromantic magic), but I understand the draw players have for 6th edition’s refined approach. I would like to see some of 5th edition’s army-building creativity featured in this game, but with 6th edition’s restraint as far as balance goes.

It would also be nice if the role-playing elements found in 3rd edition were somehow incorporated into the new game, in a way that fits without going off the rails. Thumbing through my tattered Warhammer 3rd Edition rulebook, I'm enamored with the crazy and neat ideas therein, especially the spells that were so thematic in that edition. It'd be nice to see spells like these outnumber the "d6 Strength 4 hits" like spells that were common in later editions.

So what do I hope we see, and don't see in Warhammer: The Old World?

 

Empire Outriders battling dwarfs.
Let's hope that Warhammer: The Old World includes the tactical elements of the earlier editions.

Let’s Not Do 8th Again

Despite 8th edition’s popularity, I really didn’t enjoy the edition much at all. As mentioned above, the game was less tactical, and more meta-based than previous editions, which may be some people's cup of tea, but not me. Playing game after game of “death star” battles between giant units became stale fast. Don't get me wrong, there were a few builds that didn’t rely on this, but overall that was the 8th edition scene. I have to be fully transparent by saying that I am a Dwarfs and Bretonnians player, both armies that typically feature lower model counts, so the edition didn't fair well for my choice of armies and play style. Other than the Common Magic Items list, and the monster buffs (which needed to be in defense, not offense), there’s very little I would like to see used from 8th edition in Warhammer: The Old World. Call me a sore loser, and maybe I am. But I think this is a worthy point of view. 

 

No More Dice Dumping 

I would also like to see less dice dumping in Warhammer: The Old World. What is dice dumping? Known mostly in 6th edition (and onward), dice dumping was the practice of loading up tons of dice (by using magic items and spamming spell casters) so that you can roll a bunch of dice to attempt to cast powerful spells. It was really annoying, and despite the threat of a miscast, it always seemed to go the caster’s way. Spells have always been powerful in Warhammer and being able to almost ensure that these powerful spells go off really sucked for those on the receiving end. In fact, I would love to see the card system reinstated. I know most would disagree with that, and it did slow the game down some, but I enjoyed the system far more than the dice-based magic system. The card-based system seemed to limit the amount of big spell-casting that players could do. Usually, you had enough power to cast one big spell, and one moderate spell, which is a lot better than being able to cast every spell your army has each turn. Some items and combos broke this concept, but I digress.

I wouldn’t even mind seeing fewer dice in rolls altogether. Warhammer 8th edition pumped up the number of dice rolled by almost double, and it was not uncommon to see 20+ dice being rolled for a single attack. In earlier editions, you often saw only 5 to 10 dice rolled for attacks, and static combat results (bonuses gained for flanking, for example) made for a much more tactical experience. I know people who are triggered by 5th edition will point out that the heroes were the only ones that mattered, but with a few house rules put in place, this wasn’t a big problem for 5th edition. I do fully expect Warhammer: The Old World to be dice-heavy, however, as the trend seems to be present in their ultra-successful Warhammer 40k.

 A large Skaven unit battling a small Bretonnian Knights unit.
Skaven Plague Monks chewing through Bretonnian Knights in a horrendous game of 8th edition. A keen-eyed player would realize that 11 more dice were needed in Skaven's attack.


You Can Bet On These Changes

So, what changes do I fully expect to see in Warhammer: The Old World? I fully expect to see smaller armies, in terms of model count and regiment size. Warhammer 40,000, and Age of Sigmar have smaller model counts as compared to Warhammer Fantasy Battles, especially 8th edition. I believe that the big wigs at Games-Workshop realized that upping the model count requirements for a functional army in Warhammer Fantasy Battles 8th edition was a major mistake, as it heavily limited the cost of entry for new players. Games-Workshop miniatures have gone up quite a bit in price over recent years as well, so it stands to make sense that regiments and armies will be smaller in number to accommodate. I’m actually not against this idea, as I liked the smaller model counts found in Warhammer 4th and 5th editions. I hope to see 10, 15, and 20 strong units being the common unit sizes, with goblin units and the like being your horde units like God intended.

I also expect to see some stats changing in format on the stat line, probably to match Warhammer 40k. The obvious stat to change is BS (Ballistic Skill), as it used to feature a number that had to be changed into a to-hit score. While it looks more uniform on the stat line to use numbers instead of scores to hit (like 3 instead of 4+), the process of converting BS 3 to the score to hit was rather silly in hindsight. You had to take BS value and subtract it from the number 7, to get the score you need to hit. So a BS of 3 requires a score of 4+ to hit (7-3=4). Or, you could just put 4+ on the stat line, since, unlike the WS (Weapon Skill) stat, or the S (Strength) and T (Toughness) stats, BS did not reference an enemy’s stat line at all. I hope that they don’t use a score to hit for the WS stat in Warhammer: The Old World, however, as I do like the skill of the attacker and the skill of the defender being considered for the score needed for these rolls.

You can also bet on plenty of large monsters and epically scaled heroes for Warhammer: The Old World. The scale creeps for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40k has not gone unnoticed, and while Games-Workshop has stated that your old Warhammer armies will have a home in the new game, I can’t help but believe that the new armies will feature a great number of larger models, following the trend of Warhammer’s sister games. Being a Warhammer boomer, I am probably in the minority in that I do not really like these larger, over-the-top sculpts. I do think some of them are really cool, like the more recent rendition of Negash, but otherwise, I feel like they are a bit too crazy for the tabletop. The Mortis Engine (one of the first models of this style), for example, while cool looking, is too over the top for me. One of the things I like about miniature wargames is that they are, well, in miniature. I also expect models to continue to have outrageous poses, which will probably look like crap ranked up. But that’s the way it goes. There’s something that sets off nostalgia in my brain when I see some mono-pose infantry model, holding a shield and a spear at the ready. A nicely ranked unit featuring variant poses that are not too different from one another is what I think looks best on the table. I don’t dig models that have all these pokey bits, making a ninja pose, or top heavy models standing on their tippy toes. But it will happen, I imagine.

I fully expect 'guessed range' to not be used. Before 8th edition, players were not permitted to pre-measure moves, but had to first state the move they intend to make with their units before measuring. I enjoyed guessed range mechanics, but after a while players typically get very good at eyeballing the distances, and there are beardy ways around it as well (like placing shooting units near melee infantry or cannons and making shooting attacks that allow you to measure distance for the adjacent units).

One last, obvious thing to expect is the price is going to be sky-high. I imagine that Games-Workshop will see this as a specialist game, and therefore will price it accordingly. That doesn’t really upset me, I am used to my hobby being like this. But it will happen.

Army Books or Indexs?

I am curious about how the books will be established; will there be individual army books, or will there be volumes with multiple armies within, sorta like Warhammer 40k’s Index books, with some individual army books possibly following (based on the “new” armies they will bring out for the edition). I'm an oddball in that I enjoy reading army books that are solely devoted to each army individually. I wouldn’t mind the index books, but I do think, in true Games-Workshop fashion, the old armies will probably not be at all competitive with the new ones, to fuel sales. But having grown from a boy into a man as far as wargaming goes, I can agree on house rules with other grown players to make battles between these armies more competitive.

So what do you think Warhammer: The Old World will look like?

 

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Note: The views contained within this article represents the author's views alone, and may or may not represent other's views within Toy and Tee. We're all different here, and celebrate diversity of perspectives.  

 

 

  • Cartoon pic of the authorJay C. Shepherd
  • Content Creator
  • Jay is a graphic designer, board game enthusiast, and professional wrestling fan who loves all things 80's, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and of course, video games. He is one of the rare few that believes that one can be a Trekkie and Star Wars fan at the same time.