Right! That’s it! I’ve had enough! Everyone sit down, pin back your earholes and listen. I’m laying down the law and anyone who still disagrees after this is wrong.
(You are, of course, entitled by the Great Powers of Subjective Experience, Relativism, Bullheadedness and Free Speech to be wrong, but you’re still wrong.)
Oldhammer: That which predates the coming of the Great Beast called Tom Kirby
Which means the first, second and third editions of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, and the legendary Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.
Everything produced before 1992 is fair game here and I’m grudgingly going to concede that includes Talisman, Heroquest and Space Crusade because they had an air of the anything-goes, not aggressively factionalised and brand protected pre-Kirby vibe about them. Maybe the original Adeptus Titanicus too. Blood Bowl is Oldhammer in spirit even if it’s survived, thrived, and taken on the aspect of each later period: it transcends all else and endures, magnificent, as quite possibly the best thing GW have ever done.
This period is characterised by big hardback rulebooks, a vaguely interwoven background in which it’s just possible the WFB and 40K universes coexist, by terrible puns and pop culture references, by outsider art, and by a random table for literally everything on God’s clean Earth.
People who like Oldhammer can be aggressively puritan and I for one have not forgotten being one of those Kids for whose Pocket Money GW is Ruining the Hobby, back in the day, but I do like their battle reports and their general sense of humour.
Middlehammer: That which hails from the reign of the Great Beast called Tom Kirby
Which means the fourth to eighth editions of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, the second to seventh editions of Warhammer 40,000, the Black Industries edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play and Dark Heresy et al from Fantasy Flight. Also all Specialist Games except Blood Bowl. Anything from 1991 to about 2015, especially if it came in a big cardboard box with rulebooks and swarms of near-identical single-pose plastic models in it.
I’m ruling out Hogshead’s WFRP because it’s a republication of the original and quintessentially Oldhammer game, a wrap-up of a legacy product that’s extremely off brand for the Kirby period and would be replaced before the Great Beast gave up his throne.
This period is characterised by big boxed games, and an attempt to get a big boxed game under the bed of every adolescent lad in the country. At first, things are bright and idiotic; later they’re dark and even more idiotic, once GW figures out that teenage boys like edgy shit. Compartmentalised ‘Army Books’ or ‘Codex Books’ deliver the rules for models in convenient faction-sized chunks.
The period subdivides further into three categories:
Second edition 40K, fourth and fifth edition WFB, Warhammer Quest, Space Hulk, Necromunda, Gorkamorka, Mordheim, Space Marine, Titan Legions etc.
Overpowered characters with a plantation’s worth of Wargear cards, cardboard counters, cardboard datasheets for their vehicles, cardboard vehicles in some places, and cardboard buildings. Game balance for competitive play is an emerging concern but they’re not getting it right yet.
Tends to be the most popular among Middlehammerers, especially the ones who drifted away roundabout the time they discovered Women and Beer. (I never found it that hard to have Gaming, Women and Beer in my life, but then I’ve never held down a Real Man’s Job for more than nine months, so that probably explains a few things about me.)
Third, fourth and fifth edition 40K, sixth and seventh edition WFB. Warmaster, Battlefleet Gothic, Epic 40,000. Black Industries’ WFRP.
A backlash against the dominance of overpowered characters and the overproduction of cardboard gaming accessories. Tournament players are hired to write and contribute to rules and the games enter their most streamlined, balanced state to date.
The core experience is admittedly a bit bland compared to the excesses on either side, but more variants are built into that experience than ever. This is the age of worldwide campaigns that work, Cityfight, Combat Patrol, Kill Team, Warhammer Skirmish, the General’s Compendium, and all that stuff. The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game is not Warhammer but has a distinctively Borehammer feel to it and came out at the right time, so in it goes.
Sixth and seventh edition 40K, eighth edition WFB. Tournament types are out, Forging the Narrative (or having it forced on you by GW, if you’re a WFB player) is in. Balance goes out the window in favour of Herohammer nostalgia. Armies, models, rulebooks and destructive potential are all embiggened and while things look better than ever, the play experience is best described as an exercise in riding the randomisation waves.
Fantasy Flight’s WFRP and Dreadfleet are the quintessential Lorehammer period gaming experience; they look fantastic but basically play themselves and you’re along for the ride. On the plus side, the Horus Heresy starts to take off and get the rivet counter crowd into 40K. On the downside, GW is still locked into Kirby’s suicide pact with Peter Jackson’s dignity and we get saddled with The Hobbit as an ill conceived ‘battle’ game.
Newhammer: that which emerges blinking into the harsh light of dawn as the Great Beast called Tom Kirby cedes control
Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, Warhammer Underworlds, eighth edition Warhammer 40,000 and revived Necromunda and Adeptus Titanicus. I don’t count the PC games here because they’re all self-consciously tied to Middlehammer intellectual properties that might otherwise fall out of copyright. Nor do I include the technically new Warhammer Fantasy Role Play because it’s set in the Old World and is self-consciously modelled on the Black Industries one from 2003. The AOS RPG will be definitively Newhammer though. Fans of Newhammer cannot be blamed. They like something that’s not really to my taste and that’s all there is to be said on the matter.
Obviously my tongue is firmly in my cheek throughout all of this and I don’t actually think my pronouncements are world-defining as the Plan of the Old Ones (although I am fat, somnolent, and possessed of a wart, so I have something in common with their chosen people the Slann).
I do genuinely, sincerely think that the rise and fall of Tom Kirby mark a sea change in how GW did business and developed games, and thus serve as useful parentheses around the ‘Middlehammer’ period.
Let me know if I’ve left anything out and I will either steadfastly ignore you or command the Skinks to double-check the ancient tablets and possibly even make… a change… to the ancient scriptures.
Here endeth the lesson.