What Is Middlehammer?

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:

Herohammer

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.)

Borehammer

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.

Lorehammer

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.

[WFB] House of Kerithion

Trying a new tack with the Dark Elves – away from the Khainite bias and into something that forces me to adjust my style away from RUN FORWARD SHOUTING.

Lord: Supreme Sorceress: 350
– level 4 wizard
– Pendant of Khaeleth
– Dark Pegasus

Hero: Master: 113
– heavy armour, Sea Dragon cloak
– Crimson Death
– Army General

Hero: Master: 329
– lance, heavy armour, shield, Sea Dragon Cloak
– Manticore
– Ring of Hotek

Core: 39 Warriors: 293
– shields
– standard, musician, champion
– Banner of Murder

Core: 10 Crossbowmen: 105
– musician

Core: 10 Crossbowmen: 105
– musician

Core: 5 Dark Riders: 131
– repeater crossbows
– musician, champion

Core: Assassin: 171
– additional hand weapon
– Rending Stars, Cloak of Twilight, Manbane

Special: 7 Shades: 130
– Bloodshade

Rare: 2 Reaper Bolt Throwers: 200

TOTALS:
Overall: 1955
Lords: 350/500
Heroes: 442/500
Core: 805
Special: 130/1000
Rare: 200/500

Another of those ‘the best you can with what you’ve got’ jobs, I’m afraid. I’m acutely conscious that it doesn’t include any of the best stuff (a problem I’ve often had: the financial cost of Rare units and their position at the end of the army list combine to push them out of my awareness when list building), but I feel it should play a decent denial/attrition game, especially with the Lore of Shadows around to drop some hexes and reduce the resilience of key targets.

The Manticore Master and Assassin are both counter-attack units, who can also be recast as artillery/wizard hunters should the need arise. At a pinch, I can also slingshot the Master with Crimson Death out of his unit with Shadow Magic, if there’s something out there that absolutely has to die. Shades and Dark Riders put pressure on the enemy, either by being upfield and chucking out some respectably reliable firepower or just serving as delivery systems for the aforementioned characters. Crossbowmen and Spearmen move up and hold the midfield…

… I’m still not convinced there’s enough hitty in this list. Maybe I need to squash some Chariots in there somehow? What would you drop to fit them in, Internets?

[WFB] That's Not The Way To Do It At All

There are two ways to learn a new edition of a wargame.

There is the sensible way, where you wait for an appropriately-priced rulebook to be released, read through it several times – once for squee, once for confusion, once for slow parsing and then once more for actual tactical application – and play a series of smallish games using forces you’re comfortable with, concentrating on the interaction of new mechanics, in a safe and quiet environment free of pressures, with time to look up and discuss complex interactions as they emerge.

Then there’s the stupid way where you play a five-player team game in a Games Workshop branch with a rowdy, rambunctions bunch of old mates, only two of whom have seriously read the new rules, and a high chance of backseat gamers, self-appointed Sun Tzu, hobby elitists and all the other nuisances of the shop environment.

I am stupid. THEREFORE:

Dark Elves 8th Ed Test Run – 2498/2500
Lords – 470

Dreadlord (General) – 180
– repeater crossbow
– Tormentor Sword
– Armour of Darkness

Supreme Sorceress – 290
– Ring of Darkness
– Sacrifical Dagger

Heroes – 595

Master – 340
– heavy armour, shield, sea dragon cloak
– Deathpiercer, Ring of Hotek
– Manticore

Death Hag – 226
– Cauldron of Blood
– Army Standard

Core – 626

39 Warriors – 288
– shields
– standard, musician, Lordling

10 Crossbowmen – 100

10 Crossbowmen – 100

5 Dark Riders – 131
– repeater crossbows
– musician, Herald

Special – 637

21 Witch Elves – 275
– standard, musician, Hag
– Witchbrew, Banner of Swiftness

16 Executioners – 232
– standard, musician, Draich-master
– Banner of Eternal Flame

7 Shades – 130
– Bloodshade

Rare – 200

2 Reaper Bolt Throwers – 200

Dreadlord is in to snipe at things like Fanatics should any be present, and to provide an Ld10 bubble from the heart of the army. Was tempted to merge Crossbows into one big unit and give him the reroll-misses-when-shooting talisman. He gets a cheap magic sword in case of Wraiths – he can join the Spearmen and at least try to slap some wounds on them.

Sorceress goes in the Warrior horde and uses them as ablative wounds and power dice on legs (which should hopefully compensate for her lower level).

Master on Manticore dive-bombs whatever needs dive-bombing – trashes something big and scary like a War Altar and annoys people with his miscasty doom aura.

Death Hag does what Death Hags do – follow the army, being a very tough BSB that also hands out Stubborn to my signature units and buffs like they’re going out of fashion.

Spearmen horde take point. Deliver Sorceress into range and move up, daring charges – Sorceress will have something that still works in combat, be it a Soul Stealer, a Word of Pain or a Black Horror. If she rolls three missiles I’m entertainingly buggered.

Crossbows and Bolt Throwers are flank and rear guards for the army, chucking out volume of fire until they die.

Dark Riders are bait and blockers, as are Shades. Any casualties inflicted by them are a bonus.

Executioners are crap in the new rules but I’m taking them anyway so I can see how crap they are and whether the Cauldron helps them be not crap. Will probably use them to outflank anything fighting the Warriors.

Witch Elves move forward apace, charge in, chop up what they can and keep going until something dies. Switched their configuration around a bit. Suspect will miss Manbane/Armour Piercing combo after a while. Can’t be helped though.

Entry increasingly terse due to exciting sixteen hour day of restoring formatted computer to ordinary functioning, and being placed on hold by Department for Work and Pensions.

Has just occurred to me – members of Dark Elf team have not discussed who will take which items and spell lores to avoid duplication. Pre-game pre-amble could be VERY interesting…

Will try to report on game.

Bed now.