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] Seventh Heaven

Apparently I am obliged to break up this ocean of armchair development and list building exercises with some actual narrative of games played, failures endured and lessons learned. No big battle report – because a) no pictures were taken and b) I honestly don’t think anyone actually enjoys blow-by-blow reports any more, we’ve all lost the knack for them – but since I’ve actually played a game this week, let’s have a practicehammer post for a change.


After the last game – the one that I… hold on… takes a while to get this out… bear with me… lost – I had the general feeling that it was a lack of aggression what done it, and Shiny counselled wedging my Sorceress into the enemy lines to march-block and fling Dark Magic at things from shorter distances. At the time, I pooh-poohed this suggestion (she’s expensive, too useful to die, and made of squish, you know, and the lads have things like short bows and Ratling Guns that she’s actually a bit scared of…) but I figured what the hell, it was Dave and his Goblins this week, and if I’m being cautious about fighting Goblins I probably need to give my Dark Elves back to the Evildoer Shop.

So, the new plan was for the two Warrior units to take point, with the Witch Elves and Executioners slightly further back in the customary flanking position. The Dark Riders went in front of the Witch Elves, both to screen them a little bit and also so they could rush the Goblin lines and blow out some Fanatics on the first turn. The Shades did something similar on the other flank, although I did have to set them up in the open (which I’m slightly worried about doing, since all it would have taken was the Goblins going first and that’d be the Shades gone, in all likelihood). Finally, the Sorceress went on a flank, positioned well away from the Ring of Hotek and ready to march block half Dave’s army on the second turn (once the Fanatics were safely out and in front of his army).

Dave has evidently also been thinking about his deployment; having finally gotten over his tendency to put Goblin archers on hills, where they may have line of sight and extra ranks to fire with but will never, ever be in range of anything, he’d stuck two long lines of them at the front of his army, with Spearmen, Shamans and Trolls following up behind. Now all I need to do is persuade him that Spider Riders need shortbows and musicians, not spears and standards…

My general approach to this game was “when in doubt, go balls out and get stuck in”, the exact opposite of the jockeying for position I’d pulled in the last game. It (mostly) worked. My Dark Riders and Shades not only blew out Dave’s Fanatics in the first turn, but also managed to wedge themselves deeper into the army and shoot up one of his Shamans and Battle Standard Bearer; the left flank, with the Witch Elves on, saw a unit of Spearmen fluke out and kill Dave’s Giant (thank you Cauldron of Blood and your bucket of extra attacks), rush on into the Great Shaman’s unit and decimate it, and then turn around to eat his token Black Orcs for breakfast.

Let’s stop here for a brief interlude about how awesome Witch Elves are.

Right.

Unfortunately, the continued awesomeness of one Khainite unit is counterbalanced by underperformance from the other. My Executioners haven’t been doing too well for themselves lately. This is mostly due to poor positioning and play on my part – the ‘balls to the wall’ thing doesn’t work too well when the balls are a unit of Dark Elf Warriors, the wall is made of Stone Trolls and a Goblin Big Boss, and the ensuing result isn’t even a gooey stain but actually a backwash of goo, blood and scrotal detritus that sprays the bloke standing behind…

That analogy got lost a bit. Anyway, mistakes were made. The Spearmen should have just walked up and stood in front of the Trolls and gone ‘charge us, charge us’ – even if they’d lost and fled, they’d have done so on the Goblin turn, allowing my Executioners to counter-charge, get to strike first, and actually do some damage. What actually happened involved the Spearmen charging, whiffing, fleeing, and the Trolls running into the Executioners, killing six and breaking them too. On my turn, the Executioners rallied, which of course put them in the perfect place to get charged again and wiped out. So yes. That was not the time or place for pure, unrepentant aggression. Lesson duly learned.

Since I’m going to be rejigging the army list for 8th edition anyway, I’m coming to the conclusion that the Executioners need both the charge, which I haven’t been able to achieve as often as I should, and something that swings faster than them in case they don’t get it. In 8th, this might be achievable with a Death Hag packing the Banner of Hag Graef (of course, that’s more character points, more fragile Haggery in the Heroes slot, and robbing the Cauldron of its contribution, which in turn would make me wonder whether the Cauldron was worth taking, just for a blessing every turn), or by sticking the Assassin back in so that something in there can chuck some attacks out and do some damage even if the Executioners are caught on the hop and don’t get to fight.

Of course, they’re far too cool and expensive to simply be delivery systems for the Assassin, so the actual solution is probably ‘replace them with another, non-rubbish unit’, but until I convince someone to re-employ me, I’m going to have to work with what I have. Of course, the second I do have a decent income again, I’ll be kitbashing at least two units of Black Guard… assuming I don’t just decide to play another, slightly tougher army. I keep looking at Beastmen, and there are signs emerging that suggest this to be a good idea: Shiny’s never actually seen them on the board, I’d have a lot of fun scratch-building and converting Chariots and Cygors and things, and there’s some talk about doing an escalation-type regular thing if we all decide to do new armies later in the year.

That sounded a bit like theory. Sorry, Shiny. I don’t think I can get through a post without thinking about the future at least a bit.

[WFB] Addendum: Shiny Says:

Hi,

Reading Game Over.  Nice.  HOWEVER, I thought you might like to edit in the details of my army, for completeness.  If not, meh, ’tis your blog, you can say I brought an army of gayness and penguins if you like.

Chieftain – Weeping Blade, heavy armour, Enchanted Shield

Warlock Engineer 1 – Warlock-Augmented Weapon, Warpstone armour, Warp-energy Condenser.

Warlock Engineer 2 – Warlock-Augmented Weapon, Pipes of Piebald, Dispel Scroll.

30 Clanrats – spears, shields, full command, Warpfire Thrower.

30 Clanrats – shields, full command, Ratling Gun.

30 Clanrats – shields, full command, Ratling Gun.

Rat Swarm – 5 bases.

25 Plague Monks – full command, Banner of the Under-Empire.

Do I get the Face too? I did not know that…

There you have it, folks.

Incidentally, Shiny, yes, you do get the Face.  You know that thing you do about where you spend whole minutes complaining about everything that’s rubbish about your army and what the others have that’s better/invincible, and greet every die roll with “as usual” and an eyeroll?  That is the Face.

Also incidentally, we’ve been talking about how to improve the Skaven army in the act of expanding to 2000 points.  Maybe Shiny would like to write up his take on that conversation?

[WFB] Dark Elves vs. Shiny’s Skaven, 1500 points

I played my first game with my new (well, new second hand) Dark Elves last week – 1500 points, vs. Skaven, 1170 to me vs. 877 to him.   Minor victory. I’m well pleased.

I’d managed to write three army lists, none of which was quite in sync with the models I actually own. This was the best I could knock up on the day and there’s some stuff which I know doesn’t quite work.

Master (General) – 150
lance
repeater crossbow
heavy armour
Sea Dragon Cloak
Cold One
Seal of Ghrond

Sorceress – 160
extra magic level
Sacrificial Dagger

Assassin – 166
additional hand weapon
Rune of Khaine
Manbane
Cloak of Twilight

20 Warriors – 180
full command
War Banner

10 Crossbowmen – 100

5 Dark Riders – 131
repeater crossbows
Herald
musician

14 Executioners – 198
full command
(Assassin goes here)

14 Witch Elves – 200
full command
Cry of War
Banner of Murder

2 Repeater Bolt Throwers – 200

My opponent, the learned Dr. Shiny, has been playing Skaven for about fourteen years, much of it with the same collection.  The point I’m making is that he rocks it old-school: yes, he adds a few new tricks to his arsenal with every edition of the book that comes out, but he won’t leap on the new toys like Hell Pit Abominations immediately (not unless he can come up with a good, cheap conversion for them, anyway).

Chieftain (General)
no idea what he had – didn’t even see combat.

Warlock Engineer
level 2 wizard
Warpstone Armour
Warlock-Augmented Weapon

Warlock Engineer
level 2 wizard
Warp-Energy Condenser
Dispel Scroll

30 Clanrats
spears
full command
Warpfire Thrower

30 Clanrats
full command
Ratling Gun

30 Clanrats
full command
Ratling Gun

5 Rat Swarm bases

20 Plague Monks
full command
Banner of the Under-Empire

Terrain – off-centre ridge (hill, open ground) spanning the width of the board, small forests at the corner of the deployment zones.

We didn’t take photos and long battle reports without photos aren’t very clear/good/fun, so here are the edited highlights.

I botched my deployment, badly. The Dark Riders ended up on the side of the board covered by two Ratling Guns, with no space to move where they wouldn’t get shot up, while my combat units would limit the Bolt Throwers’ line of sight if they moved forward (and one of the Bolt Throwers regularly blocked the other from shooting the same target: must remember to stagger one of them back a little bit if they’re both in the same corner).

Shiny relies on his Rat Swarms to hold an enemy unit down long enough for the Plague Monks to outflank them and start rolling down the line. The Clanrats play it cagey, standing off and protecting the Ratling Guns and Warlocks unless they’re needed to fight something. It doesn’t work, though, if the Rat Swarms charge a unit of Witch Elves who proceed to butcher them in short order and roll on into his Plague Monks. Those units deadlocked for a turn while the armies shuffled back and forth for position and the Executioners moved around to set up a flank charge threat for any Skaven that dared to cross the last open ground into the Dark Elf lines. Alas, the Witch Elves couldn’t quite crack Plague Monk toughness, and the Monks overran into the Executioners’ flank.

I’d taken enough casualties from Skaven magic and shooting (lost all the Dark Riders, half the Spearmen and a wound off my General) to be tempted to call it there, but we have this policy. If any one of us is thinking about conceding, the other two have to explain how the game could still be turned around. Dave and Shiny and I are all regular victims of the Face – the baleful visage of defeat and complaining which says doom is certain and we should call the game there – but we all forget that a few good rolls can turn a game right around, and the Executioners weren’t dead yet. They ran, but the Monks didn’t catch them; they rallied, and the Monks fared less well by charging them in the front.

Once the Plague Monks were gone, the Executioners were in a position to roll up the Clanrat line, aided by my Sorceress throwing out clinical Blade Winds into unengaged units. I was very impressed with the Sacrificial Dagger and the Dark Magic spells in general; one second level wizard became enough to test Shiny’s about-average magic defences. She couldn’t quite hold him back (a few Scorches got through, wounding my General, stripping a rank off the Spearmen and Panicking the Dark Riders off the board), but she kept the Howling Warpgale nonsense in check and helped the Bolt Throwers whittle his General’s unit down.

My general spent most of the game chasing Ratling Guns (charge, fear test, Ratling Gun runs for the hills) and running away from Clanrat charges (failed charge leaves him caught between two Clanrat units’ charge arcs, he flees, Clanrats stall for a turn). While I was pleased with this spoiling role he performed, and his ability to absorb Ratling Gun fire, it wasn’t exactly reliable (Stupidity and all that) and I’m not convinced that something else wouldn’t serve me better.

The Assassin is obscenely good, and compensates for the Executioners’ low attacks characteristic very nicely.  Says Shiny: get in front of them, you’re dead. Manbane felt like overkill, but I don’t believe in list tailoring and I think I’d be glad of it against stuff with higher armour saves and Toughness stats, so it stays for now. He only got one crack at the Cloak of Twilight: again, it’s in there to handle artillery (like Dave’s damn accurate stone thrower), so it stays for now. If points are shaved, though, it’s likely to be from the Assassin’s gear and the War Banner on the Spearmen (pointless: they’re ablative wounds and Power dice for the Sorceress, nothing more).

Also, I want a Cauldron of Blood, badly. While the Executioners and Assassin did very well for themselves, both the Witch Elves and Executioners failed Break tests which they’d have passed with Stubborn. Not quite sure how I’d fit one in at 1500 points – maybe I couldn’t – but it’s definitely something to bear in mind for the future, and it definitely fits in with all the other Khainite nonsense I have going on.

Many of my units were under half strength at the end, and both my characters were wounded, which gave away about 350 victory points and stopped me contesting table quarters (bagging Shiny another 100). Still – minor victory! Not bad for my first time out.