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A Rough Guide to Nottingham's Games Workshop

5 November 13 words: Penny Reeve
photos: Debbie Davies

A company that has has captured the imagination of millions in its lifetime, Games Workshop is a recession-ignoring international institution that has its rather uniquely designed headquarters a stones throw from the QMC and University of Nottingham. We trace its impressive trajectory in popular culture.

You’d be forgiven for walking past the huge concrete Space Marine on Willow Lane, stopping, considering what you’ve just seen, looking back, shrugging and then carrying on after dismissing it as a bit of random art. But you’d be sorely mistaken, that creature stands guard over the global headquarters of the mighty Games Workshop. For those new to all this, Games Workshop is a huge multinational business that employs over 2,000 people in nineteen countries, and its headquarters are based in our little city.

If you’ve never stepped inside a Games Workshop store or looked a gaming miniature in the eye, they deal mostly in table top gaming. Its most famous games are Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. Gamers buy figurines and paint them a variety of colours, before placing said figures on painted gaming tables with the aim of conquering opponents using codices full of rules and regulations. Tape measures are used to move models correctly and with each roll of the dice, a player gets to move, assault and shoot. It’s pretty serious stuff and gamers don’t take it lightly. This is only highlighted by the actual figures themselves; those dudes have an impressive range of weapons and you definitely won’t find any unicorns or fairies on their battlegrounds.

Games Workshop don’t just do big games and little figures, there’s everything from vortex grenade templates to tape measures, books, and their own magazine, White Dwarf. Plus there’s a line of games, rules and miniatures for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Out of circulation games and figures can command hefty bids on eBay, and there’s a whole table top genre out there that Games Workshop helped mould. The company seems to be getting stronger too, with profits constantly on the rise. It may be a recession but in January they reported an operating profit that was up £4.1 million on the previous year.

Established in 1975, the company started as two separate entities: Games Workshop, based in London and founded by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (yes, the guys who wrote all the Fighting Fantasy books that you read as a young ‘un); and Citadel Miniatures, which had its humble beginnings in Newark. While the London branch dealt in importing games from America, the Newark group built up a business in the sale of miniatures for gaming. And that’s where artistic director John Blanche came in, announcing his affiliation with a front cover illustration for White Dwarf in 1979. After merging, the company saw no reason to go to London when it was their Notts arm that was making the serious dough. After a meteoric rise they moved to Eastwood, finally settling in Lenton in the late-nineties.

So what makes Games Workshop so darned irresistible to some folk? Dave Barfield, who has been playing Warhammer for 24 years explains, “I have a creative side; I began as a collector, I then enjoyed building the models, I taught myself to paint and have progressed my skills to award winning levels... I immersed myself in the rich backstory and artwork of the settings. You get together, make friends, support each other and create a story within the world created by your command of the troops and the luck of the dice.” Dave estimates his collection to be worth around £8,000 and now runs a dedicated space for gamers in Burton-on-Trent called Portal Wargaming. Andrew Jadowski has a similar opinion, “I enjoy the game as it’s like chess with explosions.” Chess with explosions - now why didn’t the Russians think of that?

After almost forty years, Games Workshop is still going strong even with resisting the fanboy pressure for the company to endorse a Warhammer film. They have also taken what could be seen as a massive gamble by not branching out into creating their own online games, instead they licence the IP to others and let them deal with all that mucky stuff. They have dipped their fingers into some digital/ iPad products, but it’s clear they want to keep their roots in the tangible gaming realm. Dave agrees with their insistence. “Gaming within set parameters online… there is very little collectability and creativity but with miniatures you have a wonderful story arc and beautiful artwork from a fantasy and sci-fi setting to whet your appetite. You start thinking how cool it would be to have a collection of your favourite characters that you've built sat on your shelf at home... you get the bug.”

So there you go, folks, Games Workshop ain’t changing its game-face just yet.

What is Warhammer?

The original tabletop wargame created by Games Workshop, Warhammer is played between regiments of fantasy miniatures. Using stock fantasy races such as humans (The Empire, Bretonnia, Kislev), Elves (Dark Elves, High Elves, Wood Elves), Dwarfs, Undead, Orcs and Goblins, as well as some more unusual types such as Lizardmen, Skaven and the daemonic forces of Chaos.

Games are held between two or more players, each of whom field a group of units they have purchased, assembled and painted. People have written entire books about the rules of this game, so impossible to explain them all here. But the basics are that it can be played by two or more players on various surfaces, the standard being a 6ft by 4ft table-top decorated with model scenery in scale with the miniatures. When different players’ regiments meet each other it’s a bit like a complicated version of Top Trumps, with them battling each other on various categories; Wood Elves, for example, have the most powerful archers in the game but have poor overall defence and the chivalrous Bretonnians have the strongest cavalry but a weak infantry.

Movement about the board is generally measured in inches and combat between troops or units is given a random element with the use of six-sided dice. The winner is declared when all the other players’ armies have been defeated or a strategic objective has been fulfilled.

Warhammer has been periodically updated and re-released since its first appearance in 1983, with changes to the gaming system and army lists. The eighth and most recent edition was released in July 2010. Aside from this there have been various spin-off games, including the more commercial and simplistic 1989 tie in with Milton Bradley (makers of Twister) Hero Quest.

What is Warhammer 40K?

Set in a dystopian science-fantasy universe, Warhammer 40k is the futuristic brother of Warhammer. It pits the Imperium of Man (a sprawling totalitarian army that has colonised the entire galaxy) against a variety of aliens that include the Tau (a bright new high-tech civilisation with giant battlesuits aplenty), the Necrons (a waking empire of ancient undead robots), the Eldar (a dying race of ninja-fast space elves), the Dark Eldar (depraved cousins of the Eldar), the Tyranids (locust-like swarms of biomassdevouring aliens) and the Orks. Oh and you can throw in the supernatural forces of Chaos, which include daemons and mortal worshippers of the evil Chaos Gods.

Games are held between two or more players, each of whom fields a group of units they have purchased, assembled and painted. The figures represent futuristic soldiers, creatures and vehicles of war. These figurines are collected to compose squads in armies that are pitted against those of other players. Each player brings a roughly equal complement to a battlefield of handmade or purchased terrain. The players then decide upon a scenario, ranging from simple skirmishes to complex battles involving defended objectives and reinforcements. The models are physically moved around the table and the actual distance between models plays a role in the outcome of combat.

The concept was developed by Rick Priestley for Games Workshop in 1987 as the futuristic companion to Warhammer, sharing many of the games mechanics. Expansions are released periodically which give rules for urban, planetary siege and large-scale combat. The game is currently in its sixth edition, which was published at the end of June 2012. In 1989 the more simplistic, but similarly-themed Space Crusade spin-off was released with MB Games (makers of Hungry Hungry Hippos). There are also various other spin-offs through licensing such as DVDs, fictional books, video games and merchandise.

Games Workshop website

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