Our very own Jeff White reminded me the other day that I hadn't published this yet...
So as you might surmise from the first two parts of this look at Games Workshop's "entry level" Warhammer 40k product line, Battle for Vedros, it's been a smash hit at the Barnes homeatorium. It's gotten my kids interested in miniature gaming at an earlier age than I anticipated, and it's gotten me back into it as well. We've really enjoyed building, painting and using the miniatures. We now have decent start-up armies, Ultramarines and Goff Orks, and a simple ruleset that we can use them with. I want to report that Battle for Vedros is a grand slam for GW, that it is a supremely accessible way for kids (or casual players) to see what 40k is all about. But I have some pretty serious issues, mostly keyed to the marketing of it. Quite frankly, I don't think GW really knows what to do with the opportunity they have created for themselves.
Let's look at the marketing first and foremost. At a product level, the decision to go with big, in-store displays filled with packaging that looks almost like old-time GI Joe toys is brilliant. The color, the graphic design, everything visual is top notch, although whoever left the decapitated heads on the Ork Boyz box obviously isn't thinking about whether that is appropriate for most kids. But they did steer clear of some of the darker aspects of 40k, so there's no Slannesh or anything like that, at least, and the "grimdark" is dialed back a bit. The model assortment is basic, but it's good. I especially like how they've included a thoughtfully curated paint set that really is almost all you need to get going with both the Space Marine and Ork armies. And the price point ($50 for the starter set) is outstanding, although that might seem like a hard sell to a mainstream customer.
But try finding one of those big, in-store displays in any store, let alone one of these mainstream toy stores that they have openly courted. I have not seen a single Battle for Vedros product anywhere in Atlanta, Georgia. The Facebook page and the practically hidden Battle for Vedros Web site lists just a scant few stockists, all low-volume boutique toy and hobby shops. I think there is now one in Canada. It seems as if this drive to move out of the hobby channel stalled out somewhere, possibly because GW is only selling these direct –and rather awkwardly, they've been asking Facebook users to act as a street team to convince retailers to stock it.
Warhammer is one of the tentpole brands of the hobby industry, but even with big, licensed video games and such out there it's still not quite at a Dungeons and Dragons or Magic: The Gathering level. So this kind of "grassroots" attempt (by a very large hobby game publisher) to sort of convince retailers to sell this game doesn't fly. If this is really is an attempt to push Warhammer 40k further into the mainstream and to attract new players, then they need to be more aggressive- and less guarded- about it.
There is no reason in the world that Battle for Vedros should not, for example, be available wholesale through a company like Baker and Taylor- this would put the game in Barnes and Noble stores. Or, why is not being sold at GameStop, where brand recognition would likely be higher than at a "learning toy" store? I can assure you that the average video game player is probably more interested in spending $50 on Warhammer than a home schooling mom or grandparents looking for a puzzle. Why isn't GW leveraging their partnership with Fantasy Flight Games (now part of Asmodee North America) to get these starter sets into big stores like Target? Granted, they wouldn't put up a big display for them, but I can see this kit fitting in alongside the X-Wing starters and the smattering of entry-level hobby games available there. But they'll never get there just selling it direct.
And why isn't it being made available in regular, plain ol' hobby retail? If I were a shop owner, I would stock this entire line (but probably not a full display's worth) if I could buy it through Alliance or a similar distributor. But I wouldn't touch it having to buy direct from GW, and they apparently aren't selling it to their hobby accounts anyway. Go figure. They are sticking to their guns about cutting out discounters and distributors, which is backing them into a corner – and making a more mainstream-facing product almost impossible to properly put on store shelves.
So this whole push to put Warhammer in the hands of a new generation of kids feels like a very half-assed thing at best. The way this game is being sold to retailers seems like a half-realized measure and all the "more stockists coming soon!" does little to inspire confidence in GW's ability to support, promote and sell Battle for Vedros. But there's more issues involved, some of which are more centered around the game itself.
Now, when I sit down to play 40k with my kids and our Battle for Vedros collection, I'm not thinking about all of this business stuff. I'm thinking about the game. And although I really like the streamlined, easy-to-play version this set is built on, it raises a lot of questions that GW is not, at this point, answering. For example, what's next? Is what is available now all there is going to be in the line? Where do I go once I have it all? Because the next step, without Battle for Vedros continuing, is to move into buying something like one of the $85 Start Collecting boxes and codices to go with them. Along with having to buy the expensive core rules (or the Dark Vengeance starter, which sends you in a different direction army-wise than Vedros).
The problem is that this all sets 40k up to be a Heroscape-class miniatures game, which kind of misrepresents the remainder of the 40k world. Once you start getting into point values, HQ choices, characters, formations, objectives, unit traits and the rest of it, your formerly simple, cool Battle for Vedros games are suddenly something NOT accessible and NOT kid friendly at all. There is no transitional element other than literally a paragraph or two in the Vedros rules that say, basically, "hey, there's more- go to the Web site!" And that's when the sticker shock will inevitably hit any parents who might have managed to find one of these weirdly rare starter sets.
There are other issues as well. The models are billed as "push fit", but they really aren't. You still need glue. It's a crying shame that the rulebook tells you to set your models up 12" apart from each other and basically just shoot or fight the other side into submission- and then you've got models that move 24". Why isn't there a basic objective-based scenario included? Heck, even in the old 40k rules they'd give you at least some guidance in terms of coming up with makeshift terrain. Would it have been that much more complicated or costly for them to have included just one punchboard with a flamer template to at least show how these kinds of things work in the main game? And there's no guidance for the uninitiated as to how to evenly match forces, because what is in the box isn't equivalent. Why do you get two Captains, one in Terminator armor, anyway?
Here's the deal. All things considered, what I want Battle of Vedros to be is a fully realized, fully supported 40k "lite". I want there to be the same kind of basic unit stats and rules for more than just what is included – I want to have these rules for a Deff Dread and a Rhino. I want to be able to "convert" 40k material into the simpler game. What Games Workshop has the seed here for is a great thing- a much more accessible game that is kid- and casual- friendly using the same models and core concepts as their more hardcore flagship title. The question is if they even realize it.
Simple, easy to play and easy to get into miniatures games are bigger now than ever before. Complexity and obscurity are no longer qualities that most game players want these days, so to take all of the great models and "fluff" that Games Workshop has and to essentially repackage it for a more modern audience that maybe isn't so much interested in spending $1000 on a single army is a brilliant idea. But there is still room for a full, "advanced" 40k and for products such as the codices that support it.
I'm hoping that the folks that are handling the Battle for Vedros product line are savvy enough to make the most of what could be a big opportunity to move Warhammer 40k up to the same strata of household hobby game names like Dungeons and Dragons, Magic and Catan. It's almost there. But I think what is more likely is that the upcoming 8th edition of the 40k rules set is going to go the Age of Sigmar route, with a brief (and free) core rules set and then the complexity comes per unit. I hope this is the direction they go, but I can't help but wonder if Battle for Vedros was conceived and planned before work on 8th edition got underway- leaving this vestigial product line all but abandoned.
Bottom line- I still totally recommend this for anyone interested in introducing miniature gaming to kids or for anyone looking to start a Space Marine or Ork army from the ground up.