Barnes on Games: WH40k: Battle for Vedros Editorial Part 3

Barnes on Games: WH40k: Battle for Vedros Editorial Part 3
Michael BarnesMichael Barnes   September 08, 2016  
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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.

Posted: 08 Sep 2016 13:31 by Msample #233607
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This kind of reminds me of when the ASL Starter Kits were launched. They were initially conceived as a teaser to encourage gamers to buy into full bore Advanced Squad Leader, never to be a standalone system. But over time , they've heard and seen enough to realize it can exist separately, and have pushed out more content ( albeit still dwarfed by ASL ) . The latest is that they are working on a Pacific theater module, which I saw them playtesting at WBC.

So it sounds like GW needs to ask themselves, is this a starter / bridge into full W40K, or will it become its own entity ?
Posted: 08 Sep 2016 13:33 by Mr. White #233608
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How many Marines come in this $50 starter box? I'm excited about the prospect of a AoS edition of 40K and though this may not be it...I can get a core of space marines from this to use next year with the (hopefully) AoS new rules.

The hope at The White House is for the kids and friends to each have a handful of space marines to hold the line against dad's tyranids. Maybe some of these boxes are a somewhat cheap way to build a foundation towards that.
Posted: 08 Sep 2016 13:57 by Jur #233609
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This is double weird because they' ve just come out with Kill Teams, a stand alone small unit skirmish set.
Posted: 08 Sep 2016 14:52 by metalface13 #233613
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Battle for Vedros really feels like an initiative that really lost its steam at the corporate level. I've never seen it anywhere, it's impossible to find on the website. Barnes is probably the only person on the internet talking about it. The rumors I've heard is the next edition of 40k will be like Age of Sigmar. In fact GW has been teasing this Eldar End Times thing for a while, about an upcoming battle against Slaanesh. Could this be similar to the WFB End Times event prior to AoS?
Posted: 08 Sep 2016 15:02 by Mr. White #233614
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When we say give 40K the AoS treatment, I don't mean that they'll blow the universe up, but change to the cleaner rules.

Well, I can see them doing a big 40K event, but it won't nearly be the jarring change that the Old World to Age of Sigmar is.

Speaking of AoS...are there like nations, towns and such or is it all a demiplanes sort of situation. I don't feel like sever see any art with real buildings an such in the backgrounds. It seems to be either ruins or vegetation with some chaos warp colors in the background. Has anyone figured out what the deal is on the setting?
Posted: 08 Sep 2016 15:43 by metalface13 #233615
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It might not blow up the entire 40k universe but it seems like GW is pretty set on cleaning up the Slaaneshy boobies and such. in Age of Sigmar the High Elves and Dark Elves teamed up to defeat Slaanesh and trap and hide it away somewhere where it can't be found. I'm no expert on the Old World fluff, but I never saw Slaanesh having as much to do with the Elves they way they do with the Eldar in 40k.

In 40k, the Eldar were the cause of the birth of Slaanesh due to their decadence, debauchery and hard partying ways. As a result Slaanesh was boring into the universe, destroying the Eldar gods, homeworld and sucking up millions of Eldar souls. As a result the souls of dead Eldar go to Slaanesh, which is why they invented the soul gem system of preserving the souls of the Eldar in these nifty little gems they wear all over the place. The Dark Eldar also split off at this time and they hide in the dark corners of the Eldar webway and torture and sacrifice souls of other living creatures instead of their own, somehow.

Well technically 2-3 Eldar gods survived. The god of war Khaine split into shards inside all the avatars on all the different craftworld ships and exo planets. The trickster god survived to and there's also some sort of god of the dead. Anyways, GW was teasing all this stuff last month about the Eldar rising up and creating a new god of the dead or something and taking the fight to Slaanesh. Maybe it won't blow up the 40K universe the same way Age of Sigmar will, but still might be a big deal in the fluff.
Posted: 08 Sep 2016 16:56 by Mr. White #233620
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I think there's going to be a 40k comic in the Oct WD. I wonder if it'll be a comic in the newsstand/kid-friendly sense or a written by adults for adults story.

Probably the latter.
Posted: 08 Sep 2016 18:29 by Brewmiester #233625
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I'm pretty sure there is a new Eisenhorn: Xenos comic coming out/recently released and I was assuming it would be an excerpt from it.
Posted: 09 Sep 2016 07:57 by MattDP #233685
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I've been dealing with GW recently about some feature material for another site and, to be honest, I am no longer remotely surprised by the level of PR own goals they've committed over the years. They appear to be totally clueless at dealing with the press or even basic marketing outside their own hobby bubble. It's an astonishing level of ignorance for a major publicly-owned company.
Posted: 09 Sep 2016 08:01 by Mr. White #233686
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There is a Vedros display at one of our LGS. It's mostly empty now though, so must have been picked over.
Posted: 09 Sep 2016 11:28 by ufe20 #233735
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This whole line seems sort of DoA. I've yet to see it anywhere in person.

I too was hoping that this would be the start of GW making AoS start changes to the 40k ruleset. It somehow seems even simpler though, and with no way to expand it to other factions that kills it for me.

I picked up the "War of Sigmar" $30 mini expansion last week when i was grabbing the new White Dwarf. It sort of resolves some of your issues with Vedros by having 4 scenarios in the box, being just a scaled down version of the bigger starter, giving newbies a logical next step, and of course, the free rules for every other faction allows me to expand in any way I see fit. Doesn't hurt that War of Sigmar is in FLGSs either, so that people can actually buy it. Will be interesting to see if they will try to expand it to their non traditional customers like barnes and nobles/.
Posted: 09 Sep 2016 11:45 by SuperflyTNT #233739
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It's almost identical to Aethersteel, but that game also uses cardplay, which makes it more interesting.
Posted: 09 Sep 2016 12:48 by Gary Sax #233762
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Chortle. Toy stores across America, huh?
Posted: 09 Sep 2016 14:33 by Delobius #233795
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Weirdly enough, the FFG main store in Minnesota has a Vedros display setup (they also sell a lot of GW miniatures). Sure sold out fast, though...
Posted: 09 Sep 2016 15:34 by wadenels #233809
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The FFG center would be a pretty nice toy store if it weren't for the lack of variety.
Posted: 09 Sep 2016 15:53 by hotseatgames #233812
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wadenels wrote:
The FFG center would be a pretty nice toy store if it weren't for the lack of variety.

What are you talking about? There are TONS of different Imperial Assault and Arkham Horror options!
Posted: 09 Sep 2016 23:45 by Columbob #233858
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metalface13 wrote:
It might not blow up the entire 40k universe but it seems like GW is pretty set on cleaning up the Slaaneshy boobies and such. in Age of Sigmar the High Elves and Dark Elves teamed up to defeat Slaanesh and trap and hide it away somewhere where it can't be found. I'm no expert on the Old World fluff, but I never saw Slaanesh having as much to do with the Elves they way they do with the Eldar in 40k.
Morathi, Malekith's mother, is a Slaaneshi cultist, so Slaanesh is at the very heart of the millenia-long civil war opposing Dark and High Elves. The Druchii are also behind the War of the Beard, which heralded the end of the elder races' supremacy in the Old World.
Posted: 13 Sep 2016 18:39 by Almalik #234166
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I don't think it is actually possible to buy this in Canada. No big stores have it, no hobby shops have it, GW stores don't carry it, and you can't order it online from GW. There is currently one copy on available (shipping from Florida). I think they would honestly have to put a lot of effort into making it harder to purchase.