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Monday, June 11, 2007

Start the week @ RD/KA! : An Anniversary of Note

It's been a long time since I last visited my local GW. Exactly how long I'm not sure, but I'm certain that the last gaming product I bought from my local GW was the new plastic Assault Terminators I reviewed way back in November 2005. In the meantime my miniatures hobby gave way to a revival of my interest in rpg's and boardgaming. A rapid result of this change in habits was that I stopped buying GW's White Dwarf, because it no longer served me any purpose.

Last week though, I paid a quick visit to my local GW to buy a copy of William King's Gotrek and Felix: the First Omnibus as a gift for a friend. On entering the store I was pleasantly surprised to see the friendly face of a familiar old staffer. Hearty greetings out of the way, I made a beeline for the bookshelves and grabbed what I was after. Paying, I saw a copy of the new 30th Anniversary White Dwarf. Picking up a copy of this too was a cinch- I may not be the avid GW hobbyist anymore, but I just had to have this particular issue of the old stunty on my shelves.

Thirty years of White Dwarf? Holy heck, but that makes me feel old, which of course would normally prompt some nostalgia after an Old Fart Alert. Fortunately for my readers, I've already said all I need to say on that subject: here, when I posted a link to this page chez my pal the gnome, where he'd posted a link to a downloadable PDF of White Dwarf #1.

All I need to say? Really? Well OK. I can add that the earliest issue of WD I remember owning was #16. It wasn't the first I bought, nor did I actually buy it on its initial release, but I did buy it from regular shelf stock at my first FLGS in Edinburgh, and this back in the days when WD was still bimonthly. Back then, WD only had one serious competitor for my attention, and that was Steve Jackson's The Space Gamer. The Dragon was easily available and good for D&D gamers too for sure, but that magazine simply never captured my imagination in the way that White Dwarf and The Space Gamer did.

Editorial reorganisations driven by GW's reponse to the profit slump consequent on the tailing-off of their highly lucrative The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game once Jackson's movies had passed through the cinemas; these reorganisations have in the past year led to a clamour from GW fans across the net about the declining quality of White Dwarf. Although no longer a WD reader, I would check these discussions out now and again: eg. on the Warseer and the Bolter and Chainsword forums (you'll have to do forum searches if you're interested); and here (#327) and here (#328), again at the random Gnomes' random Lair. What was most striking to me about these discussions was that- amidst the sadly all-too-familiar internet feeding frenzy- there was an authentic and startling note of anger and despair from the hardest of hardcore fans, a note that was novel to me in my 15 years as a money-spending GW space marine fanboy. That this was taking place among GW's loyal customer base at a time when the company accounts were creating rumbles amongst investors; well, this just gave many of us watching from the sidelines the distinct impression that the GW behemoth was actually teetering...

All of which leads to the point that this 30th Anniversary edition of the magazine (a mere 2 issues- mark you- after the #328 which, according to gnome's review, barely merited a meh); that this commemorative issue would have a lot of hurdles to cross if it was to live up the landmark it would purport to celebrate.

So, how did it do then?

I must be frank here: there is no way I can seriously enter into the debate about the widely recognised decline in WD editorial content which adds to players' games instead of just advertising GW product, because I just haven't seen the issues which provoked the ire of the fans. For similar reasons- but also because of the impact of sheer nostalgia- nor can I pretend that I'm here going to offer a serious review of #330. All I can do is offer a brief overview and point out a few personal highlights.

Looked at as a whole, I would have to say that WD#330 is a dazzling introduction to GW's product lines today. And this is not just the magnificent photographs of beautifully painted miniatures which are so familiar to GW customers that they can become a bit boring when you've seen them for the nth time. It is also the new product lines being advertised. Of particular interest to me was the new wargames terrain, the new Warhammer buildings and the Arcane ruins especially; and also the new dwarf miners. Beautiful to look at as completed by the 'Eavy Metal team, it was the pictures of the parts from these kits' sprues which had me positively drooling.

Y'see, let me explain a pet theory here. I am of the same age as the GW design veterans. I was making the same kits as they were in the same teenage years (or, to be more precise: kits from the same landmark ranges). For me, the sublime joys of modelling and kit-bashing in those teenage tankie days can be summed-up in 2 phrases: Tamiya and Airfix Multipose. Taken together, what these 2 ranges offered was fine detail, easy convertibility, and numerous extras giving modellers an instant spares box. If that's not a definition of the trajectory of GW plastics development since the justly legendary RTB01 beakies, then I don't know what could be.

Believing this, and watching the advances in GW plastics down the years, I have convinced myself of something else, something which is too easily forgotten amidst the- often utterly justified- customer complaints about the company's corporate policies: at its core, GW remains the dream of a bunch of gaming geeks just like any of the rest of us. Their dream was to get paid for playing games. More than that: they wanted to create a company which would more than just pay their wages- if not make them rich; they also wanted the company to provide for them absolutely the best wargames kit in the world; which they would get for free because they would work for (or own) the company. Their chosen route to realising this dream became GW, warts, suppurating buboes, and all.

If WD#330 is proof that this dream is still alive and well and living in Lenton- even if at prices putting the GW experience at the top end of the miniatures gaming hobby market; it also strikes me as proof that the harassed staffers working to respond to customer demands are showing that they can bring- to the ad copy the company's marketing strategy requires- the sort of editorial content which can give players of GW's games the added value they have a right to expect from their £4 investment in a copy of the house magazine of their chosen hobby. What I'm talking about here are the various sidebars and so on appended to the glossy picture spreads. There is no reason why these could not be as informative across any given issue of the magazine as would be full length articles. Will this develop to its fullest potential? I don't know. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, I have to continue by saying that the content of the 30th Anniversary issue is often better even than that. Which brings me naturally enough to my personal highlights. These will be presented in reverse order as per tradition.

In third place: 'White Dwarf XXX, 1977-2007', the obligatory history article. I've always enjoyed reading these pieces. And I enjoy them more as I get older (it'll happen to you all, my dear readers if it hasn't started already!). As ever, I read this article with my past looking over my shoulder, whispering to me, every WD landmark a memory of my own.

In second place: 'Sons of Sanguinius', part 1 of the new Blood Angels Codex. Believe it or not, I'll be buying WD#331 to get part 2 of this. Why? Because I just love jump-packers. They're my single most favourite troop type as a diehard space marine player. They just look so cool. And although my very own Penumbra's Talons have always been a Codex chapter, I've long nurtured the idea of fielding them under their 'Blood Angels aspect', so that I could deploy jump-packing Honour Guard, Veterans, and- naturally enough- Death Company (a.k.a. 'the Verifiers' in Penumbra's Talons). And I still hope that one of these days, I will.

In first place: 'Standard Bearer', Jervis' article on the genesis of 'Sons of Sanguinius', complete with his own nostalgic take on his years at GW. There are many things I enjoyed about this article, but one above all won it its place as my ultimate highlight of this issue: the fact that Jervis could include- in the house magazine of the good business sense of chaos, death and spikey bits on a hitherto unimagined scale; that in these pages, Jervis could include a quote from E.F. Schumacher, reknowned as the author of Small is Beautiful among other works. My dad got me into Schmacher as a teenager, one of just many of my old man's deeds for which I am truly grateful. So good on yer Jervis!

And there you have it. I missed the official party, so I had to have a celebration of my own. ;)
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