Transcript of the podcast published on November 1st, 2010.
This time I want to talk about another company that existed some time ago but which has left its mark on the gaming scene, and this company is called “Games Workshop”.
“What?” you may ask, “Games Workshop? But they are alive and kicking and very much in the business? What is this, some evil mockery”?
But I am not talking about THAT Games Workshop, that multimillion dollar company that sells crack in the form of miniatures to masses of teenage boys and men, about Warhammer or Warhammer 40000, game systems that have mainly been designed to make people follow the cult of GW, as they are mostly called nowadays.
No, I am talking about the ORIGINAL Games Workshop, a company founded by genre luminaries Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone (they were later famous for their Fighting Fantasy solitaire game books) and John Peake, originally as a manufacturer of wooden boardgames in 1975, but then quickly becoming the main importer of that game called D&D and spearhead of the British gaming scene.
In order to promote their postal games, the London shop that was called “Games Workshop” printed a magazine called Owl and Weasel, which later became “White Dwarf”, perhaps the most important European roleplaying magazine ever, a fantastic magazine that used to be full of scenarios for all kinds of roleplaying games, along with fantastic art and comics, and which now also has become a Warhammer only magazine about how to paint miniatures. But in the days back then every roleplaying fan used to anxiously await the new issues of “White Dwarf”, because it was simply the best magazine out there, even more beloved than the “Dragon”, TSR’s own house magazine. There was actually a time when Gary Gygax proposed a merger between TSR and Games Workshop to prevent this competition, but even then Games Workshop proved to have a lot of business sense and declined. By now they had expanded all over Britain, with shops opening practically everywhere.
But I am not talking about Games Workshop the role playing and miniature gaming entity, but about the relatively short period of time in which they produced great board games.
The most famous of these is most certainly “Talisman”, a game hated by Tom Vasel but beloved by many, as it was the first successful attempt to transfer a role playing experience into a boardgame, along with the possibility to add endless expansions with new adventure cards and boards.
But there were also other influential games, next to the reprints of games like “Cosmic Encounter” that Games Workshop also had in their line.
For example “Blood Royale”, a now highly sought after game by Derek Carver about medieval power politics that enabled players to actually marry off their princesses and princes while fighting wars with neighbouring fiefdoms. Or “Fury of Dracula”, the game of vampire hunting and a variant of Ravensburger’s Spiel des Jahres’ “Scotland Yard” (a fact that is often forgotten) which for a long time was one of the most expensive out-of-print games one could buy because of it’s legendary fame and a relatively low print run.
“Warrior Knights”, another medieval wargame. Or how about “Dungeonquest”, the first international edition of the Swedish cult game “Drakborgen” which became very successful in the Games Workshop version and thus created more expansions than the original Swedish version.
Or “Battlecars”, a generally underrated game that transported players into the world of Mad Max style automotive combat, a game that was famous for its big car displays that were literally slowly shot to pieces by using damage counters showing the piercing of the various armours of a car. This was also followed up by an expansion, “Battlebikes”, a very rare item to find nowadays.
Or “Dr. Who – The Boardgame”, the first “serious” boardgame in the Doctor Who universe, in itself related to Talisman from some of its mechanics. Or the ingenious “Rogue Trooper”, a game based on a series in Britain’s number one selling anthology comic, “2000 AD”.
Or “Warlock”, a card game of duelling wizards which most certainly was an inspiration for the biggest success story in gaming ever, “Magic The Gathering”. Or “Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb”, a game mostly known for its actual cardboard depiction of a pyramid that players could explore Indiana Jones style. Or “Apocalypse”, a Diplomacy variant set in an apocalyptic future.
As you can tell many of these games are still known well today, which has to do with the fact that one excellent company called Fantasy Flight games is publishing them in new and very often improved editions today. This in itself was no simple task. The Games Workshop juggernaut more and more concentrated on their miniatures brand that made the most business, and the GW of today has little to do with the friendly hobby orientated beginnings, and it also has different owners now. GW is feared for being very protective of the game rights they own, even if they don’t plan to ever publish these games again. This went so far as forcing Boardgamegeek contributors to remove all fan-created files for their games to protect their copyright, a stupid move if there ever was one. But somehow Fantasy Flight managed to convince some folks at GW to let them republish their most beloved titles, and as far as I can tell they have a very good success with it. This is also good for the games themselves which usually had quite flimsy production values when they originally came out. So we have to thank Fantasy Flight that one of the most important fantasy game companies of the past is still with us, at least in spirit. And perhaps the current Games Workshop will at some point change back into the friendly Games Workshop of the days of yonder. Let’s hope that!