Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Meet the new Dwarf... same as the old Dwarf?

There's been a lot of hype from GW about the "new" White Dwarf. New look, new content, new design sense, more pages and (of course) a new price - a 10% increase to $11CAD.

So what's the verdict? Some good, some bad, and a great deal of "same as before"...

Hobby veterans will recall the origins of White Dwarf in the late '70s, as an omnibus role-playing game magazine with a smattering of miniatures content. One might easily come across an article about Traveller, a scenario for Paranoia, or a discussion on AD&D... "house organ" it most assuredly was not. Of course, the main business of Games Workshop back then was as an importer, licensed producer/distributor, and retailer of role-playing games and materials. It was only later that GW became synonymous with the Warhammer brand of tabletop wargame and the Citadel (and Marauder) miniatures produced to play them with, and that WD became a "GW content only" house organ to promote Warhammer, Warhammer 40K, Lord of the Rings, Specialist Games, etc.

All of this is to say that the new WD must be judged against 35 years of history, but also against the more recent past (i.e. the September WD)... which has been dire. So leaving the issue of comparison aside for a moment, what's the new WD all about?

Well, it's bigger for one thing, weighing in at 150 pages, against the old size of 120 pages. The cover has an attractive satin finish with a glossy illustration, and features a new logo, all of which gives an increased perception of quality. On the inside we get photos of the production and editorial crew and an upbeat editorial about the new WD and the "thrilling" state of the Games Workshop Hobby (tm). Okaaayy...

On to the content. This is where the rubber meets the road. For all the hype, is the Dwarf really different, or is it a facelifted version of the little person we're all familiar with?

Let me answer that question this way: the first 50 pages are essentially a catalog. We see pictures and breathless writeups about the new Chaos models, including a gratuitous plug for the virtues of Finecast ("the level of detail on [the model] is astounding... a feat which would have been impossible had it been cast in metal") as well as some "offer expires while you wait"-style hype ("Be warned... they are available only on limited release and will surely sell fast. Seriously, if you want them, act right away"). Where have we heard THAT one before... *cough*Dreadfleet*cough*

There are some cool bits snuck into the section, namely the detailed description of the bits upgrade packs available for the new CSM and some nice detail shots of new Forgeworld stuff, including the Spartan tank and Heresy-era Marines. The Black Library gets its share of promotion as well as the digital codices and other junk available from the Apple bookstore. Not relevant to me as I don't own an iPad... Two pages are devoted to the "full release listing" inmcluding, for the first time in recent WDs, prices listed in multiple currencies. this is both helpful and rage-inducing, since the Canadian dollar pricing is on average 20% higher than the US price, despite the fact that the C$ is trading today at over $USD1.01... that means that GW MSRP is over 20% higher in Canada, on a constant-currency basis. The other annoying thing about much of the photography here is that the pictures are shot against a red background, apparently with a filter that turns everything red. For example, the picture of Abaddon on page 35 looks like the painter has put red highlights on Mr. A's blue Daemon sword. Pretty sure that's not the case.

After the ads comes the real content, and it seems improved. There's a nice 6-page feature on a reader's large Skaven army. As I collect Skaven myself I enjoyed this. And speaking of "collecting", following this piece was the most ridiculous Jervis Johnson piece I think I've ever read (and yes, that includes his loving homage to rulers and templates from a recent "Standard Bearer" column).

After being treated to a full half-page shot of Jervis' fizzog (and sadly he's no Bethan Beynon-Hughes in the looks department) we get to the article... which is about GW's new views on army list limitations in codices and army books (you know, the old "0-1" or "may include one [name of unit] in the army per 1,000 points"). This new view can be summarized as follows:

"All too often the only effect [army list limitations] have is to stop a player using some of the models in his collection, without having any real impact on enjoyment or verisimilitude."
"We've minimized army list limitations (and encourage you to do the same in your house rule games) because the GW hobby is a collecting hobby, and we don't want to stop you from buying more cool GW stuff."

Wow. Insightful. And I mean that literally, because I think it's probably the first time I've ever actually read from the horse's mouth that GW considers commercial aspects (i.e. selling you more models) in their game design. It's probably self-evident to anyone who thinks about their business, but I'd like to maintain the self-delusion that rules and army lists are created to foster interesting and exciting game play, rather than to drive the commercial side of the ledger. Oh well.

After this we have a pretty decent battle report between White Scars and CSM (16 pages). I enjoyed some of the analysis from the peanut gallery of tactics used (or not) by the players, I think that's something a bit different in a WD batrep. Also there was a discussion of army selection which was somewhat interesting. Then there's a discussion of the age-old debate - "balanced force vs. Death Star" - in the context of Fantasy Battle. This was interesting too. Following this there is a neat section on the Horus Heresy, with discussion of the novel series, Forge World's new models, and of course, the first Primarch to be released in miniature - ANGRON. I think the model is pretty cool but realize that opinions may differ on this one. Let me just say that any prejudices against the ridiculousness of the current Chaos range should not apply to the Heresy era :-) Chaos had not yet warped the armour and equipment of the Traitor forces into the weird forms of the 41st millennium... which should give some comfort to those (Greg, I'm looking at you) who are... "unenthusiastic" about skullz 'n' spikez...

Then comes Blanchitsu!! Dunno about you, but to me John Blanche = 40K. This man's visions are the stuff of nightmares, but the kind where you wake up and go "that was sooo cool." We're treated to four pages of John's sketches, miniatures, musings and collection of weird artifacts. Excellent piece, should have been 4x longer.

"Parade Ground" gives us six pages of photos of models from hobbyists' own armies. A nice feature. "Kit Bash" focuses on the Ork Bommer plastic kit and some conversions, ranging from "oh that's rather nice" to "why'd he bother with that." The next feature, "Battleground", showcases one of the nicest battle boards I've seen in awhile, the "Urdek Refinery" featured in the new 40K rulebook. This has some nice detail photos but a WIP would have been nice to see. The "Paint Splatter" section is a pale replacement for "'Eavy Metal Masterclass" but as I didn't personally derive a whole lot of utility from "how to paint" articles, I'm not as exercised by this as some.

Jeremy Vetock's two-page column seems a replacement for the old "Standard Bearer" piece and it's essentially an editorial about how Jeremy likes to play scenario-based games on nice terrain. Shock!! Interesting though because of its diametrical opposition to the view in Jervis' column in this issue, which is that "our games in the purest form boil down to 'my collection vs. your collection.'" Discuss...

Following this is a bunch of stuff that we haven't seen in the WD for awhile and/or has no business being in a hobby magazine in the year 2012. Peep this - a full-page ad for the GW facebook page; a page on "[store] birthday celebrations", a page describing what an independent stockist is (!), a full-page "I want a Store" ad, full-page Grand Opening ad for two stores, full-page "Where to Buy" advertising the GW retail store chain (as an aside: does anyone not know what a GW store is? after all, if you're reading the WD you're either a) standing in a store or b) at home after having bought it in a store or received it via subscription) and best of all, ten pages (!!) listing, in small print, EVERY GW store location and independent stockist IN THE WORLD. I'm sure this was a feature of the old WD that customers were clamouring to see return :-] 

Hidden away at the back behind all this crap (and a full page ad for Subscriptions) is some good content: some stuff about games GW staff are playing, a neat Zone Mortalis gameboard and... "In the Design Studio" - this is some good stuff. Jes Goodwin concept art is always nice to see. Some new Forgeworld images and news back there too. The magazine is rounded off with the Hobby Calendar (not going there) and the Lord of the Rings content hinted at on the cover - which amounts to a full page photo of Gandalf from "The Hobbit". Underwhelming.

So that's the new White Dwarf! Some good (Blanchitsu!!, cover quality and layout, Battle Report, Forgeworld content, In the Design Studio, Army Spotlight, Horus poster), some same (tons of ads, much of it unnecessary), some bad (crazy red filters on photos, STORE LISTINGS!?!?!)

The bottom line for me in judging the quality of a magazine is, "will this be good to read in the bathroom."  seriously, I don't need stuff in the magazine that is not quality time-wasting material. Two pages on how great the service is from GW mail order? Not relevant. Ten pages (!!) of store listings in small print? Don't care!! A full page devoted to telling me that GW is on facebook? COME ON!!!

I guess lastly, I note that I promised some comparisons. The last issue of WD I bought before this one was the August issue, and here are some comparative statistics:

Page count:
  • August: 120
  • October: 150
Page Count (Ads)
  • August: 41
  • October: 54
Page Count (Storefinder/Events)
  • August: 5
  • October: 10
Actual Content as a % of Page Count:
  • August: 61.7%
  • October: 57.3%
  • Try more actual content - it would be great to have some insight into the in-game capabilities of new models in terms of hard stats, instead of stuff like "[they're the] hardest-hitting elite infantry unit in the Chaos Space Marine army!"
  • Please don't use crazy filters on miniature photography. We like the photos to reflect what the model actually looks like, without weird effects.
  • Tell us more about the design philosophy behind army lists and game rules. Show us more of what the Studio is working on with regard to future plans.
  • Give us articles on conversions and terrain building. Give us features on readers' armies and how they got the way they are.
Anyhow, if you made it all this way, thanks for reading this whole article and hanging in until the end ;-)  I suspect we'll get the usual love bombs dropped in the Comments section about how we are GW haterz but so be it. The fact remains that I've spent more on GW over the last year than on all other game stuff put together. It's just that very little of the stuff I've bought (other than Forge World stuff) was manufactured in this century :-) 



ps The 300-page 300th issue of Wargames Illustrated with the limited edition retro cover arrived in my mailbox today... cost: $10 plus shipping. Hmmm....


Mike A said...

Awesome review Dallas! You nailed it. The red background on the miniature pictures has to be one of their worst decisions. It really takes away from the model. For example, the new Chaos Dark Apostle. When I first saw the White Dwarf pics, I thought it looked terrible. Seeing it with the plain white background, I like it a lot more. I get they are going for a flashier look, but they are failing. Also, your points on the actual content are again, spot on. Overall, I think it needs a good deal more work before it becomes a worthy purchase.

Muskie said...

GW or ex-GW staff have admitted that models that perform better in-game they are able to sell at a premium. The plastic that goes into Terminators and Tactical Marines is about the same. The design time, CAD tools, even the master molds cost about the same and are 'sunk costs'. GW makes a lot of profit on plastic models, especially those sold directly or through their own retail stores.

It used to be thought they lost money on books or possibly on the big all inclusive box sets, but given the volume they sell at combined with every increasing prices I highly doubt that. The new Chaos models are designed to sell, the rules for Forgefiends and Maulerfiends are favourable enough to stimulate demand. I have no idea about the close assault Obliterators or whatever they are called, those seem to be universally deemed fugly...

I can't see them selling well at a rumored 55 points a model. I know I have zero intention of buying any. ;-)

Toys'n'Soldiers said...

Great review! I only disagree in one point: I do find useful the "How to paint" section. Otherwise, you nailed it.

Greg B said...

Great review Dallas. GW should try and take some content tips from less-noxious house organs (i.e. Pravda) but it is too bad they are screwing with the pictures. Cool minis have been the final redoubt of WD in my mind for years.

And nice work on trying to fight a rear guard on the look of the Forge World stuff - I concede it is generally very good. But the Primarchs are out-of-this-world awful. ANGRON looks like he has just received a broken glass enema - the model is totally ridiculous.

On the other hand, Angron The Angry Axe Armed Angererr is a very cool mini compared to the Chaos whatever-it-is on the cover of the WD. Chaos sculpting has jumped the shark.

Mike A said...

I think they should do a much more in depth painting section. I agree @ Toys. There were some cool ideas there. I just think they need to do more. As for the new Daemon Engines, as many have pointed out, they look like a cheap knock off of some Japanese Anime toy, or Zoids( if you remember those). I wholeheartedly agree that they charge premiums for the best performers in an army. Look at the new Warpsmith. $36 cdn. Big deal, he comes in a box instead of a clam shell. Hardly seems worth the increased costs. But, he will be very powerful on the table(able to restore Hull Points,etc.), hence the increased price. Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

I got the 300th wargames illustrated instead and still haven't finished reading all the articles in my 'OFFICE'. I haven't purchased a copy of the dwarf for a long time as i use the Internet to find cool models and don't want to waste my money on a catalog. Also as I haven't purchased a new army in years and the price of a new one is ridiculass there's nothing for me in the magazine.

Anonymous said...

A really great review. The October WD I bought for the content , second WD I've bought (1st Apr'12 for new paints/guides. Price hike isn't that bad, take Australia for instance. It jumped from $11.95 to an absolutely massive $12.00