‘Total War: Warhammer’ Freed Me From the Tyranny of Miniatures
A game for those who seek Sigmar’s blessing but hate to paint
by MATTHEW GAULT
It was a hot August day in Texas. I was a kid and walked down the street to my local tabletop game store.
Most of the time, the shop was one of my favorite places. It was where kids went to play Magic: The Gathering. Adults played games of Axis & Allies and Dungeons & Dragons that lasted deep into the night. Military geeks fretted over buying just the right model of the A-10 Warthog.
But on that day in August, the clerks had opened the doors and jammed them so they couldn’t close. The store’s windows didn’t open, but if they had the workers would have thrown them wide. “Why are all the doors open?” I asked one of the guys.
“Warhammer tournament today,” he said grimly.
Grown men huddled around intricate models of ferocious creatures in strange and bulky armor. The atmosphere inside was … sweltering. It’s suffice to note that the shop didn’t smell great. This was the first time I ever saw Warhammer being played, but the experience left a bad impression.
To be sure, I love the idea of Warhammer and always have. But everything about actually playing the game — the pricey miniatures, the hours of required painting and the men arguing over arcane rules in crowded, stuffy rooms — kept me from ever spending much time with it.
Thankfully, we now have Total War: Warhammer, the newest and best computer game in Creative Assembly’s long running Total War series. Had it been out back then, it would have saved little Matthew some hurt feelings and about a hundred bucks.
Total War has done it all — Rome, Napoleon, feudal Japan and medieval Europe. They’re great games that mix fun and engaging military battles with 4x style campaigns. The series’ slavish devotion to historical detail is so well known that the History Channel ran a show called Decisive Battles using the game’s engine to recreate famous historical conflicts.
Warhammer is a long running grimdark fantasy and sci-fi setting created by the U.K. company Games Workshop back in 1983. In Warhammer’s various worlds two things remains constant — war and misery. Everything about Warhammer — the rules, the aesthetic and the lore — is engineered to make the player feel a deep sense of gloom.
The humans of Warhammer are absolute bastards beset on all sides by orcs, vampires and the slavering hordes of the Chaos gods. The fantasy setting is a depressing mix of the Holy Roman Empire and J.R.R. Tolkien, lightened with humor akin to Monty Python skits written by Terry Gilliam.
Warhammer is mostly a war game played with miniatures on a tabletop with the player taking on the role of a general. You buy an army, paint the figurines and send your troops into combat versus other hobby-shop commanders.
One problem — it’s a cost-prohibitive hobby for many gamers. Starter sets of the miniatures cost around $80 and the rulebooks range from $40 to $60, and that’s just to get started. Dedicated players can expect to drop hundreds to field an army worth a damn.
Worse, to me, is that every miniature is blank and most hobby stores and official tournaments require would-be generals to apply at least some paint to their armies. The paints are expensive as well, and covering the minis is time consuming.
Some people love it, and the painting portion can be a hobby to itself. The countless message boards dedicated to posting pictures of fancy custom paint jobs attest to that. I couldn’t stand it, not now and especially not when I was 12. I didn’t have the patience and just wanted to play the game.
But the rules are so draconian, so reliant on painful randomness and pure grognardery that as a tween I couldn’t properly process them. And oh, how the Warhammer nerds made me feel bad about that. I was a tourist. They knew it, and they treated me accordingly.
My childhood affair with Warhammer lasted only six months — enough time to try out Necromunda and be sad at how cruel adults could be. But I never forgot the setting and I flipped through its books, played its video games and watched my friends try out a range of miniature games set in Games Workshop’s various grimdark worlds.
I always harbored a hope that some version of the game would come along that allowed me to play without paying attention to dice and paint.
Total War: Warhammer is that game.
The Total War franchise is a great fit for Warhammer. For all Creative Assembly’s much advertised devotion to historical accuracy, the Total War series has always been an arcade-style strategy game. That’s not criticism. I love Total War, but Hearts of Iron it is not.
As such, Warhammer’s weird blend of magic, mayhem and war is a good match for Total War’s campaign and battle maps. If you’re a longtime Total War fan, you’ll notice a more streamlined set of campaign mechanics. There are fewer options on each faction’s tech tree, and managing your cities isn’t as daunting as it was in Rome and Rome II.
In previous Total War games, I often felt that running the homefront was a dangerous and stressful juggling act. Buildings which improved public order cost money, buildings that earned cash caused squalor and cleaning up squalor hurt public order.
In Total War: Warhammer, I’m more concerned with cleaning up enemy armies than I am with maintaining public order. In my Empire campaign, I’m raking in cash through diplomacy and raiding while my cities pump out troops. The game focuses on the battles, not campaign management.
Which is great, because the battles are the selling point here. Creative Assembly did an incredible job replicating the feel of the tabletop Warhammer game. I can finally play out the epic campaigns I dreamed of while thumbing through the latest codex, all for the comparatively low cost of $60.
No miniatures required.
The franchises fit so well together it’s incredible that it took this long to merge them. Warhammer’s world is Tolkien’s nightmare of European history. The blood-soaked fields of the Reikland fit so well in Total War’s video game aesthetic it’s easy to forget that the previous Total War games tried hard to be realistic.
Sending an army of Spider Riders against warped Chaos Knights is much more fun than micromanaging Greek hoplites and Tuscan pikemen. And if an aggressive asshole shouts at me during a multiplayer game, I can ignore them or shut down the game. And I never, ever have to smell them.
- ‘Cross of Iron’ Depicts the Brutal Collapse of the Wehrmacht
- Why ‘Fallout’ Is the Best Nuclear War Story Ever Told
- Wow — There Was a Suppressed Version of the M1 Carbine